Saturday, April 27, 2013

This spring and last...

It is hard, for me, to face just how much has changed with my body, with my mind, with my life.  I laughed today.  A day that I laugh is one to be cherished, no matter what else happens that day.

Yesterday, I set out to clear Amos' deposits in preparation for some long-over due mowing.  A small  delay and copious amounts of rain resulted in growth you could almost see if you watched long enough.  The grass was so hard, I could not find anything to clear out.

Since my labor was going to be spent that way, I decided to dig out the ground cover that had crept into the grass.  My beloved grass.

It was there because I was too weary last fall ... this winter.  SIGH.  I saw the ground cover growing up against the brick border that was laid and spill over.  I should have just used the straight shovel all along the border to stab deep in the ground to cut the roots.  But, while I oft thought about doing so, I never did.  Just the thought of the labor was exhausting to me.

Perhaps an hour passed, between digging with my trowel along about 12 feet of yard and tending to a small patch in the side bed and two weeds in the front.  Two.  Two I had to totter up there, so weak and wobbly and completely fatigued was I.  An hour.  Just last summer, I could have sat on the ground for twice that without being so utterly devastated within my body.

That I was this way discouraged my whole being.  I notice things.  Small things.  Tiny witnesses to what I am losing.  I wonder why no one else does.  But few are around to see.  And, if they are around, some silly part of my self spends all my energy, and then some, to mask those losses.

After a few hours, I went to clean the bathroom for the guest that was arriving.  I fainted four times.  Four times merely scrubbing the tub, the toilet, and the sink and cleaning the mirror (I had tended the floors the day before).  I wish I had the courage to tell folk that they are most welcome to come but need to scrub the tub themselves.  That ... and put sheets on the bed ... both fore and aft the visit.

Four times.
I should have done what I do for myself.
Climb in the tub, sit down, and scrub before I shower.

Today, I asked the one mowing to leave the cord out for me so I could shape the burning bushes some more.  Wildly overgrown when I moved here, today was my third pruning job over the past two years.  Primarily, the second one last fall was the major work.  However, pruning with leaves is harder than pruning without.

So, after putting it off for quite a while, I fetched the electric hedge trimmers, picked up the cord, and rounded them as I wished.  No more than 10 minutes passed between pruning and winding up the cord and returning both cord reel and trimmers to the garage.  10 minutes.  And I was huffing and puffing and oh, so tired.

But it is not just the fatigue.  It is the blankness growing in my mind.  The things I am forgetting.  The things that become having-never-passed.

So often, too often, I heard that my life has changed and I have to move on.  "You need to get over it."  Get. Over. It.  Horrid words.  Cruel words.  Ignorant words.  Were it possible I would. Truly, I would.  But how do you get over something that is still happening?  How do you absorb losses that daily continue?

My darned lawn mower broke today.  Two weeks ago, for the first mow, it worked fine.  Today, the mower started a pass and it died.  Nothing.  Not a bit of power.  Wanting for it not to be so, I pulled apart the handle where the switch is and the cover, but there was no evidence of broken, pulled, or blacked wiring.  Being two years past its warranty, I suppose I got my money's worth.  Still, just four years?

Its brokenness meant being confronted by my own.

I, the scholar.  I, the knowledge manager.  I, the communications expert.  I, the writer.  Me, all those things I used to be ... the person who once thrived on the challenge of juggling multiple projects and task ... the one who cannot make a decision, who, when decisions come my way, begins to sink into panic, to become paralyzed with the burden of figuring out what to do.

After much angst, my best friend's husband came to the rescue, listening to what I had learned about an alternative to the Black and Decker model I have purchased three times, weighing pros and cons with me, and pin-pointing that factor which tips the scales one way or the other.  I happen to believe our minds are rather similar when it comes to thinking about things.  So, perhaps it was easier to do so for me.  But so few are willing to help me this way, are willing to just make a decision for me.  A decision on things that matter not, with regard to all the other things I have to face.  His help was pure and utter mercy.  Mercy heaped upon me that halted the panic and freed me from its prison.

Mercy that came even though I struggled to talk with him at first, to focus, because I saw my friend's photo on the phone and yet his voice was on the other end of the line.  I have to practice everything, rehearse everything. I cannot handled the unexpected, even if it is a good thing.

To me, it honestly does not matter if the lawn mower decision turns to be one that is less than the best.  I care not.  I just need to be told what to buy, what to do.  I need that on the things that are inconsequential to the dark and deep things weighing upon me.  I would not ask you to tell me what choices to make in medication or treatment or such things.  But what to buy, where to go for something, what to do ... that helps.  Immensely.

The seminary grad student encouraged me, having not yet changed the oil, to use a deal that came up on Groupon for both an oil change and tire rotation.  He had a concrete plan for something I had been putting off, primarily because I have always gone to Toyota, where getting in and out never happens under three hours.  I cannot sit in a chair in the waiting room for three hours.  I cannot do so for an hour.

He and his fiancĂ© both helped me to set up an account, to purchase the deal, and to download an app to show at Jiffy Lube when my printer would not print the Groupon PDF.  I have a plan.  The number is in my phone, along with an alarm to call and ask which time of day has less traffic.  I go there. I show the deal.  I finally get the oil changed and rotate tires that have been in the same place for three years.  And I will be in a place where service is built around quantity and thus speed.  Why didn't I think of that?

I doubt either of them understand what mercy they showed me in helping me come to a decision on where and how to change the oil.  In walking me through an unfamiliar process.  No matter that it is a simple thing to join Groupon.  It is not simple for me.  

New things are not.
Following directions is not.
Making plans or decisions is not.

That refrigerator decision, finally made by a stranger in Lowe's, dragged on for a year.  Month after month the shame of wasted food when money is such an issue.  The burden so great I would weep for hours.  Today, my lawnmower broke, I frantically called all the males I know (and friends with husbands) and left messages, my dearest friend's beloved called me back, a new one was chosen, and it is waiting for me at Lowe's ... once I remember to pick it up.  [The growing grass should be a strong enough reminder to fetch it.]

It is hard to face the losses in my mind. It is hard to face the losses in my body.  It is especially hard when I have to face both.  And it is near impossible to face when all the while I have a stark contrast between a time this year and last.

The truth of me is that I spend most of my time hiding. I hide in books. I hide in movies and television shows.  I hide in the Book of Concord.  And I hide in the Psalter.

With the Confessions, I find ineffable comfort in all the times the anguished soul, the anxious person, the terrified conscience is mentioned.  I find comfort in both that the answer for such is the consolation of the Gospel  and that someone like me is not the exception, but the expected.

With the Psalter, I find ineffable comfort in the wild swings of certitude and doubt, of exultation and despair.  Again, how I struggle, how I feel, is expected for these are the prayers my Creator gave His children, gave me, to pray.

In a way, the fact that I do not remember, given how much time I spend hiding, is almost a good thing.  The movies and shows are "new" to me.  As are the words of the Confessions and the Living Word of the Psalter.

In this, it matters not the differences between this spring and last.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Girding my loins...

I find it difficult to go to church, even on good days.  A host of obstacles always seem to be flung in my path.  And when one is cleared, another appears just behind it.

I love, love, love that my church has an evening service that is liturgical.  While I would rather it be the setting used most on Sunday, Divine Service 3 since I know that one, but I am slowly ... very slowly ... learning Divine Service 1.  It is a shortened service in that just one hymn is sung, but nothing else is stinted.  For me, given that I know so few hymns, that loss is felt less keenly than most might.  I used to really enjoy hearing hymns sung about me, but now that it is so difficult for me to discern melodies or hear the words.  Well, the reminder of how much my brain has changed how I regard being surrounded by hymn singing.

The church is old, and the walk from handicapped parking to at least 1/3 of the way into the pews is rather long.  It is even longer after having sat in the wooden pews for the duration of the service.  A long time ago, one of the pastors mentioned the option of coming in the side door.  I could swear he said I would need to walk through the small chapel, and looking at where the chapel is located, I was not sure how much shorter the walk would be.  Then, the other pastor mentioned it again, and I opted to try it out.  It turns out that there are three side doors, and one is but a hop, skip, and a jump from the sideways pews that line the front third of the church.

However, going in the side door meant that I did not get a bulletin.  That means that while I can follow the liturgy in my hymnal, complete with bookmarks for both halves of the service, I would not have the words of the introit, the Scripture references and copy, or the hymn of the evening.  The last two services meant I was lost much of the time.  Being lost in church is most especially discouraging for me.

I do not like the reminder that I simply cannot comprehend oral text.  Even if you read to me from the Bible, I need to be following along to retain something of it.  Something.  When I watch movies and shows online, I read summaries before, during, and after the watching.  Even with sound and visuals, I struggle to remember what I am hearing, what is happening.

