Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Don’t Know How to Love This Many Cars

"Long ago, the little son of my friends and I became quite good friends ourselves. A lot of the time we played with his two tiny cars, running them from windowsill to windowsill, parking them and racing them and telling each other all the while what we imaged we passed ‘on the road.’ Sometimes I would have the one with the chipped wheel. Sometimes he would have it. It was great fun, and I loved this little boy dearly.

At that time these little Hot Wheels cars were avidly collected by most six-year-old boys. Kenny dreamed of them and I yearned to buy him more, but I could not think of a way to do this without embarrassing my friends. Kenny’s father was an artist and a lay preacher, and his mother was a housewife who brought beauty to everything she touched. They lived very richly indeed but they had little money.

Then one of the major gas companies began a Hot Wheels giveaway: a car with every fill-up. I was delighted. Quickly I persuade the entire clinic staff to buy this brand of gas for a month, and organized all twenty of us with checklists, so that we would not get two fire engines or Porsches or Volkswagens. In a month we accumulated all the Hot Wheels cars then made, and I gave them to Kenny in a big box. They filled every windowsill in the living room, and then he stopped playing with them. Puzzled, I asked him why he did not like his car anymore. He looked away and in a quivery voice he said. 'I don’t know how to love this many cars, Rachel.' I was stunned. Ever since, I have been careful to be sure not to have more Hot Wheels than I can love.” -- Rachel Naomi Remen, MD "My Grandfather's Blessing"

The greatest gift you can give this Christmas is to be fully present – physically, mentally and emotionally – to those you love.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Virtue of Mystery

NASA's Hubble Universe in 3-DImage by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via

Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides.

Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.

"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave —what can you know?
(Job 11:5-8)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Duet. 29:29)

Pouring the Sea into a Hole

Augustine labored for 15 years to write his book about the nature of God (On the Trinity). After he had completed it, one day as he went for a walk on the shore of the north coast of Africa, he came upon a boy. The boy was filling his bucket with seawater and then pouring it into a big hole in the sand. Augustine asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m pouring the (Mediterranean) Sea into the hole.” Augustine said, “My dear boy, what an impossible thing to try to do!” Then Augustine realized that his book was like the boy's effort: to write a book on the nature of God was too vast and his mind too small.

One writer advised that when one is at the ocean, don’t be preoccupied with the vendors, the crowds, the amusements on the boardwalk, but rather, look to the mystery of the sea

“The mystery of the sea is only the most obvious example of the mystery of all nature. For not only the sea but all nature contains a mystery: why does it fascinate us so?” (Peter Kreeft, “The Sea Within”)

A mystery is something that is not fully understood or that baffles or eludes the understanding. It’s an enigma. I’m finding it important in my life and ministry to savor the mystery. One part of delighting in mystery is giving up the control that I desire.

The Mystery of the Universe

I have recently enjoyed an interview with two Jesuit astronomers. Guy Consolmagno is curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory and George Coyne, is president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. They are the only two living men who have had asteroids named after them. I was caught up at they reflected on the vastness of the universe and it’s meaning to their religious faith.

“In modern times . . . in just the past two decades, we knew the universe was expanding. We marveled at the fact that it was expanding at just such a rate that it was on the borderline or expanding forever or collapsing. Just on the borderline. That itself is a marvel . . .. Of all the possibilities it was right on the edge. Within the past ten years, with very accurate observation of distant quasars we now know very well that the universe is not only expanding, but that it is accelerating in it expansion.”

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? — Job 38: 31

Because 13 billion years is too large for humans minds to appreciate, George Coyne made a chart of history of the universe reduced to one calendar year.

In one of his lectures, Father Coyne talked about the Hubble photographs, and how they expand our knowledge of the universe.

There have been three different Hubble project. The first was HDF (Hubble Deep Field) in the northern hemisphere and the second was HDF in the southern. The third was the HUDF (Hubble Ultimate Deep Field), which is the deepest image of the universe ever taken and it will be used to search for galaxies that existed between 400 and 800 million years after the Big Bang

The field imaged contains over 10,000 objects, the majority of which are galaxies,”

"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?

They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave —what can you know?”

“Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” --Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The vastness of the universe is cause for awe and greater appreciation of the mystery of the universe. Guy Consolmagno spoke about the humbling awareness of our ignorance: “To the point where 75% of the universe, we now calculate, is made up of stuff that we didn’t even know existed years ago.”

With the vastness of the universe comes it uncertainty. George Coyne comments: “From the very uncertainty principle, there is built into the universe a certain uncertainty.” He speaks about he calls the “virtue of ignorance.”

“It’s exciting to be ignorant. I think our ignorance in pursuing science has something to do with the whole idea of the uncertainties involved in a relationship with God that I call faith . . . Every morning I wake up I have my doubts; I have my uncertainties. I have to struggle to help my faith grow, because faith is love. Love … is not something that there once and for all. Ignorance in doing science creates the excitement in doing science. Anyone who does it knows that discoveries lead to further ignorance.”

Guy Consolmagno adds: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” We know that out understanding of the universe is incomplete, and we know that our understanding of God is incomplete. (So then, theology is faith seeking understanding.)

Professor of Mathematical physic at Cambridge, John Polkinghorne speaks of the wonder of the universe:

“ . . . those who investigate the cosmos are given the experience of wonder at the marvelous patterns revealed to them, a gift that comes as a reward for all the demanding labour of research.” (“A Scientist looks at the Epistle to the Hebrews,” John Polkinghorne, Queens' College, Cambridge, p. 2)

George Coyne: “The Universe participates in the mystery of God.”

Whoever has made this universe has a great sense of humor, because you are constantly being surprised by what you find. All these agree that realizing that we do not know is something to take delight in. If we had all the answers we would have nothing left to do. It would be a terrible universe, as Guy puts it

“In the presence of this mystery, we are no longer in a position of control where we can manage or master the subject . . ..” (Seamands, p. 103)

In our ignorance or limitation we can enjoy the awe of the mystery of life.

The Mystery We Are

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13,14 ESV)

Andrew Solomon (author of “The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression): “It seems to me that who other people are is always mysterious. What I realized in the wake of depression is that who I am is fully mysterious to me. And since I don’t fully know it, I can’t fully comprehend it, there has to be some kind of mystical element in it and some element that’s obviously present and yet beyond my comprehension.”

Solomon was able to cope with depression on some level by valuing what he could not understand in himself as part of the mystery of life. It may be as Oscar Wilde writes: "The final mystery is oneself."

I recently attended a teleconference on “Living with Grief” one of the speakers shared that we as caregivers engage the awe of death. We, as companions, participate with the dying and their families in something that is beyond our understanding.

I’m impressed that life and faith are not about the degree of knowledge or certitude I possess. It is not about my capacity to repair. It is about respecting others in grief, joy, pain, and life journey. There in the struggle I have been surprised by the mystery – where I touched something greater than myself.

The Mystery of God’s Love

. . . to know this love that surpasses knowledge – Eph 3:19

One of the greatest mysteries is the love of God. This imponderable love is expressed to us in many ways. It is most clearly expressed through Christ who in mercy forgives and heals us. God expressed his love for us so profoundly when he sent His Son to be our Savoir. I find the love of God in Christ a wonderful mystery – like the wonder and awe I experience looking up at a starry night.

Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin. – Job 11:6

I was asked by a parent to talk to his two little about their grandparent’s death. They asked me what happens when people die. They asked me what Heaven would be like. I felt inadequate for their questions. The questions they asked were bigger than me. How do I explain the vast mysteries of God to such hungry little hearts? But I could find virtue in ignorance and uncertainty. I still could speak about awe and mystery. I told them I don’t exactly know what happens when people die because I have never died before. However, I shared some of the beautiful places I have seen on the earth. I then asked them to think of the most picturesque place they have seen. Then I offered my guess: that if the next world was anything like this one, so filled with awe, beauty and wonder, it would be a wonderful place, filled with splendor and mystery. Together in our questions we found virtue and comfort in mystery.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Myth of Hopelessness

Wait and HopeImage by Pandiyan via Flickr

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29:7

Survivor Story

On January 9, 2006, Ellin Klor was on her way to a new knitting group. She was a 56 year old children’s librarian, who went to work in Santa Clara, CA and then drove the after school car pool for her daughter. She loved teaching this new class. After parking her tan station wagon, she hoisted her bags from the backseat. As she climbed the stairs at the front door, she stubbed her toe and fell. She landed chest first on her knitting bags. She rolled over, got up and scolded herself for carrying too many things.

Once inside the house, she felt a growing ache in her chest. It was not out-of-breath pain. As she lifted her red sweater to look at the source of her pain, she was stunned to see a four-inch long, jagged splinter of a wooden knitting needle, jutting from her chest. “Oh my God,” she whispered.

Her friends frantically suggest what to do. Some wanted to pull the splinter out. But Ellin said, “No” -- a decision that saved her life. If she had pulled the spike she would have quickly bled to death. Then the friends wanted to quickly drive her to the hospital, but she said “No” called 911. That choice was also lifesaving. Jostling in the car might have move the barb and fatally damaged her heart.

After hours of testing she found out that the needle has penetrated her sternum. The point of the needle has grazed her heart, nicking the right ventricle. Surgeons opened her chest, stitched up her heart. But, this was on part of the struggle for Ellin. 12 days after her surgery she awoke with excruciating chest and back pain. At first the doctors found no immediate explanation for the pain, but later a radiologist from Stanford brought Ellin back to the hospital to tell her that a high-grad invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer) had been found. If not for the needle, she would more than likely have grown silently beyond treatment.

Ellin said, “I didn’t die from the knitting needle, so I’m not going to die from cancer.” She was determined to survive. Ben Sherwood, in his book “The Survivor’s Club,” lists three rules for survivors. First, everyone will join the Survivor’s club: “everyone will face a life and death struggle sometime; Second, “your immediate challenge is the only one that matters.” No matter what the challenge your deal is as big as anyone else’s; Third, in the ordeal, you will “discover strength where you least expect it.” You have more resources than you realize.

I’m a Survivor

I’m a survivor. I’m here because I survived a life threat. When I was three or four the pilot light in our furnace went out. My parents and I were asleep as the house filled with natural gas. One spark and our home would have exploded. Some how my dad was able to stagger to the front window, open the window and then collapse to unconsciousness. Fortunately, my grandfather was coming by that morning and found us. He opened the windows and doors, and help us revive. If he had not come, if my dad had not gone to the window, I would not be here today. In this crisis, my family found the resources to survive. I believe God had his hand on my life, even when I was not able to help myself.

My grandmother was a survivor. She spent harsh days on the prairies of South Dakota. She contracted TB and was sent to a sanitarium to die. A woman gave her a Bible and said, "Read this and believe in God." She did, asking God to let her live to raise her 3 year old daughter. She was the only person out of 24 in her ward to leave alive. She survived. Later in her seventies, she was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery and treatment she survived and lived to 93 years of age. Through her difficult life, my grandmother found the resources to be a survivor. She found strength and faith she didn't know she had.

The Myth of Hopelessness

To be a survivor you have to debunk the myth of hopelessness. Sherwood writes about the “myth of hopelessness.” Most people believe “when a plane crashes, everyone dies.” Many of the famous crashes in the news tell us this is true. But, Arnold Barnett, a 60-year-old professor at MIT, analyzed all the data from the last 10 years and determined out of 53,487 people who were involved in plane crashes, 51,207 lived. The survival rate was 95.7 per cent. The National Transportation Safety Board stated: “Contrary to public perception the most likely outcome of an accident is that most of the occupants survived.”

One of the consequences of the myth of hopelessness is “that when people believe there’s nothing they can do to save themselves, they put themselves at great risk.” (Sherwood, p. 59.) He says that when people think things are hopeless they do nothing to try to save themselves. He calls this the myth of panic. It’s like the baby chicks that freeze under the shadow of a chicken hawk. This response is called “tonic immobility.” When the unexpected threatens some respond by freezing and doing nothing. And they often die.

