Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fishing for the Future

takemefishing.org

I was supposed to go fishing this afternoon. 

Didn’t happen, though. Bummer.

I love to fish, though I do not often go. Used to. A lot.

When I was in seminary, I served a little church in western Kentucky: near Owensboro, 
nearer Habit, in a little place called Philpot.

I referred to my ministry as the “Greater Philpot Crusade for Christ.” A buddy of mine was so taken by the notion that he suggested I write a song called “Fill Your Pot in Philpot.” I think he had in mind something on the order of “Get Your Mouth Under the Spot Where the Gospel Pours Out,” but I thought that “filling your pot” might lend itself to certain… well… other associations.

I preached Sunday morning, and again Sunday evening. And in the afternoon, I fished.


Most of the members of the church were famers, and most of the farms had ponds, and most of the ponds had bass and bream and catfish not a few. I spent hours on the banks and occasionally in the shallows (my dress shoes never forgave me). Never caught any really really big fish—though once…
And this is one of the great memories of my life…

I got a pretty good one on my first cast, after a hospital visit, still in my shirt and tie. I had joined a group that, before I arrived, had fished fruitlessly for a couple of hours already.  I rolled up my sleeves, picked up a rod… and this one old boy name of Larry O_____ (I still remember it! How could forget?) said, “Go ahead preacher, we could use a good laugh.”

You know what happened next: my lure barely hit the water before a fair-sized bass hit it hard (ker-THUNK)—as surely as if Jesus had told me where to put my line in for a catch.

NEVER have I been so thrilled to land a fish… NEVER has a moment been so perfect…I will NEVER forget Larry’s name! Or the look on his face. Wish there had been cell phones with cameras in those long-ago days.

The best fish I ever got was a 30 lb. permit—trophy size—but we put it back. My buddy David and I, with the invaluable help of our guide, landed that bad boy in about three feet of water in Isla Mirada…three years ago, now, I guess it was.
The same David and I were going again today—just pond fishing, but with a skiff and trolling motor. Didn’t happen, though. Bummer. 

Literally. David has a bad hip and today was a bad day so…no way for a sore-bottomed-man to sit in a flat-bottomed boat. As it were.

Didn’t keep me from thinking about it, though: how patience is key. How the life you are trying to catch is unseen, unpredictable. 

How sometimes you see a flash of light below the surface, and sometimes a rippling that indicates some deeper movement. 

How sometimes you sit all day and come away with nothing, and how sometimes it seems you can’t get your line back in the water fast enough, as if the fish want to jump into the boat unbidden. 

How you can hang your hook, or snap a line on weeds and dead branches. How not everything you catch is worth keeping. 

How what you do catch, even if it is trophy-size (and maybe especially if it is) you might want to give back—to the water, to someone else, for another day. How you hold the rod, watch the line, tense and relaxed both at the same time. How you wait, wait, wait, ready, but you can’t do anything till the fish does, so you wait. How you thrill to the strike, but the strike doesn’t mean you’ve hooked the fish. How if the fight is over too soon you are disappointed, but if you fight too long, the fish can work the hook out of its mouth and be lost.

How the work of fishing is an art, and the art of fishing hard work—and beautiful together. (And yes, I recently re-watched A Rivers Runs Through It: all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.” Lord, it makes me cry even to think of it.)

There is, in nature, no perfect analogy to the spiritual life, but fishing is close. Birdwatching, too, as Rowan Williams describes it in Being Disciples: putting yourself in position, sitting very still and waiting (sometimes without success) to be amazed.

In these weird, anxious days, I am thinking of Church life in much the same terms. As we try to catch and land the future—that while there is no perfect analogy to the times we are living through, or to the days ahead, you could do worse than think about fishing.

How will go from here? What will our new life look like? I keep thinking that fishing was the original occupation of at least four of the disciples (though they were pretty awful at it. Did you realize, they never ever catch even a single fish unless Jesus is with them, telling them when and where to throw the net. Well, there you go). Jesus compared their new life as servants of the Gospel to fishing, too, though of a different sort. Just so.

If, till now, we have been fishing for people in a particular way, we may in this ear hear Jesus’ call to lay down those nets in order to take up new ones; or to put our nets in on the other side of the boat. And yes, maybe we have tried that spot before and caught nothing, nevertheless at Jesus’ word we may cast again and now so many in the nets we don’t know what to do with them. Or how to bring them in.

