Last Words

Removed, as they were from the garden…

They thought the names arbitrary things.

He laughs at them

Gently.

He shakes a little,

In his body.

In his voice.

 

“Each new thing.”

He says it again.

“Each New Thing.

It reached… within.”

 

He sees in their eyes that they do not understand.  

He stirs the coals in the fire.

His thoughts are a little disobedient, now.  Sometimes.

He tries to line them up again.  

The others all watch respectfully.  Patiently.

He hates that.  A little bit.

 

“That great naming.

It was an act of listening.

It was an act of listening for a name

Which had already been said.

In the Time Before.”

 

Recognition in those beautiful brown eyes?  

Perhaps it was recognition.

Seth was always the sharpest among them.

 

“We have so many words now.

So many that you might lose one for a moment.

That feeling…  When you have lost a word.  

When you are so close that you can taste a word,

But still not find it’s sound…”

 

“That is what it was like.

To look upon The Creations.

And name them.”

 

It is not only Seth who nods now.

The old man knows what he knows.

He knows that this is not sympathy, here.  Now.

He is thankful for that.

 

It inspires him to continue.

He wishes them to know so much.

His time.  After so long.  Is running short now.

He continues.

 

“There was something within me.”

“A name that wished to burst forth from my lips.”

“I tried it on so many things, in my mind.

But it was never time.  Never time.

Never time to say it out loud.”

 

“And so other names erupted out and around it.

I held that name in my heart unsaid.

Until she came.  Your mother came.

But then came our dying time.  Our casting out.

After our time of mourning was through.

I remembered that name within me.

I said it out loud.

And it was her name.”

 

He is lost for a moment.

They are lost for a moment.

Looking in the flames.

Ignoring the smoke.

He does not care about the tear that slides down his dry cheek.

When did he stop caring about things such as this?

 

“It was good to name her Eve.

I would have thought that was the end.

But it was not.

That garden is gone, now.

That time is is gone, now.

It will never return.”

 

A spit-crackle.

They watch him so closely.

This is the thing he hasn’t wanted to tell them for so long.

He does not know what any of this means.

 

“There is still a name.

A single last name within me.

But the time of the naming is done.

Somewhere.

There is a something,

With out a name.  

And there is me.  

With one word extra.”

 

A time.  A timeless time.

Later.

He died in his sleep with a single last gasp.

 

A tender hand.

Reached within him,

Even as he returned to the dust.

It took that unspoken word out of him.

 

And a time.  A timeless time.

Later.

That word?

That word was made flesh.

I hate ’11’

English: Photo of Rhinoplasty Nose Surgery Cos...
English: Photo of Rhinoplasty Nose Surgery Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some circumstances in my life right now that are at maximum suckage.  If in fact suckiness was an electric guitar amp, some doofus from Spinal Tap would have cranked it all the way to 11.  I’m not in a position that I want to blog directly about this sucky event.  I hope that doesn’t seem coy.

Instead, I want to blog a bit about suckiness in general.  As I’ve been searching for a Godly way to deal with all this, I’ve found myself in the amazing hands of CS Lewis.  There is this quote that really struck a chord with me.  It’s from a Grief Observed:

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is… hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist.  The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness… Suppose you are up against a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good.  The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more he will go on cutting.

This resonated with me because I’m feeling a bit like I’m on The Great Surgeon’s operating table.  And I think the temptation is tell me, as I submit to his scalpel, that I am all wrong.  But let’s be careful here.  Some bizarre circumstances lead to you as a metaphorical cheer leader while God operates on me.  As you get those pom-poms ready, the thing is, first off, you’re not just disagreeing with me.  You’re disagreeing with C.S. Lewis.  And C.S. Lewis, his works are like honorary scripture.  You can’t disagree with him.

Snarkiness aside, you can’t disagree with him because he’s not all wrong.

I’m not saying it’s all right.  There are other mitigating factors.  There are truths to hold in tension with this truth.  While we hold the image of God as a merciless surgeon in one hand, we certainly can hold the image of God as a loving father in the other.  While we grasp the reality that the surgeon would be unmoved by our cries, we can grasp on to the truth that God enters history for us and through us; he feels our pain.  He cries with us.

