Category Archives: Christianity

Topics related to living the Christian life.

Scars

scar carl feather photoI have two rather prominent scars on my face, both of them acquired in my early years and both of them of my own stupidity.

There is one above my eye and one on my chin, both of the same side of my face. Both came when my parents were living in an apartment on Priest Street in Kingsville. I was only 2 or 3 years old when they happened, so my memories of the incidents that caused the damage are formed from hearing my mother talk about the trauma, blood and drama of the incidents.

One of the gnashes came from jumping off my father’s lap and landing onto a metal toy truck. Back then, they made toys that could harm the body rather than the mind. The sharp metal ripped a hole in my face. My parents rushed me to the town doctor, John O’Bell, and he sewed up the damage and sent a bill.

The good doctor also repaired my face when I decided to ride my toy tractor down a flight of concrete steps. Something like 13 stitches sticks in my mind.

Nearly 60 years later those scars are still there. They will go to the grave with me.

I have other scars that people usually don’t see, including ones that mark the self-inflicted lacerations on my legs and arms. The cuts are there because of anxiety and depression, the dark nights of the soul.

We all have scars. Sometimes, like the scars on my arms and legs, they are reflections of even deeper cuts and bleeding inside us.

Three years ago this month I cut my heart and soul very deeply by divorcing. The scar will be there for the rest of my life; it is scabbed over, but there are times and situations that pick the scab off like a four-year-old who finds fascination in peeling off the crust to see if the pink skin below will still bleed.

It does. Mom knew what she was talking about when she said “don’t pick at it, it will become infected if you do. Your body knows what its doing and the scab will fall off when it is ready.”

A book I read said that a piece of our soul dies every time we break a vow, every time we divorce.

Scars disfigure us. If they are in the right place, we can hide them with clothing, revealing the wouud to only those with whom we are most intimate or feel most comfortable around. Other scars, like the ones on my face or those on a tired professional boxer, define us.

I find it interesting that Jesus, when resurrected in what we assume was his immortal, eternal body, retained the scars of the crucifixion. As my Savior, his scars define him. I wonder if there is any other deity in the universe of religion who bears scars that resulted from my sins?

God  forgives sin, through the blood of his Son, but the scars remain with us. They are like the marks left behind by the branding iron: HUMANITY.

For all their ugliness, a scar indicates that healing has taken place. I wonder if the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross were healed and scarred over when he stated “It is finished?” If not, three days later they were; if the translations we have are correct, the disciples saw scars, not scabs; healed-over holes, not open, infected wounds.

Not so fast for us stuck in these mortal bodies. Healing of our cuts usually takes weeks, even with help from antibiotic products. The pain can be alleviated by balms applied to the source of pain, but bump or brush the wound in the wrong way, and it’s like having the trauma all over again.

The emotional pain from loss, betrayal or destruction of a relationship can be numbed by counseling, diversions, alcohol and anti-depressants. But healing takes time, there are no shortcuts, only scars. If only there were a “brush” in our toolkit would allow us to “Photoshop” the scars my soul.

I’d like to think I could be smart enough, wise enough in the first place to avoid the wounds that result in scars. You’d think that a kid who got a dozen stitches after after jumping onto a piece of metal would not try to ride a metal tractor down a flight of concrete steps, but he did. You’d think that someone who suffered the pain of a long-term relationship falling apart would be smart enough to avoid relationships altogether, but he didn’t.

The longer we live, the more scars we seem to collect.

People seldom ask me how I got my scars. I think it is probably impolite to ask someone that. Perhaps we ought to ask it more often, however.

The scars that reside on our hearts and souls, while invisible, are actually the ones hardest to hide. The eyes are not so much windows to the soul as they are windows to the scars that reside there. The scars are cataracts that diffuse and dim the beauty behind the scar tissue. Eventually, so much tissue accumulates, nothing of the soul can be seen.

This is my great fear of slashing my soul once again with the sword of divorce; more bleeding, more pain, more scabs, more scar tissue that obscures the person behind the scars. The question becomes if prefer one large scar or thousands of little ones.

 

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A day with the Easter Bunny

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My church, Friends Cornerstone in Madison, Ohio, a Quaker congregation, held its annual Easter Egg Hunt and Spring Carnival on Saturday. I had the honor of manning the photo booth, where a youngster could be photographed with the bunny and receive a print in a folder for just 15 tickets (tickets are much more manageable than money at this level. Come to think of it, perhaps we should be paid in tickets).

I quickly lost count of how many babies, toddlers, youngsters and parents, grandparent and aunts and uncles took a seat in front of the camera with the bunny. During the next five hours, I learned some valuable lessons:

  • Babies are afraid of the Easter Bunny, very afraid.
  • Toddlers are afraid of the Easter Bunny, screamingly afraid.
  • Children 5 and older love the Easter Bunny.
  • Most children can fit inside the Easter Bunny’s head. As a result, the Easter Bunny seems to dominate every part of the frame, no matter how you compose it.
  • Composition is secondary to expression.
  • Easter Bunnies get very hot and need frequent breaks.
  • Easter Bunnies have to go potty.
  • Printers run out of ribbon at the worst possible time.
  • Printer manufacturers require a firmware upgrade of the printer to be able to use the new style of ribbon.
  • That upgrade has to occur at the worst possible time.
  • The new ribbon arrangement is prone to jamming.
  • People are very patient and understanding.
  • This event is huge!
  • Where are all these people coming from?
  • People who can work with kids are incredible. How do they do that?
  • Sean is amazing. Where does he get his energy?
  • Did I mention that Easter Bunnies need to go potty?
  • Flashes, even those hooked to Pocket Wizards, fail to fire at the worst moments.
  • Children love the Easter Bunny.
  • You can have too much of a good thing. Easter candy is a good example.
  •  I’m glad I’m the photographer and not the Easter Bunny.