Which is to say, we too need Jesus’ help to catch anything like new insight or wisdom from this time, or in order to order to land so-called “second-“  and “third-tier congregations.” We will need to work together, too, in a way that maybe we haven’t before.

I am convinced there is all sorts of stuff going on under the surface of this moment, lots of hungry life all around us, and we can see flashes of light… but we have to be both patient and urgent, ready and waiting, alert and relaxed.

And yes, some of our casts will get hung-up in the weeds and break some lines on dead stuff. And no, not everything that we hook will be worth keeping. But we keep at it. What was it Bagger Vance said about golf? It is a game that can only be played, never won.

Fishing, too: whether we are trying to land the Big One, or praying that the Big One lands us and won’t let us get away.   

Friday, April 10, 2020

Will It Be Different? No doubt about it.

So I was on TV yesterday. Not a big deal. So far down the line, my days on 2nd string B-Team seemed a highlight.

I asked the producer, the old band mate who asked me to appear, what the viewership is. He said, “Half-a-dozen.” I don’t think he was kidding. 

But I have sent the link to my church family, so…a ratings boost! Up 300 percent! Wait. I don’t want to talk about my ratings. Unpastoral. Unseemly, too.

What I do want to talk about is something I said yesterday almost unwittingly…

I had been talking around it for a while but it sort of crystallized in the moment.

The interviewer asked me something about whether, on the downside of the COVID-19 lockdown, corporate worship would change. I said it already has. We could list many of the various ways: from "sing along" hymns to online stewardship; from virtual (or, in the words of Pope Francis, “spiritual”) gatherings to virtual/ spiritual Communion (as we did last week); from live stream to archived, "catch it when you can" services.  

channahonumc.org
But almost instinctively, I appealed to United Methodist history: how in the early days, the movement was comprised of small groups gathered for Bible study and prayer. The members of the group held each other spiritually accountable. The Methodists would go to the parish church for the Sacraments, but the primary locus of the spiritual life and growth was the small group: the Class Meeting, as it was called.

In America, where there were few churches at all—and where most American Methodists were distancing themselves from anything “England”—circuit riding preachers traveled among the small groups, providing Wesley-approved sermons and the Sacraments. Circuit Riders might see a small group only once or twice in a year, and were never appointed to any circuit for longer than a year, and so the people were really pretty much on their own in terms of discipleship and evangelism. And did they ever evangelize! Methodism grew very rapidly in those days.
              
So: small groups regularly, big church occasionally.

One could argue that the same dynamic was present in the early church. The disciples of Jesus gathered together to tell Jesus stories, to pray—and without mandated form or credentialed celebrants, to share the Meal that made the Church the Church, and to baptize. Later, codification occurred.  

Which is to say, over time, the early patterns were reversed. In the early church, a concern for “manual, apostolic succession” defined who could and could not administer the Sacraments, who and who was not authorized to preach—the “stuff” of faith was taken out of the hands of the people and given to professionals. Faith became more passive and the clergy more powerful.

wikipedia.org
In America, the same solstice occurred: from vital small groups to a “local church” model. And from local churches to BIG churches. One could cite reasons: the settling and increasing urbanization of the country’s population (going from more transient and rural to more sedentary and municipally clustered in ever larger cities); the expansion and education of the clergy… there are more besides. 

But the upshot is that, among Methodists, at least, our original pattern of belonging was reversed: people were increasingly (and more nominally) a part of centralized congregations, but only occasionally a part of a small group. And many of the small groups (Sunday School, Circles, etc) were often more social than spiritual.
trcnyc.org

If the churches became the primary locus for what passed as “Christian education,” the pastor became the “expert” or resident theologian. Spiritual authority was ceded to the educated clergy, while  “membership” was less discipleship than passive and consumerist: “Let’s see what the preacher has for us today.”

(I am told this dynamic is present in other churches, too, with a kind of cult of personality associated with some preachers and a kind of “Temple” mentality associated with some churches.)

I wonder though if now—and this brings me back to the TV interview—we may be seeing yet another solstice, one that returns us to our roots. Is this lockdown awakening people to the power of the small group? Could people begin taking spiritual responsibility for their own households (much as the epistles urge people to do—though those passages are often read dismissively and quixotically: as the strawmen of anti-patriarchal anger).

Professional clergy may become more of a rarity, and a more functional class at that—as the rabbi goes to the Weismann house for the bris of the new baby in the Marvelous Ms. Maisle, pastors may go into homes where small groups gather for Baptism or Communion. 
reformjudaism.org

Buildings may be converted to other kinds of ministries, or deconsecrated and sold.

