Sunday, May 31, 2009

Notice: Summer Hiatus

Well, people, I've finally cracked. With my transfer from Me University to Luther Seminary well underway, I'm hiatusing this blog to spend the summer focusing on my two friggin' novels and that television script you've never heard about, as well as a probable class on Atonement Theory at the church.

Oh yes, dear readers, I have other interests! I may or may not take the opportunity to share serialized versions of one of those mentioned novels here, as they are in fact religiously-themed works. I'll have to think about how proprietary I actually feel.

Meantime, I wholeheartedly apologize to the spring semester. I did the readings, but never had time to jot down my notes. Perhaps, when I'm taking notes and writing papers for official credit, the posting will come easier.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From the Lectionary: The Readings for Sunday, May 17

Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Psalm 98:1-9

1O sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

His right hand and his holy arm

have gotten him victory.

2The Lord has made known his victory;

he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness

to the house of Israel.

All the ends of the earth have seen

the victory of our God.

4Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

5Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,

with the lyre and the sound of melody.

6With trumpets and the sound of the horn

make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

the world and those who live in it.

8Let the floods clap their hands;

let the hills sing together for joy

9at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming

to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,

and the peoples with equity.
1 John 5:1-6

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crisis: An Aging Population

Crisis: In 2001 the average age of retirement hit a minimum of 63, and the bottom of a fifty year decline. Since Reagan's social security forms have taken effect, it has risen and is scheduled to continue to rise. Within the next fifty years, experts predict that a significant number of people will never retire, but will remain productive and active workers until their deaths. The number of elderly in the developed world will continue to increase both absolutely and proportionately for the foreseeable future. Despite these trends, and despite their considerable political power, elderly people remain on the fringes of mainstream society.

This is going to change. Not only is the average human life span continuing to increase, medical advances can and will allow elderly people to remain active and successful far longer than at any time in history. The current generation will live 5-10 percent longer than their parents. Even if 120 years represent a firm ceiling to human lifespan, and even if no medical breakthroughs contain or eliminate serious diseases, these trends will occur simply as existing sanitation, nutrition, and health education and genetic knowledge spread around the world. The generation of baby-boomers will be the most active and youthful-appearing elders the human race has ever seen.

Their retirement and that of following generations will take place later in life, with less of a break in relationship to ordinary work, and with the assumption that people will continue work in some form. Retirement will put few people out to pasture, but will be a time for people to use their experience, intelligence, and success to create new lives for themselves. (Thirty years of doing the crossword is going to seem a bit much for anyone.)

This cannot happen without broader effects on society. People who expect to live longer have babies later. The birthrate will hold, but the next population explosion will be of old people. Organizations, the competitive ones, at least, will embrace the wealth of experience, adaptability, and world-wisdom that only older people can accumulate. (22 percent of job growth since 1995 has been people over 55, already). Older workers who aren't about to retire represent less of a risk (and, statistically, less of an average health-care cost than young families) in any marketplace, and they will integrate into the mainstream - just as information economies start requiring less physical stamina anyway.

Knowledge workers today will be hired for up to six different careers throughout their lives, and two or more of them will come after age 55. (The fastest growing population of Internet users? the over 50 crowd). Social security will not be a pension, but a stipend. This will of course loom large in a world of increasing health-care costs and mounting differences between rich and poor. Yet, everyone's health will be better, because health technologies decline in price the same way technologies do - think of laser eye surgery. It's not that poor people's medical care will get worse, it's that expensive medical care will get so much better so quickly.

*bonus crisis: 6.5 million American people, mostly older black men, are about to be released from long-term prison sentences begun in the mid-1980's, having been arrested almost entirely for drug activity. They are poorly educated, tied to impoverished communities if any, have poor work histories, will be too old to return to crime, are for the most part ineligible for social security, and are unprepared and untrained for life outside of prison. Their releases will start in a wave in 2010. Some American cities are about to be inundated by aging former felons. They will have few if any prospects. What on Earth are these people going to do?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From the Lectionary: The Readings for Sunday, May 10

Acts 8:26-40

8:26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) 8:27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 8:28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

8:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." 8:30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 8:31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

8:32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 8:33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." 8:34 The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 8:35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

8:36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" 8:38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 8:40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

[Return to top]
Psalm 22:25-31

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

[Return to top]
1 John 4:7-21

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 4:9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 4:11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 4:15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 4:16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 4:19 We love because he first loved us.4:20 Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

4:21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

[Return to top]
John 15:1-8

15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 15:2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 15:4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Editorial: Accept Me, Dangit!

