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An idea I love

Somewhere awhile ago I read a quote which went along the lines of “Behave in such a way that only makes sense if you believe in God”, or something like that. This is a notion that fascinates me. Since I do believe in God, and since I have my whole life, and since I think about this All The Time, I’d like to assume that some of my behavior at least reflects that a little bit. But who knows? I spend a lot more time inside my head than I do watching me, and who knows what habits I’ve picked up, what mental ticks I’ve incorporated into my life?

I believe in a God who creates out of love- am I receptive to love? Am I loving?

I believe in a God who is eternally forgiving- am I forgiving of myself? Do I forgive others easily?

I believe in a God who places the greatest value in “the least of these”- where do I place my greatest value? What parts of myself do I polish, what parts do I let languish?

I believe in a God who takes tremendous joy in diversity, in finding new ways to express His creativity, his boundless love- do I seek out and explore all that is new to me and which I don’t know? Do I open myself to it with awe, or shut myself down with fear?

I believe in a God who invites us to dance with him, to learn the dance and teach the dance. Do I accept the invitation?

***

I also read recently (I think in Slate) an article about Heaven. It was not a particularly impressive article- I mean, it basically said that the majority of Americans believe in Heaven, the majority disagree about what Heaven is, and no one has any scientific proof of Heaven. Since this article is basically going over the discovery I think every kid in my church made around the age of 8, I’m not going to take the time to dig it up and link it. But one aspect of the article got me to thinking-

The writer implied that it is our desire to see our dead loved ones that motivates our desire for a heaven (and, implicitly, it motivates our need to make one up).

I am testing that out in my heart right now. I’m thinking of my loved ones who are dead (or even who I’ve lost touch with so completely I don’t even know how to find them). I’ve experienced deaths- deaths of friends, deaths of family members, deaths by stroke, by car accident, by drug overdose, by suicide, by murder, by stupidity, by cancer. I’ve experienced them early on and recently, and maybe I have experienced them early enough and frequently enough to be numbed by it, but the one thing that I feel certain of is that even though the physical presence- the words, the lips, the hands, the eyes, the laugh, the gait- even though all of that is gone, I don’t feel- at least not totally- alienated from my dead loved ones. I write this even know feeling my grandmothers’ smile on me, the laughter of various aunts, the guiding hands of departed friends. I don’t think my dead are saints- I think they love to watch me bluster and fall and make an idiot of myself, and love to tease me. But I think my dead love me and look out for me. I think they want whats best for me. I think they don’t worry too much.

So yeah, I want to see my beloved dead after I die. But that’s not why I personally want Heaven.

I want heaven so I can meet God. That’s basically it. I miss God. I love God. Maybe I’m totally insane and delusional. But I think God misses me too. And this is why I crave heaven. I crave the heart of the deepest mystery, the greatest joy, of my entire life.

That is also not emperical proof, I recognize. I’m just writing it because I think that is how it is.

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Sabatouer

A lot of times when I read the news, I get the feeling that the Tim Lafayes of the world are starting to win. Not in the specifics of their ideology- I don’t get the sense that premilitarist Christianity is on the rise- but that lots of folks are sick of this world and eager to hurry on the apocolypse, and either wipe the slate clean and start over, or start something new, or just flat not start again. It seems that there is this mad rush to destroy everything.

Then sometimes, mostly when I’m on the bus or walking or falling asleep or on the elevator or in some in between state, I think of the story of Abraham and God and Sodom and Gomohorrah, and how, for the love of Lot, Abraham begged and bargained with God to save the cities. And I find myself thinking- what if God were to ask me about this world, with its blatant brokenness- what if he asked me about saving it? Abraham bargained with righteous men. What if there was 50? What if there was 10? Would God save the city?

God said yes.

What, then, would I bargain with? How could I buy time, how could I get God to say yes?

Abraham loved righteousness, and he loved God, and that was their bond, the love of righteousness. I don’t really care all that much about righteousness, frankly. I don’t even know what it means. But I do love a lot of other things in the world.

So at those moments, I go about my day whispering to God: “What about the men who stand outside of the on the corner of 6th, singing to each other and to whoever passes by? They came from someplace perpetually warm but are in this city that is cold and drizzly ten months of the year, and they sing during the day?”

Or I say “What about that lady on the bus with the wrinkly wrinkly face, the sunken in eyes, the whisps of hair from the huge multicolored yarn knit hat? When she looks up and smiles, her eyes are so full of sparkles? Isn’t it worth it for her?”

Or I say “What about the little kid whose dad is holding him right now, and he is looking around the world, taking it all in, and his dad is oblivious to the world, just taking in the little boy?”

Or I say- what about those clouds reflected in the skyscrapers’ windows? Isn’t that a kind of worship, at it’s heart, this reflection of your work back to you? Or I say- what about that pop song that is ridiculously bad but always makes me dance when I hear it?”

Or- “What about dancing? What about the desire to dance?”

And on and on.

And basically, what I want to say, is that I think that God is listening to me. I mean, it opens me to smiting, I guess, if God is that kind of God, but I don’t think God is- so I’ll say it: I think God likes to be reminded of why the world he made is pretty amazing. I think God agrees. I think he wants us to agree. I think he wants us to act like we agree. I think he’s leaving us here to figure it out, and there isn’t much of any kind of “fresh start”- there is this, and waking up to it, and taking joy in it.

So apocalypse cravers, end of the world urgers- I’m not on your side. And I look out the window and see my neighbors solid pink siding and ridiculous cat meowing, and the apple tree full of moss and silly bits of blossoms, and I think you ought to know that so far, despite your best attempts, you are not winning.

In gratitude

My cousin passed along, via facebook, her husband’s blog. I have not read much of it yet, but what I have read is very exciting to me. I know next to nothing about the Episcapalian tradition (like, for example, how to spell it!), though the bit of nothing I do know makes me grateful for the good work that community does. I really look forward to reading her husband’s sermons and thoughts on social justice. Maybe you will too?

Words are a poor medium for awe.

I’ll say that up front. I’d like to say something bigger, something less obvious, but that is what I have right now. A heart full of awe, and a thimblefull of words I’m squeezing out of a pinprick of a brain.

Yesterday was East Sunday. My congregation held our services at a local park. The sermon, by all accounts, was fantastic (shout out to M, if he reads this!), though I cannot say from first hand experience. I was leading a raggedly organized group of kids (ages three to eleven) up and around winding waterfally paths and through flowering trees to keep them occupied until the true point of Easter- the egg hunt!- could commence. So I missed the sermon, which I regret a bit, as it was one of the few pointedly “Jesus” shaped sermons of the calender year for my congregation. (I think, collectively, we dig on Jesus, but I think we are a bit reluctant to invoke his name in a religious setting).

I miss sermons, but I probably, in the balance of things, would prefer to be with the kids. Their lives are lived immediately, and when that immediacy is one of beautiful flowers! and the shape of leaves! and how far and fast can I run up this path! and oh, this beautiful, beautiful flower petal on the ground! and oh, this funny hilarious thing I am telling my friend!- and then right around the corner is an Easter Egg Hunt- well, who wouldn’t rather be basking in that kind of energy?

But what it means to be running around or after or carrying children is that I didn’t have much time yesterday to think- at all- about Easter. About the concept of redemption or resurrection at all. I went about the day filled with immediacy- first the church immediacy, then the immediacy of brunch and a visit with my future mother in law and future fiance, then the rare luxarious immediacy of deciding to spend the rest of the day, beginning at five o’clock, in bed watching Little House on the Prairie and reading and napping to the sound of the rain (rain which, miraculously, held itself in check all through the Glory of the Easter Egg Hunt, and allowed the sun to shine out appropriately!). My only even remotely religious thoughts were around bed time, when I was filled with reflective gratitude, about how fortunate I am and how undeserving, but how I’ll try to repay the fortune with my joy, not my inadequacies.

And it’s probably not really that terrible of a thing for me, as a person who isn’t a Christian, to not spend much time thinking on Christ’s resurrection. Except that, I’m not entirely not a Christian, and Easter, which my really whole-heartedly not a Christian housemate calls “The Holiday of Zombie Jesus?” (question marks included) is the most important moment in the Christian Calender- in fact, it is the point of the religion- that Christ died and was risen. That his sacrifice was not in vain, and that, in dying and rising, he redeems our whole entire lives.

I did spend the Saturday before Easter thinking about this. Well, actually, I spent the Saturday before Easter thinking around this. Particularly, I was seized with a specific example of a pretty regular (and idiotic) anxiety in my life- in this case, what if a particular lovely and loved member of my family, who is both younger than me by a decade plus some change and also devoutly, devoutly Christian of the literal variety and also actively involved with Evangelicism- what if she wants to talk to me about faith? Hers? Mine? The whole potential what if is kind of ridiculous (we live at least 2000 miles away, I’m almost certain she assumes I’m a Christian anyway, we see each other three times a year if that, etc), but it terrifies me, because of all things I don’t want to do, complicate another person’s faith is pretty high up there. Right along with not lie about my own.

The problem as I see it boils down to this: I believe- fervrently, passionately, deeply, in God’s love, joy and benevolence. And I remain pretty agnostic to almost anything else anyone has to say on the subject of God, except, as a caveat, it all seems to me to be equally true, and equally valuable, and equally holy and equally awful, given context, interpretation, etc. If my family member finds grace, love, strength, joy and happiness in her relationship with God, and sees that relationship through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice and revival- well, who am I to question that? And she does. So there is that.

But if she is to ask me what I believe- I can’t be honest and say I believe in Jesus as my savior. I just can’t. Maybe Jesus really did die on a cross and was really, really raised from the dead- maybe he really went to hell first, and triumphed there before going to heaven to prepare a place for his followers. Maybe that really was the whole entire point of his life. But from where I am standing, that experience only complicates, not completes, the general mystery of God’s love to begin with, and only works if it’s one of the many many paths that people take to get to God (including a path of honest atheism). Which is to say I find it completely possible, and even likely, that that is true. That Christ really did die to save us. But I don’t think it’s a unique event in human history. I believe that kind of thing- God’s constant, steady, all the time attempts to reach us by any means possible- is going on all the time. That doesn’t, to me, mitigate or lessen Christ, it just means that Christ is joyfully sharing the load of shepparding us fallen humans with all the Gods and Goddesses and avatars of all the other world religions that urge us towards mindfulness of each other, towards radical love, towards radical sacrifice and radical joy.

It makes a lot of sense to me, given how generally awful humans can be and how generally amazing we can be too, and how in need we all are of finding the grace inside of ourselves, and in letting go the muck, that we might well require the sort of God who actively comes down to Earth to live as a human and die as a human and come back as a more than human to get our attention. And for people who find their path through Christ and his sacrifice- for people whose faces shine with the joy of the knowledge of that love, and whose hearts yearn, as Mother Theresa put it, to be broken so deeply that the whole world falls in for the sake of that love and sacrifice- for those people and their story, I have only awe, only gratitude and humility in the face of it.

But I can’t claim that as my faith. And, if asked, I don’t want to lie. And I don’t want to dismiss my kin if she asks. And I don’t want to shake her own faith at all with the complicated meanderings of my own. So on Saturday I fervrently cleaned our house, and fervrently swept, and fevrently thought about what to do if we end up, she and I, having This Conversation.

I didn’t come up with anything eloquent (and I probably won’t- the conversation, when it comes, inevitably, will probably be awkward and filled with long pauses and inappropriate giggles on my part, and then long, long drawn out ruminations afterwards about my own inarticulateness!), and finally my fiance gently encouraged me to turn my mind to something else, since this was getting me deeper and deeper into no where.

Today, then, Monday. Easter is over. It came and went, like so many things, on the steam of its own seperate existence, and my awareness of it, or of its deeper meanings, or lack thereof, didn’t affect it one whit. Monday is an easier day to deal with, theologically and even just psychologically. Monday is filled with all the infinite practicalities of work, finances, housemate relationships, overdue letters and library books, etc etc. Glory, Grace, God- all that stuff, on, on Monday, is truly a miracle because you get it in glimpses between all the other stuff, the scaffolding of life that feels like drudgery at times but which I am convinced is what makes grace even remotely possible to deal with. Grace makes you a glorious madman, and if you have any desire to do things like, oh, say, save up enough money to take care of your parents in their retirement, you need the mundane not even so much for itself, but as a protective measure against losing your sanity to the gloriousness of it. I think there must be some overarching thing- some SuperGrace- that touches and encompasses it both, the glory and the mundane of it- and that overarching redemption, when I think about it, makes me laugh and feel joy in the same place I find God smiling at me all the time, even when I am crying.

So on Monday, I can spend the time between learning a new computer program or puzzling out how to meet my new found responsibilities to my clients by getting glimpses of the glory and grace and beauty of this world, and letting myself just soak in the wonder.

I must admit, that is probably my religious life. Avoiding God when I have time to think about God, and then God and I play this huge and gigantic and ridiculous game of hide and seek, dodging around things like Responsibilities! Regrets! Longing! Etc!

But there is this other thing I also want to tell you.

I envy the kids in my Sunday School their immediacy, but I recognize I’m not that far removed from that myself. I spend my life in as much a state of responsiveness, and as much get caught up in the lovely, silly, ridiculous, gorgeous details of the moment. A stranger’s accent in the elevator. The way my coworker looks so deeply contented when she has an a-ha moment at work that I just want to hug her. The petty emotional dramas I get involved in. My cat, curled on my lap and purring. How frustrated I become when I feel neglected or taken advantage of. All of it, all those details and infinitely more, they take on the mantle of My Whole Life for the moment I am looking at them- and then I set them down, and the next new thing comes along, and that, too, takes on my entire existence. I really am like the kids on their Easter Egg hunt- the thrill of each new find, each new discovery. And while my deeper heart longs to step back and connect it all, to see the pattern, to see God’s thumprint on it- really, in the day to day, I can barely manage to keep my mind focused on connecting two of those things, or on remembering to be generous and kind while I am at it.