Imagine: no budgets, no maintenance and upkeep, more spiritual vitality, less credentialed clergy but more lay responsibility, more personal engagement in daily faithfulness… could this be a tipping point for all these things (and in one form or the other, some of these trajectories have been underway for a while)?

The changes will not be completed immediately or perhaps ever, but one could (read: can) see it happening, for those who choose to remain Christian on the other side of the sea change that is upon us.  

Temple and Synagogue, as I mentioned the other day. And on account of the synagogue, perhaps again the kind of growth and enthusiasm that characterized our earliest days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Exiles Like Us...


On Maundy Thursday I will be interviewed on television.

www.C19.TV
Not on BIG television, like CNN, Fox, MSNBC or anything; and not by anyone with a lot of name recognition or has the President on speed-dial (or vice versa).

Instead, my old Geezer bandmate, Greg Tillman, who teaches communications at Cleveland Community College, used to run the Shelby CNN affiliate and still produces TV shows for the college to show on the local access channel, has asked me to come talk about COVID-19’s current and long-term impact on the church.

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He will be the interviewer. I have a 13-minute spot. Sure.  Plenty of time.

I am sure he wants me to talk about some of the practical aspect of things—and there is much to consider, a lot of it financial, and not least: whether small congregations will be able to survive, how long it will take larger congregations to recover, if pastors and staff people will be furloughed (no; at least five years after the “all clear”; yes, lots).

But I will be more interested in talking about a real paradigm shift that is, I think, inescapable—for better and worse.
templesinai.org
A bit of history:

wikipedia.org
When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE, the leading citizens were deported from the holy city to the pagan kingdom. They “hung up” their harps by the rivers of Babylon” because they did not know how to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” (Psalm 137).

Only, eventually, they did. Learned. Adapted. Wrote new songs to sing. It took a while, for the people and there worship were “coupled” to the Temple, to the priests and sacrifices. For generations they have made glad pilgrimage pilgrimage “up to Jerusalem,” and the trip and the worship were worth all the effort.

Over time in their new “home,” though, they began gathering in small groups—eventually called
synagogues. They prayed together and studied the sacred texts under the instruction of lay Teachers—eventually called rabbis. Their time in Exile, their displacement from the land and their accustomed practices forced them to adapt. No longer was God “located” only in Jerusalem, nor did worship have to include either religious experts or animal sacrifice.

I think of the ways many churches are adapting in this time of exile: live stream worship services, virtual communion, online Bible studies, mid-day Facebook prayers, email encouragements, “together, but separate” praying using a common source or the Psalms. We are not together physically, but we have maintained the ties that bind our hearts in Christian loves.

When the exiles came back to Jerusalem, thirty-nine years after they left, many people (especially the priests and other religious professionals, wanted to jettison the synagogue and get back to the ways and means of worship from before the Exile (Temple, priest, sacrifice). But some felt more at home, closer to God and each other, in those small groups, worshiping in the ways they learned to sing of the Lord in that land (synagogue, rabbis, prayer).

I suspect that when our time of exile is over, we too will find some who want to put our adaptations behind us and get back to church and worship, choirs and Sunday School, mid-week dinners and other activities. And surely we will. But…

I also suspect that there will be many who feel very much like the adaptations are the new norm, and that the ways we used to do it, while still important, will not be as crucial as they were. Perhaps we gather once a quarter, for baptisms and Holy Communion (the way faithful Jews went up to Jerusalem three times a years). The rest of the time, small groups, house church, dinner church, love feasts.

missionsbox.org
The good thing is that the new normal will attract and keep people who have no interest in big church. And every big church will have to decide what they have to keep and keep doing, and what can be let go. Phyllis Tickle reminds us that during every “great emergence” there is division, house-cleaning, re-patterning… with the result that the church spreads, grows, and attains new energy and enthusiasm.

The downside, of course, is that there also come resentments, frictions, animosities: the priests and rabbis had an uneasy relationship; there was jealousy and competition between Temple and synagogue; the necessary business of the Jerusalem religious establishment was a constant irritant to those whose souls were devoted to prayer.

Jesus, of course, got caught in the crossfire.

So… for us: big churches or small groups? Professional clergy or lay preachers/small group leaders? Sacraments, or prayer/ethics? Yes.

