Month: November 2014

Christmas and the Holocaust

At some point, I must have thought to myself, You know what would be a great idea? Listening to an audiobook about the Holocaust on my 10-hour solo drive from Indiana to Minnesota.

This is a perfectly fine plan.

Except for the fact that you can’t really explain to the attendant on the Chicago toll road why you are weeping as you hand him two rumpled dollar bills.

Or that halfway through Wisconsin you just want to call all your family members and tell them you love them and would never abandon them to die alone.

Or that as the temperature slowly creeps from a sunny 55 to a dark and frigid 8 degrees, you get to the part about thousands of Jews freezing to death in a forced march across Germany to escape the liberation. And you feel cold. So cold.

Other than that, there is nothing wrong with listening to Night by Elie Wiesel on a car trip by yourself. I highly recommend it.

Night2

Once I finished the novel, I put in a Christmas CD.

I didn’t do this to drown out the story I had just heard or the emotions it brought to the surface. In fact, I took a time of silence in between the two. Sometimes, I think, we’re too quick to jump to noise to distract us from grief.

I did it because I can believe both that people are capable of brutal atrocities and that there is still hope. That God is at times silent, and that silence is terrible—and that the sound of the first cries of a baby in Bethlehem is the only necessary answer to that silence.

I can hold both struggling opposites together by sheer force of will and faith. I can love people and hate what we do to each other. I can mourn and celebrate.

I have to. That is the world we live in. (more…)

The Philadelphia Story and Total Depravity

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and thought, “Ugh, I hate that character. Like, so much.”

And then, at some dramatic moment, you realize: the reason I hate that character is because I am that character. At least sometimes.

This happened to me watching the play The Philadelphia Story last week. Our heroine, Tracy Lord, is fiery and smart…but also spoiled and self-centered. It was around this scene where I began to realize why I found her so incredibly irritating.

Hello, Tracy. I have been there. Sometimes I still am.

No, not engaged to some guy who is “obviously beneath me” or getting put in my place by an ex-husband. I’m talking about having a lack of regard for human frailty.

Isn’t that a beautiful phrase?—“human frailty.” It’s more than just weakness. It’s paper-thin excuses and worn-out patience, brittle smiles covering deep hurts, old war wounds that others clumsily bump into without knowing it. It’s the words you wish you could take back, the chapter you’d cut out of your autobiography, the days you don’t feel like getting up at all. It is stifled tears and unsent letters and regret. Broken things, one and all.

We know what frailty feels like. (more…)

Why I’m Not Going Home For Thanksgiving

The reason I’m not going home for Thanksgiving is because traffic fatalities rise 6% after a highly publicized suicide.

Go ahead. Read that sentence again to see if my logic makes sense.

This has no relevance except that I like Thanksgiving and I like Peanuts.

This has no relevance except that I like Thanksgiving and I like Peanuts.

Anyone? Anyone? Oh, you there! You’ve read The Tipping Point, haven’t you? In that book, author Malcolm Gladwell tells about a sociologist who studied traffic reports in a town for the weeks after a front-page suicide. And every single time, when someone killed himself, more people died in single-victim car wrecks.

There seemed to be only two explanations: either people’s driving skills deteriorated after reading about a suicide…or the suicide somehow gave people permission to end their own lives by crashing their cars.

The sociologist concluded it was the second explanation, saying “I don’t know whether any of us knows how much of our decision-making is conscious and how much is unconscious.”

There you go. That’s why I’m not going home for Thanksgiving.

Still confused? Well, how about I add this to clear things up: I live in Minnesota, and the day before Thanksgiving, I’ll be driving back to my hometown to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and twin sister.

So, you could almost say, I am going home for Thanksgiving. Except I’m not. (more…)

Scenes with the Pharisees, Act Three

The third in a series of scripts about some of my favorite holy curmudgeons in the Bible. (True story…if I had lived in Jesus’ day, I probably would have been one. Okay, fine, I’m a woman. So I would have married one. More specifically, I would have married Micah because he is awesome and my favorite and just wait till we get to the script based on Luke 15!) This one comes chronologically before the other two, so if you want to read the others, start with this one, then go here and here.

Pharisee

(Matthew, Judas, John, and Peter are all huddled around a fire center stage. Nicodemus enters right, walking slowly and nervously.)

Nicodemus: All right, Nicodemus, you’re going to march up to them and demand an audience with the rabbi. No. That’s silly. No need to be rude. You’re going to march up to them and request and audience with the rabbi. Yes. That’s it. Just one foot in front of the other, head up, and…

Judas: Who’s there? (Nicodemus jumps, startled, then coughs to cover it up.)

Nicodemus: Good day! I mean…good night. I mean…greetings! To all of you…disciples.

Peter (As he gets closer): Well, well, look who’s here.

Nicodemus: Nicodemus, member of the Sanhedrin, actually. I…I have a business card! (Gives it to them.)

