holy saturday

You wouldn’t expect the day between Jesus’ death and resurrection to be sunny and windy, full of spring and allergens and life, but here we are.  Regardless of the weather, this day and its conceptual meanings has always been really important to me, capturing imagination and emotional interest.

This time last year, I was in Luxembourg with Hannah and Jessie, about to head back to Oxford and unable to get T.S. Eliot out of my head. What I saw then as a potential thesis turned out to be something deeper, a lifelong obsession with the space that we’re occupying right now: the space between death and resurrection.

Every year, I feel like we overlook this day. While our theological focus is (rightly) fixed on the crucifixion of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, there are no services for Holy Saturday (I had to look up that name because I’d never heard it). There’s a reason for this: today is the day that we practice waiting.

I can’t imagine what today would have been for Jesus’ disciples: the man that you’ve followed for three years, that you knew was the anointed one, that you thought would free you from Roman rule, has just been put to death by that very regime. For the disciples, it was a day of fear, a day of doubt, and a day of despair. I’m reminded of Hans Holbein’s painting of Christ in the tomb:

holbein-christ
It struck Dostoevsky enough for him to include it in The Idiot, and looking at the painting brought him to the brink of an epileptic seizure. When he spoke to his wife about it, he said, “A painting like that can make you lose your faith.” With good reason: seeing Jesus in the tomb, beginning to decay with a thin form and discolored extremities, lets us know just how much we need the resurrection. This is the darkest moment, the nadir of kenosis (emptying out); it is also the most essential moment, when human incarnation meets divine power. Everything – everything – hinges on the fulfilment of the resurrection.

This isn’t just an important lesson for a single day, either.  We live, right now, in that vast space between our own death and resurrection as we continue to wait for the return of our resurrected Lord. We struggle with fear, and with doubt; but we know that, because of Christ, we refuse to despair.

I’ve talked about Eliot’s Waste Land before on here, and a lot of people look at this poem as a hopeless picture of a lost and broken generation.  When I read it, though, I see the same space we’ve been talking about: a land yearning for restoration – for the Fisher King to be restored by the Holy Grail, which holds, unsurprisingly, the blood of Christ. Last year, I was having a lot of doubts about the nature of God. Did he really love me? Was he really good and just, strong and saving? And it sounds so strange to say this, but Phlebas brought me back.

I reread part four of The Waste Land, which has always been my favorite:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

This may not seem like the most hopeful passage, but it gave me hope again. Phlebas hasn’t been left for dead. As he sits in his watery tomb, the current comes. Something new swirls around him – a sea-change, something that will alter everything. A resurrection.  His Death by Water is a baptism.

After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

The waste land captures this Saturday perfectly, for the disciples and for us. The space of this world is corrosive. We are surrounded by death – it’s the trajectory of everything in this fallen world, and without Christ, it would be ours, too. But we just have to fix our eyes on him and wait.

This is why this space matters.  We’re not good at waiting. We want things immediately – Christ’s return, or God’s answer for the pressing questions of our lives. This is the space I’ve found myself in right now, as my friends’ future plans roll in in waves and I continue to be suspended – like Phlebas, it seems. I don’t know where I’ll be this summer, or next year, or the year after that. I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Like Elijah did in 1 Kings 19 (thanks, co-leader Matt!), I’m trying to listen for the voice of God past the winds, the earthquakes, and the fires – I’m trying to hear him in the gentle whispers that come into my life. And I’m trying to serve him, not my own ideas of success or the world’s ideas.

I’ll leave you with one last Eliot quote, this one from “East Coker” (my favorite of the Four Quartets).

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

Find yourself here, in the middle way, between death and resurrection – and learn to find peace with God in the waiting.

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ferguson (+ staten island + ayotzinapa)

The past two weeks have been heavy; I am exhausted in every way.  I am saddened and have been, at some points, near despairing. The pain of this world has been weighing on me; we are so, so broken.

I wrote most of this last week when the Ferguson decision came out.  Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, will not be indicted, and St. Louis has broken into a deep and raw mourning.  This week, I have attended two events:

The first was a Skype call with survivors of the mass kidnapping in Ayotzinapa, Mexico earlier this year and with mothers of the missing students.  Their story was heartbreaking: “police” involved with the cartels attacked with violent force, shot six of their friends, and kidnapped forty-three others.  They have not been seen since; I fear that they will not be recovered, since the mayor of Iguala has all but admitted his complicity in working with the cartels.

