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Suffering

This Is Babylon

This Is Babylon

A moving piece by Jay Wamsted:

I leave my room and head downstairs, paperwork in hand. Today is my first day back from an extended absence, and I have to get my principal to sign a form stating that I have, indeed, returned to work. He is not in his office, and though I briefly debate taking off for other errands, I decide to hang out in the lobby of the high school where I teach, catching up with a couple of colleagues I have not seen in some weeks. Our conversation is interrupted, however, when across the atrium I see…

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When God Leaves It Unresolved

When God Leaves It Unresolved

As it goes when its 90-plus outside and no body of water is cold enough to cool you off, much of my time the past few weeks has been spent on the couch, in the air conditioning, streaming television. Lately, Hannah and I were recommended the crooked-cop show, Line of Duty, and in the past couple weeks we have sped through three seasons. It’s a terrific show, the best kind of cop show, where the dialogue is smart and the plot twists are both conceivable and completely unforeseeable. As expected, we start with one episode in mind and, bleary-eyed and…

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People Are Dying in Texas and I Am a Lucky Schmuck

People Are Dying in Texas and I Am a Lucky Schmuck

As a Southern transplant to New York City, riding the subway during rush hour was the most jarring activity of the week. After a long day of work, people were ready to get home and order some takeout. In the summer, everyone smelled bad, me included. Train after train would pass with no room for the crowds to get on. There was always an air of chaos and immediacy that I haven’t experienced in any other setting.

After a few months of this daily trial, I begin to notice the shift that would happen in myself as I…

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When Deep Waters and Parking Lots Become Church

When Deep Waters and Parking Lots Become Church

In 2007, almost ten years after her death, it came into more public knowledge that Mother Teresa experienced a terrible sense of separation from God throughout the majority of her ministry. Less than three months before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she wrote in a letter to one of her spiritual confidants, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me—The silence and the emptiness is so great—that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear.”

Under the arresting weight of my own Dark Night tendencies, it gives me great comfort that although Mother…

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The Real (Suppressed) You

An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

It Comes at Night and the Fear of Grief

It Comes at Night and the Fear of Grief

If you’ve caught any trailers for It Comes at Night, you know it’s a scary one. I went to see it the other day, and, preparing for the worst, I took a seat near the back and nestled in behind my popcorn. Sensing a particularly horrific part coming, I fixed my eyes at a corner of the screen. Alas the scares came too suddenly for me to look away, but for the most part, I didn’t want to. In Trey Edward Shults’ second feature, not all was as it seemed. It Comes at Night promised something sinister lurking outside the red…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Five Verse Four

This morning’s devotion was written by Mary Zahl. 

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4, ASV)

Again and again, I have been struck by Christians using the language of faith to ward off the presence of pain. It’s understandable—pain is painful. All of us want to avoid it as much as possible, and when we can’t avoid it, we try what we can to minimize its side effects. As Christians, we get nervous admitting the depth of our pain, because what if it is a sign of a lack of trust in the goodness of God, a lack of faith?

I was listening to a friend tell me about her life in recent months. She had moved across the country after living happily in the South for many years. As I listened to her, it was clear to me that she was on the verge of tears from the change, but every time the tears came to the surface, she would say, “but I know I have so much to be thankful for, and I know God loves me, and that is all that matters.” No tears allowed.

I don’t believe in telling people what to do, but if I did, I would have said to my sad, exhausted friend, “What you need is a good cry. You have lost so much. Of course, there are also good things about your move, but you will not be able to see those clearly until you mourn the losses. Cry until you cannot cry any more. And, for God’s sake, don’t think your tears are a sign of faithlessness or ingratitude. Did not Jesus himself say, ‘Blessed are they that mourn?’”

When pain is denied or kept at bay, the sufferer misses out on the opportunity that comes with facing pain honestly, which is feeling the weight and powerlessness of it. Counterintuitively, the experience of going into the pain generally brings out compassion, peace, and even joy on the other side.

Like the day we call Good Friday, our deaths (no matter how small) can be transformed—resurrected—such that we might even call them good. Conversely, when we hold onto words of “Christian hope” almost as if they were magic, we miss out on the joy and hope that come when the resurrection power is given rather than grasped.

The Taste of Freedom

The Taste of Freedom

Reading through Noel Jesse Heikkinen’s book, Unchained, I was struck by this incredibly moving story about North Korean prison camp survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped in 2005:

His father and mother were born in the same prison because his uncles had defected to South Korea. North Korea has a well-known policy of “three-generations of punishment” they inflict on those who oppose (or are even suspected of opposing) the government. Because Shin was born in the prison, he knew no other life. In his mind, the entire world was Camp 14, and there were only two types of people in the world: prisoners and guards. You…

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From the Archives: Thy Jilted Lover Shall Rejoice (Again)?

From the Archives: Thy Jilted Lover Shall Rejoice (Again)?

In anticipation of the third NBA Finals meeting (in a row!) between the Warriors and Cavs, we thought this might be a timely one to resurface from last year’s series. 

Don’t look now but Loserville–the “mistake on the lake” that is Cleveland Ohio–is about to improbably get their NBA championship. The stars are aligning around the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s really pretty incredible. We had anointed the Golden State Warriors repeat NBA champions back in February, while they were on their way to the best NBA regular season of all-time. Stephen Curry had supplanted Lebron as the best player on the planet….and…

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The Absorption of All Our Rage

The Absorption of All Our Rage

In an age defined by emotional rage, political divisiveness and correctness, the recurring themes of the victim-culprit blaming, I have been comforted by God’s message to us in the cross. This passage comes from Frank Lake’s short book on pastoral counseling, in which he deals with both the problem of rage in social justice/injustice, but also the problem of individual victimhood and its corresponding rage. Where can it go? What can be done with it? Lake offers the supercessory response offered to the angry by God in the cross of Christ. 

Many years ago, I met, in a friend’s rectory, which he kept as a home…

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And the Rough Places Plain

And the Rough Places Plain

I’m not unfamiliar with the general decay of the human body. My dad was a priest and a hospice chaplain, and my family didn’t shy away from having elderly or sick relatives stay with us as they reached the end of their lives. I was born with only two grandparents, my mother’s parents having died when she was a girl. I was named for an aunt who died about a month before I was born. She died in the church parking lot after volunteering there one morning. By the time I was a teenager, I was on a first-name basis with all…

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The Promethean Appeal of #Vanlife

The Promethean Appeal of #Vanlife

If you created a spectrum, and put freewheeling adventurers on one side, I, sadly, would fall on the opposite end. Still, even my cautious heart stirred a bit when I read a recent New Yorker article by Rachel Monroe about a hashtag called #vanlife.  The article focused on a couple – Emily King and Corey Smith – who, in the winter of 2013, purchased a Volkswagen van, left New England in a snowstorm, and headed south. Soon, the couple’s popular Instagram “Where’s My Office Now?” had drawn enough interest to gain them corporate sponsorships (including GoWesty – a company that services…

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