Monthly Archives: February 2013

Retelling the story – the beginning

The Old Old StoryThe poem, The Old Old Story is on my mind as I think about faithfully explaining the essentials of the Christian story.  Even my choice of “Christian story” instead of gospel, biblical faith, message of Jesus, or some other term reflects a specific decision.  “Story” invites listeners to reflect and enter without necessarily agreeing.  It can sidestep questions and objections in view of continuing with the whole narrative to reach the resolution.  Story is an accessible medium in our culture as movies, books, and television – all forms of story – consume so much of our attention.  And though “story” has its drawbacks it is one of the most accurate means of describing the essential teachings of the bible.  I have been thinking through how to succinctly and accurately tell the biblical story so that it will be understood by those with very little familiarity with the bible and its terms.  The area in which we serve is the least biblically literate in the country and so I need to do my homework.  Here is one of the initial pieces…
1.  A God who is personal (not merely a force) and outside of us (not merely a projection of the self or a specific culture).  These are essential beginning points because many will have a general view of God, thinking of him as some sort of force or rule but not as a person.  Without a personal God though, it is difficult to argue for the meaning of persons, ethics, and choice.  For example, if God is like the force, as in  Star Wars, the force seems indifferent as to whether it is used by Darth Vadar to strangle an impertinent commander or by Luke Skywalker to lift his x-wing from a swamp.  I also try to specify that God is outside of us because it is common to say, “Well, that is nice for you to believe Jarrett, but I like to think of God as…”  The assumption in this statement is that God is not concrete or specific but static to some degree.  If God is a person of some sort there are things that are true about him and things that are not.  Even the analogy of people feeling an elephant in the dark and variously describing the ears, trunk, or legs and disagreeing about the nature of the beast breaks down because there is ultimately an elephant, not a zebra or ocelot.  I know this if a fairly quick foray into the nature and being of God but I think this is a good place to begin a conversation.  We’ll see how it develops.

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this will make you feel better

to your health

to your health

The past few days have been a challenge as we’ve suffered through the after effects of some bad lasagna.  We think it was the sauce, which probably had been in the fridge too long.  Today is the second since Wednesday when no one has been sick.

The upside of food borne illness is that the path to recovery involves popsicles.  They are a great source of fluids, are easy to digest, and you can’t eat them to quick and overload a sensitive stomach.  It was much to Wesley’s delight that we encouraged him to eat popsicles.

Medicine is a strange thing in its potential to heal and harm us.  I’m thinking about Wesley extrapolating from this one experience and thinking popsicles are always good for you.  I’m thinking about morphine, which can free you from terrible pain and enslave you in addiction.  There is also the patient who adversely reacts to morphine and experiences greater pain through this “pain reliever.”  Here’s a quote from Gregory the Great, a patriarch of Rome from the 5th Century, talking about communication and giving the right “medicine”

…one and the same exhortation does not suit all, inasmuch as all are not bound together by similarity of character. For the things that profit some often hurt others; seeing that also, for the most part, herbs which nourish some animals are fatal to others; and the gentle hissing that quiets horses incites whelps; and the medicine which abates one disease aggravates another; and the food which invigorates the life of the strong kills little children. Therefore, according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers to be fashioned, so as to suit all and each for their several needs, and yet never deviate from the art of common edification. For what are the intent minds of hearers but, so to speak, a kind of harp, which the skillful player, in order to produce a tune possessing harmony, strikes in various ways? And for this reason the strings render back a melodious sound, because they are struck indeed with one quill, but not with one kind of stroke. Whence every teacher also, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation.                                                -from Pastoral Rule

As I’ve been thinking about communication and the varying needs of different people I see the difficulty of  caring for a wide range of individuals.  I want to grow in my ability to lovingly speak the truth to a variety of people.  How do I get there?  Here are some thoughts…
-diverse friendship: there is no substitute for listening and engaging face to face
-reading and listening widely: music, magazines, books
-thinking through delivery: it’s easy to spend too much time working on the content of what I’ll say without giving sufficient attention to the way I’ll say it and how that will help or hinder people
-movies: watching good movies helps me understand people better and with the incredible diversity that exists in music, watching a broad range of movies is easier to do than to listen to a broad range of music.
-prayer: asking God to help me see the world through the eyes of others and better serve them
-attention to the text: the bible has spoken to people from innumerable cultures and if I read in light of the above behaviors there is much I’ll be able to draw on.


