Monday, July 18, 2011

Abi throws a wrench in "biblical" perspectives....

It has been a while since I have issued an R2A2 alert ... but I've been processing a significant paradigm shift over the past two years.   Something so foundational that I find many things that I encounter today -- that I would have totally agreed with just a few years ago -- throw a wrench in my spiritual "gears".  And while I am still looking forward to doing some significant blogging this fall, I just had to stop in today.

Marriage in not the foundation of our society.

There.  I said it.

Don't get me wrong ... I think marriage is a fine thing.  I think marriage is the gift of God to help us learn to love and serve one another with integrity and humility and intimacy ... and it is a very important foundation to lay for having children -- which is the gift of God to help us learn how Father loves and puts up with our whining and selfishness in order to show us what it means to lay down our lives for our own precious children.  It is the ideal place for children to grow up with healthy models of loving nurture.

But the thing is this.  All marriages are not created equal.  There are lots of reasons why people get married.  Lots of them are stupid and very short-sighted and selfish.  Lord, have mercy!  Heck, not all marriages result in children!  Marriage is a gift as the proper context for the gift of sexual intimacy.  Celibacy is a gift for those who have passions for service and mission and creativity and community to which they give themselves -- instead of giving themselves to the passions of sexual intimacy that can, well, interfere. There is not enough time today to even go into this one....

I will say this, though:  there is no such thing as a Christian Marriage ... although there is such a thing as a marriage between Christians.  Spend a few minute thinking about that.  And just being Christian doesn't stop people from getting married for stupid, short-sighted and selfish reasons.  Sometimes the assumptions they bring just makes it worse.  :^(

Just having the piece of paper or the ceremony or whatever does not result in the "one flesh" reality that God designed as a shadow of the interpenetrating mutuality-in-equality that is the reality of the Triune Father-Son-Holy Spirit.  The mystery that is marriage can lead us into the mystery of life In Christ.  It is just too bad that it doesn't always make it.  Look at how people make a mess of Ephesians 5 because they don't understand male culture at that time.  Paul was following Jesus and blowing up the men's patriarchal gig big time...but it still too often seems to be all about women's submission and male headship.  Sigh....

No ... intimate, vulnerable, honest, humble, sacrificial, patient, joyous relationship is an ongoing journey in marriage.  It is an investment of "presence" with the beloved ... day in and day out.  For better or worse.  For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.  To love and to cherish ... until death parts us.  It is an invitation to die to self ... to lay down one's life for the other.  It is where the rubber of cHesed/agape meets the road of life.  A testimony to the reality that agape love is, in the words of J.B. Phillips, "the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen." is an all too rare experience.

Loving your neighbor as yourself ... looking out for one another ... THAT is to be the foundation of our society.

The "idea" of marriage, it seems to me, has for too long been co-opted by religion as a means to control behavior -- to reign in fornication (yes, I said it!) -- without really accomplishing the task of intimate mutuality-in-equality ... because it regularly shows itself up for the sham it too often is.  The Apostle Paul says that it is better to marry than to burn with passion ... and that seems to be giving us grace rather than giving us a directive.

But I digress....

* * * * * * *

Considering the scriptures to be jewels of principles to be mined for whatever our issue-of-the-moment is ... well that is, in my wee purple opinion, abuse.  The rash of "bibilical" ... you fill in the blank ... is a symptom of the still-raging epidemic of Pharisee-ism that Jesus and Paul began stamping out -- and there's still plenty of fires burning.  Why is that?  Well, whatever you feed, grows.  And there are way too many folks feeding those Pharisee fires ... logs of guilt and shame and expectation and authority and self-righteousness and condemnation and performance and competition ... you get the idea.  Straining on gnats and swallowing camels, and all....

I know what I'm talking about ... I am a Recovering Pharisee.  Lord, have mercy....

* * * * * * *

Read the scriptures ... please!  Read them as entire books ... please!  Read them with your cHesed glasses on ... please!  Read them in the cultural context of those who first heard them (yes, this will take a lot of work to bridge the historical and cultural distance ... but I have reinforcements coming!), with all the assumptions that go with it!  Let Jesus blow your mind as he blows your Western presuppositions up ... just as he and Paul blew up the presuppositions of those who lived in the Mediterranean area almost 2,000 years ago.

But please, please, please don't read them looking for a way to put God's stamp of approval on your method of doing whatever it is that you're doing.  Let God bless what you're offering up to him without presuming that your experience is to be the model for everyone else -- God consistently has completely different stuff being blessed in lots of other folk's experiences.  If you hang around long enough with your cHesed glasses on ... you'll find you're constantly seeing things that you just didn't see before.  And if you cast each new "vision" in concrete ... well ... where are the seeds of change going to grow?

Okay ... finished stirring the pot for today.

Be blessed, friends.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Abi Ponders the Circle of Life....

Quite a lot has happened since last I posted....

I am a great-aunt for the 10th time -- and little Wesley Carter Ahlberg and his parents are doing great.  It was good to see them in their fun home in San Diego.  Before long Jeff will have a harness made for Nukie, their enormous white Alaskan Malamut, and baby Wesley will be ready to learn mushing (on wheels, of course -- no snow in SD).   :^)   Even though it was technically "against the 2 weeks of rest" rule, they braved the trip to Fullerton what was a very eventful weekend.