The second was a rally to protest the innocent black men and women killed by police in the United States, primarily the most recent to not receive justice: Eric Garner.  Months ago, he was put into an illegal chokehold by police and died; the medical examiner ruled it a homicide.  He was unarmed and innocent with his hands in the air, and the entire thing was caught on camera.  As Jon Stewart explains, “None of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case, and yet the outcome is exactly the same.”   The cop who murdered Eric Garner will not be indicted.  The only person who will be is the cameraman.  I’ll let the dystopian undertones sink in, but it’s sick. It is sick.

I haven’t posted here for months, and I hadn’t said much about these issues before; I have had a lot of moments lately when I haven’t known what to say or how to say it.  But I’m tired of staying silent.  I’m tired. Enough is enough.

Until recently I had hesitations; I have been focused on facts instead of emotions and pain, and I have not wanted to act out of incorrect motives.  The first of these I repent of; the second I stand by.  If my motivation is guilt, a desire to “be a part of history” or collect a story to tell later, I am incorrect, because all of these motivations point to one place: myself. Guilt can be a helpful motivator, but when the focus shifts to your own pain (I feel bad) instead of the pain of others (they are hurting), you take away their voices. When I say I am hurting, it’s true, but it is not my own pain, and it does not supersede theirs.  I do mourn, but it is not about me; as a white woman, privileged in education and wealth, I do not wish to stifle the voices of others.  It’s a biblical mandate to speak up for others:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

but it’s also important to listen to and encourage the voices of those most affected as well as joining with them (my friend James has some powerful words about the Ferguson decision here).

The focus must be turned back to the Ferguson community, to the families and individuals who have lost one of their own to police brutality, who are subjected every day to unfair and racist treatment.  We can’t think that what happened to Michael Brown is a one-time event that we can brush over because of the grand jury’s decision; regardless of whether you think it’s fair or not, you can’t take this as the end of an event, something that we can finally stop hearing about in the news.  There are countless others – Eric Garner, Tamir Rice (a child), John Crawford III have all been killed, unarmed, in the past few months.  Ferguson is a sign of a deeper systemic injustice, a crying out over existing pain; police have released tear gas on peaceful protests and responded to anger and pain with more fear.  The police force is not reflective of the demographic they are supposed to protect, and there is deep and understandable mistrust.

As the body of Christ, we need to be listening, empathizing, and reacting in love.  We cannot continue divided; Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to bring peace to this world, and to heal relationships, but he also spoke out against injustice and hypocrisy.

I’ve been praying a lot, and that’s what I want to ask of you as well.  As a friend of mine said at a prayer meeting last week, “Don’t think that we’re ‘just praying,’ or praying instead of doing something ‘real’ like protesting.  Prayer is powerful and effective.  It can move mountains, enact change, and transform lives and communities.”

I want to go forward with my actions as a reflection of Jesus’ truth; I want to speak out for peaceful change, to get involved in a way that Christ would want me to.  Is protesting a part of this? If we look back at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, not a single person would say that what they were doing was not right; not a single person can look at those protesters and call their actions anything but heroic.  I have always looked back on them with inspiration, and until now I have assumed that, if I lived at that time, I would have joined them – the side of the just and righteous.  Recently I have not been so sure; my natural tendency is toward inaction, toward comfort and safety and the status quo.  It is easy to look back at history to make yourself feel good; it is hard to realize that we are living in a fishbowl, that we do not always recognize the cultural waters we swim in, and that “legal” does not always mean “right.”

I am praying that God would challenge that tendency in me in every way, that he would urge me on toward the right thing, not the comfortable thing.  I am praying that I will not act out of fear or stability but out of justice and peace and love.  I am praying that things will change, and that I will not look back with regret that I did not help change them.  I am praying that my heart will change, too, and every ounce that is not God’s would be eradicated.  This week I reached a breaking point, and standing with hundreds of students in solidarity was necessary.

The gospel is not easy, safe, or comfortable; the gospel does not allow the status quo or stem from the culture of the time.  The gospel is living and active.  The gospel makes us uncomfortable and does not allow us to stay where we want to stay.

