God Stuff

Human Failing and Easter Grace

I learn the most interesting things about God sometimes in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to turn up. So when I thought about writing on Easter, I was not entirely surprised to find fodder for deep reflection in the pages of Playboy magazine.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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Perfect Love

Ah, February, the month that is, for those of us in northern climates, the coldest, darkest, and, blessedly, shortest month of the year. It is also the time when, as the St. Valentine’s Day holiday approaches, our thoughts turn to romantic love.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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Surprised by Motherhood

Advent, the season of expectation, is upon us. It is a time to yearn for that which is to come.

A couple of thousand years ago, Mary was waiting to become a mother. The world was waiting for the fulfillment of a promise. God’s promise.

This year more than any before it, I feel a deep resonance with Advent. My yearning for that which is to come, for the fulfillment of a promise, for the gift of motherhood (the deep desire of my heart), and for the grace of unconditional love is nearly overwhelming. But in the best of ways. Like the aroma of mulled cider wafting from the kitchen on a cold winter morning.

In October, my husband and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. For about 11.9 years of our wedded union, I’ve wanted to be a mother. But we were not blessed with biological children. As I headed into my late 30s, I began to believe that ship had sailed.

Two years ago in October, while traveling in Africa, we met a little boy in Malawi named Vasco. He was an AIDS orphan with a heart defect. He was dying a slow death. We tried to get him medical help in Malawi but there was none to be had for his kind of problem—a large ventricular septal defect; i.e. a big hole in his heart. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I told his story.

I wrote about Vasco’s plight in the newspaper where I’ve been a columnist for the better part of a decade. The column ran on a Friday. By Saturday morning, three hospitals in Chicago offered to treat Vasco for free if we could get him to the states. I’ll spare you the roller-coaster details of the intervening 18 months, but on June 11, surgeons at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, repaired the hole in Vasco’s heart with a Gore-Tex patch, fixed a few other leaks, and restored his broken heart to working order.

On June 11, something else happened. Something wholly unexpected.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Keeping Cool (Gulp!)

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. I do, I swear. I’m not one of those people who thinks creation is ours to dominate and its resources ours to spend like found money because Jesus is coming back and the world is going to end soon anyway. I sincerely doubt Christ would be happy about his followers treating Earth as if it were a rental car.

While I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I am very fond of trees. And, also, the atmosphere.

The thing is ... I love air conditioning. And I hate, haaaaaaaaaaaate being hot.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” were my first words upon entering our 68-degree oasis with a carload of groceries on a 90-plus degree, muggy summer day where the outside feels like a shvitz or the third ring of Dante’s inferno. Central air conditioning is grace for me.

But what if my blessing is a curse for someone else? Like, say, the rest of the planet? Air conditioning hurts the environment, quaffs energy, and hastens global warming. But is my air conditioner evil? What would Jesus do?

For one thing, Jesus recognized the Jewish kosher laws. A fairly new movement in Judaism today called eco-kashrut (aka “eco-kosher”) expands on the ancient dietary laws to look at what’s kosher in terms of ethical living, fair trade, the ecological concerns involved in food production, consumerism, and lifestyle, including whether to air condition or not.

Is it better to be hot and bothered than cool and complicit in our environmental demise? I turned to a couple of friends who ponder moral dilemmas for a living for help with my AC conundrum.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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The Dude Abides, Indeed

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s definitely not my strong suit. I hate to wait. H-A-T-E it. But somewhere back in my teens, I made the mistake of asking God for patience and—because God loves me and also has a tremendous sense of humor—rather than miraculously transform my nature overnight into a blissfully forbearing abider, God has given me zillions of opportunities to practice what I asked for. It’s been a hard lesson learned.

Abide. It means to wait for something, patiently. Abiding is no easy feat, especially not in a culture that is success-driven, instant-gratification-oriented, and pathologically impatient.

Waiting is a part of the human condition. Waiting for the train to come at rush hour. Waiting for the next big break, for regime change in the White House, for the hearts of Americans to turn softly toward their brothers and sisters in the developing world. We wait.

By exercising the spiritual gift of abiding, gracefully or begrudgingly, patience has slowly begun to take hold in me. At the times when I’m feeling the most impatient and the least able to abide, my thoughts turn to Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski, the quintessential slacker and big-hearted antihero of Joel and Ethan Coens’ film The Big Lebowski.

The Dude is most certainly a lazy man, but he also may be what the Jewish tradition might call a lamed vavnik—one of the 36 righteous souls so pure that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders (even if they have no idea that it does). In the final scene of the Coens’ 1998 comic masterpiece, the Dude runs into a 10-gallon-hat-wearing fellow known as “The Stranger” at the bar of the local bowling alley. “Take it easy, Dude,” the Stranger tells him, “and I know that you will.”

“Mwelp,” the Dude says, shrugging, “the Dude abides.”

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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