God’s Obituary Revisited

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

God did many wondrous and mysterious things

Blessing a people to bless others

Delivering them from slavery to a Promised Land.

Rescuing them from self-destruction

Showing them mercy from everlasting to everlasting.

 

Then, some time ago, God died.

It might have been by the pen of Frederich Nietzsche,

Or in the ovens of Aushwitz.

Or on the tongue of Dr. Matthews, in the Spring of 1983

Who taught me that theology was no longer the study of God,

But the exploration of what it means to be human.

 

When I was young, God was very much alive.

Spewing fire and brimstone from the pulpit

Of the First Mount Pleasant Baptist church.

Kneeling beside me when I asked Jesus to come into my heart.

Holding me tight on nights I would hear my parents screaming at each other,

Softly whispering to me – “I am with you always.”

 

When I read Elie Wiesel’s Night

The gallows scene where the young boy hangs there –

His tongue hanging out, swollen and bluish,

One man asks, “For God’s sake, where is God?”

Eliezar says to himself,

This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

 

I thought of Jesus hanging on the cross,

Instead of sympathy, he received scorn.

If you are the son of God, save yourself and us.”

Instead, Jesus looked up to heaven and said,

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

 

Then God died.

And though he came back to life three days later,

We  killed him again.  And again.  And again.

 

At the pen of pompous philosophers,

In the gas chambers, the killing fields, the executioner’s chair

On the tongues of tenured teachers.

 

But the voice of God keeps calling out to us

From beyond the pages of the obituaries

(in His best Mark Twain voice) –

“The news of my untimely departure,

Though much celebrated,

Has been grossly exaggerated.”

Elevator

“Elevator” from Constantine Gavrykov in Creative Mind

Nothing Better to Do (than write)

In God’s economy, the writers of the Bible did not have something better to do with their time and ability than to be artistic to the glory to God.   (Leland Ryken)

God created us to be creators.  While there are certainly words of warning in the Bible not to create something to take the place of God, the Bible itself gives us the best example of a work of art that points to the greatness of God.  The Bible is God’s story, compiled by God’s human agents, designed to inspire us to glorify God and enjoy God always.  In the Bible, the Word of God is expressed in words we may not fully grasp, but that nonetheless lead us forward in faith.

The book The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing contains reflections from Christian writers, artists, and thinkers on the role of creative work in expressing our faith.  Christians have, throughout history and into the present, had a very ambiguous relationship with all forms of writing outside of Scripture, but particularly fiction and fantasy.  Yet, some Christians (like C.S. Lewis) have produced marvelous fictional works as a way of expressing, not compromising their faith.

Theologian Abraham Kuyper provides a faithful basis for creative writing when he writes –

As image-bearer of God, man possesses the possibility both to create something beautiful, and to delight in it.

To be faithful as creative writers, we need to focus first on creating something beautiful, something delightful.  We are to first focus on writing a good story or a good poem and only then can we effectively convey a message through it.

A good story can draw us into a world where we can be re-shaped in the image of God.  C.S. Lewis writes –

C.S. Lewis

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality… In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.  Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

Losing ourselves in a good book, then, is not just literary escapism.  Or it doesn’t have to be.  We can get lost so that we can be found, in a better place.

(photo of C.S. Lewis  from Devin Gosberry in My dinner with Andre and/or people I would like to dine with.)

“Spring and Fall” (an excerpt from my upcoming story “Liberty”)

Chapel by Warren T

 

At 7:30 p.m., David made his way to the chapel.  He noticed Joy and Jonathon sitting outside with a white bearded man smoking a cigarette.

“Hey David, glad you made it,” said Joy.  “David, this is Dr. Cobb.  He’s the campus chaplain.”

Dr. Cobb extended his hand.  His eyes sparkled, “Please, David, call me Walt.”

“Am I early?” asked David.

“No,” said Joy, “it may just be us.  I tried to spread the word, but I’m not sure there is much interesting.”

“That’s okay,” said the chaplain, “we’ll have quality, not quantity.”

“Well, I don’t really have a plan.  I thought we would just meet for fellowship and support.  I did want to share this poem I found today when I was browsing at the library.  It’s by Gerard Manley Hopkins and it’s called, “Spring and Fall”.

To a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

“Wow!” said James, “that’s amazing.”

“Very nice,” said the chaplain.

“Yeah, I like it,” added David.

“It made me feel sad, in a way,” said Joy. “It made me wonder how it’s possible to enter the kingdom like a child (as Jesus said) in a world full of sorrow.”

David looked down.  The chaplain turned to him.

“What do you think, David?”

“Would you read those last two lines again?” asked David.

Joy found the place,

It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

“So is that like the Original Sin they tell us about in church?” asked David.

“It could be,” said the chaplain.  “Hopkins wrote in the late 19th century.  He was a Roman Catholic convert.  I don’t know his exact theology at the time he wrote this poem, but it is likely he shared the prevalent view of Original Sin.”

Jonathon turned to the chaplain, “What do you think?”

