Category Archives: theologizing

Out of the Ashes

I’m not making any plans.  I’m not making any promises.  No schedules, no goals, no nothing.  I’m only here to say I’m thinking I might like to maybe write a blog post again. Every once in a while.  Maybe.  Or maybe just today.

I just went back and read my posts from last February where I talked about the RyLee Adventure in Colon Cancer.  I discovered there that I had discovered then (I’m a little rusty.  and tired.  bear with me.) that, apparently, there’s this pattern to my crazies.  Seems like lots of stuff gets stirred up in my life during the months of January and February and into March.  God comes in and shakes things up, stirs things up, makes some changes, leads us elsewhere, does something that leaves me feeling “Woah! what just happened there?!!”  Or, maybe that’s just how I see this year’s adventure.  I’m not sure it’s always been so LOUD AND IN MY FACE as it has been this year.

Yes.  Screaming.  God’s screaming in my face, but I don’t know what he’s saying.  Or it feels that way, anyway.  Perhaps it’s simply life that is screaming in my face and God’s there talking to me like always but I just can’t hear him for the screaming.

I don’t even know where to begin.  I did this last February and March.  Wrote about the crazy stuff that happened the previous January-March and how it led up to the stirrings of February through March of 2012.  And here I stand again.  Looking at this crazy pile of life and wondering where to begin to lay it all out.  Last year I did a handy dandy timeline.  I don’t feel so linear this year.

Another pattern I was thinking about the other day?  Lent.  Lent is a category in the menu over there on the right side of your screen.  Every year during Lent I pop on here and talk about my ambivalent relationship with Lent.  It’s often accompanied by some Grand Plan to blog every day.  I’m not even going to whisper such a suggestion this year.

Yet, here I am again. Thinking about Lent and my ambivalence toward it.  And here’s why I’m ambivalent:  I don’t want to observe it because I’d like to eschew all things Liturgical Calendar like a good Old School Presbyterian should (I’m not sure if I mean to say that I’m a bona fide Old School Presbyterian or if I mean to say I’m just kickin’ it ol’ school Presbyterian. either way . . . )  I’d like to eschew Lent.  As a creation of tradition, not Scripture.  Kinda like the church’s version of “Mother’s Day is just a ploy by Hallmark.”  Anyway, I’d like to eschew it (tell me that’s not just the funnest word ever, am I right?), and yet every year it seems I get shoved out into the desert during Lent.  To wander around and contemplate my vocation, and be tempted by Satan to just run far, far from God.  To thirst and hunger and experience a spiritual fast.  This year is no different.  In fact, this year might be the desertestest yet.

I’m in school now, you know.  Nearly a Master of Theology now.  They teach us fancy theological terms like desertestest here.

Where to begin to tell the story . . .

Well.  The past five months have brought me hurricane, ER-worthy injury to the small and vulnerable, pest infestation, flood, and fire.  All while I’ve been–in practice, not reality–a widowed mother to orphaned children.  This year my life decided to go Apocalyptic.  I might spend some time writing about that in these coming days or weeks or months.  Or I might not.

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Facebook made the blogging star . . .

So, apparently controversy generates hits.  Who knew?  I knew I was taking my chances on Saturday, saying something so radically crazy as announcing that people are mammals.  But I had no idea that meant I’d be getting so many visitors this weekend.  I would have cleaned up.  Or made tea.  Or something.

I shared my post on Facebook and then friends shared my post on Facebook and then, next thing I knew, people were banging down my door, eager to hear the big announcement:  People are Mammals!  Fun!

And right after I said Facebook killed the blogging star and everything.  Facebook made a liar out of me.  And that post had very, very little to do with Facebook’s murder of bloggers.  Mostly I talked about Ruth of the never-really-liked-pants-anyway camp.  So, when all my new visitors showed up, I thought, Hey! they’re all going to look at my post immediately preceding my big controversial statement and they’re going to find a long-winded, disjointed, has-little-to-do-with-the-title post and not take the time to read another single thing.  Where they’d likely discover yet another long-winded, disjointed, ineptly titled post.

