Bread

First of all, how propitious that this post falls on April 25th, the perfect date according to some. Not too hot and not too cold, all you need is a light jacket. Which, miraculously, is true of the weather here today! Anyway.

This week was Easter! A celebration of the possibilities of becoming new. A recognition that life and love prevail. A feast where the food is sacrifice and the appetite is of the soul. A table where all have been invited to sit and eat without condition and without price.

I don’t want to try and be too theological again, not qualified, but I have some thoughts.

But! Before we get too far into the Easter things, I think a small cat gallery is called for. This week, a curious juxtaposition of cool, calm, and collected (and unusual state for that one) and quirky sleeper.

It should come as no shock to any of you to hear that I am a great lover of baked goods. Rarely met one I didn’t like. And so it might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going to try to knead out a bread-based metaphor here.

We had a sermon a few weeks ago whose central theme was the ‘bread of affliction’–both the difficult things that we face in life and the ways in which we try to feed ourselves unhealthy things. The guest speaker, in my understanding, had two main ideas: take a look at what you’re consuming and make sure it’s a life-giving diet, and when you see people who are eating bread of affliction we ought to have compassion on them.

And I will say again, in the words of a mentor of mine, compassion is to care enough to do something to help.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman said,

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.

I’m all about changing the world. There are undoubtedly those who can and do. But most of us are not in that number, not in any kind of Bill Gates/Marie Curie/Nelson Mandela kind of way. And so we are faced with the immense task of the routine small things by which the world operates.

And one of the big things about Jesus, if you ask me, is less about the big changes we normally think about–though those too–and more about the small ways we can change our hearts to act in love toward ourselves and others. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I truly believe that we just need to love more and more; the world will change in radical and maybe unexpected ways when love is the driver of action.

People are in different places. By circumstance, certainly, but also by heart. Some people have love to give and other people feel like they’re running a little dry on that front. And that’s the idea of the bread of affliction, I think. We should spread love when and where we can and when we can’t, we should take and eat the bread offered to us.

If you are feeling like things are going well for you, that you eat little of the bread of affliction and you are generally satisfied with life, first of all, congratulations. Second, look around you. Look intently, not a quick glance up from your happiness. Go to those with a harder diet. Be gentle with them, succor them, and be prepared to work hard with them.

If you are feeling like all you ever eat is the bread of affliction, then come to the table that has been prepared for you. Visit the one who has invited you and be filled by that which the world has not offered. The invitation is for all. And when I say all, I actually mean all. There is nothing that you must do or say to be seated at that feast. You yourself, all of yourself, are welcome.

You are expected. Come, the meal is ready.

Advertisements

His Law is Love

Although I’ve been anticipating Christmas for some time, it has once again kind of caught me off guard. Snuck up on me. How is it so soon? In Korea, I could understand, but how am I not prepared? I mean, I am prepared in the most direct sense but I feel like I need another couple weeks to really be adequately mindful of it. Alas, I guess.

Anyway, I will be flying home for break which is very nice. This week here has seen almost all the snow melt away so I don’t think I’ll be missing out on a white Christmas. Importantly, the Christmas party that I could not hold last year has been reinstated. So that’s a yay.

I have some thoughts below and they may be a little scatterbrained but, like Thanksgiving, I feel like I ought to say important things to indicate how important Christmas is to be. So I try. That’s all that can be asked. I hope you have had and will continue to face a lovely holiday season.


Phrase that I heard this week which moved me: participate in love. I’m not sure why it struck me so, it’s not an unfamiliar concept to me. But here I am, deeply reminded. Love takes work. To take part in loving is to exert effort to make that love blossom. Doesn’t matter if it’s romantic, platonic, familial, neighborly. It’s not enough to refrain from roughness, one must be tender. It’s not enough to allow relationship, one must pursue it.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my favorite carol is O Holy Night and my favorite part is the title of this post. Lately, I’ve been pondering theology a bit. Not reading and researching but more just evaluating where I’ve come from and where I think I might be going. How important is it to me that other people believe exactly as I believe.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the only thing that matters is love. Christmas brings to my mind the immediacy of love–the whole premise of Immanuel, it seems to me, is giving us as much evidence of God’s unconditional and incomprehensible love as we humans can handle. Jesus fulfilled the law. The time of the black/white, yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad dualism is over. This is not to say that moral relativism is the point of Jesus. I retain a moral and ethical framework that I have developed and am still developing in response to faith.

