Thursday, February 28, 2008

Music Man

Fellow I take out to dinner every couple of weeks. I’ll call him Jack. He and I go out last night. Usual chit chat. This and that. How he’s the last one left except for his sister. His sister out in a small town in one of the plains states. Husband dead. Ran a grain elevator.

And also left is his son, out in a small town in another plains state. Handy man. Vietnam vet. Came back changed. Permanently changed. Like the son he knew was replaced. Son’s wife crippled up with arthritis. So he’s plenty occupied. Doesn’t get in much to see old Jack. But Jack doesn’t mind.

Jack’s pushing 80. Wife. I’ll call her Ethel. She died over a year ago now. She died slowly over a period of years. Jack had to nurse her the last three. Getting up four and five times a night with her. Constant care. She died at home.

She loved him. He loved her. The word doted comes to mind. Doting. I was with them on and off over a period of six, eight months. Visiting. Helping sometimes. Not a cross word. Not a complaint. Not a hint of some underlying struggle, some beneath the surface pulling and hauling, like you find with ninety-nine out of a hundred couples. Each told me (when the other wasn’t around) how lovely the other was through all the illness and difficulty. Through all their lives together. Through and through.

When she died, he thought he was going crazy. Thought they’d have to put him away. Seeing things. Hearing things. The full shebang.

But then after a few months of that, he settled down. Got control again. Something like his own self again. But not right. Not right at all. Just not loony any more.

It throws a man, Bill, he says. It’s like a part of you has been removed. A large part. And it won’t heal. It won’t grow over. Just the feeling of a hole.

I picture the earth. A few continents removed. Large raw holes where the continents used to be. The oceans all around.

And his severely diabetic sister has her friends. Doesn’t want to move in with him. And of course he doesn’t want to move out there with her. He has his life here and his friends also.

To make ends meet, he plays organ at a church on Sundays and special events. And he runs a vacuum cleaner at an apartment building downtown. Apartment building full of old people. Ailing people. Poor people. Drunks. Drug users. Stays active cleaning up their mess.

He doesn’t know what he’s still alive for sometimes. He says. He doesn’t know what he’s still doing walking around above ground.

But what he will admit is that he has a great time mostly on the organ. He feels God in the music. God’s presence there. Even with the 425 pound priest spewing his nonsense, officiating. Even with the oddball people and the things they sometimes say and do in church.

So there’s some comfort in that, is what he says. Some comfort in the music and the way it brings all the weird, defective people together in a hymn. In praise. In the making of a joyful noise, no matter how discordant and dissonant the sound will sometimes be in their singing underneath.

The Bible says a joyful noise, and by God that’s what I make. He says. Laughing.

An organist all his life. From the time he was a boy. Feels like it’s his life’s calling. Like this is what God wanted from him. And wants from him still. What he has for him to do.

Some of his best days were in Germany. When he was stationed there in the fifties. The organs over there, Bill. Here. Look at these pictures. Some of the largest and best organs in the world. And I played them. Played them to my heart’s content.

And he went to school with Johnny Carson. Same classes, sometimes. And they were on radio together. Produced a radio show together for awhile. The college radio station. Once, their professor told Johnny he wouldn’t amount to anything with his cutup manner. He must be serious if he intends to amount to anything in this life, the professor said. And sober, too. Or something like that.

And he laughs. He laughs and laughs. At what a fool that professor was.

And he remembers one of his teachers in high school telling him he wouldn’t amount to anything as an organist. He had no talent. None whatsoever. And here he’s been making a living at teaching organ and playing organ on and off all his life. That showed her. That certainly would have shown her. If she wasn’t dead. And then he laughs some more.

Then last night he tells me about a blind woman. Been living down at the building he cleans. Years and years. But now she can’t do for herself anymore. And now she’s being moved into a nursing home. And she can’t take her things with her.

