Thursday, May 27, 2010

A love better than life

The Dr. Seuss ABC book sits on my passenger seat bringing perspective.

You see, on Tuesday, my office was planning on having a baby shower for our colleague who was pregnant with her first child. We were all to bring wrapped baby books. I stopped at the store on Monday before class and picked out the Dr. Seuss ABC book with lots of colors. Upon leaving class I checked my voice messages to learn from another coworker that my pregnant colleague had been in a horrible car accident on her way back to the office from her ultrasound. She—only 24 years old—was at the hospital and not expected to make it. She and her baby passed away later that night.

The book I purchased never left the Target bag. And actually I’ve now been to Target twice since my coworker passed away, and I cannot bring myself to return it. So there it sits on my seat, reminding me that life is precious and quick and important. It is also unfair and painful and sad...the ABCs of life. Not the same ones Dr. Seuss rhymes about. But the facts, nonetheless.

I’m always amazed by people who immediately turn to God in prayer in situations like this. I cannot form the words. Instead, I stare, blank-faced, speechless in His presence. I know better than to ask why (there are no reasons). So, in need of comfort, as well as in anger and sadness, I stare at God not saying anything and know that in some way this alone is my prayer.

On Tuesday morning, I opened my Bible to a random Psalm, hoping David might have some words. I fell upon Psalm 63 and was brought to tears.

O God, you are my God,
Earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you,
My body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water
I have seen you in the sanctuary
And beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
I will glorify your name.


His love is better than life...
It is one to die for.
It's also one to live for.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


In a recent email correspondence, I was telling a friend that I have a dead German boyfriend, and his name is Deitrich Bonhoeffer—that I’m reading him and Karl Barth for a class.

Her response...

I regret that I did not study enough Bonhoeffer in school. But I definitely fell in love with good ol' Karl. I think some of his writing keeps me a Christian when I become disillusioned or dismayed by the church. What do you think of Barth? Sometimes I find his writing so opaque that I have to read passages of it out loud, slowly and deliberately until that "ah ha" moment hits. To be perfectly honest, that ah ha moment sometimes takes three or four vocal readings. But you know, when you hit that breakthrough, it feels like Handel's Messiah ... HALLELUJAH!

To be honest, with Barth, I sometimes never hear Handel's Messiah!

Well, this is one of the reasons we're friends. Some people fall in love with sexy movie stars. Me and my friend? We like the studious theologians...preferably wearing glasses, probably sporting cardigans, usually at the pub—not to get plastered but to smoke pipes and talk philosophy over a few pints. And I guess they can be dead, too.

She's right. Barth is opaque. You know when you have more question marks than exclamation points in your annotations, you've got yourself an opaque one. And if you ever start thinking you're smart, just start reading Barth, and you’ll quickly discover you know nothing. Barth's not messin' around. Don't think for a second that you can casually skim through his Dogmatics—all bajillion trillion pages of it. Oh no.

From last night's homework, in honor of my friend, here's a little Barth on ethics:

"Before he [man, woman] was, before the world was, God drew him to Himself when he destined him to obedience to His command. But, strangely enough, it is just because of this that the impossible—sin—presses so insistently. For man is not content simply to be the answer to this question by the grace of God. He wants to be like God. He wants to know of himself (as God does) what is good and evil. He therefore wants to give this answer himself and of himself. So, then, as a result and in prolongation of the fall, we have ethics, or, rather, the multifarious ethical systems, the attempted human answers to the ethical question. But this question can be solved only as it was originally put—by the grace of God, by the fact that this allows man actually to be the answer."

What the heck, you ask, is he saying? It’s interesting. Ethics always sounds good. To pose the question, "is this ethical?" makes you sound like you’re very moral and very good. And I think what Barth is saying, no. Try again. We only need ethics because of our sin in the first place. With ethics, we think we can somehow determine what's right and wrong, which means we think we can be God, who is the ultimate judge of right and wrong. This shouldn't really come as a surprise. We were told this would happen.

