Friday, December 23, 2005

December 23 – O Emmanuel

December 23 – O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

The Lord reigns in holiness.

Isaiah sees the Lord. He is summoned into the courts of heaven to stand before the holy, holy, holy Lord of hosts. He does not fall in fear but screams in terror, “Woe is me!”
He is coming undone.

The great and terrible Lord of hosts dwells in unapproachable light. No human can behold Him and live. He is greater than power for He precedes power. There is no power than operates independent of His life. He alone holds all things together.

He is greater the all knowledge for He precedes knowledge. There is no thought beyond Him, for He anticipates every thought and is over and above all thinking.

There is no reference to describe the Holy Creator of all things. So how can we describe this Lord of Lords, the power, this person, this pure life that precedes all things? He chooses to give us language and ideas and images that help us to grasp Him, and yet our words and our imaginations simply cannot fully contain Him. He is always greater than.

And Isaiah knows firsthand the terror of failing into the hands of the living God.

This High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells in the high and holy place, chooses also to “dwell with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

In the mystery beyond mysteries, the Sovereign Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth, chooses to dwell among humans and comes to be born in and from the virgin Mary. As the baby appears, He is both God and infant. Fully God, fully man. Who can grasp it?

O come let us adore Him.

This baby reveals the Creator in ways no one could have anticipated. He is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks. How can God be born?

Beholding the Son of Mary, we see the Son of God. Worshipping the Son of God, we behold the Father. And our eyes see and heart believes because the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father allows us. Emmanuel, God with us, reveals one God and three persons. We cannot contain the mystery, we cannot solve the mystery, but we can bow down and worship before the mystery. Our God is a loving community: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

O come let us adore Him.

This act of God becoming flesh, appearing as the baby Jesus, shakes human knowledge and delights the soul. The mystery and the beauty of the Triune God enraptures the heart and lets us a see just a glimpse of the dance of love that creates and sustains all things.

We could not storm the heavens. We could not approach the Holy One. We could not grasp the fullness of His beauty. All our paths of spirituality led and still lead around a winding mountain that never takes flight. We cannot go where He has not summoned. But He comes to us and reveals Himself to us in the baby Jesus. As St. Bonaventure says, in Jesus, He revealed “all He was, all He had, all He could.” Our as Saint Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

O come let us adore Him.

Through Jesus, God reveals Himself in the weakness of little baby, in trials of a desert sojourner, in the preaching of an impassioned prophet, in the power of a healer, in the crucifying of the King, and in the resurrected Son.

Let us be cautious for asking for more than Jesus. When we desire our own revelations, it may be a sign that we’ve never really beheld Him. He has given us the most personal, most powerful, most beautiful revelation of Himself by coming as Emmanuel. May we learn to gaze upon the glory of the Son.

He chose to reveal Himself in a particular person at particular place and a particular time. How can I grasp or even explain the glory of such a wondrous action, of such a miraculous birth?

O come let us adore Him.

There is a realization in most human hearts that the Creator is greater than our ideas. This often leads to an understanding that seeks to move beyond particularity to universality. We seek to transcend the limitations of this earth. We seek the break the illusion of the material world. So in one sense, it is easier to seek and discuss the abstract idea about God, because we realize no one thing can contain the limitlessness of God.

And yet, He choose reveal Himself in a particular person, at a particular time and in a particular place. In other words, He chooses to enter history. In so doing, He transforms history, He defines history. By His act, He reveals the value He places upon particularity. Every person, every moment and every place is significant and created according to His purpose. Nothing is by chance.

If I could but live in the reality of this one thought, it would change not only my Christmas but my every waking moment until death. Every moment is significant and according to His purpose. Every place is significant and created according to His purpose. Every person is significant and created according to His purpose.

Everywhere I turn, I am overwhelmed by His glory for His purpose is shining through all things. When I pass people in the stores, each person is significant. Every person passing by is created according to His purpose. Thus He is free to reveal His glory and beauty and love through every person I pass. O that I would learn to treasure particularity. Every time I meet someone, I should look into their eyes, behold them; stand in wonder of God’s marvelous workmanship. Behold this person created in the image of God.

O come let us adore Him.

God in His unsearchable wisdom chose not to destroy a wayward creation but to redeem it, to embrace it, to enter into it in a particular way. So that now by His grace alone, His glory shines freely in and through everything, and His image is revealed in every person. Evil is still here and sin still corrupts, but His love and His glory and His redeeming power cannot be stopped. All things will consummate in Him.

No words can contain or convey this grand vision. All that is left is worship.

So the O Antiphons have led us to the end of the Advent journey. According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, if we can go backwards and consider each of the titles from the past seven days, we have Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. The first letter from each name forms the acrostic “ero cras,” meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.”

Let us hasten to Bethlehem and behold the birth of God. As we bow in worship, we proclaim to the waiting world:

“O come let us adore Him.”

December 22 – O Rex Gentium

December 22 – O Rex Gentium
O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

The earliest ornament I remember seeing is a small, brown plastic triangle-shaped nativity with sparkles on the roof and a little scene inside the stable. They came in all shapes and sizes, and we had every variation in virtually every room.

Today a large porcelain nativity greets us in our foyer complete with shepherds, wise men, animals, hay, a well, Joseph, Mary and the baby. Our imagination places all these characters together even though the gospel stories do not. This tradition of creating a composite nativity dates at least back to the eleventh century and maybe earlier.

While most of our contemporary nativities focus on the main characters, Italian village nativities may include a host of other characters. They recreate a miniature Italian village humming with activity. There are hundreds of figurines including craftsman, village people, and more. It is as though Jesus is born in the midst of the busy activity of life.

These nativities may not accurately represent the way the story unfolds, but they do reveal a truth deep within the gospel story. The baby Jesus holds the scene together, and in Him the kings and shepherds, rich and poor, the Jew and Gentile are joined together.

This newborn King, attended by great and small alike, fulfills the very idea of king. Up until his birth, all kings were simply imperfect types. When he appears, the archetype appears and kingship is fulfilled completely in Jesus. The baby in the manger wields the power of heaven and earth. Wise men recognize this one having authority and bow down, offering homage to the source of their rule.

By claiming His throne through the cross, this king claims every throne. This king will claim all power and all rule and all wisdom and all grace and all might. In so doing, He will remove the walls of separation. We celebrate, and rightly so, the wall of separation he removed between humans and God. In Him alone, do we enjoy the mystery of the communion of love revealed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Even as he removed the wall separating God and humans, he removed the wall between one human and another. A clear and definite wall existed between the Jews and the Gentiles, forbidding the Jews to have relationship with the Gentiles. Jesus removes that wall and literally forms one new man of Jew and Gentile alike.

At the same time, he removes the wall between all humans. Ultimately, sin isolates every person from every other person and true communion is impossible. The existentialists saw and felt this separation more deeply than most. In spite talking nonstop, we cannot penetrate the wall between us. We can sit in the same room and sleep in the same bed and still are separated by an uncrossable divide.

How could we ever hope to have peace between nations when we cannot even maintain peace between two human beings? We seem hopelessly separated by islands of thought. We use the same words but experience completely different worlds.

In the mystery of His rule, King Jesus enters into the breach between one soul and another. By the power of His Spirit, he binds us together. Our words do not simply drop into a void but the wind of the Spirit blows through our words and we enliven one another.

And now we speak of a mystery. The binding of two souls in one relationship points to the mystery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in perfect, delightful communion.

Some feeling the weight of separation and dualism in this world, embrace the idea that we are all part of the same substance: it is only illusion that separates. I believe it is sin the separates us not only from God but also from one another.

Evil must be overcome. And King Jesus breaks the power of evil through His own life, death and resurrection. He invites us to sup with Him and with one another. By His grace alone, we are transformed to living by the flow of love. By His grace alone, can we enjoy true communion with God and one another.

From time to time, we experience but a glimpse of this perfect harmony of love in our worship and in our conversations, in our art, and in our relationships. These glimpses stir us to strain forward toward the day of His appearing when love will be made complete.

All things have been made in Him and all things will be gathered together in him. In the end, our nativities that bring together shepherd and wise men and craftsman and villagers will become reality and all will behold a cosmic nativity before the King of the past, present and future. The King who is all in all: over all, in all, exceeding all, sustaining all, filling all, ruling all.

O come let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

December 21 – O Oriens

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

In the deep dark of human depravity, the Son dawns. Light bursts up and out from the tiny babe and radiates the warmth of uncreated love. The Son has come and nothing will ever be the same.

Every tiny detail of His life illuminates the human heart with a love supreme. From His miraculous birth to His hidden childhood, from His impassioned preaching and healing ministry to His death, burial and resurrection, the Son reveals the beauty of the Lord.

