Thursday, September 18, 2008

Theology of Pregnancy

"My soul magnifies the Lord."

Mary’s great words, the beginning of the Magnificat sung after she has received the news of her pregnancy. It would be a troubled pregnancy—trouble by the judgment of others. It is her own understanding of a theology of pregnancy. It is her words that I want to use for a theology of pregnancy. Before I start with her words, I will quickly review what the Gospel accounts have to say about the pregnancy of Mary.

Mark starts later with the public ministry of Jesus. Since I think the theologian Richard Bauckham has it correct and Mark's Gospel is based on Peter's testimony, this to be expected. Peter would have little access to the pregnancy stories of Mary.

Matthew’s tells account of the pregnancy of Mary almost completely from Joseph’s point of view. His betroth is found pregnant and the baby is not his; he will be shamed by this but loves Mary. He plans tp quietly take care of the situation. The angel appears to Joseph’s dreams and saves Jesus. Then the account moves to the sociopolitical world of King Herod. We then follow how man’s love of control and sin kills off life, in the killing of the innocents narrative.

John account is the shortest, “The Word became flesh, and lived among us.” Like all of John, small words are pregnant with rich meaning. (I couldn't resist) The power of the verse comes from the word, “became.” Jesus did not “appear,” “reveal,” or any other way of saying he just show up. Jesus became flesh in the way we all do, he became flesh through the process of pregnancy. He started as a cells dividing and forming into an embryo leading to a birth and infancy. He took on the weakness of humanity. John focus on Jesus in the pregnancy and his few words speak volumes.

Luke’s account of the Mary's pregnancy is the longest. It tells the story from the Mary's perspective and the only one of the Gospels to do so. From the angel appearing to her, her time with her cousin, Elizabeth, and her great poem of joy and love, the magnificent, we follow Mary story through her eyes. The narrative gives what Mary thinks when the angel gives her the news, and in her great song she sings about her pregnancy. She sings it when she is with Elizabeth, and while scripture is not clear whether Joseph knew or not at this point, one could easily make the case for this fact. She has visited her cousin early in her own pregnancy, and would not hav been showing yet. If Joseph does not know about the pregnancy yet, when Mary sings her song, then it show the trust she had in praising God because her future would be uncertain. More on the content of her song later.

Previous post on Theology of Pregnancy: Post I Post II Post III Post IV

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vengeance is mine, says The Lord

Yesterday, I was listening to This American Life The program was about how certain three Americans took it upon themselves to take revenge against a Nigerian email scammer. They led the Nigerian into a Chad by luring him with the promise of money. They help strand him there. What was most disturbing about their account was the pleasure they took in torturing the scammer. They almost had the scammer go into the Western Union office with a note that was antimuslim and could have led to their death. It was evil. Evil in that they enjoyed the torture, and their justification of waiting to do justice rang false. Like a boy pulling off the wings of a bug for the jolley of watching it suffering, the three laughed at pain of another. When they were asked about whether it was cruel, they always justified their actions by saying the scammer brought it upon himself. It made think about Jesus' asking us to forgive and love our enemies. It is too easy to become a monster.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Faith, Love and the Way

Faith makes us. One of the weaknesses of the Enlightenment comes from identifying belief with agreement to a set of propositions. Pray the sinner’s prayer and heaven is yours. This creates a crack from ones ideas and being. Most of us know a person who says one thing and lives by another. The frightening feature of their way of life turns up when you realize they see no contradiction. They have the right answers. Answers imprison them in false confidence, a prison that puts trust not in Jesus, but in their ability to give answers. Humanity’s perchance for self-delusion is our history. We find no peace.

No one can love Jesus and hate another. The love of Jesus when it floods ones being, leaves no room for anything other than his peace. Many moralists have held this criticism of Christianity that questions a Faith based on forgiveness. How can you stand up to evil if you are always excusing the others evil way? They miss the nuanced view of Christianity. Christians go beyond condemnation and believe in radical transformation. Paul gave us the yardstick to evaluate another’s faith and it had to do in how one lives one’s life. The nine fruits of the spirit are ways of being, which go beyond ideas. Jesus’ love touch us and makes go beyond ourselves and we enter the Kingdom of God.

