Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Brother Lawrence he's not...

Vonnegut again. Describing a day in which, with paper-clipped, type-written, pencil-marked pages in hand, he walks outdoors to buy a single envelope and then walk further to wait in line to purchase the exact postage to send it to a typist, a day in which he initiates random conversations about bluebirds and the lottery because "I love to talk to people," I hear echoes of my faith.

In a conversation he recounts with Joe, a young man from Pittsburg who pleads "Please tell me it will all be okay," Vonnegut responds:

'Welcome to Earth, young man,' I said. 'It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it, Joe, you've got to be kind!'
OK, Brother Lawrence, he's not. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation, but this feels like an irreverant version of Life Together. As we seek God's presence, we will find it most completely not in seclusion, but among others. "A purely spiritual relationship is not only dangerous but also an altogether abnormal thing." And time among others will often feel unproductive and wasted if we focus our agenda on what we seek to accomplish. However, sometimes by farting around we genuinely encounter another person because we have put aside our agenda for that moment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

reading vonnegut

Because the radio reception is so bad up here, and because cell coverage isn't reliable (or free), I stop in the library once every six weeks or so to settle up fines from overdue items and select another book on tape to listen to in the car. Last month was Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna; this month is some Fox-news-inspired Tom Clancy-esque knock-off.

As I was getting ready to check out, I noticed Kurt Vonnegut's memoir A Man Without a Country published last year. It's not a deep read, but when I can snatch 10 minutes here and there, it's entertaining. From this morning's lesson, a brief meditation on addiction: cigarrettes are "a fire on one end and a fool on the other." But the paragraph that grabbed me is this one:

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn't the TV news is it? Here's what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent criems to get what little is left of what we're hooked on.
The Lit Major in me wants to analyze the sentences to dissect and determine how he tricked me; the Lit Major in me admires the movement of the essay. I wanted to laugh that he's making a joke, but as soon as the chuckle began, I realized he'd pulled a fast one on me and just maybe he's not joking. The human in me, the military chaplain in me, the pastor in me wants to weep that maybe he's on to something.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

psalm like it hot

Explaining belief has always been difficult. How do you explain a love and logic at the heart of the universe when the world is so out of kilter with this? Has free will got us crucified? And what about the dodgy characters who inhabit the tome known as the Bible, who hear the voice of God? Explaining faith is impossible: vision over visibility; instinct over intellect. A songwriter plays a chord with the faith that he will hear the next one in his head.

Good stuff.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The “I” in Team

My high school football team was good. Not as good as the Amsterdam Rams this year, but a match-up would have been close. Our football coach was obviously at the school for the football team; but to make a living, he taught some classes and in the spring coached track and field.

I didn’t play football, but since I did run track for a season I got to know Coach’s style and pithy little sayings. A typical track practice might begin with some of us wondering if he knew which season he was in. “Men!” he’d call us (and wow, did we like to be called “men!”) “Line up in the end zone.” At other times, we would hear his gruff voice booming a proverb across the field: “There’s no I in team!” This also left many of us baffled: we could spell; of course we knew there was no “i” in team! A football-player-turned-shot-putter explained to us that Coach meant we each were to remember we were a part of the team, not individual players out on the field. I recognized his point: even though we competed in the individual-event-oriented nature of track and field, we did so as part of and to benefit the whole team.

As I travel through the season of Lent and approach Easter, I have been spending my devotional time in the Psalter. Psalm 22, scripture that Jesus quoted from the cross, takes on new meaning when I remember Coach’s “No I in Team” proverb. I think the way he applied that to track and field was wiser than he may have realized.

When Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” his anguish was as real as the psalmists’: God’s only begotten son felt his father had abandoned him. But both Christ and the psalmist, by saying “my God,” are still engaged in their relationship with God. They may feel abandoned, but they do not walk away, they still address my God. I also at times feel abandoned and frustrated by God, but must remain in relationship with him whether it’s by wrestling, complaining, speaking, yelling, weeping or laughing. I think that’s the “I” thing that Coach was getting at: I have a responsibility for my own relationship with God.

The other way Psalm 22 relates to Coach’s proverb is talking about the Team. As this prayer progresses, it rides like a roller coaster: from deep anguish (verses 1-2), through times of hope (verses 3-5 and 9-11), back into despair (verses 6-8 and 12-21), and finally into trust and celebration of God’s faithfulness (from verse 22 to the end). In the course of this roller coaster, the psalm shifts perspective away from the individual person struggling with faith. The last third of this prayer addresses groups of people: the assembly, the descendents, the families, the future generations. I find it difficult to pray these words and feel alone; the end of Psalm 22 evokes the chorus of witnesses who have gone before, who are gathered now, and who will follow. What began in such personal anguish (verse 1) ends in public praise among other people (verse 31). The psalmist discovers that we reach the fullness of faith only when we join with others.

What Coach was trying to say is that: Yes, we are individuals, but we are also members of a team and must do everything in our power to participate in the life of the team. For Jesus, this meant a willingness to suffer separation from God for a time, so that his followers would not have to suffer separation from God at the end of time.

My individual faith must benefit God’s work in the world.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

do not conform to the pattern of this world

How is the body to become a sacrifice?
Let the eye look on no evil thing,
and it has already become a sacrifice.
Let the tongue say nothing filthy, and
it has already become an offering.
Let your hand do nothing evil, and it has
become a whole burnt offering.
But even this is not enough,
for we must have good works also.
The hand must do alms,
the mouth must bless those who curse it,
and the ears must find time to listen
to the reading of Scripture.
Sacrifice allows of no unclean thing;
it is the first fruits of all other actions.
John Chrysostom

ash wednesday

Merciful God, you called us forth from the dust of the earth;
you claimed us for Christ in the waters of baptism.
Look upon us as we enter these forty days bearing the mark of ashes,
and bless our journey through the desert of Lent to the font of rebirth.
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.
All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus,
for in his cross you proclaim your love for ever and ever.

thank you

I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed are those who take refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers them from them all;
he protects all their bones,
not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The LORD redeems his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
Psalm 34 (TNIV)

Commenting on Rebekah Hope Marvel's new name, a friend said how wonderful, in a time of war and such anger, to be reminded that Hope still walks the earth.