Friday, December 28, 2012

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford.

 Sometimes, too often, I think, on Sunday mornings I do not feel worship-filled. I feel sorry about this and a little ashamed about feeling scolded as I am urged to confess my sin and rebellion. Perhaps it is the word-choice that has become too familiar? “You rebel against God. You know how sinful you are and you know that you run from God at every opportunity.” Of course, I need confession in my life, I don’t deny that. But I seem to need more of, of, I don’t know what to call it … a more robust practice of the joy of worship and reconciliation? What seems like an over-emphasis leads my soul not to confession or deep awesome gratefulness for the love of Christ, but a head-hanging, dispirited state of being.

Perhaps this is my problem alone. I don’t know. You are welcome to correct me.

My good friend, Wes Hill, now an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania recently noted:

“This is the book (Unapologetic:Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising EmotionalSense) that probably stands out most when I think back over the reading I did in 2012. There are plenty of things that I didn’t like about this book (its theology is considerably more liberal than mine), but when I finished the “Yeshua” chapter, I felt like someone who’s just heard the story of the Gospels, having never heard it before. I was reconverted.”

“Yeshua and the Crowd” [Excerpt]
Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night and don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something … furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a paedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. Someone kicks his arse as he goes by, and whoops, down he goes, flat on his nose with the cross pinning him like a struggling insect, and let’s face it, it’s funny. Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement. And as he struggles on he recognizes every roaring, jeering face. He knows our names. He knows our histories.
And since, as well as being a weak and frightened man, he’s also the love that makes the world, to whom all times and places are equally present, he isn’t just feeling the anger and spite and unbearable self-disgust of this one crowd on this one Friday morning in Palestine; he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told. I am not your king or your judge. I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness. I am the shining your shame cannot extinguish. I am the ghost of love in the torture chamber. I am change and hope. I am the refining fire. I am the door where you thought there was only wall. I am what comes after deserving. I am the earth that drinks up the bloodstain. I am gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.

This leads me to confession. Strangely, it also lifts my heart. It reminds me of when I was a little girl and first fell in love with Jesus and foolishly thought that had I been there, I would have saved him from crucifixion. I now know otherwise. But, against what I’ve often heard, it just isn’t true that we run from God at every opportunity. There are many, many times and many, many people who run toward him dragging all their troubles, begging for exactly what he offers: grace, forgiveness, joy, freedom.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Men go away. Women, stay.

I think men should go away for a minute while I post this. Women. Stay.

It doesn’t seem right that I celebrated turning 65 the day after so many young lives were over. So violently done. I should have been the one to leave and not come back. I want to apologize for my life.

But here it is Monday morning and the most incomprehensible thing about life is that it goes on right up until the moment when God says, Come Home. I’d like to say the deaths of those children will make me live more carefully, more intentionally. I know. Sometimes we’re full of crap and we quickly forget, but I’m going to try not to.

Here is reality: we celebrated my birthday. Denis made supper. He doesn’t cook often so that was cause for rejoicing and a bit of mirth. He opened a bottle of red wine, made marinated pork chops, steamed cauliflower and baked sweet potatoes without help. Anita made chocolate cupcakes with coffee ganache icing. You should never buy a woman a handbag, the chances of it being something she likes are almost zero, but Denis did and I love it. 
Gluten-free Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Icing
   The first leg of my celebrating actually began a few days earlier – let this be a lesson to all you out there with aging intestines and more diet restrictions than you care to make public. We were on our way back from visiting family in Chattanooga and me doing a reading and signing for The Exact Place at Camp House Coffee. No sooner had we left the Smoky Mountains and I was tricked out with Lattes and Poppy Cock. How can I be 65 and so stupid? By the northern Kentucky border I was screaming for an exit and scanning the roadside for shelter. There was nothing for miles. Denis yelled, “Download the RoadAhead app for your iPhone. It will tell us the location of the next Rest Stop!!” So I did. And when it politely requested if it could locate me on the map and I said YES! AND HURRY UP, it ran and ran and ran and finally said it could not FIND me, and we were ON AN INTERSTATE FOR PITY SAKE!  There was a happy ending when we finally found a MacDonald’s 30 miles down the highway, but it was close. A small thing, really, isn’t it?
Bad Margie
 Maybe this could be a small gift of being honest? I plan to keep telling you over the next few years. I don’t think I was ever at the “top of my game,” anyway. My face, my body, unfortunately my good sense and brains will fail me more and more over the next years. I don’t plan to hide my little face cancers and droopy eye-lids from you. Perhaps, in turn, this will give you hope and perspective – something I surely need –  to have the composure, the grace and the inner beauty to grow old in front of you and in spite of our culture’s quest for eternal youth and beauty.

