Coming Home + Breaking Out of Hell

I am home! Flying into Kodiak, then driving back from the airport, all this was waiting for me .  . . 

        The trip is still fresh in my mind---and body. I traveled a lot of places these last two weeks: Minneapolis, Rochester, Calgary, Lethbrige, Chicago, Charlotte, Blacksburg Virginia, Seattle. I met some true heroes of the faith. But there were a few surprises.  “Hell” wasn’t on the itinerary, but I unexpectedly went there. And I don’t mean the part at one airport when I couldn’t flag down the rental car shuttle leaving me stranded with two heavy suitcases full of books and in the midst of a 2 day massive blinding headache--then on the phone with someone in India who couldn’t help and a taxi driver who couldn’t find the address and then having to drive in the dark in a city I didn’t know with my google maps not working on my phone . … Not that. Though that came close. 

          Another kind of hell. Something like The kind that Jean-Paul Sartre envisioned in his famous play, “No Exit” where three people are trapped in a room for eternity. The torment? Words. From one another. They punish each other with piercing hostile words that eviscerate and destroy----except they cannot die. Nor can they ever speak words of love. Nor can they stay silent.


  Have you been to that room? I don’t know how I got there this trip. But there I was. The room in my head and the voices . ..  the hostile voices that ridicule. That say, “Who are you to be doing this? Who do you think you are, standing in front of these people? What are these words you’re speaking? Surely they can’t be true. And you!! You’re not worthy of this. You’ll never be worthy.”    When does it end? I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years---speaking, writing, teaching. Sometimes in a little room with 4 people around a table. Sometimes in an auditorium with 4,000---and everything in between. And still they come, the voices. Sometimes they are spoken by an actual person, or written in a letter. Sometimes they come from someone in the past, who is offended that I have been given a stage. “Why you and not me? they accuse, suspicious. Sometimes they come in the still silence just before I lean in to the mic.


  I know you know about this. The attacks, how they come whenever we step out, when we dare to speak from the Word of God, when we dare to exercise the grace that’s been given to us, no matter where our sphere of influence---the boardroom, the stage, the page, the kitchen, the sanctuary, the podium, the ER, the classroom . .  And the truth is that these voices will never completely go away, just as our wounds will never completely go away. As Christian Wiman, a wise and gifted poet has written, 

“There are wounds we won’t get over. There are things that happen to us that, no matter how hard we try to forget, no matter with what fortitude we face them, what mix of religion and therapy we swallow, what finished and durable forms of art we turn them into, are going to go on happening inside of us for as long as our brains are alive.”


 But this is not the end of the matter. The enemy means it so. He thinks the voices and the wounds will trap us and stop us. But they don’t.  We listen to them---because they are true. We know they are true. But they are not the whole truth. No---never will the enemy speak the whole truth. Here is the beginning of the rest of the Truth: "For we are HIS workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, prepared in advance for us to do … ." "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--" So here is my answer when these voices come: "You’re right.  I am not worthy. I never have been and I never will be worthy. But I AM made righteous. I AM made holy. I AM made blameless by the One who IS worthy!  HE is worthy. And He has glued this wounded soul together, piece by piece, and given me work to do. That’s all. Not worthy. Just glued together, and willing."


        And here was heaven. On the last day, the flight home, while I was still licking my wounds and my fatigue, I sat next to a couple who had lost their daughter. I don’t know how she died, but it was a lingering death. The pain was still on their faces, but also joy. They spoke of the ways God met them there, His presence, His touch, His constant assurances that their daughter was now with Jesus in heaven. But still, tears . … On the same flight, a friend coming home from an accident and emergency surgery in a wheelchair, another friend beside me in need. Everywhere I looked I saw people yearning for God, suffering, hoping,  bent over and raising a hand for help. There it was---the closest cure I know of, the exit from that locked room: my neighbors. Their needs. Their wounds. Their griefs. Their thirst.  


         As I listened to each one, sometimes with tears, sometimes holding their hand, the accusatory voices were gone. Gone. Only these remaining: "But now he has reconciled you to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--" "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, prepared in advance for us to do … ." And you---are you like me, an unworthy wounded soul, now glued together piece by piece, and made willing? Then Praise God. Give thanks. Serve your neighbor.  And we shall be free----and well. 

Can Philae Solve the Mystery of the Universe? (A Comet in You?)

