Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
And what would my grandpa say?--that's what I ask myself, a church elder who often took delight in shedding tears about the burden of his own sin. Is it really a prayer if your lap disappears beneath an 18-pound grey tabby, your fingers lost somewhere in the fur behind his ears?
We have yet to determine where exactly, but our cat shows up somewhere, we believe, on the autism spectrum because he's so powerfully driven by his own rituals. Every night after supper, he leaves whatever warm corner he's in when he hears me read scripture. He bounds into the kitchen, not so much to listen but to get his ears scratched by the guy who's reading. Okay, I suppose I'm no less a sinner than my wife: I itch, she offers her lap. When what I'm offering gets old, he takes a leap. There he is, and then we pray.
There's something less than devout about him being there, and yet, when I read the latest stats from the Barna Group, I'm thinking maybe more of us ought to make a practice of impiety, ought to laugh once in awhile, maybe even at ourselves.
Honestly, the stats are far worse than I would have guessed. Evangelicals--and I am one--aren't much loved, or respected, or admired--at least by those between 16 and 29. The vast majority of those young'uns--the kids I teach, churchgoers or not--tend to see evangelicals as people who spend far too much energy pointing fingers, beating chests, and trying to form their lips around a dozen new ways to say no. We aren't much loved.
The Bible isn't much help here. Jesus came to bring the sword, right? If people hate us, we're just doing what he did, wielding that weapon rightly. When Cotton Mather wanted his flock to understand the witchcraft horrors sweeping Salem, he pulled out a biblical warrant: the witches were a scourge sent by the Lord, who only punishes those he loves. I don't doubt for a moment that some evangelicals look at Barna's statistics and slam their fists down on the desk in triumph--"we shall not be moved."
But then there's I Corinthians 13. Last time I read it--and I admit it was in The Message--it wasn't about slammed fists. Then again, as I remember it, Jesus had something to say about sins and first stones; and there's always that scary parable about the sheep and the goats standing there dumbfounded at the judgment, telling Jesus they had no clue that he himself could have been there when they helped out--or didn't--the poor and the naked and the imprisoned.
The Bible cuts both ways. The stats don't.
Honestly, there's nothing pretty about the way people perceive us. Today, some claim that the word "evangelical" has more profound political meaning than religious or spiritual. But then, some might say that that's just exactly the way it should be.
I'm not in that bunch.
Here's what I'm thinking. Maybe more of us ought to pray with our cats in our laps.
The stats box is on loan from the latest edition (Nov. 7) of World magazine.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until tomorrow; and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, – of the definite with the indefinite – of the substance with the shadow.
But, if the contest has proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, – we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long over-awed us. It flies – it disappears – we are free. The old energy returns. We will labour now. Alas, it is too late!”
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
And let my cry come unto Thee.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
"I really cannot help you if you ask for another gift. I’m nothing but an old stump now. I’m sorry but I’ve nothing more to give."
"I do not need very much now, just a quiet place to rest," the boy whispered, with a weary smile.
"Well,” said the tree, "an old stump is still good for that. Come, boy,” he said, "Sit down, sit down and rest a while."
And so he did and oh, the tree was happy. Oh, the tree was glad.
This morning, I’m sure, most of the kids won’t even remember The Giving Tree, but that doesn’t mean the story’s not there, packed away in the fables by which we create our sense of the world we’re in.
Here’s what I figure: it wouldn’t hurt for most of us out here in the land of agri-business to take a lesson or two from the Lakota culture we so rudely displaced with our Calvinist/capitalist ethics, even if that lesson comes by way of Shel Silverstein, a Jewish boy from Chicago, who probably never saw a buffalo or set foot in Siouxland.
Somehow the whole thing still makes me giggle, and, believe me, it ain’t kiddie lit.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Her animal sidekick is a toad because ancient moralists claimed that while toads eat dirt and thus would never run out of food, they’re afraid to anyway, lest they should—sort of like me, with cashews.
Behind Dame Avarice, a winged monster points at debts on a sheet of paper while lecturing a naked couple (some Puritan undoubtedly gave them their underwear) who have outspent their Mastercards. The moneylender—that’s his hut—catches his victims in a massive scissors, but no matter: the moneylender is himself being robbed—there’s a thief on his roof.