All I will say is that the Methodist movement was itself an adaptation, not on account of an actual Exile or a pandemic virus (though it could be described as a pandemic of heartless religion that drove those seeking a warmer religion from the parishes). The form it took was small groups—where Bible study, spiritual accountability, prayer fed a “heart religion” and fueled a socially engaged ethic—with the occasional trip to the church for the Sacraments.

Resentment and animosity eventually separated them. But as Tickle says…

I don’t know whether I will be able to say all on TV come Thursday. I would tell you to tune in, but in Charlotte I am not sure you can.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Virtual Congregations, Virtual Communion


There is an old phrase, famous among pastors, to describe the “order” of Christian life: “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” Prayers form our doctrine more than doctrine forms our prayers. We learn to pray; then we learn why we pray that way.


Two quick examples: “God is great, God is good…” We pray that prayer, teach it to our kids, and then they and we learn why we thank God for our food (and the hands that prepared it). 

“Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That is the first “compline” I ever learned, and am more thankful for it the longer I live, as I learn ever more and better how and why to entrust my soul to God.

virtueonline.org
The Lord’s Prayer is a third example, of course. We pray it; then set about to discover the faith, faithfulness and ministry to which it calls us (let all be fed, let all be forgiven, let all be freed). "The rule of prayer is the rule of faith is the rule of life."  Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, in Latin (say that and you will impress your friends!) 

(We could also invoke our hymns: how we learn to sing our faith before we can say it.)

This week at HLUMC we will demonstrate another discernable pattern of Christian history: “practice precedes doctrine.” The actual worship of the church comes first, while the theological rationales, the rules and rubrics, come after the fact.

This Sunday: virtual Communion. At the church, there at our Table, we will have bread and juice (could be wine; we are not telling). We will say the prayer. The five or six of us in the sanctuary will eat that particular bread and drink that particular…whatever. 

minnesotaumc.org
Meanwhile, we are asking all our congregants and others who join us by means of the Live Streaming (a really open Table) to have bread and juice/wine available there near the computer or TV. As I say the Prayers, consecrate the sanctuary elements, we will choose to believe that the home elements are also consecrated. We all will eat. We all will drink. We will share the Lord’s Supper together, separately.

(One really interesting and beautiful collateral: I know of families who live at great distance who have already determined to join the stream so that separate as they are, they can take the Supper together—the same food, the same drink, the same time—a blessing they rarely if ever share.)

Whether or not virtual Communion is allowed or allowable has been a matter of much debate these last few years. Some churches have developed ways and means for the ritual that seem to me both impractical and even kind of silly. Like saving consecrated bread from the last Communion and mailing it out to members before the next Communion, to ensure that everyone has bread that has been literally, manually prayed over by the priest/pastor. I get it. But please. My hands are not that important. In fact, in this era my hands/touch may be unwelcome.  

Instead, we are going to believe in the universal agency of the Holy Spirit and the power of Jesus to be with us all—not only whenever two or three are gathered in his name, but however they are gathered together in his name. The power of our prayer will shape that belief. 
americanmagazine.org

At some point down the line, we (or someone) will craft (create?) more sophisticated theological argumentation and defense for this practice. But as I learned in seminary, worship precedes doctrine, just as prayer precedes creeds.

Meanwhile Jesus’ command to feed the sheep, and our pastoral obligation to provide the Bread of Heaven (and especially in a sequestered age), makes adaptation not only imperative but authentic.

In fact, it could be argued that every Communion is always virtual: the bread and wine you get at the store “become” Body and Blood of Jesus. 

I choose to believe that this week, in a virtual gathering of the flock--we will congregate on line: a virtual congregation--apart from hugs and kisses, it will be as real as it gets.  

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Have No Place, No People, No Time...But We Have the Story

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Woke up today and it was cold. My mother would have said it was “Dogwood Winter,” or something like that. She and my grandmother made pronouncements about time: Dogwood Winter, Blackberry Winter, even “Indian Summer,” an insensitive term offered with no malice, about the small heat wave/s that would come after the winds of winter began to blow.
People mark time, don’t they. Anniversaries, birthdays. Or they try not to. One of our older members said, when I called to congratulate her on her 92nd, that it was “just another day.”

Tom, Bob, Mike and Bill
“NO, it’s not,” I said. Nor did she really think so. It thrilled her that so many people had called and sent cards. People notice the attentions of their special people. And when their special people, and special times, are gone.

