Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Here I Stand

When you're born and reared a Calvinist, theological squabbles--even wars--are never either particularly abstract nor far away, even if to the rest of the world they may seem so. The biggie in my lifetime, of course, revolves around the role of women--where they may and where they may not serve in church. Conservatives like to say that the issue isn't about women, per se, but about how to read the Bible, and they're right.

But to argue that opposition to women in ecclesiastical office is fueled only by a high regard for scriptural authority runs up a bit shy of the whole truth. I'm not interested in fighting about that issue, only in asserting that, very frequently, personality plays a significant role in skirmishes that have characterized much of the history of my particular people.

Perhaps that step in my maturation is yet to come, but on points theological, as I've aged, I've not become more of a grumpy old man, but less of one. As I enter my seventh decade, I'm far less willing to draw lines in the sand; what's more, I'm increasingly impatient--even intolerant, I guess--with those who want to.

I've got enough of the old man in me yet, however, to feel some guilt about the joy I feel these days in the apparent demise of "the religious right." I read an article yesterday in World magazine, an analysis of the fall of the ancient, lion-hearted, evangelical right-wing giants, and it just got me depressed, largely because some of its befuddled followers woefully bemoan that fall rather than rejoice in the fact that evangelicals themselves are growing in every way, including in vision. I'm just tired of beating dead horses.

An article in the latest student newspaper here made me weary all weekend long--a rant by a colleague who is leaving the college, a man who feels very strongly that this place has taken a great fall from his own sense of verifiable righteousness. Geesh. Good riddance. May he find peace elsewhere--more importantly, may he and his family find a company of good Christian people just as righteous as he is.

That kind of "I'm righteous, you aren't" talk is a rhetoric that exhausts me. What strengthens me, what sustains me, what fills my heart with joy is a poem like this one by Anne Porter, from this morning's Writer's Almanac:


Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

from Living Things, Zoland Books (2006).

That poem is wonderful. It thrills me.

What thrills me still is Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Or Calvin: "There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in the world that is not intended to make us rejoice."

Or even that unCalvinist, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

By my soon-to-be ex-colleague's standards, I suppose, all of that puts me on the other side of his line in the sand.

So be it.

Here I stand, or so said Luther. Makes me feel more like a Calvinist to say it, but the older I get, the more I know I cannot do otherwise.


kris nichols said...

This is nice. I think I'll steal the poem for my blog too.

I've always been less than willing to draw lines in the sand. Thanks for your thoughts this morning.

whistler said...

I read the poem from the Almanac this morning and thought, "I bet I know someone else who found something wonderful in it!" So I looked here, and I was right. A+.

Real Live Preacher said...

It's tiring, isn't it, being human? Seeing the problem and being it?

Loved Susanna's word of truth and wisdom.

siouxsiepoet said...

mellowed with age, i dig that about you jim.

it comforts me.