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Archive for the ‘resurrection’ Category

I just played this video for my students while they free-wrote, responding to one of the two prompts:

1. Give a history of your life  by listing the different books, television shows, movies, songs, bands, or albums you were obsessed with at various ages.

2. Write what comes to mind when you hear this song.

I usually respond to the prompts along with my students and this time was no exception.  I chose the second one.  I’m writing and thinking, do my students know they are listening to a song about resurrection?  Does it at all ring true to them?  Do they yet know how much death is required of them if they want something good to come out of their lives?

I keep coming back to this song (the first time I heard it was in 2002, when I was roughly the same age as my students) because I find it to be a good reminder, true on so many levels–spiritually, materially.  Just today, I met with my professor about my thesis novel and we decided that it really needs to be told in third person limited.  Those who knew me know that I wrote a hundred pages in third limited, switched perspectives from a 30 year old woman to a 10 year old girl, and then switched to first person retrospective, looking back to when the narrator was a ten year old girl.  Each time I make one of these switches, it’s like I have to die to the book again and hope that it resurrects as something better.

The thing that this principle asks (you have to die if you want to be alive) is pretty simple:How much do you want it? How much do you want this book to be a good piece of Literature with a capital L?   How much do you want Life with a capital L?

 

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The first time I heard this analogy was in Tennessee.  I’m going to blame the Bible belt for it.  Nearly a decade ago now (sheesh time flies), my best friend who I sometimes call my wife and I were on a road trip and Knoxville was our first stop.  The friend we stayed with spent a lot of our visit debunking various religions, reiterating the analogy that the ingredients in rat poisoning are mostly harmless except for a very small dose of poison–was it arsenic?  I don’t know.  A small of something that kills rats.  This was to demonstrate that we can’t pick and choose what we want from other religions and throw away the bad stuff, because a small amount of lies spoils the whole religion and makes it poisonous.  Something like that.

I’d nearly forgotten about this illustration until a couple Sundays ago, when the pastor at my church told a story with the same sort of analogy as a punchline:  A young girl asks her father if they can watch a movie that’s rated R, and the father says, “Why is it rated R?” She explains that there’s a little bit of sex and violence but it’s supposed to be a really good movie.  He says, “Okay, I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll watch that movie if, after it’s done, you’ll eat some brownies we’ll make together.”

The girl is like, “Awesome!”

So before they put the movie in, the father starts making brownies and he tells the daughter to go get some dog shit out from the yard.  She does.  He puts it in the brownie batter.  The punchline: a little dollop of dog shit ruins the whole batch. (See below for my pastor’s context of this story, which is different than the guy in Knoxville’s…)

I’m willing to say that sometimes, life does work this way–if a hair gets in my restaurant meal I am going to be grossed out and ask the server for a re-do on my dish.  I’m not convinced, however, that God works this way with sin in our lives.  Here’s why:  The harvest analogy.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a wheat field where the farmer lets the weeds grow with the crop, knowing that come harvest time, he’ll separate the weeds from the good stuff. He’ll toss the weeds into a fire. He’ll use the wheat for some bread.   Lots of people like to say this is about hell, and sure, maybe it is, I have no idea, but I see it also in my own life here on earth.  For me, walking with God means that every six or seven years or so, I go through a harvest period.  In this case, something drastic has occurred which has made me have to rethink my faith, my relationships, my family.  And I ask God–how did it get this way?  And then I reflect, through various conversations with folks, about how I ended up where I am.   I understand that there have been wonderful things happening to me and my faith (I love God more and I love people more and I’m less depressed) because of the events that led me here since the last time I had to go to God in a crisis.  Meanwhile, I see lots of lies about God and how he goes about his God-business have also accumulated.  I ask, “Why did you let that junk go on?” as many of us do when we are wondering why God allows suffering.  This time, I asked the question right before I read the harvest analogy, which just happened to come up in Matthew, which I’ve been reading again since the New Year.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, for me at least.  My relationship with God is one where I hit the wall, where shit hits the fan, and instead of turning away from God, I go to him and ask me to sort out what’s left.  What’s left is a lot of weeds and a lot of wheat.  He helps me to see what is what, I pick out the good, productive ideas from the bad, destructive ones, and I grow in my knowledge and insight.