“I’d be more interested in hearing what you think.”

“Well, it hardly seems fair.  I mean, let’s say we take the Genesis story of Creation.  God made a man and a woman, put them in a garden to care for it – with just the warning to not eat fruit from one tree.  Knowing human nature, God knew what would happen next.  They go right for the forbidden fruit.  Then, as punishment, God not only exiles them from the garden, but punishes their descendants for generations to come with the condition of sin and the prospect of eternal damnation.  I mean, that sounds awfully harsh.  Does the punishment really fit the crime?”

Joy bowed her head.

“It doesn’t sound fair, does it?” said the chaplain, lighting another cigarette.

“Another thing I don’t understand,” added David, “is this whole divine election.  My father believes God chooses who gets saved and who doesn’t.  How could God send anyone to eternal damnation?”

“It seems barbaric to me,” said the chaplain.

“But aren’t you a Presbyterian minister?” asked Jonathon.

“It’s true, I was ordained in the Presbyterian church.”

“Don’t you have to support certain beliefs?”

“Not really.  There’s a phrase in our Book of Order (which is like a rule book) that says, ‘The Holy Spirit is Lord of the Conscience.”  He took a long drag on the cigarette.

The chaplain turned to Joy.  “Joy, you haven’t said much.”

“I was still thinking about the little girl in this poem.  I’m not much for theological discussions.”

 

(image “Chapel” from Warren T, some rights reserved)

Some Good Writing on Faith in WordPress

candle

I spent some time this evening exploring posts tagged “Faith” in WordPress. Before I share with you my findings, I should probably disclose some of my criteria for selecting “some good writing on faith.”  I’ll name three.

1)  Good writing on faith stays true to the (broad) parameters of the Biblical narrative.  I’m not looking to promote a particular theology here, but I do find truth best represented in God’s Word written (the Bible) and, most fully, made flesh (Jesus Christ).

2)  Good writing on faith conveys the Spirit of humility about what can be known, and a sense of awe about God’s wondrous creation.  The Bible says we are “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  Good stewards don’t explain away the mysteries, but learn to “contain the contradictions.”

3)  Good writing on faith reveals something extraordinary about the ordinary.

With these search tips in mind, I went on my quest and this is what I found….

The Parable of the Unscrupulous Judge” (21st Century Faith) examines a key ingredient of faith in the story Jesus told of a persistent woman.

Already/Not Yet.  Maybe.  We’ll see.” (Faith, Fertility, and the F Word) shares a brief cautious yet hopeful expectation of a pregnant father.

A Prayer for Guidance” (musings of a recent college graduate) uncovers an old prayer and lets it come to life in new ways.

“-pathy” (stay gold.) wonders about the uniqueness of feeling deeply the pain of others.

Glorious, Not Tidy” (It Goes Without Saying) describes a simple, yet profound revelation one busy mom receives in a conversation at church.

The Faith of God in Himself Now in Us” (Immortality Road) contends that the source and substance of the faith in us is God’s.

I Have In My Hands…” (Peaceful Partings) leaps from a quote by author Annie Dillard into the a well-worded reflection on good and worthy intentions for writing.

(image “Candle light” from Alesa Dam, some rights reserved)

Wendell Berry (and me) on Consumerism

wendell berry

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.  (from Farming, a handbook  by Wendell Berry)

Wednesday is Senior Day at the “Goodwill” – 20% off all purchases.  My mom goes every week.  She also goes the first Saturday of each month when everything is 50% off.  I went with her once and as I browsed through the book section, I saw a woman rifling through the paperbacks and pulling out articles of clothing.  I asked my step-father what she was doing.

      “Oh, people come in here during the week and hide things so they can get them for half price on Saturdays.”

       Perhaps some of you might find value in bargain shopping, buying used clothing and what not and I would generally agree with you.  It’s much better than buying retail.  But consider this…

        My step-father once cleaned out the bottom of my mother’s closet and found she owned 72 1/2 pairs of shoes.  Now, they were mostly Goodwill shoes so the total cost probably wouldn’t have amounted to even 1 pair of Guccis.   But my point is, how many shoes does one person need?

        And, given that I’m the child of a divorce and can’t pick on one parent without also picking on the other, let me mention one of my Dad’s quirks – collectibles. Namely, Nascar driver Tony Stewart’s memorabilia.  My step-mother keeps a precise inventory of how much they have invested in Tony Stewart products.   At the risk of raising their insurance rates I won’t even bother to estimate it.  I’ll just tell you they recently built a huge pole barn mainly to store their die-cast cars and other objects (okay, so their real vehicles can still fit in there – but it’s early yet).

Wendell Berry who is a farmer in Northeast Kentucky as well as a poet and essayist has written a great deal on how poorly we have done as stewards of creation.  In the disposable society we have created for ourselves, we have lost our attachment to the land, to our community, to our God.  In a desperate effort to fill our lives with products , we have sacrificed relationships.

I want to close with another Berry poem,  part of a “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” –

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

(image of Wendell Berry from wiselywoven, some rights reserved)