St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Callander, Scotland was made of grey stone and had an old wooden door painted green with weathered cast iron hinges that creaked loudly when Amy and I tried to sneak in for a Eucharist service, causing every head in the church, all 12, to swivel immediately and an eager usher to hop up and hand us a worn photocopy of the Scottish Episcopal liturgy of 1982. The sanctuary was dark and only slight sunlight fell across the hard wooden pews, most of which were empty. Music was piped in through an ipod connected to a few haphazard speakers that broadcast a “click, click, click” as the priest searched for the instrumentals to lead us in mumbled hymns. It was lovely and sad, intimate and therefore inviting, and I was taken back to Church of the Ascension in Sierra Madre, California.
I wandered into that small sanctuary over twenty years ago and was struck first by the almost too realistic wooden crucifix hanging over the chancel, a carved Christ broken on the cross. It dominated the sanctuary. Everything – ceiling, walls, pews – was made of yellowing wood. And it was perfect for that moment in my life, this warm cloistered, serious space. I was gutted by my recent divorce and needed a small, quiet church in which I could be a ghost. So I slipped into a back pew with my two children, ages 5 and 7, and for a long, long time simply let the words wash over me; it was all the faith that I could muster: Continue reading “Thoughts after attending church in Scotland”
Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. Winston Churchill, 1941
I’m going to be a bit of an outlier here, perhaps even a curmudgeon: I was underwhelmed by the newest Churchill movie, The Darkest Hour. It was, I’ll agree, entertaining. Gary Oldman was only vaguely recognizable as Gary Oldman, his physiognomy a remarkable facsimile of Churchill, if a bit mumbly at times. Beautiful and evocative, yes, in many ways. But the central conceit of the movie leaned heavily on the sort of thin sentimentalism found in an Up With People performance – all popcorn, very little meat.
The heart of the plot goes something like this: (Spoiler) Churchill agonized over whether to begin a negotiated surrender with Hitler and was crippled by the weight of the decision. Only a sturdy conversation in the subway with “the common people” quickened his resolve to stand firm, to fight, to never surrender. Newly strengthened, he addresses Parliament – “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” – and just before he speaks, he looks to his secretary who mouths the words from the galley, implying that she (an avatar of the common person) is giving him voice. Continue reading “Movie Review: The Darkest Hour”
If we are to consider the heavens, how much more are we to consider the magnificent energies of consciousness that make whomever we pass on the street a far grander marvel than our galaxy? Marilynne Robinson
It’s summer and I’m sitting on a flat white beach on the northern Oregon coast. We (Amy, her brother and sister-in-law and all our various children) are celebrating my in-laws wedding anniversary. The weekend – and 50 years of fidelity to vows – are a gift to us all. Amy is building a sandcastle with Robby who is 7 years old and he does everything with great intensity, all his considerable focus bent on the task at hand. And for this moment he is simply an extraordinarily beautiful boy, all long lanky energy, sun-bleached hair and knobby-knees, his body still fluid and careless. He is unworried and unhurried and he yells, “Daddy, come look at the castle.”
So I go to look, thankfully putting down Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, no light beach reading to be sure, but an assignment for my last class at Fuller Seminary. Freud is a hard, jarring read. In his analysis, we are instinctively driven to maximize pleasure in the face of the inexorable lessening of pleasure’s possibility. Fate (the blind and meaningless passage of time) simply deals this harsh hand to us all, and our efforts to avoid suffering are futile. Worse than futile, the insatiable drive to avoid suffering reflects a defect in human maturity, an infantile clinging to a projection (God, goodness eternal) for which we hope most – that justice will be known, forgiveness too, and every tear will be wiped away. Instead, Freud gives us a cold world, devoid of hope or awe, except awe at the roiling, unknown forces that drive us all and of which we are at best only vaguely aware. His vision is bracing, at best. Continue reading “Reading Freud on a Beach”
Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
My sophomore year of college Kristin Donaldson and I walked into Dr. Tom Schmidt’s office (bottom floor of Porter Hall, terrible blue carpet and wall to wall books) with a burning question. “How,” I asked Dr. Schmidt, a New Testament scholar, “does the atonement work?” (Verbatim.) At the time, and I recall this with crystalline clarity, I wanted a functional answer, some explanation that linked sin and redemption in an equation. What’s the mechanism here for Jesus actually saving me by dying on the cross? I thought Dr. Schmidt could map it out for me, almost like providing a recipe for muffins. Instead, he dutifully, and appropriately, offered a brief overview of the New Testament images – substitutionary atonement, ransom, blood sacrifice – and my response was to push him, again, to tell me how it functioned: “Yea, but how does it work?” He gave me the same general response. I left dispirited and unsatisfied. Continue reading “A Luminous Hint”
The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute, but to the extravagant and possible – Mary Oliver
It’s a rough read, so I am stunned that Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence is now a three hour film directed by Martin Scorsese. Here’s the plot: Father Ferreira, a 17th century Portuguese priest is sent to Japan to care for the young church. Well received at first, he and all priests soon face widespread, systematic and effective persecution. Ferreira ceases communication with his superiors; troubling rumors of apostasy (renunciation of his faith) trickle home.