This is a life-long process, I think, for myself as a believer.  Eventually, we are to believe, God will give the destructive stuff a good destroying and that will be the end of it. But until then, this is how it’s been and probably will be again.

I’m hesitant towards the rat poison analogy because it sets us up for some real exclusion of people.  Because what if the field analogy works on an individual level, and what if we are rejecting someone because we have spotted a weed in their thinking?  Sure, we should try to pull it out, but also trust that if the person is trusting God, a time will come, likely in this life, when he will harvest them into better people.  If the rat poison analogy holds, we must reject those in whom we we detect the tiniest bit of poison.  And who among us is completely poison-free?

I will end this by saying that though I think sex and violence can be in a really good movie (what is better than The Wire? and what has more sex and violence?) I actually liked the sermon a lot that I heard at my church.  It wasn’t about people, but our words.  It was a reminder that a poorly constructed thought can do a huge amount of damage–in other words, watch your words.  Words count.  As a writer, I do need to hear this as much as possible.

Meanwhile, as a believer, I think it’s important that I trust God with the weeds in other people’s lives and be careful about how I use the rat poison analogy.

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In my Spanish class, we did an exercise to help us remember how to use adjectives (aligning gender and number), and so we’d get a list of nouns and would have to describe them.  Pretty simple.  One of the words was “lago” or lake, and everyone, it seemed, wrote “húmedo,” or wet, and the profesor cracked up.  He said it was never appropriate to write that the lake was wet, because the lake is made of water.  Not even in poetry would we use this description.

In church, Sunday, the worship team (I wasn’t singing this week) led a song “I want to be where you are.”  The lyrics popped into my head this morning (because these songs get in your head like what).  The chorus goes: “I called, you answered/you came to my rescue and I/I wanna be where you are.”   It’s a pretty song, but to sing “I want to be where you are” to God is like calling a lake wet.  We can’t be where God is not.  Not in my experience, at least.

I just read the story of Jesus calling Matthew (perhaps this is why the song popped into my head, though that story is about Jesus calling and Matthew answering and the song is the other way around), and I’m amused that after deciding to follow Jesus, the next place Matthew goes is home, to throw a party for a bunch of ‘sinners.’  Jesus calls Matthew, and the next thing you know, he’s partying with him.  Maybe this verifies that there is no place where God is not.

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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Rumi, Translated by Coleman Banks)

I especially like the line about sorrows cleaning us out for a new delight.
Similarly, Flannery O’Connor has an interesting thought about grace:

Human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.

(From Richard Gionnone’s Introduction to Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings, edited by Robert Ellsberg)
In other words…
Pain is inevitable, like change is inevitable.  Why resist it?
Probably because we’re living our lives like we’re on some survival show.   What if someone told us we don’t have to worry about survival any more?  That every ounce of pain and disappointment we get is for our benefit, if we allow it to be so?

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Thank you for all your words that we can reflect on, that point us towards Jesus, that point us towards Unity, that point us towards Love.

Thank you for demonstrating how to live for a higher cause.

Thank you for your struggles, which have enhanced our lives.  Not only the lives of our black brothers and sisters, but the lives of everyone on earth.  You have made my life better because you have given me more opportunities to interact with people from all different backgrounds.  You have made it possible for me to  sit in more rooms with African Americans, to listen to their stories and their struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Our work isn’t finished yet, but you’ve reminded us of the work.  And we are getting better.  Thanks to you.

