Tag Archives: travel

Anti-adaptation for Advent

After a week, here in Costa Rica, I am acclimating. It did not frustrate me, this morning, when a chorus of howler monkeys and roosters woke me up at the crack of dawn. Yesterday I described the variations I wanted on my pizza with some forcefulness, in Spanish. We are an adaptable species.

My own quick adaptation to this splendid environment for my pilgrimage this winter, reminded me of Nikos Kazantzakis musing about how God was invited to adapt to being human when he came for us in Jesus. In The Last Temptation of Christ, he adds a further temptation to the ones listed in Matthew 4. He imagines that it was tempting not to go to the cross because Jesus might have wanted to fully adapt to being human – be a carpenter, to have a wife and children, to receive the days as they came and die without any larger interest in the life of the Spirit or in restoring creation.

It is true that most of us are adapted to sin. It can be as obvious as deciding, “The ten extra, unhealthy pounds I carry are normal for me,” or deciding that, “Since I like smoking I can adapt to the long-term destruction it is creating.” Or it can be as mysterious as not pondering, “Why I don’t feel like I know God?” or “Why I can’t let go of my guilt and shame?” or “Why does my childhood trauma make more difference to my development than my salvation?” Or it can just be about going with the herd: “If all the other monkeys are howling for IPods, so do I.”  Or “If they all work seventy hours a week, so do I.” We are an adaptable species.

Maybe one of the good things about Advent is that it is a season that refuses to adapt. It is an old discipline that keeps the heart of the incarnation accessible, even when “Christmas” adapts to all sorts of perverse influences. If you observe Advent, you are going against the flow. The local Costa Ricans down the street from the palace in which I am vacationing have some pretty basic accommodations; but they have a Coca-Colaesque Santa decorations, and their bodega plays “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” translated into Spanish (uh, it is going to be 84 today). “Christmas” has acclimated to what the world thinks is important. Even the world knows that and goes with it, anyway – sometimes people focus more on “family” as an antidote, but they go with it. To focus on the coming of Jesus and his refusal to adapt, even as he becomes one with us is quite a challenge.

We’ve got ten days left. Why not be unadaptable in the ways we are usually acclimated as a way to honor God coming to be one with us and fitting us for heaven? I think the season of Advent will call us to be in our bodies, but not letting them drive us, to be in our environments but not think they are our end, to appreciate our appetites but not just feed them, to see the sin around us and not be entangled, to have open, loving eyes for a world without God and not miss Jesus coming to it.

Nonconformity– a doorway to eternity

When the November wind and waves threatened to capsize my little kayak on the Great Egg Harbor, I wondered if I could be taking nonconformity too far. Sunday was not the usual weather for water sports. But I enjoyed it. As Elbert Hubbard said, “Conformists die, but heretics live forever.” As the wind pelted me with spray off the bay, I pondered a weekend full of realizations about how God has opened eternity to me.

nonconformity

Flab rebel

One doorway turns out to be my rebellion against flab. Mind you, I was on a little vacation this past weekend, so I can’t vouch for my present weight. There is almost nothing to eat down-the-shore that is not designed for maximum calorie intake, and I did not search for health-food. But until I get on the scale today, I can report a very successful diet plan that came to fruit last Friday. I called it my “tenya for Kenya” diet. I got the idea that I might lose the last ten pounds I never lose to get to the top of my BMI if I promised myself that for each pound I lost I would get to send $40 to “Kenya”  — a symbol of sub-Saharan Africa (that rhymes with tenya) where deadly hunger is exploding this year.

It seems immoral to weigh more than I need to when others are struggling to stay alive at all! Now that the global downturn has rich people scrambling to preserve their huge wealth from further erosion, they are not as engaged with relief. That alarms me. Vanity is not motivating enough for me; personal health does not move me enough; shame is not even that activating. But I discovered that morality could keep me focused (who knew?). I liked earning my donation with pounds. Even more, I found a lot of joy in finding another way to express my nonconformity practically.

I am a fat heretic. I mean, I am a nonconformist when it comes to the national adoration of food. I don’t usually (like ever) watch morning shows on TV. But on vacation Gwen likes to see if Matt Lauer has hair so she turns on the Today show. It is Thanksgiving week so everything was about food and weight loss. The Today show had a segment on how to eat less interrupted by four minutes of commercials about food – I did not time that, but I don’t think I am exaggerating! It is not easy to be a nonbeliever in eating like a rich person – a person who’s main challenge is to figure out how not to eat too much from the dump truck unloading calories onto their table. Seriously, I like an evening watching the Eagles fumbling around while I eat fried things followed by Dibs followed by caramel corn followed by nachos; throw in some carrot cake and Dr. Pepper to top it off. My usual diet consciousness is drinking Diet Pepsi!

Blab rebel

The other doorway to eternity turned out to be my rebellion against blab (this blog notwithstanding, apparently). Over the weekend I heard from a couple of close   evangelical friends who make their livings off being influential writers and speakers. They were excited about their opportunities to be read and heard by large numbers of people. They were doing their thing on large anonymous stages. I love them personally, but I am not always sure about the images they create for themselves (but then, I don’t really know their images). They seemed to be talking about ideas they did not embody and situations they did not inhabit. Even though their message was theoretically Christian and, thus, basically nonconformist, their lives were obviously part and parcel of the media machine that runs so much of what we do. They were an awful lot like the Today show, saying one thing about eating with a medium bent on selling another option.

