Monday, March 24, 2008

Listening to Chrysostom

My brain is not cooperating well for me these days, and Easter wore it out more than I expected it to. In light of that, I'm going to follow the lead of a friend of mine who simply let Chrysostom deliver the Easter message.

Christ, give me the faith to receive the hope announced in your resurrection with this joy. I do believe; help me with my unbelief.

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Will this not suffice?

At church on Sunday, this verse of "Come Ye Sinners" haunted me.
View him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies!
On the bloody tree behold him;
Sinner will this not suffice?
Indeed I have sinned, but will this not suffice?

Indeed I still reap the repercussions of mistakes I made years ago, but will this not suffice?

Indeed there is a long road ahead of me on the journey of sanctification, but will this not suffice?

Indeed reconciliation takes longer than anyone wants it to, but will this not suffice?

Indeed the world is broken, but will this not suffice?

I'm not exactly sure how a weeping, suffering savior answers all the questions, but it seems at least to meet the questions. There in the garden, Christ provides no answers to the sufferer, but he certainly makes it clear that he is part of the same story. His story has merged with ours tonight, and as we follow his story through Good Friday and Easter we may understand that our story may merge with his.

If that is the case, then would this not indeed suffice?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 25-year track

In my last post I veered dangerously from the rule I made in my initial disclaimer to this blog: rather than posting what I was listening to, I posted what I should have (and should not have) listened to. Today, however, is my birthday; I can break the rules if I want to.

Rich Mullins, who is, of all the many people I have not met, the one who may have had the most direct influence on my faith, wrote in an article after his 40th birthday:
In my mid- to late-20s I had some romantic, highly exaggerated notions about an early death—taking off at 33—joining the company of Mozart, Foster, Jesus and other immortals who checked out in their early 30s. But this was a party I didn’t get an invitation to—a gang I didn’t belong in (me not being a genius and all).
In my highly memorable 8th-grade graduation (more memorable than high-school or college graduations, the latter of which I didn’t even attend), my art teacher, the most inspirational of my pre-college instructors, introduced us to the Latin carpe diem, exhorting us to seize the day for Christ. By 10th grade when I was attending my third high school, I had taken the message to the most ascetic extremes my teenage idealism could muster.

When I nearly died a month after turning 16, the mission to carpe-diem the world suddenly got bumped up a few notches in intensity. I could die at any moment, and then what would I have to show for my meager existence? I therefore wrote furiously and kept a file on my computer regarding the treatment of my writings after my death (“Publish it all!” was the general gist of it, if I recall correctly). I pondered my last words to anyone after each interaction. I took to heart the voices from my youth group that urged me to “Live like you’re gonna die tomorrow.”

And last week as I stood in Redwoods National Forest on a mountain overlooking the San Francisco bay, after a year of intercity ministry had surprisingly pushed me into the role of a graduate student preparing to be in school until my 30s, I had a sudden realization:

I’ve switched over to the 70-year track of life.

I’m not sure which track I was on before, whether it was the 33-year track like ol’ Rich or, more probably, the 25-year track like John Keats. But as I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge that afternoon I pondered how different life felt when I began to imagine that I was gonna be stickin’ around for a while. It’s okay to have not saved the world yet. It’s okay to be not living in the middle of my lifelong vocation. It’s even okay (and my teenage idealist would have wept to hear herself say this) to be not completely sanctified. I have plenty of time ahead of me for the rest of the story, after all; the first third of a book is mostly set-up for the real action anyway.

I have high hopes that this new track will allow more Grace in my shortcomings. After all, if life is the only Purgatory we Protestants get, it’s just as well for me to make the most of it. I need a heck of a lot more sanctification than 25 years could give me, and I’m quite happy to have the flexibility of a few more decades.

Today I’m bold to say that it’s just as well to be off of the 25-year track. What better day for me to say that than my 25th birthday?
At [25], people misjudge your character flaws as being mere bad habits that they might change. At 40, people misjudge every bad habit as being the mark of weak character and they either dismiss you as being a lesson in reprobation or just accept you as a friend. Anyway, you graduate from being a missionary project into being either a lost cause or one of the gang.

At [25], no one knows as much as you. At 40, you begin to understand the wisdom of Solomon in his saying: “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

So, stay alive. “A living dog is better than a dead lion”—and Happy Birthday to all of you from all of me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beware of the Greeks!

Years ago, right as I enrolled in the first of a series of philosophy courses that would change my life (at least my life as a reader), a friend who had taken classes with the same professor gave me a warning I didn’t heed.

“Beware of the Greeks!” my Christian intellectual friend warned.

I believe his beef was with Aristotle, no doubt the least compelling philosopher I was ever to read in that course. Since I was not likely to succumb to any Aristotelian whiles, I soon forgot his warning.

No, Aristotle will never be the man for me. Plato, on the other hand…

Perhaps because C. S. Lewis was somewhat of a Christian Platonist, Platonism initially struck me as a hair or two away from Christianity. I mean, “life is but a sojourn” is practically in the Bible, after all; and if one considers God to be the ultimate reality like Plato’s Forms, the Christian can join Plato in saying “If particulars are to have meaning, there must be universals.” God could be the great Universal that gives meaning to the shadowy particulars. I quickly fell in love with Plato (Platonically?).

I even found the notion of Platonic love appealing. I flattered myself to think that my own love was, as Plato defined it, “the joy of the Good.” I imagined that I loved a man’s compassion or courage or strength or worldview; the man was the vehicle through which I saw a greater Ideal.

Of course, if the greater Ideal was God himself, it seemed fine to assume that the man became the vehicle through which I saw God. And therefore, I could ease my way right into a Plato-endorsed, intellectually-sanctioned idolatry. (I’m not the first to fall into it that way, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron reminds me.)

A more incarnational, sacramental worldview would have let me know I was wrong, that the physical and the spiritual are not separable, that unembodied brains are not beautiful but are actually disgusting, that dualism is still a heresy no matter how many Christians disregard the physical, that it is people whom we love—not ideas. It would have reminded me, as the Anglican houseblessing service asserts, that Christ’s coming “made our flesh the instrument of [his] self-revelation.” Our flesh… not just our souls.
Love's not so pure, and abstract, as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their Muse...
-John Donne
I’m not even twenty-five, and I’ve already stumbled into (and hopefully out of) one of the oldest Christian heresies!

And to that old friend, if you’re out there reading blogs, I should have listened to you. I will be much more wary of those wily Greeks in the future.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Lesson Long-Overdue

As a kid, I used to try to convince God to call me into the mission field. I would be so brave and sacrificial, I’d try to convince him, and would be willing to lay down my life in a blaze of glory.

Early in high school I read a bunch of biographies of great missionaries, martyrs, and devotedly missional people: The Cross and the Switchblade, God’s Smuggler, Vanya, Foxes Book of Martyrs, No Compromise, The Hiding Place. Surely the kingdom of God was big enough to make some room for me on that shelf of heroes!

Since it has always been apparent that teaching is one of those things like writing that I can’t help but constantly do, teaching middle school in low-income areas of the inner-city seemed the way to go. I pursued that ambition with all the self-motivation that a home-school background had given me. I read More than Equals, Grace Matters, Good News About Injustice, A Dream Deferred, Invisible Man, Black Like Me, The Souls of Black Folk. I took classes such as African-American Literature, White Culture and Race Relations in the South, Southern Literature, Racial Violence in the South, The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Poverty and Sociology. I joined the Black Student Movement, and became one of the officers of the organization. I attended a march in DC for affirmative action. I became the multi-ethnic coordinator of my mostly-white Christian organization. I went on a spring break urban project to intercity Philadelphia. I developed substantial relationships with homeless people near campus. And I eventually moved into an intentional Christian community in the poor area of a city known for racial struggles.

But after all those things over the course of six years, I eventually learned that my attempts to guess the end of the story had been destructive, and that I had no conception of a God of Grace. It seemed that once I tried to let go of a notion that I was called to single-handedly bring about the Kingdom of God, I didn’t even know how to look at myself or my life. I stopped planning. I tried to learn to listen.

And last week I visited an old housemate in the mission district of San Francisco, and I realized something on the first day. After six years of ambitiously pursuing intercity ministry, last week as an unambitious listener I learned something new:

I love cities.

I love cities sorta like I love small towns and mountains and England and forests.

I planned on going to a city to “do ministry” for years without loving them. I moved out into a city and tried to “do ministry” without loving them. And like the Southerners during Reconstruction who resented the lofty and condescending goals of Northerners who tried to industrialize the backwards hicks, the people of those cities could rightly have resented me. I was like someone entering into a marriage with the goal of saving the person, indifferent to whether or not love would ever grow at some later point.

Neither individuals nor cities nor people-groups need me to save them. Saving people may be an impossible and destructive approach to missions. Maybe my mission is simply to love them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your motuh, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
When that passage came up in our Bible study last night, I immediately felt as though it had advice I needed to heed. I thought of the volumes of journals I had filled over the years with my rants and frustrations to God, with little time taken to listen. I thought of the fruit that approach had produced in my interactions with people. I thought of our American Evangelical buddy-buddy image of God, and the ways it seemed to cheapen the Faith.

But then I listened to my friends comment on their reaction to the passage. They received it has a harsh image of God. "Don't bother God," they heard; "He's a harsh tyrant who may decide to wipe you out." Many received it as a discription of contrast, one of those passages that we read to remind us of how wonderful it is to be on this side of the Incarnation. Now that Jesus is here, we don't have to look at God that way.

I am torn. I am well-aware that my own tendency to tell God more than I hear from him has been harmful, and that I could always use a little more good healthy reverent silence. Yet I also know that it has always been easier for me to connect with Zeus than with Jesus. I tell people that I like the Old Testiment because it has been so neglected by modern Christians, but I know I really like it because I prefer the powerful God it depicts over the fluffy God I often hear about in church. Maybe I need a good healthy dose of the fuzzies.

So I thought I'd take a survey to get a feel for how the small cross-section of the Church that reads my blog reads this passage. When you read Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 (written above), do you think:
  1. "Indeed, the Church (and individuals such as Em) would do well to have more of that reverent fear. How deeply are we infused with a fluffy image of God that causes our faith to emphasize our own words and takes so little time to listen!"
  2. "Thank Jesus that we no longer need to think of God that way. Indeed, the Church (and individuals such as Em) no doubt suffer from such a harsh, pre-Incarnation picture of God that forgets his Grace, forgiveness and humanity."
  3. Both of the above.
  4. None of the above.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Eve, not the Fall

I heard the news today that a girl I audited classes with for several semesters just got killed. After receiving the news, I browsed the internet to try to glean any scarce and coveted pieces of information from the vague reports (she left her apartment sometime after 1:30am to do work in the student government office, and was shot in a wealthy neighborhood a mile away from campus; police are calling it random, I am calling it weird).

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading a comment board attached to one of the news articles. It was terrible. People were using Eve’s death as a platform for venting whatever political beefs they had. They ranted about the discrimination of emphasizing the death of a beautiful white girl while other deaths go ignored. They ranted about the people groups they imagined were responsible for her death. They even talked about “the Carolina spirit.”

I couldn’t read much; I had wanted to learn about Eve, not their rants. On the afternoon that I learned about the death of someone I used to discuss philosophers with, the rants were simply disgusting.

But I do that. I don’t have many political rants, but hardly a death goes by that I don’t use as a platform to vent my philosophical/theological rants against no one in particular… against a fallen creation that can do nothing but accept death as a part of life.

Let me not do that tonight. There are plenty of things to be said about the press’s emphasis of the tragedies of the pretty, or about high rates of crime among various groups of people, or about the Fall and the repercussions of it that we must endure…

…but not tonight. Not now. Eve’s death does not speak to those things; we speak to those things and can relate any ol’ death to them. The only thing I know that Eve’s death is saying is… well… that it’s sad.

Let me leave it at that. Let me be willing to allow her death simply to be sad.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to San Francisco

My first San-Francisco moment came immediately after getting off the plane. I used the airport bathroom, washed my hands, and began reaching for a paper towel. On the towel dispenser was a large sign that said, “Only use what you really need; help us conserve our natural resources. –The San Francisco Airport Authority.” It could just as easily have said, “Welcome to San Francisco.”

My second San-Francisco moment, at least by my little brother’s definition of the city, came that evening. My friend and former housemate Paul whom I came here to visit had been asked to speak to a group of undergrad InterVarsity students who were here from Minnesota on an intercity spring break trip. The students had come for a taste of urban ministry in what happens to be known as the gay city. Paul is a gay Christian. They asked him to come speak on homosexuality.

Having lived with Paul for a year, I had already heard a large chunk of his story, whether in conversation around the house or in the talk he gave at the seminary where he had been studying. I am always amazed to hear about the journey that eventually led him to move to a Christian community (ironically) in San Francisco to try to learn to follow Christ at whatever cost that may entail, which for him has meant a commitment to celibacy. He would not have made it without a community of people willing to share their lives with him. Paul’s story speaks of sacrifice to both sides of the homosexuality-debate: it says that if the Church is going to be the Church to those who struggle as he has, it is going to involve laying down our lives for each other.

Paul had never given this particular talk to a group like the tired, teenage, Midwestern Evangelicals we saw that night, a group I realized I had been a part of five years ago on my InterVarsity spring break trip to Philly when I was nineteen.

“I’m going to try something I’ve never done before,” he began his talk. “I’d like to open this discussion the way 12-step groups like AA open their meetings. I’d like us to go around the room and introduce ourselves, and just as one might say ‘My name is Paul and I’m an alcoholic,’ let us all admit that we are sinners, and welcome each other into the conversation on those grounds. I feel like that is a healthy posture for us to take as we approach the topic.
“My name is Paul and I’m a sinner.”
“Hi Paul!”
So on my first evening in San Francisco, as it turned out, I sat in a room full of InterVarsity students like those whom I lived with in college, beside a 42-year-old celibate homosexual whom I lived with last year, and introduced myself as a sinner before listening to a talk about the Church learning to lay down our lives for each other.

Welcome to San Francisco.

Amen to Calvin!

I've been out of town for a bit and have only just now figured out my San-Francisco internet rutine, so that's why I faded out of blogger existence for a little bit. I've been having an amazing couple of days so far, and may indeed come up with a way to formulate some of experiences into listening-posts. For now I need sleep, but I thought I'd re-enter blogger-world with a link to one of the regular blogs I check.

"Calvin" is one of the most amazing little three-year-olds in the world, and the funny things he says often startle something in me. This little prayer he prayed the other night was one of those.
"Dear God,
Thank you for all the wonderful things you've done. Don't take your Holy Spirit from me, forever and ever. And you have to forgive me for all of the bad things I've done. Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen."
I'll need to remember that one. You have to forgive me! Jesus Christ is Lord! Amen!