anthony bloom

A Lost Child, "Burned Alive," and Ending Evil Now

A child was lost this last week. A child I knew. In the dark. In the forest by the cliffs. Someone who could fall down the ragged rocks to a brutal beach below. I was in agony for the parents of this child. We were praying, so many of us. Others ran to look with flashlights, friends from church, Coast Guard, the Navy, the state troopers. Kodiak is like that . ..

And the news around the world is so hard. This morning, how many more days will we wake to see these horrific words on our computer screens: hostages "beheaded." "tortured"  "burned alive"??   

I am sick at heart. 

And I am sick at heart of myself. In church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of sin. Who wants to hear about sin? I do. He spoke of sin in a new way. Not sin as in murdering, adultering, conniving, but sin as a gentle tipping of the scales toward ourselves. A subtle shifting of the weights we use to measure ourselves and others. And don't we do this? Don't we do this ALL this time, weight our Scale of Benefits and Praise just a wee bit heavier than everyone else's? And the Lord "hates dishonest scales." This is the root of all evil.

Done. Devastated. Tears. Forgive me these my great heavy sins, Lord

I went for a walk, as I do when I'm in troubled, lost. I went to the cliffs and woods, the same woods the child was lost in. I went to look for God. 

Where was God? We are always looking for him, I think, whether we know it or not. The Russian cosmonaut Titov was looking, telling a news conference in 1962 that 'In my travels around the earth I saw no God or angels.'" 

I was gone for two hours in the woods, around the lake. The griefs and fears of my friends, the evil of ISIS, the family in trouble . . . my own heavy heart.  I felt our common human lament and our human confusion: If you are there, God, why don’t you answer? And our second howl is like it: If you are there and you are good, why do you allow so much evil? 

But I recognize my own complicity in the presence of sin and the seeming absence of God. Anthony Bloom, in his classic, Beginning to Pray, has written, “We have no right to complain of the absence of God for we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.” 

So it is. How is it that we demand God’s presence in our own heartbreaks and even in our whimsies when we make ourselves so absent from him otherwise? I have so many ways of absenting myself, this one chief among them: 

Each time I tip my own scale, I diminish another and enlarge myself. 

And each time I enlarge my own presence, I perceive God's presence less. 

And without God's presence, I am prone to evil . . . 

We are not using the wondrous paradoxical power God has given us: to decrease so that He may increase. 


             The child was found that day by rescuers hours later. Safe. At the end of the two hours, I too felt saved, gloriously freed from the self, opened to the sky, the spruce trees themselves reaching for light, the ocean breathing in and out. I emptied out my worries, the burdens of my friends, the burden of myself. 

And I knew, the answer to the question of Evil and Suffering starts here. Here, in my small heart. When I open my over-weighted self-loving heart to God, I am emptied, overthrown. God comes near, moves in. And there is no room for evil in a God-dwelling heart.

Here is what we do about evil in the world right now: 

 We rout the evil in our own hearts. We tip the scales toward others. Always.

I can't stop ISIS. But I can do this here where I live. 

We can ALL do this.

Going Home+ What If You Hate Where You Live?

What if you hate where you live? And what if you cannot leave? 

I am headed home to Alaska right now,  leaving the California desert and returning to snow, rain, storms and two more months of winter.  I'm glad to be going home. I've been on the road with my family for 3 weeks, blending work, speaking/ministry and vacation. When I occasionally felt survivor's guilt for lying like a lizard in the sun this week in California when friends back home were shoveling snow, I remembered Mike Doogan's words, "In winter, Real Alaskans do not go outdoors. Real Alaskans go to Hawaii."  (Or California.)

But I have discovered recently that some people hate living in Alaska. I did not know.

I stumbled upon these words online today:

I hate living in Alaska! I love my husband and I have begged and pleaded with him to leave but he will not. . . . He makes good money and he loves it here, so  he will not leave. It does not matter that I have a very bad back and the long winters kill me, that I get severely depressed all winter long.  I cry all the time . ..

Another wrote this:

The first two years of Alaska are great lots of new things then you wake up and realize that winter is once again upon you. You spend all winter trying to stay awake and keep from freezing then all summer the whole 3 months of it getting ready for winter.

And another:

Alaska has been nothing but a nightmare for me, too. I loathe it with every fiber of my being. I hope you are out by now. My "prison term" in Alaska, as I have come to call it is up this summer. I am out of here and will never look back.

Nor did I know that many people feel the same about Kodiak.  I was shocked to learn this while speaking at another town in Alaska this winter. Women took me aside and expressed concern that I  lived in Kodiak. One woman was shaking with her own traumatic childhood there. She was so kind---she wanted to pray for me.

I appreciated their concern, but I am grieved as well.  I'm sorry for others' misery. I understand it. And I have fallen deep into numbness through long winters, I have lamented isolation, I have struggled raising my children on this island . .. Yes, all true. But no one is entirely alone in this.

Many of you have had terrible winters this year. I'm sure you hated parts of those months, and are even now longing for sun and all things green and growing. But-------can we afford to hate? Even a place? 

It is the Lenten Season now---and almost Spring, both speaking to death and resurrection. How can this matter---the place we live---when we consider the walk to a cross of death, a hollowed emptied grave, the re-birth and melt of the earth toward fresh life? Does it matter, where we live?

"Take up your cross and follow me" were the words Jesus spoke. And we do, all of us. No matter our address and geography, we all bear seasons of darkness and light, of immobility and unwanted speed; of danger and play. We lament April snows and year-long droughts. We are stuck on our islands or stuck in speeding cars on freeways. We don't have enough time or joy, and everywhere else seems better, brighter, happier.   And surely we too would be brighter, better, happier people if we should live there instead of here.  I have thought this many times. I have known this many times.



       But part of the work of the Lenten season is the work of reconciliation---to be reconciled to the state and the places we live, to the people who live with us and around us, to the incompleteness of our lives and the sure presence of paradox---of loves and hates and disappointments who all take up residency within us. Even here, especially here, there is goodness to be found.

"As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like it or dislike it. It is God's own gift to you . .. . " writes Anthony Bloom.

And every place we live and even visit, is chosen by God with His own hand . .. It is God's own gift to you.

When we believe this, we begin to see light again.

When I get home, it will be gray and gloomy. I will not see wild flowers for almost 3 more months. There is no other town I can drive to on Kodiak Island. I live in a 3 mile universe. 

But I choose to see it all as a kind of grace. These weeks especially, moving toward the Cross, I hope we will recognize 
that all that comes to us is holy     and      chosen 

and finally, good. 

And I believe we will be given the strength to lift 

whatever cup is given to our lips,

if we ask.   

Please. Do not lament any longer. 

Instead, Ask.

And  drink. . . .