The early church was known as the Way, where the Way meant a particular way of living. The way was following Jesus. We told to be known by our love, and not our answers. For Jesus, faith involved turning away for your present direction (repent), and following him to new place of love (Kingdom of God). God’s love transforming, and as a believer, we open ourselves to experience of true peace

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Forgiveness and the power of Love

Areas and Spaces in Silence.

Is there a theology of fatherhood? I am soon to become a father and I have been thinking about being a father. My father disappeared from my life when I was young until...

...There was this strange silence at the other end. I said hello and introduced myself. I asked for forgiveness. He answered with Silence. I suddenly found myself reacting to this Silence. Were all the stories I told myself for so many years true? Did my real father not love me? Was I the reason he left. All of my fears of not being “lovable,” were being proved in this Silence. The whole week before I had his phone number on my desk. Fear of calling shaped me that whole week. I found every excuse not to call, and my week was horrible. Edgy and mean, I created ugly for the people round me. Then I called...

....So I called to reconcile with a man who I had lost contact for twenty-four years. I would be hard press to point out my own father in a room of strangers. It took every bit of strength I had to call. And how was my gesture of reconciliation greeted? Silence...

...Then he spoke. He spoke to me in Spanish, his language. He asked me about my life. I asked him about why he cut-off connection. He answered. For about an hour we conversed, and something transformed in me through this process of engaging the Silence. I was present to love. As I started to look at the life I had been leading, and what I would be like after this conversation, I realized I entered into a realization that would permanently alter who I am. This happen ten years ago, and I am still in this process of engaging the Silence. I knew that my father was a man, flawed and yet...

...I found God. I am also flawed man, as all men are flawed. Humility means understanding and accepting this truth. Prayer can be entering the Silence being aware of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A poem for 9/11

Ode to Compassion
-a Lament for September 11th

Do not
refuse
my tears
for I am a man
and I need
to weep I need to weep
because I sit and watch alone: alone
being not the point the point being
the coarse salt of an unyielding dirt storm
and the personal salt
of my nephew from waiting
for news of his father
the salt of the world being the point being pored being the taste
being the cause of tasteless concrete dust
being the uncertain point
of where to begin of where to place ourselves
in our own uncertainty
uncertain future uncertain place
uncertain time uncertain tears
my nephew’s father is alone
for four hours in a dust storm of man-made ash
not being able to phone home to speak to his children his three boys
speaking with his family later he has no words no tears no place to stand
he is a rich stockbroker who is poor and he cries and he cries for a word
any word to place his life any word to answer the black flames of death raining from his transformed sky he needs
life pass the tears pass the past he needs
a word
of love of life to restore him he is alone
alone with his thoughts alone with his
children he is a father with his sons and his ex-wife alone for dinner after
he fought to reach home alone
he answers his nine year old in his thoughts not knowing any answer pass silence.

Alone being the uncertainty of the world of history, uncertain on how to be
in his home that is no longer home
alone not being the point
or the only point of his tears are the world’s tears
the world looking for its son,
its sons and daughters
who have died alone in a cascade
of cement in a war that no one knew was happening
Not knowing who,
who is gone, gone is a world
in mourning
a world looking to war to answer death
with death choose life you say choose it all
solitude tears aloof alone
God we need home again
I need to cry to be alone.

Alone
I need
to cry crying to be with
the mothers and fathers and with a message
of “I love you, mommy” left on a cell
phone from a twenty-seven year old girl
in a tower soon to be rubble towering above her
solitude
her mother
is alone with the daughter’s voice
mail
I need to be
with the dead daughter on the plane
planning to be in Los Angles only to leave
her father and mother in San Diego
leaving her parents to us, we in
solitude
loneliness
and I need
I need to cry.

Alone
alone God
God I am standing
at this modern cross, our cross
And we stand at this foot
of your Cross, cross-eyed, and powerless
in front of our television sets without
a vision standing in front of a box empty
nailed to the ground standing inept
offering useless tears standing
Alone.