Thank you for all the wonderful conversations I can have about your writings with my students.  I have already had a couple, and it’s just amazing to see the way your eloquence, poise, and poetry have opened their minds and mine.  I’m looking forward to bringing your name up in my classrooms.

I’m looking forward to thanking you in person, to sharing meals with you at our Lord’s feast.  For now, I will just go on living my life, doing the best with what God gives me, and letting your words inspire me on the way.

http://americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlknobelpeaceprizeacceptance.htm

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I’m reading about 50 books right now but one of them is Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk exiled in France. The book is basically a comparison between Buddhism and Christianity. I’ve been doing this comparison for a while, ever since P’George gave me a book called The Art of Living or something like that. If I had to sum the religions up now, I’d say that Christianity (at it’s core) is a relationship with a living God and Buddhism is a lifestyle. Thich Nhat Hanh spends a few sentences urging Christians to also see their religion as a lifestyle–urging us to follow Jesus’ example and live as He did.

When the WWJD bracelets came out, I heard lots of criticism about trying to imitate Jesus, mostly, that what was appropriate for Jesus is not always appropriate for us. On one level, I agree–God doesn’t call all of us to be single (there goes the human race), to give rock star teaching tours, or to die at the age of 33. But if we do pay attention to Jesus’ teachings, we see that there are things that Jesus did and carried out that he expects of us. You know, the things he constantly repeats, like forgiveness, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc.

Since I’ve started to read about Buddhism and carry on with Buddhist friends, I have been very interested in my social conduct. I probably was interested in it before I lived in Thailand but my friendships there often alerted me to questions of behavior. As most people who know me know, I was/am astounded by the generous, selfless, and positive attitudes of my Thai friends. And it’s contagious. Once I’ve spent a weekend with people who don’t complain, it’s easy to see why Christians are constantly urged not to complain. It makes a huge difference.

I have observed that I am very aware of how to behave but I don’t really work hard to obtain good behavior. Or, I have confused good behavior with stuff like avoiding certain movies or music. Maybe it’s our puritan heritage, but I spent some time assuming that “Good” must start with “No.” No drinking, no dancing, no other scandalous stuff. It seems like the good Jesus requires is more about allowing than shutting out. We allow ourselves to forgive, we allow ourselves to take the time to help heal or feed someone, we allow God to do the judging, etc. And it seems that obedience to God, in Jesus’ terms, almost always involves another person.

Though certainly, every aspect of Buddhism doesn’t ring true with me, a great deal of it does and I see that the core teaching is something that should be considered by anyone in search of the Way the Truth and the Life. And by core, I mean this quote I pulled from the book:

It is not words or concepts that are important. What is important is our insight into the nature of reality and our way of responding to reality.

The resurrection of Jesus is reality to me–once I experienced resurrection in my own life, the reality of His resurrection has permeated every aspect of my life. Now that I know this freedom, I am free to consider how I will respond to it.

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That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Corinthians 12:10)

 

I get a little wigged out about the notion of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” because, it seems, at any given moment in any given circumstance, I am both at the top and at the bottom.  It just depends on my perspective.  Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, and a lot of times not much has changed, outwardly, in between my ups and downs.   I get wigged out, then, because it seems like we Christians are supposed to sort of strive to be the last so we can be first.  I forget about the image Jesus gives to illustrate this concept: giving up the nice seat at the table, i.e. dropping out of the rat race, and think that if I am doing well, I’m heading to hell in a hand basket, as they say.  The people singing my praises are the ones that are carrying that hand basket.  The first shall be last makes me cynical about whether people like Bill Gates or Oprah, or Bono could ever possibly be decent people.  It took me a little while to realize that yes, a rock star can be a Christian after all…

 

Someone gave me a good thought about jealousy once.  She said, “There’s always going to be someone better than you, in whatever you do, wherever you are.  But you’ll always be better than someone else, too.”  I love this statement because it so clearly depicts humility.  I have a competitive spirit (play me in Mario Kart and you’ll see it come out), though I try to keep it hidden.  I don’t think competition is actually that healthy, but nonetheless, I was raised in the theater.  I’m used to the phrase: “Knock ‘em dead.” The key to confidence seems to lie somewhere in my ability to stop looking to see who is better off or worse off than me.