Since I didn't write anything else this weekend, I present my 'autobiographical essay' for admission to Luther Seminary. Bonus: When I became a Christian, I was the same age as that girl in the quote I open with. Extra Bonus: That was Peter Powers who said I had an increasingly sophisticated mind!

I appreciate any remarks you might have.

“The child is not dead, but sleeping.” - Mark 5:39

I sleep well; I’m a good sleeper. I pass my dormant hours without much interruption. I’ve slept through thunderstorms, fire trucks, and ambulances. I sleep like the young. I sleep like the dead. But the world, of course, has never paused with me. So I’ve also slept through more than 6 million murders, 2.3 million rapes in America alone, and the deaths of 56 million children to starvation. All these things occurred while I was not watching, throughout the unconscious nights of my existence, only one third of my time upon this earth.

And while I cannot argue with Salman Rushdie when he says that “nobody can face the world with his eyes open all the time,” Christ points me precisely in that direction. The crux of faith is neither belief nor works, but consciousness: increasing mindfulness of Christ. The onus of Christianity is not on words or deeds but orientation. Disciples want to be like Christ. I want to step behind Christ’s eyes. And the vision of Christ beckons me into empathetic wakefulness, into awareness of sorrow and consciousness of joy. The light of my faith shines on and through and from a cosmos of mounting complexity and thrilling tension. I hum with paradox. A broken, healing world hums with me.

When I was twelve, I wanted to kill myself. Afflicted with what I would later recognize as a depressive disorder, I contemplated suicide. I did not because of a unique and reassuring vision: alone in the bathroom one morning, I imagined myself swimming along the surface of a lake. The water, I knew, was the undying love of God. Utterly transported, I would not and could not sink. Though to this day I have not learned to swim, the vision implies more than simple grace.

My Christian mother was asking me to make a decision about the church. I was fast approaching the age of Methodist confession and confirmation even as I fell further into inarticulate grief and unaccountable isolation. Connecting to God was difficult. Everything was, save this: fishing with my un-churched father at a nearby lake. This recognizably supplied the waters of my vision. God was doing through me what I am always doing myself: reconciling opposites, joining pious mother to unbelieving father, getting faith and doubt to talk.

I said yes to Jesus at the same time I said yes to church and my mother and yes, above all else, to the waters of the love of God. I also said yes to joy and yes to a self not bound by the sorrow I had so inchoately felt. The sprinkling of my baptism shone golden in a springtime light. I felt months of simple elation. This too, it seemed, was mine. I did not understand. Terrified and astonished, I wanted to hide the joy that threatened to burst right out of me.

Television, of all things, provided clarity. After Sunday service, I would hurry to watch a series of debates between a conservative and a liberal theologian. At the end of a particularly heated topic, they talked about being friends despite their disagreements. “What I respect about you,” one said to the other, “is that even when you err, you err on the side of love.” And I knew: I wanted to err on the side of love, forever. Intellectual argument, at a slant, had given me direction and a way to articulate a dazzling transformation.

So when I had the choice between state schools and a small, private Christian college, I chose the latter. My secret motive was to hear intelligent people talk about God, to continue the conversation. I never tired of it. That the debates got harder and the questions more complicated only intensified my interest. For my first two years I read theodicy, all the explanation and justification, it seemed, that anyone had ever given for suffering. And I found no answer, no sufficient grounds for a good God to allow even my adolescent depressions, let alone permit humanity’s broader ills and deeper cruelties.

At the bottom I found Dostoevsky’s “sticky little leaves” opening in spring. I sat on the campus lawn beneath a budding oak tree, at the nadir of despair. I watched the patterns of shadow and sunlight on the grass as clouds swept overhead, and remembered chasing them as a child. Again, it seemed I did, and the field was not made of grass, but the love of life in God. What else encompasses both darkness and light? What else endures through joy and sorrow, pain and bliss, but the God who is love, and who authors life? And what can one do but live and love in kind? When a philosophy professor remarked that Christianity, in sum, is a simple celebration of creation, my head pointed toward my heart. One feasts on life by the gut, the stomach, when understanding ends.

And my comprehension would end, again, of course. Fueled by an anomalous acedia, my postgraduate non-theism ended in Minneapolis, when I got off the light-rail after visiting a friend. Twenty people, seeing the Bible I was reading, had spent most of an hour quizzing me about God. I departed the train in a daze. I got lost somewhere in the four blocks home. It took me three hours to find my way in a city I had inhabited for more than a year. It had never occurred to me before that God might be authoring my confusion, might be casting me into urban wilderness because I had a different path ahead.

