2014-11-14

“Pastor Steve is preaching a series called ‘Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit.*'” I said.

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow. “What have you thought of it so far?”

“Well,” I said, “Something he said in the very first sermon of the series has really stuck with me.” I could hear it again, see Pastor Steve’s expression, see the words on the power point presentation. But most of all, I could see the words written–in my own handwriting, on my page of notes. “He said that sometimes people are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they don’t think He will show up.”

“Hm. Interesting.” We were quiet for a moment or two. Then,

“Do you think that way sometimes?” He wanted to know.

I nodded. “That’s why it stood out to me.”

Quiet again.

“Sometimes I get afraid that You won’t show up, that You won’t be with me when I need You . . . or even just when I want You.”

“Even though I’ve promised to be with you always?”

I nodded. “Even though You’ve promised,” I said. “And then sometimes I am afraid that when You do show up, You’ll be a different person than I thought I knew. That I won’t recognize You.”

“Or that I won’t be FOR you, right?” He finished the thought I didn’t even realize I’d begun. But it was true. I nodded again. He was silent, and I was silent. The kind of silence that comes from there not really being much to say at the moment. Finally,

“What do I do?” I asked.

“You keep calling Me and watching Me keep My promise,” He said simply.

 

 

 

*[yes, the series title has been taken from a book of the same name: Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit: An Investigation in the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today by Daniel Wallace]

Longing to heal the ugliness in others,
I find my only weapon may be
My own acceptance of my acceptance
In the beloved.
Help me, Father, to express my trust
In You and in Your reconstructive
Work around me by embracing
Your delight in me.
jmc 4/11/12


(C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Lucy’s gift from Father Christmas)

During my middle school years, the whole world changed. Literally, the whole world. Yes, my personal world was turned upside down—a move across the country, a tiny house in a huge city instead of a sprawling house on the outskirts of a small city, and a traditional classroom with new and more urban peers instead of self-study amid childhood friends—all of those together do constitute the equivalent of a personal 8.4 earthquake. But my personal changes are not what I am writing about today.*

I am writing about how the world itself changed during my middle school years.*

 

[Hint: I am about to wax autobiographical. So: if you don’t have time for a jaunt through personal history followed by multiple reflections, then before you leave this page, you REALLY should skip to the end and follow the link at the * note. That’s really the best part. My favorite part. And the point of the whole thing, really.]

 

I grew up under the shadow of Communism. Grew up watching shows about American spies—the good guys—outwitting the Russian secret service—the bad guys. Grew up hearing about Christians persecuted under Communist rule and reading about the lack of freedoms that people in Communist countries enjoyed. The imaginative games my friends and I played—aside from some creative forays into historical worlds—were infused with Communist bad-guys chasing the good guys and almost catching them. The good guys were captured sometimes but always managed to escape and save the day . . . provided the game didn’t end prematurely when our teachers or parents called a halt to play time. After all, that’s what always happened in my favorite tv show Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

Russia, Communist headmaster of the USSR, was a country cloaked in mystery and competition. Mystery because few people were allowed behind the Iron Curtain and even fewer people allowed out. Competition because Russia was determined to steal all of our secrets and win all the Olympic medals. Not to mention the space race (but that was a topic that went above my the radar of my elementary mind).

I loved the Olympics, especially the winter Olympics and especially the figure skating competitions. I always wanted skaters from “the free world” to win over those from the Communist world, of course, but I couldn’t help but love and admire some of the skaters from the USSR. Their stories, told Olympic style in all their inspirational warmth, gave me a glimpse into the lives of real people. There were real people living behind the Iron Curtain, real people who somehow didn’t get in trouble for thinking and who somehow made a living . . . and whose lives were decided for them from childhood. Just like that. Sergei Grinkov and his partner Ekaterina Gordeeva were my heroes. Sergei’s sudden death in 1995 touched my heart with genuine sorrow. I may have cried, but I don’t remember. My parents bought me the memoir his wife wrote of his life. Their childhood skating partnership had eventually turned into love that led to marriage. They were a Russian fairy tale.

 

All of this feels so long ago and so far away.

 

25 years ago, in fact.*

Spectators walk between balloons of the art project and remains of the former Berlin Wall at the wall memorial Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, Germany. USA Today – Picture by Markus Schreiber, AP

 

This week, the city of Berlin celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall that divided Communist-controlled East Berlin from self-governing West Berlin. The Berlin Wall that physically represented the metaphorical curtain that shrouded all of the countries of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the watching eyes of the rest of the world. As a child I always wondered what the “Iron Curtain” was—besides one of those things that everyone talks about and everyone knows about and everyone says without explaining what it means to the listening children. I think that somehow I imagined it was a wall like the Berlin Wall, but was never quite sure. Substituting “Berlin Wall” into every sentence where “Iron Curtain” was used did not always bring the clarity I imagined it would. Eventually, yes, I did come to understand that the term was metaphorical for the measures of secrecy and red tape that the Soviet states employed to keep the world out and keep their own people in and behind which the Soviet government ran its powerful schemes of control ranging from semi-absolute to moderately intrusive.