It is easier to freeze in the face of disaster. Taking responsibility for our lives and facing the crisis is more difficult.

One can expend more energy on what one cannot do than what one CAN do. Our faith calls us to express our hope by facing reality and taking responsibility for those things we can change. Christ calls us to live out the Gospel, not live in fear over the massive changes challenging our world.

Hope in the Midst of Disaster

I recently attended a lecture by one of my former professors, Louis Stulman. He spoke about how the prophets offered hope in the midst of disaster. He said the Prophets spoke intensely about trauma – especially those that shattered their world – events beyond their capacity to cope. Kathryn O’Connor – writes about how prophets speak to the collapse of the world, when things come unglued.

The prophets dared to feel when others only seemed to numb themselves. They took God to court – over the moral order of the universe – to find justice.

Jeremiah expresses an acute sense of vulnerability and powerless in the face of disasters of life. He writes a meditation on trauma and disaster. But, the Prophets speak about more than trauma; we can read the Prophets as a survivors guide for living in the midst of disaster.

Speaking from the book of Jeremiah he describe several characteristics of prophetic hope:

1. Prophetic hope is real. It is not an abstraction. It is tied to a particular corner of the world -- always tied to local context. Prophecies are anchored in a particular time and place. They speak new realities to particular people in a specific context.

2. Prophetic hope is candid about disaster – all forms of denial have to be shattered in order for hope to emerge.

· Prophets break a number of denials and deceptions.

· Henri Nouwen – we say, “let’s forget it,” but we leave forces loose which come back to hurt us. Hope enables us to engage reconciliation in conflict.

· Hope is about truth telling – abandoning falsity is the beginning of hope.

3. Prophetic hope comes through making meaning of suffering as the way through suffering.

· Ezekiel spoke of God as “Yahweh Shammah” - God is there … in Babylon.

· Suffering is not arbitrary – Ezekiel affirms that God is present in suffering.

4. Prophetic Hope embraces ambiguity. It refuses to offer simplistic answers. It refused to flatten the world into a monolithic, singular, safe, simplistic set of categories.

· The prophets will not reduce the cause of Israel’s collapse into a singular cause.

· The Prophetic community participates in the ongoing conversation about the disasters of the world.

· Prophets are at home in the multiplicity of interpretations.

5. The prophetic hope does not always demand winning.

· We instructively link success and achievement with hope.

· For prophets winning is not everything.

· Hope came even to the losers.

· Survival takes the place of winning.

· Sometimes just showing up is a great thing – surviving catastrophe is a great achievement.

6. Prophetic Hope involves working with others to build a better world. It’s about community building.

· The prophets spoke of hope in action – “to heal the world.”

· The 8th century prophet Amos cried, “let justice run down like water”

· Micah sought justice is done among his people.

The exiles were tempted to do nothing. They were afflicted with tonic immobility. But Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to seek the shalom of the city where God had set them -- “There you will find your shalom.” God told them through the prophet to “unpack your bags and seek the peace of the city where you are.” The key to survival and for that matter hope is to act. To engage reality, face one’s crisis with hope. It is to be a survivor, finding resources we didn’t know we have. It is to find God in new places, places we thought too dark for God. It is to join God and others, right where one is, and do all one can to build a new world – to bring the peace of Christ to people living in the midst of disaster.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29:7

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sacredness of People

Close relationships are important for emotiona...Image via Wikipedia

December 15, 2009

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

I believe each person is created in the "image of God." (Gen. 1:26f; 5:1,3; 9:6; I Cor. 11:7; Col. 3:10; James 3:9). This means that people reflect or "mirror" certain aspects of the character and purposes of God. Our essential nature images God. Because all people are made in the "image" of God they are vitally related to God. Being in the image of God implies several important things:

Being in the "image" of God means that all persons are fundamentally good as to their God-ordained nature. It also means we have unique moral agency. God grants human freedom within His freedom. All people are responsible for their choices and actions.

