16 February 2010

A Heat Exchange That Is Not Thermal

The instrument through which you see God is your whole self.
And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred—like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body.
He [Jesus] works on us in all sorts of ways: . . . through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian. . . . But above all, He works on us through each other.

Men are mirrors, or “carriers” of Christ to other men. Sometimes unconscious carriers.
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Love Bypasses Public Policy Once Again

Tolerance never comes to pass by will, mandate or legislation.

If, and only if, you are beloved can you love anyone.

And it is only through love can you be tolerant.


06 February 2010

Count Me But Dung (Philippians 3:8 and 9)

I came of age in the 1960’s-someone in that era introduced me to the magazine “Psychology Today.” I don’t know what it looks like in 2010, but my guess is that they could recycle the content of most of the editions I read back then today without much change. Though I had never taken a psychology course, it was an easy read. It was appealing, because it mirrored me-and as any young person-I enjoyed the view.
That was fine when I was young, the magazine was new to me, and I was not a Christian.
But I am grown now. I would like to believe that there should be a time when Christians put away the self-absorption that goes on in non-Christian circles.
But it is troubling to find out that this is often not the case. When I sit in a group of Christians, I find them addressing their problems, not with God, in prayer, or in confidence but with the fellow Christians: as if we were to have the magic pill to swallow so they would no longer have fear, anxiety or worry. Most often the answers they are seeking are not from God—but from within.
Worse than that, I find that narcissism has so taken root in our Christian communities that “sharing” is done as a venue for expressing our own “concerns.” God doesn’t seem to be sufficient (wow!) Jesus Christ becomes is a platform and a springboard to discussing me, not the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End. With apologies to the lyricist, the song "It's All About You, Jesus" comes to mind. Notice the wandering of the lyrics:
"It's all about You, Jesus
And all this is for You
For Your glory and your fame
It's not about me
As if You should do things my way
You alone are God
And I surrender to your ways
Jesus lover of my soul
All consuming fire is in Your gaze
Jesus, I want you to know
I will follow you all my days"
(Italics added)
The lyrics start off in the right direction, turn around to the first-person (me), then wander back to God, veering off again to speak of the "wants" of the first person. There is more to that song, but the content is clearly on the first person. Unfortunately, the lyrics to the song exemplify the thinking patterns of many Christians.  Why is it that we couch our self-obsession with spiritual language? Is it because we are so lonely or because we know we will have an audience that way-or is it both? Is it because we have not lost our first love—since our first love is ourself, we’ve never fully relinquished self-love, and so cannot dream of relinquishing navel-gazing?
Richard Lovelace writes: “Many Evangelicals today lose interest rapidly in preaching [if] … it fails to home in immediately on ‘spiritual’ issues in their lives. [Or]…are so tied up in programs of spiritual self-improvement that they have no time to care about anything but the throbbing self-concern at the center of their consciousness.” “[In contrast]…a[n] appropriation of primary elements of spiritual dynamics settles personal problems and sets the individual Christian free from self-concern to care for others and for society. It clears the way for the Holy Spirit to fill the horizon of consciousness with the love for God and mankind and causes self-concern to dwindle to a small, steady awareness of self-affirmation grounded on the love of God.” (“Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p 383)
Long ago I settled the fact that my feelings have little to do with my Christian growth. Feelings are an unwieldy by nature. Feelings are apt to be so palpable one hour, and the next to be seem so distant, if the memory of those feelings are still there, they are as a mist seen from a parallel universe. As a result, to use feelings as a gauge of my “spirituality” or “growth” is pretty well an empty well. To plum the depths of my spirituality by taking my emotional pulse is using a broken standard, much like using a thermometer that is inaccurate or a clock that is too fast or too slow.
However, to be fair, I will admit that there can be a great deal of religious activity can and is done without an informed mind, an enlightened conscience, and a loving heart. That does not mean that is good, either. Yet I still have hope that one can become a balanced (though not 100 percent of the time), Christian.
I have this hope when I look at people I know who (despite their flaws) are balanced. I also realize that there are many, many believers who preceded me who were the same. One example are John and Charles Wesley.  The Wesleys (were Anglican, so were orthodox) struck a strong chord with the truly Christian believers because they combined private practice, an informed Christianity and social action. Charles Wesley, who wrote so many hymns avoided making God into a psychological crutch because he had a solid biblical understanding of God. Wesley was able to put into lyrics the cry of human longings for the ineffable God. Here is one example:

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.
- By Charles Wesley

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. – Jesus Christ, John 10:10b

05 February 2010

Make Your Plans-I Hear A Rustle Outside!

