“Writing…an often painful task”

Michael Eric Dyson’s brilliance with many things glows in this and other paragraphs as he writes about the fractures in his relationship with Cornel West. In this quote, he’s talking writing. If you’re interested in what else he says, visit here. Among our other impressions of his overall critique, we should pray for the folks mentioned here. They are part of an intellectual community that shapes and influences the opinions of our best practitioners. My point is to underline what Dyson says of the work of writing.

The ecstasies of the spoken word, when scholarship is at stake, leave the deep reader and the long listener hungry for more. Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.

Jesus Went to Hell

This article refers to the early and often used Apostles Creed; it is so worth preaching:

…but before his resurrection, Jesus “descended to the dead.” The Athanasian Creed of at least a century later is more explicit, Christ “descended into hell.” Depending on context and translation Jesus either journeyed to Sheol, Hades, or Hell. But allowing for differences in language Christianity held—and technically still holds as a central tenet—the view that Jesus spent the gap between his death and resurrection “harrowing” Hell, that is journeying to the underworld to liberate the imprisoned souls of the Hebrew patriarchs who had been imprisoned there since their deaths.

Contemporary congregations will often translate “hell” into a more palatable “death” or “the grave.” There is something unseemly in the idea of Jesus among the murders, rapists, fornicators and heretics of Hell. And yet it was central to Christological accounts of salvation for two millennia that God Himself be present in the lowest rung of creation  to justify redemption for all mankind.

Holy Saturday was a day in which God was not in His heaven, but rather in his Hell.

From “Jesus Went to Hell” in the RD here.

“Valuable Spiritual Possessions”

Oddly enough the paradox is one of our most valuable spiritual possessions, while uniformity of meaning is a sign of weakness. Hence a religion becomes inwardly impoverished when it loses or waters down its paradoxes; but their multiplication enriches because only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life. Non-ambiguity and non-contradiction are one-sided and thus unsuited to express the incomprehensible.

Carl Jung (From Jung on Christianity, p. 192)

Books I’m Reading

More and more I’m claiming reading as a spiritual practice. I find myself reading in the Presence, listening to authors who interact with deep mysteries while I’m reading in the presence of Mystery. It’s a stretch for some people to accept the claim, but I may be doing my best praying while I’m holding some of these things. This is more a note to self of what I’m currently (and somewhat slowly) reading these days, in the order of when I started them.

I’m thumbing pages from these texts over the next month or so. Since a chunk of my pastoral work is enmeshed in these texts, I get to do some of this reading during the day, thank goodness!

  1. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing. I started this collection, edited by Kevin Young, when I began my CPE Residency last fall, and it’s a powerful poetic reminder of what I see in the hospital daily. It’s on my desk at the hospital and I’ll stretch out the collection the rest of the residency.
  2. Life Cycle Theory and Pastoral Care. I picked Donald Capps’ book off the shelf of Dr. Ramona Joseph both to prepare for a January presentation with my colleagues and as a refresher on Erik Erikson’s developmental theory. I did the presentation but have one more chapter til I finish this text.
  3. Reframing: A New Method in Pastoral Care. A bit dated for its subtitle, I’ve always appreciated reframing in my practice of ministry, and this reading is acquainting me with the biblical and theological underpinnings of the method and not only the cognitive-behavioral theory I learned about ten years ago.
  4. The Gospel in Black and White. I’m reading this with a pastoral intern who’s serving at New Community and paying particular focus on racial reconciliation. Since I’m willing to revisit the places I suggest my students journey, I’m engaging with this dated but important reminder to parts of the Christian family.
  5. From Every People and Nation. This is the second book I’ll read with our pastoral intern and hopefully we’ll be working together–with me giving him my best assistance–as he develops and enriches his theological framework for the ethical work of reconciliation and works at a curriculum of sorts to address the good news, biblical interpretation, church, and stuff about race.
  6. Twelve Tribes of Hattie. This is my first piece of fiction in forever, and I’m enjoying reentering that literary world with this great novel. I’ve had this book on my TBR list since 2013, I got it from the library, and by the time this post goes up, I’ll be finished with it!
  7. Jung on Christianity. I’m reading bits and pieces by and about Carl Jung for my next presentation since I’ve never read anything on Jungian theory. This is one of 2 or 3 that I’ll sit with as I prepare something for my peer group on Jung’s applications for spiritual care in the hospital. I’m pretty sure I’ll read Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and Man and His Symbols even if very slowly through the rest of the year.

