Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

The Haves and Have-Nots: Weird Jesus Sayings Continued

“You’ve been given the gift of knowing the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus replied, “but they haven’t been given it.  Anyone who already has something will be given more, and they will have plenty. But anyone who has nothing- even what they have will be taken away!  That’s why I speak to them in parables, so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand or take it in.”  -Matthew 13:12 (Translation by N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone)

So we’re back to our “weird sayings of Jesus” series, and this one may top the list for me.  Maybe you can identify: the claim that those who have something will be given more, and those who have little will lose even that, inflames my innate sense of justice.  If you’re a parent then you know what I mean. Try putting five M&M’s in front of your two-year-old and one M&M in front of your five-year-old- and then take the one M&M away from your five-year-old and give it to your two-year-old.  The ensuing protest will make you wish you had never tried the sick experiment, as will the call from Defax citing emotional abuse.

So there is something downright weird if not deeply insulting and disturbing about Jesus’ claim here- maybe precisely because it overturns our human understandings of fairness.  The question is, what can Jesus possibly mean when he says this?  What is he getting at?

And here again context becomes important.  Just one verse later Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah, who was speaking to a people who had plugged their ears to God’s voice.  Isaiah’s message, like that of all the prophets, brought the life-giving promise of redemption and restoration, but in this case, judgment was to come first. The great tree that was God’s people would have to be cut down- quite literally “stumped”- before it could grow strong, flowering branches. New life could only arise after Israel had been humbled by her waywardness and misdeeds (Isaiah 6:9-13).  Budding, prosperous growth? This would have to come from the stump.

Jesus’ words here contain a warning then about the parabolic nature not only of his stories but of his life itself.  If you want to know me, you have to listen carefully, Jesus seems to be saying; and if my words and actions are falling on deaf ears then chances are you have not been listening at all; chances are you have resigned yourself to be one of the sick trees in need of a good, painful trim.

Atlanta is known for its big, leafy trees.  We have a couple in our backyard.  This summer one of them began to lean a bit too closely over our next-door neighbor’s roof, in addition to showing signs that it was rotting from the inside-out.  We knew that it was time for a painful pruning- an experience that would be as painful for the tree as it would be for our bank account.

I researched a number of local tree cutting businesses, including one that called itself “The Tree Cowboy.”  After watching a bit of the ensuing operation, I could appreciate the name’s significance: you have to lasso the tree and then one of the braver “cowboys” has to climb up into the branches with a large trimmer and saw away, all the while perilously perched some fifty feet above the ground.  (I was glad we were paying somebody else to do this.)

But that dear old tree with the long, overhanging, leafy branches in no time became a stump: a thorough cutting was the tree’s judgment for forsaking good neighborliness by selfishly crowding out the next-door neighbors’ sky and threatening to one day topple over onto their house.  And we were assured that in the end, our tree, despite its humbler, less regal appearance, was now actually healthier- that its rotted stump might now have a chance to live again when it otherwise would have been condemned to die.

This is Jesus’ message, too.  When we forget to love God and our neighbors as our selves, we may grow proud and strong for a time, but judgment awaits us.  We will be cut down to real size.  The very little we have will be taken away.

The good news is that God’s judgment never comes without restoration.  We know this from Isaiah and the prophets.  If we fast-forward just a bit to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can see this same pattern in the life of One who chose to be cut down for us.  In our place.  So that we would not have to bear the full brunt of the tree-cutting operation.  Jesus, you might say, became the stump so that we would not have to.

He also, in rising from the dead, became the life-giving tree, or “vine” (John 15:5).  And when we dwell in Jesus, and abide in His life-giving presence by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to experience the “more” that awaits us.  More strength.  More life-giving goodness. More freedom to be who we were made to be.

This is the great mystery of the Gospel- that in dying we live- and the older I get, the more I suspect this same cruciform pattern shapes the reality of all of life, including the universe itself.  It is what great poets, theologians and scientists alike have marveled at.  Take these lines from the nineteenth century German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his “The Holy Longing,” for example:

Tell a wise person, or else keeps silent,

Because the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.

 

In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you

when you see the silent candle burning.

 

Now you are no longer caught

in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making

sweeps you upward.

 

Distance does not make you falter,

now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.

 

And so long as you haven’t experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.