This light shining and overcoming darkness is the standard of all that is beautiful. Without light, no beauty. Without light, nothing. Without light, formlessness and void. Light reveals shape, color, harmony, as well as the lack of shape, color and harmony.

Light exposes and defines all things. Thus light creates and reveals the distinction of each particular thing but it also integrates all particular things into a harmonious whole. Thus moving away from the light, the soul dis-integrates, stumbling into nothingness and chaos.

We were created for the light of His glory and in the deepest recesses of our hearts we long to behold His beauty. Like the psalmist we cry, “Whom have I in heaven but you O Lord, and to be near you, I desire nothing on earth.”

His beauty satisfies a hunger that cannot be fed outside Him. “One thing I have asked of the Lord, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalms 27:4)

The longing to behold the babe in the manger reveals the ever-longing heart’s desire to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the Lord. It is the beauty of the Lord that converts the soul: not morality lessons. It is the beauty of the Lord that transforms the mind: not rational discourse. It is the beauty of the Lord that calls us and strengthens us to love and be loved in return.

We may build a tower of words that give us some sense of mastery and control in this world, but deep inside we long for more: we long for the beauty of the Lord. Beauty converted the great saints of old. Augustine beheld a love beyond love and his soul found a rest beyond rests, so that he could utter, “My heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”

Thomas Aquinas spent a lifetime defending the faith. With brilliant erudition, He argued line upon line for the canons of the church. His voluminous writings established a way and thinking and responding to all the world. And yet, this genius of a man beheld just a glimpse of the glory of God, and he was speechless.

He uttered, “I’ve seen the Lord, and all that I’ve written is but dust.” So enraptured by the beauty of the Lord, this gentle giant quit writing and could only stare into the stunning wonder God’s love until he left this earth.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American philosopher, says the beauty of the Lord led him to repentance. It was the beauty of the Lord that captured His heart and broke his heart at the same time. In the majesty and splendor of Jesus’ love, we become aware of how desperately disintegrated and damaged we are by the ugliness of evil.

When Luther cries that he is a mere bag of bones, it simply because he has seen a glory that exceeds any beauty the heart could imagine and he is left to acknowledge his own deep deficiencies.

When we are blind, we simply have no grasp of the reality and repercussions of our deeds. But in the light of His love, we begin to realize the damage we have done and continue to do. Like ripples in a pond, our actions set in motion a chain of actions.

We honk at another person on the highway who happens to be having stressful day already. The honk irritates them and further worsens their mood, so that they are impatient and unkind to the clerk at the drive-in window. She has been having a bad day because of the impatient anger of every customer, combined with the problems of her own life. In her tears, she argues with the manager and then goes home early. And on and on the rippling effects of small offenses continue tear at the very heart of this world.

In a world that perpetuates pain, we long for healing and wholeness. We long to behold the beauty of the Lord. The beauty of His holiness binds up the broken-hearted and the broken world. The beauty of His holiness transforms us, creating ripples of love and harmony.

In the dark before Christmas, may we stretch toward the light, crying out for a vision of the Beautiful One. This is not simply an apparition or some earthly vision of the Lord, but rather it is the inward light of Jesus’ glory revealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. As his beauty and glory shines into our hearts, our eye is filled with light and all we see is light. Then the wonder of this world returns, and everywhere we turn, we catch but a glimpse of His unfolding glory all around us.

And in joyous we wonder we sing, “O come let us adore Him.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Advent - December 19 and 20

December 19, 2005 –
O Radix Jesse
“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

December 20, 2005
O Clavis David
“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

Note: I combined Dec 19th and 20th.
The child in me is awash in wonder. Each room in our house radiates with magical decorations that stay hid most of the year. An army of snowman stands atop our bookshelves. Santas of every shape, size and even race line our mantle. Pine branches, cotton snow, and red baubles surround our Santas as small lights encircle this scene in an enchanted, hazy glow.

There’s a sleigh with a gingerbread couple traveling to their gingerbread house. Two giant nutcrackers guard the fireplace, and tiny little French horns appear ready to announce marvelous news.

Each room of the house welcomes Christmas characters. There are snowmen, Santas, reindeers, nutcrackers, stars, bears, angels, and even penguins.

This year we even hung bellows of pine garland from the ceiling of our dining room complete with lights and ribbons and baubles. If time and money allowed, I might just turn every square inch of our home into a dreamy wonderland. In the foyer, giving energy to all the other decorations stands a large nativity.

Outside, the leaves have fallen, the grass is brown, and the intense colors of last year’s spring have faded into a brownish, greenish mix. Winter is coming and the world is dying. When the world reminds us of death, we respond with symbols of life, filling our homes with evergreens and childlike images of endless youth.

This is one way we resist the inevitable march of death. Humans, unlike other creatures, do not automatically yield to the natural progression of things. Like Dylan Thomas, we will “not go gentle into that good night.” We fight with stories, with medicine, with art and most of all with children. Every time humans give birth we are resisting the power of death.

The child is not merely another creature that must fend for itself. The child carries our stories, our hopes, our dreams, and our lineage into the future. Death’s power cannot withstand the mystery of generations. If one story can pass through the generations, death is challenged.

One people who understood the power of generations to overcome death were the ancient Hebrews. Unwilling to accept stories of endless cycles, they told their story in linear progression. They saw continuity from one generation to another. It was as though they were moving forward on a journey through time to a specific future. Some suggest they invented history.

In so doing, they changed the ancient habit of allowing the past to dictate the present. For the ancient Hebrews, the future creates the present. So instead of always speaking about tribal forefathers, they spoke of generations, toledot.

David ruled Israel as the poet warrior. He was loved by the people, and it was believed his toledot would always sit on the throne. The image of David came to embody the image of the people. The throne of David would give Israel continuity between the generations.

David sprang like a giant oak from the roots of his father Jesse. These roots and this tree were seen as an image of eternal hope. The tree of David grew high and strong, sheltering the nations. A ruler from David’s line would always occupy the throne. The power of generations wielded the power to conquer death and transform the world.

But eventually, David’s tree toppled: his line fell. One bad king followed another bad king. They forgot who they were. They forgot their dependence upon previous generations. They lost a vision of conquering death through future generations. Thus they lived, like we often do, with no awareness or responsibility to the generations.

This means death wins. The old stories are forgotten. The future is abandoned. By refusing to listen to the past and sacrifice for the future, they became a people doomed to vanish from the earth. I fear we are a people quickly vanishing from the earth.

When David’s tree toppled, Israel was taken captive. Eventually they returned to their land, but a line of new kings took to the throne. They were not true Hebrews, and they reinterpreted the story of ancient Israel (rejecting the line of David). The new glorious kingdom developed outside the generations. And it was eventually subservient to another kingdom: Rome.

Some dreamed that one day the line of David would be restored. The rightful heir to the throne would appear, claim the throne, defeat their enemies, cleanse the temple and restore the ancient glory to Israel.

The prophets suggested that this king would be a fresh shoot on the root of Jesse. The toppled tree of David would come back to life, the proper kingship would be restored, and the Hebrews would conquer death through generations.

They watched and waited.

Then the strangest thing happened. The king finally appeared in a most unkingly way. Born in less than glorious circumstances, a babe appeared in Bethlehem, attended not by the powerful and great but by animals and lowly shepherds.

This unkingly king didn’t even calls himself king. And yet, some people knew. Even a few wise kings bowed before while he was still a child. As the unkingly king grew, he lived a poor man’s life—embracing the woodcraft of his family.

He was hid from view for most of his life, so that when he finally did start acting like a king, he seemed to come from nowhere. This most unkingly king, said the most unkingly things in the most kingly way. He spoke as one having authority.

As king, he reinterpreted the law suggesting that ceremonial and external obedience is not good enough. It’s not only wrong to murder, it’s wrong to hate. The reason we do what we do is just as important as what we do. Love should drive our actions—not ambition, anger or anything else.

As king, he challenges our understanding of authority. Power is realized in serving not in being served. Kings are not great for the number attendants that serve them, but for the friends that sup with them. Serving to the king is expressed in service to the lowest among us—not the highest.

Jesus, the unkingly king, defined and established the Davidic kingship forever. By his actions and words, he set in motion the law of love that undergirds this kingdom that extends beyond the land of Israel to embrace every tribe and nation. Instead of demanding tribute from his subjects, this king became the tribute. His sacrifice sustained and keeps sustaining the future. His sacrifice conquers death—in more ways than one.

