Posted by: crosspeace | November 25, 2012

Betty’s Diner

 

Song by Carrie Newcomer

Today’s gospel lesson says, “Jesus went about proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness. “ That is a curious statement for us today. In an agricultural society of Jesus’ time, I am sure someone might  have said “hey, it’s winter, there are no crops. What do you mean? You’re crazy.” Or others, starving and desperate to work might have said “where? I will go right now. Put me to work asap.”

For us today few would mistake this as an agricultural job opportunity presenting itself even though, in our own way, we may reject Jesus’ words as foolish or desperately wish to follow them for our own needs, but do not know where to look for this harvest in which to work.

As Jesus talks about a Kingdom which he sees as being present and bearing fruit all around, his disciples and others see only the same old world of suffering, powerlessness, sin and death. This, by the way is THE question of the New Testament “when will your Kingdom come? When will we see these things that are promised of a world of righteousness, justice, and God’s rule?” We pray that same statement and ask that same question when we say the Lord’s Prayer- Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done.. 

Well, we stand dumbfounded as the disciples when we hear that line. For too long we have been overwhelmed by a terrible psychological disorder that affects church people- it is called an “edifice complex.” An edifice complex is characterized by the whining sound of petulant voices that decry “I wish we had a BIG church like the ones on TV or that one up the road in New Bern. God blesses them because they are Bible Based.  God makes them big because they are doing such a good job harvesting souls. Just look at all of them! I could be so much a better Christian if only…” Or, “If we just had a new pipe organ, then we could put on performances and draw people (and money) in.” Or “if we just had a better preacher, or a younger preacher, or a woman preacher, or a ….fill in the blank.” And then there is “If we just had a better congregation, more young ones, more married ones, more generous one,  less screwed up ones….” Ediface complex- the belief that Church happens in a building or with a program or some bit of technology, or furniture, or perfect personality mix.’

But none of this answers the question that is implied in Jesus’ words. Where is this harvest and what is the crop and how do I harvest it?  From the passage we know that it has something to do with the sick and the hurting but who are they? How do we know we are sent? Lord, I am not able to do such a thing. I neither have the faith nor ability, nor the time. Frankly, I am not sure I even want to. It is impossible.

To tell you the truth, I am plain Lord. I am not one of those who can drop everything and run off to some mission field. Yes, I have troubles but they are not too bad. I am in control. Things are fine. There are people worse off than me. What have I got to say to them? Besides, they don’t want anything I have to offer. It would just make us both uncomfortable.

Miranda works the late night counter in a joint called Betty’s Diner. Chrome and checkered tablecloths; one steamy windowpane.  She got the job that shaky fall
and after hours she’ll write till dawn.

Miranda was in a tight spot and needed a few bucks to tide her over. Her dream was to write, you see, and it is tough to get a start. The night shift is slow, plenty of time to write a line or two. Maybe a few interesting people to come in. Regulars. Nothing special. Maybe even pick up a story for the book she was writing. We have all been there-something temporary. A fling. No commitment. Just a job to fill in the space until my life can begin.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd

But with a nod and smile she serves them all.

Like the folks in the painting Nighthawks they are drawn, like moths to the light perhaps, to the warmth, to the smell of coffee, someone to talk to, maybe a little something to eat before returning to the darkness, their darkness….. They can’t help it. They come in the door. She says, “Welcome. Sit down. Coffee? Cream?  Want to see a menu? How are you tonight? My name is Miranda (Juan, Jeri, Mike, Steve, Kathi, Russ, Alex). Let me know if I can get you anything.”

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church…

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.

Is this not a sign of the kingdom “curing and healing every disease”?  Does not the light draw them from their darkness? Do they not seek healing and wholeness and to have their hunger fed? You are getting the idea now aren’t you? Miranda somehow is a transformed person. She may not even be aware of it but she is faithful to its call. It is the transforming call of the Holy Spirit. She is a harvester isn’t she? She has gone to the field and now is standing in the middle of a great abundance. But it is not an abundance of success, wealth and power. It is an abundance of those who hang on to hope by a thread. The abundance is those who have been ravaged by the “savage wolves of life.”

Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all, so she don’t mind.

