Friday, March 30, 2012

Too much for me...

I am weary.
I am weary of shame.
I am weary of being brave.
I am weary of having to do things that I simply do not want to do.
I am weary of being ill.
I am weary of test results that shed no light on treatment options.
I am weary of medications that make me feel worse.
I am weary of migraines.
I am weary of financial worry.
I am weary.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When the Gospel does the clinging...

Mowed today.  I actually had to mow twice because the grass is so very thick and high!  Boy, Firewood Man's fertilizer must be wicked stuff.  Mind you, the yard still has spots that are a tad bare and one area in front around the side has more weeds than grass.  So, I am working on that. Or rather Firewood Man is helping me work on that.  All those years.  All those years in Alexandria trying to grow grass in that wretched Virginia clay and finally, finally I have grass. Real grass.  GREEN grass.

For the first time, Amos trotted beside me as I mowed in the back yard.  Up and down.  Back and forth.  He made me chuckle the whole time.  When I moved to the front yard, he sat at the fence and howled at me.  In fact, he ran between the gate on one side of the house to the fence on the other, trying to keep me in his sight.  When I brought the lawnmower back to the garage, Amos jumped up wildly, repeatedly until I caught him.  When I did, he washed my face and then buried his face in my neck, relaxing his whole body against me.  I was sort of loathe to put him down.  After edging the front, accompanied by more howling, this time Amos just put his front paws on my legs, looked up at me, and waited.  In the strangest way, his silent plea was much harder to resist than the wild leaping.  I carried him back to the steps and sat with him while winding up the cord.  Oh, how my puppy dog loves me!

It was a hard day, made harder by test results I was not expecting.  When I saw the doctor's number come up on my phone, though, I knew.  I just knew.  So, I go back on Friday morning, endure another difficult test, and then wait.  Right now, I am seeing three doctors on three matters and have yet to find someone to address my vision.  Or...really...the burns I have on my back from a thermacare wrap.  I suppose I am just hoping that the latter goes away.

To say that I am weary of my wretched body, with these small battles that combine to make a war it seems I will never be able to win, is a gross understatement.  Oh, am I weary.

But it would not be a fair accounting of my day were I fail to mention that Sandra helped me swallow the unexpected bad news and Fred read me more John.  Not only that, he offered to continue once we are done with this Gospel.  SIGH.   Hearing the Living Word  So, I wasn't alone in facing such unexpected news.  Sandra, too, rather gently suggested I not vent my upsettedness on the grass right way, but wait until it was cooler.  Sage advice.  I waited and the weather really did cool off rather significantly.  I waited and was safer mowing. I waited and ended up savoring my time puttering in the soil...and holding my puppy dog.

So much is swirling about in my head, so much fear and so many scattered pieces I am trying to gather together.  So many thoughts.  So many questions.  And this truly odd mixture of feeling as if I am experiencing life for the very first time and yet still swallowed by an anguish that will never matter how much I want it to, no matter how hard I work at finding rest.

Were I to read back in my blog to when I first found the pure doctrine, I know that time and time and time again what I would find is a person who could not dare to believe any of the for yous of the sweet, sweet Gospel could possibly be for one like her.  You will not find that now.  In large part, such a deep and abiding change is why I believe so strongly in the power of hearing the Living Word, the healing that lies in the Lord's Supper. The small certitude I now hold did not come about because of me, because of my strength or will or wisdom.  Truly, I am walking, talking, breathing evidence of that faith is received.

Yet what lies within me still is an autonomic structure that is so utterly damaged, weak, skewed. The key word in that admission is autonomic.  Yes, the havoc dysautonomia is wreaking on my body has that word oft in my mind, but it still is an apt word, a word with a finality that terrifies me.  I cannot really explain.  Truly, even if I cold, just now I am too afraid to try and speak about this.  But it remains nonetheless.

Sandra said something today.  I was bewailing my misery and fervently longing for my foe to just...back off! I mean, I am nothing.  Nobody.  I matter not in the Kingdom of God here on earth.  He should be applying his rather implacable, relentless wiles to someone who threatens his kingdom.  Surely I do not.  Sandra pointed out that through all the...crap...that has been happening, I have only clung to the Gospel all the harder. Surely that offends my foe. I opened my lips to deny her observation.  I mean, we can all agree I am the weakest, wimpiest example of a Christian possible.  Period.  However, what I knew she would most certainly support me in saying is:  the truth is that it is the Gospel clinging so fiercely, Jesus refusing to have one of His sheep snatched from His hand.

You know, just the other day when Fred read John 10 to me, I tried to tell him how such a thing confuses me, since we can lose our faith.  How could Jesus say that no one could snatch His sheep, but that they could walk away.  Even writing this makes no sense, my confusion that is.  I mean, would not free will be the answer?  But that aside, what flitted through my mind as Sandra was saying that I was clinging all the harder was the voice of Jesus speaking those Words to me.  This day, John 10 filled my life, my existence, my experience.

For all the autonomic responses that fell hope for me, there is one that brings hope.  Read to me.  Read to me the Living Word.  Most especially practically anything in my beloved Psalter, but anything really. Read to me the Living Word and that deep, unbidden response is stillness, peace, rest.  As I have said before...even when such is not necessarily what I want at the time...seemingly almost against my will, it happens.  It is an autonomic response.  As I have written before, Luther teaches in the Large Catechism that the Living Word is and can do all that God is and does.  Such truth resonates so very strongly within me.  For I experience such.  The Living Word clings to me, fiercely, even when I am too broken and weary to find the strength to grip anything at all.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~John 1:1-5

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forgiveness without bondage...

A dear friend spoke the words tonight that still take my breath away: "I forgive you."  She spoke them slowly, deliberately, almost as if wrapping me up in them like you would swaddling a fractious baby in the softest, most comforting blanket.

I was upset. I was talking about things that are overwhelming.  And I was ashamed.

At first, my friend was telling me the thinking things that I need to hear...that it was not my fault, not my sin, not my shame in that feeling shame is normal, but I am not shameful.  I needed/need to hear those things.  But I also needed to hear that she forgave me.  Only, when I started talking to her, I did not know this, did not understand this, myself.

Understand.  Honestly, in many ways, I am beginning to believe that it is absolutely unimportant for you to understand why someone asks for forgiveness. The sole importance lies in that, if asked, you give it.  Of course, in this case, you would have to listen closely to what is being said to understand that that was what I was asking.

My oldest friend is clearly a good listener.

I was thinking, though, that it strange she grant me this on a night when I essentially did not do the same for a friend who asked me to forgive him.  I told him there was nothing to forgive.  He had not wronged me.  Not once did I stop to consider if he needed forgiveness. I had bound forgiveness to a law of my own making.

My friend saw no wrong in me, in my actions.  In truth, I almost could agree with her.  Perhaps. Well, one day I might get there.  What fills my heart with anguish, though, in telling her what I told her was that I did not admit such at the time.  I was too afraid.  After two decades of friendship I still did not trust that if she knew this terrible thing she would remain my friend.  So, while I did not out right speak a lie to her, I lied by action and omission for many years.

My dear friend pointed out that there is a good reason for my actions.  And they were not, in fact, really my actions.  For I had no structure from which to learn that it would be safe to trust her, by which to actually trust.  She is right.  Only all I see is that what I had known for two decades was something so foreign, so puzzling: her unconditional love.  The very absence of the things I had experienced elsewhere should have been the indicator that she would not turn away from me, would not be horrified and heap upon me more shame, when I was already burdened beyond words.

Only, now, in this moment, grappling with the shame and the fear of revealing what I did, not only was hearing that we were still friends needful, but that she forgave me for lying to her.  It matters not that she believes that I lied.  Perhaps, the day will come when I no longer believe so, too.  But right now, in this moment, it was not mere acceptance and reassurance that I needed, but also forgiveness.

She told me, "I forgive you."  Then my friend said that God forgives me, she forgives me, and I knew what was left.  I am not sure forgiving myself is exactly what lies next, although one might believe that to be the logical conclusion.  I wonder if what lies next is actually realigning my perspective in order that I might see clearly the truth of the situation.

But now, this day, this moment, I needed to know that she forgave me the past and what transpired then is not accounted to me now.

