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Saturday Song: Ray Bradbury

Set aside all the associations with nerdy sci-fi: Ray Bradbury is our brother. I'll sure he would have scoffed at the idea of categorizing him as a "Christian writer." He was a writer, pure and simple. He was writer with a grand enough imagination to consider what would it have been like if God came to earth. And, following his imagination, he knelt at the feet of that "very God of God."

Bradbury's voice stopped singing in 2012, but he sang until the very last. I once read his challenge to aspiring writers that we should write one short story a day, every day, for a year--because it was impossible for anyone to write 365 bad stories in a row. Who knows if he was correct? I've tried this twice in my life, and never gotten past one week. (I can assure you it's entirely possible to write seven bad stories in a row.)

Quietly, in his 1967 collection, I Sing the Body Electric, Bradbury included this hymn. It's longer than previous Saturday Song entries, but it's worth every eternal moment:

Christus Apollo

cantata celebrating the eighth day

of creation and the promise

of the ninth


A Voice spoke in the dark,
And there was Light.
And summoned up by Light upon the Earth
The creatures swam
And moved unto the land
And lived in garden wilderness;
All this, we know.
The Seven Days are written in our blood
With hand of Fire.
And now we children of the seven eternal days
Inheritors of this, the Eighth Day of God,
The long Eighth Day of Man,
Stand upright in a weather of Time
In downfell snow
And hear the birds of morning
And much want wings
And look upon the beckonings of stars,
And need their fire.
In this time of Christmas,
We celebrate the Eighth Day of Man,
The Eighth Day of God,
Two billion years unending
From the first sunrise on Earth
To the last sunrise at our Going Away.
And the Ninth Day of the History of God
And the flesh of God which names itself Man
Will be spent on wings of fire
Claimed from sun and far burnings of sun starlight.
And the Ninth Day’s sunrise
Will show us forth in light and wild surmise
Upon an even further shore.
We seek new Gardens there to know ourselves.
We seek new Wilderness,
And send us forth in wandering search.
Apollo’s missions move, and Christus seek,
And wonder as we look among the stars
Did He know these?
In some far universal Deep
Did He tread Space
And visit worlds beyond our blood-warm dreaming?
Did He come down on lonely shore by sea
Not unlike Galilee
And are there Mangers on far worlds that knew His light?
And Virgins?
Sweet Pronouncements?
Annunciations? Visitations from angelic hosts?
And, shivering vast light among ten billion lights,
Was there some Star much like the star at Bethlehem
That struck the sight with awe and revelation
Upon a cold and most strange morn?
On worlds gone wandering and lost from this
Did Wise Men gather in the dawn
In cloudy steams of Beast
Within a place of straw now quickened to a Shrine
To look upon a stranger Child than ours?
How many stars of Bethlehem burnt bright
Beyond Orion or Centauri’s blinding arc?
How many miracles of birth all innocent
Have blessed those worlds?
Does Herod tremble there
In dread facsimile of our dark and murderous King?
Does that mad keeper of an unimaginable realm
Send stranger soldiers forth
To slaughter down the Innocents
Of lands beyond the Horsehead Nebula?
It must be so.
For in this time of Christmas
In the long Day totalling up to Eight,
We see the light, we know the dark;
And creatures lifted, born, thrust free of so much night
No matter what the world or time or circumstance
Must love the light,
So, children of all lost unnumbered suns
Must fear the dark
Which mingles in a shadowing-forth on air.
And swarms the blood.
No matter what the color, shape, or size
Of beings who keep souls like breathing coals
In long midnights,
They must need saving of themselves.
So on far worlds in snowfalls deep and clear
Imagine how the rounding out of some dark year
Might celebrate with birthing one miraculous child!
A child?
Born in Andromeda’s out-swept mysteries?
Then count its hands, its fingers,
Eyes, and most incredible holy limbs!
The sum of each?
No matter. Cease.
Let Child be fire as blue as water under Moon.
Let Child sport free in tides with human-seeming fish.
Let ink of octopi inhabit blood
Let skin take acid rains of chemistry
All falling down in nightmare storms of cleansing burn.
Christ wanders in the Universe
A flesh of stars,
He takes on creature shapes
To suit the mildest elements,
He dresses him in flesh beyond our ken.
There He walks, glides, flies, shambling of strangeness.
Here He walks Men.
Among the ten trillion beams
A billion Bible scrolls are scored
In hieroglyphs among God’s amplitudes of worlds;
In alphabet multitudinous
Tongues which are not quite tongues
Sigh, sibilate, wonder, cry:
