Thoughts…

So here’s just a little bit of what I’ve been thinking about/wrestling with today:

  • I truly do feel like a “rat in a cage.” I feel quite trapped, unable any longer to bear the dichotomy between the life I feel called to live and my life as I’m currently living it. This is really an integrity issue for me. The “me” I present to the world each day through my choices, mannerisms, words, and actions is largely inconsistent with the “me” that rages within, yearning to become what it might. I want my life to be burned up in “the holy flame” of which Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks; yet most days that flame quietly flickers within, threatening to be extinguished by the monotony and pressure of middle-class USAmerican mediocrity. I’m tired of having it both ways- paying lip service to a life of radical discipleship through loving service to God and humanity, all the while bemoaning my lack of local partners who might help me live such a life, while at the same time I secretly covet all the technological and other toys that my privileged life affords me. I accumulate books that I want to read, but never quite find the time to, knowing that they mostly serve the purpose of padding my ego, inflating my self-confidence so that I can make a show of caring (at least to be informed) about “the issues;” yet all the while I do little to respond and make change regarding all the challenges those issues represent. The fact is that I’m fully aware that nearly everything about my life- from the food I eat to the house I live in and the stuff that fills it to the “leisure” pursuits I engage in- all of it comes at much too great a cost to my neighbors around the world and to the world itself. My wealth and the energy required to sustain it along with the waste that is its by-product are possible on a finite earth only because most of the people around the world have so little. I get fat while they starve. I worry about my commute, and my retirement fund, and the home repairs I need to make, while they decide which of their children can eat today. I know the problems that caused all of this are much, much bigger than me, and that my efforts alone will do little to change all of this. Yet the fact remains that there is much I can do, much change I could make even in my own little life and that of my family. So every moment that goes by in which I fail to make that change that it is within my power to make, however hard it might be, is a moment stolen from those who suffer because of my refusal to do what I can. I know too that I am both much weaker, and much stronger, than I think I am, and that when I combine my efforts with like-minded fellow revolutionaries the whole of our work together will be much greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I have to admit that I’m tired of trying to be a Christian, and I don’t think I can do it anymore. I’ve long cried out against what passes for “Christianity” in USAmerican culture, and I suppose I’m growing tired even of my own shtick. I’m not ready to give up on Jesus, though, because I’m convinced he hasn’t given up on me or the world yet. I just don’t want to get into another argument about the Bible, or the doctrinal efficacy of substitutionary atonement, or whether or not there is a literal Hell. The world that so many people get up to every day is so very hellish as it is that I yearn to see redemption break forth like the dawn; I long to see reconciliation get loose and run free through the streets. Anyway, I just don’t care anymore who says what about which way Jesus would vote, or whether or not he favors capitalism as the least evil economic system humanity can imagine. I’m not interested in the culture wars, and I’m sick of all the oil wars and other wars waged to preserve our way of life, because I’m sick of our way of life, and I think Jesus is too. If the gospel is true, if Jesus is who he claims to be, then I have to believe that he’s doing what he said he is- reconciling the world to himself and each of us with one another. In this case, it’s also quite true that everything indeed must change- starting with and most especially me. So I yearn to “be” that change- for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the world. If the gospel isn’t true, then none of this shit really matters anyway.
  • As has been well-documented here, I yearn for community. I yearn to be part of something bigger than me, to know my place within a whole and holy community of world-changers. I want to be part of a family that transcends natural bonds, that bridges customary divisions of race, class, etc. I know that if I am to follow Jesus rather than the Mammon-god of USAmerica, I need help, and I’m not afraid to ask for it anymore. I know that in this culture it is only through sharing resources and limiting the needed number of houses, cars, and jobs among a large group of people that time and energy and money can be freed up to love our neighbors and change the world, at least as we find it right in front of us- on our block, around the corner, down the street. I’m ready to be part of such a community, and eager to do what I have to and go where I need to in order to find it.

Gandalf Cometh!