When I was having the cognitive testing for the disability application process, the most brutal moment was when the psychiatrist read me a story and then asked me questions about it.  I could not answer a single question.  Not on the first story.  Nor the second.  Nor the third.  I, the literacy professor, utterly failed at listening comprehension.

I was so stunned at the blankness in my mind that I could not continue the testing for a while.  With regard to the story, there was nothing there.

During the sermons, now, I barely remember any of the text. I try to hold on to a point or two of the sweet, sweet Gospel, but all too often at the end of the sermon, my mind is blank.  Thankfully, the church began recording the sermons last fall.  So, I can listen to them over and over and over to actually hear the Living Word.

During the Scripture readings, I follow along in the bulletin.  I also re-read them when I get home that night and throughout the week.  But without the bulletin, the reading of the Living Word just resulted in more blankness in my mind.  The first week, I tried to remember the reference given and look up the passage as the pastor was starting to read, but I could not.  I find it difficult to look up a written reference.  Remembering and finding a spoken reference is an impossibility.

Being in church, lost much of the time, I wept.  And I felt so very guilty.  Should I not merely be thankful for being in church and for receiving the Lord's Supper?  Oh, how I wish I had more grace when it comes to accepting, to swallowing, what is happening to my brain.

I almost did not go to church tonight.  Walk the long way and have a bulletin, but struggle to walk back out when the service is over or walk the short way and be lost in the service.  SIGH.

So, I upped my girding of loins by throwing social convention to the wind and wearing my stubby braids to church. Stubby braids and a bandana.

Oh, how I miss my long hair.  I have been trying to manage the pain in my head with peppermint and lavender oils. I still do NOT believe in aroma therapy, but the stuff does help.  I fear I am getting to the point where the pain is more than stubbornness can bear, but at least I can braid a small length on either side of my head.

The power of the braids (ridiculous though they are) is so great that an usher actually brought me a bulletin tonight!  This elderly gentlemen walked the entire length of the church and back so that I might be able to follow the whole of the Divine Service, not just part of it.  Yes, I wept in the pew for a while, so thankful for the provision of my Good Shepherd.

A bit of the Gospel reading is still ringing in my ears.  "Are you the Christ?  Speak it plainly."  Jesus' response was that He had, many times, and that the signs had told them such as well.  They simply couldn't hear Him because they were not His sheep.

The sinner in me fears greatly at such an answer.  Am I not one of His sheep?  Do I struggle to believe the riches of Christ crucified are for me because of this?  But the saint in me tells the sinner in me to not be so silly.  I am baptized.  I am one of Jesus' sheep.

But I am also a sheep who asks Jesus to speak the Gospel plainly.  I need Him to do so. I need my pastors to do so. I need my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to do so.  To speak plainly.  And to speak often.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 11...

Scattered thoughts from my latest reading, yet most of my thoughts of late are scattered.  Scattered and yet full of glimpses of the sweet, sweet Gospel.

I left off the with Jesus withdrawing to the sea of Galilee, just before He choose out His disciples and climbed a mountain.  Ah, that sermon!

However, before that I read of Matthew citing Isaiah 42:1-4.  Such a beautiful passage, though I understand not the second verse about not anyone hearing His voice in the street.  But something that struck me is in it God calls Jesus His beloved.  And yet, somehow, I, too, am His beloved.  Oh, how can that possibly be??  I, the sinner?  I, who struggles mightily with despair and doubt?  The answer is that this is another example of how God seems me through faith, through the obedience of Christ, His perfection!

When I finally came to my official reading of the sermon on the mount, into which I dabbled before, the very first bit I noticed was Luke 6:17.  Jesus climbed a mountain and stood on a level place.  A level place.  Sure footing again.  Again, the words of the Psalter about a smooth path, sure footing, a level place sprain to mind again. And again I marveled that, to me, it seems as if Jesus is our smooth path, our sure footing, our level place!  Am I strange that I hunger so to start from the beginning of the Psalter again and circle each and every cry for or thanksgiving for a smooth path, smooth footing, a level place.

Somewhere in the Psalter is a verse I need to find again where the psalmist is kept from stumbling by angels lifting him up.  It is highlighted, but so much is highlighted in all of my copies of the Bible with regard the to Psalter--at least it is now--that finding verses I know are in there by highlights is no longer easy.

It puzzles me at times, that those prayers are such a complex mixture of doubt and despair and an unshakable certitude.  Of course, is that not the epitome of the old Adam and the new Adam both living within the petitioner, within the penitent?

I wrote about how the beatitudes are not attitudes marking proper Christian living but who we are in Christ.  They are the To Be of Christ that we are because we are in Him.  Mind the verbs, Myrtle.  They are not yours, but Christ's.

Matthew 5:13-16 still puzzles me, makes me yearn deeply for a proper lessoning on that bit.  As I wrote before, from the Psalter's references to light, I suspect that this is another part of who we are in Christ.  We are salty.  We are light.  These are not evidence of our faith for which we are to strive or earn as evidence of our faithfulness.  They are.

Perhaps it is another coin.  One side is our Triune God.  The other is believers.  One side I am. The other side you are.   Only, really, if you think about it, no matter the speaker, the words are the same: I am.  Is that not what Luther teaches us to fling back at our foe when he is accusing us?  Yes, I am a sinner, but I am baptized.  End of discussion you lout!

I could be wrong, but Matthew 5:16 could be my first encounter (in this reading) of "good works."  Of that I note that the verse tells us to let our light shine in such a way that others see our good works AND give glory to God.  Hmm.  Good works doesn't seem to be about sanctification, here, but rather glorifying God the Father.  God the Father who care for His creation, provides for His beloveds.

The parallel version continues on with just Matthew for a bit.  For now, I wanted to finish with Matthew 5:17-20.

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  Fo truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scries and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Verse 18 caught my eye.  At first, I puzzled over how the Law is still in effect if it is fulfilled.  When speaking this, of course, Jesus had not yet died for our sins.  He had not yet been the perfect lamb, the sacrifice that finally fulfilled the Law.  Much puzzling, wondering what this could mean.  I would have thought this verse would have had something about until the temple is destroyed and raised up again in three days, rather than until heaven and earth pass away.  The earth is still here!  Yet the Law is fulfilled.  Why, then, has it not been accomplished?  Did Jesus not proclaim on the cross, "It is finished"?

Yes, it is finished.  The Law is fulfilled.  Its wrath and judgement no longer falls upon those who have received the faith of Jesus Christ.  However, mankind is not finished, is it?  My forgiveness is not finished, for I daily sin.  Thus, Luther reminds us that we are daily and richly forgiven.

Remember what I wrote about the paralytic?  Jesus asked those watching if it would be easier to say "you are forgiven" or "rise and take up your palette and go."  I noted there the verb To Be with regard to forgiveness.  We are forgiven.  Each day we are forgiven.  Does that also mean that, in a sense, the Law is being fulfilled each day as well?

Creation is still ensnared by sin.  The Law still applies.  Thus, for each one of God's created, the Law must be fulfilled.  It was.  It is.  It will be.   The Promise was coming.  The Promise came. The Promise comes again.

I wonder if, when Jesus says that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, those are  merely two spots in time or if He saying that He is the whole, from the beginning until the end.  After all, I read in John 1 that all things come into being through Jesus and nothing has come into being that has come into being except through Him.  In a way, Acts 17:24-28 (verse 28 being a favorite of mine) mirrors this.

I suppose all this is to say that I had in my mind somewhere that the Law was finished.  Yet here I learn that it is not.  And here the following bit from the Book of Concord, the tenses within it make much more sense to me.

The Law indeed says it is God's will and command that we should walk in a new life. But it does not give the power and ability to begin and to do it. The Holy Spirit renews the heart. He is given and received, not through the Law, but through the preaching of the Gospel. Thereafter, the Holy Spirit uses the Law in order to teach the regenerate from it and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the "will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2) in what "good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk" (Ephesians 2:10). He encourages them to this. When they are idle, negligent and rebellious in this mater because of the flesh, He rebukes them through the Law. So the Spirit carries out both offices together: He slays and makes alive. He leads into hell and brings up again. For His office is not only to comfort, but also to rebuke. For it is written, "when [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world [which includes also the old Adam] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Sin is everything that is contrary to God's Law. St. Paul says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof" (2 Timothy 3:16), and to rebuke is the Law's special office. Therefore, as often as believers stumble, they are rebuked by the Holy Spirit from the Law. By the same Spirit they are raised up and comforted again with the preaching of the Holy Gospel. ~BOC, FSD, VI, 11-14

And I take comfort in the beginning, the fullness, and in the unceasing work of the Holy Spirit.