I suspect that everything in life is somewhere in this process of dying and being reborn- as are we. Our only choice is to resist or surrender to this all-encompassing reality.  When we resist, the very little we have to begin with burns up with the rest of the timber.  We see ourselves in the face of “only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”  But when we surrender, we join ourselves to that great, cosmic work of redemption- much like the “higher love-making” to which Goethe refers- that begins and ends in Jesus Christ.  And this is the “more” that Jesus promises, which is really more of life itself.  In the spirit of T.S. Eliot, who said “to make an end is to make a beginning,” may this New Year be one of living into the more that God holds for us.

Read more of Beliefnet’s New Year’s quotes here: http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Holidays/New-Year/New-Year-Quotes.aspx?p=4#ixzz1iUb02bcB

“A Very Brief History of Eternity”

Carlos Eire's book was published in 2010 by Princeton University Press.

I recently finished a wonderful, little book by Yale historian Carlos Eire. The book lives up to its name: it manages to cover in relative brevity the breathtaking expanse of “eternity” from its very first beginnings in antiquity to its life (or lack thereof) in the present.  As the offspring of Eire’s involvement in a round table at the University of Virginia on “lived theology,” the book traces the impact of eternity as a concept on how people throughout history actually lived their lives.

And I must confess that from his very first lines, Eire captures his reader’s attention:  “Why dawdle?,” he begins.  “Let’s stare the monster in the eye, close up, right away: this book amounts to nothing, and so do you and I, and the whole world.  Less than zero.”

What proceeds is a sobering description of the fate of our universe- from the sun’s incineration of all living things on earth some one billion years from now, to some four billion years later, the total annihilation of both the sun and planet Earth.  Eire concludes, in referencing the various scientific prophecies out there, that “our universe is in for a very rough and tragic ride.”  Even so, this cosmic gloom and doom belongs to a long, unfathomable stretch of road called “eternity” that human beings for centuries have been trying to make sense of.

Only more recently (relatively speaking, of course) has the subject of eternity largely made a noticeable exit from our public discourse, and Eire, a Catholic, blames this severing of ties between the here and now and the world beyond, on my stock, the Reformers.  Eire’s argument here is convincing, too. Knowingly or unknowingly, when sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers did away with, for example, masses for the dead, they chipped away at this permeable boundary between earthly and heavenly existence.  We have been feeling the impact both for the better and the worse ever since.  One might say that our current time’s all-encompassing focus on the material reality of our earthly existence, not to mention secularism itself, is an outgrowth of these earlier efforts to “let the dead take care of the dead,” so to speak.

The book is worth a read and I commend it to you.  It is an engaging, thoughtful and sympathetic treatment of the enduring human hope that there is life beyond our earthly expiration date.  I could not help but put it down and feel some of the same sentiments that led the mystic St. John of the Cross (whom Eire quotes) to exclaim, “That eternal wellspring hides though well I know where it abides, in spite of the night.”

Telling Secrets, a.k.a. “Confession”

"A Presbyterian minister walks into a confession booth..."

Almost ten years ago, I, at the time a seminary student preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian church, confessed my sins to a Catholic priest and received the sacrament of reconciliation:  I cried tears of repentance, received absolution for my sin and was then challenged to go do one good work as “penance.” I walked away having experienced in a new and profound way the regenerative grace of what Catholics describe as the “sacrament” of confession.  And I was grateful for it, even if I had been obliged to find it in another denomination.  That’s because somewhere between the sixteenth century Reformer Martin Luther, who would have retained confession as a sacrament, and subsequent reforms, we Protestants (most of us at least), managed to throw the baby out with the bath water: the sacramental act of confession, as the honest, laying out of all the places where we have missed the mark and a priest’s ensuing absolution, came to a halt in our churches.

I regret to think this was probably for the worse.  Sure, in the vein of John Calvin, we Presbyterians typically open our worship services with a corporate act of confession and reconciliation, as a way of remembering that our worship depends on the fact that God first loved us when we were “still enemies” in our sin.  But this once-weekly, corporate act doesn’t go far enough in saturating our minds and hearts with the reality of God’s forgiveness, apart from which we (or at least I) would be hopeless.  Something is lost when we fail to honor our need as human beings to confess our sin in confidence to a trusted minister or prayer partner.  We deprive ourselves of a deep, mutual accountability and communion with one another in the community of faith, and I suspect we need this grounding today more than ever, in a time when the ground beneath our feet is so often shifting.

