Poetry–Longing for the Sea

Note: It has been over four months since I have posted any poetry, original or otherwise. I hope to get back to this practice, as poetry, no doubt, is good for the soul.

Sea Longing

A thousand miles beyond this sun-steeped wall
Somewhere the waves creep cool along the sand,
The ebbing tide forsakes the listless land
With the old murmur, long and musical;
The windy waves mount up and curve and fall,
And round the rocks the foam blows up like snow —
Tho’ I am inland far, I hear and know.,
For I was born the sea’s eternal thrall.
I would there I were there and over me
The cold insistence of the tide would roll,
Quenching this burning thing men call the soul, —
Then with the ebbing I should drift and be
Less than the smallest shell along the shoal,
Less than the seagulls calling to the sea.

— Sara Teasdale

Ah, is there any doubt what is on my mind today? A few short weeks until vacation finds my feet planted, barefoot, in the warm sand again.

Luther on Loving Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV)

While writing on Jesus’ words from John 6 about judging by external appearances, Luther writes the following very poignant words describing the contrast between Christian attitudes and those of the the world:

No one views his neighbor with clear eyes except the Christian, whose sight is bright and pure. He looks upon his enemies with the eyes of mercy and compassion, and wishes them no evil. Even when his enemy is wroth and angry with him, he thinks to himself: “This bigwig is a wretched person; he is damned already; why should I wish him further evil? If my enemy continues on that course, he is the devil’s own.” He feels compassion for him and would gladly see him saved. The others behold their neighbor with eyes of hatred, envy, and pride. Thus they look upon us as malefactors. About this the Lord says: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment; that is, look fairly at My work and at Me.” (LW 23:240)

Jesus speaks many words about compassion for our enemies, seeing others as God sees them, and loving others in spite of themselves.  None of these passages is easy to live out in the world, at least not for me…and I doubt completely that I am alone here.  As if Jesus words weren’t powerful enough, Luther’s explanation really socked me in my oft compassionless gut.  “This bigwig is a wretches person; he is damned already; why should I wish him further evil?”  Oh how I wish this were my first reaction to folks of this type, but too often my flesh kicks in and I react in a manner belying my confession!  All I can do is cry out those words I so often hear myself say…

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Education and “Skimpy Knowledge”

Over at Tim Enloe’s blog today, which I frequent quite often, he has the following quote from Hugh of St. Victor, a 12th century German mystic:

As in the virtues, so in the sciences, there are certain steps. But you say, “I find many things in the histories which seem to be of no utility: why should I be kept busy with this sort of thing?” Well said. There are indeed many things in the Scriptures which, considered in themselves, seem to have nothing worth looking for, but if you look at them in the light of the other things to which they are joined, and if you begin to weigh them in their whole context, you will see that they are as necessary as they are fitting. Some things are to be known for their own sakes, but others, although for their own sakes they do not seem worthy of our labor, nevertheless, because without them the former class of things cannot be known with complete clarity, must by no means be carelessly skipped. Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous. A skimpy knowledge is not a pleasing thing.

Ah, glorious!  “Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.”  I love it!  Reflecting on these words, Tim writes:

Do you want to be a better businessman or lawyer or plumber or physicist or doctor or Church historian or auto mechanic or, yes, even a better theologian?  Well, put the stuff that you think is most “relevant” to your trade away for a while and spend some time with Plato, Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Augustine, the Venerable Bede, St. Anselm, Dostoevsky, and the like. Let them take you places you’ve never been, see things you’ve never seen, think about things you might otherwise have never thought about, and I’ll wager it won’t be long before you’ll find that things which at first seem useless are really “as necessary as they are fitting.”

There is little I can add to this, except to lament the loss of so-called Renaissance Men in the likes of Da Vinci, Copernicus, Jefferson, and others.  Lamentably, we are a society of specialists who ordinarily take very little interest in anything outside our little spheres of concern.  As such, in a time where the wealth of knowledge of the ages is literally at the fingertips of many, we have become so narrow as to be unable to speak intelligently about very much at all.  We are masters of ‘a skimpy knowledge’ who are content to spend our free time being amused (literally) instead of being enriched.

Luther on Trusting God

In times of “dark providences” (as a former pastor used to call them), many times our circumstances seem to be in complete contradiction with what we think they ought to be, or even what we have read as promises to us by God in Scripture.  No one, I think, experienced this more than Jacob.  If there was ever anyone certain to inherit blessing, he was one–child of Isaac, grandchild of Father Abraham, benefactor by faith of God’s promises (even as the younger son…remember the whole Esau episode?).  Yet just when he is seemingly about to marry and settle down within the land, Isaac kicks him out, sending him to Paddan-aram under orders not to marry a Canaanite (Gen 28).