 

As a child, I knew nothing of John F. Kennedy’s mistranslated but heartfelt pledge to the people of Berlin—Ich bin ein Berliner—nor even what his speech meant to the people of Berlin.

If I did hear about Reagan’s demand that Mikhail Gorbachev “take down this wall” in Berlin, it either went over my head completely or was far less interesting to my child-mind than the latest episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

I had no idea that in the year I turned 10, a mistake was made in a speech by an East German official giving permission for the gates to be opened and East Germans to walk freely through them—and across the former “death space”—and into the West Germany they’d been longing to rejoin.*

I was dimly aware of the news that the Berlin Wall itself had been torn down.

But I remember vividly sitting in my 8th grade social studies class and being introduced to a brand new, redrawn map of Europe. Our teacher asked us that year to memorize maps of all the continents, all the countries of the world. None was so interesting as the map of Europe—the map on which we could no longer find some countries (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia), the map with so many new countries that hardly knew what to do with themselves. The map that was history being made in our lifetimes.

All of a sudden, those probably dangerous and definitely mysterious potential-spies dressed in long dark coats and fur-rimmed hats became real people. People who enjoyed owning property, people struggling against crushing economic forces, people trying to figure out self-government. People like us. People who didn’t have it easy but were people again instead of a mass to be ruled and managed.

 

We don’t hear much about Communism anymore. Sometimes I think that may not be a good thing—now that the Cold War is over, now that China is the smiling face of Communism and cheap labor, I sometimes fear we no longer remember or care about the foundational differences between Communism and freedom. And those differences are very important to remember because those differences cost the lives of thousands upon thousands of people—in places and during times that have nothing to do with American capitalist interference. And those differences still cost many lives hidden away in secret places where no one but God can really see them. Sometimes I wish we remembered that Communism teaches beneficial change can only come through bloodshed of the ignorant masses. That Communism does not really see people as people.

But I am glad that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain has taken Communism out of our working vocabulary and away from the forefront of our imaginations (though I do pity the kids who have less perfect bad-guy material to use in their imaginary games—a dark, tricky, and impersonal force from across the world really does make for a good force of evil to fight against). Most of all, I am glad for Berlin because for all the difficulty that reunification brought—and it really did bring a lot of difficulty for every country that had been a member of the Soviet bloc—but for all of that difficulty, Berlin made it work.

The wall coming down was nothing short of a miracle. So many people had hoped and prayed and worked for it. And then it actually happened. It must have seemed like a dream. Like a perfect dream. But it was real life, not a dream, and real life is a lot more difficult to negotiate than dreams are. But Berlin lived up to JFK’s statements about them and embraced reunification so well that today it is hard to tell where West Berlin ended and East Berlin began.

 

And it makes me think about how true JFK’s claim really was—Ich bin ein Berliner—or as his interpreter correctly retranslated for him: I am a citizen of Berlin.* Because I think that all of us are citizens of Berlin.

We all face conflicts and divisions. Sometimes we build walls to protect our interests; sometimes we build walls to try to control what we think we have a right to control in our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we feel closed in by walls we did not want built or have come to regret; sometimes we are the maintainers of walls, just doing our jobs. Sometimes we are the ones looking at walls that others built and mourning the broken relationships on both sides. We are Berliners. And like the citizens of Berlin, sometimes we see the walls come down.

And like the people of Berlin, when the walls come down, we find that working out the differences, extending freedom to all, and patching up the damage is not an easy task. (Sometimes we wish the walls had just stayed up!). It takes work to see and treat each other as real people. We aren’t born being good at it.

 

But I have to hand it to Berlin—they did it. Like JFK said, the people of Berlin were a model to the world: in his time, they were a model to the world of how terribly divisive and cruel Communism was. And when the wall came down, they modeled to us reunification. Not automatic, not easy, but a task worth doing. A miracle worth receiving.

A victory worth celebrating.

 

Happy 25th anniversary, Berlin!

 
 

*Note: Watch Tom Brokaw’s view of the celebration–he was there in 1989, and again 25 years later. His clip tells stories from multiple angles and is my favorite of all the things I saw and read. It encapsulates it all. Please watch it.