Christ was given for this purpose, that forgiveness of sins might be bestowed on us for His sake. He was also given so that the Holy Spirit might bring forth in us new and eternal life and eternal righteousness. Therefore, the Law cannot truly be kept unless the Holy Spirit is received through faith. So Paul says that the Law is established through faith, and not made useless, because the Law can only be kept when the Holy Spirit is given. ~BOC, AP, V (III), 11-12

The flesh distrusts God, trusts in present things, seeks human aid in trouble, even contrary to God's will. It flees from suffering, which it ought to bear because of God's commands. It doubts God's mercy and so on. The Holy Spirit in our hearts fights against such tendencies in order to suppress and kill them and to produce new spiritual motives. ~BOC, AP, V (III), 49-50

But the Holy Spirit carries on His work without ceasing to the Last Day. For that purpose He has appointed a congregation upon earth by which He speaks and does everything. For He has not yet brought together all His Christian Church or granted all forgiveness. Therefore, we believe in Him who daily brings us into the fellowship of this Christian Church through the Word. Through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins He bestows, increases, and strengthens faith. So when He has done it all, and we abide in this and die to the world and to all evil, He may finally make us perfectly and forever holy. Even now we expect this in faith through the Word. ~BOC, LC, II, 61-62

You see, all this is the Holy Spirit's office and work. He begins and daily increases holiness upon earth through these two things: the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our death He will accomplish it altogether in an instant and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts [of the Creed]. ~BOC, LC, II, 59

The final thought is how fitting it is that the sermon on the mount is followed by Jesus' declaration that He came to fulfill the Law.  For if you read such wonders about being so very blessed, and (if you are like me) your flesh is sure to begin to doubt, to even accuse you, and then immediately thereafter you read of how it is you are, in truth, blessed

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Are we listening...

I found this article interesting in looking at submission outside of a biblical perspective, and it served to help me capture a few thoughts I have had about the topic of women's ordination. Two bits from the article that popped out at me are:

“I choose to serve my family and my husband,” says Reece, “because it creates a dynamic where he is then in fact acting more like a man and masculine and treating me the way I want to be treated.” NBC’s Brian Williams called it a “new and provocative take on how to keep a marriage together.”

But is it? "The Today Show’s" online survey asked the public on whether or not they agreed with Reece’s statement: “To be truly feminine means being soft and receptive and look out, here it comes, submissive …” The majority of its audience—a whopping 55%—agreed that embracing femininity and being submissive is the way to go. Only 19% disagreed.

A short while later, she defines and discusses submission:

"That’s what Gabby Reece meant when she used the word submissive. Admittedly, it’s a loaded term. But it doesn’t mean being less than, or subordinate to, one’s spouse. Submission means to defer to another person’s judgment, opinion or decision. It means you trust your partner. If that trust exists, submission is a no brainer.

And it goes both ways. “I’m just sort of surprised at the way people took the word ‘submissive.’ The idea of trying to make the lives of the people in your home, including your husband, better…that is a form of choice of service. I really believe in that idea that we should all make our lives, each other’s lives, better. And by the way, my husband lives by that same code.”

Funny, when we talk about husbands being submissive, or deferential, to their wives, no one raises an eyebrow.

Turn it around and women get heart palpitations.

I have been thinking deeply about why those who support OWN (Ordain Women Now--a Facebook page and group wanting women's ordination in the LCMS) support OWN. By that I mean, what is it that is behind this push to ordain women. I have no answers, but I do have questions that chase themselves about my mind.

Questions about the reception of faith, questions about truly understanding submission by both genders, questions about fear. Yes, fear. I mean, could it be that, at least in part, what is driving those who support women's ordination is this fear that women are not serving God enough, that the Church is harming women by minimizing their participation in worship and thus maximizing their fears over living godly lives, living holy lives, serving others ... enough?

It seems to me that the biblical arguments (both a correct interpretation of Scripture AND the incorrect picking and choosing and applying of verses to fit a point) are not actually the most productive starting point in a discussion/exploration of women's ordination.

It is my personal opinion that we ought to start with the whys and wherefores behind the desire to be ordained. For I suspect that a less-than-complete understanding of faith, of justification, of sanctification, and of the reception that encompasses all of that lies at the heart of this issue.

Back when I was in hospice training, our first lessons that followed a history of hospice care, were how to employ reflective listening. To actually really and truly reflective listen ON BOTH SIDES. I listen. I then tell you what I heard. You then tell me if I actually heard what you were trying to say. Once that part is achieved, you listen to me. You tell me what I was trying to say. I then tell you if you actually heard what I was trying to say.

What came out of reflective listening in hospice care were the fears and concerns and questions that lay beneath the oft terse, heated, and insensitive words that were flung about in the household, in the family, of the dying.

Another example of this came in my speech language pathology class that I took as an elective whilst doing my master's in literacy studies. The professor was very ... well ... strident in her opinion that most teachers did not look at or listen to their problem students. She demonstrated how most teachers overlooked evidence that students might have trouble seeing or hearing language because it was easier to classify the student who did not follow the directions written on the board as a trouble-maker rather than one who might need glasses. The same held true for the student who did not pay attention to or follow verbal teaching. Another troublemaker rather than a child who might have a hearing loss.

As the only non--speech language pathologist student in the class, I was horribly berated and oft held up as an example of teachers who are ignorant of and too lazy to learn the signs of vision and hearing problems in children. Sometimes, even the others in my class came to my defense, given how often I was the whipping boy. But I do respect the professor's point.

I oft make the same about the signs of sexual abuse in children. They can be spotted if you learn them and look for them.

So, what I am trying to proffer is that this article made me think about the signs and symptoms of spiritual struggle that might possibly be at least a part of what drives those who advocate for women's ordination.

And, just like the examples I have given, so often, not even the dying, the deaf, the vision challenged, or even the abused understand what is plaguing them ... for their existence, their struggles, their perspective is all they know ... until someone reaches out to them to listen, to look, and to help.

We believe, teach, and confess what our righteousness before God is this: God forgives our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following. He presents and credits to us the righteousness of Christ's obedience. Because of this righteousness, we are received into grace by God and regarded as righteous.

We believe, teach, and confess that faith alone is the means and instrument through which we lay hold of Christ. So in Christ we lay hold of that righteousness that benefits us before God, for whose sake this faith is credited to us for righteousness.

We believe, teach and confess that this faith is not a bare knowledge of Christ' history, but it is God's gift. By this gift we come to the right knowledge of Christ as our Redeemer in the Word of the Gospel. And we trust in Him that for the sake of His obedience alone we have--by grace--the forgiveness of sins and are regarded as holy and righteous before God the Father and are eternally saved.
~BOC, FE, III, 4-6 [emphasis mine]

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What not to burn...

Having essentially lost one of my chief coping mechanisms since there is no place left in my home in need of organizing/reducing, I have been trying to distract myself from thoughts and feelings and physical suffering by trying to cook.  Yes.  Me.  Cook.

It is a deep shame of mine, now that I am on such a limited income, that I ruin much of my food.  I simply forget that I am cooking.  The smoke alarm gets a lot of use these days.  And if I have managed to stay present in the time it takes to cook, if I am following a recipe, I oft ruin the food by not actually following the recipe.  Written instructions are particularly difficult for me to understand.

I am sure some professional could tell me just how ludicrous it is to use a constant source of failure, which happens to discourage me deeply, as a new coping mechanism.  But, alas, I suppose it is merely further evidence of my ... well, let's not put a word to my mental state just now.

Personally, I think a strong point from a positive standpoint could me made about the fact that food is so oft the cause of much suffering and subsequent mental anguish that if food could be a source of victory and enjoyment then that is an admirable coping mechanism.

You can decide if I am walking in folly or not.
Just don't tell me what you think.

I have been trying to find a Mac app or a software program to organize recipes.  But I have not found a free one and the ones I did find, too expensive in my mind, do not have loads of positive reviews.  So, I decided to create a blog that is essentially for me. Another way to remember things.

To create a blog, you have to have a name.  Finding one that fit that was not already taken was rather difficult...until I hit upon one that is perfect for me: What Not to Burn.

I backed dated a few entries to the date when I first made them.  Chief amongst those are basil burgers, the recordation of which reminded me that I have not had them in a while, having forgotten about their tastiness, and should do so post haste.  Once I have finished off all the chicken I grilled, I will make some since I have a package of ground beef in the freezer.

I did not yet post the recipe for honey beer bread.  That recipe was a colossal failure of mine.  I doubt I could make any bread that requires yeast and kneading and rising and such, even though in high school I baked all of our bread from scratch.  But I thought that recipe, yeast free, might work.  Nope.  Nada.  I threw most of the loaf away, ashamed of yet more waste.

The recipes I am posting are successes.  Reminders of things I can do ... and have still done ... despite the cognitive deficits that make doing so a near impossibility of mine.

If you care to take a gander, you can.  If nothing else, you can laugh at my title.  For once...I was witty!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The goodbyes I wish for...

I dreamed last night I was with someone I knew in high school.  I the outsider.  He the popular one.  Castes crossed because we were both Christians.