Ah well.  I’ve had my 2 days of fame.  I’ll go back to disjointed and rambly . . .

Facebook:  How I love thee.  How I detest thee.  Because of you, I’m in touch with friends I haven’t talked to in years and years.  Because of you, I’m in touch with friends I haven’t talked to in years and years.  That’s not a typo; those are two separate thoughts.  They must be read with two different tones of voice.  I think you know what I’m talking about.

I get to play a Scrabble-like game with a girl I knew in elementary school, my memory of whom is dominated by the knowledge that not only did she not say “Hunh?  Where is that?!” when I told her my ethnic background, but she too is of Lithuanian descent.  So, my one other Lithuanian childhood friend–I now play Scrabble with her.  That’s fun.

I get to see pictures of friends’ babies, see how some of my high school friends have gone the route of cloning over natural reproduction.  At least that’s how it appears from the pictures of their children.  And I get to have some fun conversations with people about all sorts of topics.  And I’ve made a handful of brand new friends via Facebook.  We share mutual friends and have connected over some similar theological convictions, and gone on to develop some enriching relationships.

However.

But.

You see?

There’s a problem.

Facebook can totally just suck my day away.  While I’m visiting with my fun friends who mostly take the shape of voices in my head, my life in front of my eyes is passing me by.  On some level I know it.  But on another level?  I’m desperate for more human interaction in my day.  What’s that you say?  I could go out and visit with real people?  Why, that’s just crazy talk.  But then I would miss all my friends who live inside my head!

Love-Hate.  That’s what I have with Facebook.  And I suspect I’m not alone in it.  On some level, I suspect, all of us Facebookers know we need to really see people, to be in their presence, to really connect with them.  And we all crave that connection.  But it’s so hard to find it.  Or so scary to find it.  In Facebook-land, you just put yourself out there and hope that someone will happen by and connect to you in some way.

You can put your worst face forward, feeling safe that if someone can like that part of you, they’ll like the rest.  Or, and probably more often, you can put your best face out there, the part you feel is most worthy of attention, admiration, love.  Either way, you’re in control–complete control–of what is shared and not shared about yourself.  You can have an intimacy where you control the intensity dial.  It lacks the messiness of face-to-face interaction where a person is reading your body language, where your visitor can see that your house really is as disgusting as you say it is, that you weren’t be facetious, exaggerating for comedic effect.

I have a friend who has shared articles about how Facebook feeds narcissism, or how narcissists are the ones who feed Facebook.  I’m not sure which, and I never really read them.  I don’t doubt that narcissism is involved.  But I suspect what’s more influential in Facebook is just plain loneliness.  People were not built to live in isolation.  We weren’t.  If I continue on yesterday’s animalistic theme, I’d say we’re pack animals.  Or herd animals.  Or something.  I’m too lazy today to look up the way those things are differentiated.  All I know is “It is not good that man should be alone.”  And I’m not just talking about Adam.  Nor am I talking only about marriage and romantic connection and love.  And I’m not just talking about men.  I’m talking about all people:

It is not good that people should be alone.

Period.

And our culture has lost the extended family.  And, in some cases, it has made quite the idol of the nuclear family which then disintegrates upon the maturity of children because those children are generally few in number and scatter to the winds to form ad hoc families along the way.  Ad hoc families with others who are juggling multiple jobs and mortgages and sports schedules and internet life and TV life and book life and bill paying and shopping . . . and . . . and . . . we’re lonely.  And Facebook gives us opportunity to find touchstones with our roots–our old high school friends, distant relatives–and opportunity for us to forge new relationships–those friends of friends who have the same passion for sarcasm you have–and all in the comfort of our pajamas and our messy home.  Or our business suits and offices.  Or wherever it is people are hooking into Facebook.