Miranda has eyes to see that which others cannot. Miranda harvests souls by her welcome, her nod and smile, her light, her warmth, her coffee, a simple offering of eggs and toast- the very food of heaven, the elements of communion. “Take eat this is the body of Christ given for you.” “Fill that cup? Drink this, it is the blood of New Covenant shed for you. ”She hears confessions muttered quietly in the sacred space of the diner. She hears the pain and the hopelessness and the shame of “things done and things left undone.” She grants absolution with each “Joe, Mary, Tim…welcome, sit down, stay awhile.” “I am happy to see you.” “How are you tonight?” You see Miranda is a priest and her counter is the finest altar on earth. Upon it the Lamb is slain in the Eucharist of broken souls and lives shed in hope and love. And the elements of broken bread and broken hearts are combined in a blessing cup over which which God  breathes his life giving breath, his Ruarch, upon the shattered and scattered bones and turns brokenness and death into life and love, and Christ is present, and moving resurrected among his redeemed people. Miranda’s is not simple eggs and toast but indeed the body of Christ, the bread of heaven and, not coffee but His blood, the cup of salvation.

Arthur lets his Earl Gray steep; since April it’s been hard to sleep. You know they tried most everything, yet it took her in the end.

Ultimately, it is in facing the inevitable that our faith does battle. The principalities and powers deal sickness and death. It may be death of the spirit, death of hope, death of the body-an unavoidable reality. If you live long enough you have heard the sentence. “We have done all we can-there is nothing more.” “I am sorry but you are not needed any more-your last day will be today. Pick up your check as your leave.” “I hate you, I never should have married you. I want a divorce.” “You are the biggest mistake I ever made.” Miranda is the face of an accepting Christ who in her simple way offers His life and hope. She listens and will listen again and again even if it’s to the same story chanted over and over in a litany of desperation until the story no longer has power over them and no longer deals death.  And it is Miranda who hears that confession and loves them through the darkness until the morning light.

Kevin tests new saxophones
but swears he’s leaving Quality Control for the Chicago scene, or New Orleans where they still play righteous horns

Kevin serves his time in a meaningless job, perhaps imprisoned by a paycheck and bills. It takes care of his obligations but at the cost of his dreams and spirit. On the outside he looks fine. He has a job. He is young. What more could he want? His dreams pull him along and yet at the same time cause him pain in their lack of fulfillment. His light flickers dimly with each note he blows into a horn played for no one as it echoes in the empty room. A dream can be a heavy burden if it chokes and stutters to a halt. Kevin seeks righteousness of a different sort. It is the freedom of melody and harmony and soaring musical scales, unconfined quality, not controlled by anything but spirit and soul. “Sing for him a new song; sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet,” says the psalmist.

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine. She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Jack studies here after work
to get past high school he’s the first. And his large hands seem just as comfortable with a hammer or a pen. Emma leaned and kissed his cheek and when she did his knees got weak Miranda smiles at them and winks.

Jack and Emma are hope and new life borne in love. All the while breaking with a confining past of “it’s always been this way.” But their love has spoken to them the “message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.”  You see their faith is in the love between them that is sometimes overwhelming and even frightening. They will be redeemed and set apart, sanctified that love.  By hammers and pencils their lives are being worked out in fear and trembling” ordered by hope and good work. Their hopes are not ends but means by which their lives will be lived as one, maybe in the strength of hammers and nails and maybe with weak knees, at times overpowered by deep and abiding love. You see, it is in their marriage and relationship that the Spirit most evidently does its work. Jack and Emma are that sign- they are the icons on the wall of this steamy little Cathedral that breaths hope to all who enter. Marriage is a holy thing. The light shines in them and through them. They are married in the sacramental smile of Miranda as she acknowledges Heaven within them.

Here we are all in one place.The wants and wounds of the human race, Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all so she don’t mind  You never know who’ll be your witness. You never know who grants forgiveness Look to heaven or sit with us

That’s right you never know who grants forgiveness or who cries out for it. It is that kingdom that is invisible most of the time and yet is there as surely as God is in his heaven. For the word of the Lord is right and all of his works are sure.” We may not know who will be that witness. It may be a stranger. It may be one we have rejected. It may be one so close that we cannot believe because, after all “is He not just the carpenter’s son?” But if we have faith enough to come into the diner, faith enough just to come in from the dark and cold and sit a spell, the Spirit will be faithful and will join us there. Someone present among those assembled in faith will surely attest to it. It is in those spinning barstool pews of changing life that someone can speak an honest and heartfelt Amen. Where two or three are gathered….you know the rest. But you see the diner is where faith lives The diner is a place where hearts rejoice and folks put their trust in Him- maybe they don’t even know it but God is faithful and He heals and makes them whole. The diner is sanctified space and they are a sanctified people, set apart by God for his favor. Set apart from loneliness, despair, broken dreams, darkness and cold.

