Orientation. Disorientation. Re-orientation.

I know Advent is long gone, but I am in class this week and we have spent time thinking about lament. Our teacher brought this piece to class as an illustration of orientation, disorientation, and re-orientation. Based on the theme we had during the journey of Advent I just wanted to share it with you all…

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Confession

Christmas day has come and gone and I do not feel much reorientation.

The baby Jesus in the hundreds of nativity scenes decorating my home still carries for me the promise of hope. But, the religion which dares to claim his name has a history as violent as any other religion. Even now, I hear those who claim to represent him attack those who do not see everything exactly as they choose to interpret it. The evangelical church where I raised my daughters is continuing the all too familiar pattern of devouring their own. I cannot turn back that direction with any conviction or hope.

My country is headed in directions I find dangerous not just for ourselves but for others around the globe. Our election process is handing power to a man who promises to reject the refugee, to bomb those he deems unworthy, and who has shown a constant trait of attacking anyone who displeases him at home. With the legislative branch controlled by the same party that brought him to power, much that I believe in may quickly be changed or abandoned. I cannot wave a flag and feel that all is well. I prepare instead for opposition and standing with those in need of allies. I wonder in how many ways I am on the list of those who will face harm.

I turn instead to the wonder of being alive in a universe beyond my mind’s capacities. I turn to positive relationships with my neighbors. I turn to focus on how I treat each person in my daily encounters — students, clerks, other drivers whether courteous or irritating, family members, people who disagree with me…

Perhaps that is all the reorientation I have left; gratitude for my own life and a dedication to be a positive part of other lives.

Maybe it is enough.

peace

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Thank you, CSLewis

““It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice, Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in even more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak”

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merry christmas

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“Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of “the way things are” whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as “the way things ought to be” and whose greatest virtue is in being “realistic.” Thinking through what we mean by “realistic” is where apocalyptic begins.” – David Dark Everyday Apocalypse

I hope today and everyday for the next year, we remain present to the possibility of the in-breaking of God, through the noise, pushing beyond our tiny faiths – declaring freedom for captives, care for the orphan and widow, setting a table for the hungry, stitching clothing for the naked.

The Holy will break in despite our attempts at domestication, through and against our rituals, outside the possibility of our believing. A child was born, a moment in which God’s radical love shook empire – stay awake, remain open – we who are giving and receiving gifts at the center of empire may miss the possibilities arising should the Word become flesh and dwell among us.

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Broken Things

Orientation
I was given a mug with elephants on for my 22nd birthday. Nothing special to look at really. Just a mug with elephants on. But special to me because of the friends who gifted it – the girls who had become just like my sisters. Later that year I moved down to London and I brought my elephant mug with me. It seemed like a grown up thing to do – part o2016-12-21-22-44-55f the transition from student life to adulthood – a proper job, a proper desk with its own computer, and my own proper mug to drink tea from. And amidst the strangeness of a new city, a new office, a new way of life, the elephant mug was a point of orientation – a reminder of the friends who had bought it for me, who knew me and who would be there no matter what big city life threw my way.

Disorientation
A careless tea-making moment caused calamity – the elephant mug smashed to pieces. I knelt on the kitchen floor to gather the fragments but I didn’t throw them away. I made a throwaway comment to a colleague about my “loss” before heading out into the cold evening.

Reorientation
Arriving at work the next morning I noticed the elephant mug sitting on my desk – seemingly intact. On closer inspection I saw that the colleague to whom I made my throwaway remark (a man w2016-12-21-22-45-06ho has known war and famine and other horrors which I cannot contemplate) had painstakingly pieced the mug together with masking tape. As one not known for public displays of emotion it causes me no shame to admit that this brought a tear to my eye – that although insignificant in the grand scheme of life, someone had acknowledged something that was important to me, and tried to make amends. No longer fit for its original purpose I used it as a penholder for the remainder of my time there.

And I still have it 15 years later – this broken & repaired mug. I keep it as a reminder that sometimes life gets broken – the person once ever present but who is no longer there; the situation that seemingly never resolves; a dream never realised; the mistakes I walk into, eyes wide open.  I keep it as a reminder that despite my best attempts to find a solution all by myself, it is often only with help that I can begin to contemplate putting the pieces back together. And that although things might never be the same again there can be a new plan, a fresh purpose and renewed hope.

In the midst of disorientation the Psalmist reminds us “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” (Psalm 38: 18-19 MSG)

 

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Solstice

The solstice has arrived where I live.

Since I no longer believe that either Santa or Baby Jesus magically brings light and wholeness to the world without real work by us, I now contemplate what I will do this year to bring back the light.

Which organizations will I join and support?

What conversations will I participate in and which will I decline to engage?

How will I respond to human actions that increase the darkness, especially those that are local and immediately accessible to me? But also the big picture issues — what choices can I find that actually bring light to darkness?

How will I center myself so that my own internal struggles do not darken the world of others? How will I instead share insights that may help other seekers on similar paths?

This year, in this place, in these times, how will I live love in ways that lighten the world for others?

The dark is a good place to contemplate these things. I do not have easy answers and I need the dark season’s lack of distraction to spend extended time deciding my role in the coming year.

peace

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Darkness Grows

Today the darkness grows again.

Grow, night, give us rest and hide us from those who seek to harm us.

Grow, darkness, until even the light of a single match shines like a beacon.

Then, give us the strength and courage to strike.