While I am traveling 12,000 miles these 2 weeks, touching down in Seattle, Minneapolis, Calgary, Chicago---a robot, Philae, has touched down on a conglomeration of ice, dust and rocks screaming through space 310 million miles from Earth. Incredible!!  As you all know by now,  the mission has taken ten years so far, and the lander will remain with the comet for an entire year (if indeed the landing gear has properly secured it.)

What's this ambitious mission about? To answer the greatest mystery of all time: How did we all get here? How did this ball of molten rock grow green and thick with life, with creatures, with US? 

Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator of ROSINA poses the questions this way:

Where do we come from and where do we go to? Are we alone in the universe? . . . To be able to answer some aspects of these questions by science is the main driver for cometary missions
        Whenever space travel is in the news, I run to Colossians, the book of Scripture that answers the same question: "where do we come from and where do we go to?" Colossians takes us straight to the person of Christ. As I read the first chapters, I feel the strain of language as the writer attempts to tether to the page the incomparable majesty of Christ: he who is in all and above all, who is before all things, who is the firstborn over all creation, who holds all things together. We discover that the fullness of Christ's gospel has been a mystery, something "kept hidden for ages and generations." But now that mystery is made clear.
Here it is, the deepest mystery that our forbears and even angels longed to hear and know but were not told: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27, emphasis mine).

Who could imagine God inhabiting people? The very Son of God living inside US? It is so bizarre that most who have heard the claim throughout the ages have rejected it.

    Others make different claims. The famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is out-of-this-world excited about what he calls "The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe."
What could it be? Watch the video--which is beautiful and captivating.  Tyson explains, amid stunning views of the cosmos, that the atoms that make up our bodies came literally from the stars themselves! The stars exploded their "enriched guts" into the universe, creating our world and providing the elements that compose our bodies. 

The most astounding fact is this, says Tyson: "We are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but more importantly, the universe is in us …. We are made of star-stuff."       I love his excitement! Tyson is a self-described agnostic who ridicules the notion that human beings are special, that the universe was built for us by some Creator. Yet he finds meaning and significance in our star-shared atoms: "I feel big because my atoms came from those stars."

    This shared makeup with the stars , however random and impersonal he believes its cause, is the source of our significance, he says.  "I feel … ennobled, I feel a connectivity. I bask in the majesty of the cosmos," he says evangelistically on late-night shows and in university lectures, to energetic applause.
I love this too----The stars are within us! I am moved and awed by Tyson's message. And I expect we'll find that this comet too is made of the same stuff the Earth is made of---and that we are made of. 
But the Christian message takes an unprecedented and audacious step further: The Maker of the stars is within us And one more even more audacious step: We will live with the Maker of the stars—forever. We will bask in his majesty. Connected. Ennobled. Always!!

   Can we remember this? We forget. Work consumes us. Our family overwhelms us. We get tired. We fall into apathy, forgetting who we are and whose we are. When we do this, do you know what happens? We end up heightening the absurdity of our claim rather than lessening it. When we live the way we've been called to live--forgiving our persecutors, befriending the unlovely, blessing our enemies—when our lives are characterized by a love that cannot be explained by physics or astronomy or any other branch of science—then our claim--God within us!---is suddenly less ludicrous. And almost visible.

      We can live this way, all of us. We've been given everything we need to do it, through the Holy Spirit.  Go out under the night sky. Look up at the stars; watch for a comet. Be astonished, then remember the truly most astounding fact about the universe: "Christ, the star maker in us, the hope of glory!"

Weed Legal in Alaska--Good News?

Tuesday, on a gorgeous day in Kodiak, we did it. We left our houses, hopped in our cars, showed our ID's and slipped into the booths with our black ink pens. We did it. We did something millions can only dream about. 

Eight years ago I was in Guatemala with my family for the winter. We were there during the last months of an upcoming election. The body count at that point: 30. Thirty candidates running for office, including members of their family, had been assassinated. That's how some people in Guatemala--and dozens of other countries vote---with a bullet. 

The scene yesterday at my neighborhood ballot office was like a party. Friends, neighbors, on both sides of the political fence, visited, laughed, marked their ballots, 


proudly slapped their "I Voted Today" stickers on their chest and went home to watch the results with their families. As for me, I went to my sons'  basketball game, then went home to an unexpected birthday party (for me--though my birthday is 3 weeks away). We ate red, white and blue parfaits and followed the national and local results on the radio. 

 I'm grateful we vote with pens and civility. But----as I write this, I am discouraged and worried. Marijuana has been legalized in a state already sunk in drugs, abuse, violence and suicide. Yes, this is exactly what we didn't need. 

