Saturday, November 28, 2015

Looking around the Bend

The road approaching our home snakes up a steep ridge toward Kincaid Lake and the Kisatchie National Forest. Its two lanes are narrow. There is no shoulder. Drivers can’t see the oncoming traffic until it’s practically alongside you.
I have learned to take these curves slowly. Many of the trucks coming down from the lake have a boat in tow. The drivers are often in a hurry, and so they race toward home. Their speed forces them to cross the center line at the curves, and their boat trailers swing even further into my lane than the truck itself.
Paul Cezanne's "The Bend in the Road"

Initially, this struck me as a hazard and a nuisance. My ability to have charitable thoughts about my fellow drivers was sorely tested. But eventually I learned that slowing down and looking for what might be around the bend gave me a deeper, abiding appreciation for the richness of the world I inhabit.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Unholy Violence and Holy Courage

Paris. Beirut. Mali. A wave of murderous violence has issued from the Islamic State and Al Qaeda over the past week. Based on credible intelligence, Brussels is bracing for a similar attack.
Polls tell us that a majority of Americans favor increased air strikes on ISIS-held territory. A host of governors insist that their states will not accept Syrian refugees. The House of Representatives has moved to implement more stringent screening for refugees.
The slaughter of innocents outrages us. The threat of harm to us and to our loved ones on our own shores frightens us. We are prepared to strike back and to reinforce our defenses.
William H. Johnson's "Refugee"

Our response to such violence and suffering is understandable. This is what we fallen humans do. God created us to seek enduring justice and peace. Alas, in our fallen state, violence has been our failed recurring strategy for achieving these holy ends.
Facing violence and unspeakable suffering at the hands of the Roman Empire, Jesus says something that should give his followers pause as we scramble for a response to the very real threat of ISIS. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Birth Pangs

Joy and I recently visited Washington to attend the institution of our new Presiding Bishop. Around the edges of that event we took a little time to see some of the sights.
D.C. overflows with stately monuments and impressively solid buildings. The architecture in our capitol announces durability and strength. We glimpsed monuments to past presidents and lingered over various collections at the National Gallery.
Eventually we moved to our chosen focal point: The Holocaust Museum. On our previous trips to D.C. Joy and I had never visited it. Aside from our desire to know more about one of history’s most horrifying and heart-rending stories, we were looking to learn more about our personal story.

Johannes Vermeer's "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter"

My mother was detained in one of those Nazi concentration camps. At the age of 15, this typical Catholic girl was arrested and sent to Mauthausen just outside of her hometown of Linz, Austria. Knowing more about the German genocidal project would tell us more about the youth—and the fragile and fractured adulthood—of the woman who raised me.
As much as these considerations motivated our visit, I was drawn by a different stirring in my soul. Lately I have been longing for a more intimate relationship with Jesus.
It’s not that I feel distant from God or that I’m struggling with theological doubts. On the contrary, I have been spared Mother Teresa’s aching sense of God’s absence, and my own theological growth remains steady but consistent. Rather, I feel in my marrow that there is even more to know about this Jesus. I’m getting glimpses that make me want more.
And so, you might wonder, “What on earth made you think you would find Jesus at the Holocaust Museum?” 

Friday, November 6, 2015

All In

Some people say that they’re spiritual but not religious. In my college and graduate school days, you could have described me as cynical but, in spite of myself, still longing for something more.
My persistent yearning explains why I would from time to time slip into the early Mass at my old parish. Looking back from the perspective of nearly forty years, I realize that I was beginning my erratic journey from the Roman Catholic Church to the Episcopal Church. As a young man, all I knew was that I was looking for something and didn’t have a clue where to find it.
On one such Sunday morning the usual smattering of worshippers had sprinkled themselves around the mostly empty nave. 
Gerard Sekoto's "Prayer in Church"

Normally, I would have staked myself out a spot respectfully distant from everyone else. An unwritten rule of early services requires maintaining appropriate personal space. But this time I caught sight of Mrs. Madison kneeling in prayer. She was Jack’s mother, one of my best friends from childhood and my teens.*

Friday, October 23, 2015

What is Real?

Jesus came to make us real. That’s what happens to his disciples over time. We become real.
In her classic children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams gives a winsome definition of “real” in a conversation between two toys: the young Velveteen Rabbit and the older, wiser Skin Horse:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit.… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” 
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” 
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
[Williams, Margery; Nicholson, William (2013-07-16). The Velveteen Rabbit (Kindle Locations 40-50). HarperCollins Canada. Kindle Edition.)]
Jesus embodies the love that makes us real. Paradoxically, once we’ve been thoroughly saturated by that love, some people think we look a bit raggedy and threadbare. And well we might to those who don’t understand. Who don’t understand the true nature of love.