Father Rodrigues, the protagonist of the story and a former Ferreira student, is sent to find him. Landing in Japan he finds pockets of “secret Christians;” he ministers to them, is soon betrayed and, in captivity, is given an impossible choice: he can apostatize – step on fumie, an icon of Jesus – and deny his faith or listen to the moans of Japanese Christians who have been hung upside down over a pit, bleeding to death by a small cut behind their ears. Keeping his faith means the death of the faithful in his care. Personal fidelity or life for others. Truth or Grace. And through it all, the priest (the author, the reader) is aware of God’s silence. It is the dark ocean in Endo’s story, the quiet, still waters that move without purpose or meaning, forever covering all, pushing forward and retreating, signifying nothing. Continue reading “Tell me a Good Story”
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Author debated
My third child, Robby, is insatiably curious, bright and often anxious. One weekend as we were driving to his friend’s birthday party he offered without preamble: “Daddy, I’d rather have Mamma take me to the party. I get nervous when you take me.” The comment flummoxed me until I realized that Amy’s still and steady presence helps Robby in much the same way it helps me, which makes her like a big, human Xanax for our family. Robby just frets, a form of the “special DNA cocktail of crippling malaise” (said my oldest son) I seem to pass along to my children.
So it didn’t surprise me when, just as I was done tucking the boys in at night, Robby asked; “Daddy, what if a spider drops on me at night?” Before I could answer, Richey from the bottom bunk noted that tarantulas could, worst case, be about the size of his hand. I quickly offered (trying to sound authoritative) that tarantulas don’t hang out in Issaquah; it’s too cold and wet. Without missing a beat Richey chimed in that he is afraid of mean people too. Both quickly agreed that it would be better if there were fewer (or no) mean people in the world. Helpfully, Richey went on to suggest that we couldn’t kill mean people, even though we wish they didn’t exist. “Yea,” Robby concurred. From there, apparently in the “things we wish didn’t exist” frame of mind, Robby noted what an unfortunate development atomic bombs were, and then concluded this anxiety-riff with the observation that death was a bummer. 90 seconds flat; not a word or transition made up.
Continue reading “Of Spiders and other Spooky Things”
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Kafka
If your pastor asks you to lead a Theology on Tap (God conversations at the local bar with fellow church members), don’t chose predestination. Trust me on this. When I saw it on the list of possible topics I thought: “Well, why not? It’s fascinating and profoundly unsettling and just kinda gnarly. And nobody likes to talk about it.” I thought it would be fun-ish. I should have paused when beautiful Idaho gal, she who feigns interest in (almost) all my ruminations asked, “Really? . . . Do I have to go?” (She found something else to do that evening.) Stubbornly, I spent a week or two wallowing in commentaries and creeds and Calvin’s Institutes. I figured I could make Predestination winsome. (Really.) And truthfully, it just didn’t work. At all. There were furrowed brows and sighs and about 15 minutes into the conversation I wondered about the etiquette of shotgunning beers while leading “Theology on Tap.” (Then I remembered it was a Presbyterian gathering, so no problem.)
Continue reading “Predestination Shmedestination”
We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
So Idaho gal leaves for the weekend, gone away with high school girls from church which should earn her, at least, the Congressional Medal of Honor or a bottle of wine or both and in her good-doing I am left with minion 1 and minion 2, caffeinated and amplified minions, their still developing identity spinning out in raw energy and questions, every thought verbalized with great vigor. Too soon all of this energy will go subterranean, sliding incrementally into long sullen silences as they hunker down to figure out who they are and only after long gestation emerge, big and brash, identities all their own. For now, however, each thought and experience must be expressed and engaged because life is big, interesting and enthralling and they want me to be in it with them, all the time.
Which is a time limited good, so I silence my ever chattering call “to do” and settle into the couch to watch a game with them while they yak and eat and dig around in body parts and wiggle, so that watching the game is an aerobic activity and the goodness of the moment is broken by a disagreement, a screech and a thrown lego and minion 2 is sent to his room, on the way his displeasure made known by wails and weeps, until that wee Job lies on his bed and thump, thumps the wall with the heel of his foot until he thump-kerchunks a hole in his wall and in his distress and fascination with the damage he has wrought he snuffles his way back to the couch, abject and worried. And his furrowed brow is so deeply remorseful that it’s impossible to be mad, so we trot off to the bed, look at the hole in the wall, tut tut together and discuss at great length how to patch drywall, and decide it’s time to visit Home Depot for a patch kit, which leads to long minutes searching labyrinthine aisles while I answer endless questions about the importance of mesh in drywall mud. And because minion-ing is calorie consuming, we look for a place to eat that doesn’t serve garlic infused french fries because, of course, any variation from normal french fries will cause much head shaking and hand wringing and maybe a little more weeping. Continue reading “Do Joy”
And while I live my tongue shall always speak of my debt to you, and of my gratitude Inferno XV: 86-87
God’s sovereignty is absolute (we must hope) but if Dave Winter hasn’t heard “Well done,” who can reasonably expect to hear those words? Is he surrounded by angels and clouds and harps? That’s too easy to dismiss as a moment of overly pious credulity. As part of the heavenly generosity, in which our rightly ordered earthly desires are fulfilled, Dave is more likely sitting at an endless plate of pork ribs slathered in drippy sauce while working with Peter on the ‘Pearly Gates Board of Trustees,’ offering stubbornly prudential thoughts on roles and responsibilities of board members.
The truth is, I don’t have any idea what heaven might be. But if time-bound hints and rumors hold any truth, there must lightness and light and song. Maybe wine. (Who knows?) Laughter too. Our long hope and promise from Isaiah is that “a bruised reed He will not break.” In heaven, the bruised reed – the blind eyes, the cancer-consumed body, the muscles weak with atrophy, the muddled mind – will be made whole again. It will be brought back to its original good-created intent before it was crushed by the darkness of this sometimes unforgiving world. Dave knew darkness of course, and yet:
Continue reading “Steady On”