Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections for Lent, April 16, 2014: Suffering

The Breakpoint column today is about suffering.  Here is the link.

I cannot write eloquently about suffering.  In our modern times, suffering is overused and relative.  Yesterday my eyes were hurting me all day and my face was itching because of the helacious pollen in our area; I took a Zyrtec when I got home and took out my contacts, which helped.   It didn't used to "suffer" from pollen but with age comes ...... more stuff.

I used the word suffering there, but that was not suffering in a true sense.  It was an annoyance and there was an answer.  People do suffer in this age, but not here; Syria, the Ukraine, Central Africa. 

A colleague just walked into my office to say how amazing a student we have is.  She is blind.  The other students make excuses about nothing and this student plugs away, boldly, in bad weather and good, swinging her cane, bumping into things gently, moving forward.  I held a creative writing reading last night and she was there, reading a poem about her cane, called" Freedom."  Quite touching.  Does she suffer?  Yes, but she wouldn't say so, not like that. 

Real suffering means the loss of all things, I think.  We see Jesus dying on the cross in our mind's eye and say, Oh, he's dying, look at the blood, what pain.  That is true, but I notice that the New Testament writers don't dwell on that.  They seem more aware that as the Son of God, a being not like us, he is experiencing on the cross more than physical pain, but separation from God.  I always heard that Christ suffered our hell for us and I rejected that, thinking he didn't send time in real Hell.  Well, I was wrong.  Hell is real separation from the grace and goodness and presence of God because of sin, and Christ did that.  We can't enter into that, no matter how much physical pain we might endure--and some people do endure unbelievable physical pain, they really do suffer, not just an itchy face due to pollen. 

The cross loses most of its meaning if we don't get who is on it, why, and what internal suffering is going on in addition to the torture 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reflections for Lent, April 14, 2014: Palm Sunday

I am posting this two days early because I don't want the same dates on them, which is silly, of course.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  We moderns often speculate and wonder why Jesus was praised on Sunday by the crowds and four or five days later was crucified by them.  (No arguments on who killed him; humanity is complicit in power, and we are nothing but victims if we think otherwise.)  The fickleness of the crowd, the mob.  A good reason never to listen to the majority, although it seems to be part of our DNA to do so (especially in democracy). 

I have heard people say it wasn't the same people; that seems like an easy answer, and duplicitous; we know our own fickleness and vacility (I think I just made up that word, but I like it:  our facility at vacillating).

Even more, though, it speaks to the two extremes that we walk between, circumspectly, in life:  joy and tragedy.  We sow in tears but will reap in joy.  The joy of Palm Sunday turned to tears of the Christian Passover (Good Friday?  what was good about it?) to the joy of Resurrection Day. 

That verse is a promise and a reality; we have felt it, but in the midst of tears we have a hard time believing it, despite the past. 

Reflections for Lent, April 13, 2014: Surprised by Tragedy

On Tuesday of this week, after a class, a student told me that one of her classmates, one of my students, had committed suicide.

I will not go into details because they are not my business and I don't want to post anything that might be painful to his dear family. The viewing was Thursday in a little town near here, a very closeknit community I know pretty well, and I went.  The funeral home was packed.  I stood in line an hour to speak to his mother.  There was an open casket.

More than once I have thought since then at how hard, perhaps inhuman, these rituals are that we think we have to go through.  Perhaps it does give closure.  Perhaps that is just my horror and sadness at what has happened talking. 

Just as joy surprises us, and I say "us" meaning "me," grief does.  Everyone who dies in my life does it quickly; I have had no experiences in my family of long, slow deaths.  Even my grandmother who died at 98 came to her end in a few days, from liver problems.  My father, my brother, my brother-in-law, so many others died within hours, or a couple of days. 

They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  At the funeral home, I can't claim that verse for this mother.  I don't know how one would ever reap in joy from such tragedy.

Reflections for Lent, April 12, 2014: Surprised by Joy

Some will notice that this subtitle derives from a book by CS Lewis.  I have always liked that title because I find that joy is something that surprises me rather than something I plan for.  In fact, I am not sure we can plan for it.

The scripture for these reflections is from Psalm 126:  They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.  I am reading Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and the morning's reading is about that verse int he psalms of ascent.

When I was a high school "kid," I went on a mission trip to Mexico.  Long story short (it was a life-changing event, but not the point now), we sang a chorus based on that verse.  At 16, I didn't have a clue what it meant, just a nice song from the Bible. Maybe 40 years later I do.  Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (I think we would do better not to say just "the spirit," in this age of false spirituality) and fruit, as any farmer would say, is not entirely under our control.

Peterson writes:  "Joy is what God gives, not what we work up. . . A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt:  get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointment by depersonalizing your relationships.  And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment.  There isn't a hint of that in Psalm 126."

See my blog post on Alone Together by Sherry Turkle for more on this.

Life example: When my son was in grade school, the school raised the money to build a playground, a really nice one.  The whole community came out to do the bulk of the work in one weekend.  I was out there shoveling mulch and picking up trash with the best of them.  My son helped, too, some.  On Sunday night the children in the choir sang, "I Won't Grow Up" from Peter Pan and then we all went in to play on the new equipment.  I count that as one of the most joyous moments of my life, and it was totally unexpected.  I didn't plan on being happy about the finishing of the playground; in my Puritanical way, it was something I did because it was asked of me and for my child and his classmates. I didn't show in tears but I sure did in back pain, and I reaped in joy.

However, joy is not the only thing unexpected.  So is sorrow.  See next post.  