 

If the last shall be first is a command to get out of the rat race, then the next question is, what do we get into?   Whether he can be trusted, I don’t know for sure, but I love Barack Obama’s description of Americans working towards a common purpose, which is, essentially, improvement.  I love the idea of forgetting about which “group” or “organization” we belong to (man, woman, Jew, gentile, liberal, or conservative) and trying to keep a broader perspective on the greater good.  Now, I really don’t want to lead a movement or a nation or anything, because at that level, good gets kind of muddy, but in my own life, I can put my competitive spirit aside, stop looking at other people’s successes and failures, and make small improvements so that, eventually, I can feel good about my role in this common purpose thing.  I’m talking more exercise and less soda pop, regular sleep, you know, the basics.

 

Yes, I’m saved by the grace of God and I am thankful for salvation. Seriously, it strips me of most of my fears. But then there is a time when as a Christian I can say, “now what?”  Now that I have salvation, what do I do with that?  Do I join the church choir? Do I go to Thailand? Do I go back to school?  Do I learn how to play tennis?  Some people (mainly Wycliffe) might say that “now what” should be answered by “go out into the world” and start practicing and preaching that great ol’ commission.  But even that is tricky.  I could write a dissertation on the trickiness of interpreting this commission (one that some seminaries wouldn’t let me write) because people are complicated and some people just don’t, do not, have a common purpose.  Ideas of “improvement,” to some, look something like a (gasp) strip mall.  Besides that, the world has tons of little places in it.  This is a world of many worlds.  Even if you did raise your funds and hike over to Bangkok to preach the Good News, which Kreuntep-ian* world are you going to choose? Most people are gonna say the world of sex slaves, but then, do you mean the ones on Nana Sukumvit or the ones in Patpong or the ones on Lat Prao? And do you mean male or female sex slaves? Trafficked or local?    There’s no map of Bangkok in the Bible and essentially, no matter how we answer now what? we’re going to have to make a choice (or ten). 

 

And this is the scary part—the fear that isn’t really covered by salvation:  we fail.  We are NOT re-nailing Jesus to the cross, but we are feeling crummy about stuff.  We drink too much soda pop or lose a tennis game.  Sometimes we do much, much, worse, like lie to get money to fund our missionary trips to go to Patpong and then use that money to buy ourselves too many drinks and we yell at the very sex slaves we believed we were called all the way over there to cheer up.  Well, most of us don’t do that, but we are all capable of that kind of worst.  And sometimes we don’t really do much that is wrong, it’s just that our car broke down on the way to an interview that we were sure was going to get us out of poverty and then its started snowing, but it’s already April, and the sun hasn’t come out in fifteen days.  These both are the times, I think Paul was referring to in that verse (way up there) about being weak. 

 

And this is good news:  When we are weak, we are strong.

 

What about when we’re strong?  There’s no verse that says “When we are strong we are weak exclamation point,” so I’m willing to suggest that when we are strong we are strong.

 

 What I’m trying to say is, we are strong.  Always.  When we’re doing strong things (like donating money to missionaries who have made it their life’s work to show Christ’s brand of love to the love-abused in Kreuntep, offer them safer work, a second chance at education, and a family when their own families have shunned them, www.nightlightbangkok.com), we are strong.  And when we’re weak, we are strong.  Because God is at work on earth and he’s using it all, our good and our bad, to restore this world he loves to be the place he intended, and then some.  All of our April snow or hitting on married people isn’t going to change that.  Praise God, we were called to something higher than the rat race.   And this is my command: find as much delight in things as you possibly can because there is always more than what you’re paying attention to.

 

*Kreuntep=how Thais refer to Bangkok

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