Monday, November 23, 2015

A Note from Auntie Screwtape

Cross-posted at (and originally written for)

My darling nephew,

Your uncle is terribly busy these days, but your auntie thought she would take a moment to write to her favorite nephew. I hope that you’re doing well and that you’re keeping warm. A chill will give you a devil of a cold. (Haha, I hope you’ll forgive the little pun.)

There’s so much happening amongst the humans these days that it’s almost a demon’s playground. I am certain that your dear Uncle Screwtape has given you much guidance about how to proceed with your important work of opposition. Your uncle advises that the One who is against us wants the humans (our patients) to be aware of what they can do and the heights of their capabilities. Our work, darling Wormwood, remains to keep what can happen to them and the depths of that fear at the forefront of their mind.

This season is absolutely delicious fodder for that. With every reminder of that wretched story of the Boy and his Mother, we can subtly push forward the images in which those Two looks like our patient- Westernized, white, and wonderful. The fewer images our patients see of a brown-skinned baby with his young brown mother and adoptive father (sigh, that one got away!), the easier it is to make the patients afraid of people who have those qualities.

The patients sing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, but they don’t truly because they are busy and tired and feeling exploited and fearful. This is the time to practice your whispering, dearest nephew. The most insidious and, thus, delightful whispers are as follows:

1.     There’s not enough to go around. Will you let your family be without to help someone who hasn’t worked like you have?
2.     You’re never going to be good enough if a bunch of new people come in and live in your neighborhood.
3.     You and you alone are responsible for your safety. You are alone in that goal. So alone.
4.     Who can you trust? Really, if someone disagrees with you on something small, who’s to say they don’t disagree about something fundamental? If you disagree on fundamentals, what’s to say that they follow any kinds of rules at all? Someone who disagrees with you is hardly better than an animal.
5.     There has never been a more dangerous time.

Wormwood, I am absolutely green with envy that you will have the thrill of uttering those whispers for the first time. Once they are swirling in a patient’s head, they are so difficult to expunge. That’s not our problem; that’s our success!

Our patients fail to see that the wars and skirmishes they perceive as cosmic and perpetual are really little battles that are in responses to kings, presidents, and military leaders jumping at these whispers. As long as they continue to believe the whispers and see each other as threats to their own, personal happiness (which we certainly endorse as the life goal), they will remain focused on what can happen to them and they will do all they can to prevent it.

And then, darling nephew, we will have won.

Auntie must wipe away a tear now. It’s so beautiful. The chaos, the fear, the loathing, and the delicious, delicious division- especially in families… it just makes me howl with enthusiasm. We can hardly be more grateful for social media. They use it themselves to stir things up and even the most well-meaning get drawn in. For a while, I did fear that the patients had grasped how to use the widespread contact for support, encouragement, and whatever else they think is “good”. But a few of Auntie’s patented whispers and they’re at each other’s throats.

Wormwood, dearest, I shall sign off now. I’m sure you’ll hear from your Uncle soon. Keep up your work and, remember, a little whisper about fear goes a long way.

With affection,

Aunt Mephistophelia Screwtape

All credit and apologies to C. S. Lewis and his original characters of Screwtape and Wormwood. Mephistophelia is my own creation.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chrismon Star

Prepare the royal highway... with glitter? 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Knowing More Fully...

Even as we are more fully known.

Sister Joan Chittister says, "We don't change as we get older - we just get to be more of what we've always been." (The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully)

This is the definition of sanctification for me. We are children of God, simultaneously saint and sinner, but we are not yet what we have been made to be in fullness. 

The on-going work of the Spirit within pulls, pushes, and propels us to being more fully the child (children) of God for the time and place and hope and future for which we were created. 

When there is great turmoil and fear in the world, like now, I can easily feel detached from many things. Yet, because I believe God is still working - even and especially in me- I believe that nothing is settled. History is within God, thus no other forces will even be footnoted in the final telling. 

Every glimpse of pain or horror in the world is also a chance to perceive one's own sanctification, to respond with Christlikeness and holy hope and to glimpse within one's own heart what has always been true about the self and what is becoming more true through the power of God. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jephthah's Daughter and Fear

I've probably read Judges more than most "normal" people. I've read it a lot for someone who hasn't written a dissertation or a commentary on it. I can't escape it. There is something very truth-telling about human history in a book that perpetually shows how things go astray when they "do what is right in their own eyes", believing they have no holding center. They consistently forget God's deliverance and they fail to recognize God as their king.

In the midst of the present turmoil, pain over violence at the hands of violent, desperate people in Paris, in Beirut, in Syria, and elsewhere ... the pain is becoming fear and the fear is becoming irrationality. Our best selves are not speaking. We are not acknowledging facts (there are terror cells of the present perpetrators already within our borders plus others), nor are we acknowledging the role fear of the "other" has played in United States history (much less human history).

For me, the central story of Judges is the tragedy of Jephthah's daughter. Jephthah is a rough-edged guy, rejected by his family and his larger community due to the circumstances of his birth. He runs with a band of warriors who, if  they're not his family of origin's specific enemies- they might as well be. However, once the elders of his original community end up in hotter water than they can handle with other forces, they reach out to Jephthah for help.

He points out this hypocrisy, but they want him and his band. (He comes with his own army! Great!) According to Judges, Jephthah does a little reconnaissance work and does try to make peace with the king of the warring faction. Nevertheless, peace-making fails. Jephthah then makes a deal with the Lord. If Jephthah prevails over his enemies, he will sacrifice to the Lord the first thing he sees when he returns home.

Which will turn out to be his daughter.

This is the shift in the book. In earlier chapters, women had property, women were judges, women were part of the society and the promises of God. As the people did more and more of what was right in their own eyes, as they continued to drift further from waiting for justice and divine guidance, the value of women drops like a stone until Jephthah's daughter's fate seems ideal compared to what happens to the Levite's concubine in later chapters.

When people forget their guiding principles, their foundational hopes, their true origin stories, other things will flood in to fill the gaps left behind. Fear, anger, revenge, and false bravado are slippery little devils that will grow like weeds, especially in places with little light.

I worry that we are in a Judges moment, perhaps even a Jephthah moment. Our words, our promises, our decisions matter now more than ever. Otherwise, we will sacrifice what is most dear to us in the name of safety, security, and triumph- all of which are false gods.

Other ways aren't as easy, but for those of us who believe that God is God and there is no other... there are greater commandments for us to follow, including "Do not be afraid."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lord's Prayer (For Kids)

God, our father in heaven, Your name is special. The whole world wants your good works. Let them happen here, just like they do in heaven. Give us today exactly what we need- not too much and not too little. Forgive us where we've messed up and Help us forgive the people who've hurt us- our bodies or our feelings. Remind us that you are always with us especially when we are afraid. The entire universe, all the power, and the most glory go to you, because you are the only God. Amen

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dry Bones (Haiku)

Out of the depths we
Cry out for the Lord whose day
Is near and yet far.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Future Perfect Tense

While Japan is still shaking and ears are still rattling in Beirut and no one is sure what happened in Paris, except that there is a lot of blood and grief... I feel still as I wait to understand how to pray.

It is almost as though praying for peace has become a kind of false prophecy, for I have seen how the forces that oppose God and God's will in the world go to all kinds of lengths to avoid peace.

I sought out several translations of Psalm 27, particularly verses 13 and 14.

The New Revised Standard Version says:

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

All of it is a future hope as well as guidance toward the future. 

The New American Standard Bible reads: 

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

This points to the idea that the psalmist has had an experience of God within the concreteness of earthly life and applies that lesson to his (or her) future expectations of the Holy One. 

The New International Version: 

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Again the outlook is ahead and not behind.

The NASB is the closest to a literal translation of the Hebrew, whereas the other two are attempting a balance between the beseeching spirit of the psalm and the actual words thereof. Our prayers have to do the same thing. We cry out to the heavens with our grief and our frustrations- HOW LONG, O Lord- and we wait. Yet we also keep living- tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow- with the faithful expectation of seeing God's good work in the world. 

We lean on what we know to be true, because of what we have seen and heard, and we trust that it shall bear fruit again- even in our lifetimes- for the healing of the earth and all who dwell therein. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lucky in Love

I love what I do.

Sure it would be nice to have more money (I don't generally say no to a raise now and then), but I feel very privileged and lucky to do the work I do.