**Note: What JFK really said in German was “I am a jelly doughnut.” A Berliner was a kind of pastry. By throwing in the article “ein,” he changed the German sentence from “I am Berliner” (a citizen of Berlin) to “I am a Berliner” (a jelly-filled doughnut-pastry-thing). I love listening to his speech because when he first says that misinformed sentence, a whole lot of things happen at once: the interpreter catches and rephrases the mistake, a buzz of excitement runs through the audience, Kennedy realizes that he has made a mistake of some kind and enters the general laugh himself by thanking his interpreter for helping him out. Kennedy has no idea what the mistake was, but his gracious poise and interaction with his audience is beautiful and perfect. What is even more beautiful is that at the end of speech when he makes the same ill-worded comment, a buzz of excitement runs through the audience again, but with a very different note than the earlier buzz. Nor does the interpreter need to make a correction this time. The people know exactly what Kennedy is really saying. The first buzz of excitement may have been good-natured laughter; the latter is cheering and connection with JFK’s message: you’re not alone, Berlin, because the whole free world stands with you.
That was a truly beautiful moment.

 
 
 

Other Berlin Wall and Communism resources:
Berlin Wall —
1) BBC/Wikipedia History of the Wall — http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/places/berlin_wall
2) History lesson links and Berlin Wall quiz — http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/text-to-text-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-reporting-in-1989-and-remembering-25-years-later/?_r=0

Communism —
(these are books, not sites; very retro, I know, but they did a good job of helping me get a picture of it . . . a consistent picture, even though none of the sources were connected with each other)
1) biography: God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew (first-hand experiences)
2) classic fiction: Animal Farm by George Orwell (explores the natural end of the ideology . . . in fairy-tale form)
3) play: Letters to a Student Revolutionary by Elizabeth Wong (this comedy/drama is about Communism in China)
4) children’s book: The Mystery of the Smudged Postmark by Elizabeth Rice Handford (this one touches on the reasons people wanted to leave, from a child’s point of view)
5) historical fiction series: The Russians by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella (Last 3 by Pella alone)–this series is pretty long, but by the end of book five, you have a pretty good idea of what Communism sounded like and what it looked like in actuality. It’s like watching a train wreck.
By now you may have noticed that none of these are treatises on Communism. Those are readily available through an internet search, but sometimes it’s a biographical or fictional story that helps us to really see what is going on. And piques our curiosity to search. And no, none of these are the sensational Hollywood spy-style-stories I loved as a kid. (Ok, so the only one that gets close to it is so true, it’s stranger and more amazing than fiction!) :D

for AJB :)

When I was growing up, “I love you” meant “I like you”–only on a deeper and safer level. When my mother told me she loved me, it never occurred to me to wonder if she liked me on that particular day. It was all part and parcel of the same thing.

Growing up means learning that not everyone views things the way you do. Like learning that for some people the statement “I love that person but I don’t have to like him” is more than merely a theoretical statement. And that whether or not they like you can change from day to day and moment to moment.

This alternate perspective has taught me that loving and liking are not the same thing and has also brought many questions to ponder. Questions such as these:

~ Can we truly love someone without at some point discovering that we have come to like them, too? Is it really love if it holds the other at at disgusted distance?
~ If someone really truly likes you, will that liking change based on what you do on a given day?
~ Does God like us? or does He just love us?

I have to thank Steve Hong from Kingdom Rice for introducing me to this Mr. Rogers song during a message he gave at my parents’ church. I never watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, though I had seen a snippet here and there to make me familiar with the show and its host. (In fact, I sometimes laughingly told people that the show had made me throw up once. In actuality, it was the flu I had at the time that did the trick. It just happened to coincide with my aunt turning on PBS and Mr. Rogers to entertain the sick girl and her baby brother.) Like Steve Hong, it has only been in my adult years that I have become impressed by Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers has helped me to answer some of those questions in his song “It’s You I Like.”

 

In this song, sung to Tonight Show host Joan Rivers, Mr. Rogers conveys the essence of the way God must look at us. And the way that Joan Rivers reacts to him makes us laugh but also reveals how genuine his message is. The more I look at the interactions of Jesus with other people, the more I watch their reactions to Him, the more convinced I am that God really likes us. Look at Zacchaeus: Jesus went right up to the person that no one else in the town liked at all and invited Himself over to eat with the man! The whole town was shocked at Jesus’ act of friendliness towards this unlikeable man (and for good reason, too, as Zacchaeus himself alluded to after dinner with Jesus). (Luke 19:1-10)

God likes us. He doesn’t just love us out of duty [“I’m God and and I guess that since I’m love and all then I’d better provide for these nasty people I love. But they’d better not come near me!”]. He really likes us. God made us in His image. Each of us uniquely reflects Him in a way that no one else ever will. No one else can be you; you have something to say to the world about your Creator, and no one else can say it as eloquently as you say it just by being yourself. He enjoys the unique person you are. He’s glad you’re in the world. If you could see His face when you enter a room, you’d see it lighting up as you come in. God really likes you.