In speaking to her, I practiced speaking something hidden.  Doing so was rather horrible, awash in shame and trembling with my whole being.  I was talking to her from the back steps and Amos came over and wedged his body between mine and the step above me.  My puppy dog's perceptions of my needs astounds me, humbles me.  His presence made the moment ever so slightly easier to bear.  But the speaking was really only possible because I had already been given forgiveness.

You see, in her speaking the word of forgiveness, in bestowing that gift without my asking in the normal manner, I knew that were I to reveal that which I had still kept hidden on the matter, the forgiveness would remain.  By this I mean, in her words, I heard the Living Word, I heard my Savior telling me that I was forgiven.  And the forgiveness of Christ is not but one moment in time, but for all times.

I do not mean to say that if I had, in fact, asked her to forgive me, I would never need to do so again.  But something within me recognized that she was not merely saying that I was forgiven for the time I mentioned, but for all the times I struggled with fear and shame and kept such hidden from her, pretended to be other than I was.

Her grief was not that I did such things, but the loss of the freedom I could have had, for had I spoken then she could have helped me to understand the truth of the matter.

What amazes me about this evening, truly, is that she and I have not been close.  That a confluence of events and my fears took this person who was my sister from me for a few years.  A while ago, I called her...afraid...because I miss her in almost a primal way.  Mostly, I believe that I called her for wholly selfish reasons.  She no longer needs my friendship, but I need hers.  I want to know...need to it possible to really and truly be forgiven, that a relationship broken, ended, can truly be mended, made whole, and restored.  I need a connection to at least one part of my youth.  And I need her memory.

We are different people now.  Friends for over two decades, we are actually just getting to know each other.  All those years, we were single women together and now she is married.  All those years, I was living, in essence, a double life.  We talk on her day off and I find the conversations at once awkward and comforting.

I have a few people in my life who understand how needful it is for me to hear that I am forgiven, that I am baptized and therefore am forgiven.  But I also need to hear "I forgive you."  I wonder if, perhaps, the defacto response to any painful, difficult admission ought to be those words.

Dr. Beverly Yahnke has this rather amazing paper: When Death Seduces the Living.  It is about suicidal folk, but I believe all but one of her list of 10 things a pastor should do in serving as seelsorge for a suicidal parishioner actually applies to all deeply wounded parishioners.  One point she makes resonates so deeply within me I wish I could put it on a note card and hold it out to all pastors, almost as if a deaf or mute person might have a ready message to aid in communication.

She tells pastors that when parishioners confess feelings, they should be forgiven.  I have had two pastors tell me that they would not forgive feelings. I have not the words to explain how the weight that withholding of absolution added to my already overburdened heart, but what I can explain is the why of the confession of feelings to a pastor by a deeply wounded or suicidal person.  The why is so very simple: what lies beneath.  What lies beneath the confession of feelings is an acknowledgment of sin, primarily an acknowledgement of unbelief, which for the believer already struggling merely compounds the chaos, the confusion, and the despair.

Perhaps I am the only one who struggles with giving forgiveness because she has bound doing so to false laws, chief amongst them being having to understand the request before granting it.  Perhaps.

But maybe I am not.  Maybe the truth is that we, being sinners, who basically like to bootstrap ourselves out of hell--at least on some level--by merit or worth or act, have a nature that simply cannot grasp forgiveness given by grace, by unmerited favor.  And so we bind forgiveness with any number of laws.  Were such the case, then, offering forgiveness to the broken, despairing, fearful, ashamed brother or sister, without being asked, most certainly should be our first response.  For really, is not forgiveness all about the one being forgiven?  If we make a law about having to understand their need, their request, their anguish, their confusion, their fear before we bestow that gift, it would follow that those who are in need of forgiveness most probably would never receive it. Especially if you also agree with my theory of listening to difficult things...that we are so busy trying not to place ourselves in the story we fail  to listen to, we fail to hear, what is being said.

I did not ask.
Yet she heard me beg for forgiveness
And she gave it

How many people have I not heard?

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Please do not miss the important part...

I loathe reading the news on the Internet these days because some topics are simply overwhelming for me.  Only, I do not get a paper, so I keep reading.  Read this article.  Please.  Read it and do not miss the important part.

If you have great ire, as do I, that in 1998 a professional would have raised the warning about that man and be ignored, please try to set it aside.  If you are awash in anguish, thinking of all the children who were abused because no one heeded that cry, please try to step outside that pain.  If you despair that nothing will ever change, try to look to the silver lining in this news story.

For the important part of this article is not so much the devastating reality of the depth of sin and its hold on our world, a hold only made stronger by our proclivity to ignore it, to look away from it.  No, the important part of this story is that every single reader has the opportunity to learn a key insight/observation about pedophiles.  And if you learn this, perhaps you will begin to look for it, no matter how difficult it is for you to even think, much less believe, that a pedophile could be in your your school, church, store, activity group, sports team, park, play group, family...and then the children around you will be that much safer.

Read about how Sandusky approached the boy.  Note how the boy, even though he felt uncomfortable and was disturbed by what happened, defended Sandusky.  Absorb not the horror or the evil, but the pattern of interaction.  And then take these words to heart:

“My consultants agree that the incidents meet all of our definitions, based on experience and education, of a likely pedophile’s pattern of building trust and gradual introduction of physical touch, within a context of a ‘loving,’ ‘special’ relationship,” Chambers wrote in her report.

There is a terrible pattern to the interaction with many sexual abusers.  Yes, there are those who strike unheralded.  But many shout their intentions to the world...if you are listening.  Many put them on display for all to see, if you are looking.  They deliberately, inexorably, lead a child to the place they want by slowly, ever so slowly, breaking down the child's scant defenses, by destroying the child's sense of safety.  They do this with words and good times and by little touches.  It is the proverbial frog in a pot.  You cannot put a frog in boiling water and expect it not to try and escape.  But if you put a frog in cold water, and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will never realized he is being destroyed.

Probably the worst part of the pattern is not so much the words or the touch, but the blatant attempt to make the child feel special.

We all want to feel special. This is true for adults, but it is most certainly true for children.  Yes, even I have often sought, for good reasons, to give children special times.  They need them. They deserve them.  Look at the incredible impact big brothers and big sisters can have in the life of a child.  For a child, it is a very heady things for an adult, other than your parents, to take an interest in you, to care for you and work to make your life brighter.  It is heady and powerful and good.  Embrace those who might wish to let your child know that she is loved, that he is valued.  But.  Be. Wary.

Remember the pattern.
And do not be afraid to question special times, kind words, little touches.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Reveling in the Book of Concord...

[A swan song to the Facebook group I tried to start.]

I started this group for the most selfish of reasons: I crave, deeply, interaction with people who either love the Christian Book of Concord or those who are willing to dip their toes in the water and would like a place to share the experience. However, to my nervous, silly self, it seems to me all I have really created is a second place to shout at the wind...something I can do on my own wall. So, I am mostly convinced not to post here anymore, save for the Snippets, since many here are not on my friends list and sharing riches from our Confessions is never a bad me at least. However, I thought I would post once more. The funny thing is...I do not really have the words to say what I want to say. SIGH.

I was prepping the Snippets posts for the rest of the week and stumbled across something. Friday's entry is so good to me, I wanted to switch to that for the morrow. Only, one of my self-imposed rules is never to do so since most anything I find in the Book of Concord ultimately falls into the category of one of my favorite bits. That being the case, I would be shuffling order non-stop when I set up the week at a time. So, maybe when Friday rolls around, you will check back to read what floated my spiritual boat. That aside, why I am writing now is that something within the quote, in addition to the content of the quote, caught my eye: a Bible verse reference.

Now, if any of you are lovers of the Christian Book of Concord and are familiar with any of the bits I have posted, you might have noticed another self-imposed rule: I do not include scriptural references that are not part of the text. That is because sometimes the ones the editors added simply make no sense to me. And it is because I find them a distracting interruption to reading the sentences themselves, reading the words about the Living Word that I long so much to understand. So, when sharing bits with others, I only include the references from direct quotes.

That said, I wanted to note...again...even though I cannot find the words to actually discuss it...that this most interesting and intriguing, to me, parallel between the reference in this Friday's snippet post, 2 Corinthians 3:16, and John 3:16 and following. 

