Friday, January 30, 2009

core convictions

I was recently asked what my core convictions are. This is what I wrote:

"We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." Douglas Adams

Truth is just as often found in comedy as in drama. Douglas Adams was a humor/science-fiction writer whose words were surprisingly perceptive. Doubt and uncertainty are theological experiences which the modern church and our American society do not value. Yet doubt is what pushes theologians to write, scientists to explore, artists to create. Doubt is a part of everything we do and are. Edward Norton's character Father Brian Finn in the movie Keeping the Faith is a Catholic priest who begins to doubt his call to celibacy. He talks with an older priest mentor Father Havel about his feeling that the call to priesthood should be clearer and more exciting. Father Havel tells Brian that the overblown language of call in seminary is there to help seminarians get through, but real call is about choosing to live a different kind of life each day. It's hard and it's every day.

Doubt and uncertainty are not the end of the story. We are a people of incarnation and resurrection. I once heard the following which strikes me as one of the messages Jesus was trying to get across to us: "everything will be okay in the end--if it's not okay, it's not the end."


Fab new site which works more like my brain normally functions. Check out my tumblr.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a poem

Litany by Billy Collins [from Nine Horses]

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass,
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's teacup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

da vinci vs. the dark knight

SPOILERS: If you haven't yet seen The Dark Knight, go watch it. I'll wait.

Have you ever participated in one of those theoretical Ethical Dilemmas like "Cruise Ship Explosion" or "Who Gets the Liver"? The ones where you're presented with an impossible decision--usually who lives and who dies and if you don't pick, everyone dies--and have to weigh all options in a matter of minutes and it all comes down to you? The new Batman movie The Dark Knight is, in many ways, one of those Ethical Dilemmas come to life. The Joker sets up ridiculously complex life-or-death situations for Batman, theoretically for him to solve but, realistically, to make him miserable. And it seems his entire reason for existence is to promote chaos and nihilism. He and the Batman are larger-than-life vessels for our daily struggles with good and evil; the Joker in his conviction must indeed hold our souls in his hands like a modern Satan. He single-handedly turns Gotham City upside-down and destroys what little good there is.

Or does he? Is it possible for one person to completely destroy the beliefs and emotions of a people? Is it possible for one event to undermine everything? To put it another way, will everyone really die if we don't choose someone to get the liver?

That is, of course, the premise of The Da Vinci Code. Before you stone me for bringing up a long beaten and dead horse, pause and reflect. The main thrust of The Da Vinci Code is that if certain secrets come to light--Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, etc.--the entire Church will fall apart. Its main characters must work out an Ethical Dilemma of their own--do they let the world know about the secrets they've discovered? Do they share their experience of a vindictive and violent secret Catholic body, the knowledge of which could shake the Church Universal to its very core? Apparently, Dan Brown and the writers of his major resource Holy Blood, Holy Grail think very little of Christians. As though our faith or an institution as old and, to put it bluntly, powerful as the Church would fold because of a single challenge. Can that one fact destroy the Church? Considering the idea of Jesus as a married man has been around since the beginning, as well as an even more difficult idea that he wasn't resurrected at all but robbed from his grave by his disciples, I don't think this even counts as a Huge Secret or even an Ethical Dilemma. The fallacy of this genre of supposition is not in the facts or the supposition itself but in the assumption that the people as a whole can be destroyed.

The Joker and the villains of The Da Vinci Code try hard to be the single Anti-Hero who will annihilate good and beauty and truth and justice for all eternity. But it won't work.

Recall the climactic scene from The Dark Knight. Recall that neither of the two barges carrying, respectively, the average folks and the hardened criminals solve their Ethical Dilemma by blowing up the other boat. The Joker insists that all is chaos and without meaning beyond the struggle, yet behind him the people prove otherwise. They are the grace in the midst of trouble, they are the heroes.

A single person cannot destroy the world, but a single person can change the world.

Friday, January 09, 2009

newsletter article

"Baby love, my baby love, I need you, ooh how I need you…"

I never knew I could love someone so much. Before I gave birth to Abigail, I thought, "Of course I'll love her. She's my daughter, my flesh and blood, and I will love her." It was a kind of theoretical love, one that made sense in my head and made me weep when I first felt her move. When she finally arrived, that theoretical love became real, and fiercer than fire. Abby is so beautiful—her tiny, perfect toes; the way she stares into my eyes without blinking; the way she arches her back when she yawns hugely—my heart swells just to think of it. All the potential in her is enthralling. She will be the only one in the world with her heart and mind and soul and she will love God and the world in an unique way. I can't wait to see who she'll become. And when I hold her close and feel her little furnace of a body, I am overwhelmed by sadness to think of all the babies in the world who are malnourished, neglected, or unloved. In the first couple of weeks, I cried every time I thought of it. How could a parent stand it? Abby is so vulnerable—she can't do anything for herself and relies completely on Leighton and me for everything. I could never betray her trust.

I never knew I could be tired like this. There's the lack of sleep, of course, and I don't think I'll ever look at 2am in the same way again, but more than that is the emotional tiredness. Loving someone this much exhausting. The energy I expend worrying about how much she's eating or excreting, whether that cry is one of pain or boredom, if I'm entertaining or educating her enough for this stage of development—that energy is joyful and almost unsustainable. It is love tinged with worry for all the things that might go wrong. I'm my father's daughter: we excel at finding something to worry about.

I never knew how loved I was. It struck me the other night that we talk about God as a parent—Father or Mother—and that image has never truly resonated with me. It isn't that I don't love my parents—they're two of the most amazing people I know—but that I never really understood the love they have for me. I took it for granted, perhaps; their care and worry was not as immediate as my own desires. Now, I get it. Now, I wonder if the church fathers and mothers over the centuries have talked about God as parent, not because of what it's like to be a child, but because of what it's like to be a parent. I suspect God looks at us with the same overwhelming love and exhaustion. God sees all that is precious in us, the children. God sees all that is in us, all the potential, all the mistakes and successes. God's heart swells to see our dear faces looking back. God is pleased by our attempts to make things—buildings, laws, art, systems, relationships, laundry—just as we are when our child first clings to our finger or brings her first macaroni painting. God's heart breaks to see any of us in pain.

Perhaps you've never thought of yourself in this light, as the infinitely beloved and vulnerable baby of God. Perhaps you've already thought of God this way and you're miles ahead of me. Either way, "Our Father…" has never meant so much.