Instinct

“It is hard, I repeat, to talk to you of religion. But without faith in each other, we cannot go on. Without hope we cannot go on. Without hope we cannot live. To those who are without hope, I remind you of Christ, your brother. Religion, thought of in terms of our brotherhood through Christ, is not the opiate of the people. It is a battle ‘mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications.’ Do not let either capitalist or communist kill this noble instinct in you.”

– Dorothy Day, December 1937

(Thanks to Sojourner Magazine)

A Butcher, A Baker, A Candlestick Maker

So what’s your method of discerning God’s will? For that matter, does God even have a “will” regarding decisions outside of the moral realm? I’m inclined to believe that unless it’s clearly prohibited in scripture, God’s answer to life’s difficult questions is something like “either way is fine with me.”

When I look under the hood, however, it gets a little messy. Here’s a specific example. I become frustrated or bored with my job and begin asking, “God what is your will for my career?” This age old question that sounds so selfless and pious should actually be interpreted as (at least in my case) – God, I’m scared of commitment, and perhaps more to the point – I don’t really know if I trust you. Or at least I don’t know if I trust that you’re interested in my decision. Anyway, if you ARE going to answer my prayer, I’d prefer you make the answer as obvious as a message from Balaam’s donkey or Gideon’s fleece. No vague circumstantial affirmation or “still small voice” business. A phonecall from a prospective employer as soon as I say “Amen” might be nice. And… by the way, whichever path you choose for me, I want it to be the one that makes me the happiest in the long run.

So, what will I be when I grow up? Better yet, what will I become next as I continue to learn how to love God and my neighbor?

Nietzsche, Neitzsche, Nietschze

So this morning I was looking for some quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche about art, and because I will never be able to remember how to spell his name, I stumbled across a site with lots of opinions about the foolishness of Christianity. I found myself reading through an “email debate” about the moral argument for God’s existence, and after awhile I got the same feeling I had after watching the movie “No Man’s Land” – a great (yet tragic) film by the way. Anyway, I guess the whole “arguing about what we believe” arena just makes me tired. All too often I’m left without any real sense that people are genuinely interested in exploration. Instead, we just end up shooting at each other, while trapped in the bunker of life. With that said, here are some of those quotes:

“We possess art lest we perish from the truth.”

“It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are permanently justified.”

“I can only believe in a God who can dance.”

Baker Act My Soul

If you love someone, set them free — such a loaded notion for me. As a parent of two children who’ve yet to enter gradeschool, this idea just doesn’t fit very well. The love I have more my daughters would more accurately translate into something like, “if you love someone… teach, protect, guide, discipline, and encourage” – anything BUT setting them free to the red teeth of life. Sure, they will leave the nest of our home one day, and this is a good thing (in fact some days I think I look forward to it a little too much). But even after they’ve matured, isn’t there a connection between absolute freedom and neglect?

If you love me, grab my arm and yank me back onto the sidewalk before I walk unwittingly in front of the speeding bus. If you love me, pull me aside and let me know when I’m acting like a selfish jerk. If you love me – teach, guide, discipline, and encourage me as we walk on together.

Money, Money, Money, Mooooo-neh

Last year Kim and I began a focused effort to get out of debt. Last month we finally climbed out of the hole. Last week on NPR I listened to an author discuss her grandmother’s views on living a frugal lifestyle in order to be ready for the future. Yesterday I listened to an economist who suggested that Americans need to save upwards of 25% of their income to adequately prepare for retirement. And then I read Matthew 6:19-21 – Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The responsible voice within says, “Be a good steward of the money God gives me each month. Be prepared for financial uncertainty. Save a six-month financial cushion, set aside enough to put the kids through college, and invest enough to be unburdened by a need for a salary by the time I’m seventy.” The… uh… “other” voice says, “Give me this day my daily bread, and may I give everything that remains to others in need.”

Though there appears to be tension between the two voices, there is probably harmony as well. Am I willing to put the brakes on my standard of living? Simplification seems so appealing. Am I willing to let the excess flow into the lives of others?

On Another's Sorrow

He doth give His joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy Maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy Maker is not near.

O! He gives to us His joy
That our griefs He may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

William Blake
(From Songs of Innocence)

In times like these…

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace. [Eugene Peterson: Living the Message]

Why do I binge and purge? [Jay Colle: Fed up, but not always]

Andersonville

AndersonvilleA couple years ago on a clear winter day, I found myself at the Andersonville Confederate prison near Americus, GA. Walking alone over open ground that once confined over thirty-thousand men, I was overcome by a sense of unbearable need. Andersonville was a pit of disease, starvation, and hopelessness. Only the stench was free, and it traveled as far south as Americus, over fifteen miles away. From a hill overlooking the prison grounds, the movement of the population took on the appearance of a single organism.

The design of Andersonville included a stream running through its heart. The inflowing water was to be used for drinking and the outflow for waste, but during the harsh months of summer, the stream became little more than a diseased bog. Looking down at the cracked mud, I thought how much we all have in common with the prisoners that once called this place home. Afraid and desperate for healing and wholeness, we grope through what all too often feels like an unfulfilling and meaningless cycle of existence.

Yet not without hope.

My mind wandered up from the mud, and I saw the dried stream coming back to life. At first there was only a trickle, but little by little the waters began to rise. A sound pounded against the outer wall until it could be held back no longer. Giving way to greater force, the wall was undone, and the river of life that flows from the throne of God entered in.

Seeing that the water was both deep and pure, I jumped in along with the other starved and desperate prisoners. Tears disappeared with the swimming. That which was broken was restored to wholeness. We drank deeply.

* Revelation 22 : 1-2

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford