Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent 4: Assessing the (con)Census

(partial re-post)

“Are you ready for Christmas?” each clerk said as we stepped up to the register. “I am, but it really has nothing to do with what I’m doing here.”
Christmas will come and be accomplished regardless of who’s ready and watching. We’re all running around here signing our names at counters, registering our numbers, showing our IDs, being vouched for by banks, being approved and accounted for, like we’re a part of some kind of census or something. Rushing, no room in the parking lots, bustling, indulging - while quietly, behind the scenes, back in the service corridors, a young woman, tired from the bustling and bursting with abundant life, lies down to birth the new world.
If the musak were drowned out by a million angelic voices, and an invitation was issued over the mall speaker system, “to you is born in the service corridors… you will find the babe wrapped in discarded tissue paper and lying in a shipping crate…”, I really don’t know if we would hear. If we did, would we leave our shopping bags unattended in the primary hallways, and make haste to the cluttered mall alleys? Or would we clutch our plunder and say, “I’m sorry, it’s Christmas, I haven’t time to look at a baby born in the service corridor.” Time’s a-wasting.”


Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent 3 : assessing juxtapositions

One never knows where he may stumble upon hope or grace, or at least a symbol of hope or grace. And of course, wherever there is a symbol of hope, indeed, hope is not far behind. And wherever there is hope, grace is surely and sure thing. I’m certain of it.
Truly, if one walks often enough in less trod paths, and less often in familiar steps of his day-to-day, nearly everything he stumbles upon may take him by surprise.
I am an avid explorer of the less stumbled upon. Few things bring me more joy than venturing into winter woods, walking along - and in - mountain streams, catching a glimpse over one more ridge. But I have to admit that until recently, I’ve seldom veered off the main arteries of urban landscape. I’ve spent little time exploring the wilderness of cities.
Last Sunday afternoon as the family ran off to grab a quick bite after church and before ballroom dancing lessons, I opted to use the moments to quiet my nerves and emotions. I decided to walk back to the old boiler building at the other end of the parking lot where I photographed Molly in her tutu for some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken so far. The juxtaposition of grace and decay that day has intrigued me ever since.
Truly, the more I thought about it, I decided that perhaps grace and decay aren’t such a surprising juxtaposition after all. Or rather, it is more surprising that we would be surprised at experiencing grace depicted in the context of decay. After all, where else is grace needed? Imagine stumbling upon a stable on a brisk night and finding a neonate swaddled in a feed trough. Imagine later realizing that regardless of where that baby had been born, it would have been grace juxtaposed in relative decay.

The building sits atop the steep bank of the Columbia Canal, and directly across the freeway from the old Penitentiary, all but portions of the huge granite wall razed to the ground. In the weeds, beside the building I followed a light path that led through thickets down to the canal and along the water to the freeway bridge. I walked under the bridge and climbed back up the steep dirty bank to where at least a few folks live in community behind pilings and steel girders, in make-shift bedrooms made private with sheets of plywood, and blankets.
On this brisk, but sunny afternoon, no one was home, and I felt as if I’d just walked into the open front door of a family in my own neighborhood, and had stepped beyond what was appropriate for me to explore. As I made my way back down the bank to the canal, I stumbled across this ceramic Angel sitting on a splatter of concrete. I thought of symbols, and hope, and grace. I thought that surely there is not one alley, not one attic space, park bench, boiler building, or freeway bridge that is not permeated with grace. And there’s always something there to remind me. Symbols and feelings of recognition.
One might think upon walking under that bridge, “there but for the grace of God go I.” But I do know that even if there go I, it is not without grace.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent 2.0 : assessing direction

some people find it difficult to make their way in life. It's really not rocket science folks, you just get a shopping cart and follow the arrows


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent 1.2.1: A Jordan River Baptism