And I need
to weep again, and again and again and
stand with Mary Magdalene with Mary your mother
offering only their tears our tears
our tears to mingle with your blood, their blood
with your sweat of the eternal cross they are standing
together alone
on the march toward the cross with their cross
on your beaten shoulder alone
alone in the sudden realization of death
stinging the choice of life they are
Alone
with you, God dying before them before us

Crying
Tears
powerful tears of lamentation for their Lord
our Lord the Lord dying offering up our
tears alone.
What is the use of this transformed water?
This salty water? This living water trailing down our cheek staining our over priced shoes? What good to those dying before the eyes of a powerless world? God,
we need you now. Do not say no
to the sobbing to the teardrops forming a shield
forming a river two-thousand years
long and new as this day needs answers
needing to give answers
to the nine year-old wanting his father to have
a safer job. Safer? Safer than financial planning? Safe not being as real as those many dead
God knows the truth of the so long ago tears tears being the point the point being so much blind hatred of men lost into their own blindness fools making sense
of a New York City mourning of New York State mourning of our Nation mourning all those fearing war
and calling for forgiveness as if forgiving would be
big enough. Forgive?
Alone
not knowing
what we can do.
Do?
God crucified for us,
together for each other
Alone.
Oh
Mary Magdalene
we stand with you who
can only offer your tears to the one
who saved you from your demons
we need saving from our demons
crying the tears of being so lost so
alone
weeping for our losses we are
powerless as we try to crack open
our helplessness our hopelessness
hatching out in our meekness
to mourning to praying
Alone.

Before God we wail, we rend our clothes with ash-buried faces
we pray for peace we weep
crying out for your good news
of reconciliation
of new relationship
of the resurrection
of a transformed world
as one

alone

we are
Alone

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Agape and Awareness

“Do you know him?” The question posed by a stranger sitting next to me at the beginning of a long flight back to Pasadena. It was about to become an even longer flight. I knew the “him” the stranger was referring to, Jesus. He was dressed in a gray business suit and was at the dawn of his middle ages. His suit was neither cheap polyester nor expensive hand tailored, but one purchased in a department store. We were on coach so I figured he was a middle manager on a business trip. He had an air of the middle about him. We were coming from Denver, so I pegged him for a Promise Keeper doing his duty by evangelizing me, or anyone who happen to sit next to him. I was fresh meat. He gave me a track, which showed two pictures. One half show the word, self at the center, and the other had the cross at the center. Then I told him I am believer, and I was attending Fuller Seminary. He seemed disappointed. I wanted to gather in Jesus name, and he was convert hunting. Evangelism was to be more than convincing.

I remembered this story, as I was talking to a friend. She was concern about the direction of politics in our country. In course of our conversation, I shared my faith. She asked me what Agape meant as she had friends sign an email with it. Agape was a mystery for her, as it is to many people including me. She and her husband are such a loving parents that I explained it through my experiences of them as parents. Evangelism has to be more than convert hunting; evangelism has to be about befriending and being aware of others within Christ. It has to about Agape.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gospel of Life

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matt 4.17

Jesus proclaimed this Gospel through the country. It was his first message after his baptism. While this seems simple, Jesus started down the road to the cross and in these words contains the greatness of his ministry. Jesus tells us to repent or to turn away from the direction we are going. Then he says to follow him. Why? Because the Kingdom is at hand. The Kingdom of love, the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven is closer than we think. Closer than our blind chasing of control, self and loneliness. We can follow to grand adventure of love, and we do not have continue do the predicable road. It is surprising to me how many times the Christian life characterized as boring, when the New Testament fills us stories of extraordinary men and woman.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Love Poem

Love Prayer
My Wife


I live poorly. Love, may my Lord empty me.
Give me the release to embrace you. I am full
with stories, estimations, and opinions. Dull,
I sting with boredom. A self-important bee,

buzzing around fear, proving my loneliness.
The stinger falls out of my eyes revealing
your working servant hands scrubbing the mess
in stainless steel kitchen sink. Believing

faith stirs to the circular movements of your
joy. I pray for a poverty of heart to teach
me how to rivet to you beyond qualms, and breach
the fortification into a consoling water. The door

flings open, flooding my life with the passion
of a man upon cross creating love’s refashion.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Here I AM - part II