Peter (Throws it in the fire): We know you who are. Question is, what’s a Pharisee like you doing in a place like this?

John: Spying for your pals, is that it?

Nicodemus: No, not exactly. (Gathering his courage.) And I’m not quite sure it’s really any of your business.

John (Closing in with Peter): We don’t like spies, you know.

Nicodemus: You know, maybe I’ll just come by another night…

Peter: What’s the matter, Nic? Scared? Jumpy little rabbit come to see the rabbi?

Nicodemus: I just want to talk to him!

John: Could’ve done that in the daytime like everyone else. (Shoves him.) Got to wait in line, even a Pharisee like you.

Peter: Oh, but that’s right. You’re too busy preaching judgment on people like us.

Matthew (Stepping between them): Would you leave him alone, Peter? John? There is no harm in him asking a few questions. And it’s not as if Jesus is hiding from them. He almost seems to be egging them on.

Judas: Not enough, I say.

John: Calm down, Matthew. We were just teasing him, that’s all.

Peter: Yeah, have it your way, tax man. Since the two of you both look down your noses at the rest of us, I guess you’ll get along just fine. (They exit, leaving Matthew and Nicodemus alone.)

Matthew (Points left): Jesus is over there. Probably praying. He does that sometimes—goes off by himself to pray. (Starts to exit.)

Nicodemus: I appreciate your help, sir. Matthew, I believe?

Matthew: Save it. I know what your kind thinks of me. What everyone thinks of me. Even the other disciples.

Nicodemus: Er, they seem to like you well enough.

Matthew: Yeah. Sure. Then explain to me why the resident accountant isn’t the one in charge of the money. They gave that job to Judas—one of the loyal, trustworthy Jews. Not a traitor tax collector like me.

Nicodemus: If it helps, you don’t strike me as terribly disreputable. Why, I’d say you’re at least…mostly as trustworthy as that Judas fellow.

Matthew: Mm. Thanks for that. (Gestures.) There he is. Good luck with your questions…keep in mind, the answers might not be exactly what you were expecting. Or what you were looking for. He tends to be that way. (He exits, Nicodemus tentatively approaches Jesus.)

Nicodemus (Clears throat): Excuse me…sir?

Jesus: Hello, Nicodemus.

Nicodemus: Ah! We…um…have we ever met? Officially? Never mind, we must have, or you wouldn’t know my name. Sorry, must have forgotten. Anyway, I’d just like…to talk to you. Ask some questions. If you don’t mind.

Jesus: Of course. I always appreciate honest questions. (Both sit down.)

Nicodemus: Very good then. Jesus, we know that you are a great teacher sent from God—

Jesus: We? Who are you talking about, Nicodemus?

Nicodemus: Hmm? Oh, I meant the…ah…the other Pharisees. But to be fair, I suppose not all of them would all agree with my assessment. Of you as a good teacher, I mean.

Jesus: By which you mean they all hate me.

Nicodemus: Well…yes, actually. But in a very righteous way, of course.

Jesus (Dryly): Of course. (Pause.) Well, here we are. What do you want to know?

Nicodemus: I…I’m really not sure, to be perfectly honest. Maybe just start somewhere. (Pulls out a notebook.) I’ll take notes.

Jesus: All right then. How about this: unless a person is born again, he can’t enter the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus: Excuse me, but…I think I lost you at the, ah, “born again” part. I am far from an expert on such things, Rabbi, but wouldn’t you say that reentering a mother’s womb might prove to be a bit…difficult?

Jesus: Let me put it this way: someone who is just born physically is only halfway there. But someone who is born physically and spiritually belongs to the physical world and to the Spirit.

Nicodemus: Yes, but…how? I mean, I don’t want to get into any details if it’s not…well, if it’s not appropriate. I’m not actually used to speaking of childbirth and such in public places.

Jesus: You still don’t understand, do you? And you’re one of the teachers of Israel?

Nicodemus: Yes, I am. I have a business card! (Reaches for it.) Or…I used to.

Jesus: If I talk to you about things here on earth and you and your fellow teachers don’t believe me, how am I supposed to move on to heavenly things?

Nicodemus: I hope I don’t seem rude, but: what in heaven’s name give you the right to teach about the…ah…the heavens?

Jesus: Well, I don’t have a business card, if that’s what you mean. No one has gone into heaven except the one who came down from heaven: the Son of Man. And just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Nicodemus: I’m sorry…the son of man? Do I understand you, sir?

Jesus: I’m going to guess probably not.

Nicodemus: Are you comparing the Messiah to a snake? The image of the devil who tempted Adam to sin? A metaphor for evil?

Jesus: Well…okay, that’s actually a fair point. A snake does occasionally represent evil. But only sometimes. In the story about Moses, God told all of the people dying of the poison to look at the bronze serpent. And by looking, they lived.

Nicodemus: Yes, of course. I recall. I suppose that if I want to quibble over the metaphor, I really ought to take it up with God, not you.

Jesus (To himself): God, not me. Ha.

Nicodemus: All right then. You were saying?

Jesus: Just like God gave the Israelites the snake so they would live, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that anyone who believes in him wouldn’t die, but live. God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved through him. (Pause.)

Nicodemus: I…I stopped taking notes.

Jesus: I noticed.

Nicodemus: That’s—it’s just all very new. I don’t have categories for it.

Jesus: Maybe you should make new ones.

Nicodemus: Except I don’t really like change, that’s all. None of us do. I imagine that’s why so many of us—the Pharisees, I mean—don’t, er, respond enthusiastically to your teaching.

Jesus: I think it’s more than that. Here is the bottom line: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness instead of the light because their actions were evil. People who do evil things hate the light and will avoid it at all costs, because the light will expose them for what they really are. But whoever does what is true comes to the light for everyone to see.

Nicodemus: It’s ah…dark now.

Jesus: It tends to do that once the sun goes down.

Nicodemus: Well, I mean…you weren’t saying…well it’s not that I’m trying to hide anything evil. I’m just…trying to…hide.

Jesus: It won’t be nighttime forever, Nicodemus.

Nicodemus: Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right. What will I do then?

Jesus: I was going to ask you that.

Nicodemus: Well, I really don’t know. Apparently I don’t know much of anything, according to you. (Shakes head, stands.) I really must be going. Very late and all.

Jesus: Yes, it is. Goodnight, Nicodemus. (Nicodemus starts to leave, then stops.)

Nicodemus: Just…just one more thing. Back there…did you say that God…loves us?

Jesus: I did.

Nicodemus: Oh. Well. That’s…something.

Jesus: Yes, it is. (Pause.) Anything else?

Nicodemus: No, no that’s all. Goodnight, then.

Jesus: Goodnight. (Jesus exits left, Nicodemus begins to exit right, passing Judas who is lurking in the shadows.)

Nicodemus: Light and dark…spiritual birth…and snakes, for heaven’s sake! What does the man think he’s doing?

Judas: Good talk with the master?

Nicodemus: Ahh! You startled me.

Judas: Sorry.

Nicodemus: Well, we talked. I don’t know that you’d call it good. Sometimes I stare at him in amazement like all the rest, wondering at the authority with which he teaches. And other times, he just… It’s just that sometimes, he can be, well…

Judas: Infuriating?

Nicodemus: Yes. That. Whenever he defies everyone’s expectations.

Judas: Ah. I was talking about the times when he conforms to them.

Nicodemus: I just want him to be a good teacher.

Judas: And I just want him to be a revolutionary.

Both: Is that so much to ask?

Nicodemus: Well, apparently we see things a bit differently, though I don’t know why I’m surprised, you being one of his followers and all. It’s been nice chatting with you, but I really must be going, Mr…ah…what did you say your name was again.

Judas: I didn’t. But it’s Judas.

Nicodemus: Nice to meet you, I’m sure. (Starts to leave, glances back and sighs.) Oh, but what do you do with a man like that? With one who insists on disturbing the peace?

Judas: Or who doesn’t disturb it enough. (To Nicodemus) You wait, I suppose. See what happens next. Because that’s one thing you can count on with the master: something will always be happening.

Nicodemus: Yes. Yes, that’s what I’m afraid of. (Both exit in opposite directions.)

Faith According to a Marshwiggle

I’ve always hated Pascal’s Wager.

It’s this apologetic thing attributed to the brilliant scientist Blaise Pascal that goes something like this: If you believe God exists and you’re right, you win everything. If you believe God exists and you’re wrong, you lose nothing. But if you don’t believe God exists and you’re wrong…you lose a lot. Like, your soul. So why not take the better odds and believe in God?

I first heard about this wager when I was in sixth grade, and distinctly remember twelve-year-old Amy going, “Wait…really?” In my not-terribly-logical mind, we had just reduced a relationship with God to a coin flip. Heads, I win, Tails, I don’t lose. Might as well be a Christian!

This, to me, did not seem remotely okay.

(Or maybe I had that reaction because sixth grade was also when we started doing probability equations in math, and I hated those. That could be it too.)

This is Pascal, not a marshwiggle. In case you were wondering.

This is Pascal, not a marshwiggle. In case you were wondering.

Either way, when I went through my question-all-the-beliefs, read-all-the-apologetics-books stage about a year later, I didn’t find good ol’ Pascal terribly helpful, even when some of those books put it forward as a good debate model.

As I mentioned in a past blog post, what I read in those apologetic tomes wasn’t particularly helpful to a seventh grader who had just barely started thinking abstractly and had no idea what the heck a “theodicy” was, much less the “cosmological quotient.” What’s a girl to do?

Read The Chronicles of Narnia, that’s what. (more…)