Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

For Kevin

Today would have been my friend Kevin’s 32nd birthday and I wish so badly that I could call him and tell him I’m thinking of him and reminisce about old times together.

I don’t know all the details about why he chose to take his own life this past fall, but I think there must have been despair and there must have been isolation and the very deepest pain.

Kevin was a loyal friend.  He was intelligent and sensitive and thoughtful.  He was compassionate and empathetic.  He was fun and interested in lots of things for their own sake.

I’m tempted to spend the day sitting in my chair and crying and asking why.  I’m tempted to blame myself and every other person in his life for failing him.  I’m tempted to force the things I don’t understand to make sense.

I struggle against these thoughts to remind myself that God’s tender-loving-kindness is greater than anything else.  So instead I’m making chicken stock and crying, and doing dishes and crying, and feeding my cat and crying.


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Oakleaf Mennonite Farm


Yesterday morning I cleaned a winter’s-worth of leaves off of our balcony.  Four bags full.   I seriously wondered whether if I had planted some seeds in the layer of ‘mulch’ that had accumulated, we could have had an 8′ x 8′ third floor garden.

This month, my article in PeaceSigns is about gardening — specifically, what could happen if a neighborhood worked together to produce not only food, but life together.  Here’s an excerpt:


This is the time of year when my thoughts inevitably turn to gardening and I find myself daydreaming about digging in the dirt, and planting seeds, and how wonderful a warm, just-picked, sun-ripened tomato tastes. I feel spring stirring in my soul while frost is yet on the ground. When this happens, I pull out my copy of The Wind in the Willows and look in on Mole, inside cleaning while, “Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”

(For the full article, click here)



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Seasoned with Peace

Part 1, WINTER


And now, for a commercial…


Seasoned with Peace WINTER is here!  It is the first of four seasonal books with “Practical help for becoming a biblical, prayerful, playful peacemaker”, compiled by Susan Mark Landis, Lisa J. Amstutz, and Cindy Snider.


It is a daily devotional that begins January 1, which includes reflections, prayers, recipes, crafts, projects, information, poetry, and action steps.   And the best part is, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.


This book makes a lovely Christmas gift — consider even getting a “subscription” for someone by ordering SPRING, SUMMER, and FALL as they come out.


The cost is $15.95 with approximately $9 going to peace and justice work!  An individual order of 5 books or more can be discounted at $12 each, but that just means less goes to peace and justice work.  All the work for it has been volunteer, with proceeds going to support Mennonite Church USA Peace and Justice Support Network.


They are available at: http://seasonedwithpeace.blogspot.com/ There are also sample entries on the website, a little sneak peak, if you will.


P.S.  Several of my entries, including craft projects, recipes and reflections will be in the SPRING edition:)

P.P.S.  If you have a reflection, recipe, poem, prayer, or craft project you’d like to contribute, email Susan at peaceforallseasons@gmail.com

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This post is the second in a series devoted to identifying ways to respond to the inevitable and never-ending swings of faith.  For a more detailed introduction, click here.

In fact, you might click there even if you read it before.  Rules 1 and 2 really go together.

Again, quoting from Gallagher’s translation of Ignatius’ rules for discernment of spirits, these are “Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.” (from page 7 of Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV).

The invitation, as always, remains open to post your own understandings and/or rewrites of each rule.  In class each night, several people always offered to read their versions, and each one helped shed a bit more light on that particular rule for the rest of us.


RULE 2 (Gallagher)

The second: in persons who are going on intensely purifying their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, the method is contrary to that in the first rule.  For then it is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.  And it is proper to the good spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and quiet, easing and taking away all obstacles, so that the person may go forward in doing good.

RULE 2 (mine)

In persons who are actively working at becoming more aware of the presence of God, they are drawn away from God by doubting their sense of God’s presence and fears that they are simply imagining God’s presence.  When they doubt and think they’re imagining things they become anxious and turn inward on themselves, attacking and berating themselves for their foolish and irrational feelings and emotions.  However, these persons are drawn back to God when they are affirmed and reassured in their sense of God’s presence.  They are comforted by the personal testimony of others who have had similar experiences of God (thus reassuring them that they are not crazy) and by the insistent and steadfast love of God’s self-revelation.

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There used to be a spider outside my door.  A big, scary, stripey one.  Its legs looked like candy canes.  Before I walked by, I always made sure I knew where it was.  And then I made a break for it.  It was usually enthroned in the center of its web, and I swear it was ready to pounce.  I never saw any bugs in its web – I’m sure it devoured them all by morning.