His rule extends between generations connecting father to son and son to father. Thus death is not simply defeated in space by his resurrection from the dead, but it is defeated in time by connecting the beginning with the end.

The subjects of his kingdom speak different languages, come from different cultures, and don’t even always agree, but they are united in love. Jesus says the mark of his followers will be their love one for another. This love brings a visible demonstration of continuity between the ages. We are connected across space and time through our confession of faith and our demonstration of love.

This love takes many forms in multiple circumstances but it always calls us to follow Jesus and become the sacrifice for others. By His power, we lay down our lives so that others might be blessed. This self-giving love is but a reflection of the unending love that Jesus reveals in the triune community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Christmas, we return once again to our roots. We return to the stable of Bethlehem to honor the birth of a king, the King. When the world is dying, we celebrate the birth. GK. Chesterton says that "Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate."

So we fill our houses with lights, evergreen, Santas and snowmen. We laugh and sing songs of rejoicing. But we never forget the root of Jesse, the king of Israel, the Lord of Love. In all our festivities, the nativity burns unceasingly as a celebration of the life that conquered and conquers death.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Advent - December 18

December 18 – O Adonai
O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

There is a certain giddiness hanging in the air. Like sweet snowflakes magically transforming our barren lawn, a gentle hopefulness drifts to earth revealing the possibilities of love.

Inside, the house glows in gentle warmth of Christmas lights. They play around the tree, bouncing rays from branches to baubles. The room seems to giggle in delight. Gazing into the glory of this momentary spectacle, we see another tree, another bush that blazed with the light of His glory. Out from the flames of that bush came the Word of freedom for His people.

Wandering no where, the deliverer from no place, meets the God with no name. “I Am that I Am” blazes out from the bush, inviting Moses into the fire of Holy Fear.

The Lord speaks and His Word does not fail. Tyrants falter; empires crumble, and the weak walk free to the place of promise.

Freedom comes like fire from heaven, burning up the chains that enslave, encircling the soul in a divine dance of love.

Like the Hebrews slaves we know the crippling impact of taskmasters who beat and crush and oppress us. We falter and founder under the weight of unforgiveness, bitterness, envy, jealousy, lust, anger, and pride.

Gazing back through the star lighting our tree, we see another star blazing with the light from the infant below. Baby Jesus burns with the holy fire of the Spirit’s love. The Word of freedom made flesh brings the blazing love of heaven to burn up the chains of bondage and breathe light and life to the person.

A certain giddiness hangs in the air. We know a secret. Bethlehem is but the beginning a glorious journey that leads us higher and higher into freedom. Freedom to love. Freedom to give. Freedom to rejoice. Freedom to dance. Freedom to sing. Freedom to gaze upon and worship the Lord of glory.

Advent - December 17

December 17 - O Sapientia
“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims his handiwork.”
Psalm 19:1

Everywhere the psalmist looks, he beholds the handprints of God. The rocks really do cry out, “Glory!” The world reverberates with the radiating glory of God’s unfailing love.

In spite of such all-encompassing love, we stumble blindly and curse the light as though it was darkness. Our proclamations of peace flow from hearts of violence. We know the rippling effects of chaos that tear through the heart of all things. As Bob Dylan says, “Everything is Broken.” From broken hearts to broken families to broken countries, we are hurt, and we hurt.

Every cruel word gives plants seed of pain that produces the fruit of cruelty. We long for companions and then we hurt those same companions through selfish acts and words. We long from acceptance but fail to accept others. Life seems to be an endless cycle of pain between humans. The heart aches for salvation.

Into this heart of darkness, shines the light of hope. The Word of the Father, sustaining all things, is made flesh and dwells among us in a frail, baby. The way of Salvation is the way weakness, of frailty, of risk, of humiliation. The way of Salvation comes by the way of death.

He becomes weak, so that we might become strong. He becomes sin so that we might become sinless. He is humbled, so that we might be exalted.

He is born as babe in the manger, so that we might be born as a child of the kingdom.

Into the chaos of creation comes the harmony of God. He bears the breach and reverberates healing love into all things. By His Word of Salvation, the Father calls us into the light, filling us with light and revealing the blinding glory of His radiating love in the heavens above and the earth below.

Come let us behold Him. The Word of God, the hope of humanity, the Savior of the world.

Advent - December 16

O Antiphons – December 16
We live in response to the resounding Word of God. His earth-shaping voice
shakes creation with the awful danger of unconquerable life. Our yearning
for the complete revealing of Jesus Christ, is merely a response to His
battering waves of love.

Tomorrow, our advent journey intensifies this call and response to the
Creator's voice. Tomorrow begins seven days of "O Antiphons." Antiphon
literally means "sounding against" and it calls to mind the alternating call
and response of the liturgy. The liturgy is but a formal recognition of our
human calling to take part in the grand call and response between heaven and

For seven days, we cry out for the coming Messiah.
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Rising Sun)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with Us)

Each day reveals yet another glorious title of the world's only Savior. Each
day the intensity of longing builds for the appearance of the coming King.
When he finally comes, the world is scandalized. "For unto a child is born,
and unto us a son is given…"

The shocking fleshly, particularity of the Incarnation topples the towers of
the world's wisdom. The Word that created the world now coos in the arms of
the virgin Mary. Only fools can proceed to this stable. Holy fools that is.
The powerful are angry, the wise mock, the worldly turn away in disgust. But
the holy fool walks up to the manger, like a humble servant approaching the

Come all you holy fools and join this motley throng as we respond to call of
God and worship the baby who is "God with us."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Advent 5 - Dreaming

Advent 5
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.

Well, at least my brother is. Every year for as long as I can remember, Jeremy has dreamed of a white Christmas. Most of the time, his dream does not come true.

This year little children all around the world will dream of white Christmases, as well as beautiful baby dolls, magical toys and fun-filled games. Christmas day will come with grand spectacle. They’ll tear through gifts, eat till their stuffed, and play till they pass out. Christmas will come and go in a flash.

In the afterglow, some if not all, will feel a hint of disappointment. In spite of the grand excitement, in spite of the fantastic delights, there will be a hint of emptiness, a yearning for something more. Some parents may even notice this hint of sadness and scold their children for selfishness.

But the children will come by this feeling honestly. They already experience, in their own child-like way, a hint of the angst of the human condition. Nothing fully satisfies. The fruit was sweet for a moment, but the bitter aftertaste poisoned the tongue to any lasting delight.

This feeling is so small in children that it rarely quenches their expectations for tomorrow. Soon they are excited and looking forward to the next big thing. Dreams grow in their hearts like apples on a thriving tree; new buds always replace the fallen fruit.

By the time they grow into teenagers, many children still maintain their capacity to dream. Only now, they have a new energy that comes with puberty and they sense they can do anything. They can conquer the world!

Many translate these dreams into stunning projects from social to personal: and they literally do change the world. But often over time, that angst returns.

Whether they realize their dreams or experience failure, they still feel this sense of disappointment. And gradually, for many, wonder fades, and they forget the zeal of youth. Bitterness, frustration, self-ambition, the tyrannies of the moment, all the pressures of life in the modern world gradually sap these plants of their vitality. And for so many, the hope and dreams of youth forever fades.

The Israelites knew this darkness. Captured and held captive in Babylon, they forgot the old songs and knew only grieving. Their God forsook them, failed them and forever forget them.

But then the unexpected…into their forsaken lives came the voice of God. The promise of God restores youth, offers restoration and opens new possibilities. They learned to dream again.

Advent is the season to dream dreams. During Advent, we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord. The anticipation of His coming taps in the hope the Israelites discovered in captivity. His kingdom will forever eliminate the power of sin in this world and gather together in one all things in Christ. Advent looks with hopeful expectation to the victory of Christ realized in all things. Advent gives us power to see through the disappointments of living to the hopeful future that cannot be stopped.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
experienced disappointments and grief in the darkest hours of the Civil War. His faith hung in the balance:
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The world wearies our soul and saps our strength. The faith of many grows cold. Yet in the midst of darkness, Longfellow saw a glimpse of hope:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

The bells become a reminder that kingdom of God cannot be thwarted. God’s purposes have prevailed and will ultimately transform the world. The lion really will lay down with the lamb.

This is the hope of Advent waiting. This is the joy of Advent longing.

Our hope is not in the pretty packages of the moment. Each desire we fulfill and each goal we achieve is momentary and passing. Like the children on Christmas morning, we look for something more.

We still yearn for something that earth cannot satisfy. We are searching for a city whose founder and architect is God. So we yearn toward that city where love will prevail. We translate this yearning into simple acts of love and kindness in the present moment. These actions spring from faith that the good really does win.

This Advent, may we learn to dream dreams again.

