The Taser's Edge


Which Is Easier?: Divorce, Forgiveness, and Healing

The Gospel According to Luke 5:17-26 (ESV):

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

In the wounded state in which the end of my marriage left me, my friends brought me to Jesus, and I knew that I wanted Him to heal me. But when Jesus looked at me and said, “Your sins are forgiven,” I realized that that was what I had most wanted. The desire deeper than my desire to be healed, a desire I had not known I had, was to be forgiven.

Why, consciously speaking, did I have the desire to be healed, but not the desire to forgiven? I wanted His healing because I could feel my hurt every day and every step and almost every breath, a spiritual nerve damage. I did not want forgiveness because I did not believe it was possible for me to be forgiven.

Many people have noted that evangelical Christians tend to focus on certain favorite sins, especially those with any connection whatsoever to sex, while mentally marking others as less important or less harmful. I thought I was good at avoiding this particular trap until I found myself getting divorced, and I found I was incapable of believing that God forgave me. When I tried to believe, my imagination sputtered, died, and rolled to a stop. Loss of imagination is more than a foggy, moonless night. Loss of image-ination is the definition of blindness.

How broken was the body of the man whom Jesus forgave and healed? Was he born this way? It’s hard to believe that he could have survived into adulthood if that had been the case. Did he have a degenerative illness that we could name today but still couldn’t cure? Did he have a spinal cord injury?

To “rise, pick up your bed and go home” requires balance and the finest of motor skills along with that bundle of motions we call the ability to walk. Think through all of the motions and muscle groups required to stand up from the floor, kneel down and roll up some bedding, stand up again, then bend over to pick up that mat and carry it over your shoulder to walk home. These are levels of restoration happening in the human body that we still could not explain.

And yet forgiveness is the miracle, what Jesus extends first and what even the Pharisees and the teachers of the law know is something only God can give.

To receive forgiveness in the places we most need it is not only a passive reception but an act of the will. We don’t even know if the paralyzed man believed that he was indeed forgiven. I do will to believe and more and more I succeed.

I cannot offer enough gratitude to all those who carried me to the Healer and who strengthened my will to believe that He was also a Forgiver. Thank you.

Healing High Five!



“O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!”: A Eucharistic Prayer of St. Francis
Let the whole of mankind tremble
     the whole world shake
     and the heavens exult
when Christ, the son of the living God,
     is [present] on the altar
     in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look, brothers, at the humility of God
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves, as well,
     that you may be exalted by Him.
Therefore,
     hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves
so that
He Who gives Himself totally to you
     may receive you totally.

from “A Letter to the Entire Order” in Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (Paulist Press: The Classics of Western Spirituality), trans. by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM and Ignatius C. Brady, OFM



The God from Whom I Repeatedly Flee

All theologizing, if worth its salt, must submit to the test of hospital gowns, droning television sets, and food spilled in a clumsy effort to eat. What can be said of God that may be spoken without shame in the presence of those who are dying?…I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognizable body, twisted by crippling arthritis–a man or woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people?

They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee. Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of aging and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows behind the nurses’ desk, promising life in the presence of death. This is the last place I might have sought him. I found myself wanting often to run from that gaping mouth, the twisted body, the cries that echoed through the halls. I resisted going to the nursing home. Yet at the same time, I was drawn there.

I know why Francis had to kiss the leper, why Mother Teresa reached out to those dying on the streets of Calcutta, why Jean Vanier gives himself without restraint to the handicapped. It has nothing to do with charity. It’s a concern to touch–and be touched by–the hidden Christ, the one found nowhere else so clearly. It’s a longing to reach out to the grotesque, stroking the bloodied head of a slain lamb as its image gradually changes into the fierce and kindly face of a Lion whose name is love.

-Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes



“Progress”

“Over the last two or three decades, the stereotype of the easily aroused, enthusiastically sexual, even predatory female has replaced the more traditional view of the demure woman who has to be seduced or loosened up with alcohol. But this new woman is a fiction in much the same way her reticent forerunner was.” (p. 178)



War and Worship in Full Metal Jacket (1987, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

Full Metal Jacket is one of those films which it feels stupid to recommend because it’s so well-respected and because it’s a Kubrick film at all.  But, following the modus operandi of Oprah’s Book Club, it’s also a film that demands to be recommended no matter how many times it’s been recommended before.