This "image" is conferred upon the whole human race. This "image" was given initially to the first people and is also perpetuated to their descendants (Acts 17:26). This also implies that all people are equal in relation to God: all races and nationalities (Acts 10:9-16; 17:26), male or female (Gen. 1:26f; 2:18; 5:1f), and social classes (Ex. 23:6; Dt. 14:28f; Is. 61:1-2). This provides a basis for respecting people of various religious perspectives and faiths.

Being in the "image" of God means that all people are related in human solidarity. This means that all people are related to one another and have a responsibility to regard and care for each other. (Gen. 4:9-15; Lev. 19:18; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27-37).

People are sacred because they are in the "image" of God. This means that our value is inestimable since we belong to God. The sacredness of people is to be recognized in all human relationships and endeavors. (Ex. 19:5,6; Ps. 8; 21:5).

The image of God in us is deformed by our sin, falleness and human evil (Genesis 3:15). Every human being is spoiled and tarnished by the influence of sin. Yet, the "image" of God in people persists in significant measure after the fall. It is not totally destroyed by the effects of sin and the fall; it is retained as a work of God’s grace.

My understanding of Christian ministry and relating to others is strongly informed by the sacredness of people. The uniqueness of each person as made in God’s image challenges me to see the meaning, wonder, value of all people, even as they behave in an evil and unjust manner. This provides me the strongest motivation for compassion and hope in all human circumstances of disease, suffering and pain.

[1] Unity of common cause.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sames and Opposites

Same SameImage by locket479 via Flickr
February 10, 2010
Popular comedian Demetri Martin has a comical song that he calls, “Sames and Opposites.” In this song he says,
  • Earrings are the same as sneezes, two is ok but ten in a row is annoying.
  • I think bears and worms aren’t very similar, till you think of “gummy.”
  • Saying, “I’m sorry” and “I apologize” is the same, unless you are at a funeral.
I got a good lesson in “sames and opposites” a few years ago when I visited Russia. While in Izhevsk, one of the local ministers was my chauffer. His name was Eddie. He said he learned English listening to Beatles’ music. As we drove around the Ural Mountains, we talked about his experiences going to Russian school. I told him that we would practice bomb drills at school by getting under our desks. We were told we had to be prepared in case the Russians would send nuclear warheads to America. He laughed out loud, and then said, “We practiced the same drills … because of Americans.” We both laughed. We realized the irony that while we grew up fearing each other, we were now driving down the road laughing, talking about Beatles music and our faith. Knowing our “opposites,” we were enjoying our “samenesses.”

Barbara Deming remarks, “The longer we listen to one another - with real attention - the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.”

In the Christian Scriptures we read: “From one blood he created all the nations throughout the whole earth.” (Acts 17:26 NLT) It may be easier to see the differences and the unlikenesses in others. And we are different. We look different, talk differently, and we think differently. But this is a good thing. I believe that being made in the image of God means to treasure the diversity and the sameness between all people.

Sadly, intolerance to these differences has brought the world great pain. I am convinced that along with celebrating the differences, we can value our sameness. This can build bridges rather than walls.

Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves (Phil. 2:3-4 CEV)

I am learning that I grow as I value the variety in each person: their form, voice, flaws, personality and dreams. Everyday I enjoy the opportunity to experience diversity as I encounter different people: their languages, rituals, and cultural distinctions – even the different ways we say “Hello.” It is too easy to create distance between us over our differences. That is giving in to our falleness. We hear the kinds of “us-them” language used to divide people. It is too common. The deeper way is to see the profound sameness that we have with all others.

We all share in many important commonalities. One of the sames we share is the cycle of life: birth, growth, death, and perhaps - graduation, marriage, birth of children, and the death of parents and loved ones. Also, we are all members of groups and live in families and communities. We all have a need to belong, to be accepted and to know who we are. We desire meaning and purpose for our lives. We all hope for peace and a better world for our families. All of us are dependent on the same planet for our existence.