May we become like little children, ever expectant and hopeful for the goodness of God. And as we reach out toward the coming of the Son, may we transform everything we touch into a glimpse of the love and joy and peace of the kingdom of God.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Advent 4 - Fear Not

Advent 4

Exodus 1:8-11
A new king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, "There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We've got to do something: Let's devise a plan to contain them, lest if there's a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us."

The Pharaoh fears the Israelites. He fears they will grow too big. He fears they may leave and upset the economic order. He fears they may take away food or supplies from the Egyptians. He fears they might join with another land and make war against Egypt.

His fear becomes force.

Soon the Israelites face the crushing reality of his fear as he oppresses them, enslaves them and eventually slaughters many of their children.

Fear is deadly.

Our world reels with fear. We fear there won’t be enough. We fear we’ll be alone. We fear our lives won’t count for anything. We fear someone else will get the raise or the promotion or the recognition. We fear we’ll go unnoticed. We fear our freedom to do good and evil. We fear our capacity to hurt others. We fear making wrong choices that result in a disappointment. We fear failing. We fear the end will come too soon.

We fear dying.

Ultimately, we all die. This fear of death, whether conscious or unconscious, animates many actions and decisions. Will we die and be forgotten?

Fear drives people to steal, kill, and destroy. Fear blinds us to the abundance and wonder and glory that surround us. Fear settles over our hearts like a smothering black cloud.

Oh that an angel might suddenly appear into the middle of our heart of darkness and proclaim, “Fear Not.”

On that awful ancient night, the shepherds beheld the terror that ends all terror: the glory of the Lord. And they heard good tidings of great joy for all people.

Heaven’s hope comes to earth in a tale that is strange to even fairy ears. The Creator of heaven and earth, the all powerful, the King of the Jews, the Savior, appears. He’s not in shining robes of glory surrounded by untold armies of heaven. Rather, he comes as a helpless baby among the animals, the outcasts and the forgotten.

He embraces our weakness and reveals His strength. Into the heartache, into brokenness, into the darkness of our fear-filled world comes a babe who will end the power of fear.

In his birth, in his life, in his death and ultimately in his resurrection, he will restore trust to the earth. For only those who trust can live outside of fear.

May this Advent be a time for rediscovering simple trust in the Lord. May we remember the future, looking forward to the end of all things, when the faithfulness and lovingkindness of our Creator is fully unveiled. As we behold the goodness and greatness of our Lord, may we trust in the ancient words that still echo through our being: “Fear Not!”

Monday, December 05, 2005

Advent 3

Jesus wept.

If He wept, I am certain He laughed. For he who goes forth weeping, will come again rejoicing.

Jesus reveals the God to man. At the same time, he reveals man to man. We forget who we are and what makes us human. Like scribbles on pad, we become distorted figures, drained of the glory and wonder and the power of being human--of being childlike.

In the twilight of our fading images, we forget. We forget the wonder of this world. We forget the terror of the night. We forget the joy of a blade of grass. We forget the magic behind every bush. We forget to laugh hundreds of times a day. And we forget to cry.

We sniffle. In fact, we may shed a tear or two on occasion. But most of us no longer have the capacity to cry: to turn red and scream out at the top of our lungs, to fall down in anguished groans; to cry out with our whole body.

Jesus cried so hard he shed tears of blood.

Yet most of us will attend funerals and feel embarrassed if our cry is loud enough for anyone else to hear. It's okay to shed a tear, but to fall to the ground; to scream out and pound our chests; to tear our clothes in agony is unthinkable. We've forgotten how to cry.

Jeremiah cried and cried and cried. He emptied his heart and body onto the ground in desperate sobs and moans. He says, "My eyes fail with tears, my heart is troubled; my bile is poured on the ground." And he calls out to all who can hear him, inviting, commanding them to join in the anguish: "O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest."

What could be so horrible, so painful, so desperate that would cause a person to cry until he almost died? The end of the world. His world ended before his very eyes. Babylon besieged Jerusalem. Sickness and famine consumed the city. People fell dead in the streets. Mothers ate their own children. The temple was burned to the ground. The heavens and earth were consumed by fire.

He watched the world that he knew, that he loved, that he prayed for, die a tormented death. And he cried.

"Oh, that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!"

There is a cry so deep that sounds can no longer express the twisting of the heart inside. The soul comes undone. There is a grief that rips into the fiber of every human. On occasion, people like Jeremiah enter into it. Most of us run in terror from such deep distress. In that breaking grief, we feel the grief of this world, and we know: everything is not all right.

The earth grieves and groans and cries out for redemption. This grief beats in the heart of all things. It is this anguish, this tortured agony, this pulsing pain that can only find respite in the appearing of the Lord, the Parousia!

Despite our bravado; despite our arrogant self-sufficient attitude: all of us are desperately weak. Evil and chaos and sin has enslaved every human heart. In our cool, calm satirical smiles, we may mock the emotionally weak. We are too strong to cry and have become too weak to be human. We can no longer sustain any pure passion: genuine joy and sorrow fade and we live a bland mediocre existence.

It is only by His grace alone, that we can honestly admit our weakness and face our brokenness. It is only His grace that allows us to desperately cry out for the "Parousia!"

In the lonely hours of the dark night, the rhythm of mourning gives way to the rhythm of expectation.

He is coming!

And he comes. He comes with healing in his wings. He comes to comfort the broken heart. He comes to exchange beauty for ashes. He comes to strengthen the weak knees. He comes to baptize us in the fire of His love.

As we celebrate this Advent waiting, may He grant us the privilege to go out weeping and to return again rejoicing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Advent 2 - Santa Et Al

Every time I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I get a strange, hopeful feeling that this just might be true. Who knows? The guy in the red suit down at the mall might just be the real thing. All of the sudden, the anxious, excited, hopefully pangs of childhood stir in my belly. Instantly, I remember visiting Santa Claus as a child. Instantly, the past becomes the present.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of Santa…or clowns for that matter. I do remember being shy and a little bit nervous. The kind of excited nervousness one might feel when looking out across the Niagara Falls. Standing that close to such concentrated power is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. That’s how Santa made me feel. Someone with such awesome power was nearby.

During Christmas, Santa visited Gimbels, our local department store. During the rest of the year, other visitors appeared: the Jolly Green Giant, Humpty Dumpty, a variety of clowns and a host of other storybook characters. Each time we came to the store, I would peer at them through the racks. My heart raced, my hands sweated, and I stood awestruck just watching these otherworldly characters.

For a little boy with large imagination, these characters somehow represented the sacred, the holy other. The limitations of our world did not confine them. Their sizes, their colors, their powers and their stories all broke the ordinary conventions of this world. These characters were extra-ordinary.

At some point, the clock struck midnight and the magic of childhood evaporated. The big clowns climbed back in their little cars and drove away. Santa lost his sleigh and became just another sales associate trying to help the malls make more money.

Yet from time to time, I feel the pangs again. From time to time, I begin to see again and sometimes even believe. When I watch movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” I wonder, “Is it possible?” Then like waking up from Dorothy’s Oz, I see these characters all around me—in the faces of my friends.

As I look at my friends, I realize that the characters never really did disappear. They’ve been with me, all along. I just grew accustomed to the magic and lost my sight.

All these larger than life characters, like Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant, exaggerate certain features. Santa has an unlimited supply of gifts for the world. The Jolly Green Giant is jolly, green and a giant. Chesterton used to say, “All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.” Maybe a little exaggerated giving is not so bad. And of course, no one can be too jolly. Can they?

As far as green goes, well, I’m not sure what to say. But my folks did tell me about a man who ate so many carrots his skin turned orange.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have known some pretty exaggerated characters in my life. I once had a friend who was convinced he possessed some of Spiderman’s abilities. And I must admit, he did seem to climb up walls fairly easily.

I had another friend who wanted to possess some mind reading power. He would tell people to think of a card and then promptly present the supposed card. Usually the thought and the card did not match. He may not have been a mind reader, but he did possess an amazing discernment of people and their moral fiber. In college, I studied Astronomy with a guy who looked like he came right off the mountaintop with a shaved head, overalls and big teeth. And yet, he was a know it all: a real one. He really did know it all. His ability to remember facts and details astounded me.

The more I look around, the more I realize these fantastic fairy tale characters are real people. And they’re everywhere I turn. They’re in front of me in the grocery store. They’re beside me on the highway. They’re taking my lunch order.

I’ve come to believe everyone I meet is extra-ordinary. There is no ordinary person. Each person is exceptional, unique, larger than life, and mysterious.

