29 November 2005

W.S. Merwin on Honor

I am not the first to recognize the power of the following poem, but I am happy to give it a place on my blog. Today I am feeling the exhaustion of a heavy burden carried long. I am sick of the way the world dishonors the things we call most holy. I am longing for truth and for home.

But, for today at least, I am choosing to stand still and say thank you. I will not relinquish hope. I will stand.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

- W.S. Merwin, Thanks

27 November 2005

Jared Anderson on Glory

You dance over me
While I am unaware
You sing all around
But I never hear the sound
Lord, I’m amazed by You

- Jared Anderson in Amazed

I'm not a big fan of church music that reduces down to songs about "me and my needs". I think the sooner we can learn to stop thinking so much about ourselves, the better off we'll be. At first listen, this song sounds like it's heading down that same road. But after a couple times through it, I started to hear more...

As the ineffable, inescapable C.S. Lewis says in The Weight Of Glory,

I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not!

How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us.

It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.

To please God...to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness...to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son -- it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

I had just finished reading that this morning when the above song came down through my headphones. I was -- can I say this? -- knocked on my ass by the thought.

One more piece from Lewis...

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

Okay, that's enough quoting. I will just confess here in a small voice that these things are bringing tears to my eyes today. It is a wonderful thing to be wholly received and accepted.

But go read the whole thing for yourself. And track down that song. There's much more to all of this than what I've got room for here.

26 November 2005

Holidays Are Here Again

Three cheers for the Pilgrims and the Indians. That was some good turkey and stuffing. See and read a little bit about my Thanksgiving experience here or here...

23 November 2005

Working At Home

One of the benefits of working at home is having friends come over and study theology out in the yard while you work on your stuff. Of course, you have to be strict sometimes. For example, when your other friend (wife of the theology-studying friend) falls asleep on the couch and then it gets contagious and begins to make you sleepy too and you feel like laying yourself down in the grass and spending some time contemplating the blueness of the sky, then you know you're in trouble. But what can you do? I guess I don't really know where I was going with this. But maybe that's okay. So, thank you, friends.

22 November 2005

Eric Liddell on Staying Out Of The Ditch

Jesus said, 'If with all your hearts ye truly seek me, ye shall ever surely find me'...if you commit yourself to the love of Christ. And that is how you run the straight race.

- Eric Liddell

So will this work? Will it really keep you on the road and moving forward on the days when the earthquake demolishes the overpasses. And what about hurricanes? And fires, God help us, what about the fires?

18 November 2005

For Todd

Around this time yesterday, a friend of mine lost his battle with mental illness and took his own life in his Seattle apartment. This is a prayer for Todd and also for his parents who have looked after me this past year and have to find a way to get out of bed tomorrow and the next and all the ones following. God have mercy on them and on us all.

17 November 2005

Prayer

I've spent enough time on the phone and in conversation with friends this week to know that there is a surplus of trouble going around and not a lot anyone can do about most of it. It's not how life should be, for certain, but it's the way it is. So for myself and for all of us who have found ourselves in the dark this week (you don't need to raise your hands, I know you're out there), here is a reminder and a prayer:

You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.

- Psalm 18:28 (NIV)

15 November 2005

Fun Game: Mystery Picture

Okay, it's a lame game. Mostly because it's not really much of a mystery picture. If you've been there, you'll know it right off. But there you go, even the Zippy Media Empire has some slow nights...

So, the voting booths are open. Where is it? And, to make it a tiny bit more interesting, if you've been there, tell us your best memory of the place...

14 November 2005

Dostoevsky on Cell Phones

...and Palm Pilots and handheld GPS units and BMWs and houses by the beach and democracy in the Middle East:

For the world says: "You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest men. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even increase them" -- this is the current teaching of the world.

And in this they see freedom. But what comes of this right to increase one's needs? For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown any way of satisfying their needs.

We are assured that the world is becoming more and more united, is being formed into brotherly communion, by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air.