This week I have-

- played pub trivia with members of the congregation I serve,
- debated the root of the Hebrew word miqreh on Facebook and tried to understanding the place of luck in the story of Ruth
- visited a woman post-hip replacement
- met with a variety of different groups
- presided over a wedding that left no eyes dry
- sat as a quiet witness to a broken heart
- prayed in a bunch of different place for different things
- power-napped on the couch in the church
- had a good book discussion (and a Good Book discussion)

And the week is not done.

I am tired. I'll be taking a little comp time tomorrow to make up for two long days, but on the whole-

I feel lucky and grateful to be paid to witness and participate in God's amazing work in the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Sun Also Rises

About a month ago I went on a silent retreat to Christ in the Wilderness in western Illinois. I had a little hermitage to myself and I spent five days walking, praying, reading, thinking, and listening. One evening I hiked up hill (both ways) to the big, free-standing porch swing on a hill. This swing faced due west.

I positioned myself in the swing to watch the blazing orange sunset over the span of corn fields and hickory trees. I heard coyotes yip and yowl. I watched flocks birds swoop and then come to rest, facing the disappearing sun like me. I saw the bats come out and dive for their food.

As everything settled into evening humming, I decided to go back toward my hermitage. I climbed out of the swing and walked the path, back around to the east side of the hill. By the time I was ready to descend the hill toward the little chapel, I was facing due east. I could no longer see the sunset because the peak of the hill was between me and the view.

My new view was the rising deep violet of the coming night. It was easy to perceive myself as walking into the night. In fact, that's what I immediately thought. I am walking into the night.

Then I had an insight. I am not only walking into the night, but I am walking toward the dawn.

Walking into the night- into a darker space where the shapes and path are not as clearly defined-  also means heading toward dawn, a new day, and a new beginning.

Sitting down in the little chair at the top of that path, I looked down the hill and watched the night rise.

How often do we as people or as a church watch the sunset over and over and over, forgetting that we are called to turn toward a resurrection sunrise? We fear the dark- forgetting that the stars and the night are as much a part of God's creativity and creation as the sun and the day.

What does this look like?

- Wringing our hands over dwindling numbers without examine why they're happening
- Expecting the same thing over and over to get the same result it did years ago
- Telling the same stories of history over and over without celebrating the successes of the present or leaning into the dreams of the future

What does walking into the dark look like?

- It looks like the widow of Zarepheth feeding Elijah with some of the last of her food.
- It looks like the widow giving two mites to a system that exploited her, but that she also perceived to allow her access to God
- It looks like a centurion saying, "I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief."
- It looks like 2-3 women walking with heavy hearts toward a tomb that will turn out to be empty.

If we watch sunsets over and over and over, without ever turning into the dawn, we should not be surprised when nothing ever changes. When we turn, when we yield to the Spirit's call, we find that we are not abandoning our history, our saints, our stories. Instead, they are also ahead of us, reminding of us of how God has provided before and the promises of provision for the future.

Turn around, step into a slightly dimmer light, and head toward the dawn- knowing God is with you every step of the way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Not Exactly Rarin' To Go

Prompt: What is the hardest part of a big project: getting the energy to begin, finding the time to work on it, or feeling down that it's over?

I can never get started. 

It's not because I like putting things off. It is actually because of my fear of failing. As long as I haven't started, the project is not a failure. 

I started to write "perfect", but I don't actually expect perfection of myself. That's not attainable. I do, however, have a standard for myself that probably looks like perfection to some people. I tend to operate with the personal expectation of a high level of competency, creativity, and clarity. I feel it very deeply when I fail on one of those. 

Thus, it is often easier not to start something because I can't flop on what I don't leap for. 

What a horrible sentence

It is the time of year when all my spare thoughts are about my Christmas Eve sermon. What can I say to communicate the power, mystery, and deep love of the Incarnation? How can I keep myself out of it, but make it personal enough that the majority of those hearing it believe it was meant for them? 

I almost write the thing on 12/23. On two years, I wrote it before then only because I had other people involved in the sermon. 

I was late on a play this year because I wanted it to be just right. I'd planned out most of it my head, but I dragged writing that first page. I knew once I started, I'd be okay. However, I couldn't commit to being open to the Spirit, writing, editing, and moving forward in the way I imagine normal (read:most) people do. 

I waited. Until it was embarrassing. 

I wish I had a clever ending for this post, but the truth is this: I'm just glad that I started it.