Deidra bites her lip and frowns
She works the Stop and Go downtown. She’s pretty good at the crossword page and she paints her eyes blue black.  Tristan comes along sometimes. Small for his age and he’s barely five But she loves him like a mama lion.

Deidra and Tristan- a single mom doing the best she can. Perhaps the wolves of condemnation snarl at Tristan’s not having a father and nip at the fringes of Deidra’s edgy life and unconventional ways and “how can she be a decent mother working in that gas station half the night?” She looks like a tramp in that getup she’s wearing. Some people just deserve what they get…but that poor kid. I feel sorry for him….But in the refining light of the diner Deidra is a good mother who sacrifices her own self for her child. It is the sanctuary of the diner that provides a family of security and warmth. It is a place where she is welcome and Tristan has uncles and aunts in abundance as he plays in the corner by cash register and newspaper stand, watched and admired and encouraged by that loving nightly nocturnal village gathered to lovingly raise him. It is the loving-kindness of Christ that fills the night spaces of this, the grandest of basilicas, that is Betty’s Diner and the soulful congregation, which helps Deidra and Tristan to live and love and grow into fullness.

Veda used to drink a lot. Almost lost it all before she stopped. Comes in at night with her friend Mike who runs the crisis line. Michael toured Saigon and back  Hair the color of smoke and ash, their heads are bowed and hands are clasped.  One more storm has passed

Finally it is Veda and Michael who have mailboxes in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Veda who lives day to day with that spectre facing her as she looks in the mirror each morning and Michael who perhaps has been a dealer in death himself who spends the nights awake out of fear of the dreams that haunt him. You cannot kill another without dying a bit yourself. It takes its toll. One cannot see the things he has seen without their stealing innocence and hope and yet this odd self-dooming pair have found each other. Veda, a dying soul reaching out to Michael, formerly a man with a gun who now is the voice of life on an nighttime telephone line, and she grabs his hand and sinks no more into the waves of addiction that try to swallow her. Indeed it is her faith that saves her- her faith in a voice on the phone, the thinnest of handholds, a final desperate movement that is enough. I read today a quote that said, “It is faith alone that saves and sometimes those words are only a desperate “help me.” No long speaches of contrition. “Help me, I am drowning” is all needing to be said. One more storm has passed. No guarantees. Tomorrow is another day. It is only the faith in that hand that has been there before and who they believe will be there once again. That is enough sometimes. It is the prayer of thanksgiving and “lead us not into temptation” with hands clasped tightly they both fervently pray.

Here we are all in one place. The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Well, the harvest is ready. Do you see it? You don’t? Look harder. The Kingdom is always and only where the work of the Kingdom is being done. It is NOT up in the sky or in some future time far away. It starts here. I is here within you hearing…today.   It is where life abounds; it is where forgiveness is tendered; it is where justice reigns; it is where the blind see and the lame walk; it is where peace is lived; it is where prisoners with pasts no long languish in lonely desperation. It is all that and so much more. You see the Kingdom is where God is and is working through the Holy Spirit. It is where you live and where you work. Those places you are drawn to and those places you scrupulously avoid. It is where people are crying out. It may be that difficult person you try to slip away from because they bore you. It could be that kid who call himself a punk who needs help with his homework and who hangs out on the corner across from your house. It could even be the person with the new Mercedes you envy that he uses in order to fill the hole in his heart only to find that his emptiness swallows up that trinket like sinkhole opened in the earth. You see the field of harvest can only be seen “with eyes to see” and heard “with ears to hear.” Let our prayer be today only that we desire to see God’s Kingdom today here in our midst, that our ears are sufficiently open to hearing God’s voice, that we not be blinded by unforgiveness, and bitterness; that we not be led by things that are not of God but rather are strengthened to see Christ where He really appears, in the brokenness of others and in the glory of light and redemption. Let us see God in the kindness of Miranda and those whom each of us serve and, in turn serve us.  There are many. The harvest is rich. See it. Go, reap it. Bring it in in to the Kings table and offer it up for the feast. Do it now. It shall be the grandest of feasts. There has never been one like it. It is better than you expect. Your pictures of it are paltry- don’t waste time wishing. Go! Gather! Hurry, It is nearly time. I heard the feast is about to begin! Go.