Which is why I go to Nashville I always drive by where I grew up. I regularly visit the cemetery where my parents are buried. My maternal grandparents, too. And, next to them, the twin brothers I never met—they died very young. A sad day for my parents, who are buried across the street. Separated in death as they were in life. As much as we mark time, we also mark special places. 




Which is also why, every time I go to Nashville I go to Brown'd Diner, a hole-in-the wall and legendary dive with the best cheeseburgers, chili, and shoe-string French fries in the world.

Churches, too, are places that have special meaning and significance, even among non-religious people still. Which is why, often, people want a "church wedding," with a priest or preacher presiding (as opposed to an on-line-ordained friend). Not simply because the room is pretty. More like an instinct, a sense that the place, the priest or minister, offers a kind of gravitas and grounding—a sacred place for a sacred moment: representing less a “destination” than a starting place.

Do I think all of those feelings are identified or articulated? Of course not. But I have talked to many couples on their way to their vows, and you get the sense. I always try to get them to build-on that nascent call to the holy and make faith and discipleship a part of their married life. Rarely do I succeed, and especially when church, worship, prayer have not been part of their story till now.

Along with our times and places we all have our defining stories. As individuals, of course—how and when you got your Eagle, or how and why lost your first love. How the last-second shot went in, or just rimmed-out, or how (in my case) you never got off the bench (and I tore up my knee anyway!). How you wound up in Charlotte, or got this particular job. How you had planned on two kids, but the third one… Stories. Each of us has them.

There are family stories, too; and if a good bit of counseling and therapy is a matter of trying to un-tease and tell the family story, so much comedy and drama begins in the inexhaustible hilarity and tragedy of family stories. A family’s places and times.

Towns, states, regions, nations have stories. Just as all those entities have special places, special times. We mark time, we mark places, we tell stories. That is what makes us human.

So, what if we are separated from those things?

With amnesia or dementia, we lose identity because we lose our stories. If we lose or stories we lose our people and places. What if our places are bulldozed or, in my case, sorely mistreated by the next generations of residents? When we don’t know our days or celebrations or sadnesses because we can’t tell our times?

I have been thinking about all of that during the lock-down, because the Church has its stories clustered around the week that is soon upon us: Palm Sunday, the last days of Jesus’ life, his last teaching, the last gestures of his self-giving love, his betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion, his Resurrection, too. Christians are coming up on their most sacred time, their holiest days—which we call, of course, Holy Week—and in some ways as uncalendared as Dogwood Winter (the calculus of its appearing varies, year-to-year, but we discern it nonetheless).

We tell our specific stories in specific, special places, with special services: at sunrise in the cemetery, or gathering in silence in a darkened church. Shivering in the Memorial Garden at midnight, around a new fire that lights our candles as we process. Brass voluntaries pierce the morning, candles strike out against the darkness, the warmth of this time, and our people warm our shivering souls. The old Story, ever new, is proclaimed: darkness and death do not have the last word. Our Story, told in our place, with our people at this time—together it makes us Christian again.

So… what do we do this year?

When our places (and normal gestures and rituals) are not available to us? When we cannot stand shoulder-to-shivering-shoulder with our people?
When we are so tangled and strangled by fear and death and distance? When the stories we hear are bad news, and the worst yet to come, by all indications?

What do we do?

We gather how we can—with our families, online, in a new place: the virtual sanctuary (and thank God that, unlike other disrupted eras, during black plagues and terrible wars, we have such an opportunity). We get dressed-up, maybe, and take Easter pictures at least of ourselves to mark the time.

We celebrate at a distance, light the fire of our memory and hope and imagination. However we can we proclaim again the Story that Christians cannot and will not forget—how Jesus, dead as dried wood and buried in a tomb, was raised from the dead by the glory of God. That is a Story not bound by time or place or population or circumstance.

But in every time and place, and especially this time and place, a Story for the healing of the nations.

We have lost a lot this Lent. We have not lost the Story.   

Monday, March 30, 2020

You may be asking yourself...

wonderopolis.org

Terms, like shirts, lose some of their starch with too much wear.

Perhaps in another blog I will explore the overuse and now droopy meanings of terms like “grace,” “faith” or “doctrine.” Or how to starch them again. 

Today, though, I am thinking about “literature.” A really limp term, anymore.  