"I'm sorry," I told him.
We were sitting on my front porch and I closed my eyes to concentrate on the rich, deep ringing of wind chimes. "I just am."
"But why?" Still.  Quiet.  Intense as he was on the beach.

I was there on my porch and yet there on the beach during the senior choir trip.  I was a senior, so the principal made me be included on the trip.  Yet I was not allowed to be in the senior choir.  I sang with the sophomore girls.  Even they did not want me because I was a senior.  All I wanted to do was sing.

On the trip, he was the only one who talked with me.  At one point, one of the senior girls walked over to where we were sitting and asked him, "Why are you talking to her?"

"I look at you and think of all the things I didn't do then because of where I was. I look at you and think of all the things I cannot do now because of where I am."

"Do you want to pray with me?"

Spontaneous prayer I miss it. Deeply. I thought.  I miss holding another's hand and going together before God.  Even though I have Christian visitors, no one ever prays with me anymore.   "I'm a Lutheran now.  I don't pray that way any more."

"You don't? How do you pray?"

"I pray the Psalter. I have 150 prayers that speak the words of my heart to pray."

"I don't read psalms."

"I didn't used to either.  I didn't understand their riches, their mercy."

We sat in silence for a while.

"I have a neurological disease, two actually, that is ravaging my mind and body.  I do not know if I will be here in two years or ten.  I do not know which will go first, my body or my mind. I fear the latter."  Oh, how I fear the latter.  "I think the truth is that I spend most of my time looking at the end of life that I find it difficult being in the now ... here ... with anyone."

His response to my announcement was not what I thought it would be. "You have a birthday coming up.  Shall I sing to you now?"

In my mind, I doubted he knew how much I crave to hear that song.  I was so very, very jealous in high school, watching everyone else have their lockers decorated for their birthdays, have that song sung to them throughout the day. The carnation distributions on spirit days and my empty desk.  The valentine grams that never once came my way.

"Yes. My birthday is coming up. But a few weeks after that is my baptismal birthday."  I wish there was a song for that.  I didn't even get a cake then.

He gave me a quizzical look,  "But you were in Young Life, Campaigner's bible study..."

"And youth group and the college group and a missionary.  I was never baptized.  I stood by a river with a bunch of Christians as an eleven-year-old to announce that I had accepted Jesus into my heart.  Someone read to me about Jesus and I believed.  That day, there was water and the Word of God (in the bibles we all held).  That was my profession of faith.  I didn't understand what baptism was at eleven.  As the years passed, the part of me that reflected upon that day, upon my profession of faith, was terrified I was a fraud because of all the times I struggled with sin, with doubt, with shame.  When I finally learned about baptism, I was terrified every moment of every day that I was going to die before.   The part of me that learned was terrified that I would die before I could convince my pastor I needed to be baptized.  I nearly did.  Die. And then I was. Baptized."

Again, his response was not what I expected.  "Why am I here?"

Why was he?  I had not seen him in over two decades.  I doubt he even remembers who I am.  And then I knew.

"Driving around in a truck where I could watch the ground fly by beneath my feet because of a hole in the floorboard was one of the best times of my life then.  I never thanked you for that."

"You are welcome."

And he then was gone.  I was alone on the bench listening to the chimes.  

I wish I could actually tell him.  I wish he could know what a mercy he showed me by ignoring my outsider caste and reaching out to the awkward, confused, and wounded girl I was.  We were not friends.  But there were a few moments when he looked at me and simply saw a sister in Christ.  He spoke to me.  We talked about Jesus.  We prayed together.  And he gave me rides in that glorious, battered, old white truck.

"Thank you," I repeated, hearing my own voice break the silence in my bedroom as I awoke.

[Oh, how I miss praying with others.]

I am Yours, Lord. Save me!

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 10...

I do not know if I have missed something, but I think I just came across the first mention of Jesus' grief. I oft wonder the weight of that, of how there was no place He could be or even look without reminders too numerous to count of how sin was ravaging all that had come into being through Him.

I have now read three instances where Jesus broke the laws of the Sabbath, according to the pharisees scrutinizing His actions on the Sabbaths. First, the paralytic. Second, the of gathering food by His disciples. Third, the withered hand. It is in this third instance that I read of the myriad reason why the Sabbath was not "broken" by Jesus, chief among them the first instance, that I have noticed, of Jesus proclaiming, in a sense, that He has come to fulfill the Law, i.e., that He was Lord of the Sabbath.

Of the other points of argument, two speak volumes to me: 1) the reference to Hosea 6:6 that God desires compassion rather than sacrifice and 2) that the Law was made for man and not man for the Law. These days, it seems to me too many Christians forget this latter point.

But, in the end, the verse that holds me is Mark 3:5, where I read that Jesus was grieved at the pharisees hardness of heart. Even knowing their hearts, even knowing that their very flesh stands against God, rejecting what is before them, as noted in John 5:19-47, still Jesus asked, taught, and then showed His authority. He was angry, yes, as we read also in that verse and in His actions at the temple with the money changers a short while ago (in my parallel Gospel). But Jesus was also grieved. He sorrowed for the sin that angered Him.  He sorrowed for those caught in its snare.

Reading Mark 3:5 called to mind what I had read just a while ago, with the cleansing of the leper. That glorious instance of the verb To Be, where God spoke and it was so. Admonished to speak not of what had happened but instead to fulfill the law by giving an offering, the leper spoke anyway. Multitudes came. The sick, the possessed, the injured.

"But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray" (Luke 5:16).

Before reading this parallel presentation of the Gospels, I knew of just two instances of a praying Jesus: 1) when His disciples kept falling asleep on Him and 2) when He asked if the cup might be passed. Perhaps these are the same ... I cannot remember and do not wish to frustrate myself by trying to find them ... but clearly Jesus prayed more than those two times ... or that one time.

Why does Mark 3:5 (and Luke 5:16, for that matter) hold me, then? For this reason: When I hear of the passion of Jesus, I hear of His trial, persecution, suffering and death ... I hear of Holy Week. But I wonder if, perhaps, the true passion of Jesus Christ began the moment of His conception, the moment He stepped into, He tabernacled in, a fallen world. Every day of His life, every moment, He was confronted with how sin had twisted and corrupted all of creation. Jesus knew. He knew what this world, what man, was meant to be. Surely His agony of spirit was born and borne long before He came to Calgary.

Such love for me!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 9...

Am. Is. Are. Was. Were. Be. Being. Been. I can still recite those verb tense, just as I can recite all auxiliary verbs, all prepositions, all conjunctions, and all interjections (non-slang ones). Once a literacy girl always a literacy girl.

The verb To Be ... the state of being. I have struggled so much with understanding the Gospel as taught in the pure doctrine. So much has been upended in my mind, for so much of the sweet, sweet Gospel is twisted in the Church where the pure doctrine is not taught. Be verbs in the Bible. They are most troublesome to me.

The other day, Pastor Buetow posted: "'Do not be unbelieving but believing.' That's not a command. It's a promise." 

Huh? I asked what he meant. Pastor Brown responded:

“This not a matter of Jesus telling you what you must make yourself into - it is Jesus speaking -- and you are.
“Let there be light - and there was light.
Do not be unbelieving but believing - and there is belief.
“Because the Word of God is cool like that - living and active and all that.”

Wow! Really? Just as shocking to me ... still ... as when Pastor Cwirla once posted that the beatitudes are not instructions for Christian living. What???

You start reading the beatitudes and I no longer really hear what you are reading. What I hear is Wayne Watson’s song “Blessed Are”:
Blessed are the poor in spirit;

God has faithfully revealed 

that the riches of the kingdom

with their souls in Christ are sealed.

Blessed are the grieved, the weeping, 

those whose tears for others cry,

Selfless, giving, bearing sorrow
will be dancing by and by.

Those who hunger and are thirsty,

craving righteousness and life,

won't be filled by any other,

satisfied by none by Christ.

Blessed are the meek, the gentle,

no demands, no claims to rights,

In their patience, strong and mighty

confidence and faith in Christ.

And to those of tender mercy,

from them falls as gentle rain

Grace and Kindness, sweet compassion,

mercy given and mercy gained.

Blessed are the true peacemakers

with contentment for the fold.

They cling to promises of heaven,

working in the field of souls.

See the pattern? Blessed are these folk for what they *do.* Yet I here was this rather blithely written (yet rather shocking to me) statement from Pastor Cwirla. Then, I also asked, “What do you mean?” I cannot find his post, but the crux of what he wrote was that: The beatitudes are who we are in Christ. We are blessed. Are. The verb To Be. The state of being. Are you mourning? Even then, you are blessed, for you are in Christ.

No, I am not at the beatitudes yet, but I jumped ahead to read them because of Matthew 9:5; Mark 2:9; and Luke 5:23.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).

That does not really sound the same as the way I learned them from Wayne Watson’s song. Not instructions ... who we are in Christ....