Of course there are dangers in opening ourselves up to another human being within the community of faith.  In unhealthy congregations, one person’s confession can soon become the latest source of gossip- it might even be written up to our great horror in the church newsletter.  But when there are healthy safeguards in place that honor confidentiality and mutuality in sharing, confession, I believe, is fundamental to our life together as those called and sustained by God’s Love.

There is something enormously freeing about being known, the clay jars that we are, and being loved just as we are.  Unfortunately, many of us these days find that we must look elsewhere, outside the walls of our church communities, for this kind of unconditional love- and many of us find it there.  I recently spoke with a friend, an artist, who said he experiences this sort of “unconditional love” every year at “The Burning Man” festival, and there are many like him.  Sadly, too many of us have been hurt by the church, or have found that a veneer of “holier-than-thou” God talk there keeps us from opening up about our deepest wounds (those places where we fall short of God’s best for us and our neighbor).

My resolution this New Year is to be more truthful with those closest to me about my struggles- and this is a scary thing for me.  But when we learn to tell the truth about who we are and where we have come from, we free ourselves from the power of our secrets.  In his memoir, Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner writes, “I not only have my secrets. I am my secrets. And you are your secrets….Our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human.”

If you have read Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, which is one of my favorites, then you may recall that poignant scene in which Raskolnikov, having committed murder, confesses his crime to his love interest, Sonia, and asks her what he should do.  She replies, “Go at once, this very minute, stand at the crossroads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, ‘I am a murderer!’  Then God will send you life again.”

Most of us, saints and sinners alike, haven’t killed anyone- at least literally.  But the turbulence and even violence in our own hearts can hurt those around us, manifesting itself in unhealthy ways of relating to those closest to us.  (To paraphrase the writer, Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil goes right down the center of the human heart.) And we can let these wounds fester, keeping them to ourselves in the dark nooks and crannies of our hearts, out of shame, spiritual pride or despair over our brokenness.

But Sonia’s challenge to Raskolnikov- to tell the truth about who he is and who he has been- is not a self-destructive death wish.  It is the very pathway to new life that Raskolnikov so desperately needs. It is a surrendering to God’s love- the very thing that makes the world go round despite our efforts, knowingly or unknowingly, to get in its way.  When we, like Rasknolnikov, surrender, we make way for new life to break in on our darkness.

The secret, I am learning, is that we don’t do this kind of surrendering just once.  We do it over and over. Often we have to do it about the very same things.  And this surrendering hurts, precisely because it involves the suffering of having to change.  Wendy Farley, in The Wounding and Healing of Desire, likens this process to the way in which our physical bodies heal: in the same way that a broken bone needs to be re-set, or a fever “awakens the body to the need to drive our disease,” or our healing requires “painful measures like surgery, bad-tasting medicine, or diet and exercise,” our being reconciled with God and one another requires sometimes painful but therapeutic measures, the practice of confession being one of these.

Fortunately, it is precisely in these places that God’s grace meets us.  My new favorite band these days is Mumford and Sons.  They sing a song called “Roll Away Your Stone,” which might just as well be talking about what we Christians call “confession”:

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think

And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burnt

But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart

But the welcome I receive with the restart.

Confession is just this: it’s not the long walk home but the “welcome we receive with the restart;” it’s telling our secrets so that we no longer have to live in the dark; and it’s doing this over and over again with the right, trusted people, that keeps our souls alive to God’s love.

The Online Priesthood of All Unbelievers

"I'm ordained, Dude."

The other day I was asked to be the back-up wedding officiant for someone who had obtained their certificate of ordination off the Internet. Another person in the conversation had chimed in that she had once officiated at a wedding, thanks to this same booming online trade in ministerial credentials- at which point, an “Ooh, I want to do that, too!” chorus chimed in from among these un-churched and at best dubiously Christian friends.

I was intrigued.  As a minister in the Reformed tradition, I had bought hook, line and sinker the whole concept of a priesthood of all believers: the term, first coined in the sixteenth century by the great Reformer, Martin Luther, meant that all baptized Christians regardless of their job or vocation were divinely called and gifted and therefore accountable to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in word and deed. A few years in ministry had turned up a different truth: that we tend in our congregations only to pay lip service to the concept, insofar as a minister still is the professional pray-er, pastoral caregiver, preacher, missionary, and even occasionally in small congregations, janitor.

But the enthusiasm of my conversation partners around the concept of an online priesthood of unbelievers elicited my curiosity.  I decided to learn a bit more.  A quick Google search turned up a host of resources. “Universal Ministries,” headquartered in Milford, Illinois, is a “nondenominational church” with all of the bells and whistles of a statement of faith, bishops, a school of theology, chapel, and at least one congregation.  The only assertion they make with great dogmatism is everyone’s right to believe anything they want to believe and still be ordained.  Which means in practice that anyone regardless of faith or lack thereof can obtain a certificate of ordination.

Another site, “Open Ministry,” specializes exclusively in free ordinations for the purpose of wedding ceremonies, while “Rose Ministries” boasts a broader selection of options for the more ambitious: “you can start your own church, officiate at weddings, or conduct any religious ceremony.”  For all women in denominations that do not ordain women, Rose Ministries is also the place.  They even cite Scripture, the book of Judges, as evidence that “women have the same right to be ordained as as men.” (I couldn’t agree more.)

My favorite was a free, online ordination as a “Dudeist” minister (a.k.a. the religion of “The Big Lebowski”).  All you have to do is fill out a few empty fields, hit “Ordain me,” and voila- you have your official document ready for printing.  Strikingly, more than 8,000 people “liked” this ordination process and nother nearly 40,000 people have joined the Dudeist community on Facebook.

The fact that business is booming for these online sites has me wondering if in all this ludicrousness there might be a lesson for us pastors and the church.  I mean, why is it that those of us in ordained leadership still find it so hard to motivate our lay people with their biblical calling to minister to their world when all around us, outside our church walls, there are plenty of people who would never step into a church building but are quick to seize the opportunity to become ordained (even if only as a Dudeist minister)? Is there something to learn here for those of us who were dumb enough to spend three years in seminary and crazy enough to lead God’s people?

I think there is.  Maybe the lesson is as simple as the fact that those of us who for a long time have been trying to let out the big secret that all of God’s people by virtue of baptism are called to be ministers haven’t done a good enough job selling the concept.  Or living it, for that matter.  Maybe we can make the concept more fun, inviting and even exciting.

Maybe we can be more generous with it, too.  By this I mean that maybe we need to let go of our sacred cows that only ministers get to dress up in important robes and preach every Sunday (even if we seminary-trained ministers are convinced that we’re the best at this sort of thing and have a right to it); or, that only ministers get to perform wedding ceremonies or administer the Sacraments (even if these things give us ministers pride of place or a little extra spending money). Maybe we need to ritualize a process of discipleship that at the end culminates in a new lay minister’s official “ordination” (certificate included!) to a “priesthood of all believers.”

Maybe we need to stop thinking “in the box” and think out of it for a while.  We might do this best by returning to our charter document, the Bible (as opposed to The Book of Dudes) and asking for God’s Holy Spirit to free us from the ways in which we ministers, elders and leaders in the church have allowed our insecurities and desires for control to become institutionalized across centuries of church history. Until then- or at least until we begin to rethink how we talk about and live out a “priesthood of all believers,” the secret that there really is supposed to be a whole priesthood of all believers somewhere out there will remain boring and unpalatable when compared to the alternatives.  Who, after all, would want to be among an unrecognized, unofficial bunch of believers whose claims to priesthood are at best nominal, when you can become an official priest, with all of the perks included, without having to put up with God’s people or believe those old creeds?  Ladies, who among us would want to keep on putting up with all of the same, old institutional sins of patriarchy that have kept us in our place for centuries, when we can be “Reverends” with one click of a mouse?

Yes, I suspect there is much to be learned from the online priesthood of all unbelievers.

 

The Minister and 1,000 Nudes

Here's to nudity and the Incarnation!

My next-door neighbor, in addition to being a photographer, is a fire dancer: she gets paid to perform well-choreographed tricks with hot flames while wearing sexy outfits.  Yesterday several other parents and I were at her house to celebrate her son’s third birthday when another mother stumbled upon a set of books.  They weren’t just any books.  They were books celebrating the human body…naked…in pictures.

Lest there be any doubt, this was not “porn”- even if it occasionally blurred the lines.  These were artist’s depictions, largely from the nineteenth century, of mostly naked women (some men) in a variety of creative poses, from the more subtle, erotically suggestive to the outright, tasteless, in-your-face unloading. There were the fat, large-breasted women, sidling up to the camera with the modesty of a woman in labor.  Or, the shy, pubescent, young women, hiding their faces from the voyeuristic eye of the lens as they sat, sublimely unreachable, in their laced-up Victorian lingerie.  There were the more athletic ladies who could just as well have belonged to the local “naked yoga” class- (apparently there is one in my neighborhood, and it is only for men)- and the women whose Victorian “body suits” left the impression that they were nude, only without the less aesthetically convenient nipples and pubic hair.

