Saturday, August 25, 2012

Breaking Of A Day by Thad Cockrell on Grooveshark

Mr. Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.
From "The Artificial Nigger" by Flannery O'Connor.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bazan family by Mark Perkins on Grooveshark

 I've said before that David Bazan's actual reasons for leaving his faith do not particularly interest me. The story of his family's apostasy, however, is brutal, agonizing, and gripping.
Prowl Great Cain by The Mountain Goats on Grooveshark

Sometimes a great wave of forgetfulness rises up and blesses me
And other times the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teaching History, Confronting Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Sometimes God tells you why you’re suffering or have suffered. He parts the clouds and speaks. That’s certainly possible, and I believe that it happens.

I believe, too, that God’s grace can work itself out in suffering and violence. Flannery O’Connor, more than anyone or anything else, has expanded my sense of how God’s grace operates amidst evil. In certain ways her stories have operated as a kind of commentary on Biblical violence for me, causing me to reconsider what God is up to in stories I have known since earliest childhood. In fact, there are some times when I want to say to her, “No, Flannery, God cannot work in this. This is too much.” I won’t get into it because it’s frankly too difficult to discuss, but there’s a moment at the end of one of her stories where the devil rapes a boy, and God ends up using that as a means of grace. I am deeply uncomfortable with that. But then I am equally uncomfortable saying, “No, God cannot come into this situation. It’s too gritty and nasty for him.” We serve a God, after all, who has entered into human wickedness and fully experienced its consequences.

Although I firmly believe that God works through suffering and evil, and I know that he sometimes condescends to reveal why we suffer, I remain skeptical of attempts to piece out concrete and digestible explanations for suffering. I am hesitant to do it with my own suffering, and I absolutely refuse to do it with the suffering of others. O’Connor can do it in a story with fictional characters, where she is essentially assuming the omniscience of God, but I would feel an impulse to slap anyone who decided to do the same with an abuse victim. The prophets can do so because God has divinely revealed his will to them, but I am very skeptical when people try to explain God’s prophetic purpose in, say, the First World War.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Teaching History, Confronting Suffering (Part 1 of 2)

I have never prayed for patience. Scripture says that suffering produces patience, so praying for patience is praying for suffering, and I’ll do without patience if it means I get to do without suffering. Nevertheless, despite studiously avoiding such a prayer, I found myself in the midst of a good deal of suffering this year. In the introduction to The Gospel According to Job, Mike Mason describes my situation fairly well:
A few years ago I went through a difficult time. Never mind what the problem was. It was nothing compared to the trials of Job. In fact, it was nothing at all compared to the sufferings of many of my neighbors right there on the quiet street where I lived. But pain is pain, and suffice it to say that my pain was enough to drive me to my knees, totally defeated, half-crazy at times, and crying out for relief. Month after month the battles raged on, thick, dark, agonizing. I prayed, but somehow prayer did not “work.” Usually nothing at all worked, except lying low and gritting my teeth until, for reasons entirely obscure to me, the straightjacket of oppression began to loosen a little—at least enough for me to get on with my life for another day or so before the screws tightened again. What else could I do? How was I to fight this? In retrospect I can see that a large part of my anguish was rooted in the fact that there really was nothing I could do to control what was happening to me. I was absolutely helpless, and it is this, perhaps, that is the soul of suffering, this terrifying impotence. It is a little taste of the final and most terrifying impotence of all, which is death.
I have thought about Job and his endurance, and as my own little drama went on, I wondered if God wasn’t producing patience in me despite my reluctance. As if to confirm this, it seemed that everything I read—in Scripture and elsewhere—directly spoke of waiting on the Lord. I felt as though I were in my own personal Lenten or Advent season. And so I waited, and I hoped that my season of waiting would lead to an Easter or Christmas.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Like all kids--well, all kids in the 90s anyway--I took inordinate pleasure in charging the flash on a disposable camera, holding it in my right hand (forefinger along the top, thumb grasping firmly around the bottom corner), then smashing it into my left palm to discharge the flash without taking a photo.

That was fun. But what I loved was going up to a friend in the dark and then suddenly doing so as close to their unprepared eyes as possible.

Tonight, as I drove through a lightning storm on the way home from Harrisonburg, God repaid me in kind and with interest.
Tom's absurdist-yet-accurate impression of Coloradans: "Got my carabiners, gonna put on my Chacos, gonna climb me a fourteener. I'm gonna climb right up." *commences climbing motion*

Nick's laughter ratcheted up from boisterous during the impression to downright hysterical shortly thereafter.

Tom particularly made fun of Coloradans--and implicitly Westerners in general--for their tendency to say such insufferable things as, "I just need to see some mountains for my soul."

But seriously.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"God don't hear me otherwise"

So afterwards I out and asked him. "How come? How come you yelled?"

"God don't hear me otherwise," said Grandpa Kashpaw.

I sweat. I broke right into a little cold sweat at my hairline because I knew this was perfectly right and for years not one damn other person had noticed it. God's been going deaf. Since the Old Testament, God's been deafening up on us. I read, see. Besides the dictionary, which I'm constantly in use of, I had this Bible once. I read it. I found there was discrepancies between then and now. It struck me. Here God used to raineth bread from clouds, smite the Phillipines, sling fire down on red-light districts where people got stabbed. He even appeared in person every once in a while. God used to pay attention, is what I'm saying.

Now there's your God in the Old Testament and there is Chippewa Gods as well. Indian Gods, good and bad, like tricky Nanabozho or the water monster, Missepeshu, who lives over in Matchimanito. That water monster was the last God I ever heard to appear. It had a weakness for young girls and grabbed one of the Pillagers off her rowboat. She got to shore all right, but only after this monster had its way with her. She's an old lady now. Old Lady Pillager. She still doesn't like to see her family fish that lake.

Our Gods aren't perfect, is what I'm saying, but at least they come around. They'll do a favor if you ask them right. You don't have to yell. But you do have to know, like I said, how to ask in the right way. That makes problems, because to ask proper was an art that was lost to the Chippewas once the Catholics gained ground. Even now, I have to wonder if Higher Power turned it back, if we got to tell, or if we just don't speak its language.

I looked around me. How else could I explain what all I had seen in my short life--King smashing his fist in things, Gordie drinking himself down to the Bismarck hospitals, or Aunt June left by a white man to wander off in the snow. How else to explain the times my touch don't work, and farther back, to the old-time Indians who was swept away in the outright germ warfare and dirty-dog killing of the whites. In those times us Indians was so much kindlier than now.

We took them in.

Oh yes, I'm bitter as an old cutworm just thinking of how they done to us and doing still.

So Grandpa Kashpaw just opened my eyes a little there. Was there any sense relying on a God whose ears was stopped? Just like the government? I says then, right off, maybe we got nothing but ourselves.

(Louise Erdrich, from "Love Medicine")


But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!

(David, from Psalms 38 and 39)


One Sunday Morning by Wilco on Grooveshark

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Today's first communion hymn

And now, O Father, mindful of the love
That bought us, once for all, on Calvary's tree
And having with us him that pleads above,
We here present, we here spread forth to thee
That only offer perfect in thine eyes,
That one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.

Look Father, look on his anointed face,
And only look on us as found in him;
Look not on our misusings of thy grace,
Our prayer so languid, our faith so dim;
For lo! between sins and their reward
We set the passion of thy Son our Lord.

-William Bright, 1874