Today I left work, left that sanctuary of busyness, and decided to go to a coffee shop and finish a novel by David James Duncan, called the Brother K. I hope I get to write about that novel soon- I thought it was beautiful, and filled with so much love and charity and joy- but tonight it is not the thing I’m writing about. When I finished the novel, I felt as if all the love he’d infused into it, all the deep deep hearted acceptance of the world, and love for it, had seeped into me, and I walked home through the wet mist and the traffic noise and the clouds obscuring the stars and felt the thrumming, patient goodness below it all. I felt kissed on the forehead, and felt my heart reach out to bless the trees and the strangers I came across and the homes with lights on and the homes in darkness.

Then I came home and read that a Christian writer whose works I admire more than I know how to say, and whose struggle to follow Christ’s example of bondless limitless love was a crucial thing for me to read, when it comes to reconciling myself with my once family, then bitter enemy, the American Christian Church, as well as giving me a much needed example myself in those very same lessons, had passed away.

His passing was not unexpected. He was in the end stages of cancer. He was surrounded by his wife and family, and he died the day after Easter.

He was a man who truly gave himself up to Christ, in a way I have not previously seen in my life, and whose giving was a joyful, inspiring, terrifying, brave, honest, brutal, amazing thing.

I cannot help but be grateful that his friends and family have Christ’s resurrection to look to for hope. I cannot help but be moved to awe that he also has that story in his heart. I know that soon enough I’ll be sad and broken for the loss of him, because his writing has been a beacon for me (and I know for so many other people)- but tonight all I can think of is gratitude for him, and for his God, that they get to be reunited. It must be a joyful thing for them both.

The God of the day today is the God of presence amidst mind numbing boredom. This is the God who wages peace with traffic stopped at stop lights, three hour work meetings, and writing the content for the wedding website my fiance and I are diligently trying to do.

This is the God who I am beseeching right now, while the opposing God (the God of the seduction of mindless entertainment, whose current Avatar is the internet tv series Clark and Mike) is currently wooing me!

I have been wanting to write about this forever, and I guess this is the night!

I’ve been reading the blog “Slacktivist”, which is the writing of an evangelical socially- liberal Christian. I think perhaps you might enjoy his writing as well? Or, possibly, you will not enjoy it. Hard for me to say, really, but you should check it out, just in case!

A friend of mine recently said that religion resonates in the same part of us that poetry does- a non-literal part, an imaginative part, a creative narrative part. I think my friend is a genius on this matter, and it’s led me to think about the creativity of religion, which so often gets wrung out with the attempts to prove it.

I pretty much cannot wait until we move to the next religious fad, and I pray to God (who I think more or less gets what I am saying here, and doesn’t hold it against me) that it’s polytheism. Aren’t we due, really, for some household gods? And honestly- I have to admit, it’s a cognitive stretch for me to contemplate that the same God who has his eye on the sparrow and counts all the feathers on it’s head is also the same God who is busy creating universes whole cloth, and also is the same God I mutter an urgent “Holy crap, please let me defeat physical reality by catching my bus on time even though I just woke up and the bus will be at the bus stop in eleven minutes, please please please!” plea to on the unfortunately not rare enough occasions that I sleep in. Not to mention that it would be pretty awesome, really, for the big three religions if, instead of fighting over the attributes of God (which *must* really annoy God!) we could all be released to just actually draft different versions of Gods.

Some Gods I’d like to initiate:

The God of the things my cat sees when she is staring out the window at nothing at all, but very intently.

The God of almost always missing that last step, but still not falling on your face.

The God of forgiveness for uncomfortable conversations on the elevator.

The God who watches over long ago boyfriends so you can stop obsessing over them.

The God who got you through 8th grade, somehow.

The God of finding your tax returns at the last minute.

The God of finding beautiful, soul connecting random passages when looking over strangers shoulders at the books they are reading on the bus.

Etc.

Frankly, I’d like to see a world where instead of killing each other over A God (and/or his non-existence), we could all instead engage in a Marketplace of Gods, where we get to barter and engage in all sorts of religious intercourse and bidding and etc over our various incarnations of diety.

It just seems, potentially, endlessly more fun.