“like forgiveness from the sky”

Briana in our snow fort

Our very recent experience with snowfall and lots of it.

Over the Rhine   “Snow falls like forgiveness from the sky…”

When the world goes white with falling and settling snow there is forgiveness for trash strewn streets, broken side walks, leafless trees, empty parking lots, brown muddy fields, abandoned cars, shabby buildings, and unattractive landscaping.  Their ugliness, faults, and emptiness are hidden, even transformed into something beautiful.  Busy streets are silent and the world seems to hibernate for a few hours as the flakes fall and accumulate.  Snowfall is forgiveness for strung out students needing sleep and one more day.  It can be forgiveness for families, scattered between competing activities and conflicting schedules.  There is nowhere to go.  There is the opportunity for rest, play, food, and shared labor as the snow must eventually be shoveled.

At a conference a few years ago one of the speakers remarked that good art is pregnant.  He went on to elaborate that art should contain seeds of creativity that can grow into further artistic output.  This is easier to explain through example than describe, so here are a few…

Satan’s Flight Through Chaos – for Paradise Lost

-Visual art from literature:  Think of how many paintings, drawings, and sculptures retell and illuminate the stories of our culture and heritage.  Two easy examples are  Greek Mythology  and the Biblical Narrative.

-Poetry:  The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeates is the basis for an Oratorio and song cycle and the last stanza is used to introduce the final episode of Fringe, a science fiction series on Fox.  Read the poem below.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


What we do to our bodies

For the past two months I’ve been reading and thinking about different figures from church history as I teach a class at Trinity.  Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Sienna are the two figures we’ll consider this coming Sunday and in my preparations I was struck by a common thread of self-destruction and remorse.  Both Bernard and Catherine in their zeal to embrace an ascetic life and have some measure of control over, or freedom from, their bodily existence treated their bodies harshly.  Both “fasted” to the point where their bodies were permanently weakened.  Bernard would stand for hours praying till his feet would swell and in his overly weakened state could barely remain upright.  Catherine wore a hair shirt under her clothing and would flagellate herself three times a day.  In retrospect, both Catherine and Bernard both looked back with some measure of regret for their more extreme ascetic practices.  It is easy to think such self destruction is a little nuts, but as I was reading and reflecting on their lives my throbbing head disagreed.
Another night with too little sleep and abstaining from my morning coffee, were taking their toll.  Bernard and Catherine aren’t that different from us, as we push ourselves towards some ridiculous ideal in which we need no sleep, no refreshment, only caffeine and the will to keep going.  This too can be a form of self-destruction.  I see powerful impulses leading us to destroy our bodies through our appetites, whether it is for work, or food, or pleasure, or appearance.  On the other hand, there is a competing impulse to make the body everything so that through nutrition, exercise, and countless efforts at beautification we somehow become whole.  In God’s story, our bodies are saved from the perils associated with both loving our bodies too much and too little.
As a Christian I don’t have to push my body to the limits because I know that Jesus is the one who will ultimately care for me.  Whether I work till I drop or get a reasonable amount of sleep the outcome rests in his hands.  As a Christian bodily pleasure can be enjoyed, but I know there is something better so I’m not compelled by my cravings.  As a Christian, I know God’s love rests on me despite my ugliness (sin) and therefore I don’t have to be beautiful or stunning to have worth.  As a Christian, I don’t have to make my body a temple through my efforts, because God has already made my body his temple by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This all makes sense on paper but it is hard to resist the impulses to destroy or exalt the body.


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