I Hope I Never Forget:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

Monday, May 21, 2007


Pan's Labyrinth is a special film. Undoubtedly it deserves serious attention, but I don't have the patience to wait for a second viewing. I want to write something now. While the movie is praiseworthy on many levels, it is without doubt a very dark and darkly powerful creation. There are many in my home who will not be watching it...at least not for a while.

The movie ended; I clicked the remote and my two oldest daughters and I sat silently in the darkness. Nobody wanted to be the first to speak.

The awkwardness was strange.

It felt as if we’d witnessed something we weren't meant to. The feeling wasn’t that of guilt as much as embarrassed sadness- like walking in on a friend at a painfully intimate and transparent moment.

Don’t misunderstand. The movie was as amazing as it was disturbing. If brilliance is measured by emotional impact and imagery, the movie was brilliant. Del Toro is a master.

But I’m not sure if the depictions of violence were an example of that skill or of its failure. There were many times that I found myself wanting to look away. That’s a pretty good indicator of obscenity, but in the end… I never did. I wonder if this a commentary on his ability to powerfully ride the aesthetic line or my own jadedness toward violent images?

Thankfully, Del Toro leaves us with little doubt about one thing: violence is ugly and hateful. This unsettling movie has that over its more mainstream siblings. No spiritually compromising allure, here. No vicarious temptation. Just disgusting cruelty and the repulsive bastards who commit it.

The director also went out of his way to leave the central fact of the story unresolved- is Ophelia’s interaction with the faerie real. Do the Faun and his world exist or are they simply the fantasies into which a terrified little girl escapes? There are clues that would point to either option- her name itself, the Captain’s view of Ophelia conversing in the Labyrinth near the end, the sheer factual brutality of the world we all know…the explicit redemption imagery, the parable of the blooming rose, etc.

I believe this is the question of the movie. The ending depends on it. I suspect everyone wants Ophelia's version of reality to be true, but…

The story is set during a period of time that I know little about- the Spanish Civil War. Apparently it was no different from any other war in this respect, it brought out the most bestial in man.

Part of the shock that the film delivers is due to the juxtaposition of Franco’s Spain and the innocence of the young protagonist. Ophelia’s a beautiful little girl motored into a hell of brutal adults. History tells us that the struggle against the evils of Fascist Spain were largely ignored in the West and ended in defeat for the Resistance. The sacrifices of those who dreamed of a different world were for nothing…if temporal victory is how we measure such things.

This is the point that the story made so powerfully to me: Love, community and courageous sacrifice are either poignantly beautiful or sickeningly absurd- depending on the true nature of reality.

Men and women know in their hearts that things are not the way they ought to be- that another reality is possible, that the story doesn’t end with brute force in control.

Things may look otherwise. Heartless bullies rule, people starve, murders stalk campuses and giant waves wash away entire islands, but there is more to reality than these indisputable facts. We know this…right?

The ugliness of the Fascist's world is plain to all and real. It’s here for all to observe, handle and suffer through. Bashed-in-faces, bullet holes in the head and bright red blood dripping from the limp fingers of a dying child. Can’t doubt or deny any of it… but talking Fauns?

Trouble is that in our story, if talking Faun’s can’t exist then all that's left is bashed-in-faces, bullet holes in the head and bright red blood dripping from the limp fingers of a dying child.

Men and women expect to be treated as if truth, justice and beauty matter- as if loving sacrifice is greater than self-serving power, but unless there is an “Other”- unless there exists a Transcendent Source and Standard- it’s all just make believe.

Time and Stuff add up to only more time and stuff. There is no meaning to be found there.

There is no hope beyond the silence of a grave.

Whether we help the elderly person across the road or run our steel vehicles over their fragile bodies, we’ll all be dead in the end. There is no difference- not ultimately. Right and Wrong, Goodness and Evil, Beauty and Ugliness are each without reality- figments in the imagination of men and women who can’t face up to the truth.

Either the Faun exists or he does not. Both possibilities are followed to their end in the movie. One leads to a happy ending. The other to despair. But there is a third, as well. No Faun exists, but a world filled only with Fascists is unbearable; so decent folks must be slightly mad- living in a fantasy world of make believe. This is below despairing; it is pitiful.