Yes, the 3:16 leapt out at me. For sure that was the first thing that caught my eye, but it was also the content. By this I mean--and I will surely fumble and stumble and bumble about here--2 Corinthians 3:16 is about how without Jesus, we will never understand the Law (yep, another reference to my beloved Article II of the Augsburg Confession), never understand that we are all sinners and the profundity and enormity of that reality in every facet of our being, every facet of our lives. Only...through Jesus. And with the discussion, you have the metaphor of a veil, the veil being pulled away so that we become enlightened, so that we can see clearly.

A dear friend has been reading aloud John to me, chapter by chapter. After a few chapters, I dared asked him, being a pastor and all, to add an antiphon of John 1:15:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~John 1:1-5 

So, every day I am savoring this passage, wrapping it around my bruised and terrified heart like a blanket. I also am hanging it before me, wherever I look, like the banns posted of old. A grand announcement to the world, to our foe, and to my own me.

Think about John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believe in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has already been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hate the light, and does not come into the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

Come Friday, check out the quote from the Book of Concord. Think about the content about the Law and Jesus' role with the Law as noted in the quote. Read 2 Corinthians 3 and think about the veil and darkness. Then read back over this quote from John 3 and think about the distinction between the Law and Jesus, the Law and the Gospel. Think about the role of the Law and the role of Jesus. And maybe you will tell me if you, too, can draw interesting and intriguing parallels between the two chapter 3s, if you, too, see, almost, the whole of all our doctrine in that one quote.

I revel in the wonder of the ineffable gift God gave the Church, gave me, in the Christian Book of Concord. I revel in the open and free access to our pure doctrine. I wonder at the illumination it gives to the Living Word, both that which is direct and straightforward and that which leaves you leaping about here and there, almost dancing because everything fits, everything has a place, everything is so inextricably interconnected...just as the body is a whole, not merely the sum of its parts.

And I revel in the blessing that despite every attempt of the world, our foe, and even my own flesh, I remain not in darkness. While my eyes might see only pitch black before me, in reality is a shining beacon so bright that not a mote of darkness remains in any corner of the universe. Yes, I see but dimly now. One day, I will not. One day, I will shed all fear and shame and confusion and despair and anguish...because Jesus did not come to judge me. The Law has already done that. Jesus came to remove the veil for me, to open my eyes since I could not do so, that I might stand in the light for all time.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Only one way down...

Back in the dark ages, when I was a camp counselor at a sports camp, I was part of the outdoor adventure team (don't laugh).  We did rock climbing, rappelling, a ropes course, canoeing, snorkeling, and archery.  At least, those are the sports I remember best.  I panicked with snorkeling, finding myself terrified beneath the water.  However, I was a really good archer even on those kid bows, so that made up for my snorkling weakness.

Rappelling we did both on cliffs and on a tower.  The tower we had at the camp, and we had a simple rule which guided all activity:  If you climb the stairs, you must rappel down.  No one was forced to climb the stairs, but we did not allow campers to walk back down the stairs once they crossed a solid white line painted on the first section of steps.  They needed to learn how to trust.  They needed to learn how to face their fears.  They needed to learn how to have faith.  As you might have guessed, this often meant we spent hours waiting for campers to conquer their fear.  In fact, someone would always check the tower near dinner time to see if the counselors on belay would need to have their meals brought to them.

I have been thinking about the time I spent up on the tower, refusing to let terrified youth climb back down the steps.  Now, with rappelling, that first lean-back can actually be the worst moment of your entire rappelling existence.  More times that can be counted, those terrified youth would race back the stairs as soon as their feet touched the ground because, fear now conquered, they discovered they loved rappelling.  Knowing the scope of the battle fought and won, we never refused a second or third descent.  However, this was a Christian sports camp.  Just where was the Gospel in terrifying children, making rappelling a law, calling them failures, and teaching them that there are no second chances, that there is no room for error in knowing what you are capable of, that there is no acceptance of weakness, that they are responsible for trust and faith and even courage?

We were not loving those children.  We were not giving them forgiveness.  We were not showing them mercy.  We were not teaching them that Christ's faith was what mattered, not their own strength of will.  We were wrong...terribly, horribly wrong.

If a child struggles with something she wants to do, say learning to ride a bike, I believe it is acceptable to allow her extra time to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail if she really wants to stick it out for a while. I do believe that a parent should also encourage him to be willing to let the process rest for a bit and come back another day, to let him know that is not only acceptable but a good thing.  However, it is just plain cruel to make a child stay outside on the bike until she masters the skill.

This camp was in central the summer.  Youth were left baking in the sun and bitten into the long hours of the evening. Yes, we had a water cooler up top the tower, but forcing a child to stick with a decision is not giving her love and is certainly not giving him Gospel.

Even though this happened a lifetime ago, even though I was merely following the rules of my employers, even though I know I have always been good with children, my time up on the tower shames me.

Force has been a topic on my mind of late.  Simply put, I do not believe people understand just how often we force others to do things under the guise of wanting what we believe is best for them.  Now, I do not mean those things which fall under true training of discipline.  For example, expecting a child to learn to clean his room, to brush her teeth, to wash his hands after using the bathroom, to do her homework, to fulfill commitments, etc. in is not forcing a child.  Nor am I advocating to make children equal partners or to have a part in the main decision-making processes of the household.  Learning obedience is important.  I see far too many parents negotiating with their children, especially about behavior, whilst shopping or with company or even church.  A parent needs to be able to give directions that will be followed and to have a necessary no be accepted.  Questioning is a part of the learning process, but so also is obedience.  However, do we ever stop to consider that requiring participation in social activities or interactions, from a child or an adult, is merely another type of force?

I was recently asked if I would be willing to take a self-defense class, one especially for those who are disabled.  Never, before a short while ago, would I ever even consider such a notion.  I have too many fears and too much social angst.  However, the facilitator told me that if I came, I could just watch.  No one would touch me if I did not want that to happen.  No one would ask me to touch another.  I would not be cajoled or bullied or forced to participate.  I would be given complete freedom to choose what I would like to do, even if my choice was merely to watch.  That concept boggled my mind, when I think of all the cajoling and bullying and forcing I have had, especially as a shy child, especially as--what I know understand myself to be--an introvert adult.

When I was in the eighth grade, my parents picked me up and took me on a surprise canoeing trip with Sierra Club, I believe.  We were completely inexperienced.  The first night, a fierce rainstorm dramatically changed the class of the river. The next day, we were nearly drowned after capsizing when a wall of flood water washing down the river overtook us.  That moment was terrifying.  The day was terrifying.  And there are many things about water I have hated ever since.

I hated white water rafting, the cold and the terror of it, yet I had to go each time our family went.  I hated the way my parents sailed, boat tilted precariously while riding the wind with wide open sails, but that was the way I had to sail when our family went.  I was not interested in rafting, but I would have savored a more tranquil sail, less trim of the jib and mainsail.  To be fair, I am not sure my parents understood my terror, but neither did I have a choice in much of those experiences.

From elementary school to college to the workplace, I have found myself in situations where others decided what was best for me and what I felt or thought or wanted was dismissed.  I did not learn as a child to speak up for myself or to set boundaries of my choosing, but never was I taught or shown that doing so would be welcome and acceptable and safe.  Nor is such much welcome now.

Often that force comes in the guise of tough-love rules like the white line on the stairs of the rappelling tower, once crossed, that forced children and teenagers to battle their fear until they succeeded in conquering it.  Or being a part of the team, going to office Christmas parties and interacting with drunken colleagues or listening to music that offended you or flail about the dance floor when you would rather sit. Or attending the coffee "hour" at church and holding conversations with strangers. Or allowing others to touch you, to hug you, to sit close to you, requiring--as a friend most brilliantly pointed out--a type of intimacy even before you are ever intimate with that person.  All these things are about yourself, about fixing yourself, about changing yourself, about having the needs/choices/opinions of others matter more than yours, about fitting in for the sake of community.

There I was at a Christian camp and the entire focus, really, was about self-sufficiency, self-identity, and self-worth.  We were in the business of developing youth, of building up self-esteem, and it did not matter if we terrified them in the process.  We deemed such good for them.

