Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
a little child to bear such weight
when there was all the world for the part?
Ah, such glory was love, love divine,
discontent to lord in majesty above,
passionate to plod among us, as one of us,
so low and worn, so destitute we were.
And so was fleshed in humility, in sacrifice,
through and for love, a thing of little weight,
a child, yet of such glory, for all the world.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
My wife, Karen, and I found a break between rains this morning for a lovely drive out of Leesburg VA up Old Waterford Road (much of it gravel and narrow) to historic Waterford VA. The fall colors are at or near peak, inducing wonder at the glory curving along land and sky and foliage. Adding to all, the weather was strange and wild, with warm and gusty winds in front of an approaching cold front. Gusts strong enough to crack and blow a 25 to 30-foot tree down onto the the road at one point, some time a short while before our coming, and leaving little space to pass. I drove carefully far to the left on the road, crunching over the very top branches. The sight and experience so impressed me, I was lost in amazement. (It doesn't take much to do this to me.) Karen, more level-headed and civic-minded, despite her suffering with a cold, suggested it would be a good idea to move the tree from the road. Conceding the sense and sensibility of this, I parked as far to one side of the road as I could and slowly (barely) dragged the tree off the roadbed as far as I could, with Karen clearing broken branches and debris from the road. None the worse for wear (surprisingly), and a bit chuffed with civic pride, we drove on in the splendor of the morning, glad to have been of some slight service to a greater good.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
“Work is not redemptive – God’s work – but it is or it can be devoted.” So writes Donald Hall in his book Life Work. I take this to mean that our work, however dutifully and diligently we apply ourselves, does not redeem. It does not redeem ourselves or others. God does. God redeems us and others. That’s his business, his work.
Yet our work can be devoted. I don’t think Hall urges us to be workaholics. I don’t think he presses an argument for work as life. Rather, he refers to how we might go about our work; indeed, how we might go about life. The implicit encouragement is to engage work in specific and life in general devotedly rather than blithely. This suggests a way of undertaking our work, our life, wherein we labor lovingly – toward God, toward neighbor, toward the world around us. Thus, not work as life, but life as work. As craft.
Liturgy assists us here. The word “liturgy” stems from the Greek “leitourgia,” referring to a “public work.” When Greek citizens undertook a project of public service, they performed “leitourgia.” The translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek used this word for the public service in the temple. Early Christians carried forward this religious sense. When they gathered to worship God, they performed “leitourgia.” The aim, at best, is to serve God devotedly not blithely. “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2, ESV.)
Incorporating Greek and Judeo-Christian notions then, when we undertake work and life devotedly, lovingly, toward God and neighbor and world, we perform public service, liturgy, worship – the craft of holiness – Sunday into Monday.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Additionally, these four movies vividly depict aspects of workers' struggles to make a better life for themselves, their children, and others: "Salt of the Earth" (1954), "Northern Lights" (1978), "Norma Rae" (1979), and "Matewan" (1987).
May we enjoy and acknowledge this Labor Day for what it is -- a holiday and a recognition of ordinary people banding together to seek fairness for themselves and others!
Monday, August 31, 2009
Jesus summed up the way his followers should live in a twofold love commandment: Love God with the entirety of your being; love your neighbor as yourself. The first love begets the second love. The second love reflects and expresses the authenticity of the first love.
James assumes and applies this twofold love commandment in writing to the community of Jesus-followers in those first years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. “You believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord,” he says, “then love your neighbor as yourself.”
That sounds grand, but how do we love our neighbor as our self? James gives us one concrete, highly practical way to love our neighbor: Do not show favoritism to those who are rich in worldly terms. Success and wealth as measured in terms of our worldly culture – money, clothes, jewelry, property, popularity, physical appearance, and so on – are not God’s marks of favor. God favors those who are poor in worldly terms. He lavishes them with richness of faith – with trust, hope, and love. These are their assets. These are true riches. (Compare Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20.)
Clearly even in James’s time, so close to Jesus’ sojourn on earth, the love commandment was a challenge. When believers gathered for worship, they tended to show favor to the wealthy and disdain for the poor. James warned that this pattern of thinking and behaving contradicted the twofold love commandment of love for neighbor and love for God.
