Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Saturday, March 07, 2009
I was recently reflecting on C.S.Lewis' poem, "Footnote to all Prayers". The poem explores the futility of language to speak of God and his name. It rightly calls all men idolaters to the degree that we are limited by the images of God we stamp in our minds. Lewis references "Pheidian fancies" as a reminder that the symbols we have in our mind, that come from human construct (whether sculpture or human words etched on parchment), can not describe all that God is.
I thought this poem beautifully captured our post-modern realization that our understanding of God is so very limited as it is dependent on human language. If it were not for God magnetizing our prayers and translating our limp metaphors we would have no chance of connecting to God at all.
This is where I take great comfort in the fact that God meets us beyond words as he became united with humanity through the incarnation. God came to us as a person, as God's Word made flesh. Even though I know I fall short of all that means as I speak of these things, I know God is with us even in our humanity. Jesus himself is God's Word, where the words and symbols (as inspired or as perfect as they are) even in scripture, can not capture all that God is. Human words and language sent through the air or captured on the page are incapable of completing even one divine sentence; even the divinely inspired words of those like Moses and the Prophets. Jesus did not come to take away those words that man (through God) began to stutter, but to complete the sentence in a way that only the Word made flesh could.
So, I am greatly humbled by C.S. Lewis' poem as I am reminded of my own limitations to speak of God. I am thankful that God is far bigger and more real than the words I use. One of the beauties of the Christian faith is not that our words to describe God are perfect, it is that God meets us beyond these words in the context and limitations of our own humanity. So then, let us acknowledge and humbly embrace our humanity and its limitations as God has. Let us also not get caught up defending our human descriptions of God as if they are God himself, because in doing so we only end up defending what we make into idols . This is an important footnote to our prayer as we follow God.
Footnote to all Prayers by C.S. Lewis
He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.
Posted by James Diggs at 5:37 AM
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Sunday, a semi-regular attender at our church ("Mr. X"), showed up stone drunk. I know he has an alcohol problem, and sometimes I have smelt alcohol on his breath before. However, I have never known him to come to church drunk - at least not this drunk.
Mr. X came early and generally harassed the music team as they practiced. I found out later that the extent of his disruption there was much greater than I thought.
When Sunday School started, he was a disruption to the class, including shouting. The teacher asked me for help.
I asked Mr. X to help me sweep a few areas that our cleaner missed. I thought this would be a discreet way to get him out of the classroom. However, he was so drunk that he could not bend over to sweep without falling down. (The Korean brooms are really short.)
He repeatedly tried to return to the Sunday School classroom. With the help of another church member (who has worked as a bouncer), we kept him out of the classroom. Finally, he was sitting on the floor in the hallway and shouting about promising to be quiet in the classroom. That's when I decided it was time for him to leave - that he just wasn't going to be able to make it in church that day. We physically escorted him to the elevator and called a taxi to take him home. However, he refused to get into the taxi. After about 10-15 minutes, he started to walk away from the campus toward his home.
Just as the worship service was beginning, another church member informed me that our drunken friend had returned. Mr. X was lying down in the elevator. (Our church meets on the 6th floor of a university building.) The campus security guard was aware of the situation and was not allowing the elevator to go up. One church member redirected late-comers to the other elevator in the building, while we tried to get Mr. X to go home. We explained that he is welcome in our church, but that today was not a good day for him to be there because he was so drunk.
One of our church member suggested calling the police. After the failure of repeated negotiations and some physical attempts to help Mr. X leave, I reluctantly agreed for the police to come and remove him. I gave instructions that we did not want to press any charges and that we only wanted Mr. X to be taken to a place where he could sober up without disrupting others.
Then, I went upstairs to rejoin the worship service. As the songs continued, God began to work on my spirit.
I remembered that Jesus said he is in "the least of these." I began to realize that Jesus was there drunk in our elevator, and that we had called the police on Jesus. (By the way, the police recognized Mr. X as a regular disturber of the peace.)
After the worship service, I spoke with those who had been involved with the crisis with Mr. X. I believe we just did the best that we could at the time. This was a definite first for our suburbanish, highly educated congregation. However, we can do better next time. Our responsibility was not to "get him out of our hair." Our responsibility was to care for him.
If this happens again, we will do a few things differently. First, we will act much more quickly. We won't wait for things to get to an extreme state. Second, we will designate two strong and compassionate guys to escort Mr. X all the way to his home. In that state of drunkenness, he could easily get hurt trying to find his way home on his own.
Also, when he is sober, I hope to have a serious conversation with Mr. X about joining A.A. I also want to affirm again that he is always welcome with us - as long as he can respect the other people in our community.
I wonder how often our first response to "Jesus" is like ours - solving the disturbance instead of caring for the person.
Also, I know some of you have experienced similar situations (sometimes on a weekly basis). Any advice?
Posted by Josh Broward at 11:19 PM
"Prosperity is when people buy things they can't afford; recession is when they stop doing it."
- H. E. Martz, The Wall Street Journal, 1963.
"There is something about the possession of wealth which is not good for the soul, perhaps. It places artificial value on secondary things. A man losing a million metal tokens will put a revolver to his temple and pull the trigger. But he has lost nothing but money. He has deprived himself of life because misfortune has deprived him of luxuries."
- Clarence Budington Kelland, The American Magazine, 1930.
"The economics of installment selling [buying on credit] is far worse even than at first it seems... Installment buying, as a habit, is enervating [weakening] to character because it leads straight to serfdom [similar to slavery]. If anything is un-American [or I would add, un-Christian], surely that is!
- J. George Frederick, The Independent, 1926.
"In a forum at Washington National Cathedral, historian Thomas Cahill said that because of his Christian faith, he believed there might be a silver lining to the dark cloud of financial crisis hovering over all of us. He said this might be an opportunity for the people of our nation [and world] to discover that they are more than shoppers."
- James P. Wind, Congregations, 2009.
The surest path out of this economic recession is the long slow path of teaching ourselves and our neighbors the basic virtues of patience, planning, compassion, courage, and discipline along with the fundamental growth skills of innovation, collaboration, and foresight. We have placed ourselves in a hole dug by our own foolishness, and we can only escape it in any lasting way by learning true wisdom. There are no quick-fixes.
Posted by Josh Broward at 10:09 PM