The only terror in the Christian faith is terror over sin, the wages of sin.  Period.  There is no fear in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection--all experiences and trials He endured for us since He had no need of salvation, of forgiveness, of eternal life.  The Law does crush us, kill us.  The Law is designed to drive us to Jesus, but we are never left crushed, never left dead.  Instead, we are left with our weaknesses being used by God to retain His Gospel among people.  We are left with love and trust and faith given to us.  We are left with our inability to find the words to pray, our groanings, carried by the Holy Spirit and Jesus to God anyway, made perfect for us, made completely understood.  We are left with being accepted as whatever member of the body we find ourselves to be, even the big toenail, for all members are needful and valued and loved.  We are left with being daily and richly forgiven for our sins for Christ's sake.  We are left with never having to rely on our own strength or understanding or even faith.  We are left with never being condemned in our weaknesses, in our foibles and failures and sin, but being completely and utterly exonerated.  Again, all is given to us.  We are blessed when we are poor in spirit.  We are blessed when we mourn.  We are blessed when we are weary and doubting and despairing because it is not about us, but about Jesus, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. We are left with Jesus...His faith...His trust...His courage.

The Gospel we should have given those campers would have been allowing them to attempt the tower as many times as they wished, but also giving them the freedom to turn back.  The Gospel we should have given those campers is teaching them the true worth in the moment was not that their own strength or courage mattered, but that the strength and courage of the cross would always prevail, that as sinners, we will always turn back from the cross, but Jesus being without sin and loving us even before we could love Him, willingly bore it for our sake. The Gospel we should have given those campers should have been that even if they never once found the courage to rappel down the tower they were still forgiven and loved and cherished and even respected as a child of God made perfect in their baptism.  There is no failure in faith for never rappelling down the tower.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~John 1:1-5

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reading the Book of Concord...

God's Word is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries.
(LC, I, 91, CPH's Reader's Edition, 1st Edition)

God's Word is the true "holy thing" [*Heiligtum*; relic] above all holy things.
(LC, I, 91, CPH's Pocket Edition, 1st Edition)

I was surprised to find this change when I was working on transferring my highlights from my reader's edition to the pocket edition. However, if you read the rest of the paragraph, the change makes perfect sense:

Yes, it is the only one we Christians know and have. Though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would not help us at all. All that stuff is a dead that thing can sanctify no one. But God's Word is the treasure that sanctifies everything. By the Word even all the saints themselves were sanctified. Whenever God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. Therefore, I constantly say that all our life and work must be guided by God's Word, if it is to God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment* is in force and being fulfilled. (91-92, pocket edition)

[*You shall sanctify the holy day.]

However, to me, that first translation was just a wonderful I savored and cherished and encouraged myself with it all the time. This is because I do find the Living Word to be a sanctuary, a place of safety, a place where you can rest and be fed and cared for, a place where you will be refreshed and renewed no matter how weary or worried, how desperate or doubting you may be. Plus, since this sentence is situated in the commandment, best known to me as "keep the Sabbath holy," or simply "keeping the Sabbath," the translation was especially apt. For Jesus Christ has fulfilled this commandment for us. He is our Sabbath (I learned this from Michael Card as an evangelical). Moreover, He is our holiness; we are holy because we are clothed in His righteousness in our baptism. So, finding refuge in the Living Word fit, letting the Living Word be my sanctuary made sense.

In the past two years, especially, I have come to see the Psalter as a true anyone who knows me has heard repeatedly by now. But any part of the Living Word brings that same safety, brings comfort and stillness and a respite from the battles of the world. For example, lately I have been hungering to hear John, so a friend is reading it aloud to me, chapter by chapter, with John 1:1-5 as an antiphon for each reading. I literally hide from my life, my day, all my tangled thoughts and worries, as I listen. I rest in hearing, in knowing, that Jesus comes to me and in Him there is no darkness. And each chapter is read, each deepening of the Gospel message, I find peace. For me, the same way I feel walking into a church building, I feel *walking* into the Living Word. It may sound silly to admit this, but when I read the sentence, I thought that I was no longer weird for loving the Living Word so much, for finding such comfort and safety there.

After discovering the change, I asked my dear friend, who is German and knows Latin, to look at her triglotta. She said, in translating for me, a compromise could be that God's Word is the holiest of holies. For me, that would work, thinking about how Jesus, the Living Word, rent the curtain, brought us all into that inner sanctum of the temple/sanctuary.

However, the rest of the paragraph is speaking of relics, of things, of outward means we erroneously seek to find holiness in owning, touching, things we wrongly imbue with having any power of sanctification. Clearly, the new-to-me translation is the better one to have.

And I do very much savor the end of the paragraph: "Whenever God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all."

However, when reading the pocketbook edition, I still find myself missing that first sentence as I first learned it: God's Word is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries. For it is my sanctuary above all other sanctuaries.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reading the Book of Concord...

Sometimes when I am reading the Christian Book of Concord, I find myself noticing patterns in the writing as much as I am taking in the content of the writing itself.  A good example of this is in Article XXVI of the Augsburg Confession, the article regarding the distinction of meats.

In this article are found some of the strongest, simplest statements about the Gospel being preserved/prominent in our Churches:

"The Gospel should stand out as the most prominent teaching in the Church, in order that Christ's merit may be well known and faith, which believes that sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, be exalted far above works" (4).

"The Gospel compels us to insist on the doctrine of grace and the righteousness of faith in the churches.  This cannot be understood if people think that they merit grace by observances of their own choice" (20).

I find this a bit...unexpected...with meat as a subject matter.  However, the pattern here is interesting to me.

The overarching theme is the Gospel, with three main points in how obstacles are made in believers receiving the Gospel:  1) this type of tradition obscures the chief part of the Gospel; 2) this type of tradition hinder the Commandments, rendering less important; and 3) this type of tradition brings danger to consciences (despair and even death).

Of course, it is vital to point out that we were not just discussing meat, but also ceremonies, orders, holy days, fasting, and other similar human traditions that can  ultimately rise to the level of earning merit somehow...even if the original intention was not so.  The type of human traditions discussed in Article XVI are not new to the church, to the practice of faith.  Nor have we escaped them.  I have had, in fact, some of those traditions pressed upon myself.  I will say that, for me, some of them very much have obscured, hindered, and brought danger.  And recently, in fact, I have spotted the term "personal holiness" in discussions of faith, as if there is a type of holiness that we can achieve, add to, the holiness of Christ we receive in our Baptism.  The very notion, in light of our Confessions, both here and as a whole is frankly absurd.

It is also equally vital to point out that we do not condemn all traditions, valuing ones that bring order, such as the reading of Scriptures that dates back even to services of the Old Testament, and those that help with personal discipline.  The litmus test is not to place obstacles in receiving the Gospel and to allow the freedom of the Gospel in believers choosing to omit or refrain from traditions such as those of personal discipline.

So, I believe part of the wonder...and the value...of our pure doctrine is not merely the words themselves contained in this book, but also the patterns of teachings, such as the one noted here, that always, always, always point to the cross, point to the promise and the fruition of the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this case, His is all the merit and holiness we will ever need.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reading the Book of Concord...

I recently noted to someone that I realized in re-reading books I own, I will choose ones or entire series for a certain effect or experience I know I will have in the reading. When sad I might choose one story, when lonely another. When I am feeling weak, I often choose stories with heroines who struggle with their own doubts and flaws and yet still make the journey, face the battle, before them. And I realized that with many of the books I have I savor them for the relationships, primarily relationships where struggling or difficult people are accepted and forgiven of their flaws and foibles and sin.

So it is also, for me, with the Book of Concord. I have go-to spots as dear to me as the go-to Psalms in my beloved Psalter. I have places in our Confessions where I know I will find comfort in my anguish or bolstering in my doubt. I have places where I will find freedom in being reminded that I am a sinner, that my faith, my works, will never be enough, will never be sufficient. I have places where I will be reminded that just as I cannot fathom God's love for me, neither can I grasp just how implacable and relentless and wily is my foe.

There are more places for me...just as there are for you. That's really the wonder of the Psalter, that within this wondrous collection of prayers lies every facet of our existence, every thought and feeling, every experience and desire. So it is with the Book of Concord, with the pure doctrine. I think this is because the whole of Scriptures is Jesus come for us. And the whole of our Confessions is Jesus come for us. Some of it is teaching what we believe. Some of it is refuting what others falsely teach. Some is simple and soft. Some is strident and fierce. And some is deep and dense. For every Christian, for every heart, for every mind.

So, here's one of those places:

In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil, and in our weakness, declares His power. [AP, V (III), 68]

This makes me dance (and I have two left feet--people pay me not to dance). It is absurd! It is wonderful! It is humbling! The world will never understand, will never see the beauty in this single sentence.

And it drives me to Job, to the wonder of that bit of revelation of our Father and His love for us. I might be the only one who finds God's...tongue lashing...of Job 38-42:6 to be the very picture of a loving father, but I do. God could have stopped at 40:5. But He didn't; to me, it seems He wanted Job to learn, to understand, to see just how loved he was.  For His God, such a fierce and wise and powerful God, chose him. As Isaiah tells us, called him by name.

God could have stopped in the garden, but He didn't. Jesus could have stopped in the garden, but He didn't. Why would a God who commands every mote of creation bother with such wretched sinners?  Why would He send His only son to suffer more than any single person, more than all of them together? Because He loves us. And His love defeated death. His love defeated the devil's kingdom...because we needed it.

All that in a single least it is for me. I find the entire Bible, the whole of it in a single sentence. And I dance for joy. The world will never understand. For that matter, neither will I, fully. Yet it remains true.

When I feel so absolutely beleaguered, bloody and beaten by our foe, I think of that single sentence. Seriously, it must just stick in the devil's craw, make his innards twist and writhe. I get to dance and the devil gets humiliated.

Some of my places are a single sentence. Some are an entire section. Ah, man, do I love the Christian Book of Concord!

Lord I believe, help my unbelief!

Friday, March 16, 2012

What have I done...

Why is that that things that are good for you can be so...brutal?

I forced Amos to go for a walk today.  I think that is a bit ludicrous that not only do I have to force myself to walk, but I have to force my puppy to walk as well.

The moment I reached for the leash, my shadow ran away from me.  He ran around until he half buried himself in the sofa cushions, tucking his front legs beneath him.  I had to pull them out in order to get the harness on Amos.  Even that process took several attempts, as Amos kept tucking each free leg back against his body until I wrestled him into the harness.

I tried to get him to walk to the door. I did.  I called and pleaded and crooned to him.  Then, I pulled and pulled until I afraid in pulling him off the couch he would hurt himself falling to the floor.  So, I picked him up and set him on the floor before trying to get him to walk to the door.  That did not work either...except there is a dust free path across the floor now.

After feeling like a horrible puppy momma, I gave up and carried Amos out to the sidewalk.  However, as I was standing back up after setting him on the ground, Amos scrambled onto my shoulders.  I think, were you there, you would have almost laughed at how difficult it was to get Amos back down.  He dug his nails deeply into my neck and back, trying to find enough purchase to resist my efforts.  Since I am not particularly strong, Amos almost got his wish.

Now, I had bolstered my nerves, calmed my anxiety, with Xanax.  Amos had but me to calm him.  So, he was left with my pitiful encouragement as I basically dragged up up the street.  I also called Bettina last minute and gave her no real choice about accompanying us.

Four blocks.  That was my goal.
We made it.
But I sort of wonder at what cost.

I was okay for the first block.  Then I felt the panic rise.  By the second block, all I wanted was someone to come rescue me.  Amos, well, he still has not stopped shaking.  Once home, I plopped down in the GREEN chair and Amos climbed up with me.  Amos climbed up with me, stuffed himself behind me, and has not stopped shaking ever since.  My poor, poor puppy.

He is only a dog.  An animal.  I cannot reason with him.  I cannot console him. I cannot let him know that I honestly would die protecting him.  I did that.  I made that choice this summer. I never let him go.  When the men trying to help me tried to get me to save myself by letting the pit bull have him, I refused.  And I did not feel half as much as I do about Amos then as I do now.  I couldn't let him go.  I couldn't just let him be butchered to death.

But I also couldn't bear the thought of losing my shadow.  My puppy dog.  Amos, though a mere animal, is a most perfect gift from my Good Shepherd, an amazing creation of my heavenly Father.  I honestly did not know that a puppy could give such comfort, be so perceptive about that which I crave, that which I need.

Amos, though, doesn't know that.  All he knows is that I tortured him tonight. I scared him.  I forced him to do something he didn't want to do.

And it clearly is not over for Amos.  Although I have found comfort being back safely inside, curled up with my puppy dog.  Amos has not.

This was not like shoving medication down Kashi's throat.  This was not like keeping the coat on Amos to keep him from licking at the gaping wound in his side.  This was brutal.

I feel horrible.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The poems the Holy Spirit creates (cont'd 2)...

[For Fred…]

In further reflection on the poems the Holy Spirit creates, I would proffer that the Sacraments themselves are further support of the valid application of the Transactional Theory, for they are a transaction in and of themselves, mirroring Rosenblatt's relationship between reader and text.

The Sacrament of Baptism lies not solely in the water, for otherwise then every encounter with water would be a Baptism. Nor does it lie solely in the Living Word, for otherwise then all the Living Word would be a Sacrament. Likewise, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper does not lie solely in the bread and wine, for otherwise then every encounter with bread and or wine would be an encounter with the Lord’s true body and true blood. Nor does it lie solely with the verba, for otherwise then each and every time these Words are spoken the Lord’s Supper would be instituted.  Instead, each Sacrament is a transaction, an interaction, between the element and the Living Word.

Our Confessions teach us: “Understand the difference, then. Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water. This is not because of its natural quality but because something more noble is added. Here. God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. Therefore, Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and whatever other terms we can find to praise it. This is all because of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, which no one can praise enough. For it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do. In this way it also gets its essence as a Sacrament, as St. Augustine also taught, ‘When the Word is joined to the element or natural substance, it becomes a Sacrament,’ that is, a holy and divine matter and sign” (LC, IV, 17-18). 

This joining of Living Word to element is also key in the Lord's Supper.  “Consider this true, almighty Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, after the Last Supper. He is just beginning His bitter suffering and death for our sins. In those sad last moments, with great consideration and solemnity, He institutes this most venerable Sacrament. It was to be used until the end of the world with great reverence and obedience. It was to be an abiding memorial of His bitter suffering and death and all His benefits. It was a sealing of the new Testament, a consolation of all distressed hearts, and a firm bond of unity for Christians with Christ, their Head, and with one another. In ordaining and instituting the Holy Supper, He spoke these words about the bread, which He blessed and gave: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you,’ and about the cup or wine: ‘This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

“We, too, are simply to believe with all humility and obedience our Creator and Redeemer's plain, firm, clear, solemn words and command, without any doubt and dispute about how it agrees with our reason or it is possible. For these words were spoken by that Lord who is infinite Wisdom and Truth itself. He can do and accomplish everything He promises” (FSD, VII, 43, 47, emphasis mine). 

In the transaction of Living Word and element, in the poem, the Sacrament is born and the meaning is made.  Neither one is the Sacrament, but both together are.

Likewise, the Sacraments themselves are a transaction, and interaction, specifically designed to bear fruit when gifted, when bestowed, upon the children of God. God did not establish Sacraments for Himself; they are not merely symbolic in nature, some ceremony or tradition of worship.  Instead, the Sacraments are the signs and testimonies of God's will, instituted to awaken and confirm faith and serve as seals of God's promise toward us.

"...the Sacraments are not just marks of profession among people, as some imagine. Rather, they are signs and testimonies of God's will toward us. Through them God moves hearts to believe" [AP, XIII (VII), 1].  

"They [the Sacraments] were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased" (AC, XIII, 2). 

"For this reason, Christ causes the promise of the Gospel not only to be offered in general, but He also seals it through the Sacraments. He attaches them like seals of the promise, and by them He confirms the Gospel to every believer in particular" (FSD, XI, 37). 

Thus, the Sacraments are transactional in nature, in the poem of the interaction of element and the Living Word.  And they are also transactional purpose, in the poem of the interaction of Sacrament and believer. The meaning of them, therefore, lies in the poems the Holy Spirit creates by and with and through them, as we receive by faith in Christ forgiveness, healing, sustenance, and refreshment.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Luther's love letter...

To me, perhaps some of the most loving, consoling teaching of our Confessions lies within the teachings about the Sacraments in the Large Catechism. In brief, this is because we learn that God understands our need for the tangible, for our bodies to experience by sense that which we are receiving in our heart and in our soul. "Now these 'new spirits' are so crazy that they separate faith and the object to which faith clings and is bound, even if is something outward, so that it may be grasped by our senses and understood, and that by them brought into the heart.  For indeed, the entire Gospel is an outward, verbal preaching" (LC, IV, 30).