Part Two: Here I am
Continued for Part one

Most of the art, music and literary output based on "I am here" tends to be weak. “I am here,” did not let them make room to hear others. They could not comprehend that true art begins in dialogue. I met poets who did not like to read poems, just write them. They expected others to hear and read their poems, while they did not hear the best of their own art form. They asked for something they were not willing to give themselves. They could not even see the irony in their process. I met painters, who knew only couple of painters, and hated even those few painters. They did not respond to their history and art; rather they had a complete ignorance of what went before, or was going on around them. Around them were students who had survived genocide, and lived in countries where being a Christian might mean prison or death. There were stories of courage, and self-sacrifice all around them, but they could not her them. There were many opportunities for dialogue and relief from their own personal hells. Few of the art people at the seminary took those opportunities. They could not see past their, “I am here.” They became very bored people. They were also very lonely people.

“I am here” provides no room for love to present itself. Maybe Milosz has a point. “I am here” is all we can declare by ourselves. Maybe it is the simply the limit of isolation. What it says is how little we can actual say by ourselves. It calls for the need beyond the “I” as declaration. “Here I am,” is a different phrase. It presupposes a relationship. It is a response and not a declaration. “Here” is the center, and not “I.” The ”I” is one of response. “Here” is at various times life, others and ultimately, God. “Here” forces us to see the reality of life, others and God. Life is here before us, and life will be here after we are gone. God is before us, and God is eternal. We cannot declare our existence to God and expect God to respond to us. It is God, who speaks first, and we have to respond, not the other way around. The fruitful life is a life of responding to life, others and ultimately God. We need to first acknowledge our culture, our history, our religion, and all of what makes us human to even begin to locate the “I.” Only in response can love be possible.

It is interesting to notice “I am here” is not in the biblical accounts, but Scripture is full of the response, “Here I am.” I have imagined the prophet Isaiah seating in the first temple. A sight of God on his throne suddenly shakes him out his world. He sees his own foulness. He cannot response in the revelation of his own “I.” A touch of hot coals, and he can hear God, and now he can respond. “Here I am,” he cries out to God. In this moment, a prophet comes into being. Isaiah’s response makes him a prophet. It is comical to even imagine a self-made prophet. Isaiah is not the only one to respond to God with “Here I am.” Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Moses and many others have answered the call of God with, “Here I am.” It is how they answers that they find their identity and freedom. What if we stop living as if we have to declare ourselves to God, and realie God declares to us and we respond to that call? By placing the attention first on God, we have to respond and not declare. When Moses asks God’s name to tell the Israelites who sent him, God answers, “I am that I am.” When we answer, “here I am,” to the life and God we unconsciously or consciously understand our place in creation.

We have to always respond to God, and it is here we enter prayer. Prayer understands that our lives can only response to God with “Here I am.” We could no longer simply from whim to whim, but our life have purpose in response. The shift from “I am here,” to “Here I am” is the center of conversion. In other words, the life of faith is moving from selfishness to love, illusion to prayer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Here I Am - part I

Part ONE: Here I am

“I am here.” In these words, the Nobel Prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz claims, contains all that one can say. As fearful as it may to say, I am not sure he is correct. “I am here,” declares our stand, but not our relationship to the life and God. “I am here,” dominates our contemporary world. As a declarative clause, it locates us as an individual to our place in the world. It is both modern and post-modern statement in that it focuses on the “I.” The center of the statement is its beginning, the “I.” It announces the arrival of the self in the “here,” a particular point in place and time. A declarative proclamation, it demands the world to take notice of this “I,” even if it is an enigmatic “I.” The “I” is both the subject and object, and the measure of experience. For moderns, this “I” identifies its self by its capacity to reason. For postmodernism, the “I” is defined by the amorphous individual. They are both on the side of the individual as opposed to the “here.” For both stances, the “I” as the measure of experience. “I am here” forces the rest of creation into reacting to the “I.” Where is God in “I am here”? God can only be within the experience of the “I.” Within this stance, is there any wonder why the religious imagination has fallen into such ruinous reputation? We have lost the relationship to God where we are in God’s expression.