However. We tried a system of ‘rules first, love second’ and I don’t think it worked well. Let’s try love first and see where that gets us. Because honestly, I can’t conceive of the desperately irreligious nature of casting out your own children because they’re gay (or whatever the case may be).

And let’s be mindful of participation in love. Love cannot be expressed passively. One must do in order to love. It does not always have to be big–loving cats does not generally require a great deal–but sometimes it does. Sometimes loving requires enormous sacrifices, sacrifices of time or of money or of vulnerability. Love asks much.

But one of my favorite things about being a disciple of love is that it is patient, it is kind, it forgives. In the end, love actually requires nothing. It may ask but mostly it gives, and gives generously.

When I say the law is love, I do not mean to imply that there are criminal proceedings and punishments when we do not succeed in loving well. I mean more that love is the color of the universe and to grow close to its creator is to paint with that color as beautiful a picture as we are able.

To participate in love takes work. But Love is not a demanding god. It is not laborious drudgery but a work of joy, peace, hope, and faith.

I’m really wandering now but I hope you get the gist. Love is just so important to me. And if God really is love, then I will always believe in the power of the love that came down at Christmas.

Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

img_20180912_205343310

Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

Странное Рождество

Very important news:

After much, much, much ado, I have finally received my grades from Trinity. I passed!!!!!!

It would be inaccurate to say with flying colors, but colors hovering above the ground a bit is plenty good enough for me. I’d love to say that the saga is finally over, but graduation isn’t until the spring so I still haven’t technically ‘graduated’ even though I’ve earned the degree. Close enough.

So that’s an enormous weight off my chest. As much as I was expecting to pass, you never know until you know, you know? Anyway.

The cat pictures this week features Béégashii, the stray cat that my sister has partially adopted in Arizona. She claims that Béégashii (meaning Cow in Navajo) is basically the perfect cat and, having heard stories and video chatted with her, I’m inclined to agree. I hope you enjoy the very adorable Béégashii (pronounciation: BEG-uh-shee).

I have long had a great love of calligraphy and there are two phrases in particular that I would love to have done and framed and hung on my wall. These phrases have just stuck with me through the years, both from music, and I think a graphic representation would be the perfect way to combine their musical and artistic beauty. And I take no responsibility for these translations, just a little disclaimer.

The first, in Latin, would be in that great medieval, illuminated manuscript style.

Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, quis sustinebit?

 If you mark our iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

The second comes from a Slavonic hymn we sang while on tour in Russia (Slavonic is to Orthodoxy as Latin is to Catholicism). It would be written in the tradition of Slavonic calligraphy as seen painted on frescoes in Orthodox churches and inlaid in gold on icons. 

Странное Рождество видевше устранимся мира, ум на небеса приложим. 

Having witnessed a wondrous birth, let us withdraw from the world and turn our minds toward the heavens.

Which is to say, the title of this post (STRAN-no-yeh rozh-dyest-VO) means ‘wondrous birth,’ or alternatively, ‘strange Christmas.’ I’m honestly not certain which I prefer.

Christmas is a strange thing, to be sure, and wondrous beyond imagining. The people who had been walking in darkness saw a great light. God, who had always been with us, became with us. And that is a truly remarkable thing. It’s one thing to hear that the Lord of the universe cares about you, it’s another to hear that he both knows your struggles and knows what it’s actually like to struggle. I’ve said many times (and the internet has said many more times) that 2016 has been a tough year to be living in the world–and Jesus also lived in tough times. And there’s something wondrous about that.

I don’t know if you remember the post I wrote a while back about having a ‘strange dinner’ but it is sort of a similar thing. Things are strange when they aren’t normal. Duh, you say. But think of it like this: normal is an absolutely relative term, anything can be normal if enough people do it. Jesus’ birth is strange because, in the scheme of world religions, it’s absolutely not normal. Word became flesh, dwelt among us, was perfect, and sacrificed himself for our salvation. What an inexpressible wonder.