      But the election of the "wrong" candidate, the passage of a bill I know will be destructive to our state and especially to the young, does not change who I am to be, who any of us are to be: people draped with the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  NOW is just the time to be who we are called to be. 

         Can we stop being people of fear---and be people of peace and action instead? God doesn't need our candidate in office to accomplish His work and His will. God chooses whom He will, pagan or godly: Cyrus the King of Persia or Joseph the Hebrew. God doesn't align himself with any political party, or town or state. He aligns himself with the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the ones who are looking for Him, the ones who are serving Him. If the "wrong" woman or man gets that office, if the vote goes the other way, then, at the very worst,  we'll have all the more chance to serve, to speak peace, to bring justice and hope to the desperate and disconsolate. 

Keep doing the good work you are doing. And consider this proposition:

Whereas, the King is on the throne, shall His people serve Him and their neighbors with charity and joy, regardless of politics or economics, letting their light shine so radiantly that people look up and give praise to their Father in heaven?  

Would you vote "Yes!" with me on this? 

The voting is not over. It's NEVER over! When all the "Vote Here" signs are down and the media chatter quiets, (and we in Alaska scramble to meet the needs of yet more kids and adults strung out on drugs) we still get the chance every morning we rise from our beds to vote YES on this proposition, to choose again who we will be and whom we will serve.  

Choose well. Vote Yes. Every day.

Victoria's Perfect Bodies, Rene Z's Face+The Truly Perfect Body

You've probably seen it by now----10 young women
posed casually in underwear while "The Perfect Body" hovers in the center of the spread. We don't notice the underwear at all, of course. Victoria's Secret is not selling underwear. Their new campaign is all about selling bodies. 

I had a perfect body like that once. For a year, maybe two. All I did to get it was to stop eating. Almost entirely. 

So---these models' bodies are perfect----for what? For selling underwear, maybe? (And--perfect for igniting a national firestorm!) Because we all know just by looking that they are far from perfect for much else. Not perfect for any kind of work or sports or athletics. Not perfect for bringing children into the world.
Not perfect for anything requiring strength, endurance, even simply the energy to get through the day. Look closely.

This same week, I've looked at Rene Zellweger's new face a dozen times already, fascinated and horrified along with nearly everyone else. I cannot help but mourn for her. For all of us.

What are we doing?

We've  come to see our faces and bodies as plastic, man-made material to be shaped and hacked for our whims, our needs, and for others' greed.  

It makes sense. If we are no longer God-made, God-sustained, God-loved, we must find other meaning and value for out bodies and faces. 

For the consumer, bodies are billboards, auctioned off to the highest bidder,

                                                            (Billy the Billboard)

For the technophile and transhumanist, bodies are machines, their failing flesh perfected by metal and gears.

For the aging, bodies and faces are skin to be nipped, tightened and plumped to a facsimile of who we think we once were. 

For the fashion industry, bodies are hangers, the clavicle spaced just right for a designer's drape. 

For athletes and spectators, bodies are meat-and-muscle, bred for bulk or height or heft.

And this is only the start. For too many, our bodies are commodities, and everyone is after "perfect." The highest good, is that we feel good about ourselves. (See Rene Z.'s explanation of her new look here))

I'm not young anymore. I’m trying hard to feel good about myself too, and my increasing, visible changes, but feeling good isn’t enough. I've read articles that instruct women to start their day by standing in front of the mirror, wrapping their arms around  themselves, and reciting, “I love you! You're so beautiful!” for as many times as they need. 

 Surely there’s more to feeling good about ourselves than feeling good about ourselves. I think there is.  I see it on the faces of a few women I know in their 70’s and 80’s, women with wide waists, sagging chests and creased, smiling faces, faces brightly turned to others. These are women who feel good about themselves, but clearly they feel even better about others. 

 My vanity still props me against the mirror every morning massaging high- promise creams into the latest creases and lines. I’m always trying to lose 10 pounds. I  wear shocking red lipstick, splurge occasionally on a fru-fru coat, fret about my varicose veins. I still want to look and feel good.  But more than this and more than ever, I want to BE good.  I want to be the kind of person who sees beyond herself  to others around her. The kind who loves her neighbor like herself, who knows her body is not hers alone but is meant for the good of others. That kind who does for her neighbor what she would like them to do for her, two golden rules that never show their weight or their age. 

Until we know whose bodies these are and what they're for, we'll always get it wrong. 

But when we see women who get it right,  it's so beautiful and perfect---

we should put it on a billboard. 

We should even start a campaign. 

"The Perfect Body"