what is low

We're busy getting ready for a retreat this weekend, with a intern group from Emmaus Ministries. One morning we sing Taize prayer, and I thought the usual reading we use from 1 Corinthians would be appropriate for this retreat as well. It fits with the thoughts from my last entry.

For consider your call, brothers and sisters;
not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,
not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth;

but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,
God chose what is low and despised in the world,
even things that are not,
to bring to nothing things that are,

so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.


giving little

We're giving a retreat this weekend for interns from a ministry that has brought many groups of guys for retreats with us in past years. I think we'll use the story of the widow's mite again. But discuss it from a different perspective. The interns probably come from a background closer to mine, and likely won't identify with the poor widow. But I do think all our contributions are, ultimately, as small as the widow's two cents. Some of us just don't realize how small our contributions really are.

I'm also thinking of using a familiar scene from church, of a parent giving a child some money to put in the offering plate. How our giving is really like that. God gives to us so we have something to give to others.

Many of us tend to see ourselves and our contributions quite differently. What we produce or give becomes a sign of our self worth, a source of pride. To be able to only give little or to have our gifts unappreciated strikes at our self esteem. That may also be much of what drives overwork and leads to burnout, especially among "ministy" types.

That's one thing I think the poor (like the poor widow) can show us. How to give little. Being able to admit how little we really have to give, accepting that in the humble realization that we're not the Giver that others really need.

And being able to give all, because we also trust in the Giver.


snow day


the womb

I'm thinking of reading this story for our worship group this weekend. I called it "The Womb." It fits with my train of thought recently, in more ways than one...

She sat down heavily on the bed, holding the plastic wand in front of her, staring at it. These things weren't always accurate, she reminded herself. But her body also was telling her that something new was happening, the beginning of something that was so small, barely noticeable now, but something that would soon be very big. Bigger than she could contain. Bigger than herself even, much bigger. She fell back and laid there feeling horribly small and weak.

It seemed like she laid that way for hours, not wanting to look at the clock and see how late it was and he still wasn't home. But she knew it was time to get up and take off her clothes and crawl into bed again. It was the second night in a row she would go to sleep without her husband beside her. But, in a way, she was relieved he wasn't there. She couldn't bear to tell him what the pregnancy test had told her.

Losing his job had been hard enough, and with the economy the way it was there was no telling when he'd find another one. The idleness was tormenting him. And if it wasn't for her working, they would be in serious financial trouble as well. But he hadn't stayed out late drinking until she'd told him what her boss had said.

Maybe she shouldn't have. But she'd needed to tell someone, and it certainly affected him as well and he had a right to know. She'd also hoped a male perspective might help her figure it out. It wasn't the stereotypical case of sexual harassment. She had worked for Carl for years; she thought of him as a friend―and even after what he said she didn't hate or fear him so much as despise his weakness. He loved her, that's what he said. He'd always loved her. But now Carl's wife had found out how he felt and was demanding that he "get rid of the temptation." What could he do, he'd begged. He didn't want to lose his wife, who was adamant that she be immediately transferred or let go, and there just wasn't anywhere to transfer her. He said it would be easier for her to get another job if she quit rather than being fired. But she knew it would also be easier for him that way. Apparently Carl hadn't considered quitting himself―but she really didn't want him to lose his job either, did she? He was so pitiful in his helplessness. But his helplessness was crushing her. Especially coming right now, when John was out of a job. John's first reaction was to say he'd crush Carl with his own hands, then he'd wanted to call a lawyer and see if there was a case against the company. It had taken hours of arguing before he'd agreed to let her handle it.

And she still thought this was important, though she wasn't sure yet what she would do, what she could do. She didn't feel right about litigation. Or going over Carl's head. She didn't like to treat people that way, especially friends―even former friends. But now, with a child coming... it was like circumstances were closing in on her. Leaving her no options. And with John acting angry and hurt and vengeful, she felt more alone than ever. She could imagine his feelings of impotence: His inability to provide, and now her rejection of his attempts to protect her. But this was her job, her relationships, her situation, pressing her for a response. And she was in the best position to see and understand all that was involved and what the implications might be. Unfortunately, this also meant she saw clearer than anyone else the impossibility of her situation. God, what had she done to deserve this? She crawled under the covers and pulled herself into a ball. John still wasn't home.

Then she felt a strange stirring in the darkness. Movement. Something was happening. She tried to turn and look but the warm dark was close around her, and now it seemed to be pressing. She tried to push back. But she couldn't even make room to move and then everything around her was up against her fragile body, crushing her. The violence of the assault shocked her. She panicked. Then the pressure suddenly released, but her heart continued to race. What was that? She'd never experienced anything like it before. It was like reality itself was attacking her.

