Friday, December 20, 2002


Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
-- Colossians 1:24 NIV

From Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God:
When the shadow of Jesus' cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, lonliness, depression, the loss of a loved one; when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place-- at those times we may cry out in anguish, "How could a loving God permit this to happen?" At such moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.
I don't know what that trust looks like. I hope I can find it.

Paul spoke of himself as filling up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. God suffered as Jesus of Nazareth, and in our pain, the Incarnate God suffers as us. As Manning has pointed out before, Jesus could not suffer as a mother, or an old man. In coming to live with and in us, the indwelling Christ learns the shattering rhythms of addiction and the terror of abused children. Christ is no stranger to fear and to need, and he experiences all the variations and permutations through our ongoing lives, which he graces with his presence.

If in me, like Paul, God is filling up what is lacking, what does it mean for my present sufferings, be it a crushed body, alienation, fear, or anything else? Jesus is no stranger to any of these things, but what if he is experiencing them in a new way in me? What kind of purpose can be found?

The Christ in me wills to face suffering with a "face set like flint." This in no way means keeping a stiff upper lip, standing stoicly against the dark. It means refusing to turn away. For so many of us, suffering is a thing to be avoided, and if that fails, to put behind us as quickly as possible.

In the face of deep human suffering, our first instincts seem to be to avoid responsibility, and to interpose as much distance as possible. Pain is awkward, confusing. It messes up one's theology and general outlook, especially those based upon blind optimism.

We don't like to feel awkward and helpless; and when we watch people suffer, we know for whom the bell tolls: if something dreadful can happen to my neighbor, I could be next.

The only thing keeping any of us from catastrophe is the interest (or disinterest) of a capricious, powerless, or merely non-existant deity.

No, say those of us who know the Lord Jesus. How do we ask the world to trust that answer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The Real Presence

This is my body, he said. This is my blood. Take them, for they are food and drink indeed. The one who does not can have no part of me.

Christians of the sacramental stream have always maintained that the practice called the Lord's Supper is a true sacrament rather than an ordinance. This mystical meal is not something done merely to remember him, though that is indeed part of it. He said his disciples would eat his body and drink is blood, and before he went away, he celebrated the Passover, and told us that the bread and the wine, the most common food of the day, now was his own self.

I believe that insisting on the mere symbolic meaning of these words is symptomatic of the anti-supernaturalism that ran through the Church with the Enlightenment. It is odd how people pick and choose things to believe and reject; the same folks who believe that Real Presence is superstitious, overliteral, and just plain ridiculous will tell you that God does petty things to punish them, that women should wear doilies on their heads in religious meetings, and that God raised a man from the dead. I happen to believe the last one, but the others are ridiculous.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the suffering servant would take our sins and sicknesses upon himself, and this Jesus did. To everything we are vulnerable, he was also. His humanity was just like our own in every way, and in his pain, ours is ameliorated. As he was broken, we are healed, mind, body and soul. This way of healing is important to me, now more than ever.

When we drink the cup of suffering, we in our brokenness of body and soul take the Crucified Lord into ourselves. When we own our brokenness and welcome his, we are healed. I think it's another paradox of the faith, and one for which I am grateful.

His broken Body hung asphyxiating. So did mine. Upside down, even. He shares in my suffering, and I would share in his. I'm not interested in blame and recriminations, for the Lord of the Universe has given Himself as sustenance. And it is enough; indeed it must be.

Because of this great gift, I've chosen to believe that I'm loved, and that purpose, rather than despair, can come from pain and loneliness. It doesn't have to, but I'm choosing just that. My suffering will not be the center of my world. Instead I look to the example of the saints who offer up their own brokenness to help others, a way of offering oneself as a Eucharistic sacrifice: my own body as a gift of thanksgiving, to God, for others. I don't know quite how to do that from my little cell here, so more on that in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


A couple of opening thoughts...

There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot from that situation create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.
—Bishop Handley Moule

God creates everything out of nothing and everything which God is to use he first reduces to nothing.
—Soren Kierkegaarde

In his Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey hypothesizes that of those women and men who are driven toward God in their suffering rather than away from Him are those who can stop asking the neverending question of "why," and take up the question, "to what end?"

I think that's the question I've tried to ask. I'm not really interested in the "why" of my accident — my body was broken because a stranger (though lawyers will be contesting this in the months ahead) lost control of his vehicle in the rain. I don't credit God with the accident —I'm not of the school that says a capricious deity is anxious to squish us to drive home points of personal morality (as if I've been doing anything especially naughty, I should only be having so much fun), so I throw that out altogether. I do, however, credit him with safeguarding my broken bones and battered organs. I can walk. I have feeling in all extremities. I will heal, and am doing so even now. I am grateful. And I will be grateful for what God will do in me in spite of, and sometimes because of these circumstances.