Used to, literature referred only to those works of poetry or fiction that were both exceptionally well-crafted and deemed over time to have lasting and significant value for broad populations. I remember learning that definition in, oh, about fifth grade. Now, however, niche comic books, graphic novels and even graffiti, of all things—focused, impermanent and in some cases indecipherable as such forms are—may be described by somebody as “literature.”
amazon.com

Uh, no. I don’t think so. Then again I am a curmudgeon.

But I am thinking today about real literature. About real books. And one book in particular: a prize-winning novel, Laurus, by the Russian novelist, Eugene Vodolazkin. I think you would find it an interesting read during the lock-down. I know it would provide lasting value.

Laurus concerns one of Russia’s “Holy Fools,” mystic-hermit-healers who, as The New Yorker’s Ken Kalfus tells us, “…wandered the countryside. Their wardrobe and grooming choices earned them names like Maksim the Naked and John the Hairy. Basil the Blessed walked through Moscow in rags, castigated the rich, exposed deceitful merchants, and issued prophecies, many of which proved correct, or close enough. St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square is named for him.

Laurus, himself (only the last of his names), Kalfus describes him this way:

Born in 1440, he’s raised by his herbalist grandfather Christofer near the grounds of the Kirillov Monastery, about three hundred miles north of Moscow. He becomes a renowned medicine man, faith healer, and prophet who “pelted demons with stones and conversed with angels.” He makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He takes on new names, depending on how he will next serve God (“Holy Foolery,” October 15, 2015)
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Okay, okay. I get that that does not sound like a very promising premise for those interested primarily in quick reads, graphic novels, courtroom dramas or international espionage.

BUT…something about it took hold of me. And on the strength of that review (which came to me by “chance,” though I believe it was providence; I do not subscribe to TNY but people sometimes give me copies), I ordered Laurus, started it, and could not put it down.

This, when I can almost always put books down. I have five open books here and there in my apartment even now.

And so thought-provoking that I have never quit thinking about it, not entirely. Have been thinking about it more since the rise of COVID-19 and the fall of our normal routine.  

I will not review the book (Kalfus’ review is still available: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/holy-fooleryA). Suffice it to say, lot of things happen over its 361 pages, as is the nature of even character-driven novels. There is drama and intrigue, misunderstandings and discoveries, murder, violence and poignancy… moments of terror and wonder. Strangeness, not a little, and a whole cast of characters.

What happens, though, is woven into a broader philosophical or theological question, which is this:

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Is the world a malevolent place? Full of banes and toxins, dangerous berries and beasts—and demons—that want to kill you? So that fear, caution and avoidance are the best strategies for survival?

Or is the world, at heart, a benevolent place? Full of remedies palliatives, herbs and roots—and angels—that want to help and heal you? So that wonder, exploration and experimentation are the best strategies for survival?

Both things are true, of course, to one degree or the other. The world is full of dangers and inspirations.. Angels, and demons. Literarily: full of kingsfoil and nightlock.

tolkeingateway.net
And even today. In contemporary America and the world. Right now all of us are trying to find our way through a world “with devils filled,” as Luther said, which threatens to undo us. But we also believe that God has willed his truth to triumph through us. Rabid and rampant as the dread disease is, we believe that God’s essential goodness is also at work in the world and among us, designed for our healing, and  expressed not least (though not totally) in the energies and selflessness of so many caring individuals…

Walk along with Laurus, if you have time and interest. You will learn things you never knew, and maybe beyond that you will find a kind of mystic-foolish-healing strength that all the Holy Fools knew came from Christ, himself born into and still alive in world full of bane and blessing, dangers and inspirations.

Maybe look again at your own dramas and intrigues, your own misunderstandings and discoveries,  all the moments of terror and wonder—look at this whole strangeness, if you can get your mind around it at all—and a cast of characters near and far that will provide lasting literature to the world.

And already is: in the form graffiti, memes, graphic novels; poetry, songs…and so many novels to come.

All I will say is that whatever I write these days, none of it nearly so ambitious as any of that, is still written in the spirit and awareness of what I learned from Laurus. Which allows me to pray, even today, with John Baillie:
“And above all give me grace to use these beauties around me and this eager stirring of life within me to lift my soul from creature to Creator, and from nature to nature’s God…and help me to be actively concerned for the welfare of little children and for those who are sick, and of the poor, remember that what I do for the least of these brothers and sisters of his, I do for Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen."

Thirtieth Day, Morning



Fishing for the Future

takemefishing.org I was supposed to go fishing this afternoon.  Didn’t happen, though. Bummer. I love to fish, though I do not...