This is a lot to appreciate. In respecting other’s sames and opposites, I am challenged to remember that each of us shares the desire to tell our story to a listening ear. We want to be known. This is as God intended it.

Several weeks ago I was talking with an upset person. She was anxious about delay in her surgery because of her pain. When I met her, there were obvious differences between us. But we had one thing in common. I have had surgery for severe back pain. I relate to that pain. That sameness gave me a compassion for her situation. As I later reflected, I was confirmed in the need to see the things I have in common with others. In this situation I was able to more helpful because I was aware the things we had in common. As I listened to her story, I not only saw the valuable differences between us, I saw the rich commonalities. We both love our families, found strength in our faith and desire to be accepted. Both of us had a story … and found a listening ear. And we were both better for it.

“Opposites” and differences are real, but there is so much to learn from the “Sames.” As we recognize and know each other through our sames, we begin to see ourselves as God sees us: persons made in His image.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

“The Ring of Weakness”

The One Ring in Peter Jackson's films.Image via Wikipedia

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 2 Corinthians 13:4

In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” the plot centers on the Ring of Sauron. The Dark Lord Sauron created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power, as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. A frail, small hobbit by the name of Frodo was given the ring and discovered the overwhelming evil that came with that ring’s power. As a Christ figure, he refused to use the power of the ring of Sauron. Rather, he determined to return the ring to where it was forged to destroy it. He suffered and nearly died in the process. Yet, he embraced a life of weakness and suffering rather that take up the corrupting of power that was in his grasp.

Three great authors lived through WWII and expressed their experiences of war’s evil in writing. C.S Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and J.R.R. Tolkien. We see in Tolkien’s writing his response to the evil of corrupting power. Tolkien had a very sad life; his father died when he was four; his mother died when he was twelve. All his best friends, but one, died in WWII, when he was 25. “How did he handle it? He wrote stories. They were suffused with the deep kind of hope. A hope that he called a hope beyond the walls of the world. A hope that was so deep and so great that it can sweeten a world in which everything wears away and there is no remedy . . .” (Tim Keller)

As Christians we write stories. We write stories of hope with our lives. As followers of Christ it might be better said, we listen to and enter into the stories of others. We chose to engage their pain, joys, suffering and recovery rather than curse pain and run to power for safety.

As human beings we are all tempted to take up the ring of power to get what we want, to possess, achieve, and control others. We crave the ring for shelter from pain, horror and the calamities of life. As believers in Christ we have a call, not to power, but in some distinctive sense, to weakness. Like the frail and vulnerable Frodo, we choose a different path. It is a road that takes us away from power and right into the weakness of others - and ultimately our own weakness. Like the Psalmist calling to God, we take up the cause of the weak:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Psalm 82:3

For many who are in ministry we serve because we believe the way of Christ is better than the way of power and self-preservation. The way of Christ is unconventional and counter-intuitive:

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

Henri Nouwen speaks of this “ring of weakness.” He spent nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University. Then in a special calling, went to share his life with mentally handicapped people at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. After a long period of declining energy, which he chronicled in his final book, Sabbatical Journey, he died in September 1996 from a sudden heart attack.

Nouwen embodied in his second career the call to abandon power and embrace weakness. In his book Compassion he writes about the “downward pull” of Christ.

"Jesus' compassion's is characterized by a downward pull. That is what disturbs us. We cannot even think about ourselves in terms other than those of an upward mobility in which we strive for better lives, higher salaries, and more prestigious positions. Thus, we are deeply disturbed by a God who embodies a downward movement. Instead of striving for a higher position, more power and more influence, Jesus moves, as Karl Barth says, from 'the heights to the depth, from victory to defeat, from riches to poverty, from triumph to suffering, from life to death.' Jesus' whole life and mission involve accepting powerlessness and revealing in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God's love. Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there." (Henri Nouwen, "Compassion," p 27.)

