both and … (again)

December 30, 2007

godinthedock.jpgNow as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth.  The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myth. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.

–CS Lewis, God in the Dock




John Keats.  Ode on a Grecian Urn.

The procession of a new year — when time can feel to me like it’s standing still for a moment or two — inevitably makes me love the poem all over again.

… Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song; nor ever can those trees be bare
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade; though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair …

Who would’ve thought a simple gesture (taxi-ing my “Nanie” from Des Moines to Wichita) would’ve turned out so wonderfully entertaining & educational. It’s amazing to me that an 83 year old woman — virtually alone, physically failing, and worlds away from culture’s cutting edge — can still be so enjoyable and relevant. (I pray I will be half the woman.)

What started out as my attempt to bless & care for my dear grandmother has, in a matter of two days, so flip-flopped … I’m now simply marveling at a debt I will never repay. (And frankly, a little concerned that the legacy being forged these days is pressing the bar a little higher than I’m comfortable with!)

She’s got it all: wit, humor, goodwill, a pure heart and a faith in Jesus that just might rival lard-perfume wasters.

Not to mention a host of surprises still waiting to be uncovered by snoopy grandchildren who ought to know better. (This week, I learned of Nanie’s conversion in a town revival-tent, her two “lost-brothers” [Vincent & Jo-Jo] she last saw on her 4th birthday [the same day she buried her mother] … AND why she’s not sure conventional democracy is an answer for the Middle East.)

And we thought Nanie was simply a sacrificial saint. Turns out, there’s a whole lot more to that picture than I had allowed. (Why do I always turn old people into stock characters? I think that’s mostly a statement about me.) Turns out, there’s also a lot more involved in the making of a saint.

(I guess we’ve had our hunches all along.) But it’s hard to get saints to talk about themselves. (Especially when there’s so much of me to talk about.)

Thankfully the momentum of age (both hers and mine) and hours in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do … brought us to a different and deeper exchange.

Here’s hoping I will make (more quickly) more room for these kinds of discoveries. May it be, dear Nanie. May it be.

luther on christmas

December 25, 2007


How could God have shown his goodness in a more sublime manner than by humbling himself to partake of flesh and blood, that he did not even disdain the natural privacy but honors nature most highly in that part where in Adam and Eve it was most miserably brought to shame? so that henceforth even that can be regarded godly, honest and pure, which in all men is the most ungodly, shameful and impure. These are real miracles of God, for in no way could he have given us stronger, more forcible and purer pictures of chastity than in this birth. When we look at this birth, and reflect upon how the sublime Majesty moves with great earnestness and inexpressible love and goodness upon the flesh and blood of this virgin, we see how here all evil lust and every evil thought is banished …But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in heaven can not restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing and pour out their joy without measure.? Were not all joy and honor realized at Bethlehem, yes, all joy and honor experienced by all the kings and nobles on earth, to be regarded as only dross and abomination, of which no one likes to think, when compared with the joy and glory here displayed?

–Martin Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day (Luke 2:1-14)

evening scripture

December 24, 2007

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
       all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
       and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins
       and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
       and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
       so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

–David, Psalm 103

does this make me a hippie?

December 23, 2007

<alt title: talk about an upper range>

both and …

December 22, 2007

incarnation.jpgTheology both helps faith and hinders faith, in about equal measures.  At its best, as Karl Barth once famously pointed out, it opens up new vistas of faith, allowing us to see the vast landscape of the Christian faith with the clarity of a Tuscan landscape on a sunlit day.  It brings a new intellectual depth to our faith, and helps us forge connections with other areas of life and thought.  At its worst, however, it conveys the deeply misleading idea that Christianity is simply about ideas, and that spiritual growth is measured in the accumulation of those ideas.

This misunderstanding is challenged to its very roots by one aspect of the Gospel narratives — the encounters of Jesus with individuals.  All four Gospels tell us of the encounters of Jesus, and the dramatic transformation this brought to the lives of tired, confused, rejected and wounded people.  Those who were rejected found acceptance; those who were wounded, healing; those who were broken were restored to wholeness …

Such doctrines [as ‘justification by faith’ and ‘salvation by grace’] risk becoming abstract ideas; in the ministry of Christ, however, they are living realities, which lead to changed lives.  Indeed, we might say that, where there is no transformation of life, Christ has not really been encountered at all.  He has only been seen from a distance.

Alister McGrath, Incarnation