There we were the three of us, all of us mothers, ogling and giggling at the eroticism of a bygone era like school girls at a peep show. The only difference was that I happened to be a minister.  Which made the proceedings a bit more funny when we stumbled upon the picture of the woman who stood naked in front of a large cross, her expression a pained, poignant one as she bared her whole front side to strangers.  (I could identify at least a bit: while I’ve never posed nude and probably never will, I can appreciate the sentiment of baring one’s own naked soul from the pulpit for a crowd of sometimes voyeuristic listeners.)

What was it about these pictures that elicited a primal curiosity in us?  Their boldness, for one thing.  These women, even the shyest in the lot, had not been afraid to take off their clothes for the sake of art.  Maybe, too, their beauty (and sometimes obvious lack thereof), which could not be summed up in any one shape or form.  It left me convinced that God loves variety.  But, finally, the unavoidable fact that underneath our clothes, we all (the hermaphrodite behind the counter at the local Target photo center included) have pretty much the same functional parts. At the end of the day, we are all bare, naked “flesh.”  The very same flesh that we Christians affirm God loves a whole lot because of the mystery that we call the “Incarnation” and celebrate at this time of year: God, in the person of Jesus Christ, comes in the flesh to be with us in our deepest need, in the nakedness of our poverty.

Maybe what is most remarkable is that God, in coming into the world like every one of us, a naked, little baby, has in a sense undressed for us, too.  It’s hard to believe that God says yes” to our bodies in their inherent “belovedness.” It’s equally hard to believe that God says “no” to all of the ways we defile, belittle, and mistreat our bodies.  Only a God who deigns to take off the garments of royalty and put on our frail flesh has a chance at persuading us otherwise.  Because of Jesus, our bodies- all of them- have the capacity to house God’s very Self; they are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Amy Frykholm is also the author of "Rapture Culture" and "Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography."

It’s hard to wear this kind of truth lightly (pun intended).  Or to dismiss it in our prudishness. “God-with-us” is much more scandalous than one of us posing for the camera in nothing but stockings.  If we believe it, it obliges us to tell our stories.  To not be afraid of being seen as we are, without the fig leaves we often hide behind, or the lies we can tell ourselves or others about who we are.  (By way of digression but in the same spirit, I want to make a little plug for friend Amy Frykholm’s newly published  book:  See Me Naked compiles the real, truthfully told, often messy stories of those who have found themselves exiled in American Christianity because of their sexuality.)  It doesn’t get any realer than that.  Because while those nineteenth-century nudes may not be air-brushed and Photo-shopped like today’s models, they are, in the end, still posing.

The Driftwood Artist

The work studio of "driftwood artist" Johnny Rice.

You can’t miss his gallery shack.  It overlooks the ocean on a stretch of coastal highway near St. Petersburg, Florida.  His driftwood sculptures are perched in front:  an ensemble of rotted tree branches, old fish nets, rusty pieces of metal- anything that the sea coughs up somewhere along the Floridian coast, which is where Johnny Rice has spent all his life.

I happened to be jogging by one afternoon and decided to stop in for a visit, which proved not to disappoint.  Johnny, who now in his seventies still lives to sculpt, was quick to procure an old, dog-eared album for a stranger; its pages boasted yellowed newspaper clippings about a younger, more virile Johnny and his makeshift, sea-swept creations. One article featured him on “Good Morning America” about twenty years ago.

He was eager to talk to this stranger whom he intermittently described as one of the many “goddesses” he had come to know in his life, memorable women who somehow had made their way into a divine pantheon at the center of which was Jesus.  Each had their own name. Apparently I was Diana, goddess of the hunt: whatever the inspiration- whether it was the Spandex running shorts and a pair of well-worn sneakers or the sweaty post-run glow- I must admit I rather liked the new nickname.  When he learned I was a minister (an admission that can elicit a wide array of responses) his tan, leathery face broke into a smile and he began to tell me in animated tones about his life.  It was a life that in many ways was as washed-up but strangely beautiful as the creations on his front lawn.

Johnny started out in Key West, which at one time was the playground of writer Ernest Hemingway, a former acquaintance, and other intellectuals. Then he made his way north, with various detours along the way.  There was the time, for instance, when he let his friend, a cruise ship captain, smuggle him passport-free onto a boat bound for Brazil, and a long, ensuing period of, as he puts it, “becoming lost” to his friends in a maze of addictions, including alcohol, drugs and women.  What saved him, he believes, was God- God through art, that is.  As he exclaims, he gestures to his cramped, smoke-filled surroundings.  They include a few different depictions of Jesus, from totem-pole-like head carvings to a large, yellow-bearded, Aryan face painted on canvas in bold, primary colors.

“I’m curious: what inspired you to make Jesus blonde?,” I asked.

“It’s like the color of the halos in icons, you know.”

“Huh.”  (I’m chalking it up to artistic license.)

When the realities of sobriety, growing older and God’s Love had set in, Johnny had set up shop in this run-down, poor artist’s shanty. He says painting keeps his heart beating.  He is in some ways the same little boy who used to sketch and collect things on the beach in Key West, only older, wiser and maybe a bit crazier.  And now when he creates, he wants more than anything to “give it all away.”

I’ve been thinking more about Johnny and those mesmerizing, redemptive pieces of art cobbled together out of nothing (or at least the next closest thing).  They remind me a whole lot about the way life can be.  Like rotted, colorless driftwood on a beach, our many disparate, sometimes conflicting loves and desires can collect and become part of the same old scenery.  Sometimes they so bewilder, confuse or even disturb us that we can prefer to leave them there- to let them blend in with our surroundings, as forgotten, untouched, inexplicable and meaningless as “nothingness” itself.

Broken dreams.  Aching disappointments.  Painful resentments.  Wounds to our soul or psyche.  The deepest, most angst-ridden existential questions that go unanswered.  Lost loves that we have tried to grieve but never full recovered from.  I suspect part of what it means to be human is to desire some sort of ordering to all that stuff we have collected through the years on the beaches of our souls.

A friend opined the other day that life would be so much easier and less painful if we human beings didn’t have to be plagued by desires. To some degree, she is probably right.  But there is also a sense in which our desires, as the engine of our creativity, are the very thing that mirror God’s image in us and make us different from every other animal on the planet.  The cooing infant in her mother’s arms, yes. But also the next crowning jewel of Apple technology.  Or, the mapping of the human genome.  Or, the uplifting sounds of Handel’s “Messiah.”  Or, the writings of Dostoevsky.  They, like the creations of a driftwood artist, can only spring to life with the first seeds of a desire that is as divinely planted as it is primal.  Give me painful but spirited desire over the carefree existence of automatons any day.

Wendy Farley has written several books, the latest of which is "Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation."

Wendy Farley, in her book, The Wounding and Healing of Desire, describes desire as the “thread” that connects our gnawing emptiness, or resignation to the “nothingness,” to God’s work of redemption in us and our world.  I think she is right.  That longing to be re-made? That nagging sense that something is missing?  That enflamed desire to make the world around us “right” or at least “better”?  Maybe they are the very thing that God will use to make something beautiful out of the mystifying odds and ends of our existence.  I would like to think so.  I would like to think that one day God will stitch the old fishing nets, crumpled aluminum cans and dead tree branches into a boat that will sail away into the horizon of God’s Love.  Or a house that will beckon us home, where, finally, we can see ourselves a bit like God sees us. Strange, beautiful creations made out of straw, “beloved” because a Lover has called us so.

 

 

 

 

Ben Stein Talks Christmas, Political Correctness and the Disappearance of God

"Bueller...Bueller...Bueller."

Probably most of us know commentator, author and actor Ben Stein from his taking attendance in the 1986 movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  Here Stein, a God-fearing Jew, shares his views on the merits of Christmas and why at this time of the year we do well to reconsider faith in God (or lack thereof) in American public life:

“My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God ? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina).. Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’ In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc.  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein”

[Source: Robert E. Mims, “The Preacher’s Kid,” Beliefnet, http://blog.beliefnet.com/preacherskid/2011/12/christ-not-born-on-dec-25-merry-christmas-anyway.html]

The Cartoon Version of “The Wise Men ‘Tebowed.'”

Apparently my last post is as “shockingly original” as Tim’s “tebowing,” because my husband just drew my attention to this cartoon by Mike Luckovich which appeared December 16 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  I”m chalking it up to the fact that maybe great minds think alike.  Oh well.  Even the greatest of ideas are recyclable, anyway.  Merry Christmas!