I think this is what accounted for our awkwardness. It was all so ..."uncovered." Either the Faun existed or he did not.

My daughters and I had unsuspectingly seen the door thrown open to expose the sad neediness and vulnerability of the lives of those who claim that there is no loving Creator- that this sensible world is all there is. Unable to live in the loneliness and despair of their commitments, we saw them “self-medicating” to the airbrushed fantasy of sentimental denial. Like the sad little girl whose life and sacrifice finally meant nothing, they go on talking to the imaginary friends of Compassion, Oughtness and Love while the stronger get what they can, while they can.

Certainly, self-deluded humanity is to be preferred to the consistency of tooth and claw, but better than both is actually sitting down to breakfast with a Faun.

How relevant to believe in the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the Age to Come. How wonderful to know who is sane and who's living in a world of their own making.

Friday, May 18, 2007


We rolled the petitions of Rogantide into the celebration of Ascension Day. It seemed appropriate to ask Earth’s King for his blessing on the anniversary of his Coronation Day.

We gathered inside to present offerings of Tools, Bread, Wine, Seed, Soil and Water, and to ask our God’s blessings on each. Esther smelled the wine (as she always does), before blessing it. “It smells good,” she always reports.

“We offer you, O Lord, this wine, the fruit of the vine: Bless, this drink which Thou hast created, that it may be gladness of heart for all who partake of it, and grant that all who taste of it may, by invoking Thy holy name, receive health for body and soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Heading off singing “Crown him with many crowns, the lamb upon his throne…”

To bless the fields…

“O God, who spoke the word and the earth brought forth plants of every kind yielding seed and living creatures of every kind: We ask you to Bless these pastures and meadows, and all growing grass and green fields; may they remain healthy and unspoiled to the benefit and service of both man and beast. We ask you also to Bless these fields and all the crops that grow in our countryside; may the soil be wholesome and the crops sound; may the weather be favorable and the workers in good heart. O gracious God, multiply the seed of the sower, the bread of those who eat, and the fruits of righteousness in all your people; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

On to bless the horse…

At the house before we began we asked God’s blessing on a group of crosses Tommy put together from briars earlier :

O God, whose blessed Son has promised that we need only to ask in order to receive: Accept and bless these crosses, and grant that in the fields where we place them they may stand as a sign of our unfailing trust in your bounty and as encouragement to all who see them to put their faith in your providence; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

We left them at every spot we prayed. Here is the one placed on the barn after we asked God’s protection on it. "Essy" sprinked water, which we originally blessed, on each of the crosses. You can see her toting around her really big cup in the pictures.

Heading to the pond, garden and blueberry patch. Belting out the Gloria at this point. “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth…”

O God, who has given each one of us the opportunity to share in the cultivation of the land: Give us also such skill and patience in digging and sowing and planting that fruit and vegetables and flowers may sustain our bodies and gladden our hearts by their usefulness and beauty. We ask you to Bless with a healthy and plentiful crop this garden. Endow with skill and endurance those who work here, giving them rich yields and an assured livelihood; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Set up your cross, O Lord, as an ensign to the people, and draw all nations to it.”

O God, who commanded that the earth bring forth trees bearing fruit of every kind with the seed in it: We ask you to bless this orchard, together with the industrious bees who labor in it and the birds who find food and shelter in it; withhold both the late and the early frost that kills and send, in due season, such moderate rain and gentle sunshine that we may receive the fruits of it to our strength and to your honor; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Chickamauga Creek borders the back of our property. It’s a mess. Naomi claimed it for its King and asked for his mercy:

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yetto come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The neighbors were outside, so we headed over. They’re used to us by now. We asked if we could bless their garden.

It’s so wonderful to be part of a tradition that not only encourages us on a certain path, but gives us the means of living it out, too. I want my children to know that Christ has to do with hymns and prayers and church, but hymns and prayers and church have everything to do with scissors, seed, dogs and pond water, also.

