Monday, October 29, 2012

The veil between this world and that

This week, believed by some to be the time the veil between earth and the underworld is breached, draws an unlikely mix of celebrants around the world. Séance-saturated wiccans, kite-flying Mayans, purgatory-praying intercessors, and ruddy- cheeked candy collectors, whether intentional or not, all celebrate this fascination with death, dead, and darkness.

 For some it is a time to ward off evil spirits, for others, a favorable time to commune with the Lord of Darkness, and for some, a time to communicate with their departed.

While we were in Guatemala, our language school arranged a field trip to Santiago Sacatepequez, a town famous for its Barrilete, Kite Festival. This festival coincides with All Saints Day (because an eight-century pope aligned it so).

For the first and last time while in Guatemala, I boarded the bus (think rattley, recycled, turquoise school bus) which although it did get stuck in off the shoulder mud, delivered us safely to the cemetery where we joined hundreds of other people of every color and hue milling around graves sites; some setting up their  picnics on the stones.   

All were gathered to watch teams try to launch their huge (some up to fifty-feet in diameter) tissue paper kites bearing prayers and messages for the departed.

 According to Damian Choxin Jolon of the Santiago Association for Cultural Development, “these kites were created by Mayas to ward off bad spirits on All Saints Day, the day in which the deceased were allowed to visit the human world. Not wanting the bad spirits to return to the earth, the kites were created to make noise to scare them off, and also to carry messages to heaven on behalf of those in purgatory. (This last custom reflects the syncretism that is still strong in the area between Maya religious beliefs and Catholic customs.)”

It was all great fun, although I noted the irony of honoring the dead while trampling their gravesites. We, as I suspect most of the participants, simply enjoyed the brilliance and beauty of the festivity, and didn’t really consider the meaning.

But therein lies the danger, even here in our American culture.

The more we lose sight of a Christ-centered worldview and the edges of our Christianity mix with the colors of current culture, like a flower in a water painting, the lines of definition will blur together in a formless pastel of impression.

While thinking about this, I wondered if the influence of Halloween and all things related was celebrated in Israel or if it were mainly a pagan/Christian(?)  syncretism. I’m not going to travel along that idea here, but this linked article, which originally appeared in the Toronto Jewish Tribune, lends a lovely perspective on the matter.

More than a warning against something, I mean to issue a call for something—for knowing what God says about living, about truth, and especially during this week, about life after death.

I don’t know of the veil between the earth and the underworld, but I do know of the veil that was between heaven and earth. The veil that was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil through which I can enter because of the blood of the Lamb.

And though I may appreciate the beauty of a high-flying kite, I don’t have to hope in messages tied to its tail, for I know my messages go straight to the throne of God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Dump a Frump

Spoiler alert: In case you are a seventeen-year-old that has just gone on your first blind date and come here for advice, this probably isn’t what you are looking for.

Frump: that state of malaise; that vague sense something is off but you can’t quite identify it, like fishing around for the tiny hair stuck on the tip of your tongue.

It’s when that hiatus you took from the gym because you had a stuffy nose has now morphed into a two-week slump, where the thought of stuffing your thighs into that spandex suit is as inviting as cleaning up the pooch poop in the yard.

And you can’t think of a thing to say to even one of the five hundred friends you have on FB or know whether to do this or that. If you’re reading a book you think you should be raking the leaves; if you’re raking the leaves, you think you should be reading a book.

Other than a lumpy pillow, frumps can be triggered by, but not limited to:

Lack of community  
Lack of direction  
Lack of discipline  
Lack of light—both physical and spiritual

The problem, of course, is that when you are in a frump you don’t feel like doing any of the things you need to get out of it.

I think lists are helpful here because they give form and direction in the midst of nebulous uncertainty. You don’t have to solve any major problems or outfit your emergency preparedness cupboard. The important thing is to have something tangible to cross off.

Physical suggestions 

  • Do something different. The brain thrives on new activity. Go to a different coffee shop at an odd time of day; take a drive around an area you’ve never explored; sort through that box of high school treasures and old cards. Just break your routine. 
  • Make Contact with someone. Maybe a person who comes to mind at a random time needs a hello, or that friend you haven’t spoken to in months, or that stranger at church. 
  • Tease yourself back into exercise. Ten minute stretches for a few nights might give you enough results to inspire the treadmill.
  • Get some sunshine. Several ten minute breaks throughout the day are invigorating.

Spiritual prescriptions

  • Examine yourself for any grievances against others or the Lord but  
  • Be on guard about trusting in oppression; the self-defeating lies that include words like always, never, not, and isn’t—the Lodebars—things of nothing you hold in your hand and beat yourself with.  
  • Command yourself to Bless the Lord and 
  • Remember his benefits. You may not be able to control your sluggish feeling but you can issue a command. It helped me to realize this is what David did when he ordered his soul to bless the Lord and forget none of his benefits.—Psalm 103

Describing a far more serious state than frumpy doldrums, Jeremiah says his “soul has been rejected from peace, he has forgotten happiness, and his strength has perished as has his hope from the Lord.”—Lamentations 3:17-18.

But then he remembers: “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease, his compassions never fail. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Several of the psalmists express a similar despondency: Why are you in despair, o my soul, and disturbed within me? and arrive at the same conclusion: Be strong, let your heart take courage. Hope in God.

So how do you do that when you don’t feel like doing anything? When you’re far from being strong or taking courage or mustering up hope?

Read verses that attest to who God is. Wash yourself daily with remembrances of his might, his deeds, his love, his power, his mercy and faithfulness. I keep several pages of favorite passages in the front of my journal.