Throughout history some of the greatest civil rights movements have been helmed by Christians, just as the greatest opposition has come from those who claim the faith but are more comfortable with the status quo.  It has always been difficult, and there have always been those who vocally and violently fight to keep things exactly the way that they are.

Things are not okay exactly the way that they are.

Lives are being lost in injustice.  The world is deeply, painfully broken; we need to see this pain.  As Christians, especially, we cannot look at this world as somewhere we’re escaping from, cloistering ourselves off until Jesus returns.  This world is our home. Christ came for every broken individual living inside it, and he came to heal and restore it.  As N.T. Wright and many others have pointed out, it’s right in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  In Jeremiah, God’s first command to the exiles is to get involved:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:4-7

We are not called to evacuate, we are called to change things; we are called to enter in, just as Christ did, to the brokenness and the horror of it all, to come alongside people, to pray for our city.  Empathy is an act of entering into someone else’s pain and shouldering it; who has done this more than our God?

Don’t mistake my language, please: I’m not saying that we should be playing savior.  It’s an imperfect metaphor.  We are not God, and we cannot save anyone – only Jesus can save, and only he can bring true salvation and healing.  All we can do is come alongside our brothers and our sisters and live with them, fight with them, love with them, mourn with them.  Our response should not be contradiction, but compassion.  It’s not easy to empathize – to share -another’s pain – but it’s necessary.  The language of solidarity reflects this (“todos somos Ayotzinapa” – we are all Ayotzinapa).

Things are broken, but we do not have an uncaring God; as my dear and wise friend, Caroline, told me the night of the grand jury decision, we have a God who weeps for us.  As Hebrews 4:15 says,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

He has also suffered in every way; he understands.  He calls us to be pained for our neighbors, to mourn those who are hurting and those who do not know him – who do not have his peace or his hope.  We do not have a God who told us to cloister ourselves off from culture, society, and the world; we have a God of empathy who has sent us out into it to go into it to make disciples and to love the broken, to acknowledge our own fallen nature and strive to be more like him.

The fact that I can even write this gives me a luxury others do not have. I pray for the courage to speak for (and with) the oppressed, to stand against injustice, and to carry out my life with deep sympathy for others.  My prayer is for transformation – in this world, in this city, in the lives of individuals, and in my own heart.

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Read this: Pastor Leonce Crump’s very salient thoughts: It’s Time to Listen: “Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice?”

Why You Should Still Care about Ferguson Despite the Facts (terrible title, good article)

Think this doesn’t directly apply to you? 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

An incredibly powerful stream of the Skype call to Iguala earlier this week, with survivors and mothers of the taken; in English here.

As usual, let me know if you want to talk about anything.  Thanks.

a handful of words from good friday

There’s this feeling that steals over me sometimes, starting flickeringly in my heart and moving up into a lump in my throat – it’s the quiet feeling you get right after you wake up from a nap or after you’ve cried out everything there is to cry.  It’s a specific sort of peace – I thought I would call it rest, or relief, but now I think it’s deeper, the type of rest you only get after you have given everything and embraced the stillness.

I feel it when I’m writing, sometimes, when I hit that unstoppable stride when nothing else in the world matters – I think it’s called flow.  But mostly it comes when I’m praying, when I’m worshiping, when Christ strikes me so deeply and so ecstatically that I open my mouth to cry out but nothing really emerges.  I can sometimes call it the Holy Spirit, but he speaks in various ways.

I walked out of today’s Good Friday service like this, this mix of sweet and salty, of pleasure and pain.  God is awesome, and in that word lies both fear and beauty, glory and ferocity.  There is still a lump in my throat, the inexplicable pleasant urgency of suddenly having a great and terrible tale unfolded and laid out before you – a tale intricately woven through our entire lives, existences, species, and fabric.  It’s a story of death and betrayal, but it’s mostly a story of redemption, life, and love, because the former allow the latter to manifest more beautifully and fully.  It’s ours only because God has made it so; he has humbled himself to human life and to death in order to let us be a part of it.  He pulls us into his world.

In these moments I see all the themes that I have loved for their truth emerge, the themes that have summoned up this feeling of rest in my soul – life, death, the substantiality that waiting affords, the pain and the broken striving of our race, the eventual renewal and much-awaited resurrection.  I see them converge and connect and my soul falls to its knees.