I’m going to miss these times when my children have grown up, but we have a few years left…and I’m so grateful for the memories we are making and a calendar that makes time itself sing of Christ.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Part One Here

"In Christ your Son, our life and yours are brought together in a wonderful exchange. He made his home among us that we might forever dwell in you."
Scottish BCP

When I think of Mount Sinai and the giving of the law, I always picture Cecil B DeMill’s version in The Ten Commandments.

I can’t help it.

The peak of the mountain can’t be seen. It’s swallowed up by the tremendous cloud that’s gathered there. There’s rumbling and lighting flashes. All very foreboding. Mr. DeMill did a pretty good job, actually. How do you do justice to God’s Throne room?

Throughout scripture God’s ruling presence manifests itself as a Cloud of Glory. There is more going on here than condensation. Just as a part of the atmosphere may break off from the boundary of the water’s surface and float about in the liquid world below, the constantly present (but hidden) dimension of God’s habitation bubbles into sight and hovers about before our senses.

That’s what going on up there amidst the crashing and flashing on the mountain top- God is present in his regal power and glory. In fact the rumbling is attributed to the thousands of angels that surround His throne. (Psalm 68:15-17) God drove this chariot cloud before the Israelites in the wilderness. His fiery glow illuminated it by night. The tabernacle and temple were both replica’s- complete with angelic representations. It came and settled on these meeting places (Exodus 40:34-35, 1 Kings 8.10, 11) so fully that the priests could not enter. Isaiah once entered the temple and bent his knee amidst Israel’s impressive mock-up. The sound of massive beating wings replaced the temple silence and horrified, he raised his head to find himself in the reality itself. He was inside the cloud and God was on the throne before him. (Isaiah 6).

Ezekial saw it.

Pharaoh felt its heat as it dropped between his armies and the children of Israel at the Red Sea.

The shepherds of Bethlehem were surrounded by it at our saviour’s birth, and now the risen Lord is lifted up into it.

Our Lord’s ascension was into God’s ruling presence. Daniel described the scene in a passage that is regularly misapplied to the Second Coming. (Notice: The Son of Man is going up to God- not down from him.)

Daniel 7:13-14 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

This is what happened before God's throne on that Thursday almost two-thousand years ago. Christ- the Son of Man- was given the crown of the universe.

This seems so common place that we miss it- Christ is King.

But think it through. What’s new? Our God has always been God. At the very least this means that he has always ruled. What changed on this Thursday?

Man had come of age. Through the mystery of the incarnation, God fulfilled all that he had dreamed for his favorite creature- the one he referred to as sons and daughters. A man was seated on the throne of God. A man is now ruling creation…and we know him. It’s our big brother. That’s amazing news.

This was always God’s plan for mankind. He intended on "raising him" from child to glorious ruling adult. Sin hadn’t necessitated it (or the incarnation that accomplished it); rather it was accomplished in spite of our fallenness. Our Spiritual elder brothers were intended as tutors. But because of our rebellion they became our sentries, too. God had made us lower than the angels, and with the evil of Eden he had placed them with flaming blades to keep us from doing more harm.

Can you imagine the scene on that Coronation Day? A seemingly endless stair rose up towards the fiery being sitting on the throne high above. All of creation, from least to greatest, lined its way.

Christ’s sandaled foot touched the first step and the elements and waves bowed to him. He continued upward as oak and pine bent to the ground. Next came the animals as their new sovereign passed by. Up he moved until he reached the dizzying heights of the angelic armies. Lowest to greatest they bowed as walked past- the hands that once held swords of flame touched the ground in fealty to the human who dared look them in the eye. Finally only Michael, Gabriel, and (if tradition is to be trusted) Raphael were left. Each of the terrifying archangels knelt before the young Jew, reached out battle hardened hands and kissed the carpenter’s calluses. No one else stood between him and God, and God rose and smiled and with a motion of his hand indicated his own seat, and Christ embraced Him and turned and sat down. All of heaven exploded in love and admiration. The new King had been crowned…and he is a man like us.

Here the work of God in Christ for you and me reached its completion. God has given us much more than we had thrown away. What's his is ours. A human being has been taken up into the very life of God, and like thousand of lesser fathers would do centuries later, He handed over the keys to the family car.


9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11

A baby is good, but not all that she will one day be.

My daughter graduates from high school this month. She’s working, driving, choosing and…she’s beautiful as a young woman. I’m so very proud of her. I’m proud of each of my other five children, too, but this is her time of accomplishment, and she’s accomplished much.

I can remember when I could hold her in one hand. Someone must have said “She is perfect,” in the delivery room, because we were all thinking it. We meant it with all of our parental hearts. No exaggerating or covering up. She was just right, and yet… our dreams were for more than the pink, mostly bald little figure, who instinctively snuggled against her mother’s breast. She was totally good and yet not finished. Perfect and yet not mature.

We want our children to grow up. We hope that one day they will take their place beside us- to argue their perspective on the Bowl Championship Series, to take over the family business, to arrive at Thanksgiving with cranberry sauce and grandkids in tow.

Parents “raise” children. In the South we go all out and “raise them up.” What a rich expression.

Our calling is to bring about the maturation and exaltation of our children. We mold them and fashion them for ever increasing glory and responsibility. We help them grow into ever more lucid images of their creator, for the glory of God, as an ancient Saint declared, is man fully alive. We pray that our little boys and girls will one day ascend to the heights that their baptismal birthright calls them.

This is our business because it was first our God’s business. The story of scripture is the story of God as Parent. Perfect as men and women were in their original state, there was more for them. Born, as scripture reminds us, a little lower than the angels, God had a much greater place for us. Redemption is about that journey to maturity, even in the midst of rebellion. God’s a good parent even to a clan of brats.

All of this is important, if we want to understand the significance of tomorrow- our Lord’s Ascension Day.

Sunday School versions of biblical events tend to sugar things up. A coating of sugar is tasty, but it can hide what lies beneath. Often on nasty processed grains, this is helpful. Usually on important biblical narratives, its not.

The account of Noah, for example, brings to mind rainbows and a boat full of smiling animals, but can you imagine the smell from a world of rotting corpses that must have greeted the emerging family? The story of Christ’s ascension comes with similar nursery visions of Christ rising up and flying off through the clouds into space- past Saturn and his rings and Pluto’s controversial body.

I used to envision him still going with a smile on his face. That would put him somewhere around two-thousand light years from earth by now. Maybe you can remember singing a song in Junior Church that began with a countdown to blasted off before declaring “Somewhere in Outer Space, God has prepared a place, for those who trust him and obey.” Space travel is cool, but that’s not it. Ascension Day doesn’t dispute the claim that the first man in space was a Russian. Its significance lies elsewhere, and the key is in those clouds that St. Luke mentions.

Lunch is over. I'll pick this back up.

Monday, May 14, 2007


We’ve screwed the world up. I don’t mean that in a grand rhetorical sort of way. I mean it quite literally. The world itself- soil, water, plant, air…we’ve screwed it up.

This is triply sad for those who follow the Lord Christ. First, because creation is a trust we’ve botched. Second, we botched it because we’re greedy, lazy and compromised with the spirit of the age we’ve been born into. Third, we fail to love our neighbor, those who live downstream from us and those who live “down time” from us, when we pour our poison and filth into the creek.

This is yet another example of how things are precisely not supposed to be.

It’s not ours to misuse; for all our churchy talk we’re idolaters, and we could care less about other people, if that care requires expense or inconvenience. These are the lessons of our modern ecological crisis.

But this is a controversial comment in some circles. Surprisingly, the more conservative we are as Christians, the more blind we are to the dependence and responsibility we share for creation. Against this, the church has set its Rogation Days.

The commemoration of Rogation Days is an ancient one. The church has designated the beginning of this week as a time to ask our Lord’s blessing on his creation. It’s an especially appropriate time for the church to lead the way in acknowledging the dependence each of has towards the earth and her sustenance. For our generation, this dependence has been successfully hidden behind the increasingly vulnerable and centralized agribusiness of modern technology. Its still there. We all still need to eat, but few of us have the wherewithal to provide for ourselves. And those to whom we look are increasingly squandering the remaining fertility of our world.

We need to repent of the evils that began in the unthankfulness of hearts grown arrogant with pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery. Our modern sorcery needs to be placed at the service of our God, his creatures and our brothers and sisters.