Thank you for stopping by here and know that I wish I could bring you into the real place where I live and share a moment of joy and kindness. I’d like to bless you as you return to whatever it is you are called to do this week, this month. The office, your business, your families, relationships, the babies and the elderly you care for, your students – whatever it is you do to love and serve others, may you also find moments to celebrate and care for yourself. Merry Christmas. Love, Margie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On what side of sentimental

Recently I came across this opinion piece in the NYT and thought, it would be worthy of so much more thought and discussion. The title intrigued me because in my ordinary, everyday life I can get blind-sided by cynicism. It can happen when I watch News that triggers ranting but the next minute, I’m cooing over the cuteness of an angora rabbit named Honeysuckle. It happens so often, I think I suffer from a schizophrenic mix of cynical sentimentality.

In How to Live without Irony, Christy Wampole writes:
“What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?”  How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole, NYT Opinionator.

I would like to honestly embrace some of Wampole’s ideas. I felt tender about her suggestion that we consider what our lives might be like if we lived away from the harsh light of irony and public display and were just ourselves – not only in how we dress, but in other ways. We need sincerity and humility. We need to quench anxiety and envy. We should resist the pressure to keep standards that have nothing to do with godliness and more to do with public image or materialism. 

 That leaves me wondering what to think about the interactive, on-line Advent Calendar that I have secretly loved and am now publicly disclosing. Yes, I’ve opened it each day this month. I’ve decorated a tree and made a snowman. Some would call it The Pike’s Peak of Sentimentality.
Granddaughter and Grandma
Okay, I agree it’s sentimental. Life is hard, I’ve never denied it, but can’t I please have some teeny bits of child-like sweetness? My grandchildren and other kids like this calendar, too. (Last year’s Advent calendar included a few parts of Real Christmas, which partially justified it. I don’t know if this year will be the same.) I would like to like it without apology or fear of being labeled unsophisticated, intellectually inferior, or lacking in cultural blah-blah-blah discernment.
 So if I can encourage you to join me just for a little while?: Let’s enjoy the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, the bubble lights on the tree, gingerbread cookies with red buttons and Aaron Neville’s “Blue Christmas.” We will not worry too much about kitsch because we will still get plenty of Advent readings, King’s Carols, and Hallelujah choruses.

And one more thing, Christy Wampole. What about humor? We need to laugh. My wild “Happy Chair” does make me happy. And it is nothing if not kitschy. Seeing a serious theologian wearing wild socks makes me laugh. And if my casserole dishes and hot pad trivets make me smile because they remind me of my grandmother – isn’t that not just allowable, but good?
"Happy Chair"
 It’s true. I am picking on only one part of Wampole’s thoughtful essay. I wonder if she or I confuse the meaning of irony with cynicism? It would be more fair to her if we discussed the entire piece in context, but I’ve got to get downstairs right now and check on Honeysuckle who is suffering from pasteurella multocida. It is making her dizzy and sick. She can’t even hop around. We are feeling worried and a little sentimental about Anita’s poor bunny.
Honeysuckle is sick
 For so many reasons: O, come Immanuel, come.