Posted by: crosspeace | November 9, 2012

As the Smoke Clears

Watching “Morning Joe” which I only get chance to do about once a week. I like it because they have a balance of views even though each of the speakers fervently believes what they espouse, so it seems. There is rancor but there is balance- it is called discussion. People are starting to talk about the election and not make excuses or wave “The South Will Rise Again” flags. Leaders need to lead. All one needs to do is look at the Jersey Shore and see the damage. All one needs to do is see the economic morass and see that we need a plan. All one needs to do is see a hurting world and see it needs much attention. The smoke of the battlefield has risen. There is no excuse for not seeing what remains and to now get to the work of healing. 

Posted by: crosspeace | November 5, 2012

As the Stomach Turns

There used to be a funny takeoff on the show “As The World Turns” that was called “As the Stomach Turns.” I think it may have been in Mad Magazine from when I was a kid. (Does anyone still read Mad?) I don’t know about you, but I am feeling the same way about election news. Obviously, this is written one day before we know the results of the 2012 election and, frankly, I am so tired of all the acrimony, the phony lies projected from both sides and the fear projection that I can’t wait for this thing to be over regardless who wins. But the sad fact is that the next election cycle has already started in the campaigns, first for the next mid-term election and then the primaries of 2016 that really I don’t suspect anything much will change. The FB androids will be chattering ceaselesslyand it will be more doom and gloom of the same. Is this what Jesus called “living life abundantly?”

Well, the anwser to all of this nonsense is not something external. There will be no law passed to required civil discourse, nor will the excitment of projecting an alter ego semi-anonymously on the Internet diminish. The limits for this stuff can only come from a calm spirit, grounded in a secure relationship with Truth. Ultimately the events that so enrage us today will likely be only a scant few multiple choice questions on some future teacher’s history test and the kids will be bored with having to know what upset us so much. We need to be much more concerned with things eternal. Jesus is clear about what our concerns ought to be for the present. Are the hungry fed? Are the sick healed? Are the lonely visited? Is the prisoner set free?  If not then we have a whole lot more to be concerned about before we have time for bogus news stories and boogie man tales.

Posted by: crosspeace | November 3, 2012

A Parable of Community

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Posted by: crosspeace | November 3, 2012

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Posted by: crosspeace | November 3, 2012

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Posted by: crosspeace | November 3, 2012

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Posted by: crosspeace | October 15, 2010

Noisy Prayer

Psalm 139

Oh Lord you have searched me  and known me! You know me when I sit down and when I rise up, you discern my thoughts from afar.

Last night we talked about how we see God and how we talk to him. I find it hard most of the time to pray in conventional ways. I have nothing much to say. I am not good at begging and most always only ask for him to be present and to guide my thoughts, etc etc. It is all pretty boring. I like listening to God and feel that he speaks often. My response is often one of enjoyment or happiness and calm and peace. I don’t have a lot of trouble with the fact God has access to my thoughts. Sometime my thoughts are not the greatest but there is some comfort in that I cant hide them from him. I like contemplative prayer. I like the quiet and the creative thoughts that come out of it. I like formal written prayer because it seems to say the things I would say if I could think of them and I like the spaces they provide for my mind to go to God. When I pray I really am meditating or contemplating. That is one of the things that causes me concern with FCM in that it is noisy prayer and I am uncomfortable with it.

