I used to

I used to know it all. Every question had a ready answer. Never mind that the answers to some questions contradicted the answers to others. They were God’s answers, or so we said, and thus any problem with the answers was ours. After all, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Even in seasons of waiting, I encouraged others who thought like I thought to use intention in order to abide for a time in anticipation. But, we remained convinced that we already knew the answers that would arrive at the end of the waiting.

Now, those answers have fled. I can still see them, hear them, read them. But, I can no longer live within them. Other truth has invaded my thinking. Other people have blessed my life and shared their own answers. Other questions have crowded onto my list without easy answers. And places of worship have invited me to find other places to be.

Reorientation? I will have to truly wait for that one this year.

I’m not even sure that I would call my current state disorientation. I’m not sure my orientation needs calibration or re-calibration. I have looked the universe, or rather that small part of it that I understand, squarely in the eye and found that my answers were noise.

This season of advent, surrounded by disturbing events in the realm of our species, I sit knowing that I do not know — or perhaps that I know too much. I know the universe is large enough, self-sustaining enough, and indifferent enough to continue on if we choose to cease to be. Our matter and energy would simply return to be part of the whole and small disturbance would occur beyond our own self-centered contemplations.

So, this advent I will truly sit in the dark, wait, and watch. This time I do not know what answers may come. This time I am comfortable if no angel choirs appear to declare, “Here is The Answer.” Here in the dark, I can enjoy the beauty of distant lights.



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In late November 1992 Queen Elizabeth gave a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Famously she described the year as her “annus horribilis,” a horrible year. Many are thinking something similar of 2016. Regardless of where you land on the politics of the year, on Brexit or the Presidential election, the tone of the debate and the atmosphere following both has often been toxic and has served to magnify differences. And what with the ongoing Syria crisis, Iraq, and on and on, it could be described as yet another horrible year.

The Advent season marks the beginning of the new church year. It is a time when we are encouraged to wait and to watch patiently. To pay attention to what new thing God may be doing in the world. But how to we do that with the shadow of the old still hanging around us?

This year’s TML will use the framework of Brueggemann’s organisation of the Psalter to provide a basic shape for our reflections. He arranges the Psalms on the pattern of orientation, disorientation, reorientation. Psalms of orientation reflect a settled order of life, when things make sense and hold together. Psalms of disorientation are prepared to face life as it really is, no sugar coating, airing grievances and complaints. And Psalms of reorientation are not a return to the old order but a transformation worked by God in the face of what has happened, and are often about personal or communal thanksgiving.

The model of orientation-disorientation-reorientation might enable us reflect at the end of 2016, and the beginning of the new year, to challenge the established consensus, voice the hard questions of faith, theology, society, politics and get a truer picture of who, and where, God might be in the world.

Brueggemann writes, “The Psalms are an assurance to us that when we pray and worship, we are not expected to censure or deny the deepness of our own human pilgrimage. Rather, we are expected to submit it openly and trustingly so that it can be brought to eloquent and passionate speech addressed to the Holy One” (Praying the Psalms, 14).

Welcome to TML 2016.





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St Augustine for Christmas Day

“My mouth will utter praise of the Lord, of the Lord through whom all things have been made and who has been made amidst all things; who is the Revealer of His Father, Creator of His Mother; who is the Son of God from His Father without a mother, the Son of Man through His mother without a father.

He is as great as the Day of Angels, and as small as a day in the life of men;

He is the Word of God before all ages, and the Word made flesh at the destined time.

Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun.

Disposing all the ages from the bosom of the Father, He consecrates this very day in the womb of His mother.

In His Father He abides; from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, under the heavens He was born upon earth.

Wise beyond all speech, as a speechless child, He is wise. Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger. Ruling the stars, He nurses at His mother’s breast. He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant, so much so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness concealed by His greatness.