Or put another way:  "When we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our heart must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ's sake.  At the same time, by the Word and by the rite, God moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, 'Faith comes by hearing' (Rom. 10:17).  But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart.  The effect of the Word and the rite are the same.  It has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible Word, because the rite is received by the eyes and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, illustrating the same thing as the Word." [AP, XII (VII), 4-6, emphasis mine].

And this is also because Luther makes ever so clear that we will doubt, we will struggle, we will drown in anguish because we are sinners who have an implacable foe who never fails to cease his assault against us.  "Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so that it will not fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.  The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses.  But it must suffer much opposition.  For the devil is such a furious enemy.  When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides.  He tires every trick and does not sop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.  No to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment" (LC, V, 26-27).

And not only are the Sacraments given to us to create faith, they are given to us to sustain and renew faith, even in our darkest moments. "But if you say, 'How can I come if I feel that I am not prepared?' Answer, 'That is also my cause for hesitation, especially because of the old way under the pope.'  At that time, we tortured ourselves to be perfectly pure that God could not find the least blemish in us.  For this reason we became so timid that we were all instantly thrown into fear and said to ourselves, 'Alas! We are unworthy!' Then nature and reason begin to add up our unworthiness in comparison with the great and precious good.  Then our good looks like a dark lantern in contrast with the bright sun, or like filth in comparison with precious stones.  Because nature and reason see this, they refuse to approach and wait until they are prepared.  They wait so long that one week trails into another, and half the year into the other.  If you consider how good and pure you are and labor to have no hesitations, you would never approach" (LC, V, 56-57).

To me, the very wild and wonderful part of this is that Luther further teaches that our struggle, our battle with feeling as if we dare not approach the altar, dare not receive the feast before us is actually good!  "Such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament doe snot depend on our worthiness.  We are not baptized because we are worthy and holy.  Nor do we go to Confession because we are pure and without sin.  On the contrary, we go because we are poor, miserable people.  We go exactly because we are unworthy.  This is true unless we are talking about someone who desires no grace and Absolution nor intends to change" (LC, V, 61).

Simply put, the Sacraments are the certitude we crave that is still outside of us, outside of any work, effort, achievement or merit in and of ourselves, outside any failure, flaw, or foible, outside the sin that haunts us, hinders us, clings to our very nature.

To me, these words of Luther are a love letter to us from God.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The poems the Holy Spirit creates (cont'd)...

[For Fred...]

I was thinking more about how the Transactional Theory of Reading applies to readers of the Bible.  With Rosenblatt's stance that meaning lies not solely with the text nor with the reader, but meaning is made in the transaction, or interaction, between text and reader might be in conflict with the Lutheran stance that the Scriptures are literal and are not dependent upon man's thinking.  After all, the Christian Book of Concord, our beloved Confessions, were created because of a need to make clear what we believe the Scriptures teach, what God has set forth, not man's theories and suppositions.  So, clearly, the meaning is not open to interpretation (no Lutheran bible study or Sunday school class would ever be having people go around the room and sharing what the Bible verses meant to them).  Or better put: "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish the articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so" (BOC, SA, II, 15).

We also believe that the Bible is the Living Word.  As I have been savoring of late, John teaches us: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:1-5).  Jesus is the Word of God.  The Scriptures are the visual representation, the words that teach and speak of the Word of God.  They are living and dynamic.

One of my favorite bits of the Book of Concord (okay, roll your eyes over favorites, I will wait) is found in the Large Catechism.  Luther teaches that the Living Word "has and is able to do all that God is and has done" (LC, IV, 17).  Our faith is created and sustained by the hearing of the Living Word creates and sustains faith, by receiving it.  The Living Word sanctifies us.  The Living Word offends and repels our foe.  The Living Word is a sanctuary above all sanctuaries.  All of these things are not because of man, not because of the reader, but because of the text.  

[Not incidentally, all of this, as I have written before, is why I believe all throughout my beloved Psalter we are admonish, encouraged, advised to have the Living Word in our mouths, on our tongues, falling from our lips, and in our ears.]

Our Confessions also teach that man cannot fear or know or trust God apart from receiving faith, as we are taught: "All of these things are the reason why we made mention of concupiscense in our description of original sin, and why we deny to human nature the ability to fear and trust in God.  We wanted to show that original sin contains these diseases: ignorance of God, not having fear and trust in God, the inability to love God. These are the chief faults of human nature because they conflict with the First Table of the Ten Commandments" [AP, II, (I), 14].  

We further learn:  "The knowledge of original sin is absolutely necessary. The magnitude of Christ's grace cannot be understood unless our diseases are recognized" [AP, II, (I), 33].  However, the Formula of the Solid Declaration underscores the depth of the corruption:  "On the other hand, we believe, teach, and confess that original sin is not a minor corruption.  It is so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt remains in man's body or soul, in his inward or outward powers....This damage cannot be fully described. It cannot be understood by reason, but only from God's Word" (FSD, I, 14).  Thus, Original Sin underscores that the meaning lies in the text, that man cannot in and of himself make meaning or bring meaning to the text.  

Therefore, the truth, the power, the meaning of the Living Word lies in Jesus Christ, not man.  No matter how many transactions between reader and text, the meaning will always remain the same.  Would that not negate the application of this theory of reading engagement?

But wait.  Consider that the meaning of the Living Word is the salvation of mankind.  In order give faith so that salvation can take place, there has to be a receiver.  After all, God did not cause man to pen the Living Word for Him because He wanted a book for Himself.  The Bible is not for God.  The Bible, the Word of God, the spoken and written Word, is how, is the means, God uses to give the gift of Faith.

"Therefore we constantly maintain this point:  God does not want to deal with us in any other way that through the spoken Word and through the Sacraments  Whatever is praised as from the Spirit--without the Word and Sacraments--is the devil himself.  God wanted to appear even to Moses through the bush and spoken Word. No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word.  John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without Mary's voice.  Peter says, 'For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit' (2 Peter 1:21).  Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy.  Much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak when they were still unholy.  They were holy, says he, since the Holy Spirit spoke through them" (BOC, SA, III, IX, 10-13). 

As referenced above, the Holy Spirit comes to us through the Living Word and Sacraments--which are themselves created through the joining of the Word--and creates faith.   More clearly:  "Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake" (AC, V, 2-4).

Therefore, I would argue that there still remains a transaction between the reader and the text.  I would argue that the fruition of meaning of the Bible is made through the creation of Rosenblatt's poem, the poems the Holy Spirit creates in the hearts of mankind as we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, Jesus Christ who is the Living Word.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A kind of cheat...

I learned a kind of cheat when it comes to these small meals I have to eat.  Whatever I have for breakfast, I can eat more without great consequences.  So, I have started having lunch or dinner food for "breakfast." Yesterday, I had pizza.

Now, before you start lecturing me for eating pizza after the last fiasco, what I ate was a Totino's pizza that was  higher in protein and thin crust. It was also a smaller amount.  And, well, it was $0.75.

The idea that edible food could be manufactured, shipped, and sold at a profit at less than a dollar seems a tad inconceivable. After all, the pizzas are usually a whopping $1.25.  However, I was rash and bought the economical pizza because a life without pizza would be so very hollow!

I was a bit worried that it would be too much food even so, but I had no problem digesting it and had even smaller meals the rest of the day.  I am already wishing to eat the other one I purchased just in case.  However, I thought I should wait at least a few days, if not a whole week.  Of course, we know just how much will power I have.

I am sure Bettina would support my search for a pizza I could still eat.

What I also found was a way to have sandwiches again.  Those tiny bagels make for a means by which I would not have too many carbohydrates and less sugar in them.  What helps, too, is my approach to meat on sandwiches.  Never have I met anyone other than myself who has a proper understanding of what the proportion of meat to other ingredients should be. Think: humongous pile!

A proper sandwich has a smear of mayo, a stack of lettuce chucks, meat that is as high as both slices of bread, cheddar cheese, then lots of yellow mustard.  Key is having the mayo next to the lettuce and the mustard next to the cheese.  And, of course, piles and piles and piles of meat...roasted turkey or chicken.