 

So. I’ve come to these conclusions:

First, loving and liking are two different things, but they belong together. Liking can grow into loving; loving can’t be complete without liking.

Second, Jesus likes me, this I know, for the Bible SHOWS me so.

Three, if I tell you I love you, it means that I very much like you, too. And it means that I will to do my best to demonstrate that to you–even though I will never do it perfectly, I will not stop trying.

Finally, liking you means liking the real you, not just the superficial things such as clothes and hair and charm and wit and friendliness. It’s not how well you play the saxophone or the how well you perform in school. It’s not your carrying my bags or giving me hugs. I may enjoy all of those things; I may communicate that enjoyment to you. All of those are an expression of you, but they aren’t you. It’s YOU I like. You make my world a better place just by being in it. You.

Even on your worst days.

 

Can it be any accident that the first major biography in the Bible is that of a man called by God to a place he’d never been before?

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 (ESV)

He may not be the first man whose life story is chronicled in Scripture–we have Adam and Noah before him, not to mention many others who get honorable (and dishonorable) mention. But Abraham’s is the first of the detailed life stories given throughout the rest of Scripture. The first of the list of men whose stories mark the focused dealings of God with those He chose to be “His People.”

And how does his story begin? with God calling him out of his comfort zone, away from his culture, and into a journey that had a promise he could not completely envision. “A land that I will show you,” God told him. Both definite and indefinite at the same time. It’s a definite promise, yet a promise like a Christmas present–all wrapped up in mystery.

I couldn’t help but reflect today that Abraham’s story is the story of every friend of God. That God calls each of us to leave our comfort zones, challenges our cultural inheritance, and leads us to a definite promise that is wrapped in mystery yet full of hope.

It can’t be an accident that Abraham’s story is right at the beginning of all things.

A few years ago, I asked my grandmother what events in her life struck her generation like 9-11 struck mine. She said that Pearl Harbor Day was like that for her–totally shocking. And memorable. And she still remembers it every Pearl Harbor Day . . . while for me that day feels like almost any other day, even though I know what happened.

Like all tragedies, this date and its impact has faded for me into the background of daily activities, more easily running into the weeks and months and years. In some ways I am sad for that–sad to lose that noble sting. In some ways I am glad for the sign of moving through the grieving process.

But I will always remember where I was on Sept 11 when the Twin Towers fell. I will always remember little details about the next months and years. Like the birth of my brother and my sister, I can hardly remember how we lived before that date. Can hardly remember when TSA lines were not routine. Because whether we remember it or not, 9-11, like Pearl Harbor Day, redefined our world and our nation.

I pray that it has redefined us for the better and for the nobler. That the courage and unity demonstrated on that day will not be swallowed up in the fear of being hurt and in the determination to be safe above all else. But like all wounds and all grief, it is our choice what we will do with the pain. Will we run and hide? or will we dare again to be ourselves? Will we play it safe or will we continue to take risks in the pursuit of what is right?

We know what the Pearl Harbor Generation did. They didn’t do it perfectly, and they didn’t do everything right. But they rose to the challenge nobly. May history show us to have done the same with our redefining moment.

“When I Consider How My Light Is Spent”
also known as “On His Blindness”

a sonnet by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

(this poem is in the public domain; I copied it from poets.org  http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/when-i-consider-how-my-light-spent)

 

–this background commentary on the poem from  http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides5/Blindness.html
John Milton’s eyesight began to fail in 1644. By 1652, he was totally blind. Oddly, he wrote his greatest works, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after he became blind. Many scholars rank Milton as second only to Shakespeare in poetic ability.

Love (III)
by George Herbert


Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

poem is in the public domain
text taken from poets.org (http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/love-iii)
and (http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/173632)

 

and Ralph Vaughn-Williams set it to music! a bit operatic, but if you like Vaughn-Williams . . .

 

Praise is a sacrifice
Choosing the gracefulness of gratitude
Over the seeming gratification
Of griping and grousing
Choosing to receive in every package
The gifts a good God always gives

Praise accepts
Abundance beyond the want
And offers thanks as
An act of trust
In the affection of an Almighty sovereign

Praise is a gift
Freely given
Graciously acknowledged
By the One Who sees all
And recognizes it for what it is–
A sacrifice

That fills the life of the giver

With the fragrance
Of His presence.

From thirsty, parched soul
To bubbling fountain
Christ makes you the miracle

Jesus gives the order
Servants do what servants do
Water becomes wine

9-10-11

Psalm 139:6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

vi
I admit, I am a bit overwhelmed
As I ponder
How completely
You care for me.
I can’t wrap my mind around the
Magnitude
Of these details:
I can’t even get past the fact that You
Care enough
To observe me so minutely,
To study me.
Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 324 other followers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 324 other followers