His broken Body hung asphyxiating. So did mine. Upside down, even. And so again I turn to a sacramental theology and the Lord's Table for sustenance. At Eucharist, I take His broken Body into my own, and am thereby healed. I'm not interested in blame and recriminations, for the Lord of the Universe has given Himself as sustenance. And it is enough; indeed it must be.

I'm chosing to believe that I'm loved, and that purpose can come from pain and loneliness. It doesn't have to; those things can lead to the far deeper pain of despair. My suffering will not be the center of my world. Instead I look to the example of the saints who offer up their own brokenness to help others, a way of offering oneself as a Eucharistic sacrifice: my own body as a gift of thankgiving, to God, for others. I don't know quite how to do that from my little cell here, but I hope to work that out later.

Monday, December 09, 2002

By Way of Introduction

The Christian faith is marked, among other things, by a particular arrogance—the confidence possessed by ordinary, fallible men and women that somehow, despite all experiences of pain and suffering, longing, despair and sinfulness that seem to characterize our lives, the God of Jesus Christ loves us with great tenderness and compassion, and will not turn us away.

I am beginning this blog in the hopes that somehow I will think differently of it than my journaling practices, and be so prudent as to keep it with regularity. Perhaps not all of my thoughts and experiences these days are so sublime that they warrant recording, but since I put so much effort into everything I do at this point that I don't want the days to pass as quickly as they seem to. Perhaps they don't pass so quickly; I simply don't remember them.

The accident was October 15; I of course broke my neck, back and lots of other bones. Nine was the final figure, but I swear I didn't get a final, accurate count until two weeks after the incident. Oh well, I guess if I can't tell something's broken, it doesn't matter all that much? I am hopeful the halo apparatus will be removed at my follow-up appointment on December 17; if I can move from this ridiculous equipment to a mere (but freakin' huge) neck brace, I'll be greatly pleased. If it doesn't happen for some time yet, I'll cope with it; as it's been two months now, I certainly won't be heartbroken over a few more weeks. The worst is over, I hope, with the exception of physical therapy. I don't know what that's going to be like; today is my first regular session.

I'm juggling a few books right now, as my attention span remains pretty poor. I'm all drugged up, so at the moment it's "MTV attention span" as opposed to a self-discipline issue. :0P I'm working on Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short stories; Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"; Justo Gonzalez' The Story of Christianity; and Georges Bernanos' The Diary of a Country Priest. Oh yeah, at let's not forget Philip Yancey's Where is God When it Hurts? I can't stand to be bored, and it's so easy right now.

I had a frightening thought last night -- not as frightening as some of my others, but it was something of an existential moment. I can be whatever kind of man I choose. As I lie in my bed and look at the ceiling (that's all I can look at) I realize that I can face the road ahead of me however I choose. There's nothing to make me walk with grace, and nothing to save me from bitterness except for my own choice. What manner of man should emerge from these experiences? A man of grace and compassion is being drawn out by God.

Being angry and bitter is a kind of control. When life is out of control, striking out with rage gives one a feeling of power in the midst of impotence. It would come easily, as there are so many things I require help to accomplish. Accepting one's lot and bringing grace into the lives of others is also certainly a way (and the best way) of taking control, but it's peaceful and free-flowing, instead of neurotic and grasping. Bitterness wants to control circumstances and lash out at the world around the man or woman it controls, while a man of grace would take responsiblity for himself and work to change the world, not beat it into submission.

I think my pain meds kicked in again for that last paragraph.

I think today that I will believe in hope, and that God is reaching for me, speaking words of tenderness into harshness of my soul.

Friday, December 06, 2002

First Post

Hiya! For those of you who are a friend of a friend, here's an introduction. I'm a student at Georgetown College, Ky. I broke my neck, back, and other important bits in an auto accident in October. But I'm recovering. Thanks for praying.

I am using this spot to bounce some ideas. I am Captain Sacrament, not Cheerfulness, so I'm going for dark, post-modern grit. I make no apologies for traces of protest atheism, social irreverence, or my expectations that the God of the Incarnation is working out his purpose in me THROUGH what I have experienced and will yet suffer in the months ahead.

Help me out, post or e-mail your insightful observations and pithy remarks. Just click on the "Comments" hyperlink.

If I end up with a large audience I've not met yet, I might post a bio.