Her furniture and such. And she learns of a poor woman moving in. Moving into the building as she’s moving out. A poor woman with nothing. And so the blind woman gives her the entire apartment. Her entire lifetime of stuff, apart from a few things. Clothes. Mementos. Just gives it all away, he says. Astonished look on his face. To the poor woman moving in.

So as I say. Last night, we go out to dinner. We both have burgers. Two mystic believer priests appreciating their burgers. Traveling through the universe. Conversing about God and life. Looking around for whatever’s next. To see. Hear. Say. Or do.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Love Fest Weekend

Quick trip to visit my daughter this past weekend. See her in a play in her drama school. Senior year. Fourth year they call it at the college she attends.

The fourth years all preparing for their showcase out in LA in a week. Week and a half. Event to show casting directors and agents their talent. Get the students work.

Frantic, some of them, like my daughter. Little sleep. Trying to get their scenes down. Get them right. Little bits of art and life arranged like so many jewels. Like so many elements. So many beautifully made moments that they have mastered. Scripted life moments from plays they’ve read. Art moments with love somewhere always running through them. Love and its antithesis.

Her boyfriend visiting. A young man I hardly know. Who she wants me to love in a fatherly or avuncular sort of way. A young man who seems periodically good and evil for her. To her. I do my best, I tell her, given I don’t really know the guy. Given the up and down history between them. The on again off again history of their love. Seems like a fine young man, I tell her. And I mean it. But my principal concern is your well being, I say to her. Like that. Ambivalent. Just like that. Just like me.

Two fourth year plays. My daughter’s is called The Game of Love. How original, I’m thinking. About a famous doctor lover in early twentieth century Vienna. A connoisseur of love. A man in love with loving women. Based on the real journals of a real doctor of that period. A real Don Juan of a doctor. Cast as a musical entertainment. And my daughter is the first of five shown us in the play. The five women. Exemplary women. Sings an aria. A funny aria. An aria that opera students find difficult, and here they have an actor trying it. A fine actor trying it. Mastering it.

Sounding lovely as a daughter can sound. Looking lovely as a daughter can look. And act. And be.

A loving daughter is one of the greatest blessings a man can have, is what I’m thinking as I watch her. Listen to her. With what’s his name sitting on the one side of me. My better half on the other. And laugh. Laugh because this is comedic. She’s comedic. Comedic in the sense of fortunate. And funny. In the sense of love triumphant in what she does. Love of what she does triumphant in the role. But not taking herself very seriously after all. Almost surprised at what she sings and says. Shocked in a playful way.

The nexus of Gracie Allen and Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball. Funny in the way that they can be funny where they all meet. In a kind of possible comedic desideratum where they all intersect. If I do say so. If the father of the young comedienne does say so himself.

The other play is Bus Stop. Inge. The rest of the fourth years are in this one. About the love of an inexperienced, full-of-himself, scared cowboy for a lonely young woman trying to make her way in the world. Who the cowboy is dragging toward marriage and his ranch in Montana. Bus trip to Montana from Kansas City. More or less against her will.

And at both plays, the chancellor of the school. The dean of the drama program. Voice teachers. Singing teachers. Visiting directors. Visiting acting and auditioning coaches. And this is on Friday night. Saturday matinee. Saturday night. The teachers supporting their students. Giving visibility to their love for these children. Their adoptive children. And at the show’s end, finding them outside their dressing rooms and hugging them. Telling them how well they did. How wonderful they were.

And the students there. Willing to make themselves naked to us. Baring their talent and preparation and stamina and creativity and skill and courage and faithfulness and souls and ultimately love—their capacity of heart—to us out there on the stage. Out there in front of God and the faculty and friends and parents and assorted strangers. Strangers who aren’t so strange, really—retired arts groupies, mostly, who come to these student things because they love seeing young people excel in the arts. In the dramatic arts.

And then between performances and breakfasts and dinners and whatnot, I call a friend—another mystic believer priest—who sent me an email the day before we left about how she’s getting married. Getting married! And this is the real thing, she says. And she is quite thoroughly joyful. And I therefore am quite thoroughly joyful.

To a minister. A denominational minister. A former missionary. A former professor. A widower. Whose children are all in college. They have had mostly a long-distance relationship. Emails and phone calls and so forth, punctuated by a few meetings in person.

And she says that a book I wrote a while ago now. A book I self-published several years ago. A book about her and several others who were involved with us in a home fellowship group in what is now, to me, a distant state. Since I moved away. A book that she asked him to buy and read. Which he did.

She says this book, which I wrote mostly out of love (I hope) for the people in it, has figured in their relationship. Has helped her explain to him who she is personally, emotionally, theologically, and spiritually. Has helped him understand what he’s getting himself into.

And he likes what he reads. He isn’t as experienced with Charismatic Christians as maybe he would like to be, but he likes these spiritually naked Christians I describe in the book. He’s willing to learn about this. He’s willing to open himself to this. And to her.

And as she’s telling me this, I’m saying to myself, well maybe this writing business. Maybe this isn’t a thorough waste of time after all. Maybe it matters to someone besides me, after all. Maybe it can make a difference.

So after leave taking. Which is always hard. Which I never want to do. After saying goodbye to my wonderful daughter. And her boyfriend. A fine young man who I am looking forward to getting to know better.

We try to leave, Sunday morning. My better half and I. We go to the airport. We get on the plane. We get off the plane. I stand around in line after line while my better half sits and chats with a woman who is dying of cancer. With another woman whose grandmother has just died and who is returning to her native country for the funeral. Or trying to. Providing compassion to them. Providing a sympathetic ear. As I get angrier and angrier. Because the equipment is defective. The equipment won’t work. Won’t be fixed. And the airline people won’t do their jobs.

I’m getting so angry, I think my head will explode. I don’t know why. Maybe I get so angry because the equipment—the airplane—is to some extent a metaphor for myself. Somehow I’ve made this thing. This inanimate object. A metaphor for me. Something that won’t work. That refuses to be fixed. That refuses to fly, so to say.

Or maybe I’ve somewhere in me. Mysteriously. Made it a metaphor for the church. The Christian church.

Or maybe it’s humanity. Maybe for me on this particular Sunday, this airplane has come to stand for all of humanity. Or maybe it’s all of these. I don’t know.

Otherwise. Except for some far-fetched explanation like this. I don’t know how to explain it. The head pounding anger. I don’t know how to explain the irrationality of it. The extreme emotion of it. The sudden and extreme foulness of it. Well, I do, but I don’t. Let’s put it that way. I do, but I don’t.

I’m an experienced traveler. These things happen. Normally I roll with them. But today. As this little drama unfolds. This little gem of a life experience is revealed. And I’m stuck in it like a fly in a chunk of amber. The top of my head feels like it’s blowing off. I glare at everyone. I search for people who will meet my gaze and glare at them. Particularly airline representatives.

But look at it this way, Bill. My better half says. Take for example the two women I was speaking with. The one dying. The one grieving over her grandmother. Neither of us is dying. No one close to us has died recently. We’re fine, Bill, she says, putting her arm around mine.

We probably won’t get home, I’m thinking. Maybe we’ll crash. Maybe they’ll put us up in a cockroach hotel and we’ll get some social disease. I bet they lose our bags, is what I’m obsessing about. As I interact with the airline representatives. Who seem only marginally competent. Who seem anxious to get to the end of their shifts and move on. Who could care less, as far as I can tell. Who are merely doing their jobs. Who are minimally doing their stinking jobs. I’ll lose a day of work, I’m imagining. A day I can’t afford to lose.

But no. After more lines. After being rerouted. After being ignored and then finally taken care of. By a kindly older woman. By a woman who is immensely reassuring. Who is motherly almost. Motherly in a good way. And competent. And concerned. An example of deus ex machina, if I’ve ever seen one. Who books us on other flights. Who takes our bags from us in a consoling manner. Who takes her time, as if we had all day to do this. Plenty of time, she says. You have plenty of time. Don’t worry, she says. Nothing to worry about.

Turns out, she’s right. We do have plenty of time. And we’re able to relax again. Or I am. And it turns out we do get home. Later than we would have liked. But we do in fact get safely and fortunately and miraculously home.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saving The Life Of The World

God said he wouldn’t ever flood the world again. He said he wouldn’t destroy it and all the life in it, except for what Noah saved. Again. But we didn’t. We didn’t promise that. And so that’s what we’re doing now. Read the papers. Listen to the news. Read the news on the Internet. Read the many books. The sixth great extinction in the history of the world.

We’re in the middle of that now. The sixth great extinction in the history of the world. Thousands of species winking out. Whole segments of God’s creation ceasing. Turning to dust in our hands. To nothing in our hands. And it’s because of us. We humans are doing this. Not some meteor. Not some massive change in the oceans’ currents brought about by continental drift. Not aliens. Not the evil one.

Pastors, ministers, and clergy aren’t talking about this. Or some are, but not many. A catastrophe of Biblical proportions here in the real world outside of the Bible. In contemporary life. Global warming that will annihilate millions, maybe tens of millions of human beings. In the foreseeable future. Not in millennia. Not in centuries. In tens of years. In my lifetime, perhaps. My children’s certainly.

According to climatologists. According to climate modelers. And demographers. Because of greed. Selfishness. Because there are too many of us. Because people have lost God. He is no longer in their hearts. They have closed him out.

This morning I heard an interview with a young Asian woman. Singaporean, I think. On NPR. Owns 100 pairs of shoes. One hundred pairs of shoes! All for herself. All for her own use. Think of the impact on the world’s resources. Imagine if this is multiplied by six and a half billion. Imagine if everyone owned 100 pairs of shoes.

She’s just a random young Asian woman. She isn’t particularly wealthy. No Imelda Marcos. She’s just your average avid consumer. Your average person who likes to shop. Who likes to buy and to own things. Who likes to fill her life with stuff. With merchandise. With toys. With debris. With junk.

What is it? Thirty-two times, I think is what I read somewhere. The average American uses 32 times what the average Kenyan uses in resources. The earth’s resources. Creation’s resources. America consumes 45% or so of the world’s resources with only 5% or so of the world’s population. Something like that.

And this is God’s country? This is a Christian nation? You’ve got to be kidding!

This country is the destroyer. The destroyer of Creation. With its culture of consumption. Its culture of possessions. Its culture of flagrant wealth displays. Its culture of habitat destruction. Its culture of exploitation. Its culture of waste. Of greed. Of self-aggrandizement.
And it’s exporting this culture all over the world. Has been for. Oh. A century or so. A good century or so.

But don’t get me wrong. Singapore is responsible. China is responsible. India is responsible. Europe is responsible. Also. We aren’t the only ones broadcasting pollution everywhere we go. Laying waste to Creation everywhere we go.

In the story we are now writing—the story of our particular lives—we are playing the role of God the destroyer. An angry God committed to destroying the world. So if we are imitating any God. Any aspect of God. It is this version of God we are most like.

But we can choose a different role. We can choose to play the role of Noah and his family. We can choose to conserve rather than destroy the life of the world. We can choose not to buy 100 pairs of shoes. We can choose not to buy wasteful vehicles. Wasteful homes. Wasteful appliances. Wasteful light bulbs. We can choose not to take wasteful vacations. We can choose not to live wasteful, wanton, destructive lives.

We can choose to be frugal again. We can choose to be deliberate and careful again. We can choose to be respectful again.

I remember my grandparents. My father’s parents in particular. Waste not, want not, they said. They lived in a trailer in Florida in their latter years.

A little small when there’s company, Grandmother said. But we make do.

They didn’t have much, but they didn’t want much. They didn’t need much.

They lived simply. My grandfather had a couple pair of shoes. One for good, as he said. And one for work in my parents’ vegetable and flower gardens, when he and Grandmother came to visit us in the summer. A few pairs of pants. A few shirts. A jacket. A jaunty hat. A few dresses. My grandmother had. A few flowery dresses.

Grandmother sewed in the summer afternoons, when the light was good. Mended hers and Grandfather’s socks and other clothes. And mine, my brothers’, and my sister’s clothes. When my mother let her.

They enjoyed the cool of the evening and the sounds of the cicadas and the hum of the June bugs as they flew into the screens outside on the screened-in porch, their complex wings beating strenuously in the dark. They would just sit there looking out at the cherry tree and the pine trees and the quince tree and the pear trees out back as the day’s breezes quieted. Grandfather with his Crooks cigar. Grandmother with her mending.

Watched the light roll down the sky and redden through the apple orchard to the west. Watched the night gather in. As we children would ask them questions. And they would answer. As the noise from the TV came to us faint from an interior room in the house.

They were with us then. Staying with us children in the summer evening out there. Not saying much. Quiet with us. Listening. In the dark night air. Talking about their former lives. Their lives now. Things they knew.

Murmuring about how they didn’t understand what was happening in the world. What they saw on the TV. In the papers. Talking about a different way. A quiet way. A saving way. The only way they knew. To live.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Where God Goes

God knows where he goes. Or maybe I should say, God goes where he knows. And it’s always a delight to find him, however and wherever he may be.

Last night at home fellowship, one of us, a husband and father—a carpenter, among other occupations—was there without his wife, who was working. Working in the evening because of all the snow around here this winter and having to stay home with the children home from school, which has been closed days here and there. Quite a few days. Working because they need the money.

So the carpenter begins to blush. We’re praying for one another. We’re just asking what we can pray for and then doing that. Each one speaking up. But the carpenter is silent, and so I ask him if he would like to pray for a woman’s family problem. A woman sitting next to him. And as I say. The pink of a cherry blossom comes up his neck and face and forehead. A man suddenly submerged in pink.

Does anyone else have this happen, he says. Motioning over his face. What? I say. Does anyone else have this problem praying out loud? he says, smiling apologetically, looking down.

The woman in question has just finished praying. A woman who is also very shy. Who hasn’t liked to pray much out loud either.

Oh, she says. Oh, you don’t know how hard that prayer was that I just prayed. But I just closed my eyes and pushed my way through it, she says, smiling.

It’s just like talking, someone else says. It’s just like talking out loud. Talking to one another. Only it’s to God.

My wife says I talk a lot, the carpenter says, chuckling to himself, looking around at us as though we might catch him talking too much if he’s not careful.

Well, then you can pray a lot, someone says. It’s easy.

I know how you feel. I used to be terrified, somebody says. I used to be so afraid. I don’t know of what. It went on for years that way. And then. Now. It’s no big deal.

Well, it’s a little like public speaking in private.

Yes. A little like public speaking among friends, someone says.

I remembered an older woman in another home fellowship group who said, I never know what exactly is going to come out, laughing at herself. I don’t know if I do it right. But I don’t care, she said. I just like talking to God. I don’t know why.

The carpenter sits there, smiling, looking down.

And then we move on to the Bible. Move on to what we’re studying in the Bible. And then we talk quietly about that. And everyone says something. Everyone has quite a lot to say. And it’s as natural a conversation as you could want. Each of us saying what’s on his or her mind. Noting things about Noah. Noting that he’s righteous but not perfect. Apparently a shy man. An easily embarrassed man. Who does an extraordinary thing. Who lives an extraordinary life. Who does what he’s asked to do and by doing that saves the life of the world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


So what? You want to know. So what? You have run into a few pastors who aren’t exactly perfect. Who aren’t exactly Christlike.

Who aren’t exactly 21st century Augustines. Who aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box. Who make up their own particular theology.

Who are alcoholics. Who can’t keep their wicks dry. Who haven’t met a Hostess Twinkie they didn’t love. Who are ambitious. Who don’t believe in the resurrection.

Who can’t help loving the sound of their own voices. Who can’t help being enthralled by their own story and example. Their own precious lives.

Who are more interested in publishing than pastoring. Or more interested in fishing than pastoring. Or more interested in playing video games than pastoring. Or more interested in cracking jokes than pastoring.

Who are post-literate: Who don’t read because they don’t like to read. They’d rather watch TV. Who confuse politics with theology. Who are more interested in political power than spiritual power.

Who have great hatred for sins that don’t happen to be theirs. Who are greedy. Who are cruel. Who won’t listen. Who are lazy. Who are control freaks. Who always need to be right.

Name your poison. Name your frailty. Name that tune.

So what? So join the human race. Join the hundreds of millions of us. This is normal. This is what it means to be Christian. This is what it means to be followers of Christ. To be under the authority of people like this. To be led by people like this. People like us. More or less.

Is it reasonable to expect anything more? I don’t think so. Not really. You’d like someone who had got rid of most of the sins. The seven deadly sins, for example. Egregious expressions of all these sins. Most of the obvious intellectual and emotional deficiencies.

You’d like someone who had some of the basic competencies and interests. Someone who pays attention to what’s going on in the world. In the world of ideas and science and philosophy and economics and theology and literature and music and theater and yes. Politics as well.

Someone who is reasonably well read. Someone who can carry on a reasonably competent conversation on any number of subjects. But in my experience, this is not likely. Hasn’t usually happened. So it doesn’t seem reasonable.

What’s called for here is a little refocusing. Instead of the pastor. Instead of taking him more seriously than he can stand. More seriously than is healthy for him or us. Let’s diminish him. Or not diminish. Let’s begin with greatly diminished expectations. Let’s not expect the pastor to be a stand-in for Jesus.

He isn’t. He can’t be. He’s just human. He isn’t divine. Or he’s only divine in the sense that regular sinful marginally competent humans are divine. Humans like us are divine. Which is to misuse the word. So let’s call a spade a shovel and a pastor just another human being who’s looking for Jesus. Just like us.

Let’s not depend on him or her so much. Let’s not expect so much of another merely human being. And let’s figure out how to focus our attention on Jesus. On Jesus again. On God. Let’s refocus our divine expectations on the divine One. Instead.

And then let’s take everything our pastors and clergy and priests do and say with a grain of salt. As long as there are no egregious issues. Major sin issues. Blasphemies. That sort of thing. As long as they’re minor. Let’s just put up with whatever they feel they have to say on a Sunday. Whatever they have to do for kicks during the week.

This is part of the price of worship. Just look at it as something you have to sit through to stay connected to the other Jesus freaks you know. To worship corporately with the other Jesus freaks you know. To join corporately in the worship of the divine.

Whatever he says. Whatever she says. Just nod your head. Yes. Yes. That is quite wonderful, what you said right there. That’s so profound. That’s enormously illuminating. Thank you. Thank you. Nice sermon, Pastor. Nice turn of phrase there when you talked about the difficult road of life. The bumpy road of life. What an original and insightful way you have of putting it.

Or just ignore him. Or ignore her. Just think about someone or something else. Just pray for example. Just thank God for what you have. For the generosity he has shown you. Thank God that you can worship him publicly without jeopardy and can sit in a relatively clean and reasonably temperature controlled and well-lit place where there are also people are who are looking for him. Somewhat faithful people.

Because in such a place. Under such circumstances. Anything. Any God-breathed thing. Might happen.

And this is what being mystic believer priests is all about. This excited expectation. This grateful waiting. This wanting more than anything for God to show up and be with us. For God to let us know he is with us. And to guide us where he wants us. Which is everywhere he goes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Not Much

But what do I know, you continue to want to know. What do you know? Kind of like the quiz show on NPR. The one from Madison, I think. The one in which the audience says, Not much. You?

