Saturday, December 15, 2012

Going Home

Three years ago at this time my Mom was dying. We didn't know it at this time, but by the end of January she was gone...  Her funeral was held at the chapel at the funeral home.  Some kind Quakers offered their clapboard church, but in the end we decided to just come together on the couches at the funeral home and sit and share for a spell.  Johanna read the 23rd Psalm, My Sister's friend sang, Doug preached, My Uncle read some of my Mom's poems....

I heard someone comment recently that when your parents die the umbilical cord is finally fully cut.

During my Mom's sickness I spent several months in Buckley, but I never once returned to the church of my childhood.  Many of the people I knew from church are older now and would have been in Florida anyway.  Moreover, the church is now fast on its way to becoming a mega-church, which I guess means that it is "successful." However, for what ever reason, I just couldn't deal with its new "slickness,"  the coffee bar, the hipster vibe, the snazzy new name.  Of course, the place exists for those folks who live in Buckley and it needs to respond to their needs......

But, I have to admit that I would like to  be able to finger that prominent ridge in the middle of the hymnal and open the book predictably to "Trust and Obey."  If only there was some eternal present where Barb Warner could teach my children about Sunday School Charlie. . .

 I couldn't care less of the website's self-serving numeracy from 50 to 500!

This Summer my Dad moved away from Buckley.  I still own a home there, but have been seriously considering severing that last time.

Life just marches forwards and you can't always go home.

When my Mom died two old ladies came to the funeral from the old Buckley Tabernacle.  They hugged me fiercely like they did on the day I was baptized.. .  In their fellowship, I will remain all the days of my life.  We spend our lives shedding shelter after shelter, from womb to womb, until we stand naked as we came before the judgment seat of Christ.

But on this journey we have companions.....  Pilgrims who seek a permanent dwelling place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

For Clarity's Sake

Doug following his moral binoculars :)
I am having a lot of trouble with focus.  I blame the computer.  I blame the children.  I blame Doug.  I blame an over-busy schedule.  On a practical level this means that I am having a hard time finishing up the thesis, of writing--yet another--job application, of getting my courses prepped for the Spring;  On a deeper level this means that I am having a trouble keeping my spiritual, ethical, religious feet on the ground.  I flit and flee and fly along from this passion or to this one (or was it 'that one.")  I am not thinking as well as I would like, caring as deeply as I would like, choosing wisely enough between options.

I could write a bibliographic essay that discussed all the books written on this kind of problematic of the (post-)modern soul--without moorings, without buffers, atomistic, bumping along after that last Hobbesian desire....  But, I won't.  I'll save that for my dissertation. I will just re-assert my continued battle against this kind of self-fracturing.  I keep fighting.



Sunday, December 2, 2012


The tree is ready to be trimmed. (The cats have been skulking around it all morning.)  The gingerbread house is constructed on the table.  It is good to begin marking the time by marking our space.  Time again moves towards that birth: at times trudging like kids in "too big" boots, at times carefully and  slowly (like Simeon and Anna must have walked,) at times in the too-busied steps of harried adults (impatient with the meanderings of kids and old folks,) at times marching, on order, unclear if the orders are from Herod or not.  We move in all of these disjointed ways, and yet we hold out faith that as we dither and circle, and walk and drum that time actually moves on as steadily and unfailingly and as ploddingly faithful as those donkey's steps.  Moving us again towards incarnation and deliverances and the renewal of hopes too easily dashed.      

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Charlie Brown
When the little tree falters and droops pathetically
under the weight of that innocent-looking
but fatal ornament, and Charlie Brown wails,
I’ve killed it, everything I touch gets ruined,
I feel for the guy: I know the sad prison
his heart’s doing time in. I know how it feels
to be King Midas’s evil twin,
Destructo-Man careening through the world,
smashing houses, reducing highways to rubble,
levelling whole cities with my evil-eye laser beams
and mega-grenades. If only I could hold
a cute little bunny without crushing the breath
out of it with my unrestrained strength, if only
I could embrace a woman without inspiring
in her the sudden desire to obtain
a restraining order or move to Cleveland.
I wish I could have a drink with Charlie
Brown — he must be old enough now,
he probably goes by Charles, or Chuck —
and tell him it gets better, Chuck, or, really,
it doesn’t, but you learn to live with it,
and you learn that what you destroy comes back
to you, not always, but sometimes, refreshed
and reassembled, almost as good
as new, and sometimes — sometimes — bearing
the willingness to forgive. And he’d take
a long, mad gulp of his vodka gimlet,
stare off into a world that only he
is tipsy and broken hearted enough
to see — some planar Midwestern town
with repeating trees and ink black night skies,
and, forgetting that I was there, he’d shake
that globe of a head and sigh and mutter,
You know, the truth is that Linus was right.
It really wasn’t such a bad little tree.

-Troy Jollimore

Monday, August 27, 2012

 The epistles is James 1:17-27.  It begins with the statement:

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

The blogging is not going great.  My goal was to simply reflect on the lectionary passages for the week, but I am already struggling with perfectionism.  I want to have a pile of commentaries.  I want to produce a more polished reflection, but that is not the task I have time for, or the one I have set out for myself.  So, I will try and get into the thick of it again and plod on with reflection rudimentary and frequent.  

God does not change, but the example of change-- "like shifting shadows" --is not especially comforting.   It seems to leave a lot of room.  There are many things that change less than shifting shadows, but that are still too undependable.  It is best to connect the example "like shifting shadows" to the name of God in this passage, "Father of the heavenly lights."  Certainly, the sun and the stars and the moon locked into their places of permanence in the heavens are the not at all like shadows.  They persist, creating the steady light that consistently illuminates the passing chiaroscuro of shadows--the world may grow darker, or, the world may wax brighter, but, God doesn't change,  God remains, the unyielding divine light.

There is a lot in this passage, but I will comment on one more aspect.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 

 There is much I could reflect on in the final part of the passage.  I certainly feel convicted by the admonishment to be a doer of the law, and not just a hearer.   Yet, even more, I feel convicted by the close connection between "true religion" and my speaking.  I can get caught up in doing the right thing and yet speak evil of it.  I can mock doing it, be wry and uncharitable, and choose wittiness and derision over faithfulness.  I do a pretty good job (trying) to hear God's voice and to implement it, but my tongue can turn against my own attempts at faithfulness.  I think it is a kind of reflexive self-protection.  I fear seeming silly for my earnest community life, for my attempts at fidelity  and I sometimes bury my activities under a barrage of irony.  I wonder if in doing so, I am not being humble, a Midwest self-abnegant , but,  whether I am being proud?  r

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I like the image here of "putting away falsehood."  It makes me think of "falsehood" as a garment to be stripped off and put back in the closet.  Put it away.  Enough.  Authenticity is a tough one.  I believe that as Christians we are called to be truthful and authentic, but there is certainly a sort of pseudo-theological admonishment "to be yourself"  that can just code for libertarianism and the false assurance that you are just fine the way you are, there is also that Catcher and the Rye "be yourself" that is always pointing a finger at all the fakes out there and never really stopping to recognize the falsehoods that we all require to cover our vulnerability... this can be cruel.

Yet, we are suppose to speak truth to our neighbors-- the passage tell us to speak the truth because "we are members of one another."  This rationale is of course deeply relational.  It employs language used  elsewhere to describe marriage, sex, the church, and our bond with Christ.

  I am glad, however, that something deeper than mere  "truth" is keeping us bound to our neighbors, that our membership with others is dependent on something deeper than our truth-telling or our ability to express ourselves authentically.  I am glad the passage works the other way.  That our membership with our neighbors (something prior to any of our speech acts true of not, or action authentic or not) binds us first and primarily.

The next part of this passage discomforts me a bit.  I am uncomfortable with the infinitive--"be angry."   It is easy for me to rush on to the next parts "don't sin in anger,"  "do not be perpetually angry,"  but for now I will pause and think about the fact that anger itself is allowed just not "making room for the devil."  At the risk of falling into the morose of psycho-babble and over-confession, I have an easier time not being angry and a much more difficult time not allowing room for the devil in the spaces that hurt invariable carves out within my soul.  I might not be quick to rush towards anger or even that apt to hold a long term grudge, but I certainly allow injuries to hollow out a portion of my soul.  I don't know if the remedy for this is to allow myself to "be angry" or if there is another solution.  