It has been ever so long since I have had a sandwich...especially since those grilled cheese now makes me ill and those BLTs (minus the T) were not always welcome either.  [Of course, I have never really thought to put piles of bacon on them.]  The bag of tiny bagels is nearly gone and not once has a sandwich made me ill!

The other bonus to this is that a small sandwich is a great option for one of the small meals I need to have.  A great option and a new option. I still do not yet have enough options to eat balanced meals throughout the day.  While I am in no danger of blowing away, I have lost six pounds over the past two weeks. The medication problems and migraines and everything else piling up makes remembering to eat regularly difficult and interest in food low.

I have enjoyed the sandwiches, though.
And the pizza.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Still puzzling...

Devastating, unexpected, harsh news on Thursday left my body trembling violently until some time during last night.  Even when the tears stopped falling, my body still mirrored the great upset in my mind.  I tried to calm down.  Truly, I did.  And I was rather bothered Friday afternoon when I was still trembling.  However, by Friday night, still trembling despite having John 6 fall into my ears via Fred and several doses of Xanax, I decided that I would just have to wait it out.  I did so because for all the puzzling I have done over my cold spells, I simply have to wait them out.

Eating such small meals is rather tiresome, as is trying to remember what I have eaten when so as to balance things out.  However, having spent far, far less time writhing on the bathroom floor has made the battle of accepting the permanent change to my body, learning how to deal with my dysautonomia-wrecked innards, a blessing.  Would that it were I could do the same for the cold spells.

Last night, while still trembling from swallowing the news, I was lying in bed with chills spreading across my body.  They are deep chills, nothing akin to goose bumps.  Almost...almost...they are painful.  At times they are like waves crashing upon a shore, one after another, overlapping, relentless. Truly, I have no words to clearly describe what I feel, what my body experiences. Or the frustration...discouragement...even despair that washes over me as well.

Last night, I was wearing two pairs of socks (one cotton, one wool), bike shorts, leggings, pajama pants, sweats, two tank tops (one tight, one loose), a long sleeve cotton pajama top, a sweat jacket, ear muffs, and gloves.  I was lying beneath a cotton blanket, a wool blanket, and the heaviest weight down comforter sold by the Company Store. And yet for nearly two hours I was so unbearably cold that all I could do was wait it reading, no listening to music, no watching online television. My nose grows so cold that really, at such times, all I do is wish for some sort of cover for it.

Part of the reason for all the layers of fabric is because my skin becomes so cold that any part of my body touching another part makes the cold seem worse, brings about even more chills.  Part of the reason for all the layers of fabric is because any part of exposed skin, any part of skin not completely covered with fabric so that not a single molecule of air passes across it, expands the misery, heightens the cold.  Air, even that trapped beneath all the blankets and such, feels like a mighty Arctic gale blowing against my skin.

I will often lay on my side and draw my knees up to my chest in an attempt to concentrate my own body heat, tucking all the layers as tightly as possible.  Doing so does not make that much of a difference, but still I try.  I will also often curl my body about Amos, trying to leach off his body heat.  Am I a churlish wretch for bemoaning the fact, for even resenting the fact, that Amos simply doesn't radiate enough heat to help me?

All day yesterday, I could not handle the cold.  Winter has been fairly mild to me, less snow and warmer temperatures than my first one here.  We have had days, though, this winter than have been far colder. It was 36, a day usually almost balmy to me.  However, each time I took Amos out for his business, I found myself racing to huddle over the grate on the kitchen floor with a blanket wrapped around me to trap the heat blasting about my body once back inside.  Teeth rattling, body trembling, a pitiful figure one might expect to find on a mountain top in the Swiss Alps.  My tepee solution does warm me up after being outside, but it does not help when the waves of chills begin.

The fainting, I understand.  The disruption to the autonomic process makes sense.  The digestive issues, I (now) understand.  The disruption to the autonomic process makes sense.  However, the cold spells remain a puzzle to me as to what is taking place in my body. I struggle mightily not merely with the misery but also with the mystery...the mystery that feels like a betrayal of sorts.

I gave up the battle of the anguish tremors.  I accepted that there was little I could do, that this is part of my life now, where my body reflects the things I would rather keep hidden, where my internal processes are oft made external, even against the strongest act of my will.  I wonder, then, why it is that I cannot accept the cold spells, the chills, the misery.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, March 09, 2012

The poems the Holy Spirit creates...

The very best bit of my doctoral studies began with a glimpse whilst getting my master's degree.  It was then I first heard of the Secondary World.  Basically, this is when you get lost in a book, any text really.  Technically, it is the willing suspension of disbelief.  When I spend time in PERN, for example, in the world Anne McCaffrey created where dragons fly and share a telepathic lifelong bond with their chosen riders, I am willingly setting aside my very strong belief that dragons do not exist in order that I might eat and fly and fight alongside them.  Those who enter fully the Secondary World are the ones who lose sight of the world in which they really exist...the ones who do not hear someone enter the room or sit down next to them whilst reading. You have Michael Benton (1980) to thank for that lesson.

As amazing as it was to learn what was happening to me when I got lost in a book, the best bit of my studies came later, when I "met" Louise Rosenblat, the most brilliant of all brilliant reading scholars.  Back in the dark ages, she wrote Literature as Exploration (1938).  Forty years later, the culmination of her Transactional Theory of reading was published as The Reader, The Text, and the Poem (1978).  It is no hyperbole, to me, to state that everything that can be understood about reader engagement stems from her work.

She believed that every reading experience is an interactive event between the reader and the text, that meaning is made through that interaction.  Meaning does not lie merely in the words of the author.  Nor does meaning lie solely within the reader.  Instead meaning is made, meaning is created, in the interaction that takes place between the text and the reader.  Therefore, each event was unique because every reader is unique.  That transaction, that exchange, she termed a poem.  [A wonderful metaphor if you think about it.]  The very best part of her theory is the understanding that each poem is also unique to the reader.  By this I mean that when you re-read a text a new poem is created, because while you are still you, the you that you are in the next reading is unique from the you that you were in the previous reading.

The poem is created from your knowledge, your experience, your feelings...everything about you.  Every day of our lives we change, we grow.  Even the densest of us, even the most stuck-in-the-mud oafs, are still different because we have lived more, tasted more, heard more, felt more, seen more. Perhaps is it too blatant an example, but I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time before I was given the gift of faith and then again after.  Imagine my surprise when I realized this was a story of faith and the Mrs Who, Mrs Which, and Mrs Whatsit are angels, not witches! How much more profound was experiencing anew The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe once I knew, once I was able to believe the work of the cross.

Of course, I also find fascinating how two Christians who are authors chose to wield their pens.  I admire them both. One wrote as a Christian author; one wrote as an author whose faith, as a Christian, colored her work but did not desire to write only Christian literature.  L'Engle's The Arm of the Starfish has one of the most profound poems I have ever experienced, one that created anew is deeper and richer each time I visit the story.  In a nutshell, there is a despicable man who causes the death of much beloved, innocent man.  When the evil man's daughter is injured, he turns to the main character's father for help.  The daughter is saved.  The main character is incensed that her father would help the enemy, angry and betrayed.  When she flings her anger and her betrayal at him, her father tells her that if you are going to care about the fall of the sparrow, you cannot pick or choose who the sparrow is going to be.

SIGH.  Good stuff there.

I re-read all the time.  All the time.  I have favorite series I visit often.  [Who wouldn't want regular doses of the brilliant pen of James Herriot?] I have authors for whom I own every single book that they published.  When reading the next book in a series, my "rule" is that I first re-read all the books that came before it. For one series, that count is currently at 22!  In this way, I prepare myself for the next serving by tasting again from the feast offered me.

Right now, I am currently re-reading a series that has floored me in the new poems that are being created.  They are not profound, I think, for anyone but me.  The fall of the sparrow truth, well, the whole world could take note of that one. But Kaylin's battles?  Well, I have been thinking of late that Michelle Sagara wrote this entire series just for me.