Posted by: crosspeace | October 13, 2009

A Year of Formation

The following article uses some quotes from Donald Millers new book,  A Million Miles and a Thousand Years.
“I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means that you matter, and that you can create with in even a I have created you. ( p. 59)
For a long time I have had a dream about the Last Judgment. In this dream I stand before the throne and a voice asks me, “Well what do you think?  About your life, how was it?” Sometimes in the dream when I have been feeling depressed I give it a thumbs down sort of like the guys you see on TV doing the movie reviews. “Two popcorn boxes out of ten. Definitely not a must see.” At other times I am all excited and full of thanks and wonder. “A ten, definitely, a ten!!” In my dream when I pan the movie that is my life I feel guilty and sheepish. When I give it thumbs up I am happy. It’s a good dream. I’m not sure my dream is prophetic like Jacob’s Ladder or Peter’s bed sheet full of formerly forbidden foods but somehow there is quality about it that always makes me take notice. I don’t like the dream but I suspect that the frequency of its coming to me is a message from on high. I’m treating it that way, in any case.
Last year a number of things happened which, by all rights, I would have given as “thumbs down.” But as awful as the experiences were, there somehow was the sense that I was in an adventure that ultimately would turn out OK.  And it did. In brief, last year I wound up in a job where I was a complete failure. I had never failed completely in a job. My marriage was having difficulty. That was no fun for either of us. My relationships at church became strained because of my difficulties at work and I no longer felt like I could attend there. That was really hard.  Everything was looking pretty disastrous and yet in the middle of this came the invitation to attend a retreat in Virginia and become a Franciscan Monk. I had been a Novice studying for some time. I always have been fascinated by monastic living and had become involved in a “third order Franciscan and Benedictine” group on the Internet called The Company of Jesus. At the time of my invitation things in the rest of my life were looking pretty down. My movie was looking like a “2” and yet this rather intriguing invitation came. After some struggling within myself and the commensurate “ I really shouldn’t because I need to be at work” excuses I decided to go.
I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. (p. 59)
After some difficulty I got to the retreat in the Virginia mountains. The weekend came and went. I honestly can’t say I remember a whole lot about it except for the fact that someone there sat down with me at lunch and asked a whole lot of personal questions and I spilled all the beans to him and, rather than put me off, he volunteered to walk with me though this experience that we called the desert time and to explore with me the places where God might be present.  Quite an offer. Sort of the Godfather, “Make him and offer he can’t refuse” sort of thing. Later that weekend I made a profession of vows to be a Franciscan. If you know anything about St. Francis you know that he embraced suffering and responded to it by serving others. The more suffering, the more service. He was one of the happiest guys that ever walked the face of the earth because somehow his suffering and the suffering of others connected him with the suffering of Christ. “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me” he said in his own way. As of that evening service my discomforts in life had a meaning. They connected me in some mysterious way to Francis and he was connected to Christ. It all took on a new meaning.
Well I can’t tell you that when I came home all was rosy or that all of a sudden I had a beatific outlook on life which made me take on the Sermon on the Mount with glee. No, I still stunk on the job and eventually was let go, my wife and I continued to struggle (though she didn’t let me go, thank God), the money was still short and everything I left in Havelock was still waiting for me in the driveway when I came home. But more and more this movie that I call my life moved from being a dark tragedy to being an adventure. I ceased to be just a schmoo struggling along with pointless failures but became a sort of Indiana Jones searching the desert for things of great value. My friend and I continued to talk each week as I told my continuing story and we explored the plot weekly as one event or another opened up. There were opportunities that presented themselves and I found more and more people to serve and, like my hero Francis, began to experience some joy in it all.
If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. (p 68).
That’s it. Transformation or Formation as the term is used in seminary. Transformation does not happen because the story gets easier or that the mountain one needs to climb mysteriously disappears. As a matter of fact, the view from the top of the mountain is an endless panorama of more mountains. The point of life is to live through the challenges not to somehow retire from them.  Francis discovered the answer to one’s burdens is to take on someone else’s. The answer to despair is faith which knows that the challenge is not the end but just the opportunity. Because Jesus triumphed over the most desperate of circumstances and defeated in his resurrection the most daunting challenge of all, death, in Him we can go forward undaunted.
And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life, then life itself may be designed to change us, so that we evolve form one kind of person to another.”
I think Don Miller is right. If our story has no challenges it does not have the possibility of  change, of transformation. If our story is secure and predictable we stand no chance to be formed by faith in Christ. It is precisely in sharing Christ’s sufferings that we may become transformed by Him. Francis is right and I thank Jesus for those “two thumbs” moments because they are they are the material for a really great life movie.
Br. Ed (COJ)
(The following article uses some quotes from Donald Millers new book, A Million Miles and a Thousand Years.)

