Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: September 2004

Augustine

Everytime I revisit Augustine, I am amazed by the passion and beauty of his ideas. He is not a dry intellectual but a passionate lover. I’ve been reviewing some of his ideas on friendship for our upcoming Friendship Retreat. You might enjoy reflecting on some of these wonderful quotes from Augustine:

For any one who knows us may say of him and me, that in body only, and not in mind, we are two, so great is the union of heart, so firm the intimate friendship subsisting between us; though in merit we are not alike, for his is far above mine.

What is there to console us in this human society so full of errors and trials except the truth and mutual love of true and good friends.

It’s hard to laugh when you are by yourself.

The eyes of a friendship neither look down nor look up to a friend: they look at the friend.

He truly loves a friend who loves God in the friend, either because God is actually present in the friend or in order that God may be so present. This is true love. If we love another for another reason, we hate them more than we love them.

A person must be a friend of truth before they can be a friend of a human being.

What Do I Know?

In 1992, I entered a graduate program in Communication Theory with confidence that my profound “insights” would be treasured by all within the sound of my golden voice. Two years later, I stumbled across the stage to receive my diploma, wondering how I even got into graduate school let alone got a Master’s Degree. The number one thing I learned in graduate school is how little I know. Day after day, paper after paper, presentation after presentation, I grew ever more aware of my own deficiencies.

Over the last ten years, I’ve tried to hold this lesson close to my heart. No matter how much I read, no matter how I speak, no matter how much (or how little) I write, I still know next to nothing. In the mystery of this grand creation, I am truly overwhelmed in wonder.

Lately, I’ve been learning a new thing: how much other people do know. Regardless of how much or how little they have read or been trained, I am surrounded by people of stunning brilliance. When I can shut my mouth long enough to listen and really face the people around me, I am always amazed.

I have come to agree with G.K. Chesterton who warned against the dangers of elitism. He once suggested that “The purpose of compulsory education is to deprive the common man of his common sense.” Chesterton staunchly defended the wisdom of common sense and the common person. But he did not pit the uneducated agains the educated either.

Chesterton says: “The common mind means the mind of all the artists and heroes; or else it would not be common. Plato had the common mind; Dante had the common mind. Commonness means the quality common to the saint and the sinner, to the philosopher and the fool; and it was this that Dickens grasped and developed. In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens. And everybody does not mean uneducated crowds; everybody means everybody.”

While I may dislike the sentiment expressed on the bumper stick on the car in front of me, I must be careful not assume that the driver has nothing to teach me. All through the Bible, God often uses the enemies of Israel to reveal His wisdom. The next time I determine another person should be ignored because they have the wrong opinion, or because they are not educated enough, or because they are educated too much, I might instead pause, and turn, and face them in the moment.

I still may disagree but I will have paused and turned and faced a person created in the image of God, and this is a treasure and a wonder that I should never take for granted.

Waiting for God (not Godot)

Spent some time meditating on Psalm 130. The psalmist begins in utter despair, drowning in the chaotic waters of Sheol. He cries out in anguish and prays that God won’t count his sins against him. Then he speaks of waiting upon the Lord. Several times he repeats the phrase that he will wait for the Lord. As I read it, I thought this word “wait” resonates deep in me. So much of my life has been about waiting. About feeling sidelined. Forgotten by God. Wondering if He really has abandoned me. Or if I really have been following Him or simply wandering about in confusion.

I don’t know the whole intent of the psalmist but I do believe he uses a particular struggle and cry for God’s deliverance to connect him with an even deeper longing: an intense, anguished hunger for a redemption he knows only God can accomplish. Now this longing reaches beyond a particular situation to whole nation. He commends all of Israel to wait for the redemption of the Lord. And in all of Israel, we see the cry and longing of all creation. Thus Paul can say that all creation groans for the revealing of the sons of God.

In my own frustrations, in my own pains, in my own struggles, I realize that I can find a way to connect with the struggle and longing of all creation. And in that longing to cry as Jesus taught us to pray: “…Thy kingdom come, the will be done…”

Toronto FIlm Festival

If I had my druthers, I’d be spending the week in Canada at the Toronto Film Festival. Some interesting films and directors including the great Wim Wenders. NPR profiled several films on Morning Edition. Many of the films focus on post 9/11 America. And surprising they’re not all rapid US haters. Looks like there will be some though-provoking presentations.

Joe Gould's Secret

Last weekend, Kelly and I watched Joe Gould’s Secret. The film bares witness to a unique relationship between Joe Mitchell, a writer for the New Yorker and Joe Gould, a homeless, eccentric intellectual. Gould can be funny, fascinating, irritating, and even overpowering. He’s a needy person who makes many people feel obligated to help him. As we watched, we realized that we have known several Joe Gould’s in our life: needy people who pull everyone around them into the vortex of their problems.

How should I respond? I’m not always sure. So many times I’ve felt helpless in the face of their struggles. And yet, maybe I’m not supposed to solve anything at all but to simply witness the mystery and glory.

Joe Gould reminds me of the wonder revealed in each person. He also reminds me of my own eccentricities. Like Luther, I realize my own hopeless condition, my own depravity. My only hope is the mercy and grace of God. Realizing my own desperate need reminds me to show mercy and grace to the Joe Gould’s of this world. And to bask in the wonder that surrounds me.

Wattstax

PBS is running a documentary on what has come to be known as the “Black Woodstock.” Fascinating. I was eight years old when this was filmed (1972). This film captures a vanished era. ALong the way, we experience the bittersweet paradoxes of hope and sadness, beauty and corruption ever present in the human condition. There is something about watching films and documentaries from this era, that fills me with a sense of longing. So many people were dreaming and hoping for a better world. I realize there were just as many problems then as now, but it stirs a longing deep in me, deeper than an era–rooted in Eden and looking toward the New Jerusalem.

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