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Reflections on Lent, April 9, 2014: To Blog or Not to Blog

The act of blogging needs to be interrogated itself.  Why do I keep coming here and typing my words into the vast abyss of cyberspace?  Why do all the hits I get involve the same five or six blog posts?  One of them is clearly spam; some are clearly because students have been asked to write a paper on a subject and they are looking for sources; one is about my disorder.  I guess that's good, it's what I'm known for, but I hope I am being cited for that scholarly work, which is legitimate.

Anyway, I have been thoughtful and low recently, due to stress, due to a sinful reaction to something, due to a class I am taking, due to realization of my age and my mother's frailty, and due to a student's suicide this week.  A sweet, generous young man, a Christian.  No one seemed to know he was so depressed.  Depression is real.  We don't understand it.  It must be taken seriously.

I am going to write about the phrase "a relationship with Christ."  I have never really felt like I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, although I love and follow him and know he is the center of the universe (not just mine).  I have a friend who values relationship, but doesn't listen to the other person.   I think, truly, that we idolize relationship, we treat relationship as a god, as a goal in itself.  If the relationship hides us to the other person, we have missed the point.  The object is not relationship, it is the "Other."  Same thing with worship; the worship experience is not the goal, but the person being worshipped.  It  may seem like I am splitting hairs, but I don't think so.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Reflections on Lent, April 7, 2014

John tells us that "perfect love casts out fear."  Perfect love was shown in the cross and resurrection.  So why do we fear?

I have come to see how controlled my life is by fear.  Fear does not always come out as terror; it comes out as claws, in my case.   I fear the loss of things and fight about them as much as I cower or hide.  That has happened to me twice in the past few days, although in both cases the person deserved some assertive communication.  My fear then makes me want to apologize for something that needs no apology. 

Parker Palmer writes:  We collaborate with the structures of separation because they promise to protect us against one of the deepest fears at the heart of being human--the fear of having a living encounter with alien "otherness," whether the other is a student, a colleague, a subject, or a self-dissenting voice within.  We fear encounters in which the others is free to be itself, to speak its own truth, to tell us what we may not wish to hear.  We want those encounters on or own terms, so that we can control their outcomes, so that they will not threaten our view of world and self."

These are incredibly wise words.  I have seen that is a problem I am having with a certain situation. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Reflections on Lent, April 4, 2014

Back in the day (what a cliche) we used to celebrate our spiritual birthdays.  On April 4, 1971, 43 (yikes) years ago, I began my identity and my walk as a Christian.  If I knew then what I knew now!  But I wouldn't have been me.  It was the defining moment of my life, of course.

I heard a radio program today where the speaker, also a blogger, said she was writing every day during Lent about confession, confessing her sins.  Wow.  I don't want to be that personal.  However, I do find myself, in times of frustration, that I have a saucy tongue.  The speakers were also talking about doubt.  Most of us feel (since I'm reflecting on my Christian life) that we will reach a stage in life when we won't doubt any more, but that was not the experiences of these speakers.  It's not mine either; in fact, the doubt has become more a part of my life but 1. I have the ability to mentally deal with the doubts; I have more knowledge, self, biblical, and otherwise, and 2.  I am more honest now, but I rarely talk about them with others.  I think we should talk about these things much more. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Reflections on Lent, April 3, 2014

Since the end of the semester is nigh, I, like many others, have massive projects due.  One is a revision of the second phase of my dissertation.  I am defending it May 7, so it's a large burden.

I am able to work unimpeded in my office today--unless I let myself be distracted.

Now, I might also be interrupted by students or a colleague, but that is not the same as distraction.  I fear we confuse the two.  A distraction is a temptation to not stay focused on what is important.  An interruption, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is providential and probably more about what God wants in our lives than what we have planned. 

So I pray for no distractions and hope to rise to the challenge of the interruptions. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Reflections for Lent and a spring day, April 2, 2014

This was the first morning that I felt spring was here.  I wore sandals and jeans to work (not lecturing; always dress up for lectures).  Green has finally appeared.  We cut the grass and did yard work last night--I have dug up (manually tilled) half of my 200 square foot garden plot, and feel only a little back pain. 

Along with the beautiful weather, I am thankful for Christian radio.  I turned on WMBW this morning and the first song was "God and God Alone" by Steve Green, one of those songs we just might sing in heaven.  Then a song by Paul Belosh, "Jesus, You are my reward.... to see your face on that day, is all I am living for."  Actually, even if that is not our attitude in life, that is what we will have when we slough off this mortal coil, to quote Hamlet.  We will see his face and put all these distractions in perspective, so we might as well do it now.

Then Michael Easley (I miss him!) was preaching on distractions!  A theme.  My life is one big distraction.  I need to get the revision of my second step in the dissertation done by Friday morning, along with the rest of life.  God, save us from distractions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reflections on Lent, April 1, 2014 (and April Fools)

So I long into Facebook for notifications and messages (not to look at posts, which are mostly reposted articles and pictures of babies and vacations) and see the joke for April Fool's--all about How I Met Your Mother, a show I have never understood.  Ha, ha, now get off my page.

Anyway, this morning I was thinking about John (reading I John) and Judas.  John mentions in his gospel that Judas was a liar and thief who was pilfering money from the disciples without their knowing it.  Judas may be someone to feel sorry for in the eyes of some, but I don't think that was the intention.  I doubt his fellow disciples felt much pity for him, although they probably forgave him at some level.  He betrayed them as much as Christ.

It speaks to accountability in a group.  I John 1:1-4:  I write this that your joy may be full.  We really saw a real, human, physical person who was also God, and we're here to tell you so that your (or our, depending on the ms) can be full.  Full of joy.  What a way to start April Fools'!

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...