Over on the left hand side, a couple of shysters are attacking an onion-shaped piggy-bank. One man is getting a coin out of the slot with a long pole, another has climbed a ladder and is about to smash it.
If you hadn’t determined what’s going on yet, it’s avarice, the sixth of the seven deadlies.
When it comes to greed, I’m pretty clean. I’d pay way more than I should for a good caramel apple this time of year. If anything, I’m spendthrift. No one’s ever called me Silas Marner. Ask my wife.
Avarice, by way of the Catholic Encyclopedia, is, simply stated, “the inordinate love of riches,” and none other than Christ himself says the love of money is the root of all evil.
The doctrine of inerrancy is nothing to sneeze at, so pardon my spotten here. But I’ve always doubted “inerrancy” in the way the fundamentalists trumpet it, because on this one at least, Christ just can’t be exactly right. If the love of money is the root of ALL evil, I wouldn’t have missed the payment day on my credit cards last month and forked over more cash than I care to admit—again. Love of bucks certainly isn't the root of all evil in me. I think our savior sometimes pulled hyperbole out of a bag of rhetorical tools he carried. I’m a sinner, no doubt, but greed isn’t my stock in trade. Sometimes I could easily stand to turn it up a notch, in fact.
But then most of us out here on the edge of the prairie aren’t, if the geographers at Kansas State are accurate. What the Siouxland righteous have always known is that real sin sprouts only on the coasts, among the heathen there. Anyway, Kansas State's portrait of American sin paints the country this way, with a belt of near sinlessness smack dab down the middle, the reflection of so many blessed halos:
Measurements were taken by comparing average incomes in a locality with the total number of inhabitants therein living beneath the poverty line. I’m sure the God of heaven and earth has other criteria.
But, like I say, for Calvinists at least, it’s always kind of fun to think about sin, probably more so if it ain't yours.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This grandparent sleepover, however, comes not by choice but directive. Last Friday she came down with H1N1, one of more than a few in her school, and the doctor thought it best that she stay far away from her little month-old baby brother. She stayed home for a couple of days, and her baby brother came here (with Mom and big brother); and now, the contagious part of her affliction behind her, everyone simply switched places.
Just exactly why our minds flashback the way they do is beyond me, but as I crept out of the room early this morning, an ancient childhood memory played in sepia tones on the screen of my memory, something so far out of the subterranean past that I'm surprised I even remember. In 1954, for reasons totally unknown, I stayed with my grandma and grandpa, right downtown, Oostburg, Wisconsin, where Grandpa had a blacksmith shop that was, right then, turning into what we used to call a "filling station."
What I'm saying is, once upon at time way back when, I stayed at Grandma's house too, and I remember, somehow, having to go to school, just a healthy block away or so, marching off down the street from the opposite direction. And what I'll never, ever forget--who knows why?--is the almost unspeakable humiliation of having to wear a bow tie. It must have come with me, I suppose--I can't imagine Grandma would have simply grabbed one of out of Grandpa's closet or something--but she made me wear a bow tie to school, forced it on me, as if not wearing it would be unthinkable for "a scholar"--that's what she called me. That's what I remember--a bowtie is somehow fitting, I suppose, on a scholar.
Of course, Grandma was really old. She went to school before the first World War. Grandma buried a brother, her only brother, when he didn't return from the trenches of France. Grandma raised her children in the Depression. What I'm saying is that when I was a boy, Grandma was really old.
But this morning, creeping down the stairs in utter darkness, I suffered another one of those horrific senior seizures because suddenly my own grandmother, eons old, came back to me in a creepy memory more than a half-century in the dust. Try as I might, I couldn't help remembering that, even then, to me, a five-year-old, my beloved Grandma seemed absolutely ancient, a museum piece, someone beloved yet curious, and, well, embarrassing as a bow tie.
So, in complete darkness before five this morning, my granddaughter asleep in the room at the head of stairs, I'm descending steps, hands up on the wall like an old man to keep my balance, caught up somewhere half way between deadly serious bouts of giggles and tears.
Offer me a thousand dollars, and I won't do it. I won't say one blessed thing about she'll wear today when she trots off to school. You can count on that.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 09, 2009
Anyway, for gluttony those geographers searched out those areas of the country that have the highest rate of fast food restaurants per capita--to wit, where can you get a mushroom cloud-sized Hardee's Angus burgers every other block? And here's what they found. Red is bad.