Friday, January 4, 2019
I read this line in a interview with Christian Wiman in Christianity Today: "Jurgen Moltmann once wrote that all theology, especially a theology of hope, had to be conducted 'in the earshot of the dying Christ.'" Joy is what it is because death--and suffering--is what it is too. The two are inseparable in theology and in life.
I also read NY Times Book Review about first time novelist Ayana Mathis. Her novel titled The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, opens up the life of a black woman who came north with the Great Migration. The reviewer admires the book, but clearly doesn't love it because, by her estimation, there's simply too much grief and sadness.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is exactly the kind of novel I like, even love--historical fiction that burrows into the lives of real human beings in a different--mostly American--time and place. But I'm not reading this one because I've come to the age where I don't want to indulge sadness. I'm not interested in happy faces either, but long, depressing literary work, no matter how glorious in style, simply doesn't hold much appeal right now; I'm 61, and I've seen enough of that myself, and I'm going to see more, I'm sure.
This weekend is Epiphany. Today, even in our house, the Christmas tree gets tossed out by the mailbox, and if it isn't windy, gets picked up with the garbage and recycling. It's a calendar date that we really can't avoid, even if we don't know the tradition or the liturgy. Life occurs always within the earshot of the dying Christ.
And we can't avoid Twelfth Night because it is, for better or for worse, a significant chapter in our own stories, as important and wonderful and promising as the day that tree went up in early December. Just as surely, it must come down, and it has.
Sounds awful, I know--but think of it this way: Easter is 'a'comin. Think of it this way: there's always Easter.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
We are two blocks from Court Street, far too close in December because the downtown pole speakers play Christmas muzak all over the street, and consequently all over the surrounding area. We hear it whether we want to or not. Fortunately, windows are shut down tight or “White Christmas” would find its way inside, like those pesky lady bugs that just now are dying, thanks to the cold.
I could stand outside in beautiful first snow and hear far more than I wanted to know about Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe.
I love Christmas music. In my life, I must have been part of a thousand gatherings were “Joy to the World” brought the assembled to their feet. I never tire of it. “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming” is as gorgeous as it is haunting, and that last line of the refrain of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is enough to conjure up all the very best images of all my Christmases past. My wife and I play Christmas music on our Sonos speakers in the center of the living room. A week before Christmas, Handel’s Messiah is on most all the time.
I’m no Scrooge, is what I’m saying, but I found the downtown speakers constant blaring of seasonal music—most of it secular—horribly annoying.
Christmas itself is so familiar, so intimate, that it seems almost like a buddy from whom we expect so much that we can’t help but somehow be letdown. Christmas is so close to us that a whole lot of us have a love/hate thing with the whole season. Yuletide brings out the best in us—and the worst. Ask any retail clerk.
It isn’t perfect, and everybody knows it. But that having been said and despite the Wal-Mart excesses of Black Friday, the whole season is an immense blessing for all of us—no matter what our faith.
I’m still, always, happy for the season. I love the golden glow our wreath casts nightly over the snow on the front porch. I love the bear nativity scene that comes out of nowhere and sits on our lampstand table. I love the tree decorations, little tokens of where we’ve been throughout our married life. I love buying gifts for people, lots of them. I love the story. I love the love he’s brought—Jesus Christ that is. At Christmas, we’re all kids.
One of every winter’s greatest disappointment is Christmas being over. For a moment, even through the muzak, God’s perfect beauty shines forth in sometimes very imperfect ways; but what it brings is, well, joy to the world.
Friday, November 30, 2018
As I write this reflection, eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue are dead, gunned down by an anti-Semitic man with an assault rifle. On Wednesday, a white man shot and killed two black people at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. Earlier, he had tried to enter a predominantly black church minutes before the fatal shooting.
Over the past few days, at least a dozen prominent American Democrats, including two former presidents, have been the targets of assassination attempts. Even a cursory glance at international news headlines yields stories just as horrific: dozens dead in Eastern Syria; millions starving in Yemen; widespread killings, kidnappings, and communal violence in central Nigeria. In the midst of life, we are in death.
This week, Christians around the world celebrate All Souls and All Saints. In a world that fears, cheapens, and desecrates death, the Church invites God’s people to linger at the grave in grief, remembrance, gratitude, and hope. In a world that mistreats and abuses countless men, women, and children, the Church affirms the value of every single soul, every single life. In a world that privileges the individual, the Church honors the deep interconnectedness of God’s family across time, culture, history, and eternity. Yes, it’s true: in the midst of life, we are in death. But All Souls and All Saints remind us of a deeper truth: in the midst of death, we are promised life.
What breaks our hearts? What splits us open in sorrow? What enrages us? Can we mobilize into those very spaces? Can we work for transformation in our places of devastation? Can our sorrow lead us to justice?
This week, as we gather to honor All Souls and All Saints, as we take time to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate those who have gone on before us, I hope that our faith can be our guide. I hope honest expressions of sorrow will give us the permission, the company, and the impetus we need, not only to do the work of grief and healing, but to move with powerful compassion into a world that sorely needs our empathy and our love. Yes, we are in death, but we serve a God who calls us to life. Our journey is not to the grave, but through it. The God who weeps is also the God who resurrects.
So we mourn in hope.
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