Silence, except for the pounding of her heart. Then movement again in the dark. And immediately her body was powerfully gripped and squeezed a second time, her head jammed against something hard so quickly and forcefully that she thought her neck might break. Then the crushing force was gone. She squirmed, trying to escape, but couldn't. She was held. She remembered being held in safety and comfort, as in a warm embrace, but now she felt held in a prison―all alone in a prison where the walls were caving in. Again the incredible pressure fell on her. Again and again, each time more violently and with shorter breaks in between. Until she no longer was expecting them to end. She was just bracing for the one that would crush the life out of her. Then it came. The thrust was so hard it compressed her skull, squeezing her brain, and then the dark wasn't just around her but behind her eyes and she let it rush over her and just went limp. Oh God...

And suddenly everything was light. And she could see. She'd been born.

Her last memory as she awoke was of her lying at her mother's soft, warm breast, listening to the steady heartbeat that had comforted her in the womb. That and the priest. She shut off the alarm clock. She remembered the priest because that was the strangest part of her dream. The priest from her church was in the delivery room for some reason; she recognized his deep, sonorous voice as he was reading, repeating... what was it? "In Him we live and move and have our being." Over and over.

She laid there for a while then slid out of bed, being careful not to wake John. He was snoring softly. She watched him for several minutes before going to get dressed for work. She wondered what he would say tonight.

"That's not love, Carl," she said, standing directly in front of his large desk. "That's not what love does. Love might make you give up your job, or maybe stand up to your wife. But love doesn't tell me I have to choose between quitting and getting fired. That has nothing to do with love." He didn't argue; she waited, but he didn't say anything at all. He couldn't even look at her. "I'm not going to quit. And if you fire me, I'm not going to sue or complain to anyone. Even you." Again she was tempted to mention John's unemployment and the child that was coming―then reminded herself why she was here. She wasn't here to beg. "I'm just going to tell you right now that it's wrong. Please don't do it. I'm not saying that for myself; I'm saying it for you. If you do this I know you'll regret it. Please don't." OK, maybe she was here to beg. "Carl," she said gently, and he looked up. "You don't have to do this. I know it seems to you like your only option, but there has to be another way. And I'll help if you let me. Because I do love you, Carl. And your wife. That's how I know this isn't the only way―because it's not love." She looked deep into his helpless eyes, trying to reach something. "I'm asking you to love, Carl."

As she turned and started for the door, the dark rushed in on her again, pressing. John's weakness, Carl's weakness, her child's weakness, her own weakness rushed over her, darkness behind her eyes, and the door seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. But an incredible force was behind her, pushing. She let it. And suddenly the door was opening and she was through.

And everything was light.


Came across these lines this morning...

Because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold.
But he who endures to the end will be saved.
(Mt 24.12-13)


"the plans of the people"

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the people.

The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
Ps 33.10-11


children and choices

I've been talking with people about having children, and paying attention to parents more. And I've noticed that many seem not to intentionally make the choice to have kids. It happens pretty naturally, after all. And for most there is the assumption going into marriage that children will follow. So the choice before them is more about what kind of parents they want to be. With some other friends, who have struggled more about the question of whether or not to have children, they wonder if issues like overpopulation and the condition of our society are good enough reasons to refrain from having children. When I consider what most children eventually become, the pain and lostness, I also have wondered whether it is good to bring another person into the world.

In my thoughts about it lately, though, the choice before us is starting to look quite different. I say I believe that it is God who creates each of us, who decides to bring each individual into being, who breathes life into each new person. And that it is ultimately for our existence with God that each of us is given life. From this perspective, each child is not the decision or project of a parent, but of God. They are always more truthfully God's children than ours. The choice set before us is not whether another child should be born or how children should be raised. The choice is how we will participate in God's work of bringing his children into his world.

I often do not understand God's ways, but it seems clear that God thinks it good to continue to bring new life among us. That is not a decision for me to make. People will continue to be born and grow up among us. The question put to me is in what way do I feel called to participate in that, and there are many different ways. But it seems important to remember that whether it is as parent or mentor or teacher or friend, the creation and nurturing of each human person is God's choice and God's work, in which I am invited to play a part.


watching eyes

I've been thinking more about family and children lately. And I remembered a French movie I saw once that made an impression on me. Caché, directed by Michael Haneke. It begins with a family receiving anonymous video tapes that appear to be surveillance of their home. The tapes keep arriving and they start to get concerned. Who is watching them? As the story unfolds, several deep secrets about the parents emerge, and their child and the child of an old family acquaintance play important parts.

What was especially striking was the closing scene. (You can watch it here, starting about six minutes in.) The children characters appear, but they are not the focus, and you can't hear anything they say. What you see is the steps of a school with many children gathered there. Just a normal scene of school children, for maybe two minutes, then that's the end.

What I took away from this is the awareness of children as watchers. Who's watching us? Our children, always. It's really constant surveillance. And with eyes that have not been taught why things must be as they are. So they question and challenge and resist and often rebel. In any case, we are tested by the eyes of our children, and our lives are reflected back to us in those eyes.

This might seem unnerving, perhaps it should be. But I also see this as a way God uses to get through to us. A way to show us our own life, not as we see it, but as innocent eyes see it. I think it's a way God holds a mirror up to us, to help us see. Marriage can do this as well, I think, but a child's view is different from an adult's. So it's one more way for God to show us our life, and perhaps give us a chance to improve it.