I went to seminary with a friend, who would show up to events and classes in various color clashing clothes. Orange and purple would combine to broadcast his need to flaunt social mores, or so he would say. He wore skirts. He wore leopard-patterned top hats. Most of his classmates accepted his eccentricity. It was just Brent being Brent. (not his real name) The social mores of fashion he was fighting against had disappeared. He wanted to express his individuality, and uniqueness. “I am here,” was his constant cry to his fellow seminarians through how he dressed. He was mostly ignored. He naturally gravitated to the artists, or those who wanted to be artists. Was he playing the clown for us? I do not know his motivation. But through his clothes, through his demeanor, and through his speech, he was continually crying, “I am here,” and take notice of me.

His problem was simple. The rest of his crowd was also attempting to declare, “I am here.” To draw attention to themselves, they could not pay attention to anything else. Most of his outlandish costumes would go uncommented on. His group would be too busy constructing their own methods of grabbing attention. Some used the telling of their life stories as a soap opera to declare, “I am here.” They would complain about how their mother and father ruined them, and how they are now slowly healing. When they would take a breath, the person listening would jump into their own act to declare, “I am here.” They would share monologues, ignoring and buying time to when there was a break and they could speak. It was no wonder that Brent could never achieve his aim. He wanted to make a statement to people to busy making their own statements to listen. Listening becomes a lost art.

There is a second related problem to “I am here.” There was poet at the seminary would act as a jukebox with his troubles with women. Put a nickel in and he would play how his latest love interest oppressed him. The newest woman could see him just as a friend, while he wanted more. He would not ask for more, he only wanted more. When questioned if he asked the girl out, he acted as if you just wounded him. He thought you did not understand his suffering. His suffering, as insignificant as it was, was his “I am here.” He did not act to make his romantic life work. If he did, he would lose his personal, “I am here.” He trapped himself by thinking his “I” was his identity. His “I” became his prison. The saddest aspect of his world was that his “I” was a mere illusion. Many of the women he forced into the role of rejecter would have given him a chance romantically if he could see past his “I.” He could not give up his story and see something new. “I am here” robbed him of freedom, and impoverish his imagination.

Part II

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Knocking on doors through theology

My quest, I see now, involves integrating history, spirituality and something beyond what I knew into a world of love, compassion and affirmation, the Kingdom of God. Answering the call of Jesus, I need to ask new questions, and stay with them. I want to tell a theological history of my life through spiritual questions. What is a human being? What is love? How do I define myself? What are the experiences of true freedom? How to live?

The American philosopher, George Santayana tirelessly quoted, “Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it” offers insight into the dangers of escaping history. No amount of negating the past can negate the past, hence, the problem. The more we aim to change the past, the more we remain within our same old self. We just have a better wardrobe. The past will make an appearance with or without our acknowledgment. Unacknowledged history risks controlling us like a marionette. You think your life is your own; only to find a sled named “rosebud” pulling your strings all along and making you dance to unheard music. A baritone whisper of your last words makes your life a black and white spectacle beyond your own control. Taking Plato’s advice, to examine your life means you have to enter your history with awareness. Exploring the Spirit’s questions through my experiences and finding the divine working within my life drives me into the deepness of history and not away from it.

The five questions shape a skeleton where the meat of my story can attach itself. They are all theological questions. The reality is that the last question was the one I needed answered the most. The first four form the foundation of answering the last. These questions are personal as they are universal. Theology’s valuable must be contained our experiences of life. We meet Jesus at the well gathering our daily water. I avoid practical theology, which uses theology in living, rather theology to illuminate living. For too long, theology disconnected itself from living. Augustine wrote both Confessions and City of God. One was about his life, and the other about God. If I am to see God in the center of life, theology must speak to my experiences. The proof of God must be in my story and my future. Any theology, any talk of God for me exhales in the act of my daily breathing. I ask these theological questions through the hard contact lenses of my life.