I could spend a lifetime studying one person, any person, and never fully plummet the depths of their mystery. Created in the image of God, human persons reveal aspects of wonder and glory that can be breathtaking. Their power for good, and evil, is overwhelming.

In the common graces of God, each person I encounter is wonder-filled. When I finally begin to see this, I feel the pang again. I realize I’ve been born into a fairy tale world of fascinating characters. There are no ordinary, common unexceptional people. Each person is a treasure, a marvel, a glorious being, a sacred other. In spite of our flaws, I can see through each person to see the hand of our Creator, revealing His glory in all things.

This season I am seeking new eyes to really see the majestic wonder of all the people around me. Open your eyes, you might be surprised at who you might meet.

Advent -New Eyes for Christmas

Advent 1 – November 27, 2005
If you didn’t notice the start of Advent, I’m sure you noticed the after Thanksgiving sales. This yearly ritual of rushing to buy the latest delights seems to be an economic necessity in our culture driven by ever increasing credit lines and quarterly market reports. So if Advent doesn’t prepare our hearts, this yearly ritual will certainly remind our wallets that Christmas is just around the corner.

In the midst of this rising cacophony of non-stop parties, shopping sprees, and sentimental songs, I’d like to encourage us to pause in wonder before a silent night, a holy night. If we can stop long enough, we might start dreaming again like little children.

Some children are dreaming of drum sets and dainty dolls. They’re dreaming of Santa and sleigh bells. They’re dreaming of a night when the extraordinary invades the ordinary. They could teach us to dream again.

They could teach us to see again.

I fear we are blind and don’t even know it. We live in a time and place that other people and ages have only dreamed about. The world is literally at our fingertips. And yet, we are weary.

A certain sickness saps the soul and blinds the eyes. Like a wisp in the wind, the wonder of this world slips away. Instead of celebrating life, we stumble and curse the darkness like the foolish virgins whose lamps flickered and flashed out. Instead of enjoying the monotony of the moment, we search for the spectacular. Every experience has to top the last. Addicted to sensation, we rush to the next best thing. Our culture coddles us with sales pitches designed to accentuate our desire for comfort, entertainment, and indulgence.

We need bigger TVs, better computers, faster games, nicer cars and sexier lovers. From an early age, we learn to use tomorrow’s cash to enjoy today. And so, many people, strapped by debt, sell their souls to the credit bureau, and sacrifice their families on the altar of cash almighty. We’re working ever longer and harder to bring in the just a little more money.

Yet deep within many of us, there is an ache, a longing for simple things, simple joys, simple love. Every day, we enjoy simple delights that we fail to see or celebrate. GK Chesterton once said “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”

Chesterton was convinced that sin blinded us to the wonder and the miracle in the monotonous. Only the innocent child and the heavenly Creator can rejoice in the same thing day after day after day after day. Listen to Chesterton explain his point in Orthodoxy:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exalt in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exalt in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. He has the eternal appetite for infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Would to God that we might grow young again. Would to God that we might have eyes that see. That is my hope this Advent.

In a way, I hope these emails will come like windows in an advent calendar. May each reflection be but a window that opens our eyes to a little glimpse of the wonder of God’s incarnate love, surrounding us even now with little common graces that we blindly ignore each day. In some small way, may these emails serve to prod us, awaken us, and keep us looking out into glorious wonder all around us.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Learning Lessons from Katrina

The burning cauldron of a sunken city buried thousands of God’s precious people in a furnace of chaos, terror and despair. Despairing days of hunger and thirst overtook eyeless nights of screaming victims. The world watched and wondered why have these people been forgotten?

As the city descended into darkness, pronouncements of judgment were inevitable. The media condemned the looters, the mayor condemned the government, and the preachers condemned the hedonism. As early as last Wednesday, I began to hear comparisons of this disaster with the judgments on Sodom and Gomorrah.

I am hesitant to make any pronouncements or proclamations. The ways and wisdom of God are higher than the ways and wisdom of man. I cannot begin to suggest that I know why so many people suffered and so many people died. I can only grieve with those who grieve.

And as I grieve, I cannot help but see the images of screaming mothers and dying grandmothers. Those images do bring to mind Sodom. The prophet Ezekiel announces that one of the reasons that led to Sodom’s downfall was their absolute failure to care for the poor: “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

The world gasped as an American city appeared to be reduced to third world disaster. Unfortunately, Katrina didn’t create a deplorable situation, it revealed it. Last week, the world saw a different image of America. One that is more real than the gods we worship on the red carpet.

We saw a part of the country that long before Katrina appeared, was ravaged by poverty. The statistics are alarming: New Orleans ranks in top 20 of America’s poorest cities. Louisiana and Mississippi are two of the poorest states in America. According to the Corporate Crime Reporter, Mississippi and Louisiana are two of the most corrupt states in America.

If anything, Katrina put a magnifying glass on poverty in America. After watching the stunning losses in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, I decided to spend a little time looking up poverty in America. It is not a pretty picture. According the US Census, poverty is increasing in America, and income is stagnant, meaning many people are slipping to the working poor.

12.7 percent of Americans live below the poverty level. A study by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2004, indicated that requests for emergency good assistance increased by an average of 14 percent during the year. And 20 percent (on average) of requests for emergency food assistance go unmet.
According to America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest network of food banks, 23.3 million people turned to the agencies they serve in 2001, an increase of over 2 million since 1997. Forty percent were from working families.
While millions are hungry in our own nation, most of us waste at least $590 in food per year. According the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, household food waste adds up to 43 million dollars. And America’s Second Harvest suggests that over 41 billion pounds of food were wasted last year.
As I read these statistics and think about those images last week, I cannot help but think of the prophets of Israel. They relentlessly called for justice and consideration of the poor. We may believe in the Bible and we may even “prophesy” to one another, but if we fail to care for the weakest members of our culture, we live under indictment.
Currently, there is a flurry of activity relating the to evacuees from Katrina. And I hope and pray that each of us will do our part to care for the suffering refugees. In the coming months and year, many people suffering from this devastation will rebuild their lives. But the hurting and the hungry will still be here. The cameras won’t be focused on them, but they will still suffer.

If we truly are a prophetic people, I pray we will never forget our obligation to care for the weakest among us. I’m not asking for any money, and I am not advocating any agencies, I am asking you to consider what is required of you? We cannot continue to collect and amass luxuries without end while ignoring the hurting in our own nation as well as around the world.

If anyone is interested, here are a few scriptures concerning our obligation to the poor.

Ezekiel 22:28-31
29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord GOD.

Isaiah 3:14-15
14 The LORD will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
"For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor ?"

Isaiah 10:1-3

"Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misfortune,
Which they have prescribed
2 To rob the needy of justice,
And to take what is right from the poor of My people,
That widows may be their prey,
And that they may rob the fatherless.
3 What will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the desolation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory?

Isaiah 14:32

32 What will they answer the messengers of the nation?
That the LORD has founded Zion,
And the poor of His people shall take refuge in it.

Isaiah 41:17

17 "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none,
Their tongues fail for thirst.
I, the LORD, will hear them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

Ezekiel 18:12-13
12 If he has oppressed the poor and needy,
Robbed by violence,
Not restored the pledge,
Lifted his eyes to the idols,
Or committed abomination;
13 If he has exacted usury
Or taken increase —
Shall he then live?
He shall not live!
If he has done any of these abominations,
He shall surely die;
His blood shall be upon him.

Ezekiel 22:29-31
29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord GOD.

Matthew 19:21

21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor , and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

Luke 14:12-14
"When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor , the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

Galatians 2:10
10 They desired only that we should remember the poor , the very thing which I also was eager to do.

James 2:5-7

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

Friday, August 12, 2005

In Cold Blood

When a particularly violent crime occurs and it seems as though the perpetrator has no remorse, we may say that this happened "in cold blood."

This is another way of explaining what I've been trying to communicate about our nonstop bombardment of information and sensuous experiences. From the web to the television to billboards to advertising (anywhere and everywhere) to newspaper headlines, we are assaulted on a daily basis with more information than we can fully process. So what happens? We become indifferent.

In fact, our school systems are set up to break the subjectivity out of the subject. So all of our learning is third person--casual observer. From kindergarten, we learn to be good materialist scientists: observing the world from a cold state of indifference.

How many people actually grieve over the deaths in Iraq? How many wept with those who lost their retirements during the Enron crisis? We know a little about a lot of people's business but along the way we forget how to feel.

As James Houston once said, "We know more than we can love."

Or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (ERH) said, "People who know too much, without sympathy and without antipathy are the curse of the earth today. They know more than they should know, and that they can know, and that they may know."