As Christ comes manifest from a thunder-crimsoned sky.
He walks upon the molecules of seas
All boiling stews of beast
All maddened broth and brew and rising up of yeast.
There Christ by many names is known.
We call him thus.
They call him otherwise.
His name on any mouth would be a sweet surprise.
He comes with gifts for all,
Here: wine and bread.
There: nameless foods
At breakfasts where the morsels fall from stars
And Last Suppers are doled forth with stuff of dreams.
So sit they there in times before the Man is crucified.
Here He has long been dead.
There He has not yet died.
Yet, still unsure, and all being doubt,
Much frightened man on Earth does cast about
And clothe himself in steel
And borrow fire
And himself in the great glass of the careless Void admire.
Man builds him rockets
And on thunder strides
In humble goings-forth
And most understandable prides.
Fearing that all else slumbers,
That ten billion worlds lie still,
We, grateful for the Prize and benefit of life,
Go to offer bread and harvest wine;
The blood and flesh of Him we Will
To other stars and worlds about those stars.
We cargo holy flesh
On stranger visitations,
Send forth angelic hosts,
To farflung worlds
To tell our walking on the waters of deep Space,
Arrivals, swift departures
Of most miraculous man
Who, God fuse-locked in every cell
Beats holy blood
And treads the tidal flood
And ocean shore of Universe,
A miracle of fish
We father, gather, build and strew
In metals to the winds
That circle Earth and wander Night beyond all Nights.
We soar, all arch-angelic, fire-sustained
In vast cathedral, aery apse, in domeless vault
Of constellations all blind dazzlement.
Christ is not dead
Nor does God sleep
While waking Man
Goes striding on the Deep
To birth ourselves anew
And love rebirth
From fear of straying long
On outworn Earth.
One harvest in, we broadcast seed for further reaping.
Thus ending Death
And Night,
And Time’s demise,
And senseless weeping.
We seek for mangers in the Pleides
Where man the god-fleshed wandering babe
May lay him down with such as these
Who once drew round and worshipped innocence.
New Mangers lie waiting!
New Wise men Descry
Our hosts of machineries
Which write immortal life
And sign it God!
Down, down Alien skies.
And flown and gone, arrived and bedded safe to sleep
Upon some winters morning deep
Ten billion years of light
From where we stand us now and sing,
There will be time to cry eternal gratitudes
Time to know and see and love the Gift of Life itself,
Always diminished,
Always restored,
Out of one hand and into the other
Of the Lord.
Then wake we in that far lost
Nightmare keep of Beast
And see our star recelebrated in an East
Beyond all Easts.
Beyond a snowdrift sifting down of stars.
In this time of Christmas
Think on that Morn ahead!
For this let all your fears, your cries,
Your tears, your blood and prayers be shed!
All numb and wild one day
You shall be reborn
And hear the Trump break forth from rocket-trembled air
All humbled, all shorn
Of pride, but free of despair.
Now listen! Now hear!
It is the Ninth Day’s morn!
Christ is risen!
God survives!
Gather, Universe!
Look, ye stars!
In the exultant countries of Space
In a sudden simple pasture
Far beyond Andromeda!
O Glory, Glory, a New Christmas
Torn
From the very pitch and rim of Death,
Snatched from his universal grip,
His teeth, his most cold breath!
Under a most strange sun
O Christ, O God,
O man breathed out of most incredible stuffs,
You are the Savior’s Savior,
God’s pulse and heart-companion,
You! The Host He lifts
On high to consecrate;
His dear need to know and touch and cry wonders
At Himself.
In this time of Christmas
Prepare
In this holy time
Know yourself most rare!
Beyond the vast Abyss
See those men grown Wise
Who gather with their gifts
Which are but Life!
And Life that knows no end.
Behold the rockets, more than chaff, on air,
All seed that save a holy seed
And cast it everywhere in mindless Dark.
In this time of Christmas
This holy time of Christmas,
Like Him, you are God’s son!
One Son? Many?
All are gathered now to One
And will wake cradled in Beast-summer breath
That warms the sleeping child to life eternal.
You must go there.
In the long winter of Space
And lie you down in grateful innocence
At last to sleep.
O New Christmas,
O God, far-motioning.
O Christ-of-many-fleshed made one,
Leave Earth!
God Himself cries out.
He Goes to Prepare the Way
For your rebirth
In a new time of Christmas,
A holy time of Christmas,
This New Time of Christmas,
From all this stay?
No, Man. You must not linger, wonder.
No, Christ. You must not pause.
Now.
Now.
It is the Time of Going Away.
Arise, and go.
Be born. Be born.
Welcome the morning of the Ninth Day.
It is the Time of Going away.
Praise God for this Annunciation!
Give praise,
Rejoice!
For the time of Christmas
And the Ninth Day,
Which is Forever’s Celebration!