My first hurdle in my spiritual odyssey—just what the world needs: another overwrought, overwritten story blaming parents, God, Country, fellow humans, Prozac, or whatever else is handy for their own failings; all the while trying to create a new self out of the wreckage. What use is taking a wrecking ball to ones history? Am I trying to join that most American of past-times, reinventing myself? Am I trying to rewrite my history? Shattering history? If I am to live within a home in myself, then I have to overcome the tendency of blaming. Furthermore, if I am asking you to journey with me for the hours and days of reading, how boring will it be for you to spend it with me continually whining. I cannot escape my freedom and responsibility by retreating into excuses from the past. I have to acknowledge this tendency within the culture and more importantly within myself.

Today, the negating of personal history and culture of a self-creating stifles us. Reinventing one’s self has moved from the exclusive fare of celebrities, politicians, and authors and has gone mainstream. We see it on TV everyday. We all can have a makeover, and the cameras keep rolling. I must admit that most of these stories bore me. The self collapses into fashion. A frumpy librarian, pluck off the streets on her way home, becomes a glamorous woman who looks like a movie star. We see her get a new haircut, and a new wardrobe. In extreme cases, we see flesh hacked off her—nose reshaped by scalpel, and fat sucked out. She is revealed as a new woman in a moment of happy transformation. Her friends and family, surprised by her transformation, gawk over her as if she were a newborn. Interviewed, she raves about how her new look changed her life. Men with six-pack abs swoon over her. Women find her fascinating and line up to befriend her. Style has finally shined on her and resurrected her life.
Presumably, her worldview has not changed. If she were a Catholic, then she remains a Catholic. If she were a democrat, then she remains a democrat. She has not fallen off an ass on the way to Damascus because the voice of God called her. She is not physically blind for a few days, needing the help of other believers. Her beliefs are still intact, but she claims to be different. No, her conversion comes from costumes and repackaging. She, with her new image, can now be shelved at eyelevel with the best products. Her salvation and new life arrive as a hip hairstyle and up-to-date wardrobe. Her thoughts and ideas, her story, and her passion, none of it matters in the creation of her new life. She is Jay Gatsby without the tragedy, a blockbuster movie with a feel-good ending. How sad that all she needed was so superficial. Could it mean her life was always superficial? And still is?
Hers is the final negation of story in preference for style. Her history is unimportant, and easily ignored like street people pleading for money or food. What matters is the moment of her reception as a new self. The source of her happiness lies with her packaging, and not her thoughts, feelings, faith, or anything classically conceived as a human being. Her life turns out to be less important than her happiness. Supposedly we want to be like her, wait our turn when we will be swept away in black vans and have our history made irrelevant by slick hairdressers who know the secrets of ecstasy and eternal good hair days. All the while, the cameras roll capturing the only transformation left us. I, uninterested in being like her, find it worthless turning myself into the new and improved self, the new me. To negate my story does nothing in affirming my life. It is ugly in all of its seductive beauty.
It does tempt me. Escape from the Egypt of my past, and make myself into a sweet tasting soda of a man. Ironically, the American tendency to ignore History has its origins in American History. Americans seldom reflected upon the implications on reinventing of self. America, founded by groups wanting to escape the violence of European History, remain untrusting of History. The founders came from places like York, London, and Amsterdam. They set up cities and colonies like New York, New Haven, and New England. They unwittingly started the cult of new. They wanted to reinvent the old Europe into a New Jerusalem, or a new aristocracy. “New, new, new…” became the beat of our new country, and still is.
Later, waves of immigrants also followed in attempting to escape their own history into the land of opportunity. The asking price was the loss of the old way of life. The push westward was a push passed History into new possibilities. Our historical process is escaping the past. The delicious irony, our past conditions us to deny our past.
The larger historical process finds itself into how Americans live their personal lives, and hence my temptation. We admire self-made men. We will want to get a new start after a personal fall; we brush off the past’s dust off our jeans. We ask for feedback about the “… new me.” Freedom for us means both freedom from the past and freedom to create a new future. Freedom based solely on actions. Family, friends, places, home, all are malleable and changeable. Any American can become rich and famous or even the president despite their background. It is our greatest historical myth, even as most of us recognize it as unrealistic. Yet, we believe this myth as the source of our freedom. Could it also be our unrecognized prison? Our concepts make us slaves to a false freedom, and to the crushing self without a history. Jay Gatsby dies in his attempt. Daisy dies a spiritual death in her marriage. The greatness comes in the telling of the tale.
We believe we can simply cast off the old self by reinventing it through negating the past. The first act of reinventing is destroying what came before. It is no accident that the largest section in our bookstores is the self-help section. Here, we can find any number of books promoting the hope of escaping from our pasts and starting over. These books, enclosed in the thousands of colorful covers, advice us on how to repackage ourselves into a shiny new product. We can rebrand ourselves. The self-help industry neglects the main trap of erasing your past, which even fashionable clothes remain helpless to transform. Denied history morphs into a recurring future of that same past. We diet to lose weight only to gain more fat on our frames. My past is part of my life, and to destroy it in the name of new and improved remains unworkable.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Art, poem and transformation

