Monday, April 21, 2008

Pie In the Sky

Like most people who feel compelled to create, I have a disturbing self-editor who seldom does me much good. Mine perches uninvited on my left shoulder and takes great umbrage at not only what I write about but how I say it. Looking like the old rooster that loved to terrorize little-girl toes when it was my turn to feed the chickens, it makes loud and obnoxious noises which sound like that song from the Music Man "pick-a-little, talk-a-little, pick-a-little, talk-a-little, pick-pick-pick, talk-a-lot, pick-a-little more." 

It's particularly discouraging today because I have been meditating on recent comments to this blog dealing with biblical hope and new beginnings as well as an eternal perspective regarding the realities of living with and through pain and profound despair. "What a lot of pie in the sky," says obnoxious rooster from the uninvited perch on my shoulder.  Where had I heard that before?

It was an interview recently on NPR. A noted scientist and author had made a comment about people who believe in life after death as exhibiting a "psychological weakness." There was a time and a place for that sort of belief, he argues, but it no longer exists as there is no longer a Darwinian advantage for it. We have evolved beyond it. I wonder if noted scientist and author has access to the same newspapers that I do.

"The Universe doesn't owe us meaning," he goes on to say. "If there isn't any meaning, there isn't any meaning and that's just tough." There is no pie in the sky. "However, " noted scientist and author quickly adds, "you can make your own meaning..." That, he goes on to explain, is in the work and art we produce, our love for nature and our families. But what, I wonder, about those people who cannot produce art and work, whose minds are either so undeveloped or savaged by vices of their own making or events they could not control that they cannot love or reason? The second way that noted scientist and author claims we can bring meaning to our life is by how we understand, how we interpret the existence of life and natural selection. So, there is meaning, just not the meaning said scientist and author doesn't approve. It's a meaning that begins with man, not God. The pie is only edible if it is man made and not God made.

Jesus said, "I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly."John 10:10

"...that you, being rooted and established in love may have grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God." Ephesians 3:17-19

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

If that is pie in the sky, make mine a large slice of lemon meringue. 

Monday, April 14, 2008

No Country For Old Women Either

My friend, Mini, has this theory that there's just so much fat in the world so when she loses 5 pounds someone else gains it. She says it works the same with depression. One gets out from under it then someone else finds it landing slap down on their head. She and I laugh as we conclude that the best way, then, to show love to our neighbor is to stay depressed and keep eating desert. 

Life sometimes seems just that absurd. But absurdities can take a dark turn and we laugh not as we read our own bloody newspaper headlines. While the end credits were running for No Country For Old Men the thought struck me that this is no country for old women either. At the end of his dark story exploring evil and good, Cormac McCarthy hits a raw nerve as evil wheels safely off into the sunset to terrify and torment another day. This while depicting the good sheriff as undone by the soullessness he has watched grow in the malevolence he and his progenitors have fought so long. There is no mortal victory in this fight, evil seems to win. 

I wish Mini's idea was true, that there's just a certain amount of fat and depression in the world and we pass it around and sorta share the burden. Instead, the earth and all mankind groan under the travail of things gone wrong and even the hardest among us can see that something is not right and hasn't been for a long time. Pain and brokenness, cruelty, sickness, dishonesty and degeneration dog us. As I look in the mirror I know that McCarthy is on to something. There is no amount of perversity the human heart is incapable of. But there is an answer, a foil to the darkness of his story which, ironically, was the result of another brutal killing that took place on the back side of a Roman colony 2000 years ago. The savage crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the preface for his shocking resurrection and it was that resurrection that turned evil on its ear. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, lover of the soul of man and this world which was made for and by his love, paid a price more costly than I can understand this side of my grave. Unwilling to let the whole mess go and begin again, he set about the business of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. 

"One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated  burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders." C. S. Lewis, Miracles

Lewis' idea matters for in that whole swaying mass are those we love as well as those we should. There are sweet grannies, murderers and everyone in between who has humbled their heart before the greatest of all burden bearers. Mini and I can rejoice after all. 

Those wishing to further explore this theme might enjoy Heaven by Randy Alcorn, 
and II Corinthians Chapter 5.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Magic Fix

I met Karen about a year after she died. Fortunately or not, this isn't going to be a ghost story. The only time I've been in peril of that experience was after consuming a small plate of chorizo enchiladas. ("There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" said Scrooge to Jacob Marley's ghost.) 

It was a few of her emails which she had left behind that introduced her to me. A mutual friend had sent hard copies and told me that Karen was dying when she wrote them. Tragically, she had found a lump months before but was too afraid to see a doctor in time to save her life. The emails were about genuine fear but also about finding a place of genuine peace referenced in Psalm 18:19. 

"He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me."

I blush to say it now but I did not receive those emails as I would have liked. I was immediately suspicious and even angry. Suspicious: as in "How can this wretched woman, so driven earlier by fear as to bury her head in the sand regarding her own body, suddenly talk about finding genuine peace in the middle of dying?" Angry: still staggering from my own then-recent cancer diagnosis, I did not feel peace. I thought bitterly how easy it can be to cover up, to look and sound the way we think Christians are supposed to look and sound. I allowed Karen's peace to make me feel shame for my own lack of it and wanted to justify myself. When wounds are fresh and pain is raw the brain can freeze and everything we have known and believed might find a black hole. I wanted a Magic Fix. I wanted to not only look and sound OK, I wanted to be OK. I wanted to cry out and have a voice answer back. I wanted confusion met with light and understanding. Karen said she felt peace; I felt trapped. So I threw her emails away. Admittedly, not my finest hour.

There is a story told of a caged starling who in despair kept throwing itself against its prison bars exclaiming "I can't get out. I can't get out!"  The story continues with someone unsuccessfully attempting to break open the cage to release its tiny prisoner. "The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the bars, press'd his breast against it as if impatient. 'I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.' 'No!' it cried. 'I can't get out - I can't get out.' " (The Starling, Laurence Sterne)

I understand Sterne's Starling, its pitiful crying out and great fear. That was me. Yet, try as I might, I could not forget Karen's messages nor her verse nor her peace. At last, sick and tired of feeling so very sick and tired, I simply stopped fighting and began to meditate on what I sometimes now like to call Karen's Psalm. And Karen's Psalm became mine with verses 16 and 17 and 18.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.

So what is this spacious place that Karen spoke of, this place he has drawn us to? I believe it is the place where we are not trapped by the lie that this is all there is. It is the place of eternal perspective. All that cancer, falling airplanes, crashing cars, war, viruses and worn out arteries can do is kill me. There is a primordial biological promise that what is alive IS going to die - somewhere, somehow, sometime. But the Christian knows that death is the passageway to life anew. 

My deep water, my powerful enemy is not cancer but fear; fear of separation from those I love, fear of pain, fear of physical indignities. It can't kill me but it can rob me of living life fully, the life we are intended to live. The life of the large place begins with God's perspective and the biblical pattern that suffering and trouble, while often an outrage and usually unwelcome, can achieve something useful and productive for us, something worthwhile, something excellent and it gives us genuine hope which is not a wish but an expectation. Perhaps Madame Guyon said it best when she asked "And what is this 'large place'? What more can it be than God Himself..." Karen knew this and I have come to know it: There is a Fix but it isn't Magic. It is Authentic and it has a name, Jesus Christ. 

(For those interested in the biblical pattern regarding good coming from difficulty see 
2 Corinthians 4:7-18, James 1:2-4, James 1:12, I Peter 1:6-9, I Peter 5:8-11)