Sinners in the Hands of Willy Wonka

Between the efforts of Johnny Depp, Gene Wilder, and Roald Dahl most of us know the story of how five children entered Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory one cold British morning and experienced a trial like no other. Before the day’s end four of the children were weighed, measured, and found wanting--their shortcomings revealed to all. The fifth child, Charlie Bucket, was proven kind and virtuous, and received a reward beyond all reason.

The four rejected children were spoiled, each in their own way. They had “gone bad” the way a peach spoils when left on the kitchen counter too long.

In the language of the scripture, these children were sinners.

Wait--did you recoil when you encountered the word sinner? “Oh no!” you protest, “The children had gone bad because their parents had failed them.”

  • Augustus Gloop had been over-fed by a doting mother until he could not control his appetite;
  • Violet Beauregard had been indulged by parents living vicariously through their child;
  • Veruca Salt was a brat because her father had never told her “no;”
  • Mike Teavee was an odious, unruly boy because his parents had surrendered him to the electronic babysitter.

No reader (or viewer) could fault Mr. Wonka for separating the children from the factory: he did not give them the chocolate factory because it would have destroyed the children completely and the children would have damaged the factory--along with those who lived and worked there.

These children were, in the very words of Roald Dahl, “spoiled.” They were not rejected because they broke the house rules, they were sent away because their child-like nature had been corrupted into monstrous distortions of their true potential, their true calling. Willy Wonka did not follow the children about the factory, rule-book in hand, eager to cite them for any violation. He did not enforce regulations or demand perfection. He simply wanted to give away his creation to those capable of stewarding the factory by the virtue of their heart, a heart in tune with the maker.

The word spoiled is useful image for understanding sin. The harm of sin is not lawbreaking, but that it mars the image of God in us. Sin spoils us for our true purpose. Sin is not a failure of effort or will, it is a failure of our true nature. Sin is bad because it is bad for us, and it makes us bad for those around us. We have, quite literally “gone bad,” no longer fit for our highest and best calling. To step into paradise as spoiled brats would ruin us further and perhaps ruin the factory as well.

When we are spoiled (whether by our parents or our own choices) we lose the ability to see God’s creation and purpose for what it really is: an invitation to come and live with him forever. We are created to live in harmony with our Maker, but how can we do so if we think him a tyrant, and ogre, or a nit-picking perfectionist? We were created to live in a garden tailored precisely to our needs, but how can we do so if we think our greatest need is to satisfy ourselves at the expense of the garden or our neighbors? He is too good a Father to leave us uncorrected: he wants to make us fit for home again.

When followers of Jesus persist in seeing sin as a violation of the rules they miss the offer of abundant life. The Father is not a fastidious record-keeper, charting our performance moment by moment. He is, however, a wise caretaker, both of our souls and his world. He longs to free us from sin because it will also release us into a freedom unbefore imagined. He calls us to the perfection of completion that we might drink deeply of the river of life.

James, the brother of Jesus, assures us that “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” It is the wisdom of obedience: not score-keeping obedience, but obedience that leads to purity and peace.

There is no shortage of golden tickets to admit us to the factory. Our greatest need is to enter unspoiled or renewed, so we can live there forever.

The Secret Beauty of Forgiveness

Nothing quite ruins a fancy dinner like an hysterical woman. Polite conversation stops and (for a while) we all pretend not to notice. Then someone finally speaks up because her behavior is unacceptable. That’s what happened when a man named Simon, a proper and meticulous Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner.

Before we jump to the story, imagine what must have happened before the dinner party began. Simon, a man who respected the law of God, had made plans to be the host. In the home of a Pharisee, the table had to be perfect, because the table was the like the Temple. Simon probably had a personal agenda as well: you don’t invite a celebrity to your house without thinking through the topics of conversation. You try to anticipate all the details in advance and put your best foot forward.