And I must say, Not much, as well. I struggle with the Bible. I struggle with God experience. I struggle with how comprehensible some of this stuff really is.

I mean, how seriously should we take God? How seriously should we be reading the Bible? How carefully should we be listening to our pastors, clergy, priests, and so on? The people we pay to tell us about God? The people we pay to take care of us? To tell us the straight story? The straight God story?

I mean, maybe what I should be doing is sitting back. Flip on the autopilot. Leave the whole business up to the specialists. The professionals.

Maybe what I should do is turn in my Bible to the nearest God-professional and say, Here you make sense of this for me. You’re the one with the training. You’re the one with the interest. You’re the one with the financial motivation. You’re the one with the inside track. Here, just let me get comfortable here in the pew or the chair or whatever, and while you talk, I’ll take a little rest for myself. Take five for myself.

I’d love it if you would make sense of this for me. I’ll believe whatever you say. I’ll nod my head vigorously from time to time. I can be agreeable, see? I can be a nice guy. You take over from here. Put me on your mailing list. Your email list.

A person like myself reads about the history of the church. About the arguments that have gone back and forth. The disputes that seemed to be settled but then popped up again. About all the excommunications because people disagreed with one another over what Christ means. Who he was. What he did. What the Bible means. About all the executions and wars and so on over interpretations of the Bible. Understandings of the Bible. Understandings of God.

The history of people hammering at one another to get political advantage. Theological advantage. Economic advantage. Military advantage.

And a guy like me looks at all that. A guy who makes his living elsewhere. A guy who has no financial or political or theological or professional or military interest. And a guy like me says, Shoot. This doesn’t look like the history of Christianity. It looks like the history of. Well. Just the history of people. People who don’t mind beating one another up. People who don’t mind a little murder. A little war. A little torture. A little strident writing. A little loud yelling. All in the name of God.

And a guy like me wonders what the heck the big deal is anyway. What is a little disagreement about a little idea like Christlikeness in the white light of eternity? What is all the fuss about anyway? Let it ride. Let it go. Ease up. Ignore it. Let it slide on by. All that’s happening here is that you’re getting yourself worked up and a few pastors worked up. Some ill feelings all around.

So what’s the point? Why bother? Would you please just be like Christ, and if they need some slack, give them all they want. All they need. Just laugh it off. Get a sense of humor, will you? Forget it ever happened. Forget it ever came up. Be forgiving and understanding like a good Christian. A good little Christ. Be nice for a change. Mind your own business. Let the pastors and clergy and priests take care of this for you. Leave it in their capable hands.

Smile more often. Work on being a better person, for Pete’s sake. Loosen your bullets.

Okay, so what you’re hearing makes no sense to you? Open up your ears. No one else has trouble with this. Everyone else likes the idea. Everyone else is quite happy with it. You must be defective. You must misunderstand. You’re being picky. Really really picky. That’s a polite name for what you are.

So what if the pastors who espouse this Christlikeness business can’t point to persuasive evidence and logic. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence. Any logic. There’s plenty of evidence and logic for this. Otherwise, this idea wouldn’t keep popping up in Christian literature for. Oh. Millennia.

And so what if this idea doesn’t make sense to you? It makes sense to everyone else. No one else is squawking. No one else is making a hubbub. A lot of useless noise.

So settle down. Take a load off. Cool your sphincters. So who are you anyway? What do you know? Not much, as I say. You?

So be quiet, then. Quit flapping your big mouth. Give this a rest. Give us all a much deserved rest.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Heart Of It

So here’s where all this comes from, I think. I’m guessing. All this Christlikeness business. All this thinking that humans can be holy as God is holy. All this thinking that we can be like God.