Pastor Cwirla's little post truly turned my life upside down that day. So, surely the whole unbelieving/believing post should have been par for the course to me, right? But it was not.

So, back to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Those verses fall within describing how Jesus healed the paralytic. Jesus’ question: “Is it easier for me to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘to say arise, take up your [bed/pallet/stretcher], and go home’?”

Did you notice that? The question was not to ask if it was easier to say, “I forgive you,” but “your sins are forgiven.”


I lingered upon that word, that Word, for a long, long while. And I wonder ... how much of salvation, righteousness, forgiveness, sanctification in the New Testament is spoken/written with the verb To Be?

Before I came to the paralytic, I noticed the same in Matthew 8:3; Mark 1:41; and Luke 5:13, where Jesus says to the leper, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And the leper was. God spoke and it was.

Since I leapt ahead to Matthew 5, I should note that in verse 13 I read that we are salt and in verse 14 we are light. I learned those verses as instructions, too. Go out and do things to make yourself salty for others to see Jesus at work in your life. Go out and do things to make yourself a bright light to shine the way to Jesus so that others might be saved by your testimony of what He is doing in your life.

Is this the same? Am I salty because I am in Christ. Is it my being? Am I bright because I am in Christ?

Alas, I find myself back to the Psalter. Psalm 18 tells me that the Lord rescued me because He delighted in me. He recompenses me according to the cleanness of my hands and finds me blameless. And the Lord lights my lamp and illumines my darkness. Notice the doer of all those things and the doing is because of who I am to Him. Who I am in faith. The faith given to me. The faith of Jesus. The faith of Christ crucified.

I cannot call to mind any psalms about saltiness, but there are references to taste. References to honey, to sweetness. What is the taste? The Word of God. Not man, but the Word.

Am. Is. Are. Was. Were. Be. Being. Been.
How many more will I find? How many more are hidden within the translated Greek?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 8...

Still having water on my mind ... repentance, new creation, rebirth, life ... as I was reading about Jesus' ministry in Galilee, I was struck by Mark 1:38, Jesus' answer to his disciples when they came looking for Him after He had gone off to pray, "And He said to them, 'Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.'"

At the time, He was healing those who were ill and stricken with demons. The needy and afflicted were coming to Him and He tended to them, just as so often prayed in the Psalter. This is a good and salutary thing to do.

Yet what was just as important, more so really, was that Jesus preach the Word of God. Yes, care of the body is important and our bodies are precious in the sight of God. However, healing our bodies does not save us. Healing our souls does. By that I mean forgiving the sin that stains our souls, twists and scars them, leaving us only enteral death. Forgiveness won for us on the Cross. Forgiveness that comes to us through Word and Sacrament.

I think this is why I cling more to the sustenance and the healing that I receive each time I have the Living Word poured into my ears and each time I receive Christ's body and blood, than to any hope for healing of my physical body.

Please do not misunderstand. I would give most anything to be free from the myriad diseases ravaging my body and my mind. In fact, I would give anything asked of me if I could be assured I would keep my mind until the end. Yet what truly matters most to me is hearing the Word of God and receiving the Lord's Supper. In short, I honestly and deeply care more for those things than I do for physical and mental relief.

Reading Mark 1:38 made me feel a little less like a freak for thinking this way ... for it seems Jesus agrees with me!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 7...

I find it interesting that when the woman at the well in John 4 gave her "testimony," it was not about her or how her life had changed, but about the words of Jesus. Then, after a few days, the people of Samaria came to her to say that they also believed, not because of what she had testified, but because they heard for themselves. Again, it was the words of Jesus, the Living Word, that created belief. Again, testimony was about Jesus Christ, not about people.

This struck me as rather opposite to how so many Christians share their testimony today. They do not let the Living Word speak for itself; they do not focus on the work of Jesus Christ.

While I was reading this, John 2:25 came back to mind, in that Jesus had no need of man to bear witness for Him at that time. He had no need for He knew what is in man. He knows the depths of Original Sin; He understands our depravity.

And this also called to mind one of my favorite BOC bits: And He did all this [became man, suffered, died, and was buried] in order to become my Lord. He did none of these things for Himself, nor did He have any need for redemption (LC, II, 31).

As the Gospels go on, I know there will be talk of who gets to sit where and what rewards might come. I know that again and again and again flesh gets in the way of understanding and that belief comes where and when God wills through His Word. I know that so much of that which is to come is filled with questions. Questions of doubt, of proof, of incredulity, for Jesus simply is not the Messiah our world envisioned.

But, for now, I have a first miracle devoid of fireworks one would expect of a "miracle." I have a prophet who came to prepare the way for Jesus. I have a scholar of the Law who wanted to know the new law that Jesus had to offer, given that He was clearly from God. I have a woman who represents the way of our flesh wanting to understand what she was hearing. In all of those things, the common thread is water.

Water is our repentance.
Water is a new creation.
Water is a new birth.
Water is life.

The Living Water, that is.

I like how at the end of all of that, after all those things had come to pass, what Jesus said was, essentially: "I am."

And then, I move on, and all the doubt and disbelief from his neighbors, from those among whom He had lived and worked and never once sinned against them in thought, word, or deed, mark the rest of Jesus' path to the cross.

Because my thoughts are never far from the Psalter, I will note that I find it interesting that the prayer book of the Bible also begins with life from water.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 6...

Reading Luke 2:29-32 was ... thrilling, having sung the Nunc Dimittis in the Divine Service Three. Sometimes I wonder if Lutherans truly understand what a gift the Liturgy is. To me, it seems as if those who advocate to abandon the Liturgy see it as a man-made thing that, therefore, could be easily discarded. But the Liturgy is filled with the Word of God.

When I started reading those verses, I heard the notes of the Nunc Dimittis. To me, those Words are perfectly placed following the Service of the Sacrament. At that moment, we join Simeon in truth. as well as in fellowship, for we, too, have just seen salvation!

Because I spend so much time in the Psalter, I recognize its Words amongst the liturgies of Divine Services and the Offices of Prayer and find singing them all the sweeter. Equally so, when I am praying the Psalter and come across bits of the Liturgy, my heart sings and I savor their sweetness all the more.

God tells us, in Psalm 81, "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it."

To me, the Liturgy is one way God is filling my mouth in Divine Service. Seeing the Nunc Dimittis in the Bible for the first time that I remember since becoming a Lutheran drives home just how fitting and perfect is the Word of God.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Two sides of the same coin...

With 205 quotes from the BOC in the Snippets archive blog, I am finding it harder to ferret out quotes that are contained within a shorter passage, and I wonder just how many more I should put on the Snippets archive blog. However, I continue to find it simply fascinating that whenever I post ones about works or about Original Sin in the Reveling in the Christian Book of Concord Facebook group (that is not a group since no-one interacts) the quotes go largely ignored and primarily not "liked."

I feel like a freak that some of the most comforting quotes from our Confessions are the very ones that speak about Original Sin and about how the only good in our works being that which God does, how the Holy Spirit is the author of our sanctification, how all that we do good in a spiritual sense is that which God has prepared, purposed, and provided the way for us to do.

Both of these are two sides of the same coin, to me, in that Original Sin is the "proof" that we will never find salvation and righteousness on our own and on the other side is that our works will never sanctify us. This coin is one that Christ gave the Holy Spirit to spend on our behalf, to extend the rather poor metaphor, so that we can have the certitude in faith, in salvation, in forgiveness, in eternal life.

Perhaps I am utterly wrong, but to me the doctrine of Original Sin, which bleeds into what our Confessions teaches us about works, is the freedom of the Gospel. The Gospel frees us from the burden of having to save and to sanctify ourselves. The Gospel frees us from spending our lives as Sisyphus.

And, even more astounding, is how the doctrine of Original Sin underscores the ineffable breadth and depth of the love our Triune God has for us, gives to us. Always ... always our flesh contends against God and yet He loves us, sent His Son to redeem us and to give us our Helper who sanctifies us. Always ... apart from the gift of faith that we receive from God ... we stand against Him. And yet He loves us!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 5...

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 5: In reading the end of Zacharias' prophecy for his son, he finishes in Luke 1:79, "'to guide our feet into the way of peace.'" Of course I liked the bit about the Sunrise coming to shine upon those who sit in darkness, but I was surprised to find myself exulting more in the last line.

You see, either a plea for or thanksgiving of sure footing is one of the common themes I have labeled in the first 79 psalms of the Psalter. I struck me that this collection of prayers are filled more with hearing and speaking and footing, than with sight. So the adage that seeing is believing does not really hold true.

Zacharias tells us this plain as day. The way of peace is in the footsteps of Christ. Those lead to the cross. So, all that bunk I had taught about journeys with Jesus, about walks with Christ--sharing ours and listening to the testimony of others--is all moot. It is not about my journey or my footsteps. It is about the path, the sure footing, that our Triune God provides to His children.