"At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in." (CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)
Of what use are dreams? Some would say dreams inspire us, and some would say they bring us opportunities and adventures and such things. I think dreams so useful - they serve as touchstones for our better longings.  Just as in this temporal world we have dreams and as these dreams materialize, and the worthy hopes are completed, so it is with the expression of our spiritual longings. I think it's spiritually healthy to have dreams for what we wish life together with God will be for us. I am not talking about idle wishing, but a healthy mental activity which has us storing and making withdrawls on a storehouse of dreams. Doing so can only aid us as we live looking forward to the great Reunion Day.
When I was a bit younger I used to dream of the many things. I dreamt of the time when I would buy a new sofa, when we would get a new car, to see our first baby. I would dream of a full night of sleep, of no more baby food, and the end to diapers. I dreamt of beginnings: of his first words, his walk, of him playing outside with friends, and of him having a sibling. As they were fulfilled, I added more dreams: of the time my children would bathe themselves, play sports, finish homework, have friends to dinner, have dates, find their own dreams, their own lives and their own spouses.
What comprises my dreams of my spiritual future? Obviously, it has to be based in fact, first, but that is the genius of God's revelation. He's given us only a sketch of what is required: the rest we can fill in. 
What do I dream of--well, some of it is the removal of certain things such as the agonies of disappointments, of loneliness, hurts and tears, of pain, and of sicknesses and serious problems-and minor frustrations. But I have positive visions as well.
I dream of no longer being a child in understanding: no more glass, darkly; no more half-formed visions, no more fears, anxieties or cloudy pools. I dream of a time when I will be emotionally and spiritually whole: no more mixed motives, shadows in my heart, or impulses for wrongdoing.
I dream of playing in God’s Great House, I dream of sharing my meals with my brothers and sisters. I dream of great laughter and comfort. I also dream I have great skill. I dream that my inward vision is clear. I dream that senses that can be used (now half-formed) are alive in the eternal, fertile Spring of His life. I dream of speaking to Him the way I try to now. I dream of understanding Him. I dream and I hope for the day my heart will be entwined in His love. I dream of the day when His Living Temple is complete – and this little living stone (me) is lovingly restored to its perfectly formed place.

03 February 2010

Religious Hash?

This past Monday when I was at the grocery store the checkout clerk was talking about the bad behavior of a public figure. “Well, he’ll get his, you know,” she declared. Then added, “I believe in karma. You know. He’ll get his!”
What I think she meant was that she believes in some sort of cosmic retribution or payback. I didn’t ask her to explain the source of her belief system-mostly because I pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to, other than ‘gut instinct.’
It did get me thinking about the smorgasbord of beliefs people walk around with-mostly a mixture of pseudo-science, some religious faith, superstitions and a lot of hoping-for-the-best. Now and then I run into people who “have no faith but science” which really doesn’t explain much. Why? Even the best of the scientists admit that they have no ultimate, verifiable information on how we came to be and why we are here, not to mention the philosophical questions (morals, ethics, afterlife,etc.) that religious faiths do address. It's been said that it takes a leap of faith to think that science has the answer stored up inside it (-don't misunderstand, science has answers but not of this sort). Lewis speaks to this "faith" in this paragraph regarding the accidental production of our universe:
“If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s.
But if their thoughts-i.e. of materialism and astronomy-were merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?
I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents.
It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.”
  • C.S. Lewis, From “Answers to Questions on Christianity”

02 February 2010

Sincere and Simple

An Art of Poetry

To Vincent Buckley
Since all our keys are lost or broken,
Shall it be thought absurd
If for an art of words I turn
Discreetly to the Word?

Drawn inward by His love, we trace
Art to its secret springs:
What, are we masters in Israel
And do not know these things?

Lord Christ from out his treasury
Brings forth things new and old:
We have those treasures in earthen vessels,
In parables he told,

And in the single images
Of seed, and fish, and stone,
Or, shaped in deed and miracle,
To living poems grown.

Scorn then to darken and contract
The landscape of the heart
By individual, arbitrary
And self-expressive art.

Let your speech be ordered wholly
By an intellectual love;
Elucidate the carnal maze
With clear light from above.

Give every image space and air
To grow, or as a bird to fly;
So shall on grain of mustard-seed
Quite overspread the sky.

Let your literal figures shine
With pure transparency:
Not in opaque but limpid wells
Lie truth and mystery.

And universal meanings spring
From what the proud pass by:
Only the simplest forms can hold
A vast complexity.

We know, where Christ has set his hand
Only the real remains:
I am impatient for that loss
By which the spirit gains.

  • by James McAuley (1917-1976)