These gentler truths help me to bare up under the more difficult ones.  But I have this awareness, as I am in this pain.  This is the thing that I am aware of:

We have this tendency to want to invalidate the harsh truths.  We want this immature and one-sided view that lives in denial of the more difficult things.  Perhaps it is built into us.  Perhaps it is a sign of the times.

We want to go back the way that we came.  We want to return to the Garden of Eden through the exit we were kicked out of.

We want to yell at Job to snap out of it.  We want him to just forget what he knows and climb out of the ashes.  We want Elisha to turn a blind eye to the terrible things he saw.  We want Jesus to say, “Just kidding, it didn’t really hurt at all.”

I’m holding on to something.  I wish I could say I was holding it firmly.  I’m getting there.  And the thing I’m holding on to is this:

There will be a time and a place beyond the tears.  It’s easy to think what I really want is to have my knowledge and experience erased.  The world, and often even the church, they tell me that I ought to just look past the hard things.

But do I really want that?  Do I want to find it was just all a roll-playing game at the end?  The apparent struggling and pain were actually meaningless?

I’m not sure if I’m saying what I want to say, but the point is that maybe we should stop trying to back up and drive around the pain, uncertainty, despair.  Maybe we get to some new place by driving through it.

Which Way do we go, George?

Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill in "Nort...
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I’m aware of this hypocrisy within myself.  I am intolerant of wedding politics with following Christ, when the politics are at odds with mine.  I think I’m quite a bit more tolerant about it when the politics being married to Christianity are political beliefs I already agree with.   To put things a bit more specifically: If somebody says that you have to be a Republican in order to follow Christ, I am the first person to cry “foul.”   However, I’m much more likely to be quiet if the implication is that you ought to be a Democrat to follow Christ.

Much of this is worth repenting over and working on.  And I am working on it.   But I think we need to be careful.   You know those bumper stickers, the ones that say “Jesus is not a Republican” and “Jesus is not a Democrat.”  I believe that they are right.  But this doesn’t mean, that Jesus is (in the broadest sense) apolitcal.

I believe that Jesus has strong opinions on many political issues.  The sense in which he is apolitical is in that his opinions do not fall along party lines.  I suspect that his opinions are that both parties are asking the wrong questions in the first place, in many cases.   Given that we are called to unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and also that we are called to speak the truth in love, we are presented with a tension to navigate here.

I guess I’m trying to navigate this tension by writing this post.  And by proclaiming a truth.  The truth is that Jesus’ kingdom is something we must progress into.  It is not something that we should regress back to.

I heard a person speaking the other day.  She used the refrain “We have to get back!”  And I found myself wondering, “Get back to what?  Get back to when?”

If she meant getting back to the intimacy with God that we lost in the Garden of Eden, I agree with her.

If she meant getting back to the 1950’s, then I have to say I don’t want to get on board that train.

It boggles my mind, the way people look back to that era as some sort-of golden age.  There were good things about it.  But there were also terrible things: racism, fear of the unknown, materialism, soul-crushing conformity, sexism, ageism…

I tried to suspend judgement.  Eventually though, she very briefly hit on a hot-button political issue.   A recent legal change.  She mentioned it very briefly.  I wonder if she meant to mention it all.  But it made things pretty clear to me, just what she wanted to get back to.

I don’t want to unleash a rabbit trail discussion about the specific topic she mentioned.  Maybe she’s right about it.  Maybe she’s not.  In a world full of evil, it’s a pretty small potatoes thing to mention, especially if you’re only going to mention one thing.

This is not a rant against this person.  She is doing amazing work for Jesus.  There was real value in some of the other things she said.  This is a meditation on a really important divide in Christianity.

Interestingly, I recently also heard the passage in the bible where Jesus asked Simon Peter what people were saying about him.  Simon says that the people are comparing him to what went on before.  When Jesus asked Simon what he (Simon) thought of him, Simon proclaimed that Jesus was something unique in human history.

The relevance here is this: We have this temptation to want to retreat safely into our individual and collective past.  We have a tendency to define our new experiences in terms of the old ones.  But we can’t put this new wine into old wine skins.

We’re called to march into a new kingdom, a place we’ve never been before.  Revelations does not describe the tranquil garden of Eden.  We’re not going to edit out the whole of human history.  Instead, we’re going to use and redeem what we have done, and where we have been to bring us to a place that is new and different from what has gone on before.

And if people are trying to bring us back to where we were, then they are not leading us into Jesus’ kingdom.

 

God’s Authority, The World’s Authority

Police
Image by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr

This is the second part of the sermon I’ll be sharing with Fellowship Church the first Sunday of July:

To say that the bible is authoritative is to say that we ought to submit to it, that we ought to admit that there is wisdom in here that we don’t know. It’s about agnowlodging that this book has something to offer us. But it’s tricky. Because the authority that the bible wields, it comes from God. And the way that God wields authority is not like the way that humans wield authority.

Human-styled authority comes in many different flavors. One flavor is is authority based on tradition. For example, most of us agree that people of older generations deserve a certain amount of deference, especially if they are related to us: has there ever existed an extended family that didn’t have a patriarch or matriarch? And then there is moral authority. For example, a person who has fought for the rights of the underpriviliged earns a certain type of respect from us. There is authority we choose for ourselves as individuals, as when we pick a church and a pastor to serve. On the other hand, there is authority determined by systems larger than us:we all know we get hired and our boss has already been chosen for us. We could probably list off hundreds more systems, people, and organizations that have authority over us.

 The interesting thing is almost every single one of these human made authority figures reaches us at a base level, at an animalistic level. I’d speculate that if we had never fallen from the Garden of Eden we would not be so easy to exploit in this way.

 Because when something in the world wields authority over us, it is playing on our fear. Or our ignorance. Or our jealousy. Or our our greed. God’s authority is both quantitativly and qualititatively different than the world’s authority.

It is quantitatively different: the sheer amount of authority that God wields over us is greater than anything else in the world. He is the maker of all things. Therefore his authority is greater than the authority of anything else in all creaton.

 But it is also qualitatively different. The quality, the nature of God‘s authority is different than the world’s authority. God is love and his authority appeals to the very best parts of us. The very highest.

 And I’m not saying that it’s easy to run the world according to God’s way of wielding authority. God’s style of authority requires imagination, it requires courage and creativity and there are times that it’s hard to see how it could work for the world to operate this way at all. .

 It wouldn’t work if When a police man pulls us over, we are not really free to say, “No thank you. I won’t take a ticket today. I don’t think I deserve one.” I don’t believe a fallen world full of broken people could be built any different way…

 But I am saying that someone living above this fallen world, someone not broken, could.

The meanings of it all

Michelangelo's painting of the sin of Adam and...
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At church today, I was struck hard by one of the songs.  Particularly by these lyrics, “Where you lead me Lord, I will follow/ where you heal me Lord, I will go.”

I don’t quite know why I was so struck by these lines.  It doesn’t hurt that Laurie, who song them, it’s like her voice was made for this part of the song.  Whatever it was,  it practically left my weeping. 

I had this  realization that the fall happened on so many levels, and the redemption as well means so many different things.

One of the many ways we try to put God in a box is that we pick and choose one thing that the fall and redemption meant.  For example, there is a traditional strain of Christianity that has been all about the idea that the fall of mankind meant that individual souls are destined to spend eternity in Hell.   On this account, the redemption of Jesus opens up the possibility for individual souls to end up in heaven.

There is a more contemporary, social-justice minded strain of Christianity that says the fall of mankind was about a brokenness in the social fabric.  The redemption of Jesus, these people say, is about the restoration of a political, collective reality.

Others might point to the cosmic, external ramifications of the fall.  The external world was broken when Eve and Adam ate the fruit.  As Paul tells us, the whole of creation is groaning in anticipation of Christ’s return.

The unlikely bedfellows post modernists and born-agains focus on the fall as a place where a relationship was broken.   Jesus life and death were the place where that relationship gets restored.

Permit me, if you will, a little digression on that last thought.

I think it’s worth being a little catious when the preoccupations of a certain place and time appear to explain something outside of that place and that time.  It’s been pointed out that hydraulic systems were all the rage at the time of Freud, and this influence plays itself out in how Freud explained consciousness.  In the early 80’s, holograms were a new and nifty idea.  I remember a book came out which explained the way the brain works by referring to the nature of holograms.

Similarly, relationships in general are incredibly important to post moderns.  It’s worth getting a little skeptical, when post moderns make Jesus’ sacrifice about relationship.  It’s important to ask, “Did it take the post modern lens to identify the importance of relationship?  Or did the post modern lens lead us to project an emphasis on relationship that was already there.”

I’m not saying that viewing the fall as a place where relationships were broken is all wrong.  Especially if the term “relationship” is used in the widest possible sense: not just about the interaction between two different personalities, but the interaction between one personality and the world around it.

(We use the term “personality” in this second, wider sense, when we say things like “I have an unhealthy relationship with food.”  Nobody thinks you’re suggesting that food has a personality.  They get that it’s about your interactions with the impersonal food.)

It seems to me, at the bare minimum,  in the Garden of Eden, our relationship with each other was broken; our relationship with our creator was damaged; our relationship with our future destination was imperiled; our relationship with the outside world was shattered.

This is to say nothing of our relationship with ourselves.

It’s so hard to wrap my brain around the fullness of it all: the utter devestation caused by the fall, the amazing glory of Jesus life and death.  Actually, I guess that it’s more than just hard.  It’s impossible.

That’s why it’s so awesome that my thoughts aren’t really what counts.  The whole thing isn’t a brain thing.  It’s a faith thing.  Faith means that my heart has to be ready for the truth, it doesn’t mean that my mind needs to comprehend it.

We are all Adam

The Garden of Eden
Image via Wikipedia

We are Adam.  We are Eve.  All of us.

None of us have lived up to our potential.  None of us have always trusted God.  None of us have followed his rules.

There are people who say that Adam was one man and Eve was one women.

There are others who say that they represent us all.

We lose something if we choose either of these options.

There is a mystery to be embraced here: because both of those statements are true. __________________

eigth meditation

Obviously most people, through out the history of the faith, have not made the connection I have.  They have not linked these two specific events together in the same way that I have.

And yet, you can’t meditate on the death of Jesus for very long before you come to realize several lessons from it.

You realize that God can be hurt.  And that he was hurt.  Deeply and brutally.

You realize that this hurt was caused by human kind’s foolishness.

You realize that this hurt caused a separation between God and man.

Perhaps most importantly, you realize that this hurt and separation are not the end of the story.

All these realizations are waiting for us in the story of the Garden of Eden.

When it came to the coverage of the fall of the World Trade Center, it got to the point that I thought it was too much.  Sensationalistic.  Unnecessary.  I was sick of it and I didn’t see that it was helping anybody to watch it over and over and over again.

This is where the comparison with the crucifixion begins to fall apart.

Because it was vital that God shared with us this replay of what had gone on before.  When my kids do something wrong, the only way that things can be made right is when they realize what they did was wrong.  If we don’t address the depth of the hurt they caused I am not doing my duty as a father, I am not paving the way for true forgiveness and reconciliation.

There is, of course, so much more to the crucifixion.  And some of this is mystery. But it is a mystery that is illuminated by the truth that Jesus death was a replay of Adam’s betrayal in the Garden of Eden.

Returning to the Garden

A disclaimer: I am dealing with quite mature, explicit, and sexual themes in what follows. 

In the beginning…

Nothing.

And even when the stars were assembled,

Even when the fundamental forces were gathered,

even when the light burst out from the darkness…

Only the angels were present to watch.

 

Up came man from the dust.

Complete and lonely in the garden.

 

And then!

Where there was One,

and then where there was two…

Came a third of that same flesh.

 

The two were naked and unashamed in the garden.

The two were together in the garden.

 

God walked with them in the cool of the evening.

 

Did they recreate that oneness in the garden?

Did Adam’s hand fall to the place where his rib had been?

Was there an emptiness inside that was only quelled…

when the two became one flesh, again, in the garden?

 

Did they chase after this after the Fall?

We all chase after this after the Fall.

 

We glimpse what we had in the filth.

We glimpse what we had in this path to destruction.

We chase after the oneness.

We forget the flaming sword.

 

There is a path we can walk down.

There is a way to retrace that oneness.

It is a gift.

It can look

so much like

the ways that lead us astray.