Suddenly, all that wandering in the wilderness, all that walking that Israel did, no longer seems the slightest bit insignificant. The pillar that led them by day and by night was marking the path upon which God was guiding them.

The way of peace is not a guiding of our minds or our hearts, but our feet. But this doesn't mean that I should despair even more about no longer being able to walk any significant length. The only path that matters, the only sure footing, is the path Jesus took *for us.*

In the Psalter, also, there is a frequency of saying that God is our rock. In fact, in 18:2, you have rock, fortress, and deliverer all together, which I find interesting. In 27:5, the psalmist declares, "For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock." I never really thought about how standing on a rock is probably another way of speaking of sure and certain footing ... as well as having a vantage point for what lies before you and an advantage over your enemy's approach/assault.

At the cross, the wandering is over. At the cross, the uncertainty is gone. Oh, my, "It is finished," just took on a whole new meaning!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 4...

I am a new fan of Luke, but more so am newly astounded at the intimacy with which God addresses us in His Word. In reading Luke 1:29, my first thought was how well God knows me. Huh? The verse is about Mary. Yet in a way it is about me, about faith, about how hearing the Good News is not always easy. Gabriel hails Mary as the favored one and tells her that God is with her. Mary's first response is: "But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be." Hah! Such a message from God and she worried!

For over three decades, I was snared by the Heroes-of-the-Faith mentality. Everyone one in the Bible who is an example of faith is a GIANT of faithfulness, in obedience and trust and all sorts of things. They are all suffering saints who willingly walk into danger and death with no doubt or fear or failings of any kind. Here's Mary! The MOTHER of God! And her first response at good news is worry!

Verse 29, to me, is hearing God say, "I know you, Myrtle." Being known by God in the Psalter is not new to me, but being known in the Gospels is!

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 3...

My first real Gospel recognition in the New Testament all on my own came in reading Luke 1:6. Luke tells us that Zacharias and Elizabeth were "righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and the requirements of the Lord." Now, I know that we are all sinners, so they could not possibly be righteous and blameless and most certainly did not keep *all* the Law. It struck me that the teaching that God only sees us through faith, that that is how we are blameless and whole in His eyes is actually true!

Some of what I have learned of the pure doctrine is hard to accept, being so polar opposite of what I learned in the mainline evangelical church. The idea that God sees me as blameless, does not look at me and see all my sin, all my weaknesses, all my doubts is staggering. Psalm 18 first help me dare think about how God sees us through faith, but here is it in such blunt language. Here is the truth, right from the beginning!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 2...

Each time I read John 1:14, I always see the word "dwelt" as tabernacled and my heart leaps. I savor the idea of God coming to pitch a tent with us, as pitching a tent is such a convivial sort of thing to do, telling someone that you will spend time with them. But also there is the idea of the tabernacle being the portable sanctuary of God, the idea God was once again plucking down the holy of holies amongst man. Suddenly, the name "Emmanuel," the name "God with Us," has new meaning for me!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 1...

I find it interesting how Luke starts out stating his purpose of documenting eye witness testimony of the things of Christ so that we might know the truth and how John starts out talking about how a man came to bear witness of the true light.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy...

I have long wanted a parallel of the Gospels.  Some time ago, a couple of years, I think, I found this one and stuck it in my Amazon shopping cart.  With all that has changed for me, I could not really justify purchasing it ... even though it is my beloved NASB 1977 version of the bible.

Then, a few weeks ago, I found a merchant on Amazon who was offering it for next to nothing.  A new copy of an old book that was probably sitting on a shelf gathering dust.  I ordered it...and then forgot I ordered it because it was coming through the slow boat from China that is media mail.

I ordered it, despite the rather dire financial standing of late, because of how much I am forgetting about the Bible and because of how difficult it is for me to comprehend what I am reading.  I thought an organized presentation of the Gospels, at least, might help me hold on to a few things of Jesus.

Today, after a long and difficult night, I fell asleep with the dawn and woke up mid-afternoon to find this on my porch.

Oh, the joy!

I quipped about how I was sure to start losing all my Facebook friends from too many posts about the Gospels.  One responded that there could never be too many posts about the Gospel.  So, I started writing my thoughts as I began reading this.  I just posted the 7th one here on my blog (in real time), wondering why I was having them only on Facebook.  Here is where my external memory lies.  Here is what is important to me.

So, I back posted this photo and plan to put my Gospel joy thoughts 1-6 between it and this one.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Would you want to see...

I really like the show "The Voice."  A lot.  I laugh at the judges' banter.  I do not much laugh these days.  And I like the music.  That is rather odd because much of it is of a kind I care not for ... or rather cared not.  Terry McDermott from last season changed my mind where rock music is concerned.  This season, just barely underway, already had a favorite song of mine.

I first heard the song, "One of Us" as the theme song for the television show "Joan of Arcadia."  It was a show that I liked, despite the theology, for the pause it gives about our notions of God.  The song, too, gives pause.  I have already downloaded the full length version of Sarah Simmons' rendition from this season of "The Voice," but you can watch her shortened audition rendition here.

It is the second verse I like ... really like.

If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the Saints
And all the Prophets and...

If. If ... then.

I happen to think that when it comes to the Church in America today, this verse both would make many rather uncomfortable and mirrors how many approach the Bible.  Our human reason likes reign.  And so we also like to pick and choose the things we think and believe about the Bible.

What a question this is!  Would you want to see God's face if it meant that you had to believe everything?  

Oh, how the Church argues about what the Bible says and means!
Oh, how even the Lutheran Church argues about what the Bible says and means even though we have the pure doctrine in a compendium elucidated in a manner such that a young adult to an elderly person can read and understand!
We love our human reason.

Whilst thumbing through the Christian Book of Concord (BOC) looking for something to post on my Snippets blog, I came across the following:

Here one sees how blind reason gropes around in matters relating to God.  According to its own imagination, reason seeks consolation in its own works and cannot remember Christ and faith. ~BOC, SA, III, III, 18.

Amongst the texts of the BOC are many portions speaking of human reason.  In a nutshell, human reason has no place in spiritual matters.  Here is a collection of quotes about human nature.  Here is a collection about works.  Here is a collection of quotes about justification.  However, I believe that all you really need to read is the Second Article of the Augsburg Confession.  There we learn the why.  But we humans have this rather profound and abiding proclivity to forget about, to dismiss, the fullness of Original Sin, the depth of which is shown here in this collection of quotes.  

Today (now yesterday, though today for me still), I read a post thread on Facebook about infant baptism.  Primarily the arguments against follow: 1) infants have yet to commit sin; 2) infants are not able to choose Jesus as their savior; and 3) baptism is an ordinance not a Sacrament (an act of worship by humans rather than the work of God for humans).  All of those arguments are based on what the Bible says, does not say, etc.  Those against infant baptism are skilled at choosing which verses to keep and which to disregard.  But, to my theologically untrained mind, the whole matter boils down to Original Sin.  Either you believe in Original Sin and acknowledge that man cannot fear, love, or trust God without the gift of faith because of his sinful nature or you do not believe in Original Sin and instead hold that man chooses to accept faith of his own reason, will, nature, flesh.

It has to be either or.  
It cannot be both.  
They are diametrically opposed doctrines that effectively cancel each other out.

To me, in my reading of the latter section of Part IV of the Large Catechism, this is the crux of Luther's argument.  And yet, even as I read it, I wonder why the need for that section.  In the Large Catechism, he is not writing about the teachings of adversaries.  He is writing to Lutherans, how to teach the Confession of the pure doctrine.  And the Augsburg Confession clearly lays out the foundation of faith, how we are justified and how we are sanctified.  All is the work of our Triune God.  All of it.  Every single bit of it.  In fact, in laying out the Confession, Original Sin comes before Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the rest.  The First Article is our Triune God.  Next comes Original Sin.  That huge, impossible, and insurmountable obstacle/barrier between man and God.  Enter the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the rest.  Why, then, do we even need to discuss, much less argue about infant baptism?  If we are sinners, we must receive faith in order to believe, to understand, to fear and love and trust God.  If we are sinners, we are blind to the Promise.  So, age matters not.  Age and an increase of knowledge or wisdom matters not.

If we are not actually sinners in our nature, in our flesh, then the whole birth, live, passion, and death of Jesus Christ is moot.  Each time we argue against baptism being a Sacrament, being the saving work of God, we are arguing against Jesus, against the cross.  Simple.  Nothing difficult to understand.  Either you believe in Original Sin or you do not.

If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the Saints
And all the Prophets and...

To glimpse even the merest sliver of what Original Sin means, is within us, is to look upon a blackness so complete that there is no room for a single thought of the value of reason or will with regard to faith, no room for choosing to believe, for accepting a personal savior, for beginning a "relationship" with Jesus.  But there in lies the rub.  If we look upon our sin, we cannot look to ourselves for strength, courage, belief.  If we look upon ourselves, all we see is hopelessness and helplessness.  Who wants to see that?

