Wednesday, July 16, 2014

William Stafford

William Stafford is a genuine Oregon treasure, in many ways as important to our state as Crater Lake or our beautiful shoreline.  He spent almost his entire career teaching at Lewis and Clark College.  He composed nearly 22,000 poems during his life; 3,000 of those were published.  In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon.

Stafford died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego on August 28, 1993.  That morning he wrote a poem that contained the lines, "'You don't have to / prove anything,' my mother said.  'Just be ready / for what God sends.'"  He shows us something about what that means in his poem, "The Way It Is."

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Woody Allen and the Great Checkmate

I loved this post from Randy Adams, the Northwest Baptist Convention Executive Director.  Since I couldn't have "said it better myself," I'm just going to re-post it. . .

Woody Allen and the Great Checkmate

by erandalladams
Woody Allen is best known as a prolific movie director and husband of ex-wife Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon Yi Previn.  A recent interview with Oliver Burkeman focused on his movies and his “shameful marriage,” but the article concluded with a deeply troubled Allen discussing aging and death.
Now 76 years old, Woody Allen says of ageing, “It's a bad business. It's a confirmation that the anxieties and terrors I've had all my life were accurate. There's no advantage to ageing. You don't get wiser, you don't get more mellow, you don't see life in a more glowing way. You have to fight your body decaying, and you have less options."
Burkeman observes that Allen’s coping response to the anxieties and terrors of life is to keep his mind distracted from life’s realities.  As Allen says: "The only thing you can do is what you did when you were 20 – because you're always walking with an abyss right under your feet; they can be hoisting a piano on Park Avenue and drop it on your head when you're 20 – which is to distract yourself. Getting involved in a movie [occupies] all my anxiety … If I wasn't concentrated on that, I'd be thinking of larger issues. And those are unresolvable, and you're checkmated whichever way you go" (The Guardian, Sept. 13, 2012).
Allen’s assessment of ageing and death reveals the thinking of a thoughtful unbeliever.  His melancholy does not result from misunderstanding our existence in flesh and blood.  No, he understands things quite well.  His fear is the reasoned response of hopelessness.  And we should never forget this.  Unbelievers with whom we share Christ may not state their anxieties so clearly.  They may not admit their need for distraction from the “larger issues.” But this is where unbelief inevitably leads, to hopelessness smothered by distraction.  Or, as Allen expresses it, unbelief ends in the knowledge that you’re checkmated and there is no way to win the game of life.
As I listened to Allen’s heartbeat through his words, I thought of a favorite novelist, Ernest Hemingway.  Like Woody Allen, Hemingway lacked faith in Jesus and grew despondent as he faced death.  Rather than succumb to the “biological trap” accelerated by cancer, he chose to end his life with a shotgun blast.  This was Hemingway’s final act in determining his life through his own choices, rather than life and death being determined for him.  If death was going to checkmate him, he decided to place himself in checkmate and end the game on his terms.
Despair by “thinking unbelievers” is the reasoned response of hopelessness.  How could a thinking person not feel fearful and checkmated when they look into the eyes of their spouse and children, believing that death will separate them forever?  How does unbelief not produce unending despair when tragedy strikes?  Without Jesus the only way to cope with life’s greatest sorrows is unending “distraction.”
I have discovered that hopelessness is helpful as we share Christ.  And if an unbeliever isn’t hopeless, and doesn’t feel checkmated, we should help him feel that way!  If hopelessness is smothered by distractions, we should pierce through the distractions, and lance the boil of hopelessness so that it spills out and runs all over.  Because as Woody Allen says, when the distractions are removed, one is left with the “larger issues.”  However, Allen is wrong when he says that the “larger issues” are unresolvable.
As believers we know that death is not checkmate.  The spit and blood of the Roman Cross seemed to the world and the underworld to be the final checkmate when Jesus gave up His life. But Jesus’ death was followed by the Great Checkmate when on Sunday morning Jesus Christ rose victoriously, checkmating death and the devil.  The resurrection of Jesus, to be followed by the resurrection of the dead in Christ, resolves all of the “larger issues” that grip Woody Allen in fear.  “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.… Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:52b-54).  This is the good news with which every thoughtful unbeliever must be confronted.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Importance of Grace-Saying

I love what Anne Lamott says about the simple act of saying grace. . .

No matter how you say it, grace can transform an ordinary meal into a celebration—of family, love, and gratitude.

We didn't say grace at our house when I was growing up because my parents were atheists. I knew even as a little girl that everyone at every table needed blessing and encouragement, but my family didn't ask for it. Instead, my parents raised glasses of wine to the chef: Cheers. Dig in. But I had a terrible secret, which was that I believed in God, a divine presence who heard me when I prayed, who stayed close to me in the dark. So at 6 years old I began to infiltrate religious families like a spy—Mata Hari in plaid sneakers.

One of my best friends was a Catholic girl. Her boisterous family bowed its collective head and said, "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts. …" I was so hungry for these words; it was like a cool breeze, a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude. I still love that line.

I believed that if your family said grace, it meant you were a happy family, all evidence to the contrary. But I saw at certain tables that an improvised grace could cause friction or discomfort. My friend Mark reports that at his big southern childhood Thanksgivings, someone always managed to say something that made poor Granny feel half dead. "It would be along the lines of ‘And Lord, we are just glad you have seen fit to keep Mama with us for one more year.' We would all strain to see Granny giving him the fisheye."

I noticed some families shortened the pro forma blessing so they could get right to the meal. If there were more males than females, it was a boy chant, said as one word: "GodisgreatGodisgoodletusthankHimforourfoodAmen." I also noticed that grace usually wasn't said if the kids were eating in front of the TV, as if God refused to listen over the sound of it.

And we've all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room, like the Church Lady. But more often, people simply say thank you—we understand how far short we must fall, how selfish we can be, how self-righteous, what brats. And yet God has given us this marvelous meal.

It turns out that my two brothers and I all grew up to be middle-aged believers. I've been a member of the same Presbyterian church for 27 years. My older brother became a born-again Christian—but don't ask him to give the blessing, as it can last forever. I adore him, but your food will grow cold. My younger brother is an unconfirmed but freelance Catholic.

So now someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace. I think we're in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We're acknowledging that this food didn't just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow.

We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other's backs, and hilarious companionship. We say thank you for the plentiful and outrageous food: Kathy's lox, Robby's bûche de Noël. We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love's presence, of Someone's great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.

From Anne Lamott's newest book,
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dealing With Hatred

Followers of Christ know that we are supposed to "turn the other cheek" when we are personally attacked.  However, what action should we take when a group of people are the target of hatred and persecution?  And how can we resist evil without getting caught up in a never-ending cycle of eye-for-an-eye retaliation?

The following children's story shows that there is an alternative to violence on the one hand and passivity on the other: