Monday Morning: Wake up & Remember What is Real

what is real

It is Monday morning and I walk through weekend trash to get to work. The tourists are either long gone, or still asleep in hotel rooms; the homeless are just waking in doorways and shelters across the city.

As I walk, I think about my friend whose father died last Thursday. The news came late in the day, and as I heard I breathed a sigh of sadness and relief. It has been a long and painful journey for her and the entire family. By contrast, two days later we celebrated a beautiful wedding where Greek Cypriots joined with Bulgarians in a celebration of life and love.

This is our world – sorrow and joy co-mingle; mercy and grace cover both.

I sigh. I am tired and the Divine Liturgy of yesterday seems long ago and much removed from my current reality. And yet, that is my daily challenge: Remembering what is real. Taking that which is good and right and holy and translating it into my current reality. This is where theology meets reality – Good theology doesn’t reject reality; it transforms it.

I remember what I wrote a year ago, and I reread it because I need to remember what is real.


Good theology doesn’t reject reality; it transforms it”Tweet: Good theology doesn’t reject reality; it transforms it

The movie A Beautiful Mind is based on the story of a brilliant mathematician, John Nash. Nash is as arrogant as he is brilliant, but that changes as he goes through an excruciating process of being diagnosed as a schizophrenic. The mind that served him so well betrays him and he is left wondering what is real and what is delusional.

The viewer of the film walks the journey with the character (played by Russel Crowe) and we enter a world of frenetic paranoia and misbelief. We experience the disease and throughout the process we too are left wondering what is real.

There are many moments in the film, but for me one particularly poignant moment sums up the entire story. John Nash is in their bedroom sitting on the bed. He is in deep distress. He is questioning everything. He doesn’t know what is real and what is a hallucination, the result of a disease taking over his mind. In an unforgettable moment, his wife takes her hands and puts them on his face. “You want to know what is real?” she says “This is real.”  She then takes his hands and places them on her face and then her heart.

“This is real.” 

What is real? The question resonates through the ages. Perhaps someone with mental illness has to face it more directly then others, but we all have to ask this question – what is real?

From the time we are young our world is divided into the secular and the sacred; the real and the ‘not real.’ We go away on a weekend of prayer or retreat, and we are told at the end “Tomorrow you will go back to reality. You will leave this mountaintop experience. You can’t live in it forever.” We are told to “remember the mountain top when we get back to reality.” We soberly nod, we will try and remember all this when we are back to real life. After all, we reason, the disciples didn’t live on the Mount of Transfiguration forever.

But what if we have ‘real’ wrong?

I am taken back to the scene in A Beautiful Mind. What is real?

“You want to know what is real? I’ll tell you what is real.”

Real is the Holy Trinity, mystery and awe surrounding the three in one.

Real is the body and the blood, Christ and his church.

Real is forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

What is real? Let me take your hands and show you what is real. 

Real is communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Real is communion with others in this journey. Real is knowing that the eternal is forever and the now is just now. Real is knowing there is a greater reality in this thing called life.

We are tricked and trapped into believing that everything is reality, except the holy.

But perhaps it is in the holy that we find our truest reality. 


Last year when I wrote this, my mom responded with this: “This is such a good reminder to keep our eyes – our attention and our focus – on what we know is real even though everything around us is loudly or subtly proclaiming a different reality. It reminded me of the scene near the end of C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair when the Queen of the Underworld is playing her soft music and there is a warm fire with sweet incense wafting from it. Jill, Eustace and the Prince are slowly succumbing, repeating the Queen’s words that the sun, Narnia, the stars, Aslan, are all just a nice dream. Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, pessimist that he is, will have none of it. He stomps on her fire, burning his feet, and says this:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world.

I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

Tweet: I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

And with that, he wakes them up. 

Broken


Over the weekend, the father-in-law of one of my colleague’s was badly injured in a bike accident. When I inquired as to how he was doing, he simply said “Broken”.  With multiple fractures and bruises, that is the most descriptive word possible. 

Broken. 

Early this morning we received word that my mother-in-law died. Her body was broken and could no longer sustain life. Tears well up as I think of my father-in-law kissing her one last time, saying “I love you,” those words that formed their union so long ago and her slipping away. It only takes a moment to go from life to death. 

Broken. 

In my faith tradition, this week is all about broken. Beatings, betrayal, denial, and a cross. You can’t get much more broken. A mother who has to watch her beloved son die, his body broken and on display; a beloved and trusted friend denying even knowing you; a crowd condemning and wanting blood. 

In truth, I don’t want broken. I don’t want death. I don’t want betrayal. I don’t want denial. I don’t want pain. I want to rush to Sunday and the resurrection.

But life doesn’t work that way. Our world is not as it should be. And though we see beautiful glimpses of redemption that startle and amaze us, we still face all that is part of this broken world. 

This week is not about platitudes, it is not about trying to rush to the Resurrection. It is about praying in the midst of all that is broken. It is about identifying with the suffering Christ. Only then does the Resurrection become real to us; only then can we grasp the significance and glory of a risen Saviour. 

So I sit as one broken – broken by sorrow of death and loss, by pain, by the weight of difficult relationships. And in the silence of the broken I know God is near. 

If you are weary of sorrow and pain, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.*

*from A Broken World Meets an Advent Season

Eyes to See

What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does–and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.” Anne Lamott on Facebook

It’s been a hot, dry summer. Though I love the heat, this area is not desert. All  around us is evidence of an earth badly in need of rain. Grass that is usually bursting with the green of new life is like straw, brown and crackly under our feet. On Saturday evening, we took a walk to our favorite spot — a place we call “the end of the world.” It’s the end of a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. As we approached the spot where we usually sit by the ocean, we noticed the sky darken above us. We knew the signs– a thunderstorm was coming. We decided to head home. Five minutes after we arrived, the heavens opened. A torrential thunderstorm brought water and cool to our earth.

For 15 minutes, cool, refreshing water flowed from sky to ground. And then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped. The sky, so dark moments before, erupted into amazing colors. Redemptive, healing rain ending with brilliant colors.  I looked at the colors and I thought “All is well.”

***

The other day, being in a frame of mind where the  state of the world seemed particularly bleak, I googled “Awful things that happened in the Bible.”

As in so many things Google – I was not disappointed. The first thing that came up was an article called Top Ten Horrifying Moments in the Bible. 

The article appropriately begins with Job. Job’s the guy who lived out God’s celestial wager with Satan. As Satan walks to and fro, we are told that God says “Hey! Take a look at Job! He loves me! He has integrity. He walks with me!” And Satan gives all sorts of reasons why Job loves God – in essence, who wouldn’t love God  if they had riches and land, beautiful children and safety? So the wager is on.  And at the end, after Job has lost everything except his life, we have this joyous proclamation “I know that my Redeemer lives! And that in the end — I will stand. After my skin has been destroyed, in my flesh I will see God.”

And there we have it: “I know that my Redeemer Lives.”

God has always been in the business of taking our broken world and helping us to see redemption, helping us to see him. Sometimes we see only the briefest glimmer;  other times it’s over the top fireworks – but always, always there is redemption.

It is in the chartreuse of the sunset.

It is in the patience of the suffering.

It is in the snow-capped mountains.

It is in the salty waves of the ocean.

It is in the vast expanse of the heavens.

It is in the caregiver of the loved one with dementia.

It is in the laughter and tears shared with friends.

It’s in the resilience of the refugee.

It is in the prayers of the mom of the prodigal.

It is in the burst of sunrise that comes over the horizon.

It is in the scent of a newborn baby.

It is in art and in film; in food and in work.

It is in a long obedience in the same direction.

It is in the Body, and it is in the Blood.

Horrifying things will happen — we live in  a fractured world. But redemption?

Redemption is everywhere. We just need eyes to see. 

Good Stories Behind Bad Headlines

The headlines chase us down, taunting us with their urgency, telling us to how to respond. They never stop. We may sleep, but the headlines don’t. 

And they don’t want us to – not really. The person who is first to share or tweet a story gets the prize.

Behind the bad headlines are some poignant stories of reconciliation and redemption. They don’t get attention, but they should. Condemnation is newsworthy. Redemption is not. Miscommunication is newsworthy. Communicating across boundaries and finding a point of connection is not. Hate is newsworthy. Love is not.

Today I want to remind us of three good stories that are pushed under bad headlines. They are not all recent, but they are newsworthy all the same. 

The first comes from a picture that I first saw on social media. In her own words, a woman describes how a stranger, a police officer, gave her a moment of hope. I’ve included the picture here, because it’s best in her words.

story of hope

The second story comes from a few years ago when Chick-fil-A dominated the headlines. People were being urged to boycott the company because the chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, had made some public comments against same sex marriage. For a week, this fed the news. Anger and hatred on both sides erupted. Chick-fil-a was branded, forever it seemed. What people don’t know is what happened later.

While the U.S. was embroiled in the controversy, Dan Cathy telephoned the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the group that launched a multi-million dollar campaign against Chick-fil-A, Shane Windmeyer. This was the first of what would be many phone calls and meetings between these two followed by other executives of Chick-fil-A. It resulted in an unlikely, but amazing, friendship between Dan Cathy and Shane Windmeyer. In Windmeyer’s own words:

“Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people…….I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that happens when we know each other better. I hope that our nation’s political leaders and campus leaders might do the same.”

It is an amazing story of friendship, forged despite deep differences in beliefs. It’s a story of hope behind a headline that breeded controversy across social media.

The third story comes a Christian college, and headlines that painted the college as Islamophobic. The headlines were based on an incident where a professor at the college donned hijab to identify with Muslims. The administration of the college reacted and the professor and Wheaton College “parted ways.” I have my own opinion of this college professor deciding to don a hijab, but that’s not what this article is about. The headlines of the Chicago Tribune are loud and clear: Wheaton College demonstrators launch fast to spotlight Islamophobia. 

The story behind the scenes looks quite different. Months before the incident, Wheaton College students and professors were meeting with Muslim leaders in the area. They were forming friendships and having dialogue with Muslims, seeking to better understand each other.

A Wheaton professor writes an outstanding article about this in the magazine First Things:

“I will admit to losing hope that the media can hear any of this. My colleague Noah Toly and I related nearly all of these facts to a reporter who, to our absolute bafflement, could still not shake the assumption that we were “Islamophobic.” But it really doesn’t matter if we’re misunderstood. We will keep engaging our Muslim neighbors, because we’re not just meeting with them in order to be recognized for doing so. We’re doing so because we believe in the God who does not just have love—but in the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—he is love. We believe one person of that Trinity, Jesus, took on human flesh, was crucified and rose from the dead. And in the mystery of his risen life he is with those who are maligned and marginalized and misunderstood—and so we see our Lord Jesus in the faces of our Muslim neighbors. To hate you, therefore, would be to hate him.”

So, what do these three stories tell me? What should they tell all of us?

Perhaps we need to step back before we react. Perhaps we need to give the headlines some time, so that other stories can emerge. Stories that defy the headlines and give us some hope. 

 

Belva’s Blue Platter: A Story of Redemption

This summer I said to Robynn “Any time you’re ready to write more for Communicating Across Boundaries I’m ready to have you!” I meant every word of it. While I can’t make promises for Robynn, we may hear more from her this fall on CAB. For now enjoy this beautiful story of how loving care and vision restored a platter.

Belvas platter 2

Belva’s Blue Platter: A story of Redemption by Robynn

This summer when we were sorting out my mother in law’s kitchen, a blue and gold trimmed platter was pulled out of a cupboard. Who wanted this? My mother in law dismissed it with a chuckle. With mom coming to live with us I imagined I would now be the one cooking the Thanksgiving and the Christmas Turkey. Mom often had the platter carry the sacred meat to the feast. I would take the blue platter. It could continue to serve its purpose. I asked my mother in law to tell us the story of the platter. Where did it come from?  That’s when we learned of the mud-hidden, basement-buried treasure that she had found all those years ago.

Nearly twenty years have passed since my mother in law and her three sisters in law cleaned out the old farm-house where her in-laws had lived and raised their family. The women sorted and divided, they purged and pitched. It was an enormous job and emotional work. Stories were told. Memories were dusted off and placed on the table before being packed away again. Knowing the four of them, I know they cried and they laughed until they cried, while they worked.

In the basement of that tired old house, my mother in law, Belva, discovered buried under years of dirt and dust, a forgotten platter. Mysteriously it was caked in mud. She took it upstairs and washed it off. To her delight, a blue bordered, gold trimmed china platter came to life under the washing water. Assuming it was a family heirloom, she asked Lois, Coralee or Carol if they’d like to have it. They waved her off and she tucked the platter into her pile of things to bring to Kansas.

