Tasting Life Twice

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Chartres Cathedral

Some photographs I took at Chartres Cathedral yesterday.

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Making Others Visible

“We walk past thousands of people we see every week, not necessarily seeing any of them. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine told me of something that happened when she took a train from Connecticut to New York. As the conductor – a large and imposing man – approached, she realized she had left her purse at home. When he got to her seat and asked for her ticket, she, with much embarrassment, explained the situation and braced herself for the worst. But the conductor sat down in the seat opposite and said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Then, for the remainder of the journey, they talked. They shared photos of their families, they exchanged jokes, and they spoke of the one who meant most to them. When the conductor finally got up to continue his rounds, my friend began to apologize again, but the conductor stopped her mid-sentence and smiled, ‘Please don’t pay it any thought; you know, it’s just really nice to be seen by someone.’

This might initially seem like a strange thing to say as the conductor was seen by thousands of people every day. But only in instrumental terms, only as the extension of a function he performed. In this brief conversation with my friend, he felt he had actually been seen as a unique individual, and that was a gift to him.

This is what love does. It does not make itself visible, but, like light, makes other visible to us. In a very precise sense, then, love’s presence cannot be described as existing, but rather is that which calls others into existence; for to exist literally means to stand forth from the background, to be brought forth. As we have mentioned, love does not stand forth, and vie for our attention but rather brings other forth. When we love, our beloved is brought out of the vast, undulating sea of others. Just as the Torah speaks of God calling forth beings from the formless ferment of being, so love calls our beloved out from the endless ocean of undifferentiated objects.”

Peter Rollins, Insurrection

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Bloomsday blog

Yesterday was Bloomsday around the world, in honor of one literature’s most memorable characters, Leopold Bloom, from James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses.  For the occasion, I drove to Dublin on the new M50 at about 140 kilometers an hour, which I think is somewhere around 60 mph.  But I could be wrong.  I saw the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts, Long Room of the library at Trinity College, National Gallery of Art, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral (where Jonathan Swift served as dean), Oscar Wilde’s home, James Joyce’s home, took a walking tour of places associated with Ulysses, walked to Hanover Quay to see U2’s recording district, had a cold one at the pub owned by Bono and The Edge, visited the Temple Pub area and….what am I forgetting….and made it back with 1 minute left before my car would have been impounded in the parking garage and I would have had to wait until morning to get it out. 

What was very difficult to pull off was keeping my word to friends who said, “drink a pint for me in Dublin”.  In the city where Guinness was born, there are pubs everywhere.  As Joyce said, “A good puzzle would be to cross Ireland without passing a pub.” And so I raised glasses, not only to Arthur and Leopold, but to all of you who asked me to fulfill your request. To Jason, to Evan, to Emily, to Jared, to Scott, to Peter, to Paul, to David, to Curtis, to Troy, to Tom, to Thom, to Tommy, to Tom Thumb, to Timmy and Lassie and to whomever I’m forgetting. You guys really should show more restraint.  And you should be ashamed of yourself.  Gluttons, all of you.

On the way back, I stopped at Clonmacnoise Monastery, considered one of the finest examples of Celtic Christianity in all of Europe.  I got there to take some beautiful pictures before the sun went down but couldn’t see all of it as it was officially closed.  Dropped into a nearby little village and stayed in a B & B.  The day was capped off with a marvelous treat. Shannonbridge is a small berg with a single street cutting through it.  They have a place that is a pub in the truest sense of the word, a “public house”.  All the townsfolk gather together at Killeen’s in the late hours of a summer night to swap stories and songs.  Every age is there, from young to old.  The pub owner gave me a barstool, introduced me to a few folks and I heard some great tales of the place.  Earlier in the day, one of the older ladies in the village had died – God bless her soul.  She was remembered as being a bit eccentric.  She liked to walk home down the middle of the road, shuffling her little feet, and when the big trucks would come by, she’d wave them off, insisting that she was there first.

There was a photograph of Johnny Cash on the wall taken in 1962.  I met two musicians there as well, both of them local and left with two of their CDs which are quite good.  I woke up this morning and had the Clonmacnoise Monastery ruins to myself for the first hour before a German tour group arrived. Then I went to nearby Clonfert Cathedral, founded by Brendan the Navigator.  No one was there the entire time I visited.  Very peaceful.

Pictures to follow.

Dispatch from the Emerald Isle: Going to the Dogs

Stopped in for a bite of lunch at The Long Dock near the ocean in Carrigaholt.  While eating the fresh catch, I heard a local radio talk discussing the ethics of commemorating first communion. 