Even though they are great people, I admit to feeling a little embarrassed by my friends – I seem so small, in comparison, like I have not made much of myself, like my blab machine takes up too-small a share of the airwaves. I had just come from my cell meeting when I met with them, totally jazzed about what suddenly looked like a motley crew of sinful, disabled, foreign, faithless, unsuccessful outcasts. I realized I had never thought of them that way at all, until I started making comparisons with my well-accommodated friends and their tall tales! They’d just spent exciting times with people who could afford to go to conferences and make large donations!

Suddenly, I looked like a heretic again. Resisting the blab machine. Unaware of the latest evangelical stuff. Into unmarketable causes — still smarting over the ill-treatment of Afghan women (and other things I’m often surprised to discover are odd), good friends with recovering addicts, leading a strange little church out of a rented space over the check-cashing store and feeling grateful to survive — not even over eating!

To top it off,  I realized that one of my favorite moments of the week had been enjoying Henri Nouwen’s unusual translation of Romans 12:2, “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do. Nonconformity, not just for the sake of being myself, or being different, but for being God’s, is a doorway to eternity.

Posers

Foolish people should not be proud
And rulers should not be liars!
(Proverbs 17:7, International Children’s Bible)

Paul told me, the other night during a marathon and often-hilarious Coordinators meeting, that Peter Weir imported Croatian fishermen to be the ship’s crew when he filmed Master and Commander because Americans cannot look natural on film. The Croatians would actually ignore being filmed and look like real people, whereas Americans are always aware of the camera and visbily change when they sense one. We have apparently bred “posing” into our children. It is instinctual now.

Therefore, conforming to the wisdom of the proverb above can be tough. We’re unconfortable with who we are. Turn on the camera and we lie. We are not ourselves, we are an image. One of the first things we learn as a baby is to pose. By the time we enter college we have mastered being a resume. If we drop out of that nonsense we form a band or an emergent church and strike an anti-pose pose.

One would think that Christians would rejoice in being saved from the damnation of living as a piece of imagination and be real. One would think that we would be content with being exposed as foolish and would stop being proud as a means to cover up our emptiness. Jesus, the great I AM, graced us with the freedom to be who we truly are, just like he IS.

We are not always that happy. We think life is like God, the great parent, pointing a heavenly camera at us all day and we are uncomfortably trying to smile. We bring a friend up the stairs to worship and we can’t help warning them that what we do is “kind of weird,” since we’re sure it probably won’t look right.

Maybe this goes double for the leaders. Like the proverb says, they should not be the chief liars: posing for their audience and performing Christianity for them, acting like the paparazzi are looking for them all the time so they’d better keep their clothes on. If the leaders lie like that, they teach everyone else to lie, and the whole church is less an incarnation of the Spirit of truth and just another film clip.

I know this is on my mind because I watched Bosnian and Serbian TV last week. Their airwaves were filled with American TV or knock-offs. (The knock-offs were the best). I didn’t realize that our country’s main export is probably brilliantly-produced images: Mickey Mouse, CSI (and every other crime show), John Wayne films (they have TCM). And I even ran into the Gaithers beaming themselves into Sarajevo.

Let’s be real. We may be foolish people, but we are saved foolish people. Tell them, “Yes, our meetings might seem weird to you; talk to Jesus about it — he’s OK with what we’ve got, honestly shared.”

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day

When Gwen and I were on the Dingle Peninsula last summer, we did not expect a new grandson to end up with the name Brendan! It is a good name. On May 16, when we remember St. Brendan the Navigator (484-577) I would love to help launch the next generation of daring souls looking for the fullness of their life in Christ. Maybe our own family’s Brendan will be among them.

Each generation has a boatload of people who will set off into the “deep,” looking for God in all the places the Lord can be found. I don’t think it is such a coincidence that Jesus looked for fishermen to be his first disciples. The Lord found another good disciples when he met Brendan near Tralee in Ireland.  St. Brendan’s voyage was an inspiration for hundreds of years for seafaring and church planting daredevils. When Brendan got back from his journey of discovering himself in Jesus (and discovering America!) he founded several communities that added to the missionary fervor of the Celtic Church.

I want to be like him, so I ended up on pilgrimage to the place where his daring journey began…

Brendan’s Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
…and where it ended.

 

Clonfert Cathedral, where Brendan is buried

In the devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer I have been using, there is a nice prayer in honor of Brendan. The Northumbria Community suggests we use it on this day. I offer it to you.

Lord, I will trust You,

help me to journey beyond the familiar

and into the unknown.

 

Give me faith to leave the old ways

and break fresh ground with you.

 

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You

to be stronger than each storm in me?

 

Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

 

I will show others the care You’ve given me.

 

I will determine amidst all uncertainty

always to trust.

 

I choose to live beyond regret,

and let You recreate my life.

 

I believe You will make a way for me

and provide for me,

if only I trust You

and obey.

 

I will trust in the darkness and know

that my times are still in Your hand.

 

I will believe You for my future,

chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

 

Focus my mind and my heart upon You,

my attention always on You without alteration.

 

Strengthen me with Your blessing

and appoint to me the task.

 

Teach me to live with eternity in view.

tune my spirit to the music of heaven.

 

Feed me,

and, somehow,

make my obedience count for You.