At first blush, especially as those reading from the other side of history who know just how wicked those nasty Canaanites were, this request doesn’t sound too horrible…unless we stop to think about all that Jacob had to leave in order to marry a woman (actually women) who were simply different kinds of pagans than the Canaanites!  He left his family, his household, his inheritance, his means of support, his God (seemingly)…essentially everything he knew and had…and would not return for nearly 80 years.  Surely Jacob must have asked God, “Why me?  How can this be?  What about your promises?  What’s the deal!!!”

Writing on this account in Genesis, Luther has some wonderful words of counsel for any of us who face circumstances where it seems God has forsaken his promises…or even forsaken us.  In a nutshell, this lengthy and wonderful passage exhorts us to believe God’s Word, trust in his invisible work, and cling to him by nurturing our faith in Word and Sacrament.  It is definitely worth reading in its entirety:

This, then, is one of the wonderful examples of the divine government by which God shows that He requires confidence in His Word and promises, even if the opposite of what is contained in the promise happens. He does so in order that we may accustom ourselves to trust in God in things that are absent and are placed far out of our sight. For Jacob has the promised blessing, but he has it in accordance with faith, which is a matter of things that are hoped for, not of things that are visible (cf. Heb. 11:1). Thus I believe that God, who promises, loves me, has regard for me, cares for me, and will hear me; and this I regard as something present and at hand, although it is not visible. Therefore Jacob lives in faith alone. He is wretchedly cast out, is lonely and destitute, and has nothing in his hand but a staff and a morsel of bread in a little sack.

This is the beginning of the blessing, for what is begun through faith is not yet in one’s possession but is hoped for. Thus God has promised us eternal life and has given absolution and Baptism. This grace I have at hand through Christ; but I await eternal life, which is promised in the Word. Those who live by this Word are saintly and blessed; but the godless live only by bread, not by the Word. Therefore they do not believe and do not wait for eternal life. Jacob waited 77 years for the blessing that was to come. Now, after he has obtained it, he is forced to go into exile and begins his rule and priesthood with a very great cross, with a very great calamity, and with extreme poverty. He is forced to be cut off from his very dear parents, and his parents are cut off from their dearly beloved son for such a long time.

If a person looks at and hears this only in passing, he considers it unimportant and easy. But one learns by experience how difficult and full of trials it is to leave parents, a blessing, and an inheritance, and to flee to a place of wretchedness and poverty. This is the wonderful government of God which the flesh can by no means bear, for it is a government that consists in faith. But this is written as an example for us in order that we may learn to depend on the invisible God and to be satisfied with the fact that at all events we have the comprehensible Word of this invisible and incomprehensible God. And let us order our lives in such a way that we have nothing from our invisible Creator but the Word and the sacraments, likewise parents and magistrates, through whom this life is governed in accordance with the Word. And let us wait for the promise itself in hope and long-suffering, for God will not lie. Nor will He deceive us. To be sure, the flesh believes with difficulty; for it is accustomed to things that are at hand and is moved by the things it feels and sees. But the flesh must be crucified and mortified; it must be withdrawn from the things perceived by the senses and must learn, in order that it may be able to live and act in accordance with the things that are invisible and are not perceived by the senses. (Luther’s Works, 5:183)

Amen!  Thanks be to God!

Still More Diognetus…

As my reading turns toward others among the Apostolic Fathers, let me present one final post from the Epistle to Diognetus, regarding the distinctiveness of Christianity and of Christians living in the world:

Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship:

They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents;
they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.
Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.
They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they to do not expose their offspring.
They share their food but not their wives.
They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.
They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.
They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.
They are unknown, yet they are condemned;
they are put to death, yet they are brought to life.
They are poor, yet they make many rich;
they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything.
They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor;
they are slandered, yet they are vindicated.
They are cursed, yet they bless;
they are insulted, yet they offer respect.
When they do good, they are punished as evildoers;
when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life.
By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greek they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.

In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world…

Again, I am amazed by the beauty of the writer’s language.  While the other two passages on which I wrote discussed the grace and wonder of God’s revelation to humanity through Christ (here and here), this passage…actually earlier in the Epistle…discusses an array of stark contrasts between the lives of Christians those of the unbelieving world.  “In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world…”  Wow!

At another level, it also points out the difference in lives lived according to the flesh and lives lived according to the Spirit, in essence painting a picture of Luther’s doctrine of Simul Justus et Peccator–simultaneously righteous and sinner:

  • In my flesh, I do not want to obey the law, I want to do my own thing…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to love everyone, just those who will love me in return…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to bless those who curse me, I want to strike back…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to be respectful to those who insult me, I want to slug them…

And yet, by the mercy of Christ Jesus and through great struggle against the flesh, I am able to do these things that in the flesh I do not want to do, to the glory of God.  To no credit of my own, I am able to live a life of obedience, love, blessing, respect, etc.  All the while, I still sin and repeatedly fall short, only to be repeatedly pardoned and forgiven.