I was hoping one or more of my pastor friends would bring it up. Either in conversation or emails or comments to this blog. But no. Not one has. And this is a pastoral conversation that has been going on now for years.

Matthew. Matthew 5 through 7. The Sermon on the Mount. And especially Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Here throughout is instruction on what love-inspired living looks like. What God-inspired being and doing looks like and feels like. What we should understand to be God’s own standard of spiritual being and the concomitant standard of moral being.

But this is hyperbole, isn’t it? Have you ever known anyone to be perfect? Have you ever known anyone to have lived a sinless life? Have you ever known anyone to have unalloyed God motives? To have been motivated only by the love of God and the love of his neighbors? To have acted only out of the urging of the Holy Spirit? Every moment? His or her whole life?

I do know a number of quite thoroughgoing Jesus lovers. God lovers. A number of them pastors and priests and clergy. But none of them is sinless. None of them is perfect. All of them are just humans who because of their love of God do rise above the evil in them from time to time. The pride in them from time to time. Often in fact. Several of them quite often.

But that doesn’t make them like Jesus. That makes them more or less faithful lovers of God.

But Jesus isn’t being cruel. Jesus is telling us that when we are feeling really good about ourselves. Really quite full of the wonderfulness of ourselves. Feeling how Godly and holy and righteous and Holy Spirit infused and deified and Jesus-like we are. Or someone we know seems to be. There is infinitely more that we or our Godly friend would need to do to measure up to God. To measure up to what God has in mind for us.

So this is a trope. This is a figure. This is Jesus’s way of saying, “Look here you self-satisfied dolts. Pay attention. God doesn’t only see what you do. He sees who you are. He sees into the very garbage dumps of your hearts. Hearts that every day need some spring cleaning. Hearts that every moment need a visit from God himself.”

But he is not saying, “I know you have it in you. In your being, you are perfect, just like God. Because you were made by him. Made in his image. All we have to do is let you in on the little secret. The perfection secret. And now that you know it, you can all go forward and multiply in your perfection. And become infinitely perfect as God is infinitely perfect.”

No. What he’s doing is making clear on the one hand that God has high hopes for us and on the other—by implication—that those high hopes will not always be (and may only occasionally be) fulfilled. And what he is making clear by taking the time and effort to spell all this out for us is that God does love us, even though we are none of us even close to being perfect.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


From the music stand, a pastor sings today the following lyrics:

My desire to be like Jesus . My desire to be like You.
Your Spirit fills me. Your love overwhelms me.
In word and deed. To be like You.

And I feel. Oh. I don’t want to be histrionic. But I feel like the pastors in my church could care less. They could care less that this theology is a problem for me. That this theology is not there in the Gospels. That this theology is driving a wedge between us. A metal wedge that is descending through the grain of us. Through the heart of the tree that I imagined once was us.

He sings these lyrics toward the end of his sermon on worship. He sings these lyrics to demonstrate the exact song that 25 or so years ago brought him into an emotional relation—a spiritual relation—with Jesus and with God. The exact lyrics in which he learned God’s emotional nature first hand. The exact lyrics that redefined worship for him and made worship an opening of the heart to God. For him. And an opening of God’s great heart to him.

The exact lyrics that opened the Niagara Falls of his emotions. And after which he cried and cried. Cried a river. Cried a cascade. Cried a connection between the body of water that was him and the body of water that was God.

And so these are holy words for him. These are authentic spirit words for him. These are sacred God words for him. And so they are at the center of his theology. At the center of his understanding of what God has asked of him and at the center of how he responds to God. At the center of how God responds to him. Some words in a song.

And so I feel like now there is this abyss that separates us. An abyss that was there all the time but now. But now it is apparent. Now its great width and infinite depth are apparent.

And I feel like I am on a small island in the middle of the Niagara River. A few hundred feet above the falls. It’s night. The roaring fills my ears and my mind and my soul. And there is nothing but the dark and the stars and the white black waves the size of monsters everywhere I look.