How should families commemorate their son or daughter’s first communion?  Seems that some are hosting big parties where there are balloons designed in the shape of crosses and chalices, filled with confetti. After eating and drinking, they release the balloons, popping some of the ones filled with confetti, much to the chagrin of some of the patrons.  Additionally, they were discussing whether or not it is appropriate after first communion to “take the children to the dogs”, which in context means, the dog races. 

One caller said that he didn’t consider himself either prudish or especially religious but felt that “something just seems wrong about this.”  Other callers defended the action, saying there was nothing wrong with it, that it was a happy occasion and understandable given the significance of first communion.

That’s the news from County Clare.

The News from County Clare

A seventeen month old has gone missing with her mother.   It seems the mother didn’t return the child to the care of the father at their typical custody exchange. The public service announcement gives us this description: the mother is 5’4” with “a flush complexion and a protruding lower lip.” Leave it to the Irish bards to make even a public service announcement more descriptive than what is customary in America. Can you imagine?

“Authorities are looking for a man who fled from police on Saturday night. He is described as having a double-chin with a dimple in the middle, oversized ears and is slightly cross-eyed in his left one.”

Seaside, Florida

Just down the road from Destin is Seaside, Florida, home to a small resort community.  The small town has brick streets with tall shade trees over the road.  The beach homes are architectural masterpieces with white picket fences and lazy front porches.  The town has no franchises and the city’s building codes ensure that there is no obnoxious signage obscuring the landscape. From the beach, you can see dolphins sporting out in the gulf.  The town was also the film location for one of my favorite movies, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carey.  Here’s a picture of their one and only church:

Destin Church

What You May Find While Looking for Something Else

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You probably learned as a child that:

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

And you may remember that when Columbus finally found land, he thought he had discovered what he set out to find from the start: the mainland of Asia. This is why the islands he first encountered were called the “West Indies” and the original inhabitants of the land were called “Indians”. He thought he was in the neighborhood of India, China and Japan. Even after four voyages of discovery and even at the end of his life, Columbus remained convinced that he had landed ashore somewhere in the Orient.

As one writer has noted, “Columbus changed the world not because he was right, but because he was so stubbornly wrong” (Tony Horwitz, A Voyage Long and Strange). He sailed off thinking Asia was about three thousand miles away. It actual fact, it was closer to eleven thousand miles away and in between here and there was a massive continent that you and I today call “home”. On the way to the known world of Asia he had discovered the “new world” of the Americas.

Be open to what you might find when you’re looking for something else. God has a way of surprising us and stretching the imagination. Grace can grow in the wilderness; blessing can be found in our frustrations; and fresh joy can be experienced in the places of grief and loss.

What Does it Mean to “Play God”?

A few weeks ago, I read two news articles, which, together, returned me to a very important set of questions: what is God like and how does one go about “playing God”? The first article was a look back at the tragic shootings which took place at Columbine High School, ten years ago. The author of the piece writes of one of the killers:

Harris seemed to feel superior to everyone — he once wrote, “I feel like God and I wish I was, having everyone being OFFICIALLY lower than me” — while Klebold was suicidally depressed and getting angrier all the time. ‘Me is a god, a god of sadness," he wrote in September 1997, around his 16th birthday.

Minutes later, I happened to read Bono’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times where he writes about worshipping in an African church where the “parish sang to the rafters songs of praise to a God that apparently surrendered His voice to ours.”

Both excerpts raise important questions about who and what is meant when we use the word, ‘God’.  And, further, if we have been “created in the image of God”, and if being fully human is, in some way, to mimic our Creator, then the question arises: how do we best perform the role? Do we best impersonate God by acting out a superiority complex – imposing our way, speaking in a shout, reminding others of their lower place?  Or do we better catch the nuances and subtleties of how God is God by enacting reciprocity, sacrificial love and self-surrender?

The End of Ethics

MERE MORALITY is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J.S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that a decent life is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable; but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined; a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 112

Bono on Evangelicals

The November 3rd issue of Rolling Stones magazine has a lengthy interview of Bono, lead singer of U2. When asked what he thought of the evangelical movement in the United States, Bono, writes:
“I’m wary of faith outside of actions. I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.
Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn’t believe it. It almost ruined it for me because I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS.
I’ve started to see this community as a real resource in America. I have described them as “narrow-minded idealists”. If you can widen the aperture of that idealism, these people want to change the world. They want their lives to have meaning.”

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