 

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Signs and stories

DSC_2143I generally don’t like church signs. Not the ones that identify the church, but the ones that preach, cajole and attempt to convict people who really ought to be focused on their driving rather than their spiritual condition, although, granted, the two often go hand-in-hand.

I am especially wary of those church-sign keepers who, desperate for something cute to say in 10 words or less, revert to: “Sign broken. Come inside for message.”

No, the sign is not broken. If it were, it would not be bearing that lame, untrue message.

And if the church finds it appropriate to tell a lie on the sign in order to get folks to come inside and hear the message, what is it preaching from the pulpit? Just take the sign down if it is broken. Don’t break the message for the sake of a sign.

In other words, I would never trust a church that put that lame thing on its sign. A simple welcome will do.

All that stated, on Saturday morning I did something I rarely do. While traveling through Bedford County, Pa., on Route 220, heading toward the Maryland border, I saw a church sign that made me think. Indeed, I turned around and went back to read and photograph it.

On the opposite side, was this message.

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This sign was in front of an Assembly of God congregation, a denomination that, unfortunately, I’ve seen display some pretty judgmental and harsh messages. But this one engaged me.

As a writer, stories intrigue me. One of things writers learn early on is that every person has a story; it’s our job to unlock that story and craft it in such a way that it is compelling and interesting. Being readable helps, as well.

The idea of God being able to use my story, or your story, is engaging. Most church signs tell us to give our talents, our time and our money to God, that is the church behind the sign. But this sign suggested that God just might be more interested in our story than the other things.

I’m not sure what scriptural basis the pastor is quoting, if any, to backup the sign. It’s probably a good idea, however, that a statement like that have a biblical basis.

Certainly a lot of the characters we read about in the Bible had a story. They were quite a lot — murderers, liars, adulterers, prostitutes and persecutors of the faith. Their life stories seemed pretty predictable — be born, sin, die.  Except the story took a twist when God became interested in them, intervened and used their story for his glory.

That gives me hope that all the horrible incidents that are part of my story  will somehow be used by God and he, not I, will end up being the one who “looks good.” Years ago, when I was living my Christian life according to a different model, I totally felt in control of my story:  Be born, sin, accept Christ, strive for perfection (and assume many days that I had achieved it), die, go to heaven. That was a life without grace, a life of self-righteousness rather than his love and right-ness. Predictably, it crashed; I learned I was not as righteous as I pretended, not as impervious to error and sin as I portrayed.

So the life story took a whole new direction. And that’s OK. Interesting stories usually don’t follow the pattern we expect. Otherwise, there’s not much point in reading them. Indeed, it is the surprise element of life that makes it worth getting out of bed each morning or turning the next page in the book. Just how are we going to get out of this mess? How is this pain going to be healed?  Will we find peace? Will things work out “OK?”

Perhaps more sermons ought to focus on the “story concept.” Christians just got done focusing on and celebrating the “Christmas Story.” Perhaps between now and the “Easter Story,” we can focus on our stories, and even more importantly, the concept of giving God ownership of it and permission to do whatever it is he wants to with the narrative. For some, that will involve sacrificing much more than time, money or talents, it will involve relinquishing our scripts and storyboards to the author of life, himself.

But I don’t want to preachy about these things; I don’t want to sound like just another church sign.

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Anxious times

My pastor, Mark Winner, is one of the wisest persons I’ve ever met.

His sermon on Sunday, which was about peace, especially in the setting of family relationships, was incredibly insightful.

First, he pointed out that war and strife are not the opposite of peace; anxiety is. Having lived with anxienty for decades, I always sensed that absence of peace. But I never equated the two.

About 30 months ago, I began a long journey through the valley of deep anxiety and depression, a journey in which I ended up casting off most everything that I had worked for and held dear. This lack of peace in my life seemed incongruous with all the spritual teachings I knew, yet it was undeniable and required medication and therapy to bring under control. On good days, I begin to feel some peace, or at least imagine what it must feel like.

Pastor Winner also talked about how we can bury and disregard our feelings of resentment, anger and frustration, thus pretending that they were never there. And we can have a time of peace in our relationships by that doing that. But it’s false peace; we’re just resting in the eye of a hurricane. Eventually the the second half of the storm is going to cross over, and it will be ugly. All those suppressed emotions will come to the surface.

That’s difficult for me, because I hate strife. After all, Jesus said the peacemakers are blessed.

I’m not sure how to reconcile these points. I’ve always felt that, as a Christian, it was my duty to absorb all the strife and irritations, then pass them off on God and let him deal with those negative emotions.

But the peace never came. The anxiety just hung around.

I suspect that’s because peace is a product of joy, which is a product of love. And all my life I’ve had a lot easier time understanding the wrath and anger of God rather than the love.

Every Sunday, I go away from Cornerstone Friends Church feeling a little better about my faith, my relationship with God. I’m moving away from the wrath-and-anger model to the love-and-grace model of God. It’s a hard transition. What if the wrath-and-anger model that I’d grown up with in fundamental churches really is the right way to view God? What if all those who foolisly believe that God is loving Father rather than a ornery taskmasker are wrong and I will end up in hell, another unforgiven fool?

These are anxious times.

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