The thing is, Facebook feeds our intrinsic need for community.  When we have to take our sick child for surgery, we post pictures on Facebook.  Not because we think we’re so important, not because we’re losing sight of what’s right in front of us, but because when we’re faced with a scary, scary situation, the last thing we want to be is the last person on earth; we do not want to face it all alone.  And a couple–a mom and dad–huddled together in a big, cold hospital is very much alone.  And it’s not good that man should be alone.  So we reach out to our community.  Those people who are right there when we need them.  And as we’ve compiled a community into the hundreds, spanning many time zones, there is always someone right there to call on.

Facebook musings have gone on and on and on here . . . but these are the thoughts I think as I scroll through my feed, as I Like stuff, as I ooo and ahhh at pics of newborns I’ll never see face to face.  We need people.  People do, that is.  We long for community, for relationships with many.  And people will find it any way they can.

I’ve suspended judgment here.  I’m not saying any of this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I just think it’s the thing.  Quite a while back, I wrote a post about the differences between Imaginary Friends and IRL Friends.  I have my preference, and I have some theologizing to back it up.  But the need?  The need we try to fulfill with our online universe?  It’s a very real one.  And a God-planted one.  It’s a good, good thing that we seek community.  As for me, I need to be more mindful of how I seek that community. And I need to make sure I’m not missing out on the people standing right in front of me in favor of the safety found in two dimensions, brain-dwelling, and controlled intimacy.

It’s not good that the man should be alone.

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You’re not kidding me . . .

After Ry’s colonoscopy, we knew we had to wait “a week to ten days” for the results of the biopsy.  The doctor didn’t use that word, but that’s how it functioned.  They had to test the polyp for cancer cells.

A week after the scope, on February 17th, I arrived home from picking up Ruth from pre-school to find a voice-mail message from the doctor.  Of course he didn’t give any information over the phone; he simply asked Ry to return his call.  Well.  That was the explicit message anyway.  But I could hear in his voice far more information.

I called Ry on his cell phone to make sure he had received the message.  It turns out our doctor friend had also called Ry’s cell phone and told him the news:  the polyp was indeed cancerous, and the margins were not clear.  He recommended a bowel resection.  If he could, he’d have it done in two weeks’ time.  He tried to impress upon Ry the urgency of the situation.  I felt the urgency immediately.  Ry . . . not so much.

And here begins the very, very human component of our journey.  The thing with marriage is it involves two people.  Two people.  Marriage would be much easier if it involved only one person.  Or two automatrons whose electronic doohickeys could be linked so that the two were always on the same page, always responding to things in the exact same way.  But the reality is, marriage is made up of two people.  Two different people.  Who’ve been raised in two different families where different philosophies are developed, different habits formed, different attitudes fostered.  And, well, that makes marriage difficult.  Beautiful, sure.  But difficult.

And we have a good marriage.  A really, really good marriage.  We’ve known each other since we were eleven, we’ve been friends since we were fourteen, best friends since the early nineties for pete’s sake!  We have it good.  Really good.  But when we stared down cancer together, our differences took center stage and fought for the spotlight.

And maybe, because it wasn’t my body, maybe my Different should have bowed out and left the stage and deferred entirely to his Different.  Maybe.  But there’s this thing about marriage where the two are made one flesh and my body is no longer entirely just my body, and his body is not entirely his own.  Now people do some freaky stuff with 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.  They do.  I know they do.  Freaky, freaky, need-to-be-smacked-upside-the-head stuff with it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to just throw it out.  Between the “one flesh” that Jesus talks about and this passage here in 1 Corinthians, there’s something about marriage that goes beyond just two separate individuals living together in the same house.  Something happens.  Something is there.  Paul calls it a profound mystery, and he is applying to Christ and his Church.  There is a unity in marriage that goes beyond any other human endeavor.  It’s some crazy stuff.

So, when one of your bodies is under attack by the Enemy, the other body freaks out a bit.  And I like to think it’s understandable, Biblically speaking.

We had to wend our way through the early weeks after the diagnosis negotiating need for need, priority for priority, body for body.  And it was not always good.  And it was not always pretty.

But what remained steadfast?  Our faith.  Really and truly, believing God had his hands all over it.  From the wife who had the out-of-body freakout at the mention of blood; to the initial visit being with the doctor who insisted on the scope, rather than with the one who wasn’t terribly concerned; to the sudden job change–announced three days after the diagnosis–that resulted in better insurance coverage and in preventing Oh-my-word-how-are-we-going-to-eat??!! panic . . . and more . . . we saw God’s hand all over it.  Providing for us every step of the way.

Did that ensure a good outcome?  Heck no.  Crappy, tragic stuff happens to God’s people every single day.  But it assured us that whatever the outcome, we would be carried through.  Our daily bread would be provided.  What we needed to get through each day of the journey would be provided.  Of that we were certain.  So in that we could rest.  The differences that caused all sorts of friction between the two very, very very different people were outshone, outdone–though not overcome–by the unity of our faith in our Faithful God who would take us–as a unit–through to the other side.  Without that assurance, it’s very possible one of us would have died.  And it would not have been because of the cancer. . . .  🙂 **

**Ry insisted I add the smiley face so you all know I’m only kidding.  So you know that no one is killed in this story.  And so you know that there are no murderers, attempted murders, or contemplating-murder murderers in this story.  I’d say it was overkill, but then there seems to be some sort of pun created there . . .

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Filed under 2011, colon cancer, marriage, theologizing

because I said I would . . .

I started some other post today, but it just didn’t go anywhere.  So then I thought about taking Sundays off from my Lenten obligation observance.  Because, you know, Lent doesn’t include Sundays.  Because Sundays are the Lord’s Day.  The day we revel in the Resurrection.  Even during the dark days of Lent.  And how nice is that?!  In the midst of our time of discipline and repentance and intentional reflection on the wilderness days of our Lord, we have these shots of Light.  Every Sunday.  Because we’re just pretending here.  Not pretending . . . play-acting, maybe.  Because we are indeed embodying, and it doesn’t feel like any game.  But still.  It’s not the real story.  The struggle, the suffering, the guilt, the work:  it is finished.  It really is.  The trick is living like that is reality.  Living like it truly is finished.  That’s hard.  That’s really, really hard.  Because we look around us and life is difficult.  To quote one of my favorite movies, “Life is pain.”  It is.  There’s tragedy and mess all around us.

But life is not all there is.  This darkness, these difficulties, these challenges, these scary things . . . they do not get the final say.  They are, ultimately, finished.  That’s the hope we live for, that’s the hope we breathe for.

So, even in Lent, as we recall the darkness, as we wade through the sacrifices, as we work toward our goals, how fitting it is that we pause each First Day, and remember, that it is finished.  The sacrifice, the pain, the death, the uncertainty, the fear, the doubt.  It is finished.

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Nothing to say . . .

So hard to believe . . .

Give me a minute . . .

You know that problem will resolve . . .

Some might claim, if you have nothing to say, then say nothing at all.

Some might be silly.

I said I would write every day.  And I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.  And an elephant’s faithful, 100%.

I love elephants.  I really really do.  Because they’re big and strong and could stomp you out! but they don’t.  They eat plants.  I love that.  I love that they’re so big and giant and powerful, yet they eat plants.  They remind me:  Just because you can hurt someone, doesn’t mean you should.  And, yes, I need that reminder.  Not so much in the form of physical violence, but certainly with verbal violence.

And elephants just have this quiet appearance about them.  I mean, I know there’s someone out there doing bona fide research about elephants, and it could be that they communicate on a level of sound below which humans can hear.  Like the opposite of whales and dolphins.  But when you look at them?  They’re just lumbering along, so strong, so quiet, so steady.  And I’d like to be like that.  Not huge, of course, but able to go quietly, slowly through my life.  The slow I have covered, really.  But the quiet?  not so much.  But I’d like to.

The most vivid image I have of elephants comes from some nature show I watched once.  I’ve tried to find a clip of it, or one similar to it, but so far I’ve not been able to find it.  So, I’ll try to tell the story as I remember it.  I recall that a baby elephant died.  I don’t remember how, I don’t remember how little the elephant was.  What I do remember is how very sad the mother looked.  Yes, this ginormous animal.  She looked desperately sad.  But that is not the image that sticks out most in my mind.  What remains most vivid in my mind is the image of her companions.  Her aunts and sisters and female cousins, the whole community of female elephants who traveled together, gathered around the mourning mother.  They surrounded her.  They simply surrounded her grieving body, her head hanging low, and they patted her with their trunks.  And, the best part, they were silent.  At least from this outsider’s perspective, they were quiet.

I love that image of comfort:  of simply standing next to the one who is grieving, offering nothing more than a gentle hand upon a shoulder or back; a shoulder-to-shoulder presence.  And silence.

I’m reading Job right now.  And, I’ll confess that I struggle through it.  I’ve done a study on it with friends.  I’ve probably read some commentary somewhere along the way.  But I’m still not sure how we’re “supposed to” read it, to understand it.  Job is in anguish.  And here come all these guys showing up and explaining God to him.  And Job remains in anguish, but now he’s defensive and kind of angry with these friends to boot.  That just doesn’t strike me as helpful.  Job’s friends offer no comfort, only aggravation.

Every time I read Job, I want to close the book after chapter two, which ends:

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

I want the next verse to be “14. The End.”  Although, I also like God’s response at the end of the book, so I don’t want to end the whole thing there.  In fact, we could keep all of Job’s rants, and then loop back to Chapter 2, verses 12b-13:  “And [Job’s friends] raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.  And they sat with him on the ground . . . and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  That’s all.  That’s all I want those friends to do.

And that’s all I want my friends to do when I hurt.  Moan and groan with me, weep with me, mourn with me, pat me on the shoulder or the back–but respect me when I say “Please stop touching me”–put your shoulder against mine, so I don’t feel all alone.  But, please.  Until I’ve asked you a direct question, keep your mouth closed.

So, that’s why I love elephants.  I love that image of the big, giant animals, huddled together, moaning low together.  Just feeling one another’s pain.  And simply being present.

There is a time to talk.  And there is a time to shut. up.  And I pray that God will give me wisdom and discernment to know when’s when.

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I don’t know why I ever make plans . . .

That can be the theme of my Lenten reflections, if my Lenten reflections take the direction I plan them to take.  But I don’t know why I ever make plans, because, for example, here it is the first day of my plan to reflect on the last year and the next year and the thing I want to write about has nothing to do with that.

But the title still works as my planned theme.  Just not necessarily as my theme for today.  Which, I suppose, just serves to support the implications of my title, which, in turn, then makes it a very appropriate title.

Carry on, now, Lee . . .

Very often when I’m reading Scripture, I have the voice of an antagonist in the back of my head.  He’s a nice antagonist, really.  But he’s there nonetheless.  His is often the voice of some Other I’ve been reading or hearing or thinking about lately.  And so as I read the passage of Scripture, I hear Scripture arguing against that Other.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, so I’ll just go ahead and get to the point.

This morning I was reading 2 Corinthians 1, when I was struck by verses 8-11:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (ESV)

And that’s when Mr. Antagonist popped up in my head.  And he was representing all those voices that say things like, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  And, “God didn’t rescue you from that difficulty because you didn’t have faith that he would.”  Generally all those voices that make you feel like garbage when you have your doubts and fear death or utter destruction is near and you’re not sure how God’s going to pull you out of it, or if he’s going to.

In response to all those voices that beat you when you’re down, comes Paul’s own experience.  You know.  Paul.  The one whose words and witness shape most of the standards we set for our own faith.  Paul.  The one who was struck blind and saw the Lord himself!  Paul.  You know.  Paul.

