Sunday, January 24, 2010

We are into a new year, but I have some unfinished business from last year. In 2009, I turned 50. Sometime during the year, I began to put together a small list of works (books and music) that were published, produced, released in 1959, the year of my birth, and found their way into my life. Here is my list in no particular order:

Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Gary Snyder, Rip Rap and Other Poems
Robert Lowell, Life Studies
Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues
Dave Brubeck, Time Out
John Coltrane, Giant Steps
Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come
John Updike, The Poorhouse Fair

Grateful for birth, grateful for the works born the year I was that have enriched my life.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, January 15, 2010

Theology That's Too Pat

Bad theology can be irritating. Really bad theology hurts and does damage. This week Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was devastated by an earthquake. Much of the news has been soul-shaking and heart-rending Not long after I heard the news, I was on Facebook and read that my friend Ken Carter’s wife, Pam, was in Haiti, but had survived safely. While I’ve never met Pam, I was very glad for this news. A couple of days later, I heard heartbreaking news that hit close to home. Two friends of mine, April and Judd Larson, both pastors, had lost their son, Ben, in the earthquake. Ben was a seminarian and was in Haiti teaching in a Lutheran Church.
In between came the comments of the Rev. Dr. Pat Robertson. I have listened to them a few times to make sure the quotes are accurate. While in the midst of raising funds to help the earthquake victims in Haiti, Pat opined theologically about the tragedy on The 700 Club. Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal… The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It is cut down the middle; on the one side is Haiti on the other is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now we are helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.
I do not want to disparage Rev. Robertson’s character or his Christian faith. I do want to take his theology to task. It is a nice, neat theology, very “pat” (couldn’t resist the pun). God is in control of all that happens, and this God takes issue with those who don’t pay him the proper respect. The Haitians made a pact with the devil and that is why they are poor and suffering. We can now throw an earthquake in there for good measure. This God seems rather insecure – needing constant reaffirmation of his “Godness.” This God is peevish, and vengeful. And what about those who were in Haiti doing good and bringing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ and were killed in the earthquake? Well, they might be considered collateral damage in God’s plan. Pat Robertson is a deeply committed Christian, and he will offer a lot of help to the people of Haiti. I don’t think his theology is very consistent with the Christian faith as I know it.
That” pat theology” is not difficult to take issue with, but what if we push the envelope a little. Other Christians will say that while we cannot know why, God must have had some purpose in “allowing” this to happen. This theological position does not make God as directly responsible for the earthquake, but it does retain a sense of God’s ultimate control and purposefulness in whatever happens. I struggle with this position, too. What purpose does this earthquake serve? What purpose could there be in 50,000 plus deaths, including the death of a young seminarian? If an earthquake needed to happen someplace to prove some point, why Haiti – a country where daily life contained more than its share of suffering? Even the theology of God “allowing” is too pat for me.
I remember a story about Jesus in John’s gospel (chapter 9). There is a blind man, a man blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples ask the “why” question. “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” How did Jesus respond? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Now there is some ambiguity here. Is Jesus trying to say that God caused the man to be born blind, or allowed the man to be born blind so that Jesus could come and heal him later? Some might read it that way. I like Eugene Peterson’s take (The Message). Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here.” In other words, maybe Jesus is saying that the cause of tragedy is shrouded in some mystery, that trying to be too pat in our thinking leads us astray. Might it be that the earth needs to be the way it is for it to exist at all, the planet that includes faults and fissures that sometimes shift causing enormous disaster, suffering and heartache? In any event, the place to look for God is not as a causal factor in all that happens, but in the response to suffering. God is present when healing happens. God is present when the grieving are comforted. God is present when the hungry are fed and water delivered to the thirsty. God is present when people are inspired to reach out across the globe to people they may never meet to help them put their lives back together. This God is not insecure and peevish and vengeful. This God is not concerned about ancient slights, but cares about the well-being of all. This God is that quiet voice deep inside that whispers to us – “there is your brother, there is your sister, these are your children and your grandparents, help.” That’s the God I see in Jesus. It means my theology is sometimes messy and filled with ambiguity and “what ifs”. Whispers are sometimes difficult to detect and hard to discern. Somehow a messy theology seems to fit better with our complex world than a theology that is too “pat.”

With Faith and With Feathers,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life and Death

Today I led a celebration of life for a 93 year old woman, long-time member of the church where I am pastor. It was the fourth funeral/memorial service I have led since Christmas and I will lead another one on Saturday.

I often use poetry during my reflections at these services. I try to find a poem with a distinct metaphor that helps me look at the person whose life story is in my hands for those few minutes.

Lacking time for much other creative writing right now, I thought I would share two poems about death and dying that I find very meaningful.

Otherwise Jane Kenyon (from her book Constance)

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Late Fragment Raymond Carver (included in the wonderful anthology Beloved on the Earth: 150 poems of grief and gratitude, published by Holy Cow! Press)

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

New Year’s Eve was kind of quiet - stayed home with my wife Julie, our daughter Sarah and her friend Bryan. We watched a quirky comedy entitled, “The Maiden Heist.” That ended about 11:30 and with just a little time before the new year began, I popped another DVD into the player: Paul McCartney, “Good Evening New York City” a concert video filmed in July 2009. It is a great concert video – tremendous energy and fantastic music. One highlight would be “Here Today,” a song in honor of John Lennon.
Right about midnight, Paul began playing “The Long and Winding Road.” Not a bad song to end one year and begin a new one – one part of the long and winding road of life turning into another.
And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it command? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 41
Joy. The next day I finished watching the rest of the McCartney concert as I walked on our treadmill (too cold to walk outside, but the consolation is that I watch some great videos). Joy filled Citi Field as McCartney played, and he exuded joy in playing. But why shouldn’t he? He was a part of one of the most phenomenal rock bands ever and is quite wealthy as a result. He gets to play music for a living. Of course he can exude joy. Then I also think about other aspects of his life – two close friends dead, one by murder; a wife who died of cancer. The road for Paul McCartney has been long and winding at times. Still there is joy.
The road of life, even for disciples, can be long and winding, sometimes even more long and winding because we are disciples - - - for we are called to care even when caring is difficult, we are invited to be more human and more whole, and that isn’t always easy. Still, our long and winding road can be filled with joy. Not a bad hope for the new year.
The concert ended with “The End”: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Not a bad goal for the new year.

With Faith and With Feathers,