All’s Quiet on the Mid-Western Front

Hampshire is impossibly quiet. There’s not enough traffic to drown out the stillness. You can hear birds chirping and I don’t want to say that I’ve had writer’s block because I’ve not but you can hear birds chirping and that’s wonderful.

In the immaculately mowed lawn — diagonal this week, thank you very much — a robin pecks the ground for worms, I imagine, and I’m not entirely certain what to write about. Which, again, is a lie because I’m writing more poetry than usual and I did write a post last week but it wasn’t very good and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. So instead I’ve sipped coffee on the porch counting robins.

I hope you haven’t missed my jumble thoughts on Stuff too much.

Since I’m being so honest today I’ll admit that writing this blog was the only thing I wasn’t worried about with moving, “Certainly, Tommy, you can wax poetic all day long. You’ll probably write an essay a day.” Or, so I thought. I assumed that blogging would be an anchor as my family and I were knocked about on the waves of change (and overwrought clichés).

All that stuff I was worried about is working itself out fine and I’m having trouble blogging. What kind of millennial am I?  But, again, things are working out fine. Atticus has made himself at home, Alyssa has too. I’m still reading my bible and praying as habitually as I was when I was paid to read my bible and pray — heck, I may finish my year long reading plan by summer’s end. I wrote another sad worship song. Poems are dumping out of my mind like… I had a simile I was going to use there and you’re welcome that I didn’t, proof that I’m a grown up. Or, at least growing up.

But I don’t know what to blog about. I mean, Donald Trump is still awful and grace is still amazing. I could write that again, I guess. I probably will in time. And the Spirit’s been teaching me something about joy but it feels cheap or impossible to capture that in prose, maybe when I get my sea legs back (because of the rollicking clichés). It seems that I really needed that weekly worship set as a prompt.

I’ve thought about blogging about the worship services we’ve attended but that isn’t fair. I don’t want to spoil the intention and prayerful planning of another worship leader. I don’t want to encroach on a service meant for a specific moment in a certain geography for a particular people be reviewing it. Certainly, criticism is good but I don’t need to be a critic and church isn’t a show.Also I’ve been saying “certainly” a lot lately. For example: Certainly there’s no need to be so judgmental, certainly God is doing good things.He does do good things, doesn’t He? Certainly.So I want to write about all the good things He’s doing like keeping the robin in the front yard whistling while it works for that worm.

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Robin. May 7, 2014. Anna Hesser. Some Rights Reserved.

 

All’s Quiet on the Mid-Western Front

Goal Setting and the Slamming on of Brakes

So, I’m working through a book on the language of theology – I know, sounds riveting! – that is kind of rocking my world. It’s called “Hunting the Divine Fox” by Robert Farrar Capon. It’s a book of wonderful prose, curious arguments, and interesting philosphy. I came upon this quote this morning about transactional theology, you know a Purpose Driven Babel theology of law – if I do X, then Y!

The Mystery [God] does indeed manifest itself through transactions; for this is, after all, a totally transactional world. Nothing happens here that isn’t done somewhere, sometime, somehow, by somebody. If the Mystery wants to tip its hand among the likes of us, it’s going to have to work up its shtick just like everything else. And it has. The covenants – from Adam to Jesus, from the Tree of Life to the Tree of Calvary – are all pieces of business. So there is no way of escaping tansactional language when we talk about the Mystery – or transactional behavior on our part when we respond to it.

On the other hand, the Mystery is not only in the world, busy with piecework. It is also in God, totally busy just being. The Mystery as it is in God, however – before, during and after all worlds – isn’t inching its way toward a goal it hasn’t reached yet. In God, the end is fully present at the beginning; the beginning is fully realized in the end. God, in his mysterious relationship with the world, never changes his mind or his manners, never does anything he didn’t have in mind before, never drops a stitch, pulls out a row, reverses engines or slams on the brakes. And therefore while in one sense, everything he does in creation involves doing business doing business with somebody, in another sense, he never does business with anybody. He doesn’t trade. He doesn’t transact. He doesn’t haggle. He doesn’t even really do; he just “be’s.”

That sounds strange until you look at the Gospels. Then, suddenly, it sounds right: salvation as a gift given, not a bargain struck. A father who does not trade forgivenss for good behavior, but who kisses the prodigal son before he gets his confession out of his mouth. A vineyard owner who pays what he pleases, not what the laboreres earn. A shepherd who allows no sensible business consderations to keep him from leaving ninety-nine sheep in jeopardy to bring one to safety. A wheat grower who runs his farm, not for profit, but for the sake of letting everything grow as it pleases till the end. An Incarnate Word who won’t talk to Pilate; a Carpenter of Nazareth who saves the wolrd by nailing down his own hands; a Risen Lord who runs everything by going away. A God, in other words, who does all things well be doing practically nothing right, whose wisdom is foolishness, whose strength is weakness – who runs this whole operation by being no operator at all and who makes no deals because, in the high Mystery of his being, he’s got it made already.