If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the Saints
And all the Prophets and...

We do not want to look upon our sin.  Nor do we want to look upon the face of God, to look upon the whole of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, because we will not find ourselves there.  

In a way, I also believe this unwillingness to truly look upon the fullness, the depth of Original Sin is why we have Lutherans who pick and choose amongst the texts of Confessions for that which they will believe, teach, and confess. To look upon Original Sin means to turn away from reason.  To look upon Original Sin is to look upon the cross.  Neither of those leaves one comfortable.  Reason is the comfort of our flesh.  We hunger for it.  We strive after it.

But, to me, all that is a puzzle.  A genuine, bonafide, inexplicable, unfathomable puzzle.  For, seriously, why in the world would any Christian want his faith to depend on his reason, will, dedication, devotion, worship?  Why?  Why in the world would you want failure, doubt, despair?  I have lived there.  No, it is better to say that I have spent years dying there.

Yet, even in finding the pure doctrine, I struggle with the enormity of the true Gospel, of what it means, with how it obliterates nearly everything I have been taught about faith and "Christian living." I struggle and doubt and worry and fear.  Even in this post.  Even in admitting I like a song that is not a "Christian" song.  Shame.  Fear.  Guilt.  Yet really what I am admitting is that I find comfort in the lyrics, in the reminder of our weakness and of the fullness, the whole, of looking upon the cross.  I find comfort in the thought of looking upon the face of God and believing everything

Of late, I have begun to wonder if part of the problem is the notion of "Christian" living.  We try to describe it, to define it, to build parameters that become guidelines that turn in to Law.  Law we then use to crush and to kill our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not abiding by our "Christian" living Law.  

The truth ... the actual, veritable Truth ... is that I am baptized and so therefore am living each day in Christ.  That means, this life where I am struggling and doubting, where I am weak and ill, where I am confused and lost, is "Christian" living.  It is not being good or moral or loving or worshipful enough.  It is being baptized.  Period.  

  • Being baptized means being forgiven and receiving faith.  
  • Receiving faith means bearing fruit.
  • Bearing fruit means the Holy Spirit working the Word and Christ's body and blood according the will of God as He plans and purposes and prepares for His creation, for you.

There is no consolation of self in any of that.  In a way, then, is not the battle against--the vitriol against and derision of--infant baptism the rallying cry for the need to insert reason into the matters of God, the matters of faith?  

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Only a moment...

In trying to deal with the symptoms of PTSD, I was taught to generate a list of things to do to take me outside the moment of what I was feeling and not thinking ... or ... thinking and not feeling ... or thinking and feeling.  The maelstrom of those moments are terrifying.  

Moment.  That very word calls to mind this scene from Firefly's "Heart of Gold" episode.  I have written of it before, but I shall do so again. Inara is comforting a woman in the throes of the agony of childbirth. She tells her: This is just a moment in time. Step aside and let it happen.

I think about her words a lot.  Much of that show is witty and sharp and smart.  Some of it is brutal in honesty.  Some a haven of another life, another world.

Amos is on my list.  Holding him.  He's very obliging in that respect.  Fires are there.  But anyone who knows me now would surely guess that from all of the photos and videos of fires I have posted on Facebook.  Playing the Monopoly App is there.  That one has had many surprising benefits, for I learned to be patient and to temper despair playing the app.  Now, I win it nearly every time I play. I win by being patient, by trusting that no matter how desperate my position seems, if I hold onto hope I will win.  Of course, I also win by using the app's patterns of play against itself.  I win by being merciless with my enemy.

In a way, I think that is how Luther tells us our foe is with us.  And how we are to be with him.  After all, what mercy is there in reminding satan that he has lost?

I used to think Luther laid it on a bit thick when it came to speaking of the attacks of our foe.  Now, I am convinced he was soft peddling a bit, lest we become truly overwhelmed by what we face.  Even the glimpse he gives in Part III of the Large Catechism, for example, is harrowing enough.

So far we have prayed that God's name be honored by us and that His kingdom triumph among us.  In these two points is summed up all that deals with God's honor and our salvation.  We receive God as our own and all His riches.  But now arises a need that is just as great: we must firmly keep God's honor and our salvation, and not allow ourselves to be torn from them.  In a good government it is not only necessary that there be those who build and govern well.  It is also necessary to have those who defend, offer protection, and maintain it firmly.  So in God's kingdom, although we have prayed for the greatest need--for the Gospel, faith, and the Holy Spirit, that He may govern us and redeem us from the devil's power--we must also pray that God's will be done.  For there will be strange events if we are to abide in God's will.  We shall have to suffer many thrusts and blows on that account from everything that seeks to oppose and prevent the fulfillment of the first two petitions.

No one can believe how the devil opposes and resists these prayers.  He cannot allow anyone to teach or to believe rightly.  It hurts him beyond measure to have his lies and abominations exposed, which have been honored under the most fancy sham uses of the divine name.  It hurts him when he himself is disgraced, is driven out of the heart, and has to let a breach he made in his kingdom.  Therefore, he chafes and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might.  He marshals all his subjects and, in addition, enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies.  For our flesh is itself lazy and inclined to evil, even though we have accepted and believe God's Word.  The world, however, is perverse and wicked.  So, he provokes the world against us, fans and stirs the fire, so that he may hinder and drive us back, cause us to fall, and again bring us under his power.  Such is all his will, mind, and thought.  He strives for this day and night and never rests a moment.  He uses all arts, wiles, ways, and means that he can invent.

If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and count on having the devil with all his angels and the wold as our enemies.  They will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.  For where God's Word is preached, accepted, or believed and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be missing.  An let no one think he shall have peace.  ~BOC, LC, III, 60-65

The devil enlists my flesh as his ally.  

On my list, among other things not yet mentioned, is burning a candle. I am not an aromatherapy person.  In fact, I would say that I am the very opposite of an aromatherapy person.  I care not for many scents others find appealing.  I am not even a candle person.  Not really.  I did once find a candle at Pier One that I liked:  Fresh Rain.  [Of course it was discontinued.]  Most candles smell too fruity or too flowery or too false.  It is the same with lotion.  Oh, the hours I spent in Bath and Body works trying to find a scent I could stand since their body cream is the one lotion that actually lasts in my skin.  I truly believe, while searching for a candle, my Good Shepherd provided one that smells like an actual rose.

I love roses.

I am not a candle person. I am not an aromatherapy person.  And yet I burn this candle. For reasons I know not doing so calms me, soothes me, eases my fear.  Burning the candle helps me stand outside the moment and let it happen.

Last week, when my pastor came to visit I was terrified about his coming, terrified about being at my father's service, among other things as noted before.  What I did not include in writing about that visit was that I had the rose beeswax candle burning the entire time.

The level of my anxiety could be noted by the fact that I am no longer able purchase those candles (Amazon no longer carries them and I cannot find them elsewhere).  I have but half a candle left.  A part of me worries about that.  I use many things on my "list" for often it takes many of them to beat back the maelstrom ... or rather to find the courage and the strength to step aside and let it happen.  

Those moments are an eternity, filled with hopelessness and despair, with terror and darkness.

The mind apart from the body.
The body apart from the mind.
Both battling the heart and soul.
Both battling each other.

Even the certitude of Truth seems senseless ... is senseless ... in those moments.

A while ago, my friend Mary, the gentlest of Gospel givers, passed along a Word sweeter than honey to rest upon my tongue:

Here's a thought that Ned brought up today in Bible study (our Sunday morning study is on the different death & burial rites). We pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." As we grieve, it is often hard to imagine going through even one day alone. But how sensitive our Lord has been to put into our very mouths, "Give us THIS DAY our daily bread." He doesn't ask us to pray for the week, month, or year. Only this day.

This day.
This moment.

Funny the things so obvious I miss.  Humbling that God brings them to me despite my sometimes distance from His house, from the pouring of His Word into my hears and the placing of His body and blood into mind.  

The other day, the daily bread I received was someone making a decision for me.  I was distraught and overwhelmed.  One of the things on my list is to do something, anything.  To get something accomplished, something to which I can point.  Something outside myself.  Something beyond the moment.

I was trying to finish painting the closet wall and door that Firewood Man and his friend built for me.  I was certain my mother, a rather talented interior designer, told me to paint the wall white.  I have two gallons of white left from the ceiling and half a gallon of gloss from the master bath beautifying.  I was all set. I had a plan:  prime, paint, finish with gloss top coat.  Only I got an email from my mother telling me that I should paint the wall the same as the other ones.  She was right about doing so, as you can see in the final photo.  Only I did not have enough of that paint left.  Plus, the primer I used up barely covered the raw wood.  [I have never experienced just how much paint it takes to cover raw wood.]  I was in a panic.  I do not have funds for groceries or the rather expensive blood work I have been putting off until this next credit card cycle.  How could I justify buying more primer and paint?  What should I do???

