Thursday, May 6, 2021

Joy #6


 It's a slow spring this year...

 In Virginia, spring is often a "wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am" affair of two weeks' gorgeous weather in between blizzards and suffocating heat and humidity, but this year we've been gifted with a slow trickle of perfect days. It's almost as if Lady Spring understands what we've all been through in the last ten months, since she last left us. Perhaps she understands that our bruised selves would startle and shy away from her usual sudden glorious appearance and equally spectacular departure. We are all, like abused children, a little nervous of the sudden, the glorious, the spectacular. Afraid to trust, after long-deferred hope, the glimmer of a new horizon ahead.

So this year, Spring is dropping two, or maybe three, beautiful days into each week. Chilly nights, followed by clear, bright mornings-- like waking up inside a watercolor painting. We keep forgetting where we are in the year and leaving the windows open all night, waking up to a legitimate need for fuzzy bathrobes and slippers. By early afternoon, we're shedding sweatshirts and hauling t-shirts and tank tops out of drawers, and heading outside to soak up all sunshine we've been starving for this long, dark winter.

In deference to our precarious emotions, Spring seems to retreat every so often-- a night or two in the 30s and 40s threatening the dogwoods, the lilacs and the pears; giving us a moment to collect ourselves, to acclimate to the danger of hope. Or, perhaps gives us a foretaste now and then of what's to come-- an afternoon of blazing 80s and sunburn, firming up some weak resolve, stiffening up a spine here and there. She dances in and out, teasing gently, slowly lifting our bowed and weary hearts toward the summer, asking us to trust her promise of a coming end to our long ordeal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Joy #4 and #5: bending and letting go

Through my entire life I've been surrounded by the metaphor of parenting as archer, launching his arrows (a quiverful of them, ideally) into the world; by faith, extending his/her influence into the generations to come. That metaphor came to define my life, as it progressively inspired, challenged, eluded, and then tortured me, as it became evident that God and I didn't see eye to eye about the size of my quiver, and I realized that arrows can frequently (heartbreakingly frequently) fall from quiver, straight to the ground, un-launched, never held in the archers hand.

Today a friend shared this poem with me. I read it, ugly-cried for about twenty minutes, and realized for the first time in my life that I have long misunderstood the metaphor. 

I'm not the archer.

I'm the bow.

All that is required of me is that I bend, to the breaking point perhaps, and then... Let go. I do not need to see the target. I do not need to aim anything. I do not need to make the arrow, hold the arrow (my heart!), string it correctly-- no skill of mine is required. His is the quiver, his is the watchful eye, the strength to launch, the wisdom to test the wind, proof the arrow, and guide it true to the heart of chosen target. All that is asked of me is that I devote my life to bend and bend and bend under the hand of the Archer; who loves me, and these Arrows, which are His, not mine. Bend, and then, by God's grace, let them go. 

On Children

 - 1883-1931

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
     And he said:
     Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Joy #2

 Foundations are comforting. 

Our house is closing in on its one hundredth birthday and, while the pipes are leaky, the floors are creaky, and the electrical system is one you really only want to look at with your head on one side and one eye closed; the foundation is solid. It's drafty and worn-down, but the walls are thick and you can tell it's weathered many a violent thrashing from both inside and outside weathers of various kinds.

The last three years of our first twenty years of marriage have been difficult, to say the least. We've tested our relationship in ways I never imagined, or wanted, but the foundation is solid. We're both exhausted-- soul-weary-- and we're definitely in a mood to circle the wagons and hunker down with our small brood inside this tight protected center of five. But I've realized that what we have created over the years through mutual sacrifice of self and willingness to bend and mold to accommodate each other is a solid, intertwined foundation of shared beliefs, priorities, ideals, and experiences that is still weathering this season of heartbreak and testing-- from both inside and outside weathers of various kinds.

The deepest testing this year has come, fittingly, to the foundation under the foundation; the bedrock on which the foundation was laid nearly twenty years ago. My faith has taken a beating this year. Brought fully into the glaring light of public demonstration and public scrutiny, my faith in the church and her people has been turned upside down and shaken hard. A lot of dirt fell out of places I wasn't aware existed. I gradually realized that my Christian identity had  been set on a layer of quicksand; cultural similarities, community of common experiences, and comforting notions of easy externalities. The problem with wearing Christianity like a mask is that when push comes to shove and the masks fall off, sometimes you just don't recognize the faces underneath. Sometimes they are hard, shiny, and unsmiling.