I’d waited for nearly two years for Venus to reappear in the evening sky. I'd consulted all the texts and sky calendars online. I'd searched the web to try to pinpoint which part of the western horizon would be graced by it's glowing face.
Since last Venus appeared, I've watched Jupiter rise so early in the morning that no one in his right mind would make a regular viewing. Little by little, he rose earlier and earlier until he was not yet ready to set before the sky had grown dark enough to see him. In fact, a few months ago, he had made his way around the clock until just as the sun was setting, he was rising on the opposite side of the sky.
At about the time Jupiter reached mid sky at sunset, Venus began setting just after the sun, and each evening appeared just a little higher, as Jupiter continued in the early evening from east to west. At one point, just as the full moon rose at sunset, Jupiter stood directly in the middle of the southwest, while Venus followed the sun below the horizon. The sky was full of color and gradient, and lit in an arc by the moon and the two planets. Of course, one has to take in the entire sky to see this, and most people are unaware of the preparations for the display until all are in the same vicinity.
I’ve watched every clear evening (and during cloudy ones, made mental note of location) as Venus appeared slightly higher in the sunset and Jupiter moved slightly closer to the sunset. During this time, Jupiter has dimmed and Venus has brightened. The moon has waxed and waned, set with the sun, and rose as the sunset, until December began with a new moon and when it reappeared as a crescent in the sunset, Jupiter had made its way to Venus, and all three stood together falling toward the horizon.
Last night, Venus had moved slightly higher and Jupiter slightly lower so that they hung side by side until they disappeared below the horizon, Jupiter barely dimmer than the night before, and Venus ever so slightly more brilliant.
This will continue a few more nights until Jupiter bids farewell during an evening soon when the sun sets enough for us to see the waning light being welcomed at the far side of the lake. Perhaps if it is quiet enough, I’ll hear a small sizzle when he dips into the water.

I’ll be sad at the disappearance of Jupiter. The evening sky will be quite different. But I’ll be encouraged to know that it is meant to happen. And I’ll be encouraged to remember that Jupiter’s brilliant run across the sky was all alone until Venus appeared on the horizon many months later. I’ll remember that following Jupiter’s path for months in the evenings brought my eye westward little by little until the brighter planet appeared. I’ll remember that when they met, Jupiter was visibly dimming and Venus growing brighter. I’ll remember that glowing crescent moon above, appearing so pleased. I’ll remember the cloud formations that, though they appeared so beautiful, sought to block my view. I’ll remember that Venus shone through anyway moments before it disappeared into the wilderness over the horizon for a time.

I’ll remember that the moon followed it over the horizon.

And I’ll wait patiently for its reappearance just before dawn, and smile as it hides in the sunlight all day while moving across the sky until it has its shining moments, ever increasing, at sunset.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent 1.1 : Assessing Assessment

A proper balance within views of yesterday, today and tomorrow, would perhaps include a tension that understood Yesterday as a powerful inspiration of endurance, hope, and promises kept. Today might be seen as a great gift even while Tomorrow is anticipated with great hope.
So while Tomorrow deserves our anticipation and hope (not our worries), Today is where we’re put.
Yes, it’s always Today.
Today is where we find ourselves.

Of course this brings to light a third focus in addition to methodology and theology. This oft out-of-focus focus is Spirituality. It is a terrible travesty that we find its elusive definition mostly by methodological means, and seek its meaning only in theological understanding.
But methodology is the work of the hands, and theology is the work of the mind, but the spirit transcends both.
To reduce spirituality to practice and knowledge is to find one’s self forever waiting. Forever dismounted, out-of-balance, and feeling discarded, forever in a surreal environment.

May we find ourselves in every Today until Tomorrow actually arrives, but when it does arrive, may we be found ready. May we keep our tires mounted and balanced, to paraphrase a Jesus metaphor. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark, he even says we need to keep our engines running (again – paraphrased).
But while our tires are mounted and balanced, and our engines are running, we mustn’t forget that the day now is and much of what we’re waiting for is ready to be grasped – Today.


Advent 1 : Assessing the Age

Advent 1 : Assessing the Age
Originally uploaded by rod lewis
Among current religious “traditions” there are many attitudes and perceptions concerning yesterday, today and tomorrow. Furthermore, these three attitudes are filtered through two foci - methodology and theology. Among those focused on methodology, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow take on a very superficial meaning. Yesterday was when everything was right, it represents the correct way of doing things, and Today is a sad state of affairs with no respect to heritage or tradition. Tomorrow, judging by Today, it’s all going to hell in a hand basket.
Among those focused more theologically, Yesterday was when I theoretically was a bad bad person, Today is the day to endure, and Tomorrow is the only thing that counts in my religious life.
But we all know that it is always Today, so regardless of which way you’re bent – methodologically, or theologically – things just ain’t very good.