Dear Virginia

August 28, 2010 § 2 Comments

Dear Virginia,

First, let me say I love you.  From the first time I laid eyes on you, I knew you’d have a special place in my heart–always.

None of that has changed.  You will always be special to me, and I will always love you.  When I took my first timid steps into adulthood and all it’s responsibilities, you were there.  Through thick and thin, my first jobs after college, even through grad school–you were there with me.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for you.

Virginia, I have a lot to thank you for.  I know I never treated you as well as you treated me, and for that I’m sorry.  But you always seemed to handle it well.

Nothing will ever change the way I feel about you, Virginia.  But you have to find a way to move on.

What we had was great–but I’m in a much different place now.  I’ve moved on, Virginia, and so should you.  I’ve moved on, and I’m happy with my life.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Please, just  let me go!

You’re beautiful, Virginia!  There’s no sense in clinging to me so tightly.  It’s been 3 years since we were together, so take a hint and just let me go!  I beg you!  I won’t think any less of you for just making a clean break and getting on with your life.  You deserve it.  We both do.  We’ll both be fine, and you’ll be better for it, I promise.

So please, Virginia, just tell your DMV to let me go.  I hate to think you’d put  a price on what we had–it seems to cheapen it.  But if you insist on dragging this on I guess I have no choice.  I wish we could have ended better, without putting a price on the love we shared.  Butt if you insist, and if my $85 will help you to find the closure you need, then it’s a small price to pay.  The fires of love indeed grow cold when untended for 3 years–but still I wish it didn’t have to come to this!

Virginia!  This nasty lovers quarrel could so easily have been avoided.  I’ve always been just a phone call, a letter, an email away.  Why did I have to find out about this grudge of yours through another?  Were you so jealous, that you had to communicate through Ohio?  I thought you and I were on better terms than that, Virginia!  I do wish you could let bygones be bygones and remember what we had instead of what you hoped for.

But, Virginia, if my money is what you want, then it’s my money that you’ll get.  What I have with Ohio can’t be purchased…our relationship is stronger than that.  So take my $85 and may it give you what you need to move on, o jealous lover!  I do hope this is the last I hear from you (or at least from your DMV).

With all love, affection, and a deep sense of sadness (not to mention a curious sense of relief)

Patrick

All’s “Fair” in Love and War

August 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again. The hot time. For one week every August, Holmes County breaks out of its shell. For a meager $5 you gain entrance to a whole other world than the one that normally exists. Sure, that $5 doesn’t really go very far–you still have to pay for just about anything else you want to do–but for Christine and me, $5 to watch a couple of hours of motocross is money well spent.

So we found ourselves on the bleachers last night, slowly baking as the sun set on another hot Ohio day. I knew we were in for a treat though, as the racers took their preparatory laps around the dirt track. Ear plugs were on sale for a dollar, but why would you want to muffle the sound that shakes the bleachers? The dust hung in clouds and the bluish exhaust mixed in the air–it was a perfect mixture of stink, dirt, noise, and speed. We fully intend to go every year we live here!

So after the racers had their chance to familiarize themselves with the track, the maintenance crew always comes out to smooth out the ruts and level off the places that need leveled off before the actual races begin. My favorite part of this is the water truck. They spray the course down right before the races to try to keep the dust down.

It’s a nice thought.

So it was getting close to race time. The water truck made its way off the course, the bulldozers were done, the racers were off the track and just waiting for their classes to be called.

It’s that moment right before something really cool is going to happen–you know?

It’s that moment that’s almost sacred–it’s like the world takes a deep breath of exhaust-filled, dusty air right before plunging into something else.

I experience that moment every Sunday right before I preach.

It’s the same moment on every pastoral visit I make–right before the person opens the door.

Last night it was right before the racers would start their engines.

A lot can happen in that moment.

In this particular moment, we were invited to stand, to remove our hats, and to direct our attention to the flag as they played the national anthem over a loudspeaker.

I stood as I usually do. I’m an American, I can respect the traditions we have, and I have nothing against having a flag at a fair. Hearing the national anthem is an expected part of what it means to go see Motocross. I’m fine with that.

But then the guy had us bow our heads for a prayer.

Really?

You might think it odd that a pastor had a problem with that.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for prayer. Prayer is probably the most formative thing a Christian person can do. I have a high respect for prayer and I think we could all benefit from nurturing an attitude of constant prayer like Paul talks about.

Prayer binds us to each other and to God. It’s an important method of discernment.

It has transformative power to heal, to reconcile, and to form our identity as Christian people.

But what happened last night gave me pause.

Combining prayer with the national anthem–it should make all Christian people uncomfortable (not just us Mennonites). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ transcends and consumes national borders and barriers of all kinds, across humanity. Combining expressions of national identity with expressions of faith creates something I want no part of. I don’t want a Christianity that is so closely linked to the USA, because I think it ceases to be Christianity. It becomes something like civil religion. And civil religion (you could argue ANY religion) is capable of some pretty twisted things.

Every Christian must keep the question before us: Which story is most formative? Is it the story of our national conquest? Or is it the story of Jesus Christ?

I really don’t think it can be both.

Therefore I feel some tension when the national anthem–a song celebrating the conquest and violence that birthed our nation–gets combined with prayer–an action that emphasizes the subversive, self-sacrificing Love of Jesus.

I feel the need to remind us all that America is not the church. Red, white, and blue are not the colors of the church, and the cross is not a flagpole. Faith is more than a decorative touch for weddings, funerals, and the occasional motocross event.

How can we worship a middle-eastern man on Sunday, and bomb one for the sake of ‘national security’ on Monday? Is God NOT our peace? Is Christ NOT sufficient for our salvation and security?

Now you, dear reader–you might disagree.

You with theology different from mine–you have an excuse and I’d be glad to hear it and glad to have a conversation.

But you fellow Mennonites who seem to be wearing the flag more often, reciting the pledge of allegiance more often, who seem to be making peace with military service–you fellow Mennonites who seem to be more ‘proud to be American’ than you are of being distinctively Christian–how can we talk?

God’s perfect timing, or Time’s perfect god?

August 17, 2010 § 1 Comment

In Greek mythology, a guy named Sisyphus was punished by the gods. He was sentenced to an eternity spent pushing a huge rock up a steep hill. The catch was that before he could reach the top, he would find himself back at the bottom with the same task before him.

Endless repetition of the same pointless task was his eternal condemnation for some sort of trickery or conniving he had committed.

Day in and day out for eternity, Sisyphus was condemned to toil and labor for labor’s sake. Endlessly he pushed his rock up the hill, and at the end of the day he was no further along.

Life can feel like that sometimes. We sweat and heave and push for all we’re worth, only to realize that we’re not getting anywhere.

I can think of no punishment I would hate more than to repeat the same pointless task for even a day–much less an eternity.

And eternity is an interesting concept.

Is it the fullness of time–or the lack thereof that constitutes eternity?

God is outside of time, and not defined by it.

With what gall, then, do we make the assumption that “God’s timing is perfect”?

The older I get, the more that phrase sounds ridiculous. It’s the kind of thing we say when more coherent statements fail us. It’s kind of a filler phrase when we’re uncomfortable with silence, with pain, or with grief (as in “I don’t know why your child died–but God’s timing is perfect, so there must have been a reason!”)

Or it can be something to fill the air between two people when one is pleased with an event or an outcome but far too ‘humble’ to accept the responsibility for it. (as in “well, we were looking for a bigger house, and wouldn’t you know, in God’s perfect timing this mansion just opened up for half what it’s worth!)

Yay God.

The thing is, I’m not sure that’s an accurate understanding of time…or of God. Such an understanding (when taken to its logical conclusion) blinds us to the very painful reality of evil in the world. It makes too little out of tragedy and too much out of minutiae.

Time is a tool and nothing more. Or let me put it another way: There is no such thing as ‘perfect’ timing–whether God’s or anyone else’s.

Rather, let us think about time as something like the mines of Moriah in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, time is a dark, dank place full of death and bones. Shadows of greatness flicker off its walls, but while we journey here they remain only shadows and nothing more.

