Monday, December 30, 2013

snow globes and black coffee

The other day I craved black coffee, and enjoyed it.  That is a sure enough sign that something is dreadfully wrong with me.

Consider this from N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:
Honestly, I wasn't expecting this book to be all that deep, but it has proven to be one of the best answers to David Hume and the long tradition of skeptics that I've ever read.  And the book is hilarious.  That helps a lot, especially because Hume is really boring.

The problem of evil is a genuine problem, but it's not a logical problem. It's an emotional one. Wow.  My mind has been dancing around that truth for months now, but I never had such simple words to express it.  The problem of evil is not a problem of God's existence, it's a problem with our humility.  Without God, the concept of evil cannot exist.  Discomfort, yes.  Inconvenience, sure.  But not evil.  If you remove God, everything and everyone from Hitler to Mother Theresa is simply a matter of taste and fashion, not good and evil.

We do not want to hear an answer that puts us so low.  That's the real problem.


I am in a season of resisting the lowness, of not wanting to accept a cosmology that doesn't feature my comfort as the central focus.  Ouch.

In the book Prelandra, by C.S. Lewis, Dr. Ransom travels to Prelandra, or Venus, and attempts to keep Dr. Weston (who has been possessed by something completely evil) from introducing evil onto the maiden planet.  The book is kind of dull, as most of it consists of one long argument between the two men, but at one point Dr. Ransom realizes that words are useless, and he actually has to kill Dr. Weston.  Such an action offends his very cultured, British sensibilities.  Eventually, though, Dr. Ransom realizes that at its most fundamental level, evil cannot be reasoned with, and it must be killed to be stopped.

Wading through the content in my head is like sloughing through a blizzard some days, but every once in a while, a chat with a good friend stirs things up.  Thoughts dance around my head like flakes in a snow globe, and a beautiful landscape is put back aright.  We were exchanging prayer requests, and I finally found the words to express where I am.

I want to carry this unfulfillable longing without falling into despair or covering it up with a false reality.  To do so, though, I must both accept the smallness of my place in the grand story of everything and simultaneously put to death the sin and evil in my own heart.  I must both be still and put on armor.  Somehow it all ties back into Tolkein's concept of fighting the long defeat, but I'm going to need more coffee before I think about that.

Monday, December 16, 2013

fighting the long defeat, santa, and a soapbox

Tis the time of year for Christmas concerts, readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible, shopping, scarves, coats, and unfriending my uptight Christian friends on Facebook….

...okay, so not really unfriending, but definitely hiding them.

I was reading a great article from The Gospel Coalition about Tolkein's phrase "fighting the long defeat." His uses of the phrase both in his fiction and to describe the Christian view of history are pretty amazing.  He talks about our war against evil as one continual fight against the long defeat because until Christ returns, evil will come back, and sometimes even appear to win.  But be careful.  This isn't a hopeless view of our struggles, indeed it's just the opposite.  Fighting the long defeat is about recognizing that there are battles worth fighting even if we expect we're going to lose. It's about sending your men into battle knowing they might die with the hope of giving the hobbits a little more time to destroy the ring.  It's about fighting poverty and injustice one case at a time, knowing there are millions more out there in need and no one may notice what you're doing.  It's about starting another round of chemo when you'd rather give up, or apologizing when you'd rather lash out in anger, or even getting out of bed when it's too cold or hopeless or lonely.  It's about fighting even when you may lose simply because the fight is good. Fighting the long defeat is looking at the Shire or your childhood or your family traditions, it's about fighting for the possibility of joy and hope and laughter on this dying planet and trying to preserve the possibility of freedom.

And when I think of Christmas and growing up in a secular family, I remember the sacrifices my parents made to make it special.  I remember the family trips and crazy food and Santa and shopping. And I love it.  Yes, I love Jesus, and I love Santa and gifts and elf on the shelf, and all the other things people want to make me feel guilty for.  I love it all. And I don't feel guilty.


Because I know what it means to fight the long defeat.  I have no illusions that life is easy if I just find that magic solution.  If I just act Ike a certain kind of Christian, then suddenly I'll be rich and happy and carefree.  I know that pain will come no matter how hard I fight, but I still fight.  And I know that fighting the long defeat with grace and joy is about imagination.  It's about being able to imagine a new creation, to look forward in hope to things yet unseen, to pulling from past experiences of wonder, awe, and hope and peace so we can find strength in the moments we can't muster them up on our own.
Because when I'm tempted to fall away from the fight, it isn't just a Bible verse that corrects me, it is the Spirit of God who brings to mind not just a verse, but the smile of my son, the memory Emmett's laugh, the knowledge of what my family has sacrificed, the stories lived out by my friends, and the the knowledge that these witnesses are just a small part of the great crowd of witnesses watching history unfold. Mine is a faith that has been fed by imagination, well trained to hope in the Gospel because it was raised on fairy tales and imaginative play.  A fairy tale isn't evil because it isn't true, and people didn't stop celebrating Christ at Christmas because of Santa, the elf on the shelf, presents, or any other tradition.  People have stopped celebrating Christ at Christmas because there is sin in the world whose whole goal is to separate us from Christ, and maybe just maybe Christians are spending too much time making each other feel bad about their family traditions instead of sharing the joy of the gospel of Christ.

