Tuesday, June 28, 2005

PRAYER REQUEST (AGAIN)

If you have a moment, please say a prayer for me tomorrow afternoon/evening as I do my second (of six) on-calls at the hospital. The on-call chaplain usually spends the night at the hospital, and is responsible for taking care of any pastoral emergencies that arise overnight. My last overnight was relatively quiet, but they can be a bit hairy. Please pray that I'll have courage, strength, and words to say to people who are suffering. (Note to atheists, agnostics, and the Lurie family: warm fuzzy supportive thoughts are always accepted in lieu of prayers.)

Thank you so much.

WEDDING WORDS

Hi, kids. Sorry I've been so AWOL lately: first a weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas, for my friends David and Maggie's wedding, then a brief visit in Chi-town from The Girl That I Like, and amidst it all, CPE. Whew. Color me tired.

Below, you'll find the speech I gave at David and Maggie's wedding, which I hope you will enjoy. (Yes, yes, I know, we have the same name. It is a bit annoying. But after a certain number of phone calls that began, "Dave? It's Dave," I stopped noticing, and I'm sure you will too.)

Hi, I’m David. I’m a friend of David's from college; David asked me to say a few words about marriage, and I’m glad to do so.

I’d like to begin by saying what I will NOT do. I will not abuse the bully pulpit I have been given, an opportunity to speak at David’s wedding, by using it to embarrass him. I will not do that. I frankly think such idle chatter is beneath the dignity of the august institution of marriage, and it belittles the solemnity of this occasion for anyone to embarrass the bride or groom before or after the ceremony.

So, for instance, I definitely will not share with you any embarrassing stories about David. will not share with you the time that an obviously hung-over David stumbled into my bedroom at 6.30 in the morning quite certain it was in fact the bathroom. Or how disaster was only narrowly avoided. Nor will I share with you sordid tale of a kimono-clad David, more than a bit blotto, breaking his own shower rod while attempting to bathe. And I will definitely NOT share with you tales of David hallucinating while driving during a cross-country road trip, the total number of times he showered during his freshman year of college, his excessive and indeed rather alarming misuse of NyQuil, his abortive efforts to compose rap songs, his disturbing obsession with Stevie Nicks, or the time he tried to fly to Fayetteville, Arkansas and wound up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. None of those are going to come up.

Nor will I state how happy we all are for both Maggie and David. I think that it goes without saying that all of us are filled with joy at their love for one another and their new life together.

Instead of those things, I would like to begin by stating the obvious: in no way am I competent to offer reflections on the significance of marriage. I’m not married; I’m not a marriage counselor; I don’t read self-help books on marriage. I don’t even watch “Dr. Phil”; I actually think he’s kinda creepy. But David asked me to speak about marriage. So I did what I usually do when I am called upon to bloviate upon a topic about which I know very little: I turned to the Internet. Through the magic of Google, Wikipedia, and a handy little site called “Stay Married 4-Ever.com,” I was able to learn basically everything you need to know about marriage in five minutes. I spent the rest of my allotted research time reading blogs, managing my stock portfolio, and signing up members of the wedding party to receive promotional mailings from the Church of Scientology.

But then it occurred to me that I might need something more substantial than all that, so I really started thinking. And when I began to reflect about the significance of marriage, the first person I thought of was my Uncle Bob. My uncle Bob is a great guy, and in 1976 he finally got married and settled down. He and his wife went on their honeymoon, moved into their home, and began their new life together. And around this time, my mother called him and asked him how married life was treating him. And what he told my mother has stuck in my memory ever since. “I’ve never been so happy,” he said, “and I’ve never worked so hard.”

David and Maggie, marriage is an opportunity both for unparalled happiness and unparalled difficulty. I talked to a lot of married people when I was researching this speech—and when I say a lot, I mean “four or five”—and virtually every married person I talked to agreed marriage is a very good thing. But they all also agreed: marriage is not for sissies. It requires a ton of work: humility, strength, compassion. I think it was Yoda who said that marriage requires the deepest commitment and the most serious mind. Or maybe he was talking about something else. Either way, the point is this: David and Maggie, after today, you do not belong to yourselves any more, if you ever did. You belong to one another. I pray that thought will be both joyful and a little humbling to you on this day.

Jerry Seinfeld has a wonderful line about relationships. “I always love it what people say about relationships: “we love each other, but it’s a tough relationship, and we’re trying to make it work. I’ve got news for you people: they don’t work! Relationships don’t work! Coffee makers work, light switches work, computers work. Relationships: they don’t work!” Stanley Hauerwas, a theology professor who teaches at Duke University, expresses the same sentiment a different way in what he calls Hauerwas’ Law. It goes like this: you always marry the wrong person. What he means, I think, is not that it doesn’t matter who you marry, but that even if you marry a wonderful person—and both of you are—your marriage will still bring you both good times and hard times, to the days when you get to come home to your spouse and the days when you have to go home to your spouse, to both the moments of love and passion and happiness and the tougher moments of duty and faithfulness.

David and Maggie, today you guys are putting a down payment on your marriage. (Of course, I mean that metaphorically, since if anyone here feels like they put an actual down payment on anything, it’s your parents!) You are putting a metaphorical down-payment on your marriage: you’re taking a big chunk of emotional and spiritual energy, gathering all your friends and relatives, and publicly making a life-long commitment to each other. And each and every one of us rejoices with you. But please remember: this beautiful day, your day, is only the down payment. From this point on, you start actually paying the mortgage. And you’ll pay it, not in money, but in time, attention, communication, love, and in intentional commitment to making your marriage succeed. Sometimes sitting down and writing the monthly mortgage check may sometimes be tedious—but it’s definitely better than the alternative.

David and Maggie, please be prepared for what a counter-cultural activity you are embarking on by marrying one another. I think it was GK Chesterton who said that in the world in which we live, behaving virtuously has all the transgressive thrill of behaving badly. Maybe that’s not completely true, but I think he’s on to something. If you’ll permit me a sweeping generalization, I’d like to suggest that contemporary America doesn’t do a very good job of nurturing healthy marriages. Everybody loves weddings, of course, and rightly so. Everybody loves getting dressed up and looking good, inviting everyone, getting presents, and walking down the aisle, having a few drinks. (Perhaps several drinks.) But a lot of times we struggle to love our marriages. And that makes sense, too, I suppose: it is difficult to love the quiet, patient, humble, sometimes tedious, work of sustaining a marriage. But make no mistake: there are forces out there will try to make your marriage your hobby instead of your marriage. The pressures of life will stretch you the same way they stretch all of us. They will whisper in your ears that you need to do more: work more, accomplish more, have more, be more. More more more. (I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that these kinds of pressures can be particularly prevalent for those of us who work in the music industry.) But you know what? None of us can say yes to everything. And at some point, if each of you wants to keep saying yes to your marriage, you will have to be prepared to say no to something else: work, your own plans and goals, even a beloved friend or relative. And I hope if and when the time comes to do that, you’ll have the strength and wisdom to separate what is essential from what is non-essential.

David and Maggie, 30 years from now, you will have absolutely no idea what I said in this speech. And that’s OK. But please remember this: everyone here loves you very much, and everyone here is in your corner, ready to help you and support you in your new life together, and everything that is best and brightest, holiest and happiest, is what we wish for you and your marriage. I’d like to close by quoting two writers whose thoughts express much better than my own what I’m trying to get that. The first quotation is from the Bible, from 1st John chapter 4: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” And the second is from the great theologian Ogden Nash, who said this: “To keep your marriage brimming/with love from the wedding cup/whenever you’re wrong, admit it/and whenever you’re right, shut up.” God bless you guys as you begin your life together.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

AMERICA'S YOUNG THEOLOGIAN

My good friend (and frequent commentor on this blog) Dan Morehead has finally cracked under the pressure and started a blog. It's titled "America's Young Theologian," a phrase I'm proud to say that I suggested. (Dan and I attended church in my home town recently, and afterward the minister pounced on us, since it's not often you see two guys in their 20s in church. She asked us what we did and where we were from, and I explained that I was in seminary, that I was doing CPE in Chicago that summer, etc., etc. And then she looked at Dan and said, "Well, what about you?" and Dan hesitated for a moment, and finally said "Well, I'm a young theologian. And..." And a huge running gag/nickname/blog title was born.)

Anyway: read it. It's gonna be hot. Dan, like his mentor Stanley Hauerwas, has taken it upon himself to kinda be a provocateur for the theological world, which as far as I'm concerned is a great idea. If you're into theology, postmodern critical theory, indie rock, Karl Barth, or relentlessly checking the Facebook over and over again for no reason, definitely check out Dan's blog. Thanks.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

PRAYER REQUEST

If you have a moment over the coming weeks and months, please pray for me. On Monday, I'm going to start a summer internship at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as a chaplain. While I'm definitely excited about the next 11 weeks (moreso than I thought I would be at this stage of the game), I'm also pretty freaked out. Please pray that I'll do OK the first couple of weeks, that I'll learn what God wants me to learn this summer, and that I'll be worthy of the great responsibility of attending people during their illness and death.

Thank you all so much.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

TRUE STORIES (iv, part three: what the me of now says to the me of then)

If I had to write a letter to 17-year old Dave during the time when I was seriously beginning to question my faith in God, this is what I would say:

Peace, be still. God will never leave you or forsake you.

You are seeking a God who gives signs, who incontrovertibly demonstrates that he’s real, and that he’s active. I am sorry to say that you are barking up the wrong tree. The God we worship simply does not work that way; as Auden (a poet you will not encounter until college) wrote about God, “All proofs of his existence he returns/unopened to the sender.” There is no knowing for certain that God exists the way you know that you have ten fingers on your hand, or that two plus two equals four. What God wants is not our certainty but our trust, our radiant, vulnerable willingness to go on with life not knowing (at least sometimes) for certain that he’s there. Life is that way: we write songs, we preach sermons, vote, express opinions, marry, and do all kinds of incredibly important things without knowing for certain that we’re right. That’s what faith is. As Dostoyevsky so eloquently wrote in the Brothers Karamazov (a work you will not encounter until college), “You cannot know, but it is possible to be convinced.”

You are convinced that because your practice of Christian Science has not resulted in a physical healing for you that you cannot ‘know for sure’ that Christian Science is true. You are convinced that this is a problem. I suggest you have it backwards: that the fact that you cannot ‘know for sure’ that Christian Science is true, that God answers prayer, even that God exists at all, is not the end of your faith but rather the beginning of it. These pains—this searing, scalding crisis of faith—are the birth-pangs of your mature Christian faith. If there is no not-knowing, there is no risk; if there is no risk, there is no faith. If there is no faith, there is no Christianity, only a mechanistic spiritual determinism, a clockwork religion.

I am aware that what I’m saying to you now must seem impossibly unsatisfying. You want answers. You want clarity. I cannot offer those things. You want to know why God isn’t answering your prayers. That’s a damn good question. Ask him; yell at him if you have to. Let him have it; he can take it. But always remember that it is God you are yelling at.

You’re right, though: our God has a troubling tendency to leave prayers unanswered at moments when you would really, really, really like him to answer them. He also has a tendency to answer prayers you’d long since stopped hoping for, had written off for dead, to swoop in suddenly and change your life when you’re least expecting it, and to answer prayers in such a way that, through your laughter, you see what an idiot you were to even pray them in the first place. He’s quirky like that; God’s got a great sense of humor.

You are terrified that you are lost, that God has abandoned you. You are not lost. Or perhaps you are: what a wonderful fate! Our God has a wonderful penchant for the lost; he likes them perhaps most of all. Think of yourself what you must: despise yourself for your lack of faith, for your inability to pray up miracles out of nowhere, for your confusion, for the daunting unanswered questions. These will come back to haunt you—but cling to them if you must. But be confident of God’s character. God is never closer than to the lost, to the confused, and to the broken. God relentlessly pursues them, will never let them go, indeed, in some ineffable, incomprehensible way, sacrificed himself to make clear the depth and breadth of his unending love for them. If you join such motley company now, count yourself fortunate. Much bitterer indeed will be the lot of those who can never call themselves lost, broken, or confused.

Indeed I suspect that your own brokenness at this time is part of God’s larger plan for your life, or at least that God will work through your doubt and brokenness in unexpected ways. You will find that you possess a strange penchant for getting into long conversations with skeptical people and that you are open to their questions in a way they find refreshing.

You are terrified that you are lost, that God has abandoned you, or that God does not exist at all. My beloved child, nothing I can say to you now will push those questions away permanently. With them, one only wrestles and is wounded, like Jacob at Peniel. But come and walk with me. Visit the garden of Gethsemane.

Look there, and see your savior. See how he kneels; see how he weeps; see how he prays and cries out with great groaning and sighs. Look at the way he sweats, like a man locked in a deadly wrestle. See how alone he is, abandoned even by his friends! Look on him, and let your burden be light. You are afraid you are alone now, and perhaps you are. But remember always that our Lord was alone too, and know that in even your aloneness there is a companion, one who was himself alone, a long, long time ago. Offer up to him your own grief, your own bitter tears in this moment. Perhaps through them you keep vigil with Jesus there in the garden.

If it’s possible, take your own sorrows with a grain of salt. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Stanley Hauerwas (who you will not read seriously until you move to New York) calls God “a God of surprise.” He’s right; God is a tricky bastard. This story’s not over.

You are convinced now that your faith lies in a tomb, and perhaps it does. A few days from now, however, you may find that that tomb is empty, and that the faith you thought was dead is mysteriously, and for no apparent reason, alive again in your heart.

Do not be afraid.