Here are a few excerpts...for me to remember...later:

Cast in Silence
It never went away. The regret. The guilt. Sometimes it ebbed for long enough that she could believe she was beyond it, but that was wishful thinking, another way of lying to herself. She didn't want to share this with Teela and Tain. Sharing bar brawls and near-death, yes. But this? [p.52]

"Stop judging your life by the failures," he whispered.
 "What should I do?" she whispered, "I'm always going to fail."
"We all do," he said softly, his voice closer now. "We all fail, but none of us fail all the time." [p. 178]

"I think," she added, "that's why you can't see what I see; I never let you. It's dark, it's horrible – it's everything I believe about myself. The tower is speaking to me, yes. Bit by bit, it's unraveling all the lies of omission, even the ones I told myself. Maybe especially those. It's pulling out the things that I kept hidden because I couldn't stand to think about them.

"I don't know who I am, Severn. I don't think I've ever known who I am. But I know who I want to be, now. Maybe that's all I'll ever know. What I was is so large in my own mind I can't break through it if it's hidden. And I keep it hidden because I'm afraid. Of what it says about me. Of what it'll say about me to people whose opinion I actually care about.

"I'm not proud of it," she added." But I can pretend I accept it – as long as I never have to acknowledge it. And this," she said, throwing her arms wide, "is what it is. It's too big. I need to let it be what it was." [p. 296]

Cast in Secret
Epharim waited until she had joined them again and said softly, "You fear discovery. You fear your own thoughts." And he said it with pity. Kaylin was not the world's biggest pity fan."Fear, we all know," he added. "And we all know rejection and pain. But none of us have ever suffered this fear of being revealed, this fear of being seen as we are." He was serene, and without judgment. [p. 80]

[Kaylin] "Would you change your past?"
[Severn] "Parts of it. In a heartbeat."
He shrugged again.
"You wouldn't?"
"I can't. I don't waste time thinking about changing what can't be changed."
"And you're never afraid that someone won't judge you? That they won't misunderstand you or misconstrue you as you are now?"
"People judge me all the time. Be careful of that," he added, pointed at a trellis that grew near the roadside. Vines were wrapped around it, and they rustled in the nonexistent breeze.
"But they don't have the right –"
"They have the right to form their own opinions. I have the right to disagree with them in a fashion that doesn't break the Imperial Laws."
"I'm not afraid of the judgment of strangers," he told her quietly. "I live with my own judgment. That's enough. And I judge others, and live by those judgments, as well."
"I don't-" want to be despised or hated. She couldn't quite frame the words with her lips, they sounded so pathetic as a thought. But Severn had her name; she felt it had between them, it's foreign symbols not so much as sound as a texture. Ellariayn.
He stopped walking and caught her face in his hands, pulling it up. She met his eyes. "Then stop despising and hating yourself, Kaylin. We're not what we were.  We're not what we will be. Everyone changes. Everyone can change. Let it go. If you're always afraid to be known, you'll never understand anyone else. If you never understand anyone else, you're never going be a good Hawk. You'll see what others see, or what they want you to see. You won't see what's there." [pp. 99–100]

Cast in Chaos
"I...I don't know how." It was hard, to say it. To admit it. Especially to Nightshade.   Ignorance was weakness.
No, she thought. Ignorance was only weakness if you clung to the damn thing. [p. 107]

In re-reading this series, in having all of these things I had not noticed before reach up and grab my heart, shake my soul, very much trouble my waters, it suddenly struck me why it is...from my scholar's view...that I love the Psalter so very much.

Each time I pray my beloved Psalter, each time it is prayed to me and for me, the Holy Spirit is conducting a new transaction with and within me, creating a new poem.  The reason those poems are so very powerful is that they are living transactions, my experience with the text is changing not merely because I have changed, because I have lived more and experienced more, but because the text itself is also living, the text itself, the Living Word, is changing me in the process.

It seems too small to say that every day I will read/speak/hear a psalm and find myself in disbelief.  Again. Not the secondary world, but struggling to believe that the Creator, the Lord of the Universe, could and would cause men to write down words thousands of years ago that are for me each and every time they are voiced, each and every encounter, for me that I might taste and see that He is good, that I might have faith kindled in my heart, that my soul might be washed clean of my sin and the sins committed against me.  That this might be so always.

Rosenblat was a genius in a way I believe few understand.  Yes, she had her day in the sun, but scholars have this distressing tendency to chase after the latest and the greatest, leaving behind truths that could continue to inform and frame new academic discourse, new discovery.  The true depths of her work have yet to be plumbed.  Its profundity never truly measured.'s a thought.  I am no longer Dr. So and So.  My tenure as a college professor was too brief, my addition to the academic discourse of literacy studies but a flash in the pan.  It is not arrogant to say that my dissertation was and remains rather unique.  The ideas I proferred would still stand out despite the literacy world spinning round for years and years since my study.  But I never published.  I never did the work it would take to drive my stake into the ground, to post the banns of my work to the world.

For that, I oft feel the failure.  My doctorate really does not matter to anyone but me.  No one really pays attention to the scholarship I acquired or what I can still leverage from it.  Failure thrums through every thought I have about the diploma hanging on the wall and the limp cowl crumpled in a bin in the attic.

However, what if...

What if what I studied, what I learned, was never more than this grand lessoning I needed so that in the fullness of His time, God would bring me to the pure doctrine and the truth that the Psalter is not really a collection of Hebrew poetry no one is ever really expected to understand, but a collection of prayers that Christ prayed and prays for me, a collection of prayers that are inexplicably, ineffably the very words of my heart given to me, for me so that even when I am lost in darkness, even when I am so very overwhelmed by the wounds I bear I would still be able to pray in confidence, to know that they are words okay to speak, to whisper, to cry out because God created me, loves me, and knows that I would and will need them, because God's greatest desire is that I might be saved.

What if I needed two degrees, needed to explore the journeys of Benton and Rosenblat, so that I might understand the Holy Spirit is creating poems in me, for me, through the Living Word, in order that I might receive faith and believe in a way that speaks to the very academic, the very thinking mind God created in me.

I am His beloved.
I am forgiven.
I am pure and spotless...even now.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, March 08, 2012


It began when she was  five.
For these boys, it began at eight.
Here, it appears five children may not have been enough.
Children are not safe from anyone, not even those whom they are expected to trust, even parents.
And it often does not stop when they grow up.
For so many children, it is because of the silence, because it is easier to avoid addressing the problem, to skirt the issue, to be expedient.
Would that it were every single state, every single city has this campaign.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I simply do not understand...

I saw this article.  I knew I shouldn't read it.  I did anyway.  Sometimes, I simply do not understand my own stupidity.  I read this article.  I knew the story would be skewed.  I expected it not to be anyway.  I simply do not understand the stupidity of others. Truly, I do not.

I suppose I am not capable of understanding a human rights group more concerned for the physical and mental consequences of sex offenders than the physical and mental consequences of both their current victims and those they are likely to hurt again.

"Research for the report revealed that of the 104 people operated on between 1970 and 1980, only 3% reoffended, compared with nearly half of those who refused castration or were denied it by the authorities."

47% more victims do not matter to human rights advocates.  Victims who face a lifetime of pain and anguish, whose bodies are affected in ways few understand...even the victims...such as this or this or this or this.  This is a past that rarely remains in the past.  And it not just those whom the sexual offender hurts, but also those who love and care for the victims and those whom the victims might unfortunately hurt themselves because the wounded often only understand life with wounds, because the wounded often were wounded by those who bear the same wounds themselves.  The depths of this evil perpetrated upon God's creation truly have not been plumbed.  Put another way, most ever only really see the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Even then, there is the silence on the matter.  Most sex offenders go unpunished.  Most victims remain silent.  We will never truly know the whole of this scourge upon the human race.

The harshest part of my soul will never understand why it is that those who bear such terrible wounds seemingly matter not, why the world prefers to look away from them under the guise of considering other, more pressing problems.

Hate crimes are often pursed with unrelenting passion and a quest for uncompromising vengeance by our legal system.  Publicly, intolerance for differences is held as an abomination to humanity and civility and society.  Would that it were a fraction of that legal stance were shown against sexual offenders.  For it is not merely the understandable silence of the victims that plagues our world, but the incomprehensible silence of those who know what is happening and choose transfer, retirement, moving, etc. over publicly acknowledging the egregious perfidy committed against mind, body, and soul and holding accountable sex offenders.  

That is why this is the way of the world in the year 2012, why child pornography and prostitution is a thriving industry world wide, why one of the most common weapons of wars waged today is rape.  Why the common mentality regarding sexual abuse is to let sleeping dogs lie, for the past is over.

But it isn't.  Over.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.