“I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means that you matter, and that you can create with in even a I have created you. ( p. 59)

For a long time I have had a dream about the Last Judgment. In this dream I stand before the throne and a voice asks me, “Well what do you think?  About your life, how was it?” Sometimes in the dream when I have been feeling depressed I give it a thumbs down sort of like the guys you see on TV doing the movie reviews. “Two popcorn boxes out of ten. Definitely not a must see.” At other times I am all excited and full of thanks and wonder. “A ten, definitely, a ten!!” In my dream when I pan the movie that is my life I feel guilty and sheepish. When I give it thumbs up I am happy. It’s a good dream. I’m not sure my dream is prophetic like Jacob’s Ladder or Peter’s bed sheet full of formerly forbidden foods but somehow there is quality about it that always makes me take notice. I don’t like the dream but I suspect that the frequency of its coming to me is a message from on high. I’m treating it that way, in any case.
Last year a number of things happened which, by all rights, I would have given as “thumbs down.” But as awful as the experiences were, there somehow was the sense that I was in an adventure that ultimately would turn out OK.  And it did. In brief, last year I wound up in a job where I was a complete failure. I had never failed completely in a job. My marriage was having difficulty. That was no fun for either of us. My relationships at church became strained because of my difficulties at work and I no longer felt like I could attend there. That was really hard.  Everything was looking pretty disastrous and yet in the middle of this came the invitation to attend a retreat in Virginia and become a Franciscan Monk. I had been a Novice studying for some time. I always have been fascinated by monastic living and had become involved in a “third order Franciscan and Benedictine” group on the Internet called The Company of Jesus. At the time of my invitation things in the rest of my life were looking pretty down. My movie was looking like a “2” and yet this rather intriguing invitation came. After some struggling within myself and the commensurate “ I really shouldn’t because I need to be at work” excuses I decided to go.

I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. (p. 59)

After some difficulty I got to the retreat in the Virginia mountains. The weekend came and went. I honestly can’t say I remember a whole lot about it except for the fact that someone there sat down with me at lunch and asked a whole lot of personal questions and I spilled all the beans to him and, rather than put me off, he volunteered to walk with me though this experience that we called the desert time and to explore with me the places where God might be present.  Quite an offer. Sort of the Godfather, “Make him and offer he can’t refuse” sort of thing. Later that weekend I made a profession of vows to be a Franciscan. If you know anything about St. Francis you know that he embraced suffering and responded to it by serving others. The more suffering, the more service. He was one of the happiest guys that ever walked the face of the earth because somehow his suffering and the suffering of others connected him with the suffering of Christ. “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me” he said in his own way. As of that evening service my discomforts in life had a meaning. They connected me in some mysterious way to Francis and he was connected to Christ. It all took on a new meaning.
Well I can’t tell you that when I came home all was rosy or that all of a sudden I had a beatific outlook on life which made me take on the Sermon on the Mount with glee. No, I still stunk on the job and eventually was let go, my wife and I continued to struggle (though she didn’t let me go, thank God), the money was still short and everything I left in Havelock was still waiting for me in the driveway when I came home. But more and more this movie that I call my life moved from being a dark tragedy to being an adventure. I ceased to be just a schmoo struggling along with pointless failures but became a sort of Indiana Jones searching the desert for things of great value. My friend and I continued to talk each week as I told my continuing story and we explored the plot weekly as one event or another opened up. There were opportunities that presented themselves and I found more and more people to serve and, like my hero Francis, began to experience some joy in it all.

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. (p 68).

That’s it. Transformation or Formation as the term is used in seminary. Transformation does not happen because the story gets easier or that the mountain one needs to climb mysteriously disappears. As a matter of fact, the view from the top of the mountain is an endless panorama of more mountains. The point of life is to live through the challenges not to somehow retire from them.  Francis discovered the answer to one’s burdens is to take on someone else’s. The answer to despair is faith which knows that the challenge is not the end but just the opportunity. Because Jesus triumphed over the most desperate of circumstances and defeated in his resurrection the most daunting challenge of all, death, in Him we can go forward undaunted.

And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life, then life itself may be designed to change us, so that we evolve form one kind of person to another.”

I think Don Miller is right. If our story has no challenges it does not have the possibility of  change, of transformation. If our story is secure and predictable we stand no chance to be formed by faith in Christ. It is precisely in sharing Christ’s sufferings that we may become transformed by Him. Francis is right and I thank Jesus for those “two thumbs” moments because they are they are the material for a really great life movie.
Br. Ed (COJ)

Posted by: crosspeace | October 2, 2009

Just Married

Several weeks ago I was riding behind a pickup truck full of fishing rods, beach gear and all sorts of things dedicated to a relaxed time at the beach. On the tailgate the words “Just Married” were printed in a hand painted script that was already beginning to fall prey to a few showers and time in the sun. It looked like a marriage well along the way to leaving the honeymoon stage and heading into the day-to-day state. I hoped they had a wonderful time and I could see through the window of the truck that they were sitting close together, probably holding hands and were still in that dream state that all honeymooners must some time awake from and do things like getting up in the night to put out the dog or eat cold cereal on the way to work or balance a checkbook that someone forgot to record a check. You know, regular things. Not so much handholding after a day of smooching and fishing on the beach of the Crystal Coast.