And then there was another one.  This one was bigger and uglier, gray and kind of scaley looking.  That one moved around a lot, and blended in with the paint; you never knew where it was.

I almost took down the webs a couple of times.  But no way would I try to kill them – I’d probably just make them mad and then they’d charge me.  But mostly I didn’t want to hear the crunch of their exoskeletons… and the squish.  Blech!

Then one night I came home and they were gone.  I thought I’d feel relieved and safe and be glad that I didn’t have to hold my breath when I walked by or have to work up the courage to go out my front door.  More than anything I just noticed the big hole in the balcony where the great expanse of their webs had been.  And I felt a little sad.

I hadn’t realized that I’d grown a bit used to their presence and that looking for them in the morning had become a ritual sort of greeting.  And I kind of missed them.  And I wondered, if I can accept the presence of these scary arachnids, and learn to coexist with them – if we can agree that they won’t jump on me and I won’t knock down their webs – I wonder what else might be possible.

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Yesterday I explored the Christmas theme in The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Today I want to do the same with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of Christmas and Halloween, birth and death, in these two films.

Great Pumpkin opens with Linus and Lucy going out to the pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin.  Once they bring it inside, Lucy dives right in to carving it.  Linus bursts into tears, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!”

After Lucy plays an old gag on Charlie Brown, we witness Linus writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, with the same formula that would be expected in a letter to Santa.  All his friends laugh at him, and say “the Great Pumpkin is a fake!”  Linus concludes his letter: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you.  P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.”

Linus’ description of the Great Pumpkin closely parallels the Santa Claus mythology.  “On Halloween night the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch, then flies through the air to bring toys to all the good little children everywhere.”  But the Great Pumpkin doesn’t rise out of every pumpkin patch – the Great Pumpkin only chooses the one that is “most sincere”.

Linus seems to be fixated on the idea of “sincerity” and refuses to dress up and go out trick-or-treating.  Lucy is horribly embarrassed by her brother’s belief in the Great Pumpkin.  She heads up the group going out for “tricks or treats” announcing her costume philosophy that “a person should choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality.”  She then ironically pulls a witch mask over her face.  Meanwhile, Snoopy has been out reenacting a World War I Flying Ace who has been shot down and is forced to make his way through the countryside.

While the others are out trick-or-treating, Linus camps out in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  Sally abandons trick-or-treating to stay with him, but it is not because of her own faith in the Great Pumpkin.  She stays for Linus, with whom she is utterly smitten.  She listens attentively cooing, “you say the cutest things”, but it is clear that she doesn’t really hear what he is saying.

When the long-awaited moment comes, there’s a rustling in the leaves, and a figure rises up amongst the pumpkins.  Linus faints, initially thinking he “missed” the Great Pumpkin’s arrival, unaware that it was only Snoopy whose play-acting has led him to the pumpkin patch.  When he comes to, Sally leaves him, angry that she’s wasted her whole evening waiting in a pumpkin patch for nothing, “missing out” on trick-or-treating.

Linus spends the night in the pumpkin patch.  In a surprising act of kindness and compassion, Lucy wakes up, notices her brother is not in bed and goes out to find him shivering under his blanket.  She brings him home and tucks him into bed, never having seen the Great Pumpkin.

The next day, Charlie Brown and Linus are talking about their disappointing experiences of Halloween night.  When Linus tells him that the Great Pumpkin never came he says, “don’t take it too hard, Linus, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too”, perhaps referring to going trick-or-treating only to end up with a bag or rocks.  Neither of them got what they’d hoped for on Halloween.  Linus, however, is resilient in his faith in the Great Pumpkin.  He declares that next year will be the year, he’ll find a pumpkin patch that’s “real sincere”, and the Great Pumpkin will come.

There is no omniscient narrator to tell us why the Great Pumpkin never comes or if he did come once Linus fell asleep.  We don’t even know if in the world of the Peanuts characters the Great Pumpkin really exists or not.  I’m tempted to think that Linus has invented the Great Pumpkin mythology himself.  It is interesting to examine the popular heroes of a culture, and to ask what these heroes are being asked to do or to be that is missing from that culture.  For Linus, it is “sincerity”, and I can’t help but wonder if he is looking for sincerity amid all the candy, costumes and parties (or maybe that’s just what I’m looking for in my hero).

Both Jack and Linus borrow (sometimes wholesale) familiar traditions from Christmas to infuse Halloween with new meaning.  And it makes me wonder what it is about Halloween that leaves them craving something more, and what it is about Christmas that they find inspiring enough to bring back to Halloween.  Jack wants to know “what does it mean?” while Linus shouts “sincerity!”  Maybe that is the question, and also the answer.

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How I would have carved a pumpkin this year.

Every year, as Halloween approaches, I look forward to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  For a person who doesn’t like Halloween, that seems rather odd – or is it?

For clarification, what I don’t like about Halloween is what I perceive is the main emphasis: fear.  I don’t like being scared.  In fact, it makes me angry if someone intentionally scares me, somehow thinking it is “fun”.  I realize that being scared is fun for others, and I am genuinely interested in learning about why that is.  But I don’t like it.  At all.

And yet, I find something truly compelling about Nightmare, and adore Great Pumpkin.  It is interesting that both these films have in common themes not just from Halloween and death, but from Christmas and new life as well.  It makes me wonder what else they may have in common.

According to the opening song of Nightmare, it’s their job to make you scream, but they’re not “mean”.  It’s an important distinction in Halloween Town.  It’s all meant to be “fun”.  Jack, the skeleton Pumpkin King, has become dissatisfied with just being scary.  He wants something more.  In his own song he sings, “I grow so weary of the sound of screams.”  He’s “empty”.  It could be that anything always done in the same way, year after year, can become dull and meaningless.  But maybe there’s something more to it.

As Jack wanders away from Halloween Town, mulling over his emptiness, he stumbles into Christmas Town.  The song “What’s This?” captures all the wonder and amazement so frequently associated with Christmas lights and smells.  It’s brighter and more vivid.  There’s something new here that fills him, “in my bones I feel the warmth that’s coming from inside.”  By the end of the song he decides, “I want it for my own.”

When Jack returns to Halloween Town, he calls a town meeting to tell everyone about his experience.  But they don’t really get it.  They haven’t experienced the life of Christmas Town for themselves they way that Jack has.  They don’t understand presents that don’t involve “tricks”. They are, however, dazzled.  In his exasperation, Jack plays into their ignorance and turns Santa Claus into a scary “Sandy Claws” to get them on board.

Next, Jack needs to figure how just how to “make Christmas.”  “There’s got to be a logical way to explain this Christmas thing.”  His approach is scientific.  He conducts a series of experiments on traditional Christmas decorations and gifts – holly berries, paper snowflakes, teddy bears, tree ornaments – putting them under a microscope, cutting into them, trying to figure out what exactly Christmas is all about.  Even after trying to use formulas and equations he’s left wondering “But what does it mean?”  Finally, he comes to the place familiar to many believers – “just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.”

The inhabitants of Halloween Town set about making Christmas their own.  By the time Christmas Eve rolls around Jack is ready to play the part of Santa, bringing presents and toys to the children of the world – made in Halloween Town.  As Jack flies through the air, the screams that Jack found so tiresome at Halloween ring out.  People call the police to report being attacked by Christmas toys.  Everything has been distorted, twisted, and perverted.  News reporters announce that an imposter is “mocking and mangling” Christmas.  Military personnel are called in, unbeknownst to Jack, to shoot him down.  He falls in flames, landing in the arms of an angelic statue in a graveyard, his red costume charred and shredded.  The Sandy Claus persona is dead.

It is only after the disaster of Christmas that Jack is able to come to terms with who he is.  This gives him fresh inspiration and excitement for Halloween.  He is, after all, not Santa Claus, but the Pumpkin King.

The mockery that Halloween Town makes of Christmas makes me wonder what Halloween Town is all about in the first place – in a sense, what they and Jack do best.  It strikes me that this may in fact be the best approach to Halloween, and to death, that I can imagine for someone like me.  As a Christian, I can’t help but think that Halloween might just be the time and occasion most appropriate and well-suited for mocking death.  “Where, O Death, is now Thy sting?”

For Jack, the thrill of scaring people is gone.  In order to feel something again, he either needs to escalate into “meanness” (which Halloween Town does not espouse), or find a new way to feel.  I wonder what would happen if, instead of turning on each other and using each other to feel something — even as so much of the media and entertainment industries threaten to desensitize us — what would happen if we turned on Death itself, and made it the butt of the joke?

to be continued…

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