For when He assumed a human body, He did not forsake divine works. He did not cease to be concerned mightily from one end of the universe to the other, and to order all things delightfully, when, having clothed Himself in the fragility of flesh, he was received into, not confined in, the Virgin’s womb. So that, while the food of wisdom was not taken away fromm the angels, we were to taste how sweet is the Lord.”

Wishing you all a happy and blessed Christmas.


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William Stringfellow writes that John the Baptist is the voice of Advent. The one crying out in the wilderness, one last shout before the morning

Stringfellow’s Imposters of God begins with this insight:


Nothing seems more bewildering to a person outside the Church about those inside the Church than the contrast between how Christians behave in society and what Christians do in the sanctuary. 

This contrast is not, I suspect, just taken for granted by outsiders as evidence of the hypocrisy of professed Christians. It is not simply that Christians do not practice what is preached and neglect to authenticate worship by witness. The non-churchmen is, I suggest, much more bewildered by the difficulty of discerning either connection or consistency between social action and liturgical event. The two apparently represent not only distinguishable but altogether separate realms: the former deals with ethics, the latter with aesthetics; the first is empirical, the second theatrical; the one is mundane, the other quaint. For the stranger to the Church, to whom the churchman appears to act in the marketplace much the same as everybody else, the straightforward and cogent explanation is that these peculiar sanctuary activities are sentimentally significant—as habit, tradition or superstition—but otherwise irrelevant, superfluous and ineffectual.

More or less secretly, or at least quietly, legions of church people suffer this same sort of bewilderment. If these people sense any relationship between practical life and sacramental experience, it is tenuous, illusive and visceral: a felt connection, a matter not readily elucidated, a spooky thing. On occasion, when a priest or preacher goes forth from the sanctuary to affirm in the world what is celebrated at the altar, he is usually ridiculed for meddling in affairs outside his vocation. Or when, in the midst of worship, a pastor ventures to be articulate about the relationship between ethics and sacraments, his effort is apt to be regarded as an intrusion defiling the congregation’s ears. (pp. xxi–xxii)

hope tomorrow has multiple intrusions

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Moment of incarnation

I collected this strange group of quotes related to my own search for light in darkness, belonging, hope, and humanity.

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.
— T.H. White

The first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, the prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, bears a striking resemblance to the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis and has some affinity to the Prologue of John’s Gospel. It’s a magnificent portrayal of creation, but the key instrument in fashioning the world is not the Word, as in John’s Prologue, rather music. God, Illuvitar in Tolkien’s telling, proposes a musical theme to the angels and invites them to weave harmonies of their own to embellish the original theme. Unbeknown to them, the harmonies they weave, or the disharmonies in the case of Melkor, the Satanic angel, turn out to be musical renderings of realities played out in the history of the material world: They are, in effect, blueprints and foreshadowings of creation’s future. The things that stand out in Tolkien’s creation myth are God’s absolute mastery over all the music, and, therefore, all creation, and His patience and generosity in permitting lesser beings than Himself to share in the work of creation.

Msgr. Charles Fink, Huntington, NY

But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.  Einstein

He rolled wheels of fire down the mountainsides at midnight on what we now call Christmas eve. This was to encourage the sun by example. He kept the yule log burning. containing the life of the sacred tree consumed in the sacred element, fire, from which the sun might be rekindled. He burnt his torches; precursors of our Christmas candles. These and a myriad other things, many of which, in a disguised and softened fashion, still survive as Christmas customs. But in all of them man flung his own desperate courage against the precariousness of his circumstances. Presently. out of the vindication of his faith came his joy, and upon it he built his winter festival. Rev. A. Powell Davies D.D.

Peter, Paul & Mary sing Old Coat
Chorus (after each verse):
Take off your old coat and roll up your sleeves,
Life is a hard road to travel, I believe.
I look to the east, I look to the west,
A youth asking fate to be rewardin’.
But fortune is a blind god, flying through the clouds,
And forgettin’ me on this side of Jordan.