That my third vision subsequently depicted God as a sandstorm of ancient and incomprehensible force only deepened my commitment to the spiritual discernment I had begun. Through conversations with the vicar of the Episcopal church that I had begun to attend, I heard a call. Just as the answer to my fledgling despair and rapture of God was conversation, just as the answer to evil was my embodied response of love, so the answer to adult ambiguity and an unfathomable God was clear proclamation and one decision at a time.

So, I loved the stranger and shouted about the silence. Taking an opportunity, I taught a series of classes at my church on the kinesthetics of God working in the world – yes, but how does it happen? – and the nature of truth – yes, but what does it actually do? These classes led to sermons, and my lay speaking in the church. I delight in seeing another person understand, in passing the fires in my mind. I volunteered to blog as the church’s amateur theologian so that I could continue at all hours.

Thus I’ve stayed awake. I cannot sleep for any of these things; I sit up each night before I speak. Why shouldn’t I? Grief need not be the only thief of peace. Just listening to a lecture wakes me up, let alone speaking out. And I’m the only person I know who found undergraduate study easier the harder the classes got. I did not understand when a professor remarked that I had an increasingly sophisticated mind. But I should hope that wisdom would increase. I would strive for deeper knowledge, and welcome more adept intelligence. So much religious language about awakening must mean something.

I think so that others can think. Always coming out of caves, I waken so that I can awaken others. The years I spent at a Christian college were joyous not so that I could possess them, but so I could find a way to transmit to others that illumination of thought and delight in words about God. My first favorite writer, after all, was Martin Luther. As we confess, so we believe. As we believe, so we live our lives, so we give embody our mission and our purpose. A school tied to confessional tradition should not be remiss in education, in waking people to awakening.

I want to teach. More specifically, I want to teach theology to students not very different from the person I was the day I sat beneath an oak and realized that love is the field upon which all being plays. Christian faith is helped tremendously not by more thinking or less thinking, but by right thinking about God. Happily, this can be achieved by rigorous consideration and modest amounts of sanity and grace. Because theology is nothing if not embodied, good thinking toward God changes lives. We live out our ideas no matter what they are. How then can we not even determine what we believe?

Through my church, I started my project at, where any believer can contribute to a new creed, not so that anyone would jettison ancient beliefs, but so that everyone could deeply and collaboratively confront their meaning. I believe the current church is in disarray about not only what is true, but about what truth does. Nonetheless, church is the chief place where meaning about God can happen, the reception hall of heaven’s wedding to the world. I must attend. On our pilgrimage to Christ, we are left to walk only with other pilgrims.

I believe this must be enough, though I believe we need to go together, to be all of one body even when we are not all of one mind. While I affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds each Sunday, I am glad I do not agree with each policy, decision or theology of the Episcopal Church. And I am grateful that my current church welcomes me to walk alongside them regardless. It beckons me, in fact, to constantly edge closer, to bump hips and hands with the rest of the bride of Christ.

Sleep is relentlessly individualistic. But my awakening has been into the simple awareness that I am not alone. Individual moments punctuate greater themes. The lake of God’s love meant a mentor who saw me through confirmation, introduced me to formal theology, and began the conversations about belief that limn my life with meaning. The field of God’s love meant two years of intimate debates with a friend about the paradoxes of free will and God’s sovereignty, and the intuition that response is a kind of answer to deep riddles. And yes, the storm of God’s love meant discernment, re-involvement with a Christian congregation and the end of an estrangement from our Trinitarian God.

Such developments should not surprise anyone. The universe is proving intricately relational, and love is demonstrably the best kind of human relationship. And I must say that the best type of love is Jesus Christ. I believe that the purpose of human life is to plunge whole-heartedly into the paradoxes of love, into all its immanent secrets and transcendent disclosures. I believe that truth takes the shape of relationship: self and other, similarity and alterity, answer and question, known and unknown. I believe that truth is thus fractal, not fractious. I believe that Catholicism gave us Martin Luther as surely as Newton gave us Einstein and my initial love of argument implied that I would one day write, speak and teach about God. All answers contain the next questions, and all questions lead to some new assurance.

This progression is not triumphant linearity but the turns and terms of a conversation we have with God about the nature of ultimate reality. Truth is not relative, but simply larger than we are. Truth bursts our understanding as though we ourselves were wineskins. Like Saul on the road to Damascus we are blinded not by darkness, but by light. In a world overwhelmed by meaning, we grope our way forward with words about God. I would hope that my time at Luther Seminary would prepare me to extend a hand to other pilgrims, and thus transmit a fire very much brighter and fiercer than myself.