Peace

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A different view of the “dark” sky

The solstice is almost here. Nature only causes our part of the planet to grow darker for a season. Then, the light returns. In that spirit a more positive take on my previous essay.

“Gentle rain falls on me.

All life folds back into the sea.

We contemplate eternity

Beneath the vast indifference of heaven.”

Warren Zevon

However, Warren Zevon’s beautiful lyrics do not start with indifference and we are not required to begin or end there either. In fact, all four of these poetic lines come from the end of the refrain. So much depends upon where we choose to begin. Here, we begin with the life-giving gift of gentle rain and the cycle which returns that life to the sea. As I see the world, it changes everything.

When we look to the skies and desire to see a magic and all-powerful version of ourselves, we are disappointed. We see vast expanses filled with wonders beyond our comprehension which leave us feeling insignificant. But, that is impression not fact. What we see out there is exactly what we are made of down here. Everything we are in substance and energy is provided from out there. Everything we see out there is made of the same packets of energy become matter that comprise our own physical reality. Each and every day the sun continues to shine new energy which is absorbed by the systems of our planet which warm, feed and sustain us. We can just as easily say that it requires hubris to label “indifferent” that which like a doting mother continues every day to pour out for us everything we need to grow and become who we are.

The sense of meaninglessness, our orphaned feelings of futile abandonment in the immensity of it all, come when we insist in finding out there a reflection of ourselves. If we allow the universe to be what we know it to be, it fulfills many of the characteristics we have called God from the time of the ancients. The universe provides the source of life, the sustaining power of life, and the potential to being the end of life. We come out of it, and in the end we return our energy and our substance to it. It is both the source and destination of all that we are and own. It inspires our contemplation of beauty and surprises us by being always more than what we have imagined. And all good gifts come from it to us. We experience life as good and discovery as exciting within the wonders it reveals.

What it refuses to do is be human. Good theology has always tried to proclaim that God is not the same as us, is spirit, is beyond our limits of body and mind. And yet, our religious efforts have always insisted on turning the ultimate into something cartoonists easily draw as one of us grown old and wise. The heavens provide no such image. They do give life, wonder, beauty, awe and everything that is. They are the source and ultimate destiny of everything we know.

Indifferent?

Only when we ignore the gentle rain, the welcoming sea, and the glorious light filling the vastness and demand to see ourselves.

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The Vast Indifference

“We contemplate eternity beneath the vast indifference of heaven.” Warren Zevon

Warren had a gift for capturing essential human feelings within a few lyrics. This seems to me to be one of the primary problems with starting a quest for meaning from the scientifically revealed universe. Current estimates say the universe contains at least two trillion galaxies, 2,000,000,000 galaxies each containing numbers of stars beyond our normal ability to comprehend. Our knowledge has grown to expression in numbers beyond our ability to fully comprehend. The central place of earth beneath a canopy of visible stars, which was already a number so large “as numerous as the stars” was used by the ancients to describe things which could not be counted. We learned long ago that the sun and heavenly bodies do not revolve around us. Now we know that they exist in such quantities and at such distances that it is hard to imagine our planet or anything on it is significant when measured against the whole. Unfortunately for us in our desire for meaning, that includes us.

Having become self-aware, we want to believe that our thoughts, beliefs, actions and lives matter. We would like to believe that they continue to exist past a number of decades we can usually count on our fingers. And then we look out at the vastness. With all of its grandeur and beauty, it still refuses to affirm that we matter on our little rock on the sidearm of a rather ordinary galaxy. Who are we in comparison to the size and complexity within our own galaxy, let alone two trillion or more? Looking up can lead to quiet despair at the same moment of appreciation of the beauty. We are really very small after all.

We adopt forms of government and declare them superior to all others. We inherit and pass along religions which allow us to claim to know the power behind it all and to know the one truth revealed for all mankind. We divide ourselves by race, location, nation and belief proclaiming various forms of superiority. We go to war over our lists and kill vast numbers of our own species. We take every resource of the planet and use it no matter how much damage we realize we are causing to the Earth, ourselves, and all the other life forms here. And we want to believe that all of our building, investigation, theorizing, sense making and violence in the name of truth are both justified and have ultimate meaning.

The heavens remain what they are and refuse to speak back the assurance we desire. Only the size and quantity answer and they say, “You are very small and we can continue without pause without you.”

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Advent Hope and Apocalyptic Denial

Last night I was reading 2 very different books. One a slim theological booklet and the other a truly trashy novel… actually novel grants it a dignity it doesn’t deserve.

But in one of those strange coincidences both referred to our tendency when faced with the unpalatable to engage in denial.

The first was referring to the church’s decline in the west in terms of numbers and social/political relevance; the second reflecting on the effect of human population on the planetary ecosystem.

But later I reflected on the difference between denial and hope.

With the former issue there are those who hope and pray for revival, or even, more radically, the second coming of Christ.

With the latter many simply assume that “science”, the deus ex-machina of the modern age will save the day (as opposed to simply being a cataloguer of, or even a contributor to the problem that it currently is).

But are these “hopes” not simply signs of denial?

Elizabeth Kubler Ross famously identified denial as one of the “stages” of grief in the face of loss, and more recently her thinking has been applied more widely to our attitude to change of any sort. And actually I believe that Christian hope, is not “cross my heart and hope not to die” but that “sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life” that we often speak of in the funeral service.

It holds within it a recognition of the reality of change, mortality and death… And it is into the recognition of that, rather than its denial, that hope springs, eternal.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,   and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,    for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

Psalm 130 (NIVUK)

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