It must be passed through with courage, and it has the potential to bestow illusions of grandeur, but few of us would choose this route by our own free will.

The journey through will change us…though for better or for the worse remains to be seen.

I propose a moratorium on the phrase “God’s perfect timing” and all the variants thereof. It’s not that time can’t be full–or redeemed–or even good. But far too often we cling to that happenstance–that moment of goodness–and then callously proclaim to the world, to those caught in the hellish rot of very real and present evil, suffering, and pain that ‘God’s timing is perfect’.

In the beginning, God created everything that is (even time).

Then He proclaimed that it was good (not perfect).

Why should we seek to improve on that?

On Facebook

August 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

I put the question to my own personal ‘Facebook Nation’ some days ago as to whether or not I should “ditch” my facebook account.  I gave no reasons as to why I was considering such an action.  I simply posed the question and said I was open to hearing reasons ‘for’ and ‘against’ for a specified amount of time.
Since I gave no reason, I was fairly surprised that many of my “friends” (at least many of those who responded to my initial post) jumped to the conclusion that I was spending too much time on facebook, and therefore needed to re-prioritize my life.  I suppose it was assumed that I was somehow wasting countless hours poring over every minute detail of my news feed.
The other assumption people quickly made (an assumption I won’t address here) was that I must be somehow dissatisfied with my facebook experience.  Otherwise why would I consider leaving?
Both assumptions bear further inspection, but not in this post.  (OK…one quick thought about satisfaction–I fear it illustrates how we’ve devolved from a society that questions participation just for the sake of participation into a society where participation is not only accepted, but actually expected for no other reason that ‘everybody’s doing it’!  Maybe that’s fodder for another post).
The truth of the matter is, my momentary stint of facebook rebellion has less to do with time or satisfaction than it has to do with…(drumroll please)…(wait for it…wait for it…) meaning.
We often talk about searching for meaning, or finding meaning.
I’m beginning to realize, though, that honestly my search for meaning died a tragic death on a busy street in Peru about 13 years ago.  I was rushing to catch a bus and almost tripped over the most destitute homeless woman I had ever seen.  The street was crowded and I didn’t even see her until I almost tripped over her.
My search for meaning did trip over that woman.  It broke its neck and died.
I mourned the loss of my search for awhile–but then I started to learn that sometimes meaning can be found–but more often meaning is built, or created from whatever resources we have available.
So began my quest–my quest to create meaning.
I never would have named it like that–not until just writing those words just now–but I think that’s right.
So I went to camp for a summer.  Then I went to college.  Then I worked for awhile and married someone.  And all along the way, in each new chapter I was blessed with friends, family, strangers and work.  Each helped me create meaning from whatever building blocks we had.
Life is much more real this way.  It’s much more satisfying to see meaning take shape both because of and in spite of my best efforts, rather than simply ‘seeking’ or ‘finding’ this elusive beast.
So I’m in this season of life, where my eyes have been opened to the acres of meaning hiding behind every set of eyes, in every voice, on every hill.
Now and then that meaning trickles through the internet, but far too seldom can I really find it on facebook.
So that’s in a nutshell my reasoning for raising the question.
See, it’s like we’re in this world together, weaving a tapestry of meaning with our lives.  Our actions, our words, our thoughts…our pain, our joy, our celebrations and our mourning–all of it weaves together into this fabric of meaning.
But facebook is kind of like a cat.  It sees this grand tapestry, it even participates in the weaving to an extent.  But rather than letting it be, it plays with the fringes.  Anything on this fabric that moves is fair game.  It bats at meaning with its too-eager paws and picks at the loose threads until they come unraveled from the fabric around them.
Left to itself, this cat will shred the artwork until there’s nothing left but a pile of rags.
And I find myself, instead of weaving or building or otherwise creating–I find myself watching this stupid cat that for some reason I’m fond of–often cursing it for doing what it was intended to do.
So from time to time I think it’s good to question, to re-examine my participation in this thing called ‘facebook’.
Time is not the issue.
Satisfaction is not the issue.
Meaning and the fragmentation of the whole–that’s the issue and that’s what’s at stake.

Where Am I?

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