Showing items filed under “February 2018”

Rain

Once a sister-in-law visited us in New York City for a week. It rained the day she arrived and rained every day she was with us. As her plane lifted off from LaGuardia, the clouds broke. I was reading an old-fashioned paper in those days, the New York Sun, which gave meterological data on page two. So I could read: we had 16 inches of rain that week. The City’s average rainfall is 48 inches. One-third of our annual rain fell in that week.
    I love all my sisters-in-law, and begged her not to take the rain personally.
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    Here in Dallas it rained every day for six days. There was sun on Sunday, and sun on the next Sunday, but in between lots of wet. We had some local flooding, some leaks in our churches, and so forth. I was at a play on Tuesday night. At 7:30, when the show was to start, a voice spoke to us. She said that due to a technical difficulty, that evening’s performance had been canceled. We first thought it was a joke—maybe a twist in the plot. (The play was Frankenstein, after all; maybe Dr. Frankenstein had run into a technical difficulty.) But then the lights came up, and it was real.
    Water had seeped in somewhere.
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    Almost the first thing God made was the “firmament.” It is the sky, understood as a translucent stretched-out membrane that separates the waters above it from the waters below it. The firmament makes possible a space for air. Then God called for the dry land to appear—which means that the water below the firmament was pushed aside, or down, to make dry land possible.
    The world, in Genesis chapter 1, is a little island of order in the midst of watery chaos. There are waters below, and there are waters above. The world’s whole situation is precarious.
    When, some time later, God decided to start over, it happened by the earth being flooded. But it wasn’t just the waters above that came down on the earth. The waters below also swelled up.
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    We don’t normally think about weather in theological terms. But it can, and perhaps should, remind us of how delicate creation is. We are surrounded on all sides by chaos. Our existence itself is so delicate, so precarious, so transiently beautiful.
    I’m glad it stopped raining. But I’m also glad for the reminder.
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    Out & About. From Thursday, March 1, through Sunday, March 4, I am giving the Muhlenberg Lenten Reflections at Calvary-St. George’s in New York City. The talks are at different times, in different locations; details here: https://www.calvarystgeorges.org/muhlenberg.
    Wednesday, March 7, I will speak on “The Friend at the Last Supper” at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas. The talk is at 7 p.m. You can come at 6:30 for a light supper (no registration required), or even at 6 p.m. for Stations of the Cross.

Crazy Sin


    A friend was driving me around. “Don’t you agree?” he was saying. “People are fundamentally crazy.”
    I hadn’t thought of it that way. But after a bit I said, “Well, they’re sinners. And sin just never makes sense.”
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    It’s hard to think about sin. It’s about “missing the mark,” about having “erred and strayed from [God’s] ways.” It happens in “thought, word, and deed,” in “things done and left undone.” It is fundamentally a rebellion against our maker.
    But sin’s optics are deceitful. It promises a path of life that, by rebelling from God, can achieve independence. But God is not something in the universe that we can run away from. You can run away from Dallas. You can run away from your job. You can run away from your Aunt Agatha (as Bertie Wooster says, the aunt who chews broken glass). But God is not a place and not a thing, and he doesn’t chew glass.
    “Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence?” So asks the Psalmist (139:6)—rhetorically, because there is no place where God is not. God is the cause of all places; as their cause, as the reason they exist, God is everywhere.
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    What erring and straying and rebelling against God ultimately means is that we have turned God into an idol from whom we then turn away. Sin is thus, always, an implicit idolatry.
    It is also, as we say, “it’s own punishment.” Why? Because to attempt to turn away from God is at the same time an attempt to turn away from our humanity. To sin is to become less of a person, to become less human.
    Socrates had this insight as well. The person most harmed in a murder, he said, was the one who committed the deed. His interlocutors were incredulous: Surely it’s better to kill someone than to be killed? But no, said Socrates; it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it.
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    In the end, sin never makes sense. If there is a crime, we look for a motive. But a motive is an explanation in terms of a good. He killed her in order to steal her jewels. Jewels are beautiful and valuable; they are good in themselves, and it is good to want things that are good. But a higher good is the life of a person. Why did the sinner choose the lesser good over the higher good?
    Sins of thought and word and deed, things done and left undone, all of them are choices for a lesser good when we should have been seeking a higher good. Why do we sin? It doesn’t make sense.
    I think my friend is right: we’re all crazy. But see Romans 7:25. Thanks be to God who delivers us from the wretched craziness of sin!
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    Out & About. This Sunday, February 25, I am to speak on the deadly sin of gluttony at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas. (Will I make any sense?) That class is at 9:30. I will also be preaching at the Eucharists at 8 and 10:30.
    From Thursday, March 1, through Sunday, March 4, I am giving the Muhlenberg Lenten Reflections at Calvary-St. George’s in New York City. The talks are at different times, in different locations; a schedule with registration form is here:https://www.calvarystgeorges.org/muhlenberg

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."