The Wise Men “Tebowed”

Tim Tebow'ing.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:11

“Tebowing,” or that characteristic bow in reverent prayer on the football field that derives its name from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, is not as shockingly original as we might be inclined to think.  It turns out that the three wise men who journeyed to the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh “tebowed,” too.  And if we think it a bit amusing, laughable or even offensive to our sensibilities to see a fully grown man in his football jersey and spandex tights kneel to give God the glory, imagine the scene just over 2,000 years ago: three otherwise dignified aristocrats bending down on arthritic knees to worship a newborn child in a make-shift crib of straw in a dung-smattered stable.  It is hard to think of anything more ridiculous- maybe even worthy of contempt- than that.

The magi’s audience was not a stadium full of loud, cheering fans.  In addition to the sheep, maybe a cow and a few noisy chickens who were there to witness the men’s somewhat embarrassing, worshipful stoop, there are all of the millions and millions of people who across the centuries have read the wise men’s story.  A story about three guys “from the east” who if too proud to ask for directions were content to see a star and follow it all the way to a dump in Bethlehem- and then fell to the ground in worship.  They may not have worn helmets, but I imagine they sported some sort of exotic head gear which they would have had to remove a bit clumsily in order to bow so dramatically.

Many of us are uncomfortable with such public, overtly self-effacing displays of worship.  We are quick to label them as only for show- another demonstration of that regrettable tendency among public figures to wear their faith on their sleeve, as a kind of secret handshake for all truly God-fearing types.  Our discomfort here is understandable.  When politicians like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin make their latest big cause the Obamas’ holiday card and its regrettable omission of the Christian code words, “faith, freedom and family,” we have good reason to be suspicious.

The sad thing, though, is that our justified discomfort can leave little room for an appreciation of the nature of true worship when it happens, which is usually spontaneous, with little consideration for how we look.  If you’ve ever gazed at the sky on a clear, dark night, marveling at the eternity of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy and the trillions of stars in the many other galaxies beyond ours, then you know what I’m talking about:  chances are your jaw dropped open, agape in awe and wonder at the magnitude of our universe and your own smallness in it.  Chances are that a passerby walking by would have thought you looked a little silly as you stood there, your mouth hanging open like a kid in a candy shop.

Critics find “tebowing” too much “PDA,” or “public display of affection,” for God.  They sound a bit like Jesus on “Saturday Night Live” when he implies Tim Tebow should “tone it down” a bit.  And, if “tebowing” is just another gracefully scripted play on the field, then I suspect these critics are right.  Tim Tebow can find another place to “tebow.”  Didn’t Jesus say, after all, that when we are to pray we should go into our room and shut the door (Matthew 6:6)?  (The locker room would probably suffice.)  But if “tebowing” comes from the same place of worshipful awe that causes you and me to marvel at the breadth of the universe and brings three grown wise men to their knees in stupefied wonder, then we will have missed something important in what it means to be human.

If you missed the “Saturday Night Live” episode, here it is for more LOL:

YouTube Preview Image

Top 8 Weirdest Holiday Gifts for Children

Have you considered a baby toupee for your little one this holiday season?

Some friends in a recent Christmas letter joked about their search for just the right present for their newborn baby.  After scouring Amazon.com for gift ideas, they came up with a number of questionable gift ideas for young children, the likes of which appear below.  If you’re still searching for just the right gift, you might find it here, thanks to consumer-parent researchers Seth and Molly Phelps:

1.)    Playmobil – Security Checkpoint.  Life sure has changed since I was a kid.  I get construction, policeman, fireman, etc…  Do kids really want to play, let’s queue up for the TSA screening?  Or are you really playing the heroic TSA agent patting down the disgruntled masses?  How sad is that?  I note that the passenger glows in the dark when the lights are turned off as if she is going through an x-ray like in the movie Total Recall and it shows that she has a gun on her.  At least it wasn’t the bad “guy” this time.  A liberated toy.  Anyway, I prefer the Playmobil – Secret CIA Rendition/Interrogation Center with waterboarding accessories.  At least you get to take your frustrations out on the true bad guys, or those unlucky enough to be caught in the dragnet, as opposed to hapless airline travelers.
http://www.amazon.com/Playmobil-3172-Security-Check-Point/dp/B0002CYTL2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323911778&sr=8-1
2.)    Playmobil – Simulated Coal.  For scrooges out there you can actually buy a fake pile of coal safe for little kids to chew.  By itself this would be a statement on a child’s behavior.  Tied with the right Playmobil set it becomes a fun accessory!  Awesome and potential double meaning.  I got you coal for Christmas!  That’s great, it’s exactly what I wanted!  Yeah, I’m sure that’s why I bought it….because you wanted it.
http://www.amazon.com/Playmobil-7843-Coal-Bulk-Cargo/dp/B000K2UCTW/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1323911876&sr=1-1
3.)    Baby Toupees.  Just in case your baby’s missing hairline scares you make sure you check outwww.babytoupee.com and pick up a few choice looks.  I’m thinking Luke as a Rastafarian.
4.)    Food Chain Friends.  Now I’m a big fan of Darwinian survival of the fittest but I draw the line at a series of plush toys for your kids that simulate it.  Let’s let kids have a childhood free from the dog eat dog world that adults know.  Of course as a child I did read the book – There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.  In the end after eating ever larger animals she ultimately dies.  I turned out alright I guess so maybe these plush animals are fine.
http://www.amazon.com/Food-Chain-Friends-Gamma-Set/dp/B002RTMI7U/ref=sr_1_2?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1323911909&sr=1-2
5.)    My Cleaning Trolly – I have a few more hopes and dreams for Luke than janitor so this one’s out.  Besides, the tools should be real so that he actually keeps the house clean if you are going to go this far.  While you’re at it why not a Onesie made out of ShamWows.  Just scoot him around on the floor and it would also absorb any liquids he generates!  Pushin’ stick sold separately.  Perhaps it’s good preparation for our future Chinese overlords as they will likely need cheap cleaning services after they own most of the USA.
http://www.amazon.com/Cleaning-Trolley-Hand-Vacuum-Cleaner/dp/B0006NDCMY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323912329&sr=8-1
6.)    Gelli Baff – Imagine liquid, inedible jello that you play in.  The box depicts the kids not only playing with it but actually submerged in it.  As if play dough isn’t bad enough to get off carpet and floors.  Besides do we want to encourage wrestling in jello? Furthermore didn’t we just do that as kids in mud after a rain?
http://www.amazon.com/H2Goo-Gelli-Baff-Choice-Colors/dp/B004752IXQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1323912407&sr=1-1
7.)    Uranium Ore – Don’t foreign governments have difficulty obtaining uranium ore?  Apparently you can simply buy radioactive ore right on amazon.com for “science” experiments and “testing” your Geiger counter.  Right.
http://www.amazon.com/Images-SI-Inc-Uranium-Ore/dp/B000796XXM/ref=pd_sim_sbs_t_3
8.)    Porky Pooper Jelly Bean Dispenser – Conceptually, I have no problem with animal shaped candy and cookie jars.  But does it have to dispense brown jelly beans out the backside?
http://www.amazon.com/Porky-Pooper-Jelly-Bean-Dispenser/dp/B000VOJOM0/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1323912569&sr=1-1-catcorr
Previous Posts

Mental Health Break—Sprawl II
My favorite band these days is Arcade Fire, and I've featured the Canadian indie rock group before at this intersection between God and life. The lead singer studied Kirkegaard in college and their songs, like this one, are often subtle but brilliant critiques of the least aesthetically pleasing thi

posted 12:58:15pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

I Can't Breathe and the Widow's Cry—A Guest Post
Fellow saint and sinner Saskia de Vries is a neuroscientist in Seattle, Washington and has posted before at this intersection between God and life. She, like so many of us, is grappling with the tragedies of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the larger systemic problem they seem to reveal—namely,

posted 2:10:09pm Dec. 11, 2014 | read full post »

Advent and Emptiness, Via Louis CK and the Prophet Isaiah
I've been making my way through the book of Isaiah. This morning's reading was from chapter 6, where the prophet Isaiah receives his call to go to the people of Israel and proclaim God's judgment of a people who have wandered away from God's purposes for them. Isaiah asks how long God's people will

posted 11:45:39am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Advent Resurrection
It may seem strange to pair Advent with resurrection. Usually resurrection comes more naturally at Easter. But at heart the labor pangs of all creation giving birth to the Christ child are a longing for a new start. Advent is a longing to be born again. Neuroscience now teaches that every minu

posted 2:47:38pm Dec. 04, 2014 | read full post »

Birthday Cred—Ecclesiastes Via David Foster Wallace
Today I'm still (barely) on the left side of 40, and bea

posted 11:01:03am Dec. 01, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.