Have Mercy

I talked with a buddy of mine today who is a hospital chaplain. He referred to yesterday as a horrific day, unlike he's had in his twelve or so years at this hospital. I said, Tell me.

The story goes that a grandmother was watching her 15month old granddaughter while the mom was at work or something. They were outside playing and somehow the little girl went beyond the grandmother's view; that sounds crazy, but trust me, it can happen to the most watchful eyes. The girl climbed up between the dual back wheels of a tow truck idling in the yard. And then the truck pulled away. About the time the grandmother heard the screams, she saw the little girl literally being torn asunder. The police brought the grandmother in to the hospital while the family gathered, etc. My friend said she just sat there in shock, devising plans to commit suicide. And in some crazy way, he wished she could.

You know, about the time I have a finger hold on this why do bad things happen, something else bad happens and my finger gives out and it's back down into the muck. April 1st is Palm Sunday; the official beginning of Jesus' passion week. It sounds like that grandmother got a jump on Jesus; I bet her's is going to last more than a week.

I'm going to bet that what happened to that little girl literally is happening to that family figuratively - they're being torn asunder. Can the grandmother ever forgive herself? What about the truck driver? Will the parents ever forgive the gmother for not watching more closely? Did the little girl have brothers or sisters? Was this the baby that the parents had tried to have for years and finally it had come to pass? Will the mother go through some kind of I-should-have-been-at-home guilt? Will the dad clam up in a shell and end up walking away from it all one day soon? Will the dog stand outside the little girl's room and whine for months?

All the king's horses and all the king's men can't put this family together again...but maybe the king can. At least that's what I pray. If this Easter/resurrection thing is more than Cadbury eggs and bunny rabbits, knit 'em back together, Lord. Somehow. Someway. Have mercy. And please help the christians around this family to not say stupid stuff or quote Romans 8; not yet at least. Our hearts tell us that nothing can tear us asunder from your love, but sometimes, the pieces in our hands leave us wondering...

Happy God

I sat in a church service this morning where the sermon topic was holiness. It was initially presented in a rather disarming way; at least that was the intent. Here is the gist: Whereas holiness is usually defined and felt as something heavy and serious, holiness shouldn't be defined that way; it's NOT something that sucks the joy out of life.

But an interesting thing happened on the way through the message. Although holiness was introduced as something very close to joy, it quickly became joy-less and ended up in the vicinity of that church G. Keillor talks about - The Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. Phrases like, "God isn't as concerned about you being happy as he is about you being holy," surfaced and folks nodded their heads in sheeplike agreement. I wanted to back my rear end into a barbed wire fence and bleat out, "Baaaaaad theology." We dressed holiness in a Vera Wang knockout, got everyone's attention, and then pulled out an old North Face down jacket and bundled her up right quick. We swallow the camel of holiness and strain at happiness gnats. Is there really this monumental difference or is that just a semantical circus ride that preachers like to take?

God wants me to be holy but not necessarily happy? Really? Oh, God wants me to be joyful, but that's not necessarily the same thing as being happy. Really? Oh, I remember: happiness is a fleeting emotion contingent on my situation, while joy is this ever-abiding-deep-under-current-of-assurance. Really? Where does it say that? Or even hint at that? What if God wants me to be holy, which includes being joyful...and happy?

I'd love to hear what you think on this one. I'm sure someone will quickly reply that God said, "Be ye holy as I am holy." And that "happiness" is not in that verse. True. But that line of thinking would indicate that God's not happy. Have you ever thought about that one? If we're to be as He is, what if He's really, really happy? And therefore, wants us to be as well? Sure, He gets frustrated with beauty pageants, rising gas prices and country music blackballing the Dixie Chicks; but for the most part, what if He's happy? And that's included in being holy? And someone else might say, "But you can't do everything you want!" Who said that was the goal? I'm not sure even the most strident hedonist is trying to do "everything they want." I've got a hunch that God wants me and you to be haly or hoppy or haply or something like that. What thinkest thou?


Is self-hatred still the thing dogging most people, believers or not?

Yes. Absolutely. We say we believe God has forgiven us, but we cannot forgive ourselves. Apparently, we just cannot believe God's forgiveness is that deep and wide. As a result, we don't experience gratitude in our lives, and where there's no gratitude, there's no joy.

The question was mine; the answer came from Brennan Manning. An early birthday gift came this week in the form of dinner with this ragamuffin of a man. I'll tell that story another time, but let's just say, it was cool.

I knew this gal once, a pastor's wife, who used to go around on Sunday mornings singing just be joyful, just be joyful, just be joyful; spiritual disciplines ala Finding Nemo. The truth is that I knew she hated what she was doing and this song was an attempt to make the reality of her life go away and transport her to some joy-filled place. It never worked. Maybe (ala Brennan) she had no joy because she had no gratitude because she couldn't forgive herself for something. Or maybe she couldn't forgive herself for being her. Self-hatred. Sounds insidious, huh?

I turned 40 this week. Evidently 40 is the new 50 - midlife. If so, then I'm committing to joy for the rest of the car-ride. I have no interest in some just-be-joyful-screw-up-my-courage song; no, this feels more like a whistle. Whistlin' the tune of forgiveness and gratitude and joy. If you happen to see a patchworked old Catholic priest shuffling along and a bearded guy in cowboy boots whistlin' a joyful tune, you're invited to come join us. It's a pretty narrow way, this totally-forgiven, gratitude-soaked, joy-strewn path...but there's One up ahead who keeps turning around and winking at us, telling us just a little further. And He's beautiful. And He keeps calling us by name.