Seems Paul suffered some afflictions and difficulties there in Asia.  So much so that it left Paul utterly burdened beyond his strength.  Paul!  despairing of life itself!  believing he had received a death sentence!  Paul.

Paul.

I know I’ve said his name so many times now that it looks like a foreign word or some weird line-up of letters.  But think about it!  This is Paul describing his experience in these terms:  life was so hard, it was more than I could bear, I thought for sure I was going to die! it was all over!

He doesn’t say, “We could have despaired, but we did not, because we knew God was going to rescue us! we had faith! and God honored our faith and rescued us!”  The summation of that, you realize, is “Yay our faith!”  But, nope.  That’s not what Paul says.  He says he and his companions were flattened.  In utter despair, certain of death, all but lost.

Ever been there?

I have.

Ever have someone say, “Buck up, Little Camper, it’s not so bad.  Where’s your faith?”

I have.

But that’s not what Paul is saying.  Without apology, he puts into clear terms where he found himself:  at rock bottom.  Period.

And then.

And then he was delivered.  Not because he cried out to God.  Not because he believed that God would deliver him.  No.  God, who raises the dead! delivered him.  The dead!  The lifeless!  The ones who can’t do one thing on their own because they. are. dead.  God.  Raises them.  Delivers them.

We don’t have to rely on ourselves, on our ability even to muster the strength to reach up and grab God’s hand that he’s extending.  No.  In the  midst of our own afflictions, whatever they may be, God! who raises the dead! will deliver us.

That.  That is comfort.  That is hope.  That is assurance.  That is Good News for little ol’, prone-to-despar-and-pessimism me.  And for you.

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Lent again . . .

I’ll be honest.  I kind of have an ambivalent relationship with the liturgical calendar.  On the one hand, I like the rhythm it adds to the year, and I find value in our telling and retelling and telling again the story of our faith.  It is an ancient practice of the Church, so, it’s hard to argue that it’s completely wrong.  And I never really try to say it’s completely wrong.  However.  My own background leaves me bristling at the blind following of tradition.  Of doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it.  It also leaves me bristling at our human tendency to enjoy making things harder on ourselves than we need to.  And from a more pragmatic standpoint, when a church follows the liturgical calendar so closely, particularly by faithfully following a lectionary for Sunday Scripture readings, I feel like we can end up missing the bigger picture.  Or like we can just get stuck in this 3-year loop.

Now that’s a lot of words up there.  And I don’t even know who reads my blog.  But I know that I have friends who are Roman Catholic and have followed the liturgical calendar their whole lives, and I have friends from other traditions who might have no idea what in the world I’m talking about.

So, I’ll just carry on with my point.  I, for years, have not participated in much of a Lenten discipline.  It’s not that I have a problem when someone else does it.  It’s not really rooted in any core conviction of my own.  I think it’s simply part of my own faith story.  It’s part of my own living out of “for freedom Christ has set us free.”  I don’t observe a Lenten discipline because I know it’s OK if I don’t.  Now.  I am not advocating my approach.  Nor I am I saying it’s right and good and holy.  It may very well be so steeped in sin that it’s coal black.  But that’s what I do.

So.  My point was?  I think my point was, I’d like to write every day as part of my Lenten non-observance.

And in case you think you’re having déjà vu, you’re not.  I just remembered I wrote about Lent two years ago.  Here.  And when I went back to read it just now, I was amused at my repeated use of the word ambivalent.

So, there you have it.  A plan to write every day.  Again.  We’ll see how I do this time.  I hope to write about the insanely crazy year we just came out of, as well as the insanely crazy year we are now entering.  God’s fingerprints are all over all of it.  Reflecting on it, swimming around in the thinkings of my life during these years, dredging through the wilderness places of this past year, and thinking long and hard about the unknowns that lie ahead . . . all of these things are bound to leave room for God’s Holy Spirit to renew my faith, to draw me closer.  And I pray that my reflections will do the same for some of my friends.

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