Friday, December 18, 2009

Beautiful people

The other day I stood in line with one of the world's most beautiful people. As far as I know, he's never been on the cover of People magazine, and now that he's 84, he probably won't make it. But public accolade aside, he is a spectacularly beautiful person.
I was stuck in one of those long check-out lanes, debating whether to make a phone call to "use the time well", when we struck up a conversation. He was waiting for his wife (of 60 years) so they could finish up their purchases and head on to their next stop; they were Christmas shopping for the 24 kids and grandkids that are coming home next week. Yep, all 24 of them come home, every year, to celebrate the holidays together. They schedule the days between Christmas and New Years, so that everyone can spend Christmas with "the other families", and then be together--in the home where they all grew up--for 4 days each year. As he told me about these times together, joy poured out of him...deep, deep gratitude for the riches of his life. Turns out he's been a minister his whole life, and now serves simply as a deacon in a church he planted years and years ago. He told me, with deep conviction and a broad smile, "Following the Lord makes every day a new adventure." He really, truly meant it. I've seldom seen such deep-seated contentment, and it transformed a short, elderly man into a vision of beauty.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Che, part 2

This just in, to underscore my earlier blog about Che and the commodification of revolution (and, obviously, of this image)...
Yes, leave it to the Onion to highlight the irony. And yes, leave it to my teen-ager to say he has to have it. And yes, I wouldn't mind wearing this shirt myself. I still think Che's cool.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Be reconciled to God???

My approach to Bible reading has varied widely over the years--aggressive & goal-oriented, study-driven, non-existent, get the picture. Of late, I've taken a new tack--I read a short section, basically just till I come across something that "sticks". Then I spend some time in stillness, sometimes reciting the words, sometimes thinking about them, sometimes just being quiet. I've found that this approach, more than any other, tends to let the words and ideas really filter down and begin to change me. This method, if you could call it that, is a really good fit, reflecting my deep interest in Scripture as related to transformation, of both my self and my world.
At this rate, I typically work my way through a chapter or two in a week. Except now. A couple weeks back I stumbled onto 2 Corinthians 5, where the writer "implores" the reader: "Be reconciled to God." Huh? What, exactly, does he mean? Reconciliation, in our world, is most often used in the context of two opposing parties--say, a perpetrator and a victim--finding a way into forgiveness and relationship. Or two ethnic groups agreeing to set aside past differences and move forward together. Two-way street sorts of contexts. Give-and-take sorts of relationships. Reconciliation with God seems a little more, oh, one-dimensional? Isn't God supposed to be doing the forgiving? Me, the accepting? What, exactly, does reconciliation look like with God?
I've thought about these words, been quiet with these words, prayed about these words for several weeks. They were playing as a sort of background noise when I started reading "The Covenanted Self", by Walter Bruggeman. And then they jumped to the foreground with a startling clarity.
In describing what Moltmann has labeled "the dialectic of reconciliation", Bruggeman writes, "I have argued that lament concerns the full assertion of self over against God and praise concerns the full abandonment of self to God. This drama of assertion and abandonment is indispensable for life with this God...Moving back and forth between lament and praise means always shifting positions, getting up out of our seat and changing roles...Live communion with an initiating and responsive Thou requires precisely such vitality, energy, freedom, and courage."
So, according to Bruggeman, reconciliation with God is not a static "position". It's not something I simply receive. It is an ongoing process, daily, of determining how to relate to an active, moving God. In Spanish, there are two forms of the verb "to be". One is ser, which means to always be. The other is estar, which means to be right now. It seems that reconciliation with God is probably more of an "estar" sort of activity. Each day, each moment, in the context of relating to a God who is suprisingly different than I expect, I find how to be reconciled.
This, I believe, is a compelling way to view reconciliation. It invites me into an active, dynamic sort of interaction, one which allows for the flux of real life and relationship.
One, in fact, that frees me up to move on to the next verse.

(Sculpture is "Reconciliation" by Josefina de Vansconcellos, at Coventry Cathedral.  Image: Creative Commons)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Creedal confessions...

Last Sunday, our family stood in a row and recited the Nicene creed together with our local congregation, in unison with other congregations around the world, and indeed down through the centuries. I find particular delight in joining my voice with that of thousands of others, acknowledging my own infinitesimal part in something much, much bigger than myself.
However, I discovered something new this time, something I hadn't [perhaps consciously] noticed before: the language of the Creed is so highly propositional. It lists the things which we, together, claim to intellectually affirm. And while I'm all for intellectual understanding & inquiry & application, I hope that my faith is something more. I don't wish to take issue with the specifics of the creed; others have done so and will continue to do so "till the end of ages, Amen." What I'd like to see, though, is language that reflects a wholehearted devotion to this God, to this path, to this way of being. A more holistic approach, perhaps. Tiny adaptations, really, but changes that would alter how we interpret our experience and engagement. So here, as a trial run, is a way in which I might like to recite the Creed someday:
The story of my people begins with one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Our life is grounded in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We are sustained by the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We find life and love in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We participate in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look with hope for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(Image in use extensively across the web; I was unable to locate the original source.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

@ a conversation w/Jurgen Moltmann

Last week I attended a "theological conversation" with Jurgen Moltmann, often referred to as the "theologian of hope". One of his books helped re-orient my life several years ago, so the opportunity to hear him speak was one I couldn't miss. Turns out he's a remarkably engaging, funny and insightful man, with a quick wit, brilliant observations, and a wholehearted commitment to the ways of Jesus. What has struck me so profoundly about his work is its rootedness in God's world--as it is now, and as it will be one day yet to come. "as it is now"--a former POW, Moltmann is deeply acquainted with what is wrong with our world. He refuses to hide from it, to cover it up, or even to explain it away. Quite simply, he faces head-on the realities of suffering and evil that undermine the kingdom of God. "as it will be one day yet to come"--based on the history of God's redeeming work in Jesus' death and resurrection, Moltmann trusts that the future will continue to hold such redemption--ultimately healing all--even to the "groaning creation".