A newly married friend wrote me a note which brought this memory of the “just marrieds’ back. It was a slightly wistful note about discovering that some of the letters on the back to the pickup truck of their marriage was beginning to show a small bit of weathering. It’s a place all of us old marrieds have gone and feels a little like it used to feel a couple of days before the end of summer vacation; sort of a mildly sickening feeling in the stomach. It does not put you in bed but it does take the fun out of another hour on the swingset. When I saw my friend’s note and remembered the newlyweds’ truck I thought of the words Just Married.

Just Married when announcing a new marriage is exciting and hopeful and makes sentimental women (some men too, perhaps) tear up and say things like, “Isn’t that sweet?” For a day or a week the new couple are the Prince and Princess of the universe and everyone smiles and wishes them well. Another “just married” is the sort that reveals a sense of tired resignation. Sort of like, not only have I been there, done that and bought the T-shirt but now the tee shirt is worn out and my belly sticks out around the bottom. No one says “Isn’t that sweet” at this Just Married. I suppose they will on the couple’s 60th anniversary as the celebrated couple gum their wedding cake and ice cream and everyone fawns over them for a few hours. The fact is that both of them know that there has been a whole lot of stuff that is not very sweet that has happened to get them there to that point. There was a whole lot of “just married.”But I think most of them understand there is a sweetness unavailable to the newlyweds and most others who have not had the experience.

While I think there are times that we all feel “just married” in the everydayness of our relationships they do have the potential to take us places where we otherwise would not have gone. Marriage is difficult and when it becomes clear that the person we married is not really the person we thought we were marrying there comes a sense of disappointment and betrayal that for some is the beginning of the end. But if we, somehow, through prayer, tears, angry words, forgiveness and Grace work through this we find that the person we married is far better and far different than our weak imaginations ever could have provided for us. We not only marry the other person but we have the benefit and carry the burden of their pasts, parents, successes, failures, exes and all of the stuff that makes them who they are. We do not discover these things on the honeymoon. It is only available over time and experience.

With patience, determination, a dearth of options, and Grace we also may find that we are not who our imaginations told us who we are. We may find that we are far more childish, unattractive and selfish than we ever imagined. But we also may find that we are truly heroic, generous, forgiving and more talented than we ever would have believed. Our experiences together gives us the ability to trust in the other persons behavior in a situation even though we may not like it. For those of us who like a little control in life the predictability of another is a sort of comfort. Even when our spouse’s responses are preditably goofy or just wrong. On good days we are able to laugh about it. On bad days, at least we were able to see it coming and hold a sense of pride in our being prophetic.

My wife and I were looking at a horrible news story the other day about a guy who hit his wife in the head with a hammer. “If you get mad at me, please don’t hit me in the head with a hammer,” she said to me. She knows I wouldn’t. I had taken a picture of her holding a boa constrictor in school recently I told her I might take Bobo the boa and freeze him and club her with him and then the evidence would thaw and slither away. We laughed. Both of us are secure. She might get mad at me, scowl, say something I don’t like but I can trust her. She can trust me. We are just married. There is nothing worth upsetting that for.

God calls us into a perpetual “just married” trusting state with Him. We know his history in scripture. We get to become a part of His very large and dysfunctional family. We get to live and grow in this adventure of relationship and become formed by it. It is seldom easy and often frustrating, for all parties concerned, I am sure. But it is the best game in town. Just as in my own life spent as a single person I never had the opportunity to learn the truth about myself, without this relationship with God I could never learn the things this relationship means in my life. The nice thing about this relationship with Him is the fact that he will never “pack His bags and go home to mother.” NEVER. He will always be there and will always pick up where we left off. My earthly marriage is a model of that and, while fragile and sometimes even painfully ordinary, it is a gift. Marriage is sacramental because God is present within it’s ordinariness in the same way He is in the ordinary water of baptism or bread and wine of the Eucharist.

I think “just married” is a great bumper sticker for couples old and young and for the church.

P.S. In a future blog I want to explore “Just Married” from the perspective of marital relationships. How indeed can we live justly within our marriages? What is justice within the context  of Christian marriage. Need to think about it though.

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