Alas, do not believe in such a union of people. Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves. They live only for mutual envy, for pleasure-seeking and self-display.

- Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

10 November 2005

Space

08 November 2005

Bigger Game

I turned in my resignation yesterday at a job that was very comfortable, that paid me well, that provided me a significant amount of satisfaction, a job with many fine coworkers and friends, a job centered around the supreme value of curiosity and the high adventure of space exploration. It has been better to me than I could have dreamed of asking for.

And today I have no doubt that I made the right choice. I am on the track of a different, better kind of adventure and am content with the decision. In fact, I am only a little bit sad. But I'm going to need a few days to catch my breath.

06 November 2005

Here

I'm home, in case you were wondering, although you probably weren't. And I'm happy to stop moving for a little bit.

Returning from a long trip and spending a couple days in the jet lag bubble is always a peculiar time. No other time is like this: the strange dreams, the flashbacks, seeing the familiar with a traveler's eyes. It's always in these times that Los Angeles looks most foreign to me.

Maybe this is just part of being human, but I'm struck by how small we keep our lives and how we spend so much of our time getting bent out of shape about insignificant things. And also how selfish we are. And how lost.

And I am struggling to hang on to this clarity of perspective before it slips away and I plug back in to the current that flows along the streets and freeways. It's like a drug, this adrenalin buzz, this impatience, this fixation on the surface of things, this demand for satisfaction, this fragmentation. It blunts my senses and makes me turn inward. And not in a good way.

I find myself cursing the slow and incompetent around me, who are all of a sudden everywhere it seems. I wasn't like this yesterday or last week. What happened to me? Did someone spike my tea? Is there something in this Los Angeles air? Whatever it is, it is a sad state of affairs.

So, if you see me walking around with my shoulders tense and my brow furrowed, if I pull up behind you honking and waving my arms, say a prayer for me, remind me of my own words. Better yet, remind me of the truth, which is beyond and above me, which passes all understanding, which is my only source of hope for life.

04 November 2005

Heading Home

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02 November 2005

Teutonic Knight

Just in case you were wondering, it was generally not a good idea to mess with a Teutonic knight.

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Malbork Fortress

I took the day off to celebrate the end of this long trip and went sightseeing in Poland at a fortress built in the late 1200s. Yeah, that's pretty old. The Teutonic knights built the castle to be the seat of their government in northern Poland.

Proof that "progress" is not always progress: in the late 1700s, the Prussians were using the castle as a military warehouse, and decided that a bunch of condos and a McDonald's or two would better serve the city, and proceeded to demolish the monstrous fortress. Fortunately King Frederick Wilhelm III was a little more farsighted than the city officials and called a halt to the disaster in 1804. Thus the castle was saved for future generations. Of course, in 1945 the kindly German Luftwaffe came through and shot the hell out of the place for target practice. Which was a stupid thing to do, may I politely suggest.

Anyway, I had the place almost entirely to myself today, a really amazing experience. This looks just like Disneyland, I thought to myself, before knocking myself on the head for the pure ridiculousness of the thought. And then, I thought, no, it's just like Zork. Go south, I kept saying out loud. You have entered a large room. There are doors to the west and to the south. Okay, I'm a geek.

In any case, it was a childhood dream come true to have a drizzly afternoon free to explore a medieval castle all on my own. Endless hall after endless hall. On occasion a warm and well-lit room full of tapestries or armor. In the basement, I peered into the dim kitchen and thought to myself "that is a very lifelike costumed dummy they have sitting there at the table." And then he nodded solemly to me and went back to reading his book. I swear he looked just like the Albino from the Pit of Despair in the Princess Bride.

And then, after 2 hours of sweet solitary exploration, as I was walking out, 2 busloads of German tourists poured into the castle. Could the afternoon have been any better?

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01 November 2005

All Saint's Day

...is a REALLY BIG DEAL in Poland. If you get the chance sometime, spend the evening of November 1 in a cemetery in Poland. This may sound strange, but it is a pretty wonderful experience.

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