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.
Publilius Syrus (~100 BC)

Frodo: [after destroying the Ring] I can see the Shire. The Brandywine River. Bag End. The Lights in the Party Tree.
Sam: Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I were to marry someone, it would have been her. It would have been her.
[sits down and begins to cry]
Frodo: [leans over and hugs him] I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.

All to say there are many places in experience, art, and literature to find expression of light, or the hope/memory of light when we allow the full human experience to come to bear and are not limited to nativity stories.  For me the greatest moment of incarnation in the Biblical narrative is not in the stories of the birth, but much later.  I have always objected to those who jump from manger to Calvary because of neglecting the importance of God among us.

Nevertheless, my own life experience takes me there.  My experience is very often to be in the dark; trusting that light is still real, waiting for it to break forth yet again like a match in a cave — but still in the dark.  So for me the greatest quote of advent seems like it will always be.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sbachthani!

God expressing full humanity which cannot be translated to meaningless cute baby sentimentality — God in the dark, alone — God totally one with us in our humanity.

I can sit in the dark without despair because I meet God and my fellow-man there and light is real even when it cannot be seen.


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Praying for the humanity of us all

How can any of us fully practice a vocation of being human in the face of continued dehumanization of any of us?


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I had to be and to remain whoever I had become as a person before coming there.  To be accepted by others, I must first of all know myself and accept myself wherever I happen to be.  In that way, others are free to be themselves. p. 38

When I first read this I earmarked it.  I liked the affirmation of authenticity, of not being more than one self according to situation.  One of my objections to much church practice is the way we become false selves in the company of other supposedly “triumphant saints.”  But, I have continued to contemplate it.  Stringfellow continued:

To come to Harlem involved, thus, no renunciation of my own past or any part of it.  There was no occasion in Harlem to repudiate anything in my own history and heritage as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nor to seek to identify with the people of Harlem, either by attempting to imitate any of them or by urging any of them to imitate me.  What was necessary was just to be myself.

I still appreciate that part of it which is contrary to the missionary urge to proclaim Jesus and one’s own cultural and interpretation of Jesus.  Much harm has been done by taking EuroAmerican-Jesus into other cultures as the one who will change and redeem their deep-rooted ways of life.  Many a Christian traveler has found themselves as well in the temptation to become something other than what they are, claiming Paul’s comments about becoming all things to all men.  I like the way it speaks back to those errors.

And, perhaps I need to read more.  Perhaps the idea is fleshed out more completely in the entirety of the work.  But this part, taken alone, also appears very limited to me by a static view of the self.

When I truly engage someone of another culture, I often find light shining into parts of me I have no wish to cling to; and on parts of them which offer me a different path or paradigm which is attractive.  When I encounter other cultures, I am confronted by the degree to which my culture rests upon the backs of others, that the land I occupy was stolen through bloodshed and deception, and that aspects of divine revelation celebrated in their culture have survived strong efforts at reform or elimination.  I see places in myself where growth is desirable.  I see things in them which need to be celebrated and allowed to shine a bright light deep inside me.

As I write this I recognize a tendency a friend recently warned about to make everything about ourselves.  At the same time, I am the only part of the universe I recognize an ability to control.  My actions have effects on the world.  The acts of others effect me.  And I deal with it all out of the perspective of my personhood.  After nearly a half century of living, that personhood is far more secure than when I moved into Benton Harbor as a fresh college grad.  But, it is still not static, nor do I wish it to be.  Perhaps for Stringfellow, that kind of open personality was natural and within his meaning of staying who he was.  I don’t know.

I will refrain from more for now and read and contemplate more.  But, there is something that both resonates and irritates about the idea of walking into another’s life sphere and leaving us both unchanged.  I celebrate the changes the interaction brings in me, and am honored when others tell me our relationship has been healing or transforming for them as well.  Perhaps the difference is in whether we become more like each other, or more like the selves we are intended to be.

I await the light, (often revealed in other people, places, and cultures), that reveals new possibilities.  peace


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