Searching for an answer, for a plan ... and hating myself for not being able to think of one myself ... I seized upon the idea of asking the graphics designer who also volunteers with Lutherans in Africa.  All I could think is that she knows color, understands color.  She could tell me what to do.

It is not about independence.  I mean, I am working frantically and methodically to ensure I can remain in my home as long as possible, that I can remain independent as long as possible.  Part of that work was admitting that I needed help in doing so, that I needed the social worker checking up on me.

But, contrary to what others have said to me, sometimes I need someone to tell me what to do.  That is on my list.  Call someone.  Ask for help.  That help often is telling me what to do in order to step aside and let the moment happen.  Tell me to listen and read me Psalms.  Tell me to look at the crucifix and let Jesus remind me of what is true.  Tell me to work my list: to light a fire, light the candle, organize something, play Monopoly, watch a TV show or movie, read a book, write something, putter in the yard, write a list of things to do later, complete a task. The latter was what I was trying to do, for physical labor puts me into such a state of exhaustion that I do not think or feel or anything. I simply exist. I survive the moment.

That dear woman listened to my anguish and heard me that I was not asking her to fix me or heal me or any such thing.  All I was asking her to do was to talk to me about color.  She did.  She focused on my color problem and helped me come up with a plan:  use the white paint as another layer of primer and then mix some into the Mellowed Ivory I did have on hand so that the wall, while lighter, would still match the others.  A plan.  A blessed, unbelievably merciful plan.

By the time it came to paint the Mellowed Ivory, my mother offered to fund a fresh gallon of paint so that the wall color could be the same, though in gloss.  Her offer was generous and most welcome to me, for being raised by an interior designer, I have this taste for things matching well, even if I cannot talk or understand color much.  But all that was later.  The daily bread my Good Shepherd provided on Thursday was Anna's plan, was someone who listened to me, who heard that all I needed was a simple answer, a direction to take, and who gave me such so that I could step aside and let the moment happen.

That bread was sufficient for the day, for the moment.

Something I have recently added to my list--absurdly so--is cooking.  I added it to my list because some of the things on there I can no longer do, such as play the guitar (hand strength and fine motor control) and sing hymns (I have forgotten most of the few I knew).  It is an absurd addition because the cognitive dysfunction that plagues me, two aspects of which: 1) makes following directions rather difficult and 2) means I forget what I am doing.  The latter is oft a problem in cooking because I forget that I actually am cooking and burn my food.  Nevertheless, I have had this growing desire to cook a few things, tasty things.

Were I honest, I would say the desire is two-fold: to have some measure of success where I mostly have failure now and to enjoy food before I can no longer do so.  Already my the failure of the autonomic process affecting my innards make consuming food difficult.  What is oft par for the course for dysautonomia is a dying off of digestive system organs.  My future very well may be a feeding tube and/or a colostomy bag.  Add to that the dangers of reactive hypoglycemia, uncontrolled as mine is, leading to diabetes, and my future culinary intake seems dim and meager.

Tonight's (or rather yesterday's now) moment was one in which I stepped aside by trying out a recipe for Bacon Cheddar Puffs that caught my eye.  Bacon.  Cheese.  Bread.  What's not to like?  Primarily, though, the recipe called neither for yeast nor kneading, so I thought I had a chance.

I am troubled by the fact that both ovens seemed to be having issues.  The not-yet-hot-enough indicator light came on in the upper oven in the middle of cooking.  And the lower over seemed to turn itself off even though it was still on (the coils went from red to black).  Perhaps the 1960s appliance was stressed by my using both ovens, having been worried about the rest of the dough/batter waiting while the first tray cooked, as well as three of four burners in the preparation phase.  Perhaps my use of baking stones instead of a greased cookie sheet was the problem.  In any case, I cooked the first batch 10 minutes longer and the second batch 15 minutes longer.  In fact, I moved the second batch from the lower oven to the upper oven for the last 5 minutes.

Because I wanted the success, wanted to have something different from the battle of mind and spirit I was losing, I really, really, really wanted someone to taste them, to see if they seemed like they should be.  However, I failed in enticing either person near to me who could eat them to help me out.  To me, I am not sure if the puffs are what they should be.  I really want to know that.

You start the recipe on the stove, heating milk and butter and then mixing in the flour.  After that, you remove the pan from the stove and slowly stir in four eggs, one by one, until you transition from a ball of dough to something more like batter.  Then, you add the bacon, cheese, garlic salt, onion salt/powder, and pepper.

Mine never puffed all that much, nor did they become golden brown, which are the two indicators of doneness noted in the recipe.  Mine only got crispy peaks and browned bottoms.  I did discover just a short while ago that there was another photo, which seems to be from someone's attempt at the recipe, that looked close to how mine turned out. I was slightly reassured by that.  For I actually ate four of them, two from the first tray and two from the second tray, trying to figure out if they were what they are suppose to be.  To me, they seem far more of a breakfast roll than a dinner roll.  I thought they were to be the latter, but perhaps not.  In any case, I have a dozen left sitting in the refrigerator.

When my pastor was here, he talked to me about Christ on the cross, about His understanding of what it is like to be alone and to be alone in suffering. Tonight, I found myself wondering what helped Jesus to step aside and let that moment happen.  

When he first spoke about the crucifixion, I thought of a passage from the Christian Book of Concord:

This means that the Law condemns all people. But Christ--without sin--has borne the punishment of sin. He has been made a victim for us and has removed that right of the Law to accuse and condemn those who believe in Him. He Himself is the Atonement for them. For His sake they are now counted righteous.  ~BOC, AP, V (III), 58

I do not often think of Jesus as a victim.  Truth be told, I actually never thought of Him as a victim until I read these words.  It was not until a few days later, still pondering Jesus understanding of being alone in suffering that I recalled another shocking sort of bit from the BOC:

And He did all this [became man, suffered, died, and was buried] in order to become my Lord. He did none of these things for Himself, nor did He have any need for redemption. ~BOC, LC, II, 31

I wonder how often Christians call to mind that Christ had no need for redemption.  All of that, all of what He did from birth to death, from suffering life in a fallen world even unto a horrible, painful, lingering death, was not for any need of His.  He was not proving Himself.  He was not establishing Himself as God, as the Messiah, as the King of Jews.  He was saving mankind.

So, Mary's ... or rather Ned's ... bit of sweet, sweet Gospel flowered in my mind as I thought that not only does Christ teach us to pray only for the day, only for a moment in our lives, but does so because our High Priest is one who understands, who has been tempted in every way, who has had moments for which He needed to step aside and let them pass.

What agony of spirit must Christ have born each and every day watching His beloved brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, suffer.  What anguish He mush have battled seeing death and destruction, greed and violence, pain and illness all about Him when all of that is not what God intended for His creation.  This life, this world, is not God's grand plan to teach us a lesson for our sin.  No, this life is a consequence of unbelief.  Christ willingly stepped into the pain and agony, the battle of mind and body, of heart and spirit, to bring us belief, to take away the right of the law to accuse, to condemn, to kill.  Just think, there is not a place Christ could look for relief from the reality of a fallen world.  What mercy we cannot even fathom that burden, the knowledge of what was lost.  What a gift Christ chose to do so for us, for me.

I doubt I will ever be able to write what Easter is for me.  The associations of Easter are not what they should be, nor what I want them to be.  And, right now at least, I cannot escape them.  As an evangelical, I only had Easter itself to bear. As a Lutheran, the dissonance between what is in my heart and mind and that which everyone else seems to experience now lasts an entire week, making "Easter" all the more difficult for me.

I remain thankful for Pastor Brown's blog entry about it being okay to have a sad and lonely Christmas.  Added to that great mercy was a more recent post on mourning.  I cannot begin to add up all the times I have heard over the past three years that I need to move on from what I have lost.  However, grief is not something that keeps to a schedule.  And what few understand is that each day, each week, each month, I am losing more.  Right now, I ... mostly ... can still recognize what is being lost, even if such a horrifying, overwhelming moments comes later, follow the loss.  A part of me longs for the day when I will not longer understand what is happening to my brain and my body, even though that day is my greatest fear in this life.  

Those two supports, the freedom to be sad and lonely and to mourn, have become a trio of mercy for me, by adding to them the sweet, sweet gift of the Lord's Prayer, of a God who understands His creation so intimately as to not ask us to think about the week or the month or the year or a lifetime.  We are only to think of this day and, in doing so, remember all that He provides in that daily bread.

Perhaps you realize, by now, that not having closure or success with the bacon cheddar puffs, I set out to try and write about Mary's bit of Gospel, to capture it for later, to speak of it in the hopes that others will speak it back to me when I am caught in another maelstrom.

It is how I got through this night.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!