Immediately the text directs those who steal to stop stealing and to take up honest work. Yet, what is particularly appealing here is the rationale for earning this wage: "so as to have something to share with the needy."  Here is a definition of being financially blessed. As I mentioned last time:  money is something that I am really truly struggling with for the first time.  This is a good reminder.  I am successful enough to share and my sharing is the only legitimate measure of my success.

The rest of the passage is just something that I should read and re-read and let soak deep into my soul.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I am trying to work my way through each week's lectionary texts.

 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

I have been desperate to get a job lately.  As I have said over and over and over again.... I want to feel like an ADULT.  When did I get to this point? --- This point where my sense of maturity is so tightly tied to employment?

I always tell my two older children that "being an adult" means taking care of others.  I certainly do that!  Yet, whatever my theoretical understanding of human maturity,  I desperately want to get my pay--tangible evidence that I have worth, that people need me, and that at a practical level, I am valued.

Indeed--just lately-- more than ever before in my life-- I have been really craving stuff.  Nice stuff.  Coaches, and beds, and cars, and canoes, and new running shorts, and little bungalows.  Friends are getting these things and I have been wanting them.  Even more troubling is that I feel like they are deserved--that Doug and I are people with the kind of gifts that deserve to be rewarded in this way--  That, moreover, we must be failing or doing something really perverse if we are not obtaining these things.  It is hard to accept instead of these things a promissory note from God--what tender? " This bearer is entitled one free ticket to heaven."   Right now it just feel like an entitlement to absolutely banal, white, Western, first- world suffering.  Suffering people thinking that you are a slacker, or lazy, or just not too talented, or not very likeable.....  There is much worse suffering, but this is where I am right now.  I am willing to give up things, but I am not really sure if it is doing anyone any good. Is the world better because Doug and I aren't lawyers.  Moreover, I am not understanding why I should give these things up when other wonderful and faithful people aren't. . . .  So-in-so, they are great... they are great Christians AND they get stuff.  Good stuff.  I want stuff.  Or, that is more or less how it works....

If this eternal pay is more than just a free ticket to heaven--you can't win that anyway--then, what is it?  Shouldn't I just be bursting with joy?  Look at all the diversity at my dinner table? Shouldn't I be learning amazing lesson from living with so many people, from so many walks of life?  Isn't it all suppose to be a little piece of heaven?  Aren't I suppose to be getting a foretaste of the eternal pay, of a future great, reward.....?

What's going wrong?

Monday, July 30, 2012

"unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace"

A life worthy of the calling. . . .

 How does one live a life that is completely humble and gentle (v.2)? 

 Pride and violence fill our world....   How does one become completely humble, completely gentle?

The text tell us that we each have grace "as Christ apportioned it..."  How much grace is required to live this kind of perfection?  Moreover, the text insists that Christ is going to keep sending preachers and evangelists and teachers until we have all reached this point of perfection: "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (v. 13)

At this point we will be able to unify our love and our truth telling--"speaking the truth in love."  In short, we will have reached maturity.  How can truth be spoken in a way that embodies love?  This is a hard question to answer, especially in a world such as ours in which peoples' sense of themselves is so dependent on deception(s).  We are terrified of being unmasked.  To confess our lies.  To admit to those central lies around which we form our notions of "the self,"  of ourselves...    In particular, the lie that we do not really need other people.  There are other lies---  the more busy... the more important.   That my good taste, good sense, smarts, depth, insight, pragmatism,  makes me better/ more loveable/ more beloved than my neighbor.  Every once in a while God gives us the deep blessing of letting us know that God loves all the people of the world, all of them,  with the same passionate intensity with which God loves us.  At these moments we have a special kind of humility.  It is not the humility born of self-abnegation, of denying the beauty of our tiny little corner of the cosmos.  No!  It is the humility born of plenitude, born of knowing that God so loves the World, the whole world, that God's love can  fill the whole world. .. That the intensity of love...  that in my dearest moments I feel flowing from God to my heart... that God has that same overwhelming love for everyone.

 In those moments, we reach a certain maturity and in the moments we cannot help but feel the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace.....