Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Do You Have The Time?

What rules us? The desert mothers and fathers asked this question at the dawn of the Christian religion. They felt that the current society was a “shipwreck”, and they wanted to get out as quickly as possible in order to worship God, in order to be true to themselves – in short, in order to preserve their sanity.

The culture of today is one of instant gratification – of email (or, if you’re like me, and that sometimes isn’t quick enough for you, of instant messaging) and cellphones, of having the world at your fingertips at any time, day or night.

I sometimes I have to remind myself that before all of these modern inventions, people survived – even thrived – and stayed connected to people, even after having to wait three weeks for a letter to arrive by a pony. I sometimes fret when certain emails aren’t answered after three hours.

I know it’s easy to mourn for some sort of golden age in the past, when things were simpler. But I truly think this hits at the heart of Christianity today. How do we spend our time? I ask again, what rules us? I wonder if we can truly get out of this fast-paced Mc-Culture, or if all I can do is complain about it. Have we backed ourselves into a corner out of which there is no escape? I, for one, cannot imagine fasting from something truly necessary – email. What would I do when I came back to my computer and saw all of those emails of substance that had been left unanswered?

Everyone loves to get real mail. The thought of it just makes me smile. But that takes way too much time…getting the card, writing the words, buying the stamps, and then waiting for the blasted thing to arrive, not even knowing for sure if it ever gets there (unless we get a reply, which would take doubly long to return to us).

I don’t want to romanticize the world behind us, but I don’t want to get caught up in the world that surrounds us, one that demands all of our time. That being said, I’ve spent too much time writing this entry. I need to go eat. I don’t have any time…


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Prophetic Rumblings

Seminary has been more than I could have ever asked for. In the midst of studying last night, after a particularly grueling stretch, my roommate popped his head into my room and exclaimed, “Hey, we are studying God!” His infectious optimism aside, I truly believe I have found a niche here, pursuing a graduate degree that will earn me a Masters of Divinity.
My classes never fail to bring me the same “holy crap” feeling that overcame my roomie – oftentimes I sit in class, overwhelmed that I am here, in this place, at this time, learning this amazing stuff and hearing these amazing stories from these unbelievable professors. I am blessed. I truly am.

On any given day, I hear the rich stories of the Hebrew people – stories in which they radically put their trust in Yahweh: a God that, during the time of the Exodus, tells Moses that the divine name is “I Am who I Am”, refusing to be specific and, in doing so, reminding the Israelites (and us) that God’s name refers to what God does and how God acts in the powerful history of God’s people – from a professor who tells these ancient stories as if they come from his own personal history. Then I learn the history of the Christian liturgy, educating me on why we do what we do today (and practicing what we do today, over and over and over again), and giving me a deep reservoir of appreciation for the rituals and rites we perform as Christians to remind ourselves of who we are, and whose we are. I may dive into Greek, learning the language of our own sacred texts – and subsequently realizing why Jews and Muslims are so insistent on knowing their own texts in the original tongue (and often by heart). And I end the day with a crash course on the history of our Church, with 16 centuries covered in just over three months.

I was knee-deep in an interpretation of the Exodus on the train tonight when a woman came on board, and it was obvious she had a story to tell. And, make no mistake, there were many on my particular section of the train that wanted to hear that story. The woman spoke of the moral degredation of our culture, plagued with racism, domestic violence, materialism, and a general selfishness that did not reflect her understanding of the gospel. I know what she preached was gospel, for – even though she made points with which I disagreed, even vehemently so – her words spoke to the good news that was present in her life because of Jesus Christ. For the entire trip home, she rarely took a breath in the midst of her sermon.

I could easily descend into a nice little pastoral tie-in to my own spiritual journey here at seminary in Chicago. But the truth is, I cannot help but do that very thing. For I can learn all I want in the nice confines of the intellectual paradise called “Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago” (and trust me, I will), but to listen to that passionate woman of faith on the L tonight was anything but comfortable.

It was jarring, and it pushed me to places I’d rather not go most of the time. She espoused a theology I could not wholly embrace, but she was a witness. The film director Tim Burton recently bemoaned the American ideal, saying, “…in America, when you’re passionate about something, people think you’re crazy. I just think you know who you are…”

This woman knew who she was, and she reminded me of who (and whose) I was. I thank God for being here, and I'll especially give thanks when I remember this night.


Monday, October 09, 2006

"I Forgive You"

I think we forget the power of the stories in the Bible, and I think we forget them primarily because we forget our own stories, and how they are deeply intertwined. Joseph, having been sold into slavery by his brothers, runs into them again – this time as the second-in-command for all of Egypt, the destination of his previous slave-traders. There are many things he could have done, ways he could have gotten back at his brothers.

But he chooses to be reconciled. He reveals himself to his brothers, because he cannot contain his love for them. Ralph Klein, my Old Testament professor, spent today telling his own stories, unabashedly drawing parallels between them and the Joseph narrative, powerfully reminding us that the stories in the Holy Scriptures are our stories.

In our world, stories of reconciliation over and against vengeance don’t play too well. For if we forgave those who sin against us (consequently a very Christian idea…), who could we attack? [Not to mention understanding that we ask God to forgive our sins as well.] Esau accepted his brother with open arms, the brother who stole his birthright and his blessing without giving it a second thought. Jesus finds his disciples in the Upper Room after his death, and greets them with a blessing: “Peace be with you.”

We are a people whose history is of a God who loves us – a God who reconciles us to one another. To understand this love is to, like Joseph, be unable to contain ourselves. We can only weep as we forgive one another. Joseph’s story is our story.

After telling his own stories, Dr. Klein left the classroom – and all of us – as silent and reverent as a monastery. He had told us his stories, and we sat in awe.

What amazing stories we have – those given us in the Scriptures, and those continually shared with us now, as we create our own stories of forgiveness.

What a gift.  How can we not forgive each other?