I have been worrying about thesis preparations for a while, now.  I am considering writing on these three days we have entered into – the days between Good Friday and Easter, the gap between death and resurrection that occupies the historical space, the lives of those who are dead in sin, and the waiting we all do while we still live in a land laid waste.  When the priest quoted T.S. Eliot I nearly cried – perhaps I should take it as a sign.

So, I leave you with this very short, very scattered post – take substance from the waiting, rest in the lull after your tears, and continue to seek out the things that tie us together and make us human.

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Read this: “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot

reading aloud

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, all: I just found this post that I’d forgotten to put up, so here you are.

When I was younger, I hated reading aloud.  I loved to read, of course – I’ve always known that stories carry magic – but I remember sitting in my second grade class as we circled around with Charlotte’s Web and I just knew that my tongue would trip over the words in a way my mind never did and my mouth would get dry and my voice do something I didn’t want it to do.  When I read to myself, I was swept up in the world of the book in a way that mimicked restfulness, and I’d look up from my book with the feeling that I’d just woken from a nap.  Reading aloud, though, scared me.  As I got better, I’m sure I became more cocky about it.

But recently, I’ve realized that there is a specific and dense magic that comes from speaking the written word, a magic that transcends what I’d expected from printed ink on a woven page of pulpy tree.

I think that children understand this magic deeply.  I always love to read aloud when I babysit (once I read a self-abridged version of A Wrinkle in Time), but this summer, something really captivating happened.  I was filling in for a family’s nanny for half a week, and the second day on the job was Homework Day.  Everyone was upset about it, obviously, moaning and half-heartedly scribbling on their math sheets.  The youngest’s only remaining homework assignment was to be read to.

I grabbed an abridged children’s copy of Treasure Island and began to read to him in a hushed voice, glancing up at him every once in a while.  When I started, he was squirming, sliding out of his chair, and rolling his eyes up at the ceiling.  Halfway through, he was looking at me.  When I stopped after the first chapter and started to put it away, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t stop!”  By this point, the other two weren’t doing their homework either but had started listening to the story.  One of them had crept around to look at the illustrations.  After lunch, we relocated to the couch, huddling together to read about poor Jim Hawkins.  I did some growly pirate voices and we all giggled over Ben Gunn’s cheese obsession.

We sat for more than two hours and read that whole book, cover to cover.  They never once got bored or wanted to stop.  The story had pulled them tight in a sort of magic, and even when my voice began to dry up they wrapped themselves around each word.  Treasure Island has no deep moral or spiritual truth (upon first glance, at least); it’s an adventure story, but it knows how to speak.  It understands the power of story, and so did the children.  This got them focused like nothing I had ever tried before – no sports break, homework incentive, or movie grabbed them like Treasure Island did.  It was absolutely unbelievable.

I think I finally understand the bardic tradition of the Celtic tribes, why the poets advised the kings and were revered as they were.  I understand how powerful it would have been to have everyone gathered in a castle hall for their Michaelmas celebration, shuffling quietly as they listened to the bard unfold the tale of the brave, perfection-seeking Gawain and a Knight, green from the hair of his beard to his very skin.

As Tolkien best put it, it is a “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”

Also this summer, my grandmother, while visiting us, fell and broke her hip.  It was terrible and scary, but she did such a wonderful job recovering.  We would often come visit her to talk and chat, catching her up on everything and discussing different things.  One night, her trigeminal neuralgia was acting up badly, and she was in a lot of pain.  We headed over, and she couldn’t talk.  In half an hour, the nurse could come and give her a dose of pain medication.  I figured I would distract her.  I held her hand tightly, pulled up my story on my dad’s iPad, and began to read.

I got very quiet as I did so, for I was self-conscious of reading words that I myself had written.  I shook it off.  My grandma relaxed perceptibly and smiled at me.  The time passed.  It was crazy, the feeling that filled the dark room, a comforting sort of heaviness that blanketed us.  Before we left, though, we all prayed for her.  I was fervent and earnest, and I could feel that the words coming from my mouth were not my words, and I felt the Holy Spirit there.  It was love I was speaking, just love.  The power of prayer was tangible and suspended, and the next day, Grandma was better than we’d seen her in weeks.