XIR71774 Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece, detail of Christ's right hand, c.1512-16 (oil on panel) by Grunewald, Matthias (Mathis Nithart Gothart) (c.1480-1528); Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France; Giraudon; NOT TO BE USED FOR CARDS, POSTERS OR ADVERTISING IN FRANCE; German,  out of copyright
(XIR71774 Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece, detail of Christ’s right hand, c.1512-16 (oil on panel) by Grunewald, Matthias (Mathis Nithart Gothart) (c.1480-1528); Musee d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France; Giraudon; NOT TO BE USED FOR CARDS, POSTERS OR ADVERTISING IN FRANCE; German, out of copyright)
Goal Setting and the Slamming on of Brakes

JuneBug (Thoughts on Being Atticus Mac’s Dad)

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(Photo Credit: Samantha Jeet)

Atticus had his first birthday ealier this month and, technically speaking, yesterday was my second Father’s Day though it felt like the first. It was also mine and Alyssa’s second anniversary. Again, it felt like the first. So much has happened to us in the last two years that twenty-four months has felt like twelve. And as a person predisposed to severe nostalgia and self-reflection I’ve been thinking about being a father.

We’d been married just a few months, weeks really, had only known each other a little over a year when we found out. I was at some church function kind of late and I get a text message from Alyssa: “Come home now.” I stepped out to call her and make sure everything was ok. No answer. Called again. No answer. Rushing home I was terrified. In the thirty-five minute drive home I thought of every scenario but one.

The violet sky was chasing the sun over the red painted hills as I pulled in our driveway and I could see through the front window of our tiny studio apartment my new wife crying on the couch. As I held her and let her cry, “I think I’m pregnant.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I took a thousand tests.” As she wept I was filled with joy but by week’s end the joy was replaced with dread.

We were in the midst of an unexpected transition at the church and I was shouldering a large weight of responsibility I was unprepared for; my best friend moved to another country, and many of my closest California friends moved across the country, while my family was still in Illinois, so despite being newly married I felt like I was on an island; between both of our jobs Alyssa and I had approximately $3.74. The excitement quickly gave way to feeling like irresponible teenagers. Looking back, I was an insufferable chore to be around for most of the pregnancy. But there were moments when grace broke through.

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Like that first ultrasound when we saw his wiggling limbs, heard his 181bpm heartbeat, and Alyssa said, “It’s your forehead!” Not to be trite or cliché but seeing the child we then called JuneBug I felt the depth of grace and the love of God as father. I was terrified, the ultrasound didn’t change that. I was intolerable, the ultrasound didn’t change that either. But, for a moment I caught my breath and felt the sweet relief of grace and mercy. For a moment I saw with fear and wonder God knitting our child together in Alyssa’s womb and I knew that God was close by, that He was near to me, despite any percieved lonliness or fear of the unknown.

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The first job God gave Adam was to name all the things God created. Our first job is the naming of things, to say: “This is what this is, what it will be.” We name our experience, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions. We’re constantly naming things. And so with hope we named our son Atticus Mac. And though I love his name, sometimes I think it’s a bit silly. Maybe we should’ve named him John? Or, Mike? Or, Tim? Something his classmates would be able to pronounce? But then there are hard weeks like this past one. Moments when the world needs people of character. So with hope and love we named our son Atticus Mac. We gave him a name with a high standard. As parents we hope that whatever Atticus grows up to be, he’ll be a good man.

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When Atticus was born I had that familiar moment of clarity new dads have. I felt my smallness and my great responsibility. My cousin Anthony when his daughter was born earlier this year said it perfectly: “I never felt so invincible and mortal at the same time…” Humans are fragile when they’re born, and I don’t know if we ever get better. We’re remain frail and in need of help.

I sat down at the piano as Alyssa held Atticus that first day home from the hospital and as I played Atticus heard the familiar sound from his mom’s womb and lifted his little head, turning his baby blind eyes my way. I wrote him a lullaby based on an old Isaac Watt’s hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past” for him:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

For the first few months when he couldn’t sleep at night, I’d put him in his swing next to the piano and play that lullabye, quietly so as not to wake Alyssa and the neighbors. We never get better from our frailty. We never stop needing to hear the soft lullaby of God’s grace and protection.

Now Atticus is on the cusp of walking on his own. He’s been practicing, taking my finger and wobbling around the apartment. For now, if I take my finger away from him he’ll fall, maybe hurt himself. He knows it too. So he squeezes as hard as his tiny fingers can and hobbles along. And this is the primary thing I’ve learned these past two years:

I’m not unlike Atticus. As I hobble along I know that I am certain to fall and hurt myself with out the guiding hand of God holding me up and sustaining me.

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(Photo Credit: Samantha Jeet)

JuneBug (Thoughts on Being Atticus Mac’s Dad)