We watch life as non-participants. After I was writing the other day, I was listening to a lecture that ERH gave in 1967, and he said what I was aching about, but he says it in a much more articulate manner. He suggested we live in a time when people are not encouraged to identify with what they learn. So we stand on the outside looking in--instead of entering into the struggle of history. Listen to a few of his thoughts:

"What you know about world history is not yours unless you appropriate it, unless you say on day, "That's really me. I would have done the same." ..Without identity, no history. And the great illness of all the professors . your examinations on history is that they allow you to write papers without your participation. You aren't asked to identify yourself with this. What's this? Do we sit in judgment while the Trojans had to be destroyed by the Greeks? Only if you weep for Hector, or if you participate in the rape of Helena. Otherwise, it's not your business to know it at all. And that's why Homer had to write the story in such a way that you may weep. Otherwise, if you read it, you do harm to your soul. And you all do harm to your soul 10 times a day...And that's why you at the end become totally indifferent people."

"It's very serious. You see, the ordinary man at the filling station is much less in danger of his soul today than you are. You are allowed to read too much, to know too many things, and not to know them at all. And that is no use. It spoils you; it ruins you. How can you educate a child, if the child knows that have 90 percent of your knowledge in indifference? In cold blood."

"...And they speak of urbanization and of rubble heaps, you see, in the cities. But it's not the visible rubbish heaps. It's the invisible rubbish heaps in your brain, in your skulls that is so terrifying. If you listen and know a thousand more things than you can take sides, for or against. That is very difficult to avoid, I know."

He goes on to speak of memory. We need memory. We need to know where we came from and who we are. We need to be able to say our name, knowing our identity. Not what I do for a living: my name, my history, my family, my connection to other humans. Otherwise, we grow indifferent. We think nothing of the deaths from the nightly news or the nightly feast of murders on various television programs or movies.

In one sense, life is about taking our stand in relationships. Bearing the joy and sorrow of others. Entering into the pains and trial of history. Bearing the cross. I don't write these thoughts to point the finger at others: only at myself.

For the last 15 years, I've been trying to learn to live and act more intentionally, more relationally. And yet, I am ever aware of my shortfalls and the ways in which I succumb to the barrage of banality.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Social Gatekeepers

The modern world was founded with the notion of affirming the individual—it has succeeded in creating a homogenous society that reproduces itself around the world and gradually eliminates the individual. Every country has a McDonalds and every child wants to go to Disney World.

At least that is the way is was supposed to work. But suddenly, everyone didn’t want to be the same. In fact, some people were mad that “dead white males” had created the world we live in. And so they opened their mouths and started talking. Everyone at once: feminists, indigenous people groups, homosexuals, heterosexuals, conservatives, liberals, various races. Actually we’re not one at all, but multiple tribes with multiple ways of seeing the world. And if the truth be confessed, we’re all in tribes of one.

As Plato says somewhere (?), each of us thinks we are god. This is the curse/blessing of particularity. RD Laing realized this when he said that “I can experience my experience, and you can experience your experience, but I cannot experience your experience.” Or as one of my college professors once said, “We’ve gone to the moon but I would suggest that the distance from one human heart to another is even greater.”

The Social Gatekeepers I mentioned before, helped hold some kind of peace “however tenuous” between these tribes. If I accept the idea that I must become my own gatekeeper without qualification, I am accepting the possibility that each of us may move farther and farther apart as we choose to view reality through our own filters without a common intervening force. That what’s a social gatekeeper is. It is a common intervening force built on a framework that the participants accept as valid.

Alexis de Toqueville was fascinated by what he saw in America, but suggested experiment in individualism would only work as long as we had strong commitments to family, community and government. These three realms prevented democracy from descending into an abyss of unrestrained individualism. When I use the term social gatekeepers, I am looking at the forces that help keep us connected by maintaining or reinforcing some kind of common language.

This tenous relationship between the one and the many has never been perfect and the modern world erred both ways. So what does the future hold? It will require us struggling with some difficult questions (which many have been wrestling with since the dawn of man). Some of the questions include: What is knowledge? Or How do we know what we know? While there were several minor camps, the modern world had two major camps: one looked at rational thought is the way we know and the other suggested that what we know is only as reliable as what we can see, feel, hear or touch. These two frameworks battled and worked together to help us understand knowledge.

People like Bernard Lonergan struggled with understanding this question in new ways.

Other questions that come to mind is “What is a person?” “What does it mean to be a human person?” This leads to questions about communication, technology, society, destiny, etc.

These types of questions, might help us to begin thinking about How Should We Then Live?(a question that Francis Schaeffer faced and invited us to join him).

When I say that I am a Trinitarian Christian, I am saying I belief that the source of all things is essentially relational—thus relationality is both our origin and our destiny. Working this out in the way I act and think and make decisions is taking a lifetime of shaping and struggle. When I approach these questions of knowing and being, of communicating and creating, I am looking at them through a lens or a presupposition that the one and the many find a common, if not paradoxical, relationship in the mystery of the Trinity (three in one).

Not everyone shares this presupposition, but I believe each of us come to the table with certain presupposition (certain ideas that we build our other ideas upon). It might be worth thinking about our presuppositions and then trying to think and talk more about knowledge, the meaning of person and these others ideas that will shape the larger context of our relationships in society.


After awaking from a grog and posting earlier this week, I received a variety of responses (both online and offline). One person thought I might be suffering depression, while another suggested canceling satellite could only be a sign of insanity. And oddly, enough many identify with my rambling. Several people suggested that we need to become our own gatekeepers in this less than brave new world. (See comments and ecommunity)
I agree that personal passivity can be a perilous position in this postmodern milieu. We must cultivate thoughtfulness in our actions and relational patterns. Not thoughtfulness as in kindness but thoughtfulness as in living by intention instead of on autopilot. While we may have difficulty verbalizing our value system, it influences our decisions nonetheless.
So it might be helpful to think about what we value and how these values do or not shape our actions. Is our inner world congruent with our outer world? For instance, I may think that I really value relationships and community, but do I act in ways that encourage or discourage community.
When we live passively, there is a tendency to drift toward incongruity. I may complain about lack of time while wasting precious time on mind-numbing activities. I may complain about financial pressures and at the same time accrue more debt on a daily basis by purchasing needless luxuries on credit. These personal incongruities cause stress among other things.
Living intentionally is not as easy as it sounds. Over 10 years ago, I studied community at graduate school and professed my belief that forming healthy, long-lasting relationships is fundamental to being human. I confess that after 10 years of seeking to live more intentionally, I am only beginning to realize the weight of such a commitment.
So the first challenge/question we face is learning to live intentionally in a culture that may view this at times as subversiveness. And I ‘m not talking about some communist regime. For example, anyone who chooses to walk away from the consumerist calling of the average American may considered strange at best and possibly dangerous (cultish) at worst.
One prime example of this might be living in such a way that you believe human life really is valuable—or embracing a culture of life as the late John Paul II would say. The ramifications of such a position will often turn both liberals and conservatives against you.
There is another challenge. In addition to becoming our own gatekeeper (learning to live more by intention and less by drifting), we also face the challenge of living in society. I, the one, live with other people, the many. The challenge of the one and the many has been a question that cultures throughout history have struggled to balance. This is the challenge of balancing universality and particularity. Are we all one as some would imagine? And if not, what keeps us from falling apart into absolute chaos?
But more on that later.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Too much information - Warning Long Post

I canceled my satellite television. Somehow the endless choices of hundreds of programming choices no longer seemed appealing. And at times, I have even thought about canceling my Internet. I know, blasphemy. Sure I love meeting people from around the globe and I’ve enjoyed tuning into multiple perspectives, and who can resist the latest Google gadget? Yet, most of the time, this endless stream of information seems like a distraction, like a substitute for living.

I hesitate to enter another blog, filling the web world with yet another blast of 0s and 1s translated into text, images and words for your viewing pleasure. When I first heard about the Internet in the early 90s, I wondered if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. I’m still wondering.

And yet, it’s here. I’m here. And I’m still writing.

Last July, in my first blog, I raised questions about the current state of the world. I’m still thinking about those questions. For the next few minutes, I am going to describe my intuitive of sense of the world. I will avoid using references (although I most certainly have been impacted by other thinkers). I just need to write out what I’ve been thinking. You’re welcome to join me or just as welcome to tune me out because you’ve probably got better things to do. (Like checking your RSS aggregator.)

Information drowns us. Bits of data pelt our brains and ears and eyes like the continuous drip of some ancient water torture. Over time our senses deaden and we lose all ability to distinguish between drips. One drip seems much like the other drip. Just a repetitive droning: on and on and on and on and on and on.

The human body receives far more information than it can process. So it filters. It distinguishes sensations we need to know from sensations we can forget about. Otherwise we might go insane: and some people do. Some people don’t have effective filters: they may hear too many sounds, feel too many sensations, see too many things. Their mind tries to process all those bits and soon they are confused and tormented. Some persons weave all this information into strange theories of world conspiracy while others become prophets or artists.

Thank God for those filters. They help us determine the bits of information we absolutely need and the ones we can forget about.

A group of humans may begin to develop similar habits. Each human in a group is contributing information to the group. As the group grows, so does the information. At some point, there is simply too much information for everyone to process and to remain in the group: at this point some type of filter emerges to help manage the flow of information.

These filters are also known as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers manage the flow as well as the type of information entering the flow. Gatekeepers can help create continuity within the group. In fact, when gatekeepers are over-active or when we feel they use their power to oppress us, we critique the gatekeepers. We may blame our distorted view of the world on their influence and at times we may be right.

As the medieval world transitioned into a modern world, gatekeepers adapted to the growing modern culture. These gatekeepers managed the flow and type of information to the persons throughout the society. There were still a variety of groups of people but most managed to function together in a common web through the mediation of various gatekeepers who helped keep some sense of continuity in the world. (But this was not without many bloody fights!)

The first gatekeepers a person meets is normally the mother and father. They manage the flow of information to the child and provide an interpretive lens. After the family, we find gatekeepers in the local community and the church: both of which reinforce the interpretive lens and provide filters. The family, community and church are like gatekeepers within a tribe. They connect us to our roots.

But above these gatekeepers are meta-gatekeepers who control information to the tribes and help keep all the tribes in some continuity. These may include government, school systems, and press/mass media. All of these adapted and played a specific role within the modern world. Most of the time there was enough continuity between the meta-gatekeepers and the local tribes, to maintain some type of common language—even when people may have radically differing perspectives.

But not everything would or could last forever. By the end of the 19th century, a few thinkers had already begun to see past the gatekeepers. People like Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche saw cracks in the foundation of the modern world.

For over 100 hundred years, the tiny cracks gradually spread through the fabric of modern societies, and by the mid twentieth century, some people already began talking about a post-modern world. Gradually the gatekeepers lost their power. It is difficult for me to pinpoint, but I think the Watergate controversy of the 70s marked a fundamental shift for the government as gatekeeper.

Public trust in the government sank to an all time low and politicians retreated more and more into tribal positions finding it harder and harder to mediate one common vision of the modern world. Their language became so tribe bound that by the mid 90s, we could no longer even agree on the meaning of what “is” is.

Several big blows to the media as gatekeeper came with the 2004 election as bloggers consistently challenged their right and ability to effectively serve as gatekeepers. By the end of the 2004 election cycle, some people were tempted to find out their news only from members of their tribe.

I think the school system is still transitioning but it will inevitably lose its status as a modernist gatekeeper. Already non-accredited informal schools are rapidly multiplying throughout the nation. Much like bloggers, these non-traditional schools are diversifying the academic content and breaking the stronghold of the traditional gatekeepers.

In a way, all this seems like a good thing. No control. No one telling me how to think. Yet, in the absence of these gatekeepers, we lose all filters. We are bombarded with information. So much information confronts us from so many different angles, we lose our ability to distinguish good information from bad information. Thus all is information is suspect.

In such an overflow, words lose their meaning. Poetry, the art which guards our words, is forgotten. No one has time to read or think about poetry. Instead, we bathe in an a non-stop onslaught of words. From the moment we awake to the moment we fall asleep, we are bombarded with information bits. Everyone has Attention Deficit Disorder: and everyone laughs about it. Everyone is becoming psychotic.

The stress of this post-modern age will only grow as the chaos intensifies. And it will continue to intensify: for a season. The war on terror is just one sign of modern world in chaos. There are many more wars going on. Our talk shows and our governments seem like mini war zones at times with persons hurling invectives upon one another like hand grenades.

They cannot debate in any classical sense because they cannot agree on the meaning of their words, let alone what information is important and how should it be understood. All they can do is engage in verbal duels. The loudest, crassest voices often shouts down the weaker voice.

In this world of chaos, gatekeepers at every level struggle to understand how to act and how to respond. Take churches for example. Some turn to economics, believing the market drives everything. If I find my authority in the market, then I will develop my systems around the fickleness of an ever-changing market. Some churches for example, change their worship styles and preaching styles and architecture to fit the demands of today’s market. Of course, that market may change tomorrow.

Others look to tradition as a source of authority: either they grow stiffer in some fundamentalist expressions of their faith or they embrace ancient forms and seek to breathe new life in them today.

This chaos simply cannot go on forever. As a Trinitarian Christian, I anticipate the rebirth of all things even now. I look forward with hope for we are truly moving toward the hope of God fully revealed to man.

Thus chaos will not overrun the earth. Eventually, new gatekeepers will emerge (or the old gatekeepers will re-emerge with newly defined filtering systems). At some point, our desire for continuity will overcome the extreme neo-tribalism period we are entering, and we’ll find new ways to connect our various tribes in some form of common life. Either we’ll find a way or a greater power will impose it and the people will accept it. This new world will probably mold some aspects of modernism, pre-modernism and possibly other newer perspectives into a way of seeing that provides some level of continuity for the multiple tribes.

But for now, we live in a growing cacophony of data. The question for me is, “How do I live in this increasing chaos, as a relational person that beholds a new heaven and new earth and lives toward the reality of that kingdom even now?” I don’t always know.

Part of it may have to with willingly denying myself some of the all-you-can-consume smorgasbord of data streaming at me from all directions. So I canceled my satellite television. What’s next? I don’t know, but I think it has something to with embracing the cross, exposing my weaknesses, and seeking to live in the reality of kingdom rooted in the relational love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Night Poem

My brother has pointed out that I'm a grogger: true, very true. So I guess I might post something. Here is poem I recently wrote, nothing genius, just a thought expressed one silent night at the end of a humid June.

Lord, thank you for the night.
Thank you for fashioned feet balancing this body tumbling out into the shadows.
Thank you for twisted trees weaving form into eyeless evening.
Thank you for warm incandescent porch lights embracing vespers with gentle grace.
Thank you for sweet smells hanging heavy in the dark damp air.
Thank you for trains pounding deeper into darkness, then looping into light.
Thank you for angel bugs, swirling silent symphonies across starless skies.
Thank you for planes gliding to births, ballgames, brides, beaches,
And deaths.
Lord, thank you for the night.
And for the sun that has already begun to rise.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Problem of Wineskins

I downloaded a great (and FREE) sermon by Douglas Wilson on wineskins. Wilson, with his humoruous, thoughtful presentation offers a delightful talk on the nature of the church. Highly recomended.

Update: Sorry but I think they rotate out the MP3 sermons, so the one I listed is not longer available for a free download. But I'm sure there are other good sermons on the site.

Flat Earth?

William Blake writes a poem praisng the flat earth. Was he blind to the advances of science? Did he miss the Copernican revolution? How could a man living in this modern world not realize the earth is a sphere?

I am not a student of Blake, but others have suggested that he despises a world reduced to pure mathmatics and drained of all the passion of living. (Blake scholars correct me if I'm wrong.) He equates a world void of passion and living on a mechanical Newtonian realm alone as the lowest level of existance, which he refers to as Ulro. When we speak of the earth as sphere, we are using mathematics to understand our world. We are focusing upon the universal without feasting on the particular.

The flat earth reminds us of the particularity of our existance. It's not just some tree, it's the dogwood in front of my house that captures my heart. It's not just the abstract principe of female that capture my heart, but the particular--women as realized in my particualr wife, Kelly.

In a world of global politics and national grocery chains (not to mention "branded" churches), we lose sight of the value in little things and local places. Blake calls us back to the particular and rejoices over the wonder of a flat earth.

From "Milton"
And every Space that a Man views around his dwelling place
Standing on his own roof or in his garden on a mount
Of twenty-five cubits in height, such space is his Universe:
And on its verge the Sun rises & sets, the Clouds bow
To meet the flat Earth & the Sea in such an order'd Space:
The Starry heavens reach no further, but here bend and set
On all sides, & the two Poles turn on their valves of gold;
And if he move his dwelling-place, his heavens also move
Whe'er he goes, & all his neighbourhood bewail his loss.
Such are the Spaces called Earth & such its dimension.
As to that false appearance which appears to the reasoner
As of a Globe rolling thro' Voidness, it is a delusion of Ulro.