Keep the focus on God rather than on verses that remind you of your own despair. Wait patiently for the stirring for it will come, and then the outburst—the “OH” of God. The worship.

Hope resumed.

Frump deflated.

Then I said, “It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed. I shall remember the deeds of the Lord .What god is great like our God? The art the God who works wonders.”—Psalm 77

To him who rides upon the highest heavens, which are from ancient times. Ascribe strength to God; his majesty is over Israel, and his strength is in the skies. The God of Israel himself gives strength and power to the people.

Blessed be God—Psalm 68:33-35

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sasha: unexpected gift at an apologists conference

An apologists conference was hardly the place I expected to receive a personal God-gift moment.

 You know— that kind of encounter that prompts the soul to swell in a spontaneous “Thank you."

What I did expect from the Truth for a New Generation Conference was to be informed and challenged about the urgency of knowing and presenting truth in such a time as this.

A time when*

  •  The Internet has surpassed TV as the media of choice, and you are one of the more than two billion people on it at this moment. (That’s a little less than one-third of all the people on this planet, including those in dense jungles, third-world villages yet to see an electric wire, and the vast barren lands of Siberia.)

  •  Atheists, pornographers, and predators have an unhindered access to kids that they didn’t have fifteen years ago.

  • The freckled-face twelve-year-old boy upstairs belongs to the largest consumer group of porn on the Internet—twelve to seventeen year-olds.

A time when eighty-four per cent of youth can’t explain how the Bible is relevant to them, and church pews are filled with people who don’t really believe what they believe is real.

The conference did not disappoint. Apologists from around the country offered an array of workshops. My notepad was filled with everything from how Frank Zappa’s intentional endeavor to make “ugly music” reflected a worldview that doesn’t seek goodness or God to arguments for a First Cause.

 By mid afternoon I had saturated my capacity for information and decided to go to the resource room and do one of my favorite things—buy books.

My husband and I wandered up and down the aisles gathering websites and resources. Suddenly I stopped and pointed to a display of The Grace Effect.

“Oh look. I wrote a review on this book a few months ago. It’s about the impact of God’s grace on a country and the consequent societal darkness without it. The author’s family adopted Sasha, a little girl from a Ukrainian orphanage. He tells about the horrors and corruption they had to persevere through in order to get her.”

The young man tending the table listened and then said, “That’s my father. He wrote the book.”

Glad I had spoken favorably, I rummaged around in my memory for what rating I had given it. (You never know when those impersonal book reviews will take on flesh!)

 We chatted a bit, and then he turned to the young woman next him who was bagging a book for a customer.

“And this is the one it is all about. This is Sasha.”

Sasha—the girl from a stark orphanage in the Ukraine, the girl who had no understanding why anyone would apologize to her for anything because she was an orphan and everyone knew an orphan had no value.

I looked at the lovely young woman, all lightness and confidence, working her father’s table. My heart filled with the goodness of the Lord, both for her and for giving me the opportunity to say,

 “Sasha, you are beautiful.”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.—John 1:5

* Stats from Josh McDowell's keynote address

 Gave The Grace Effect a five(!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It Doesn't Look Good

Sometimes things look downright bleak.
Like the day five years ago when my husband first saw the house I had bought for us in SC. The yellow duct tape holding the door sills together was warning enough that the preretirement home his wife bought was about to wipe him out of time and money, and there was no turning back.

Other times—downright confusing—senseless even.
Like when we returned from Guatemala much sooner than we     planned:

" I wore the year following our return from Guatemala as though it were a lead apron on my chest. We moved back into our New Jersey home. Bob returned to his job in the electrical union, dutifully leaving at four a.m. for the daily commute to New York City two hours away. Lily donned baggy jeans and pre-teen concerns without missing a beat. The only apparent remnant of her foreign life was the long hair-wrap she had acquired that first day on a sidewalk in Antigua."                                                                                       
"The ripples from the boulder that had been tossed into my pond ebbed away, and life resumed as though it had never been interrupted—except for the vague depression, the persistent ennui, and loss of direction that dogged my every move—except for the knowledge that something big had displaced the waters of my life and was still there under the surface." –Call of a Coward

And in the worst of times—downright hopeless.
Like when we have no means within ourselves to carry on except to fold up to die. One of my favorite movie scenes to capture this absolute resignation is from The African Queen. Having exhausted every effort to free their boat from the mucky, reedy channel that entraps them, Rose and Charlie lie down to die.

Sometimes we too can’t see around the reedy bend in our river. We‘ve lost our view of the plans, possibilities, and purposes of God in our lives.We see only the Friday vision as our hero and hope dies bleeding on a cross, no different than the ones hanging next to him. What now? Who can save us?

But as the camera pulls back on the two figures huddled in the bottom of their boat, we see that the channel is really only feet away from the lake, which is hidden by the reeds. Unbeknownst to the sleeping two, rain begins to fall, the channel swells, and their little boat rises to freedom.

In Friday’s gloom, the disciples couldn’t see Sunday’s glory. But we know the impossible was possible. 

As I conclude this week’s photo journey from Call of a Coward, I pray you would be encouraged to fix your eyes on that Sunday vision—on that empty cross and abandoned tomb—on the Living One “who makes cowards courageous, ordinary lives purposeful, and dried-up dreams fruitful.”—Call of a Coward

first birthday cake
town kids

Good Friday Sufferers

Vermont church

"....she looked me straight in the eye and ...asked, "Como esta?"