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Amazing…thanks be to God for his great mercy and grace!

…not where I started out to go at all…sometimes the journey is like that (grin).

More Thoughts on the Olympics…

While preparation for the Olympics continues around the world amid both protest and celebration, I’ve been thinking more and more about the issue of human rights abuses in China and an appropriate response from the United States. A three-day Olympics media summit began yesterday in Chicago, and I must confess, the responses of our athletes are less than impressive. In fact, I find the attitudes presented there largely disgusting.

(Disclaimer: I have not been able to find any sort of complete transcript of these meetings, so I am aware that the quotes I am reading may not reflect the whole story...)

Not surprisingly, most athletes are shying away from the “political” aspects of the games, doubtlessly referring to protests centering on Tibet and Sudan, in order to focus on the games themselves. I still have read absolutely nothing about actual human rights abuses in China itself (see my earlier post on the subject here). While no one is completely in denial about the very serious host of issues surrounding the Olympics in China, there is continued avoidance of the real problems. In the words of women’s soccer Olympian Heather O’Reilly, (quoted here) “Winning the gold medal is where we can speak the loudest, by representing our country in the best way possible.” With all due respect, Ms. O’Reilly, I’m not really sure winning gold medals is saying anything truly significant to the rest of the world, is it? Is medal count really going to change the world? No.

Olympic gold medalist Paul Hamm remarked (quoted here), “The Olympics are about bringing people together. It’s not about making the Olympics something you can use as a political tool.” I can appreciate the sentiment here, in a sense. Let’s be honest, Mr. Hamm is not a politician, he’s an athlete…but…as an Olympic athlete he is by default an ambassador from our nation to the rest of the world. As such, I would argue that he and other athletes not only are in the position to speak on the world stage but have an obligation to do so. To suggest that the kinds of human rights abuses seen in China and elsewhere are merely political agenda items reserved for “the politicians” is beyond ignorant, it is absurd. Can we not speak out against the denial of fundamental human rights (such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..sound familiar to anyone) unless we are professional politicians? Seems to me a couple of hundred years ago a bunch of guys got together in Philly to do just that.

There are some bright spots of light in the midst of this murky darkness. According to this Free Press article, Jessica Mendoza is an outfielder on the women’s softball team who is also an active ambassador for Team Darfur, a group of athletes seeking to raise awareness of the horrendous crisis in Sudan. Again though, sadly, as Americans we are showing our ignorance, which Jessica pointed out. “Some of my teammates have asked me, ‘What’s happening in Darfur? Is that in Africa?'” The Free Press author of this article wrote these questions off as her teammates’ focus on preparing for the games, but I would argue this is yet another sad testimony to both our ignorance and indifference of most things beyond the bounds of our comfortable little worlds. Thanks for actively caring, Ms. Mendoza, keep up the great work! May you continue to be a beacon of light among your teammates and the larger community!

At the end of the day, I have a very hard time agreeing with the attitudes of many of our athletes (and politicians) that the tragedies continually occurring in China (not to mention Tibet and Sudan) are somehow unapproachable and unworthy of comment merely because we may not be vocational politicians. These lines ring totally hollow–as the supposedly sophisticated rhetoric of those who really don’t have the compassion or courage to speak up. How can depriving someone of something as fundamental as their very life be relegated to the realm of political speech and not be an area where we all have a moral obligation to speak up? Have these folks thought through how ridiculous they sound?

To our athletes: As international ambassadors from the United States as well as world-class performers who are de facto role models for countless young folks (athletes or not), I would like to ask you, “Why is your silence so deafening?” It’s hard enough to find role models worthy of imitation in sports arena today, how could a opportunity in which it is so easy to say and do the right thing go ignored? As a supporter, viewer, and parent desperately searching for role models for my two young children, I am utterly disappointed. Instead of focusing on your medals, re-read your Olympic Creed, which states, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Perhaps you should focus less on the triumph and more on the struggle…the bigger struggle, beyond the hallowed halls of the arena.

To our politicians: The same question goes to our elected officials on both sides of the aisle and in the White House…why do we hear nothing from you? As a voting and letter-writing constituent who has no vested interest in your continued representation if you cannot handle situations as clear-cut as this, I am disgusted. Instead of worrying about your pet projects and re-election, re-read those so wonderful words from the Declaration of Independence that remind us, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Perhaps you should focus more on working toward the rights of others instead of the pettiness of beltway politics.