Part of the issue that clouds how much this film is one of the standards by which all war films should be judged is that there are so many anti-Vietnam movies out there.  Most of them fall into that sad trend of American pop culture dumbing down history in general, and particularly the history of the 1960s (see, The 60’s): “The only thing you need to know about Vietnam is that it was bad, so that you can say you are against it.  The only thing that you need to know about the 1960s is that they were good, so you can be for them.”

Perhaps worse, we’re already flattening out the history of the current Iraq War (which I suppose makes sense, because we’ve had so much practice with previous wars): “The only thing you need to know about Iraq is….”  I can already see the CBS miniseries on the first decade of the 21st century, although first they will have to come up with a catchy title.  Someone’s probably already writing a new Forrest Gump to fully obliterate any sense of connection between historical events and historical narrative, but in the meantime we have films like last year’s Fair Game (about Valerie Plame) and Casino Jack (about Jack Abramoff), both marketed not as ‘based’ but ‘inspired by true events.’  And you can be sure that a team of lawyers forced that language to avoid litigation.

Now, there are all kinds of ways to make a historical film.  Ray, for instance, was factually misleading and somehow managed to make Ray Charles boring.  Many older war movies starring John Wayne (both in WWII and Vietnam) make war seem more ‘kind-of-sucky sometimes’ than ‘hell.’  And then other films make up stuff from whole cloth and range from brilliant (Life is Beautiful and the mystifyingly lesser known The Lives of Others) to excellent (Three Kings) to entertaining (Green Zone and perhaps Inglourious Basterds) to crap (too many to name).

Full Metal Jacket goes in the brilliant category, even though it’s impossible to directly compare it to Life is Beautiful (more freedom for fantasy) or The Lives of Others (more focus on historical groundedness).  FMJ is a war movie not so much about war as about people.

Yes, there are the battle scenes (and I am certain, although I haven’t yet seen Alfonso Cuarón saying so, that the battle scene with the camera moving through bombed-out buildings in Children of Men is a direct homage to a long scene late in Full Metal Jacket, also a long, uncut shot following folks through burning and bombed-out buildings).  But there is also this massive risk, which pays off amazingly, in which Kubrick (although basing the story on a novel) decided to tell two full stories, making the movie into two discreet-but-sinewed-together acts, each of which easily a stand-alone.

The first act is about a fairly heavy and dim-witted Marine recruit who becomes the object of bullying at Parris Island.  The second is about a bright, educated Marine journalist who went through training at the same time, and who is on the ground in Vietnam during the beginning of the Tết Offensive and the Battle of Huế, literally wearing his conflicted feelings about the War (his helmet reading “Born to Kill” alongside a peace sign pin on his jacket).  Interestingly, the official trailer really didn’t have a clue how to depict both acts, and so didn’t even try:

So, why is it important that this war movie is primarily about people instead of primarily about war?  Because war is primarily about people, and we continue to wage wars in order to distract ourselves from the fact that peace is harder, because peace is all about actually valuing people.

Finally, why does this movie matter so much to me?  Because it makes clear that war is by definition about worship, and that the gods whom we worship in war are far from the God who is the Lamb Who Was Slain.  That’s not something that’s as clear in any other war film I know (although Apocalypse Now comes close, and I think I might look at worship as a lens through which to return to war movies I’ve already seen).

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Very much related post: Veteran’s Day Ambivalence



Attachment Theology, or A Whole New Meaning to “No Crying He Makes”

I said it was coming, a look at what attachment theory may say about how we as humans relate to God, and whether it’s to our flourishing or not.

Traditional Attachment Theory (Mama and Baby)
This is the kind that everyone basically believes in, whether they would call it ‘attachment theory’ or not.  The basic thought I’m claiming we all buy into: infants who fail, for whatever reason, to form loving, secure relationships in their earliest life will not thrive in adult relationships.  What not everybody knows: not only do those kids most likely fail to form secure relationships, but often they will actually physically fail to thrive.