No one is quite clear on where that platter came from. Grandma Bliss evidently wasn’t too attached to it for it to end up buried in the basement. One sister-in-law, Coralee thought maybe Grandpa bought it from the Ravenna flea market. Apparently Grandma was always a little disgusted by the amount of “treasures” he’d cart home from his weekly expedition to the market. Another sister-in-law, Carol mused that perhaps it had come from a neighbouring abandoned farm, when Grandpa had purchased the entire estate. No one really knows and neither Grandpa nor Grandma are around to confirm the plate’s past.

This is the story of redemption. Lives are covered in sorrow and bitter circumstances. Pearls are hidden in salty mire and hardened exteriors. Jewels are deeply entombed in the dark earth. Love sees potential and redeems. Gently, tenderly, under the faucet of grace, love washes away the dirt and darkness and reveals glorious blues and gold trims. The platter was tossed aside until Belva picked it up. She recognized the potential, she did the work of restoring it and she welcomed it to the table.

I like this story. It means something to me these days. The platter is now displayed with joy in our dining room. The 24 carat gold reflects the sunlight streaming through the windows, patiently waiting for the holidays when it will be needed. The platter speaks to me of purpose. It whispers quietly of hope. It inspires me to hold on to the promise of redemption.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Isaiah 45:3

Apples and Mondays

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Mondays are not easy for me.

For some, Mondays are a new start — kids go back to school, the counter is wiped clean, there is space and time.

For others, Mondays are perhaps like mine. They are a reminder of my disparate existence, a reminder that even as I cocoon myself in a home with warmth and white lights there is a world out there that can’t be ignored. A world where I smell pot at 6:45 in the morning as I come out of the subway. A world where Mary warns me yet again to “Be careful up there!” A world where I can smell the alcohol from 10 feet away on the breath of someone I regularly communicate with.

And that’s how this Monday began. Except for an apple. A bright, red, beautiful apple.

A man who couldn’t have been older than 25 dressed in business clothes was seated next to a woman who had all her household goods in a shopping cart. Only her face and eyes peeked out from a coat that was too big for her. The man was white and the woman was black. The contrast between privilege and poverty was stark. And then he reached into his bag and brought out an apple and he gave it to her. There was no drama. I was the only one sitting across from them and I doubt anyone saw the act except me. As they made eye contact, she smiled her gratitude through dark brown eyes and they exchanged greetings. A conversation started that was over almost as soon as it began – but at least it started.

It was so small but it felt so big.

I know there are those who would be cynical about this. A young, white man with everything takes pity on a black woman with nothing. But it didn’t feel like that. It seemed redemptive for both, certainly for me.

Much is written on privilege and recognizing privilege. In this, the act of giving an apple, it felt like a young man who knows his own privilege wanted to reach over that division into the life of someone who would be easy to ignore, easy to dismiss. It seemed thoughtful and without guile.

So an apple and a Monday help me to reach across the Sunday – Monday division believing that redemption happens in small ways all around me.

__________________

Stacy’s recipe this Monday combines my all-time favorite liqueur with one of my all-time favorite foods. This combo is called Stacy’s Bailey’s Irish Cream Muffins. (Actually, I added the ‘Stacy’s’ to the title.) I cannot wait to try these! May the Irish among us rejoice!

Between the Lost and the Desired – Holy Pain

sunset from the roof

In a poignantly beautiful comment from a reader this past week, I was introduced to the concept of Holy Pain.

Gregory the Great (ca 540–604) spoke about compunctio, the holy pain.The grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful is both a reminiscence and a fore-taste of the divine world. Originally compunctio was a medical term that described intense physical pain, but when Gregorius used the word he spoke about a spiritual pain. The bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and, at the same time, a desire for, perfection. This inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty.”

“There, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”

Holy Pain – that pain we feel as we walk this life-journey, knowing that there is something far bigger and greater and our heart cries out in longing.

Holy Pain – when we know that this world is not as it should be.

Holy Pain – when our throats catch and we are lost in the wonder of worship, knowing this is only a foretaste of what will come.

Holy Pain – when we see a sunset over an ocean and its beauty pierces us.

Holy Pain – when we are “between the lost and the desired”, when the “holy tears are formed”

Today are you in Holy Pain? Does the hurt of the world gnaw you, even as you experience the glory of redemption? As we journey between the lost and the desired, experiencing the ache of Holy Pain, may we reach to God and in reaching be brought ever closer to the Holy One.