So, this morning I awoke full of excitement and hope for the first time in a very, very long time. If you’ve read my recent posts on this blog, you know our sojourn here in NE Ohio has been long and difficult. We’ve struggled to make connections with folks with whom we could build genuine community in the way of Jesus, with just a handful of exceptions. We came here for all kinds of wrong reasons, and even the few good ones proved to be illusions. So, especially lately, it’s been nearly unbearable to get up and face each new day while feeling so terribly “stuck” here and having no hope for the future. Last night, that all changed, and now I think it will continue to be nearly intolerable to get up and face each new day here, though now because I do have hope for the future and I’ve located the kind of community we want to be a part of. We just have to move across the country (again) in order to be a part of it, and I’m eager for that to happen ASAP. So what am I so excited about? Well- this, and this, and most especially this (click the links). The fact that all this happens to be in my hometown that I mostly have avoided at all costs for the past 16 years is a serendipitous, perhaps even providential, turn of events that I’m extremely grateful for, especially given the fact that in those 16 years and in the 12 of them that we’ve been married we’ve mostly ignored my family of origin that is still there. That family includes my dad, who is getting on in years and doesn’t have the greatest health history, and my much older siblings, some of whom also have significant health issues, plus my niece and her twin boys. So, in quite rare fashion I’m excited, and hopeful, and eager to get to work to make this change. I only pray that God will speed our way.

Oh, and Gandalf? You may know him as the (eventual) white wizard in Lord of the Rings, one of the truly wise and inspiring heroic characters in all of literature. There’s a pivotal scene in The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers in which all seems lost for the forces of good, until Gandalf appears on horseback, in blazing white, charging down a hill with reinforcements (at least as it’s pictured in the film). You might call this moment a “Eucatastrophe,” a term coined by Tolkien to describe “the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which result in the protagonist‘s well-being.”

(Tolkien) …formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot. For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its implied meaning in terms of form. In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay On Fairy-Stories, eucatastrophe is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia. Though Tolkien’s interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation (from wikipedia).

Anyway, I came across the term while exploring the faith community in Ft. Worth by the same name, and though I hope my story is not at an end, I’m finding the hope engendered by all the radical Christian community I’m finding in TX to be quite eucatastrophic in my own life. Speaking of literary revelations, I’m probably most excited about Tolstoy House, the neo-monastic community I found in Ft. Worth that is linked above. I know a fair bit about neo-monasticism from my days in Philly with Circle of Hope, out of which Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way, has recently arisen as a signifcant voice for such communities and for a “radical, but ordinary” way of life with Jesus. Anyway, curious about why Tolstoy House would have named themselves after the famous Russian author, I did some research and was pleasantly shocked and surprised. It turns out Tolstoy was a bit of an “ordinary radical” himself and it was his writing and influence that started Gandhi down the path of nonviolent resistance, and it was of course Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance that influenced Dr. King to adopt it here in the U.S. It’s pretty cool, inspiring stuff.

Blown Away

I have indeed found myself blown away by the following series of posts on Jenell Paris’ blog:

Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 1)

I discovered Christian Wiman, poet and editor of Poetry journal, when The Christian Century excerpted his forthcoming book, “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.” I’ve read the excerpted article several times and am finding much there for reflection.

“So long as belief is something that withstands the assaults of reason, experience, secularization, or even simply (simply!) the slow erosion of certainty within your own heart and mind; so long as that verb accurately describes the dynamic between your belief and all that seems to threaten it, then faith is an illusion in you, a dream that weakness clings to, rather than the truest form and fruition of strength.”