Last I checked we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and you can give everything you have to the poor, but if you don't have love, then it's meaningless.

So if, like me, you are feeling a little beat down by all those holiday Scrooges who wave the banner of self-righteousness because they are more holy than you since they don't this, that, or the other and can slap you with Bible verses to prove it, then remember that the courage to fight the long defeat comes from a life filled with joy, laughter, and hope.  Whatever traditions you do, infuse them with grace, mercy, love, and laughter.  And if waking up each morning to look for the elf on the shelf gives my son a memory of joy and expectation that in some tiny way makes him look forward to the new creation where each day we will get to explore the depths of God's infinite majesty, then I will wake up early and move that silly elf.

Because one day my son will be discouraged.  He may lose his sense of wonder, feel lonely, be tempted to abandon his own family, lose his way, or any number of things.  But I know that what will hold him steady or bring him back is the Spirit of God using the longing, the hunger, the desire for truth, beauty, and justice that fairy tales and stories, both real and imaginary, give him.  This kind of longing keeps us fighting the long defeat when the nights are darkest and Christ is impossible to see. So I will cultivate that longing, that imagination, that desire while I still can, in any way I can.  And I trust that God will use my flawed, human efforts for his glory because after all this is his story, and there is no perfect formula to achieve my comfort.  There is only a good fight that may kill me and those I love, but the hope fueled by faith and fed by stories tells me this fight is still worth fighting.

Thus concludes my soapbox.

Monday, December 9, 2013

the blubbering cripple

Oh mercy people, I think my ENT must have accidentally tweaked my anterior cingulate cortex.  Yeah, don't go thinking I'm smart here.  I had to google what part of the brain controls the executive function that allows the brain to override emotion (at least most likely).  Because I've been a seriously emotional nut case recently.  I can't get through a morning advent reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible without choking back sobs.  Cracking my Bible to Deuteronomy sends me nearly into hives, and two verses in my heart is racing like my Bible's on fire.  And Christmas music.  Seriously do not get me started on the choking sobs evoked by a really good rendition of O Come O Come Emmanuel.   And when you've just had sinus surgery, let me tell you the last thing you need is to open up the floodgates with a good cry.

Sometimes I feel guilty for reading fiction. Well, actually at any given time I feel a little guilty about something I'm doing in my life that's actually harmless or even good for me, but lately it's been about reading fiction. Now don't get me started on a defense of good fiction, because I can whip out some G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, leaving you begging for mercy and a good novel. But no matter how much I defend it, I can still feel guilty about reading even the best fiction because I have a professional grade guilt complex. And it's better than yours.

I just finished The Ashtown Burial SeriesI'm actually going to have to go back and re-read the last book because I read the ending so quick, I can't exactly tell you what happened except that all the right people survived. It's a juvenile fiction novel series written from a redemptive paradigm, like most books I love, and it leaves you all inspired to be brave and awesome and a teensy bit rebellious. Except this time I've been left feeling all terrified.

I'm sitting here recovering from sinus surgery drowning in mucus, with a dead husband, a leaking roof, an overly emotional six year old son, a full time job, and an NPO on the side because I get bored easily, so pardon me if I'm feeling a little like hiding under the covers and never coming out. ever.

But there he is. Everywhere. It's like you can't get away from him. I mean, we'll take prayer out of public schools and then blast The First Noel over the loudspeaker of every department store for a month straight. And just when I want to hide, too. Dang it.

Because he loves me. And I can run from anything.  But not love, not love.  And believe me, I've tried.    There is beauty and there is terror in knowing that the bonds of love are stronger even than sin and death.  It's like Jesus lures you in with this beautiful promise of love and redemption just before he delivers the sucker punch that you're supposed to go out love like this too.

But you can't run away because you've known love. And it's just too amazing. But Christ took this love and knelt down to wash his disciples feet. He went to the cross and died when he could have just changed everything with a word. And it terrifies me that this kind of love is beginning to make sense. I can't hide behind doctrines and rules and pet projects and a thousand other walls of self-righteousness that keep from actually dying to self.  No wonder I want to throw up every time I open my Bible.

I put Quinn to bed tonight with one of the old nighty night mixes Emmett made for him years ago. The first song on the list was Carbon Ribs. I love that song.  Here's why:
A Thousand pairs of firey eyes
Burn like a serpent down the hwy 5
As the Long amber tail to Los Angeles unwinds
I've got his resurrection down in side my skin
But for all my revealating
I just cant make sense
Of this gravity we're in

Cause I'm a dead man now
With a ghost who lives
Within the confines of
These carbon ribs
And one day when I'm free
I will sit
The cripple at your table
The cripple by your side 
Right now I feel like a blubbering cripple at the table. Completely useless, unable even to live the life before me with some modicum of faith and courage. But then comes these words:
A thousand miles of pain I'm sure
Led you to the threshold
Of my hearts screen door
To tell me what it is I'm dying for
Gravity comes
Like a cold cold Rain
To lead me to the rope again
But someone is standing in my place
 Because every time I pray about dying to self, I find someone else standing in my place.  That is grace. That is mercy. That is love. And those things are terrifying. Beautiful and true and necessary and amazing, but mostly terrifying right now.