I have always fascinated by the story of Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:4-42. Her life was transformed by the Jesus and his words: A poem about her:

Sun's Highest Point


I imagine, at times. I fill the large bucket
with only my words. I keep throwing the out
the bucket. It never fills. The noonday sun
pulsates into prayer beads of sweat strung
like a thorns along my forehead. Alone,

the salt forms a crystal coaster along my forehead.
Time has past and my words are funny, unheard.
Without a listener, my words keep gathering
in stagnant pools throughout my life. I keep going
and talking at those men: husbands and lovers

who could not hear me. I talk when no one is there.
I talk because talk is cheap and I am poor,
and can afford my words. The rest talk behind
my back and in front of me. I have descend so far
in their eyes, I will not listen to their vacuous

words any longer. I keep talking. I bath
in empty words—mine and theirs. Then,
I listen to my life flowing out of stranger's
mouth. Because he spoke, my words

gather weight. My towns unites,
and the son goes higher.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Love and being alive

Reading Moltmann's The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation

The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation

has given me a perspective on experience and methodology. Moltmann argues that the scientific method values repeatability and leaves unique experience undervalued. Yet, it is the experiences that are unique that are the ones that transform us. I understand as I experience the pregnancy of my wife. I feel different from just a few weeks since we found out. My thoughts move myself and onto the child forming and soon to breath on this earth. The title of Moltmann's bool speak to me. The spirit of life is the universal affirmation. Just like Jesus affirms life with his blood. The poem for today:

When the Word Spoke No Words
... but this man has done nothing wrong.
-Luke 23.41

I find a rest in your calm, in your presence
and in the listening you provide. Beloved God,
I recover in the bed of your quiet silence. Where?
Missing? You? The warmth of you piercing

questions nail me and I dream past my enigmas. I
lay down in your innocence. You give the afternoon
sun to my sleep. You give me air to breath. Your ans-
wers I receive and know dignity. What is your secret?

What ancient present text can I read to retrieve
you? Beloved, I feel my broken body repairing it-
self, feeling my heart slowing its pounding, my blood

moving in new paths. Your balm is working. My con-
versation moves with a reborn wind of clarity. I am
awakened to know the vastness of my unknowing...You


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pregnancy, Ultrasounds and love.

Last night, I saw the first pictures of our child forming. I though about the future, my child and Jesus. At one point, we all looked like that inch long being on the way to birth, including God incarnate. G0d started moving into our world to be with us as a group of cells. The future of how this child will move through the world is a mystery. It is when we let the mystery of life penetrate deep with our being that it changes us and forms us. Faith is also allowing the mystery touch us deeply at our core. When we try to control the mystery, we fall into the temptation of the first sin of trying to be like God without understanding God is love. Picking up my cross is picking up my weaknesses and vulnerablities and allowing love to form me. I have to go for now and here is a poem about being at the beginning of my marriage. It is about eternity:


The Collapse of Time, or How Eternity Exists in the First Year

A quiet illumination happens
within the waking, the walking
to errands, to our workouts, to the listening
to the radio, to our working
at different jobs and our speaking
at lunchtime. and always
the silence of sleeping
through the darkness
in a large bed we bought
together. We are newlyweds,
which means we explore
each other’s glossaries
and our mutual meanings. Moving
pass the bathroom as you
dry your hair, I hear you
ask a question. I answer,
and wash the dishes. You
tether the king sheets
and comforter (a wedding
gift) to our large mattress
each morning as I am on a bus
heading toward my current
position. Love, outside
our apartment there is two pools,
a clubhouse, and barbeque grills.
We live on the third floor,
and from our upper room,
we can view the colors
of the sky changing
during the different
parts of the day.
We dream and plan
for our own house. Our
loose ends are being
knitted into a elastic rope.