William Blake
(cited in A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czelaw Milosz)

Heroes of the Faith

You may have never heard about some of these people, and yet the halls of heaven echo with stories of God's mighty work through their lives. I encourage to take a moment and visit John Brown over at Scotwise to read some of his summaries of faithful servants of the Lord. May it quicken each of us to pursue wholeheartedly the call of God in our lives!

Friday, May 06, 2005

To Do One Thing Well

Mary Oliver challenges me. She opens my eyes to a world of stunning glory, and yet a world I cannot fully understand. In the midst of life and death, she finds wonder, and remind me of my longing to live well.

The Kingfisher

By Mary Oliver

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world—so long as you don’t mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn’t have its splash of happiness?
there are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn’t born to think about it, or anything else.
when the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water—hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don’t say he’s right. Neither
do I say he’s wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn’t rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

A Post?

Wow. I missed April! Not one post. But I have been studying. I've been faciliating two different bible studies. Between working full time, working on various ministry projects and faciliating these studies, I have been in constant motion. I did finish some studies notes for 1 Peter - "A guide for dwelling in earthly places as
heavenly pilgrims
." These notes were developed for my own study but I started handing them out because I thought others might find them useful and now I've posted them. Unfortunately, I didn't include a reference section (which I still need to add). When preparing this study I consulted JND Kelly, Ramsey Michaels, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, and I prepared against the backdrop of NT Wright's thoughts. Reading 1 Peter reminded me of the value of immersing ourselves in the stories of the Old Testament. When we don't keep the stories fresh in our minds, we can easily lose teh wonderfully rich allusion present all throughout the text.

I am also faciliating a study on Galatians - "The Good News That's Too Good to Be True." I'll post those notes when I finish.

I must say that I absolutely love study the Bible. Not to argue the texts; not to knock people in the head; not to garner spiritual brownie points--but to encounter the Word of God, the revelation of Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit quickens my heart to the presence of Christ, I am overwhelmed by His goodness. God is better than I could even imagine him to be.

Monday, March 21, 2005


BecomingMyself posted an amazing story about a young girl who paints breathtaking pictures of human faces, particularly images of faith. Her art and her faith are intertwined. According to a Christianity Today article, she began sharing visions about God and led the whole family in converting to Christianity.

"It wasn't just art that was happening. Simultaneous with art was a spiritual awakening," says Akiane's mother, Forelli Kramarik. "It all began to happen when she started to share her dreams and visions."Prior to that time, Forelli had been raised as an unbeliever, in an atheistic family from Lithuania."And my husband was a former Catholic and did not share in the family beliefs. We didn't pray together, there was no discussion about God, and we didn't go to church. Then all of a sudden, Akiane was starting to talk about God."

Forelli's young daughter was homeschooled, she had no babysitters, and the family watched no television."We were with the kids all the time, and so these words from Akiane about God didn't come from the outside—we knew that. But there suddenly were intense conversations about God's love, His place [in our lives], and she would describe everything in detail."

Take a look at Akaine's art and poetry: it is absolutely stunning. The Lord is good and His grace is overwhelming!

Sunday, March 20, 2005


A friend handed me this poem recently. When I was typing it in tonight, I thought some other folks might enjoy reading it. This is by Jane Kenyon. For a wide selection of her poems, visit Poem Hunter.

By Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stanley Grenz

Stanley Grenz died over the weekend. His writing enriched my life and I am grateful to God for his life of faithful scholarship. For those trying to understand trinitarian faith in the midst of a postmodern milieu, he offered vital observations. May the grace of our sweet Lord Jesus surround his grieving family, and may he know the eternal embrace of a loving Savior.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Heart of the World - Chapter 2

The Coming of the Light
In chapter 2 of Heart of the World, Von Balthasar discusses “The Coming of the Light.” When the Word of God appears, he is the expression of love. When God comes to Noah, he comes in judgment, destroying the wicked. The world continues in its darkness and continues to hide from the light. But this time, as God draws near, He does not destroy but restores. “When God thunders, the cloud of wrath pours out a rustling of love” (38).

Von Balthasar introduces an idea that is worth further consideration and application, he suggests that the natural movement of all things is upward. He says,
What comes from below naturally strives for the heights. Its impulse presses on to the light; its impetus a seeking of power. Every finite spirit wants to assert itself and luxuriantly unfurl its leafy crown in the sun of existence. Whatever is poor wants to be rich—rich in power, in warmth, through wisdom and sympathy. This is the law of the world. For all things strive to pass from enveloped seed to fully developed life. The possible impatiently presses on toward form. The obscure must move towards the light through rubble and earth. (38)
In this movement, things collide. Part of the fall is the absence of harmony is the development of persons and things. We often try to occupy the same space at the same time: thus giving way to motivations and actions that are rooted in violence toward others. He continues,
And in this general onrush, creatures collide and place limits on each other, and these limits are movable in the play and strife over existence, and the borders between creatures are called customer, convention, family and state. (38)
Von Balthasar suggests that the movement beyond self is a good thing, a sign of God’s essential goodness, but the absence of harmony in creation turns this proper drive into the seeds for violence and corruption in human relations.
Because God is essentially complete, he does not move upwards toward completion. He moves downward not by necessity but by choice to reveal his love. Man’s voracious appetite seeks to consume the light of God’s love. Thus Von Balthasar can say, “The light came into the darkness, but the darkness had no eye for the light: it had only jaws” (39). Outside of redemption, even in the revealing of God’s love, man’s corruption subverts the goodness of God, seeking to consume the fountain of love in it ravenous lust. But the encounter with God’s love means death to our urge and a transformation into God’s love.
Man wants to soar up, but the Word wants to descend. Thus the two will meet half-way, in the middle, in the place of the Mediator. But they will cross like swords cross; their wills opposed to one another. For God and man are related in a manner far different from man and woman: and in no way do they complement one another. And we may not say that, to show his fullness, God needs the void, as man needs fullness to nourish his void. (40)
Von Balthasar proper clarification of this encounter maintains the distinction between Creator and created. This is not pantheism. This is the God who is complete in Himself, freely loving, freely embracing, freely transforming his creation. Love comes down to interrupt our ascent and turn us around. I think it is here that Von Balthasar makes an interesting distinction about our Trinitarian faith. Most religions are moving upward: even if they deny a creator per se they are moving beyond matter to immaterial (even atheism could be said to move beyond the particular to the universal). But the Incarnation embraces the particular. Listen again,
…instead of going past God’s Word in its descent and pursuing the rash ascent to the Father, we are now to turn around and, along with the Word, go back down the steps we have climbed, find God on the road to the world, on no road other than that by which the Son journeys on towards the Father. For only love redeems. There are not two sorts of love. There is not, alongside God’s love, another, human love. Rather, when God so determines and he proclaims his Word, love then descends, love then flows out into the void, and God has set up his claim and his emblem over every love. (40-41)

The problem is that even though human strives upward, they are closed to the true light. They turn from the light because they do not want their evil deeds to be seen by the light. “He beamed into the gloom, but the darkness turned away” (41). In a masterful metaphor, Von Balthasar describes the sin-filled world:
Closed and well-armored was the world against God from all sides, and it had no eyes to look out since all of its glances were turned inwards on itself. But its interior resembled a hall of mirrors in which the finite appeared refracted as far as the eye could see, multiplying itself infinitely and thus playing the self-sufficient god. Only the world’s gullet gaped outwards, ready to swallow down whoever dared approach. (42)

This is a war for God’s beloved creation. Sin has so corrupted the interior of the world that it is trapped in an abyss of self consumed lust. Its only hope is to be redeemed from the inside out: God will enter into the heart of His creation, exposing His love filled heart to all the powers of evil for only love can overcome this damnation. Here is an extended quote that captures the stunning beauty of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ:
And now God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the wolrd; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.
No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant does love shine. (43-44)
Like a Trojan horse, love enters in the form of a human heart and once inside the gates of humankind, Jesus conquers the kingdoms of this world, revealing the kingdom of the heavens through obedient love. His heart of love overcomes the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it. He takes the breach of sin and destruction into his own heart. Von Balthasar says,
For it is not ecstasy that redeems, but rather obedience. And it is not freedom that enlarges, but rather our bonds. And so it was that God’s Word came into the world bound by the compulsion of love. As the Father’s Servant and as the true Atlas, he took the world upon his shoulders. Through his own deeds he joined together two hostile wills, and, by binding them, he undid the inextricable knot. (55)
At the center of the world, this Heart brings God’s particularized love and grace to particular persons. It is not simply a universal restoration, it is the restoration of the the particular. “No destiny resembles another, and no grace is impersonal” (56). Just as a heart pumps blood to all its members, the Heart of God circulates love to and through each particular member of his creation.