If there are still readers out there of my cpe-residency-impacted-blog, tell me what you’re reading. I may add to my TBR pile.

Reading for Class

This is a part of my reading for tomorrow’s class. It’s after the author describes how the world adapted economic models post World War II so that everything that was done essentially contributed to a nation’s economic strength. Wealth was measured in terms of goods and services, but not quite immaterial things. Services like creating weapons or being a soldier or a law enforcement officer counted while cooking dinner for your kids or cleaning up after your kids or working in your garden didn’t.

In short, we have converted destruction into an economic good. But anything that grows without money changing hands–parents who care for their children, people who voluntarily care for the sick, the dying, or the homeless, people who pray or meditate or walk in the woods–these, at best, have no value. At worst, they take away precious time and energy that could be used to grow the G.D.P.

…During Sabbath we stop counting…During Sabbath, things that grow in time are honored at least as much as those things we would buy and sell. At rest, we can take deeper measure of our true wealth. If we do not rest, if we do not taste and eat and serve and teach and pray and give thanks and do all those things that grow only in time, we will become more impoverished than we will ever know.

From “Why Time Is Not Money” in Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest

Advent Post #17

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:46-56, NIV)

Advent Post #16

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:45)

It takes guts to believe in God. It takes more guts to believe that God, who exists, makes promises, and then, even more courage to believe that God makes promises to you.

After all that, to think that God would make and fulfill them! Eventually your beliefs are tested. Eventually what you’ve held close to your heart about God’s words and God’s ways are tested.

Sometimes when life tests our beliefs, those beliefs fall apart. They are too weak for real life. We find that they lack truth, that they cannot stand under the test of reality. We conclude, in a manner of speaking, that we were disillusioned to have believed what we did, that we were off, or that God, simply, was not trustworthy.

When we say that we were disillusioned to have believed, we check ourselves and attempt to modify our beliefs, try to speculate faithfully by studying in order to come up with something else.

If we say after that test that we were at fault, we try to change ourselves to fit what has to be the real God reality. I was wrong, not God, so in order to keep an intact faith, I change.

In the third option, where we conclude that God was untrustworthy, we decide and, sometimes painfully, to walk away from God. We tell ourselves and others that the God we thought was ‘in charge’ was a portion of our imaginations and that there really can’t be a God.

In all three instances, we relate to God because of some thing, some test, some examination of our deeply held beliefs. We aren’t always in touch with our beliefs. Usually we learn what we believe when those beliefs are challenged or up-heaved or undone.

Whatever category or line of thinking you may be in relation to God (and I don’t put you in these as much as I offer them as possible categories for this post), I wonder if you can consider that you are, right in that category, blessed. Whether you love or hate God. Whether you even believe in God. Whether you sympathize with people you see as religious because you pity us.

Can you stretch into the word blessed? Henry Nouwen talks about the meaning of “blessed” in his book Life of the Beloved, and he says that it’s essentially about good speech. To say that we are blessed is to say that somebody says good things about us. Can you hear that, that someone speaks well of you? I’d suggest that the person saying good things about you and me is God.

We are blessed and some of us because we believed. We did believe, even if we’ve diminished some of those beliefs. We did believe, even if we walked away. Indeed, one of the most remarkable claims about our blessedness is that we are blessed. Without regard for right beliefs and even right acts. Sure, this verse seems to run counter since Mary is heralded for believing in the promise. But the verse doesn’t spread across the entirety of her life.

It doesn’t spread into those nights of doubt when she thought Jesus was just an ordinary kid or those mornings when she was pissed because he said something about having a new mother and a new family, kicking her to the curb. This particular verse is about her pregnancy and her willingness to bear a son. The blessing, though, is a comment about what God always thought of her and what God would, in the future, think of her. Her and you. Her and me.