Suddenly,
I see

we are being rooted
in black soil. There are
buds forming between
us, which makefor sweet fruit.

Pregnancy post

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pregnancy, heartbeat, and Life

Then we became aware of our child's heartbeat. Lace had her first ultrasound today. She got to see the rapid heartbeat of our child within her. As she told me, I felt the sweep of Joy overcome me. Joy differs from happiness as Joy is rooted life. Unlike happiness, generated out circumstances, Joy meets us in the experience of life when it is at most profound. A job promotion may make you happy, but life noticed, whether it is a child playing, a smile given, or love recognized, joy meets us with the beauty of life.

I have been rereading Jurgen Moltmann's The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. His book on the Holy Spirit has had a profound influence on my faith and how I look see my faith. In the section I read last night, he made the case that an experience has to find expression to be fully realized. When Lace told me her experience of her first ultrasound, I found her expression of joy contagious. I write to express my joy in learning of a heartbeat.

Pregnancy Post

Monday, September 1, 2008

An Exile Discovers Home

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” I told them that the hand of God had been gracious upon me, and that the king had spoken to me. So they said, “Lets start building!” So, they committed themselves to the common good.
-Nehemiah 2.17-18 (NRSV)

Disillusioned, Joel wondered why. He served the Lord. It was so little to ask for. After all those years, was it too much to expect a little in return?

Miracles are all around us; we are simply blind to them. I saw Joel unwrapped more of the Gospel’s mystery for me. He and his wife dedicated over twenty-five years to the African mission fields. The raised their children in a country of leaping African tribesmen. Whey they returned home from their self-imposed exile, they found God fashioned them into faithful people by years of living out the Gospel, feeding the hungry and making peace. The problem was that the prime of their lives, where most their friends and neighbors use to buy houses, build equity, create careers, and save for retirement, was spent living in huts, building schools and helping people who could never return the favor.

Coming back to the US in their early fifties gave them little time to catch up. They came back with undervalued skills like peacemaking, digging wells, and building houses without modern equipment. They both worked entry-level jobs. She worked as an academic advisor at a seminary. He worked as part-time chaplain at three different hospitals. They were making do with what was in front of them without complaining.

So when after a few years, one of the hospitals had an opening for a full time director of chaplains with benefits, he thought his prayer had been answered. If Joel got the position, they could even think of buying a home, and forget living in an apartment. The position went to someone fresh out graduate school. His spirit fell. He would serve under a younger manager. He felt like an exile in what he thought was his home. When he shared his struggles in our prayer group, his eyes filled with tears of fear, rage and frustration. Then came a wonder and miracle.

“Exile” the word Nehemiah knew intimately. Even after he and his people return to Jerusalem, the city was broken and they had to start again. It was hard times rebuilding as rebuilding always is. God remained with them comforting, coaxing, and compelling the returned exiles on their mission. Their faith carried them. Jerusalem returned to glory from their river of sweat. The common work reunited a nation. It was the same faith Joel showed as he composed himself within a deep silence after his outburst. A peace descended on him. In a quiet voice, he said that he would support his new manager. He would make sure she would be a success despite his disappointment. Love was too important to sacrifice on the cross of regret. When we asked him why? He said that he knew that no matter what God would take care of his family. The new manager had committed no crime against him, and to hold his frustration over her would be unchristian. God may not give him everything he wants, but God provided more than enough.

“I may never own a house. Yet, I have seen children-soldiers guilty over murders and massacres redeemed into peacemakers. I know God has used my life. What could be greater?”

We all find at one point in our lives that we are returning exiles just like Nehemiah. We return to what was our home, and we hope to make that place home again. The rebuilding process will be demanding, but like Joel and Nehemiah, we may find out that our real home rests in the loving squeeze and embrace of God.