I keep running into the reading aloud.  Oxford’s Keble has a chapel built into it, and it’s absolutely beautiful, with storytelling stained glass and a massive organ and echoey, cavernous ceilings.  In one of my first weeks here, at the urging of the Bursar, I crept into the empty chapel’s side-room.  There was a Bible and a list of the readings for the day, and I read them aloud in a whisper, turning from Jonah to Luke and having the privilege of letting God’s Word permeate the place through my voice.

I wrote a play for Oxford’s Cuppers competition, and that was a completely different rush, the joy of watching people speak your words in their voice and telling them how to act around them.  There would be moments when they pulled something out that was exactly right, better, inventing, embodying an imagined thing.  That’s magic, too, isn’t it?

And now we come to the vehicle of my remembrance of this post.  My Paradise Lost essay from last week was all about speech: I wrote about God creating beautiful things through speech and Satan perverting them, about a blind Milton speaking his words aloud and fashioning himself into the old recitative epic poet, and I spoke my words aloud to my tutor.

Words are important, living, and active.  God spoke the universe into existence through the force of his speech, creating the universe through a word and through the Word.  The Word has saved our people by becoming like us, by dying for us, by refusing to stay dead.  Do not discount what you speak; God’s words have power, and so do yours.

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Read this: my story (“The Mason Jar”) if you like;  Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories  (you have to)

calvinism, Christianity, and the weight of the gospel

I’m studying 14th-17th century literature right now at Keble– I can hear you all groaning.  I was wary, but it’s actually been incredibly interesting.  I’ve learned a whole lot (I hope).  Of course, you can’t talk about this time period without breaching the subject of the different Christian sects of each time.  I, honestly, have loved this: I have been able to write my essays on God’s grace and mercy.  I have been able to commune with John Donne (my love) and attend lectures on religion in the Elizabethan era.  I was assigned Augustine for reading.  But a few weeks ago, our class on Calvinism hit me like a load of bricks.

Let me first clarify.  The class was on 17th century Calvinism, and it brought up a lot of uncomfortable things.  Calvin believed that man’s free will would cheapen God’s sovereignty, and so God controls everyone; he also chooses his elect and rejects the reprobate on seemingly arbitrary whim.  Because of this, you can never really know if you’ve been saved or not, and you can never know if you’re going to heaven or to hell.  According to Calvin, God even causes the rejected to feel like they have experienced God’s grace and Spirit.

This mentality wreaked havoc on the people of the time period.  They assumed God was punishing them for sins or for their own reprobate status; people even convinced themselves that, although they believed in Christ, they were still going to hell.  I’m not saying this was Calvin’s intention; I’m just saying that regardless, this is how it was taken by people of the 17th century.

Can God fairly and justly punish someone who He controls completely? This is when I realized that my greatest fear is not a nonexistent God; my greatest fear is that the universe is ruled by a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

Do I believe this? I don’t think so.  If God were not good then our idea of order and justice and morality would be a sham, and the fabric of the universe would unravel.  Do I wrestle with questions I will never be able to answer on this earth? Yes, constantly.

The reactions of my classmates were telling.  They responded to the cruelty of Calvinism in a way that triggered their moral outrage, their sense of right and wrong.  And perhaps we can cite this same sense as evidence of a loving and justice-seeking God.  God, of course, does not have to follow the rules we make up for him.  But my heart sank as they spoke of these concepts as nonsense and rubbish, as they conflated this with Christianity and with Christ himself.

I cannot believe they are the same thing.

The constant fear of hell that Calvin expresses is not Biblical. Romans 10:13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; 1 John 3:19-20 that “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” We have assurance in Christ – John has even written: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  We are confident and assured – we know.

But I still came out of that class with a realization: regardless of Calvin, and regardless of what others believe, people will still go to hell.

It haunted me for days. It still is, honestly.  That day I sent frustrated messages to my parents as I tried to reconcile these concepts of agency and sovereignty.  I sat on my bed at the thought that my classmates, the strangers I pass on the street, the homeless man on the corner, the musicians behind each song I listen to, the friends I share my life with – that they could all be barred from heaven.  And I wept.

I think this is the proper response.  A friend told me that when we draw close to the heart of God, we become grieved for the same things He grieves for.