But. Also. Under that layer of shifting sand, my faith in the Father of lights, with whom there is no shifting or shadow, found a solid rock. A cornerstone. This foundation, too, has withstood millennia of violent thrashings from both inside and outside weathers of various kinds. It is good to remember that this latest storm, although the first for me, is only another in a long series through which Christ has brought His Bride. Battered she may be, and worn, with painful truths revealed and laid bare; reviled and rebuked for her sins, but Redeemed and continuously Reclaimed, nonetheless. And the promise remains:

The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, our Lord;
we are a new creation
by water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and taught us
what perfect love can be;
through life and death he sought us,
and rose to set us free.

Still, schisms, tribulation,
and hatred fuel our war;
we wait the consummation
of peace forevermore.
The saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Joy #1

 The sun comes up every morning over the mountain ridge outside my living room windows. It slowly creeps across the floor, the angles changing slightly, minute by minute. As it unrolls its golden way along the planks; dog hair, bread crumbs, paper scraps, and dust mites are revealed in sharp relief. 

These windows face the back of my house, so they aren't top priority on those absent-minded window-washing episodes while I'm on the phone with a friend and need something to do with my hands that doesn't require my brain to pay attention to any other than the talking and the living together that's going on in my ears. So these windows... they're a little rough. You can see that I occasionally get to them, maybe at the tail end of the phone call-- there are some hazy swipes and swirls through the grime that prove they aren't totally neglected. 

But all over the double panes there are small hand prints. Full on, five-fingered, un-blemished; the perfect hand prints every Sunday School craft teacher dreams of. They are beautiful. The Thursday morning sun catches the edges and lights them on fire and my heart dances in the blaze for a moment, before I turn back to my humdrum, every day life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Sincere, if a little dramatic.

For a full decade, the year 2010 has stood out as The Worst Ever, but 2020 has topped that. And then some. Besides all the national and international crap going on, there's plenty of personal grief and struggle-- ghosted friendships, broken relationships, illness, financial struggles, strife, and loss. But the most critical and devastating loss of all has been watching the widening crack in the foundations of an institution that I have loved: the American Evangelical Church.

I've watched, heartbroken, in disbelief, as men and women that I would have considered brothers and sisters have sold their souls for political power under the guise of "protecting the unborn" and "maintaining the rule of law" and "defending the traditional family". Y'all, you begged God for a King and you got a King Saul. You forgot that the way of the Gospel is the low way, the way of humility, weakness, and sacrifice. You wanted a shortcut to Salvation and an easy way to establish the Kingdom of God, but you forgot that only God himself can change minds and soften hearts and you can't vote in a strong man to establish a judicial version of the Kingdom. Y'all, if you want to grab the jawbone of an ox and start slaying Philistines, you better read the whole story and make sure that Samson is really who you want leading that fight. Remember, Samson was a symbol of the depths of Isreal's fallen state. That story isn't telling us to go out and find us a Samson. And you better make damn sure that you're getting Samson and not just a Philistine king who wants a patsy to take care of his political rivals for him.

'Cause, y'all? With love... you've become a patsy. Maybe it started out right. I'm willing to concede that at some point your hearts were in the right place, your intentions were good, but dear God in heaven, look where we've come! Y'all got drunk with power and then you ran amuck and now you're just the shills of a unscrupulous huckster who knows all the right words, sweet nothings, to whisper in your ears to bring you running to his side: "Protect the unborn" he says, and you close your eyes to the weeping children severed from their families. "Defend the rule of law" he says, and you turn your backs to the abuse of your disenfranchised  brothers. Like a gas-lit abused spouse, you're heatbreakingly easy to trigger and control, tagging along, docile, behind the very power that is wreaking your undoing.

Y'all, read the history of the church; every damn time we try to do it our way, every time we try to use political power, force, and militancy to "do God's work" it goes terribly, terribly badly. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to Colonial-Missionary-ism (or whatever you want to call that)-- whenever the Church has sought to spread the Gospel without humility, sacrifice, suffering, and personal loss, we have failed; utterly and miserably. Christians with political power are a terrifyingly dangerous thing for God's creation. 

And this is why I have to write this... History tells us that God won't stand for it. There's a day of reckoning coming. Y'all, humble Jesus is still in the business of turning over the tables of the rich who take up the space in His temple meant for the foreigners and the social outcasts. He's still in the business of whipping out the greedy men taking advantage of the poor, the widow, and the orphan. At some point, y'all started assuming that the point of that story was that it's ok to pick up a whip now and then, but I tell you what, I'm pretty sure it was way more about warning US not to pollute the House of the Lord. We've got the story backwards in our heads and hearts. At this point, we're the Pharisees. We're the backsliding Isrealites. We're the Phillistines. We're Babylon.

So this is me, shaking the dust of Babylon, the American Church, off my feet. "Come out of her, my People" (Revelation 18:4, Jeremiah 51:6, 45), -- I'm hearing that in my soul. I love the church and I love her people, but for now, I'm going to stand over here, out of the line of fire.