Interesting study #1–Harry Harlow’s famous study shows that primates prefer comfort even to food.  Later Harlow studies on furry folks like the one below showed that primates beyond humankind fail to form healthy adult relationships if they don’t form infant attachments:

And to understand how much this matters for humans, listen to “Unconditional Love,” a This American Life episode whose first act is about a kid whose earliest years were spent in an Eastern European orphanage, until he was adopted by American parents and brought to the States.  Or, for a similar horror which attachment theorists would also connect to failure to make early attachments, recall the American mother who last Spring sent her adopted Russian son back to Russia on a plane with nothing and no one but a note about how he was too hard to raise.

Adult Attachment Theory (Adult to Partner)
While any relationship with anything requires some form of attachment, the most interesting may be within the most intimate relationships we make as adults (and specifically in adult romantic relationships).  If we are to be in healthy relationship with our significant others, then we must be able to bond securely to them.

That’s all the stuff from Sue Johnson’ Hold Me Tight I’ve been quoting around here lately…

We all experience some fear when we have disagreements or arguments with our partners.  But for those of us with secure bonds, it is a momentary blip.  The fear is quickly and easily tamped down as we realize that there is no real threat or that our partner will reassure us if we ask.  For those of us with weaker or fraying bonds, however, the fear can be overwhelming.  We are swamped by what neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University calls “primal panic.”  Then we generally do one of two things: we either become demanding and clinging in an effort to draw comfort and reassurance from our partner, or we withdraw and detach in an attempt to soothe and protect ourselves.  No matter the exact words, what we’re really saying in these reactions is: “Notice me.  Be with me.  I need you.”  Or, “I won’t let you hurt me.  I will chill out, try to stay in control.”

Attachment Theology (Human to God)
I really don’t think it ought to be a stretch to think about our relationships to God through the lens of attachment theory, now that we’ve seen how it affects two other types of relationships.

1.) I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but the Hebrew Bible’s “El Shaddai” -while comfortably and traditionally translated from Tyndale to Michael Card as “God Almighty” (or “Almighty God”) – actually seems to have more in common etymologically with ideas of fertility.  A fully plausible translation: “Breasted One.”  Not that hard to understand how if our Father is our breasted mother, then our relationships with God require the secure attachments made between mother and child.

2.) What’s more, if we are all children of God, as Christianity (and plenty of other religions and belief systems) tells us, then attachment theology spells out for us that when we fail to make secure attachment bonds with our divine parent, it deeply affects our relationships with one another.  That is, just as failure for infant to bond with mother means difficulty or failure at that same person, when an adult, to forge emotional bonds with other adults, when we fail to make attachment bonds with God, we will find it difficult-to-impossible to relate healthily to other human beings.

3.) So what does the Garden of Eden mean through an attachment lens?  To start, I’m reading through Augustine’s City of God right now, so I know full well that much (most?) of the Christian tradition has read the sin of Adam and Eve as Pride.  So, I’m not saying necessarily that it wasn’t Pride.

But might it also be something else?  What if it is seen as insecurity that the Father would provide?  The serpent’s trickery is then, “Do you really think God wants your best?  Will he really keep you safe?  Will he really provide for your needs?  Do you really believe that?  No, God knows that eating that fruit would really cause you to flourish, and that’s why he won’t let you have it.”  Imagine what happens to the infant who begins to believe that the breast holds poison and that though a newborn, the mother’s lunch looks much more appetizing.  Adam and Eve react to this fear by first eating the fruit (not bad in itself, but bad for them at this time, to follow Augustine) and then by throwing some clothes on to cover their shame.

Humans only feel shame in places where they don’t feel safe or where they don’t trust the owners of the eyes who see their nakedness.  The infant is not ashamed of its nakedness.  The lovers are not ashamed of their nakedness (and if they are, it’s a sign of brokenness, not of health).  Original Sin is that the way of humans is always to distrust and feel unsafe around God and therefore each other.