I don’t know how all of this works.  I hate that people have to go to hell.  I don’t understand how, if God can harden people’s hearts to keep the Israelites in slavery or soften them to accept the Holy Spirit, he can’t just do this for every human being on earth.  I have heard of dream-vision conversions, and I can’t understand why God will not send them to every living person on this earth.

But I trust him, and I think that this deep, heaving grief is also God’s response when we refuse him.  I think that free will has to exist, because without it, love cannot.  Without it, we have no choice to accept or reject.  But I trust God because I believe these things about him: that He is sovereign, and that He is good.

I trust that I cannot fathom the idea of hell as he can. I trust that he, as the ruler of the universe, knows better than I do.

I’m sorry if this feels like a cop-out.  I know it must.  But the simple truth is that I do not understand, I will not understand, and I will mourn.  And as we follow these truths out to their logical conclusions – as we struggle with these things – we act on where they take us.

We cannot simply weep over the non-Christians in our life and in our world.  We cannot mourn them as though they have already been damned.  There is hope for every human being in Christ, and we are mandated to share it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

This is the scariest part.  There is a piece of me that does not want to post this, because if I do, I become a hypocrite if I don’t tell others of the grace and glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  So that’s probably a good reason to put it up here.

I will confess that I feel uncomfortable telling other people about Jesus.  I’m scared they will avoid me, and I’m scared they will shy away from preaching and proselytizing.  I’m terrified.  But I can’t hold my own discomfort as more valuable than the lives of my brothers and sisters.  If you love someone – really love someone – you are compelled to show them the cure for eternal death.  Penn Jillette, an atheist, says this:

“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

I know this is really heavy.  It’s been weighing me down.  But to forget would be folly.

My fellow Christians: hold me accountable.

My non-Christian friends:  I love you so dearly.  I do not want you to die.  I love you deeply, and that is why I tell you this:

We’re sinful.  When God gave us everything, including our very lives, we rebelled against him.  We chose death.  But God does not want us dead.  God is love itself, and God enacted this plan – he saw us in our suffering and sent us a remedy.  Jesus came to earth as God in human-skin so that he could take the penalty that we deserved.  He died – God took on the pain and death of humanity – for love of us.  We’re humans, we’re nothing compared to an eternal God – and yet he loved us.

He rose again from death, he defeated death itself.  For you.  And here’s the deal, now – we are offered grace.  We are offered redemption and future perfection and life with a wonderful and life-giving God.  If we take him up on the offer, we have to give up some of our idols and sins.  We have to serve God instead of our friends or careers or desire for money or fame or pleasure.

But it’s worth it.  I can’t express how much it is worth it, how content you can be when your worth is derived from the love God has for you instead of from your own accomplishments.

Ask me about this.  Tell me how weird this sounds, how improbable it is, tell me honestly what you think and why you cannot consider it.  I’ll tell you how much it’s worth it.

Peace, my friends.  Thanks for sticking this one out.

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sick (part ii)

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t get out of bed.  My limbs felt like they were made of the iron that I lacked, and every time I moved I was crushed with a wave of dizziness and nausea.  I feel a little better after eating, sure.  But I’m leaving the country on Friday, so I’m a little nervous.  This isn’t a surprise, though, due to the fact that I ate too little yesterday and my iron levels, which are supposed to be 13-150, are less than 5.

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of writing this post for a long time now, and it’s ironic that this has given me the space I need to write it.  I talk to very few people about it, so this should be part confession and part discussion.

I can’t ever remember being truly healthy.  We’ve been trying to solve my health issues – stomach problems, low immune system, occasional anemia – for a lifetime.  Sometimes, it was fine.  Until last year, really, it was under control, and I didn’t really think about it.  But there would be days when I would wake up in the middle of the night so ill that I could not sleep.  I felt so frustrated, as though I was trying to calm my body like a crying child.  I would take the shaking and the pain and throw medicines and food at it.  I would throw up my dinner involuntarily at five in the morning, not understanding, and weep into my hands in anger as I watched the pale, blank sky and listened to the premature chirping of the birds outside my window.