Occasionally I see my tendency (usually I hide it from myself) to project my ideals and longings onto God. God is perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect intimacy, and perfect closeness. No wonder, then, that I can’t find those things — I’ve defined them as just out of reach. Let the illusion go, let the beliefs go, acknowledge the slow erosion of certainty without embracing it or rejecting it, and you might just find yourself not having faith, but doing it.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 2)

Again, from Christian Wiman:

“Pascal: ‘We must keep silence as far as we can and only talk to ourselves about God, whom we know to be true, and then convince ourselves that he is.’ This is the fundamental vanity of the intellectual Christian, the belief that faith may be forged within oneself like a little spiritual pearl, which one may then present to the world as a rare treasure. In truth this encounter never happens, for this personal pearl is not simply a currency the world will find worthless, but, when exposed to the air of actual existence, a dull, ersatz thing which you yourself do not quite recognize. Faith is forged not by the mind alone but by the mind’s risky, messy encounter with the world at large. Faith is not something you have; it is something you do.”

1. Why, if I’m evangelical, am I an intellectual Christian? Evangelicalism is all about having a heartfelt relationship with a living God. But then we socialize converts into an intellectual religion based on rational assent to correct belief. The drama of evangelical conversion could enliven the entire life of faith.

2. How about, with respect to homosexuals, we start evangelizing in silence? We ought to evangelize to sexual minorities — sharing the good news of God’s love with them. How about we stop using words altogether, and only use actions? We could try it first for just a little while and see how it goes. It would help us sift out the moral education, the boundary maintenance, the politics, and the culture warring from the evangel.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 3)

more from Christian Wimans

“You continually seek something that will resolve your anxieties once and for all, will push you over into a consistent and comforting belief. You read book after book, you seek out intense experiences in nature or in conversations with people whom you respect and who seem to rest more securely in their belief than you. Sometimes it seems that gains are made, for all of these things can and do provide relief and instruction. But always the anxieties come back, are the norm from which faith deviates, if faith is even what you could call these intense but somehow vague and fleeting experiences of God. You have forgotten, or perhaps simply will not let yourself see, what true faith is, its active and outward nature (as opposed to active but inward, which is what all of those activities above are). Do not pray to be at peace in your belief. Pray that your anxieties be given peaceful outlets, that you may be the means to a peace which you yourself do not feel.

Does this mean that we’re condemned to be always anxious in our belief? Insofar as our efforts are directed inward, at appeasing or pacifying our own anxieties, the answer is yes. But when we allow our anxieties to become actions, when we perform concrete things in the name of faith, then we gradually begin to find ourselves inching forward on a rope ladder of action strung high over the abyss of unbelief, and our gaze becomes focused on what is ahead of us rather than forever staring paralyzed down.”

I’m afraid I’m not loved enough, so why not just kiss my son?

I’m afraid certain people don’t like me, so why not just start liking them instead?

I’m afraid I can’t finish the book I’ve promised to write, so why not just write?

I’m afraid my faith isn’t good enough for my children, so why not just share it with them?

God is not vague or fleeting. God is there in the rope ladder of action and in the courageous edge of anxiety that empowers a step toward concrete action.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 4)

Last one from Christian Wimans

“Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God, and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal because it is usually wholly illusory. There are definitely times when we must suffer God’s absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all of creation. But this is very rare, and for the mos tpart our dark nights of the soul are more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love…

Pain has its pleasures, not the least of which are its reliability, immediacy and even, in a strange way, companionability.”
I mistook the daily grind for despair. Truth is, I’m tired of sippy cups, diapers, wet beds, suffixing words with “ie” and “y”, talking about potty (see, there’s a “y”), having food taken off my plate, drinking toddler backwash in my water glass, vacuuming the same carpet, folding the same clothes, and living in this same sticky, cruddy house with the shitty kitchen floor and tiny yard that slopes at a 45 degree angle. And I’m tired of being tired of it, because truth is, this is the life I always wanted. I was complaining to a friend recently and she said, without sarcasm, “Funny how hard it is to have the life you wanted so badly.” I replied, without sarcasm, “Yes it is. Funny, that is. And hard, too.”

I felt a little better when I recast the matter as existential despair, loneliness, religious uncertainty, and a need to rethink the major life decisions of the last several years. Indeed, pain has its pleasures. But really, God is everywhere in this sticky, cruddy house I’m too dispirited to love. Naming the daily grind for what it is, instead of imagining the drama it could be, somehow makes it a little more loveable (except for the backwash).