Then someone slipped past Security and began to make a scene:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. (Luke 7:36-38)

Perhaps you know the story. Simon recognizes the woman as a sinner from the streets of the city. He thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” But it doesn’t take a prophet to see someone’s sin and label them as such. The true prophet seated at the table saw something else: the beauty of a changed heart and the seed of loving gratitude taking deep root.

Simon saw a dinner party ruined. Jesus saw a life in repair. He saw the contrast between those who think they have it all under control and those who know for certain they do not. Jesus saw the difference between one person striving to avoid the label “Sinner,” and one who saw that same label as a path to freedom.

The irony of the whole affair is that we would never remember the dinner party if it had gone perfectly. Not even Simon, the host, would have. What makes the story worth telling again and again is how everything went wrong in the best possible way. Like that other time when four strangers tore a hole in Peter’s roof, or that time when Jesus ruined a perfectly planned funeral by stepping into the procession and raising the widow’s son. It seems interruptions followed whenever Jesus went—or is it that he himself is the Great Interruption?

That night at Simon’s place the interruption was forgiveness. Forgiveness is Jesus’s preferred scandal. It’s the rude interruption to our careful planned party. Forgiveness is the uninvited guest who makes a mockery of the fine china of our lives. We can choose between keeping the china in a fancy cabinet, using it only when we pretend everything’s at its best, or smashing the plates and making a mosaic of the shards of our messed-up lives. Forgiveness cares nothing for etiquette and everything for the gauche. The secret beauty of forgiveness is it’s only available to the sinner.

Jesus speaks forgiveness to the mess and refuse of all that’s ugly in our lives, his words become the stuff of stories told centuries later, like the time that woman broke in and ruined a dinner party.

We should be so lucky to have our plans ruined again today.

Saturday Song: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was ee cummings before cummings ever saw the light of day. You show get to know him.

(BTW ~ Why do poets seem more likely to use three names? Who knows? But these are three names worth knowing: Gerard. Manley. Hopkins. Maybe his friends called him "Gerry".)

Actually, they would've called him "Father Gerry" because Hopkins was a Catholic priest. Born in 1844 to an Anglican family, at 18 he converted to Catholicism and by 20 be became part of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

His work as a poet took second place to his priestly calling, because (at the poem below indicates) he saw clearly the glory of God in all human endeavor. He died a few weeks short of his 45th birthday, 1889. Nearly all of his work was published postumously.

Presumably he is still at work, creating ever-cooler stuff for us to enjoy later.

Pied Beatuy

 

 

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        
                  Praise him.

 

 

Who Is Welcome At Your Table?

Surely Jesus believed that prostitutes were sinners, yet he welcomed them to his table. He ate and drink with them.

Surely Jesus understood that tax collectors betrayed their countrymen by helping the brutal Roman occupiers in his homeland, yet he welcomed tax collectors to his table as well.

Surely Jesus knew that religious hypocrites misrepresented Yahweh’s heart toward his people and laid heavy burdens on God’s people, yet he dined with them and invited them to participate in his Father’s kingdom.

Surely Jesus saw first-hand Peter’s temper, James and John’s foolish nationalism, even Judas’ tortured and divided motivations, yet he broke bread with each one of them, sharing his very blood and body.

Jesus welcomed everyone to his table. He welcomed the clueless and the cruel. He engaged the outcast and the insider. He shared his life with his enemies because he came to turn enemies into family. His method was startling: he ate and drink with them. Wherever Jesus ate, it was his table. He turned water into wine and transformed ritual into everlasting love. He turned no one away from his table.

He gave no one a pass on their rebellion or self destructive ways. The sinless perfect representative of God’s heart never lowered his standards or winked at injustice. Still, around his table everyone was welcome. He was no lightweight: if a moment called for brutal honestly, he fulfilled that need as well. He did not negotiate, he fellowshipped.

He set an example for us to follow. On his way to the cross he stopped to eat and drink each day, and each day he welcomed his enemies to his table. At the cross, he did what only he could do. At the table, he demonstrated what we can do.

He refused to let disagreement separate him from others. Jesus possessed the proper opinions, the right positions, and perfect perspective, but never--not once--did he use his correct standing as a reason to alienate other people.

Who is welcome at your table?