Exaltabo te

I feel as if I were under a pile of things left undone: letters and e-mails and phone calls, conversations and agendas and projects, and all kinds of writing.  (Thankfully not also under a pile of housework, thanks to my sister and my husband!)

I returned from the hospital a week ago.  The verdict was another vertebral artery dissection, but no brain damage of any kind – just an artery in need of healing, and the news that I likely have a collagen 4 deficiency, which is to say, a condition that makes me prone to this sort of thing.  But regular scans and aspirin should be enough to keep this condition from putting me in any real danger.  In the meantime, a dissected artery HURTS, so I am taking medication which makes me unable to focus very well most of the time and makes me sleep more – and which even so keeps me from hurting only so long as I don’t put any stress on the artery by lifting anything heavy or turning or tilting my head to far to one side.  When I am alone, I can be grateful for the pain, insofar as the pain is what took me to the hospital, where we discovered what we needed to know to keep me healthy and alive.  When I am downstairs with the meowing cat and my concerned 5 year old and my almost verbal 13 month old nephew, and the clanging pots and pans and closing drawers and cabinets that signal my diligent husband and sister – then I can only be cranky and not very good company.  I am a much better person when I don’t have to interact with other live people!

I have been trying each morning to sing through a part of the Psalter.  I am using the Daily Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, which directed me this morning to Psalms 30 and 32.  It was very timely to sing: “O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me.  O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”

But I found that I no longer understand the bargaining that the Psalmist engages in in verse 9 – basically asserting that God NEEDS her – that if the singer lives, she will praise him, but if she does not, then she cannot.  I remember the people who said to Jesus, in defiance of any change, “WE are the children of Abraham!” and Jesus’ reply, “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”  The dry bones, the stones, the dust will indeed praise God.  Or, as Dr. Hall reminded us frequently during Ethics lectures last year, “We are grasshoppers, children.”

And so it was not enough for me to sing the final verses of Psalm 30 – that “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…”  I was glad for the BCP’s direction to then turn to Psalm 32 – to the acknowledgement of my need to confess my transgressions to the Lord.

Especially I confess that sometimes I have found myself believing that it would be possible for my voice to be silenced:  that not being a pastor (or being a pastor!), that not having work as a teaching assistant, that not teaching Sunday school, that not writing – that vacating any particular position or title, that these deaths would silence my praises – that God needed me.  And I give thanks that I no longer keep my silence, groaning all day long.  Instead, I uncovered my iniquity, and found freedom and healing in God’s forgiveness.

God does not need me to be well in order that I might write my blog or even pray for longer stretches without falling asleep.  God does not need me to be well.  And yet, I am growing well.  My life has been restored to me.  Such is the extravagant goodness of God.

“O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

“We have met the enemy…”

It was tempting to head this one, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” – but I hope that I have more in common with Walt Kelly than Darth Vader.  Even today, as on the rampage as I have felt.

Good old Walt Kelly. I am getting a little lesson in Pogo today. Walt Kelly died the year I was born, so he was not on my cultural radar screen. Too bad. I was missing out.

He’s on my radar now, because I was trying to find attribution for that famous line, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It seems to be the theme for the week. For the past couple weeks. The “We… us” I have been thinking about is Christians, and no one knows how to turn people away from Christ and the church quite like Christians do.

We have been reading Home and Jesus Land in Ethics, and that has a lot to do with the whole “Christians are their own worst enemy” living meme. The fictional Jack (in Home) and the real life Julia (in Jesus Land) are exemplars of people who received the bad news of their unlovableness (and of the unloving impulses of Christians) loud and clear. As Dr. Hall succinctly put it -we don’t have to worry about the atheists, folks – it’s ourselves we have to worry about.

And then there was the matter of my friend, Will, who was writing a sermon and having trouble finding a commentary that allowed for the possibility that Jesus might actually have walked on water. And Jodi, writing on the class discussion board about how we fail in Christian education, because we don’t let our children and teenagers ask questions. And given all of that, it seems to me that I could easily rephrase Pogo to “We have met the atheist, and he is us.”

I have a lot more to write on this than time allows, but it has been troubling me for some time that Christians of all stripes are so – SCARED. The fundamentalists among us too often don’t want to let anyone question anything, because if one verse does not hold up, if one thread of an idea is broken, their entire faith is likely to unravel.  God will cease to exist! The scripture has become an idol because God is not sufficiently real. And the liberals among us are quick to concede that, of course, this or that or any one of 50 things is impossible, because their reason is more real than God.  God has ceased to exist!

A God who is more powerful than reason, more powerful than scripture?  Do we REALLY KNOW God is real?  I do.   Most days I know it in my bones.  True enough, I have my atheist times, when I become convinced that I have been duped by my pattern-loving brain, and I am a fool, and what the heck are we all wasting our time on Sunday mornings for?  In the same way that as a child, I was afraid when the sun hid behind a cloud that it would be dark forever, that the sun would never be so intense again.  But, as the sun always returned when I was a child, the light of God is simply a fact in my life (praise God!), and the full force of God’s reality always returns, and God is so real that even though I have known the pain of doubting God’s existence, I do not fear losing God, or God being somehow diminished by God’s own creation.

I have to admit, I am starting to lose patience with the atheists in Christian clothing misleading others as to the character of Christ, more even than I have lost patience with the new atheists and their evangelical certainty of the non-existence of God, as if it were possible to have evidence of absence – irrationalists in rational clothing. Give me an honest agnostic any day. Give me the questions of a child and the sincere and open Christian friend admitting to their atheist days, weeks, and tendencies.

And as for those who are unaware that their lack of faith in God, and the ways in which they use their “faith” as a weapon against those who are truly seeking God – I want to assure you that GOD LOVES YOU!  God loves each and every one of us so much that you could not be in better hands.  It will be okay – you can shine that Jesus light in even your darkest, cobwebbiest, most dis-believing corner, and you will be okay.  In fact – if you let Jesus into those places you are too ashamed to risk revealing in front of your Sunday school class, you will be BETTER!  Praise Jesus, my impatience with you is not the last word – God’s love, greater than I or anyone else could ever love you – greater than any creature could ever love any other creature – promises to have the last word.

This week’s soundtrack

So I’m in the midst of preparing a lecture for Thursday, for Dr. Amy Laura Hall’s Intro to Christian Ethics class.  I’ll be drawing together themes from the books Home and Jesus Land. (Pray for me, folks.  Seriously.)

This is my internal soundtrack for the lecture so far – songs in no particular order – if anyone has other suggestions about songs that would prove to be helpful companions while thinking through these books, let me know.

 

Tori Amos “These Precious Things” and “Crucify”

Tracy Chapman “Change”

Billie Holliday “Strange Fruit”

The Impressions “People Get Ready”

Dar Williams “Mercy of the Fallen” and “Iowa”

Indigo Girls “Galileo”

M. Ward “To Save Me”

Counting Crows “Round Here”

Cake “Sheep Go to Heaven”

Fleetwood Mac “Landslide”