I realized just recently the effect that my body’s had on my understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul.  I’ve always put such a heavy emphasis on the soul over the body, regarding the latter as broken.  This past year, I’ve getting pretty tired of my physicality.  It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve realized that there will be a resurrection of the body as well – John Donne’s helped me broaden my understanding immensely.  I’m trying to bypass the hatred and betrayal that I’ve felt to my corporeal form for so long.

This summer, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.

There was a week in between the autoimmune test’s positivity and the diagnosis where I thought a lot about what it would mean to know, and what it would mean to actually start getting better.  I thought I would have a sort of identity crisis.  Not in a basic theological way, of course, but in the details.  Celiac is genetic; I’ve had it for my entire life.  I broke out in eczema, one of its symptoms, when I was three days old.  Before I had a name, I had been identified by this disorder.  Did I sleep so much because it was part of my personality, or because of the fatigue? How much of me has been shaped by this? And who would I be without it?

I shouldn’t have worried so much.  Not much has changed.  In part, I’ve realized that celiac’s diagnosis makes a lot of sense.  All of the symptoms I’d been experiencing over the years stemmed from this one disorder.  Here’s how it works: people with celiac can’t digest any sort of gluten, which is a key part of foods like wheat, rye, and barley.  Because we can’t digest it, it slowly wears away at the digestive tract, causing inflammation, pain, and malabsorption.  This malabsorption leads to fatigue and deficiency in things like B-12 and iron.

When I was diagnosed, I was upset.  Having celiac means devoting constant attention to what you eat, because even a little bit of gluten sneaking in can wreak havoc on my whole system.  Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue, and so sometimes, it feels a little bit like I’m coming apart without it, but I’m learning to navigate it.  I may put up a page on this blog with a few tips for the newly diagnosed, or make a separate post on celiac advice.  The strangest part was this: the worse I got, the more wheat I ate.  I thought it was making me better – I saw it as the one thing that was ‘safe’.

For twenty years, I poisoned myself, thinking it was the cure.  If that doesn’t have theological implications, I’m not sure what does.  As humans, we crave the thing that kills us, and we turn for comfort to the very thing that will ultimately destroy us.  Even sin can be beautiful to us, drawing us into a comfortable dependence and our ultimate demise.  The things that are good for us are painful at first.  However, the more I eat the foods I can, the more disgusting the others seem.  The more we live with God, the more repulsive sin will become to us, and the healthier we will become.

So here’s to figuring out painful things, and moving in the direction of getting well.

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p.s. I’m fine, guys.  Haha.  This was a little dramatic. Do not worry.

being human

[being human: the presence]

In my last post, I talked about the dangerous way in which paranormal romances overemphasize the other-ness of characters who aren’t human.  This time, we’re going to look at the flip side, focusing on the way that relatable super-human characters struggle to stay human.

Because the best stories with inhuman characters remind us what it truly means to be human.

The idea really struck me as I sat in front of the biggest movie theater screen of my life, watching the newest incarnation of Superman battle it out against General Zod.  My thoughts about Man of Steel’s wasted potential are another story; I came out of it dwelling on a single thing – Clark Kent’s humanity.  I’m fully aware that Superman is about the farthest you could possibly get from a human being; however, this movie really made me realize that, at the heart of it all, Superman was raised as a human.  He might be an alien, but he grew up in Kansas.  And it’s his humanity that saves him.

This movie, and so many modern renditions of superheroes, has focused not on the powers, but on the flaws.  Modern-day superheroes can’t do everything.  As comics have progressed from the Golden Age, they’ve gotten progressively darker, more brooding, and grittier.  Our heroes become flawed.

Superman still has to save the day, but during the battle scenes, we flip back and forth between him and all of the normal human beings struggling to survive an apocalyptic scenario.  His powers do not ensure his survival – Zod has what he has physically.  The difference? Superman thinks – and feels – as a human being.  Zod wants to be a god.  Superman doesn’t, and because of this, he can become a bridge between two worlds.

The concept of a character that is at once man and another creature is not new.  I have a confession: I have watched entirely too much Teen Wolf lately.  Please shoot me a message if you need me to defend this show to you (I know it looks awful).

At its surface, Teen Wolf is a show about a high schooler who gets bitten by a werewolf and inherits all sorts of powers and problems.  As it progresses, though, you realize that the main character, Scott, isn’t the only hero (and doesn’t even become one for at least a season).  Everyone who supports him, protects him, and reminds him of his human-ness keeps the show going – especially his best friend, Stiles.

From the very start, I recognized Stiles as the true hero of the show, the way that the supportive Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of Lord of the Rings.  In a show full of supernatural creatures, werewolves, and werewolf hunters, Stiles stands at the center, fully human.  He can’t do any of the things that his friends can do – and that’s why the show needs him to keep everyone anchored.  His weapons are his sarcastic wit, his loyalty, his kindness, and his bravery.  Even though he is so much more fragile than the rest of the characters, he keeps up with his friends, reminding them of their humanity and risking his own life for their sakes.  He is the one who consistently pulls Scott back from the brink of animalistic abandon, reminding him who he is and reminding him the reason to remember to be human.  The toll it takes on him is severe as he struggles with panic attacks and massive stress.  And that really makes him braver than everyone else, because he has so much more to fear.

Our new supernatural heroes might need someone to encourage them in their power; however, more than this, they need someone to pull them back and keep them human.  We don’t want to look up to our heroes anymore; we want to relate to them.  We want to see them struggle with the power that they have and see that, beneath it all, they are a human being given a mantle.  We want to look at them and wonder, what would I do in this situation?

This is why something like Twilight has it backwards.  The whole time, Bella idolizes Edward.  She wants to love him, but more than that, she wants to be like him.  And in the end, if I’m not mistaken, she gives up her very soul­ – the most human, eternal, God-given capacity we have – to turn into a different creature entirely.  She sees nothing in human beings.  But even though we’re fallen, broken, fragile things, there is still something ultimately beautiful in being human.

I wondered for a long time if I was wrong about this.  I know that we have fallen into sin.  We work evil and tend toward selfish actions.  We’re traitors, living in darkness and choosing fear, pain, and death.  On our own, we cannot do anything at all.

All of this is true.  And yet, we have been created in the image of the eternal God.  At the start of all things, God once called us very good.  Wisdom says in Proverbs 8 that, at the creation of the world, she

“was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.”

And although we have fallen, each of us holds in our hearts the potential to be restored.  And that’s a humanity that should be protected.  Eric Metaxes explains it in his biography, Bonhoeffer:

“It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny.  It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom – that was what it was to obey God… Earthly bliss and humanity belong to God, not in any cramped ‘religious’ sense, but in the fully human sense.  Bonhoeffer was a champion of God’s idea of humanity, a humanity that He invented and, by participating in it through the incarnation, that He redeemed.”

Jesus didn’t become human just to try it out, or because of anything good that we’ve brought about.  He came to redeem us and restore us, and the rest of his creation, to its former place.  Superman was conceived of as a messianic; how much better is the way that our God has become human to save the world and bridge our way!  Our very human-ness can become something lovely when tempered to God’s plan.  We have the capacity to see beautiful things and understand that something meaningful hums beneath them.  We were created with human bodies and human souls, and God delights in us when we serve Him (more).  What a word delight is!

Being human means having to serve something.  It means being weak and unable.  To be human is to be vulnerable.  Unlike Stiles, who tries to provide for his friends out of his own strength, it means relying on something else.  I had a long talk with my dear friend after she got back from Togo, and she told me several stories that will stick with me.  Her tour guide had told her that his grandfather, like many of the people there, was an animist, worshipping different gods who gave him the power to do terrible things, like force people into the ground.  I’ve heard similar stories from people in Burma, whose relatives could see creatures or levitate objects.  That’s the thing about Satan – he makes people feel powerful when really they become enslaved by him.  and here’s the interesting part; when these people become Christians, they have to give up all that demonic power.  In Christ, they don’t have supernatural powers.  The things they do (healing, etc) are not done in their own power, but in the name of Jesus.  In Jesus, they are called to be utterly human and vulnerable, having to rely on God for their strength.

In a way, being human means being shackled down by all of our flaws, confusion, and powers that turn out to be burdens.  But it also means being given the ability to be free, the ability to search for truth and to desire real relationship and real beauty.  It means having the chance to choose rightly, and having the chance to be utterly restored by a God who created us in His own image in the first place.  We are weak; but our weakness is God’s strength.

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Read this:  Romans 8:9-11 (here)

Stories warning against playing God: Superman, Jurassic Park, Frankenstein