As he proposes this stance of realistic expectation, he calls us to invest our lives in "waiting and watching"--waiting for the promise to be realized, watching for ways in which we might participate. And he pulls no punches--everything is on the chopping block. For instance:
"Love your enemies!" ...Stop asking what [your enemy] has done to you or to other people. Ask what he suffers from, and what the sufferings are which are turning him ino your enemy. Ask what God wants to do for him--the God who lets his sun rise upon the evil and the good. Ask what Jesus has done for him.(from The Power of the Powerless)

In the process of presenting some deeply serious material, Moltmann wasn't all gravity--he clearly enjoys life and his own quirky interpretations thereof. I'll leave you with one of his comments related to Scriptural interpretation and the role of women in the church (this delivered w/ a twinkle in his eyes): "It's a good thing the women of the New Testament did not remain silent--or we would never have heard about Jesus' resurrection!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Need I say more

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

- Lilla Watson,
Aboriginal elder, educator, and activist

Friday, June 19, 2009

Language & soul

In college, I only took one philosophy course. It wasn't an intro...somehow I landed in a 300-level "Philosophy of Language" class of students who were pretty confident with their bulky metaphors and convoluted sentences. As our college ran on the Block Plan, the course was 4 weeks long, so our nightly reading averaged 300 pages. It was a remarkably challenging way to dive into continental philosophy, and I loved it!

What especially stood out to me, though, was this: much of what we discussed simply gave spoken form to realities of which I was already intuitively aware. I grew up bilingual, and was working towards a degree in literature. I was steeped in the practice of language and found the ideas I was reading matched my lived experience. Language does shape my reality. It influences my understanding, and underpins culture in powerful, persistent ways.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep so much as a page of notes from that class. But I continue to find myself wrestling with language. The books I love best, I love for their powerful, evocative language. I find I am a selective (read: snobbish) reader. Translation intrigues me, as does the practical application of linguistics.

In particular, though, I'm learning to read the Bible with a sharp eye to its language. Of all the books out there, the language of this one has been uniquely encrusted with layers and layers of human meaning. These layers have a tendency to obscure the power of the text, and lead the reader to conclusions that are not, in fact, inevitable (or incontrovertible). I find, now, that if I can wrestle with the language--say, pull one word out and turn it over, look at it from different angles--entirely new meanings arise from the text. I find it to be, as it claims, living!

One of the reasons I started to blog was to track my exploration of language, and in particular, biblical language. In upcoming posts I'll periodically engage some of the words & phrases that are finding new meaning (and by meaning, I mean life-altering influence)for me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Paul Theroux wrote, in The Old Patagonian Express, "In a way, Guevara's fate was worse than Bolivar's. Guevara's collapse was complete; his intentions were forgotten, but his style was taken up by boutique owners. There is no faster way of destroying a man, or mocking his ideas, than making him fashionable. That Guevara succeeded in influencing dress-designers was part of his tragedy."
I think he's got a point: Che would undoubtedly react poorly to seeing his face on a handbag. Not to mention his response to the current political state of the western hemisphere.
This image, then--if Theroux is correct--kills two birds with one stone. Both Jesus and Che are reduced to images--brands--for our visual consumption. In one quick artistic edit, two revolutionaries are flattened and pacified.
But I'm not sure I'm willing to give the curmudgeon his way. Much as I'm enjoying Theroux's book, and inclined as I am to agree with him, I find this particular image powerful and evocative. Perhaps it's the combination of two characters so often juxtaposed--a sort of visual paradox. Maybe it's because I'm so subconsciously branded that I see Che and think, "Cool!" Or perhaps, it's a sort of visceral reminder that Jesus was about changing the way we see things and the way we live--in ways even more "out there" than Che.

(Image from the "Meek. Mild. As If. Campaign")

Friday, May 22, 2009

39 and thankful

Several years ago my husband and I were sitting on the front porch with a friend whose life was falling apart. We shared mojitos and listened to his story, grieving his losses with him. After a time, though, he looked up and said, “I am so blessed!” I squinted at him and asked him to repeat himself. And again, “I am so blessed.” I asked how he figured that. And he proceeded to list the things in his life that were good, the blessings he counted in the midst of his pain.
I was shocked. I’ve been through difficult times, and have gotten quite good at acknowledging suffering. So good, in fact, that I sometimes forget how to see past it. This friend opened my eyes again to choice. The choice I have—we all have—to engage life with gratitude.
I turned 39 this week, and it was one of the best birthdays of my life. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was a deeply good day. The past year has been a great year. Not a perfect year, but a profoundly rich year. Gratitude has marked much of this year, and is beginning to leave its mark on my life.

I have committed myself to joy. I have come to realize that those who make space for joy, those who prefer nothing to joy, those who desire the utter reality, will most assuredly have it. We must not be afraid to announce it to refugees, slum dwellers, saddened prisoners, angry prophets. Now and then we must even announce it to ourselves. In this prison of now, in this cynical and sophisticated age, someone must believe in joy.
(Richard Rohr, OFM, 5/19/09 Sojourners)