I have a new niece-in-law!  Steve and Merrilee Sandy's wedding was lovely ... even if we didn't get that their little ring bearer was dressed up as Frodo with Steve's ring on a chain around his neck -- and walked down the aisle to the Hobbit's melody from LOTR....  The rehearsal dinner and reception was lots of fun and Alexander had a grand time soaking up as much hang time with his cousins as possible.

But the most ... well, I don't have the proper word to describe it ... profound will have to work ... the most profound experience of this past month has been experiencing the passing of my father, Gene S. Carter, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
All the family was already planning to be in town for the wedding on Saturday, June 25th, so it made sense to plan for his memorial service for Sunday afternoon, June 26th.  On the one hand it was the right thing to do so quickly and efficiently.  On the other hand, it was a whirlwind of a weekend!  I know that there were those who would have wanted to attend but just didn't get the word in time.  That's just the way it goes, eh?

The experience was much like a wedding, in fact -- you are aware of lots of people around, but you don't seem to be able to get to talk with everyone and the memories are a little fuzzy.  But the service itself was just about perfect.  My sister, Becky, had apparently been working on it for about 5 weeks.  It showed.

Dad loved to sing ... and we did a lot of singing.  But the best singing was the Men's Ensemble -- two of Dad's favorites directed by Becky and sung by his only son, two of his many "honorary sons", three sons-in-law and five grandsons.  Dad would have said "that was just marvelous" ... and he would have been right.  My firstborn doesn't do a lot of singing, but he has a lovely bass and it was a very moving experience for him to be able to participate.

* * * * * * *

The mystery of blending loss and gain, grief and joy, tears and laughter, holding on and letting go is beyond profound.  The slowly spreading awareness of the loss of Dad's presence is deeply profound for me.  I can only imagine how it is for my Mom -- his beloved wife and companion and partner in ministry for 64 years.

For each of us who loved Gene Carter there is a deep sense of gratitude to God -- for Dad's life, his ministry, his generosity, his servant-leadership, his wonderful preaching, his effective way of teaching in so many different venues (church, college, Lions, camp, business, community, relationally).  He was a fiercely loyal man -- a trusted and valued friend and ally who seemed to be able to move heaven and earth with a phone call ... and a force to be reckoned with for those who harmed or hampered those he loved.  Sometimes he could have used a little tempering of that ferociousness....

Dad had a few "wishes" about his death:  to precede his wife and children, to not linger -- especially not to prolong his death with heroic measures (he was ready to meet Jesus), and to be clear-minded and "present" until the end.  Well, he got two out of three ... because the Parkinson's disease that impaired the use of his muscles took his ability to be "present" with those he loved long before his strong, healthy body wore out.

When I saw him last summer, communication was so challenging for him.  Some good moments in the midst of significant disorientation.  It was frustrating beyond measure for this dynamic communicator to be excluded from life in such a cruel way.  In one of those few clear moments, we had a great talk.  We shared our gratitude for having been able to work together at University Christian Church, Long Beach First Christian Church, but especially in the Degree Completion Program at the college; for sharing the joy of preaching and teaching -- and especially of interim ministry at the Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana on Maui; and most of all for the blessing of working together on his book -- and finishing it just in time to distribute it to his children and grandchildren at the family reunion honoring their 60th Anniversary. 

He had a blast with his book -- sending it to all his siblings and nieces and nephews and friends from churches and work places and Lions.  He took one last trip to his hometown of Springfield, IL for the Carter Thanksgiving Reunion and had a great time.  His last time of speaking in public came during a luncheon in his honor in December of 2007.  As a result of reading his book, the president at HIU realized that Dad's influence at the college/university over the previous 35 years had been profound -- and he resolved that Dad would be honored at the mid-year commencement with the Founder's Award -- HIU's highest honor.  While he declined to say anything upon receiving the award, he did say a few words of thanks to those at the luncheon.  He rose to the occasion and left us laughing and wiping our eyes.  He was diagnosed with Parkinson's the following spring...but he had already tied up all the loose ends of his life. 

The mystery of the Severe Mercy (what C. S. Lewis called the death of the wife of a friend:  as severe as death; as merciful as love) engulfed my Dad -- and those who loved him -- in the four years that followed his diagnosis.  As severe as the decline into isolation (unable to converse freely) but as merciful as the love of Mom and family and friends -- as his Savior -- surrounding him all the way to the end.

He looked at me on one "good" day last July -- what turned out to be the last time I saw him -- and said: "I'm ready to go."  I said: "I know you are, Dad."  It would be 11 more months before his name was called....  It was a great encouragement when Mom told me that Dad frequently browsed through his book this last year.

I believe that Dad was "present" down the stretch at the end of his Race.  He came out of the fog of disorientation and realized it was time to go on to the next stage in his journey.  In those last two weeks, as he closed his eyes and seemed oblivious to his surroundings (seemed is an important word here) and his family, I felt like his spirit was growing stronger as his body grew weaker.  He was completely calm -- no agitation or restlessness.  He was moving deeper into the mystery of the Dance -- the interpenetrating reality of Life In God.  He was living less and less in Chronos and more and more in Kairos time.

I do not understand the mysteries of loss and grief ... but I am beginning to sense -- at least for me -- that it contains a wee bit of "green" longing ... for Dad has moved from faith to sight.  For those of us who are already in Christ but not yet present with Christ, our lives are profoundly changed by Dad's absence.  After a while I know my mourning will be turned into dancing ... because I know I will meet Dad in the great Dance -- in a very already-but-not-yet way.

I am confident that I will be pondering this for some time to come ... and that I will be forever grateful to be The Youngest of the Youngest.

Be blessed.