Saturday, February 23, 2008

Seen and Heard

While I was in The Urban Standard the other afternoon reading Flannery O'Connor (more on that in a second...) and getting some work done and eavesdropping, I heard the following from a man in conversation at the adjacent table. Something about it seemed terribly disjointed and made me sad in a new way...

"...but we decided in the divorce, I let her have the church. She actually joined - she became a Presbyterian. But you know, I'm not a Presbyterian. I'm a good old Southern Baptist - but a good Calvinist Southern Baptist..."

I didn't make note of this to be judgmental or to say that I am anymore enlightened in the way of grace or community than he is; and I certainly don't claim to have any insight into this man's life, but I thought 'This breaks my heart. What are we, as Christians, doing that make people think this way? What messages are we actually conveying about hope and community? What are we accomplishing through church membership and theological labels and dividing the church among ourselves like a legal asset?'

My interest was also shaded, for the moment, by the fact that I had just finished reading the story 'Greenleaf,' by Flannery O'Connor. If you haven't read it, I would recommend it. I recently picked up O'Connor again, for the first time since high school, because a number of people I love and respect think the world of what she wrote. I remember in high school thinking her stories were bizarre and alarming and pointless. I realize now I didn't get the point of a lot of her writing (I hadn't grasped the tongue-in-cheek style for which she is so well-known and the endless irony and symbolism, whose use she perfected). I didn't have the persepctive on some things that I have now. And for this perspective, reading her again with fresh eyes, I have come to appreciate her brilliance. I was actually laughing out loud (oops) in the coffee shop. I took the following slice from the story (there are many to choose from):

"Mrs. May winced. She thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true."

And finally, rediscovered a much-loved poem by Calvin Miller , from which the following is an excerpt (I love excerpts, don't I?) :

He picked up an old junk cross,
lugging it into the bookstore
after the great religious rally,
and stood dumbfounded
among the stacks of books
on how to grow a church.
"Are you conservative or liberal," I asked him.
But he only murmured, "Oh Jerusalem..."
and said the oddest thing about a hen
gathering her vicious, selfish chicks under her wings.
He left the room as I yelled out after him,
"Lord is it true you've left the church?
Quo vadis, Domine?"
"Somewhere else," he said.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Les Miserables

I sometimes forget why I love this book, how rich it is, and then I run across words like these:

"He was experiencing what the earth may experience at the moment when it is opened by the plow so wheat may be sown; it feels only the wound; the thrill of the seed and the joy of the fruit do not come until later."
-Victor Hugo

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some thoughts on Lent, in no particular order

Read Exodus 3:17-22
-3:17 - When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine Country, though that was shorter...

God's economy of salvation and redemption is terribly inefficient. Efficiency is not the point.

Sometimes all this language of life and death, torn flesh and spilt blood sounds so strange to me. Foreign and unfamiliar. Phenomenal and appalling and against my better judgment.

...dying and rebirth...
...putting away and drawing out...
...forgetting and remembering... exodus and a return home...
...a mourning and an exaltation...

The energy of my conflictions is such that I feel I might change states of matter. I melt, I freeze, I sublimate, I combust.