I do not believe that we are to withdraw from this world in the sense of quitting humanity because humanity is the worst (which it definitely, totally is). Rather, I think Christmas is a time for us to recall of very strange Christmas is, to withdraw from normalcy, to relish the wondrous and distinctly abnormal God-Who-Came-Near. Turn your mind tower the heavens because our help cometh thence. Turn your mind to the heavens because they are infinitely strange and infinitely better than this poor, broken earth.

Anyway. I wish you all a very merry Christmas. May you enjoy time together and time apart. May you be blessed and may you bless others. May you be still in heart and in eye.

Clear, what we need is here.

Love-Light

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love

even more than I usually do.

And although I know it’s a long road back

I promise you…

Early Saturday morning, I head home to spend a few weeks back in the Pacific Northwest. Very much looking forward to seeing friends and family and just being home. I know I haven’t been away for a long time, really, but this season just brings my love of home right to the fore. After all, it’s all the things we do for love that feel like Christmas. Basically, I want this whole post to be quotations from Christmas songs, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. To get things started, here are a couple pictures of my cats getting in the Christmas mood.

So, my final week of classes included only two actual classes, one of which was a group presentation. I still have two assignments, one of which I’m in the midst of  and the other not due until the end of January. School-wise, this semester ended up being really good. There were some things that were difficult to love (Research Methods) and some that were interesting in content and kind of awful in delivery (UN) but generally I really enjoyed what I learned and my professors were, generally, pretty wonderful. So I’m grateful for that, because things would have been a great deal worse if I came all this way for a lame education.

Also this week were a couple fun events that really helped facilitate my procrastination. On Sunday, I sang carols with Choral Society in Heuston Station to raise money for a charity and we’ll be in front of the General Post Office this Friday for another charity. It’s a lot of fun and who doesn’t like caroling, yeah? So really enjoyed that. On Monday evening, I attended the Graduate Students Union Christmas Commons and it was absolutely fabulous. We had a three course meal in the Great Hall at Trinity, then moved next door for dancing (though there wasn’t a ton of actual dancing, they had some technical difficulties with the music or something). It was 1920s/Great Gatsby themed and was just generally, all-around good fun. On Tuesday night, we had our last Community Group of the year with dinner and everything. There was a great deal of laughter involved, so you know it thoroughly enjoyable (and probs extended our lives by several months in one go).

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m super pumped to go home. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Dublin and will look forward to returning in January, but I’m glad that I’ll be home for Christmas. In the immortal words of the Muppets, it’s the summer of the soul in December. There’s a great short story I my family reads every year around this time called If He Had Not Come. A young boy wakes up on Christmas morning and nothing is different from normal–no decorations, not presents, no goodwill toward men, nothing. He goes down the road to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan–an empty lot, with a gateway arch inscribed with the words of the title. He then rushes back to bed and wakes up again to the real Christmas morning and says simply, “You came! You came! Thank you for coming.” It’s such a piercing reminder how connected everything around us this season is to a small human in the Levant who changed the world.

In my last post, I was pondering what the world would be like without Christianity, particularly around this time of year. Because pagan Europe certainly had midwinter festivals and things and some of those traditions are actually preserved in modern Christmas celebrations. But at the same time, nothing would be the same because it would still be a season of hope. Hope that spring would come, that the crops wouldn’t fail, that the Vikings wouldn’t attack… Instead, we live in the reality of hope (if that’s possible?) because all our hopes were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth (and life, death, and resurrection). We don’t live in hope anymore, it’s more like expectant waiting. We know that spring is coming (and so much more) and we’re just sitting here tapping our feet impatiently.

I love Christmas (let me make this clear) and going home to see friends and family. But it’s so much more than that. It’s even more, dare I say it, than songs and presents. It will come without ribbons, it will come without tags, it will come without packages, boxes, or bags. It will come because two thousand some years ago, he came, and that changed everything.

In singing carols this past week, a particular line of one of my favorites stuck with me, relevant to my life, my studies, and the world at large. Bid thou our sad division cease and be thyself our King of Peace.

So here’s to peace on earth.