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Luke 6:36

Paul reports that his sufferings are not a denial of the Gospel; rather, they are a confirmation of it:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Cor 4:10-12: 10

As Tim Keller reflects:

“Just as Jesus’ suffering and death led to greater life, so it can for us. Paul found that living in Jesus, the same sort of thing happens. His death seems to led to greater life . . .. I’ve known professionals who wanted to work with the less fortunate, those not well served by their profession – the poor – and gave up certain wealth and recognition in order to do so. When one does this, they sort of fall off the map professionally, or go off the radar. They give up advancing in their profession and it’s a career death. But it’s greater life for those they serve . . .. when you suffer because you live unselfishly, your death leads to some greater life for those you serve and those around you.”

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 1 Corinthians 2:3 (ESV)

Being human is painful, and we find some the deepest things about being human in our pain. As Christians we affirm people’s humanness, not by removing or avoiding their pain, but by moving into it with them.

In Matthew chapter fifteen the Syro-Phoenician woman, tormented by the pain of vexed daughter, cried to Jesus for help. But Jesus did not answer. The disciples grew tired and nervous with the silence. They begged Jesus to end the silence and send her away. But Jesus stood with the women in the silence. In that stillness of Christ she found herself, her faith and wholeness. My prayer for us today is that we would be compassionate. Let us continue to embrace Christ’s ring of weakness. May we stand with folks in their silence, while they share their stories, experience their pain and fears, and work through their human struggles.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, August 14, 2009

Important Spiritual Questions in Current Economic Crisis

The Adoration of the Golden Calf' by Nicolas P...Image via Wikipedia

I would like to explore, in a series of notes, some of the important issues impacting people’s lives as a result of the current economic crisis.

One of the first things is the kind of questions people are asking. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen poses three questions she hears people asking:

“What can be trusted?”
“What will sustain me?”
“What do I really need in order to live?”

She observes that these are the kind of questions that people typically ask when initiating a spiritual search. “If you follow these questions out,” she says, “they lead us to a deeper, more passionate, better way of living; and a much deeper connection to a larger reality.”

I share her hopefulness that these times will lead to deepened spirituality and richer faith. It seems to me that this can be true -- but it is not necessarily so. People appear to be looking at their lives differently because of the economic and social changes taking place. The monumental question of authority stands in the center: “Who is my authority?” “To whom are we accountable?” “What is the authority that governs our society, our world?”

For those who subscribe to the “centrality of the sovereign self,” history is not optimistic. It shows this questioning only leads to doubt, disappointment and despair. No social system built on narcissism and self-autonomy (more on this later) can last. Christopher Lasch said contemporary narcissism creates, “an inner sense of emptiness by exalting the self and cutting it off from reality. Such isolated self-scrutiny, packed with psychiatric clichés, made people so self-conscious that they felt as though they were performing their existence rather than living it.”

Crisis can lead us to question. Questioning can open up our awareness to misplaced assumptions about life, the world, and faith in God. The journey of increased awareness, working through personal blindness, idolatry and ignorance, learning to understand and love those different from us, and the joy inspired by new understanding are extraordinary things in themselves. But, I doubt that the benefit of self-reflection can overcome the need for something higher than, or outside of myself. History stands against it.

My personal, “’sovereign self” is not enough. Neither is a collection of “sovereign selves.” I need meaning. I need transcendent awe to sustain me. I crave purpose beyond my culture and myself. I seek to belong and have value beyond religion and “me, me, me”. No matter how much I love personal discovery, I don’t see satisfying answers to the above questions as coming from withinmyself, or even humanity. I need transcendent good news.

The Gospel, by nature, is a perspective that comes from outside of us – that is greater than ours. It is God’s opinion of what I need to live, what will sustain me, Who I can trust. I will not pretend to understand all that means – either for the whole human race or myself. I’m not naïve enough to believe that my understanding of the Gospel gives me perfect answers to these three questions. On the other hand, the Gospel does give me a place to start and from which to live. It can lead to “a deeper, more passionate, better way of living; and a much deeper connection to a larger reality.” If the current global economic crisis leads folks to hear answers to their questions in Christ, then it is a good crisis.

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. (Psa 91:2 NLT)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]