In Genesis 3:5, the serpent tells Eve that she will certainly not die if she eats the forbidden truth. Rather her "eyes will be opened," she will be "like God, knowing good and evil." Which is so not a good thing, evidenced by the world we live in.

It's a shame we need ethics at all! I'd rather not have to be ethical.

Barth goes on to say that Jesus doesn't give the answer, but "by God's grace, he is the answer to the ethical question put by God's grace."

I'm not sure I really hear Handel's Messiah. Maybe more like Chopsticks...but...babysteps.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Roger that

Last week, I sat on BJ’s bed staring at my laptop, writing a response piece for class. A typical night together looks like this: me doing homework, BJ making me dinner, bringing me water or sometimes a glass of wine, every now and then (so as not to distract me too much) making me laugh, bringing me a bowl of cookies'n'cream ice cream. You get the idea. I don’t deserve him.

On this particular night, I looked up to see what BJ was doing at his desk. He was opening up a new pack of batteries and then pulling out these two black bricks from an old-school, red cardboard box, circa 1980.

What, may I ask, are you doing? And what are those black things?

HJ!, he turns to me excitedly, eyes lit up. These are my old walkie talkies from when I was a kid. I found them at home over the weekend.

OK. Why do you have batteries though?

I’m going to put the batteries in and use the walkie talkies.

I didn’t know whether to laugh, go back to my homework as if that’s normal—a 29-year-old wanting to use walkie talkies when our cell phones are sitting idly nearby, or continue the question game. I chose the latter.

What are you going to do with these?

As he carefully put the batteries into the black, boxy walkie talkies seriously the size of bricks, and then pulled out the long silver antennae, he said, I’m going to put them in my car for emergencies. To be prepared.

(Duh, Heather. Obviously.)

He then hands one to me, presses the button on his own, and says, Heather, can you hear me?

Uh, yeah. You’re sitting two feet away!

No, c’mon. Try it. Use the walkie talkies.

I press the button on mine. I can hear you.

I can’t hear you. Press the button.

I press the button again. I am pressing the button!

Now I can hear you.

I press the button. Ok. Really? Are we really going to do this?

I can’t hear you. Press the button.

Using the walkie talkies, he informs me that he’s now going to head downstairs and outside to change my oil (I told you...I don’t deserve him) and that we need to stay in contact.

I press the button. OK.

I’m heading down the stairs.

I press the button. Roger that.

I’m heading outside.

We continued in this fashion until he had successfully changed my oil and returned to his bedroom. He was thrilled that his walkie talkies actually still worked and carefully put them back into the box to go out into his car. I was wondering if any of his neighbors were watching him talk into this thing. I was also wondering how I got so I have someone who wants to be in constant contact with me, who wants to walk and talk with me through life.

Roger that.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My mom, the baker

I make a dozen muffins on a bi- or tri-weekly basis. I freeze them in individual Ziploc bags, and then pull them out for my breakfasts in the morning. By the time I get to work, settle in, check my email, they’re ready to eat. Last week, I mentioned to mom that in between working late, the gym, and homework, I hoped to make more muffins because I was completely out. What was I supposed to eat for breakfast?!

I got home later that night and sitting on the bench in my entry way were muffins. Mom made them for me. To help me. To save me time.

Yesterday, on the verge of a tearful meltdown in part due to three looming school papers, a magazine deadline at work, and too many unknowns, a dessert was about to push me over the edge. I suddenly remembered that I was in charge of bringing a dessert tomorrow for a coworker who is recovering from surgery. And, I’m in class tonight until 10:30! And you must know that I will choose to lose sleep to bake something at home and actually have the meltdown, before I buy a pre-made dessert at the grocery store! Absurd, I know! But guess what? I blame this on mom. And so, I sent her a frantic email, knowing she'd understand. Help! Give me a simple easy recipe that I can make before work early tomorrow morning!

She came up with a better idea. She’s making the dessert for me, and I’m picking it up on my way home from class tonight.

And on Sunday, Mother’s Day, I made mom dinner, but I actually left with bread dough she made. Nourishment that I can bake later this week. As I headed home that night, I thought so typical! It’s Mother’s Day, and she’s giving me stuff!

I’m in class right now (on break, ok?). The woman next to me has five children, and she’s wearing a bright, yellow shirt that her kids made for her for Mother's Day. In puffy paint, they’ve made outlines of their hands and then written words that they use to describe their mom: breathtaking, respectful, friend, fun, loving.

If I made my mom a puffy paint T-shirt today, it’d say baker. Baker of love and help and encouragement. And, of course, muffins and desserts and bread.

Thank you, momma. I love you.
And you're breathtaking, too.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Waffles with Gordon

On Saturday morning I found myself talking about the weather over waffles with old people.

I was asked to speak to a group of retirees from the university I work with. They meet quarterly for strawberries, whipped cream, waffles, and sausage links. Seriously. That’s it. Don’t even think about switching it up with bacon. And it’s been like that for 50-some years. They used to meet in the president’s house, but when the number of retirees got to be too great, it moved on campus into the dining center. At each gathering, they hear from a current university employee—this time, me.

I am not one to talk in front of people. In fact, I strongly dislike it. I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. Especially at 8:30 on a Saturday morning at work! But I kindly accepted the offer and prepared a 15-minute talk about my background, my role at the university, what’s ahead for the magazine I edit, etc. I arrived in time to eat breakfast with the crowd of 50 or so before taking the microphone.

As planned, I talked for about 15 minutes and then with a sigh of relief, took a few questions from the crowd. I survived, and I think it went well. Afterwards, I stayed to chat and mingle. I didn’t really need to move. People came to me to thank me and ask me more questions. I had to explain to someone that I am no longer “in a grade.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Gordon, a 90-year-old former dean who I’ve had phone conversations with before for various reasons, slowly making his way to me with his walker. When at last he reached me, I thanked the person I was talking to for the kind words and turned to him.

With one hand bracing himself on the walker, he took his other hand and squeezed my wrist. He leaned in very close and rather loudly said: “I couldn’t hear a word you said, but you were great!”

Monday, May 03, 2010

The meant of sacrament

Over the past week for class, I’ve spent some time reading about sacraments. They’re rites or oaths or activities that affirm your faith. The Roman Catholic Church decided a long time ago that they would have seven: marriage, confession, baptism, confirmation, ordination, last rites, and communion. Protestants decided they’d have two: baptism and communion.

It just so happened that my cousin, also my godson, was confirmed yesterday and participated in one of these sacraments—communion—for the first time. For Lutherans, confirmation means affirming what was said for you by others during your infant baptism.

Despite the debate over the number of sacraments as well as God’s activity in them (like, is it more about us coming before God or God coming down to us?), the author I’m reading says that they are ALL outward expressions of an internal faith.

And I got to thinking about how if that’s the case, then shouldn’t life be a sacrament? Why would we limit our outward expressions of faith to 10 minutes on a Sunday? Don’t get me wrong. I understand and respect the importance and significance of both baptism and communion. They are fundamental to the Christian faith, as shown throughout the New Testament. But, perhaps this particular author’s definition (maybe even our own) of them needs to be tweaked or clarified a bit more. I hope my life, my interactions with other people, my words, the decisions I make...I hope they are ALL sacraments! I hope they all externally reveal an element of my internal faith.

As I listened to the words associated with communion yesterday, I first recognized how odd or even creepy the “eucharist” can be. Partaking in Christ’s body and blood? Ok, that’s weird. It’s only normal to me because I’ve heard it almost every Sunday of my life, which--I did the math--is now nearly 1,500 times. But the phrase alone--drinking someone else's blood? (My eyebrows are up right now and my mouth is kind of crooked.) Also the author I’m reading uses the phrase “ingest.” As in we “ingest” the bread and wine. Weird! Can we just say “eat?”

But what’s most important is what’s behind all this wording. Christ’s body and blood refers to his death on the cross for us. His selfless love for us! I’ll ingest that and then hope to outwardly display it--continuously confirm it--throughout my life.