Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Everywhere Present

In the wake of the horrible tragedy in CT last Friday, the above viral photo-post appeared numerous times in both my Facebook feed and also in my husband's. 

He offered the following response, and I thought it worthwhile for sharing.

"In the last days some of my Facebook friends have re-posted a “letter to God”, asking how He could have allowed the tragedy in Connecticut to happen, and the punch line is that God reminds the writer that He isn't allowed in (public) schools. My friends offer this story, I assume, as a commentary on the laws of our land and the sad state we find ourselves in when we witness children being murdered.

Respectfully, I disagree with the punch line. The God I believe in is everywhere, filling all things, dwelling within us, comforting, sanctifying and redeeming us all. There is no place from which God is absent. None.

God is there in the valley of the shadow of death for the Psalmist, He is there in the lion’s den for Daniel, in the furnace with the three youths, turning the flames of death into the dew of salvation. God is there with the martyrs who accept death rather than deny His goodness and presence. God is in the brothel, in the crack house, in the halls of every school or shopping mall where shooters kill innocent people. From the deepest sea to the highest mountain - God is there.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember that we celebrate the reality of the pre-eternal God humbling Himself and putting on our mortality - our broken flesh - like bait on a hook so that He could go into the deepest place of corruption and decay (the grave) and defeat death from the inside, completely shattering death’s hold on us. The sweet baby Jesus, asleep on the hay, submits to death so that there is now NO PLACE where He is “not”.

Would allowing prayer in our public schools prevent shooters killing kids in school? No. Look at the history of the Christian church - faithful believers have been struck down during the very act of worshiping - dragged from churches or killed on the spot. Believing in God and worshiping Him will not protect you from an unfair, violent death. BEING God didn't prevent Jesus from the same.

How would we even decide what kind of prayer to have in our schools? The prayer of contemporary non-denominational “religion” that is so generic it doesn't address any specific God? of the Protestant fundamentalist stripe? of the Christ embraced by the KKK? (they use crosses and quote scripture...) or of the group that claims God hates fags? What if one of those “religious” persons was your child’s teacher - would you want them leading your kids in prayer?

All of this is a scandal, a stumbling block. It’s the paradox that while we want to be like Jesus (WWJD?), we can’t be Christ Triumphant unless we’re also willing to be Christ Crucified. Turning the other cheek, forgiving, being humble to the point of death. Impossible - for us to do on our own; but what is not possible for us is possible for God.

I have faith that God is in our schools because God dwells in the temple of our hearts, in the flesh that He put on and took with Himself, first into the grave and then into heaven. Our flesh, our mortality, is blessed and made holy by God becoming one of us. Nothing can take that away.

So we grieve the loss of innocent children and adults - it sucks, it’s wrong, it’s sinful and broken and corrupt. But as we grieve, we do so knowing that the ultimate battle has been fought and won. God with us, Emmanuel. Always."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Hymn for Advent

This hymn has been on my mind all week.

By William & Annabeth Gay

Each winter as the year grows older,
We each grow older too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
The verities we knew
Seem shaken and untrue.

When race and class cry out for treason,
When sirens call for war,
They overshout the voice of reason
And scream till we ignore
All we held dear before.

Yet I believe beyond believing,
That life can spring from death:
That growth can flower from our grieving;
That we can catch our breath
And turn transfixed by faith.

So even as the sun is turning
To journey to the north,
The living flame, in secret burning,
Can kindle on the earth
And bring God's love to birth.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
Brighten today's world by tomorrow's,
Renew our lives again;
Lord Jesus, come and reign!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Just that.

And it's those broken Hallelujahs which I find so overwhelming these days.

The broken Hallelujah of disappointing church leadership, the broken Hallelujah of mission creep in the church, the broken Hallelujah of misplaced focus on ourselves and our own good works and our pious practices and not on God as the source of all mercy, the broken Hallelujah of our disingenuous relationships with each other which are "nice" but not honest or genuine, the broken Hallelujah of unmet expectations and hopes, of confusion and mixed messages, and worst of all, the unbroken Hallelujahs that I break myself in the uttering of them.


Here's what the composer of the song has to say on its meaning: 
"... Finally there's no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that's what I mean by 'Hallelujah'. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say 'Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.' And you can't reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation.

"That's what it's all about. It says that ... you're not going to be able to work this thing out ... there's no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all – Hallelujah!' That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings."  (Leonard Cohen)

Perhaps getting to that point is the goal of Christian maturity.

I'm afraid I have a long way to go.

Friday, March 23, 2012

They'll Know We are Christians

I note that several online Orthodox Christians are all up in arms about the UK's current proposal to "ban" the wearing of a cross in the workplace. (Actually, I think the proposal is not to ban it, but rather to allow employers the right to ban it if they wish. But I could be wrong, I haven't paid much attention to it).

Even some normally reasonable and level-headed Orthodox Christians here in the U.S. - and not the U.K. - have taken this as some sort of a personal affront and are all upset about it, calling for all of their Christian friends to wear a cross which is visible to the public on this day or that day in a move of solidarity with cross-wearing Christians in the UK.

I have at least a couple of thoughts about this.

First, since when does an employer not have the right to set guidelines on what their employees can or can't wear at work? (Several Orthodox Christians might be surprised to learn that many Orthodox churches have expectations about what's appropriate to wear for church, too! Click on the link to "Sunday dress.") It seems to me that employers have always had that right, and that employees have the right to either take a job or not take it if it doesn't suit them for whatever reason - or to leave a job if it stops suiting them for whatever reason. But to sue a company because you can't wear a cross at work seems ridiculous.

Second, it is not wearing a necklace with a cross on it which makes one a Christian. It is not even wearing a necklace with a cross on it that most clearly identifies us as Christians.

I know several cross-wearing Christians whose words and deeds are sometimes not at all recognizable as "Christian." Heck, often I am such a Christian myself! And that's why (as I've said before), though I do wear a cross, I wear it under my clothing where it is not visible to the rest of the world. I don't wear it like some sort of a hello-my-name-is sticker to tell the world that I am a Christian. I wear it where I can feel it to remind myself that I am a Christian, and pray that it affects what I say -or write- and what I do. (Conversely, I know lots of folks who aren't even Christian at all - and so don't wear a cross - but who are more Christlike than many Christians.)

It isn't a piece of jewelry that identifies us to others as Christians. It's what's in our hearts and the love we show to others (all others, including those most difficult to love) which is the best witness to our faith.

I was talking to a wise woman at church on Wednesday evening at the potluck after presanctified liturgy and she mentioned that with church, too often people focus so hard on inconsequential things that they completely miss the really important things. She's right - and I think that applies here, too.

So today, on one of those "solidarity" days, I'm leaving my cross inside my shirt, which, for me, is where it belongs.