Do we show this kind of favoritism today? In what ways? Why might we do this? I suspect that we do it because – in too many ways shaped as much as by our culture as by the
Yet God wants to humble us in order to exalt us with true richness – richness of trust, hope, and love in him. When we possess true riches, the riches of the kingdom, we will lavish not envy and favoritism but love on our neighbor, no matter their circumstances in worldly terms.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Even this way of putting the matter evokes the ambiguity and our ambivalence, for there is a subtle but significant difference between the phrases "to have work" and "to work". Likewise, there is a subtle but distinct difference in meaning between "at work" as a place and "work" or "at work" as a verb or an activity. "I am at work" means something different from "I work" or "I am working."
God created us to be, yes, and also to do or to make. So in God's good created order, being and making are blessing, even if, as finite creatures, we tire as we live and act. Yet in a sinful world, tiredness takes on a different quality, the character of a curse. Tiredness results not only from our finitude but from our servitude, our bondage to sin and death. Being wears upon us, and making wears us out. Compare the tiredness an athlete feels after hours of exertion in a favorite sport with the tiredness a seamstress feels after long days in a sweatshop.
Work as God intended it and made us for in original creation is more like what we experience in this life as activity when engaged in hobbies.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
It is true that for various reasons we experience some people as simply, intrinsically more lovable. We find that caring for certain people - spouse, family member, or friend - comes more easily and naturally, perhaps even compellingly. Yet no one is wholly lovable, even ourselves. We may joyfully and affectionately connect with the best self in another person, yet no one is entirely his or her best self. Therefore, when we truly love and care for another, we embrace both that person's best and worst self - in grace as a gift. Likewise, when a person truly loves and cares for us, that person embraces both our best and our worst self - in grace as a gift. In the end we all must acknowledge that, in God's sight and even in the sight of those around us, we fall short, we sin, we do not deserve. None of us merits love from and a relationship with another person.
So when we love and care for another, we image God's character and act, in creation and redemption. Love is grace. Love is gift. Essentially. From first to last.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The trouble with existence is that it’s too much. The soul wishes that God had given us, shall we say, a less detailed world—a world of less overgrowth. For example, when my mind really gets going, when I really start thinking, it works like history. The more it goes, the more detail there is, and the less any sense can be seen in it. Detail begets detail, which obscures and chokes out the shape we seek, as honeysuckle increases and tangles while the shed wallows and goes under the burgeoning mass. The same happens when I write, as even now. Word begets word; sentence begets sentence. Writing becomes a vain attempt to catch up with and bring to a satisfactory completion the verbal profligacy. Writing sometimes seems like an arithmetic model attempting to solve an exponential process. It isn’t even so much that word begets word. It’s more like word begets twins, or quadruplets, or worse. Even now I can’t stop, satisfactorily. Oh, I can stop, and I will. But I can’t stop by having brought it to a satisfactory completion. That’s the real trouble with it. I utterly long to pursue words, sentences, existence; I long to pursue until all comes to perfect completion under one grand shape, and nothing is left to pursue. Yet I can’t do it. The more I pursue, the more I get lost; it’s all too much. I wallow and go under. There are always more words.
Here is where art comes in, though it’s a toss up whether art is more than a gloriously brave and orderly retreat against the overwhelming. As Frost said in the character of Job, “The artist in me cries out for design.” And elsewhere he wrote,
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing—
Too present to imagine."
As an example, the art of telling history is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Indeed, the art of every explanation is knowing when to stop.
Compare an example in another vein.
I saw a lovely ink drawing of a tree at the Sarah Scaife gallery of the Carnegie Institute in
Art then works to redeem the trouble with existence. Art takes life (actually, the barest fraction thereof), holds it still, and gives it to us to examine. Art takes all this unmanageable begetting and puts a kind of stop to it so we can try to make some sense of it. Or we could say that Art takes hold of this profusive begetting and tries to direct it to a satisfactory completion. The trouble with existence is that it’s too much: art perfects by reducing to essence. Then things have a chance at making sense. Art is a gardener. It clips the honeysuckle where necessary; the shed emerges, to be seen again.