4.) So what is redemption?  It is the Trinitarian pursuit of life-giving relationship with the beloved child (humankind) who will die because she has no ability to attach.  Think of the infant who can choose to release her mouth from the nipple, but then cannot find it to reattach and begins to squall.

The Fall is the infant choosing to look elsewhere for food because it either doesn’t trust that the supply will keep coming, or because it believes that it can go off into the world to find better sustenance.  Salvation is that the Son becomes one of us, the only one among us who fully trusts the Spirit of love and attaches his mouth to the breast of the Father as his only sustenance.  His life says, trust the Hand which guides you back to the Breast.  You will not find the Breast apart from being guided by the Hand as I am guided by the Hand.  And without Breast or Hand, you will die.

Yes, I just named the Trinity as Breast, Infant, Hand, and I used Augustine to back it.

5.) If you’ve listened to the This American Life episode prescribed above, then you already know that a treatment used to help kids who have attachment disorders (extremely controversial, but with apparent effectiveness for what are sometimes cases beyond healing) is to break the kid down psychologically into infant helplessness so that he is forced to form attachments with his parents.  This makes me think of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus that he would have to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God.

Through an attachment lens, the command could be “You have to start over with your attachment to God in order to relate to God or to have life.”  Or, “You must realize that you are an infant who will never find the nipple without help.”

6.) In the context of Jesus’ other teachings, baptism has a similar understanding.  Death of the self is required for the sake of resurrection in (attachment to) Christ.  Do not fight it.  Let the Hand take you to the Breast.  Your Brother, the Hand, and the Breast love you and only want to bring you to flourishing growth.

7.) And the Lord’s Supper?  I think the implications should be clear, but if you want me to say nipple or breast again in this theology post, I just did.  How does the infant give thanks for the Breast, for the Hand, and for the Brother who showed how it’s done by being the only one who really got it?  The infant enjoys and then settles in for a nice Sabbath.



Saint Matthias

Psalm 15
Acts 1:15-26
Philipians 3:13-21
John 15:1, 6-16

A Reflection
I love this particular image of St. Matthias, because he has his hands extended with palms up and cupped, the posture of those willing to receive whatever God has for them – whether Bread of Life or a dirty foot needing washed (not that these two are always different things) – in openness, humility, and expectancy (not to mention that it’s the posture we take when receiving Communion each week).  Truly (and literally), this is the picture of a saint.

The account of the choosing of Matthias is a moving one.  It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the way that Peter reads the Psalms in a way that most of us wouldn’t think of reading the Bible, and we may find ourselves wondering what it means that the Church “cast lots” to discern God’s will for its leadership.  Those details, however, while perhaps worth our time at some other time, should not distract us from what is at work here in the early (so early that we might even call it a pre-Church, because the Spirit had not yet been poured out) Church.

Let’s set the scene.  In the preceding verses, Jesus has just told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit and then ascended “out of their sight” into heaven.  Those dazed folks (the disciples, Mary, several women, Jesus’ “brothers”, and apparently several unnamed others, for a total of about 120) returned to Jerusalem together “devoting themselves to prayer” but surely wondering just who or what the Holy Spirit was and how soon Jesus would come back out of the clouds to set up his kingdom on earth.

Truly, if we know that Spirit means ‘Breath’ (and in Greek it does), this community is a newly born and helpless infant, and it’s not clear yet if it will survive, let alone thrive.  The time between the Ascension and Pentecost (and in the church calendar, all the time is happening all the time, including Ascension and Pentecost this day in Epiphany) is the time waiting for a newborn to draw its own first breaths of outside air, and those brief moments seem to be taking weeks.  When we are remembering Matthias, that is what we are remembering.

Here, God, by leading the selection of Matthias by the believers, restores the believers’ hope that God is with them, has not and will not ever abandon them, and will fulfill Christ’s every promise to them.  The choosing of Matthias is the infant Church’s whimper, the promise of God that the full-throated wail of Pentecost is soon to follow.  Thanks be to God!

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.