Wendell Berry offers a few precepts to help us get started:
1. Beware the justice of Nature.
2. Understand that there can be no successful human economy apart from Nature or in defiance of Nature.
3. Understand that no amount of education can overcome the innate limits of human
intelligence and responsibility. We are not smart enough or conscious enough or alert enough to work responsibly on a gigantic scale.
4. In making things always bigger and more centralized, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else. Learn, therefore, to prefer small-scale elegance and generosity to large-scale greed, crudity, and glamour.
5. Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made.
6. Put the interest of the community first.
7. Love your neighbors--not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.
8. Love this miraculous world that we did not make, that is a gift to us.
9. As far as you are able make your lives dependent upon your local place, neighborhood, and household--which thrive by care and generosity--and independent of the industrial economy, which thrives by damage.
10. Find work, if you can, that does no damage. Enjoy your work. Work well.

Most of these are implied in the ancient traditions and processions of Rogantide: Community, the humility formed from dependence on nature and nature’s God, and therefore the self-evident necessity of living in a way that nurtures and protects the knowledge and appreciation of all three.

May God revive the petitions of this season and the kind of heart that finds its celebration both appropriate and needful.

Monday, May 7, 2007


This past weekend was a good one.

My nephew had a group of friends over Saturday night to celebrate a major milestone in his life.

I want to thank them for including my family in the evening.

Our Lord out did himself in framing the event - at least to my North Georgia sensibilities.

Like a soldier with chocolates, he handed out small prizes to each of the five senses his prodigal mind first dreamed up untold ages ago. The weather was perfect- just cool enough to make the fire enticing. Along with cozy warmth, he gave the clean sharp taste of liquid bread, the smells of roasting food and well nurtured fine tobaccos, the croaking of frogs and laughing children…all within the exotic context (for a middle aged type like me, anyway) of the moonlit coolness of early morning’s lateness.

It struck me as I sat there arguing theology with a young man who was obviously more earnest than I, that this was how it was supposed to be. I knew that in a world that is so transparently bent…this night was a gift.

As wonderful as our Lord’s “framing” was that evening, his truly transcendent work shown in the safety, warmth and community created by the people who were present. This is no small accomplishment in a gathering of drinking twenty-somethings.

I thought of how the world could learn the true nature of celebration from these young men and women. I saw (and more importantly, my children saw) that God’s Spirit makes a difference in how one parties. And thankfully it has nothing to do with being a wet blanket. We are to feast exuberantly with care and concern, with welcome and hospitality, with warmth and safety.

The alcohol worked its biblical magic of making hearts merry. The attractive energy that God designed to spark spontaneously between men and women crackled flirtatiously. Testosterone was present in doses that only a young man can handle and yet… no boisterous fights broke out, everyone stayed clothed and we didn’t misplace a soul. The chaotic power that each of these gifts constantly threaten to unleash was held in place by the underpinning ballast of the Christian gospel. No small thing, that.

Christ was present feasting with us. And the group’s conscious yielding to his claim as Lord of the Feast allowed us to taste a little of what our creator had in mind when he dreamed up each of these dangerous gifts.

The result was as different from the average college party as can be imagined. The ladies were safe, little children running in and out of the circle were welcomed onto laps and middle aged outsiders were included to the point of forgetting they weren’t twenty-five, anymore.

People passing by might have noticed the fire’s warmth flickering on the celebrant’s faces, but they’d have to come closer to know that it was much more...Nothing to see but a fire and some friends, but the reality to be experienced was the very body of Christ.

My backyard had become a Sacrament of what each of us hopes for and an enactment of God’s own perichoretic inner life.

For a few hours my family had become home to these precious people… and they had given us back the same.

Friday, May 4, 2007


The head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is complaining about Nigerian Anglican bishops coming to Virginia this weekend to formally install the head of the conservative breakaway denomination in this country. Here's what she said: "Such action would violate the ancient customs of the church."I kid you not. The female head of a church with a practicing homosexual bishop planning to "marry" his lover, a church that could accept into seminary the adulterous homosexual governor of New Jersey, a church that embraces splitting open babies' skulls and vacuuming their brains out, is complaining about violating ancient customs? Wow.

HT: Orthodixie