The Cut-Outs

Posted: September 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

I recently read a poem in which the author described the way in which her brother cut his own image out of all the family photographs before he took his own life. It was a way to define his own absence in advance, an absence he already felt and  surely one that would become permanent. Those cut-outs became the way she experienced her brother’s absence. It was not simply a feeling, a grief, a regret. It was a blank space in the fabric of time and space, the absence of something present, the presence of something absent.

People who are gone seem to linger that way. Most of what made them who they were is  out of sight. But much is known by the outline of what used to be present. We find the outline everywhere. Sometimes we color inside the lines, fill in the blank. With memories or dreams.

One of the strange things is that we mostly get to choose what stays inside the lines. Even change it. The past is so fluid. We can still work on it now. Finish it up, write a new ending. And focus on which parts of them bounced around inside the lines while they were still with us.

One of the lingering powerful images of Casey Affleck’s A Ghost Story is that the departed simply shows up as a sheet covering the body he used to be. The viewer never has the privilege of even one glimpse beneath the covering. We only have the surface of his outlines, and by where he shows up presumably what still matters or is unresolved.

When you think about it monuments and statues provide a similar function. They present the outlines and surface of what was a life. He or she occupied space for a time on this planet. There was impact that can be known and felt. Touch the stone or metal or wood and your mind fills in the story.

Our Western problem is linear time, of course. We actually believe things unfold sequentially. But just imagine for a moment that they don’t. Imagine that past is really present is really future. Imagine that sequential time is one of the illusions we seize to make sense of our world. And then imagine that the cut-outs of those who once were (or will be?) are really place keepers. The ancestor is still here and may be tomorrow. The future is flowing out from what we just think is an empty space. We love to oversimplify. But the world is so much more complex and mysterious than that.

If, theologians in the house, God is eternal and reality is infinite in every way, what is the outline of a life? A punctuation mark in a sentence? The temporary material reveal for something that can never stay material? Ego wanting to hold on?

What a gift that this young man cut himself out of the pictures before he made his final exit. What he gave to his sister and everyone else was a trace that could continue. Yes, you can find me and, no, you can’t. And yes, I can find you and, no, I can’t. In the end none of us will be found except in some echo of eternity that ricochets through the cosmos with all the other ricochets.

They say that sound waves echo through space forever. At least the outlines of them do. When we hear them they seem to come from another time. And yet we hear them now.

Like an image cut out of a family photograph.

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It may not be heaven…

Posted: September 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

… but when you cruise Arkansas on your mechanical horse you could bet you have a glimpse of it.51868F61-5DF9-4911-9D4F-7721FED4FBE8

I worked it out in the sermon

Posted: September 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

I have just completed a compilation of a sample of sermons from the past forty years. They are grouped by eras, what I call Acts. I invite you to travel through time with me, time both theological and personal. By clicking the link you will be taken to the Dropbox folder that contains an Introduction and five groupings of sermons. Enjoy!

I worked it out in the sermon: The best of Tim Carson sermons

Some sermons live on not only in the community but in the heart of the preacher. I remember the packed sanctuary on the Sunday following 9/11. We were all in shock. People were looking for a word, any word. Here is the message I stammered out on that morning and the unedited manuscript:

2001.9.16 – The Shaking of the Foundations

The Pastor of the church we attended on Sunday shared a story from the church’s preschool. Last week a four year old attended school one day and was absent the next. The reason was because immigration officers showed up to deport the mother whose papers were evidently not in order. The father is doing graduate work at the university. As the agents arrived they addressed the four year old and asked, “Which parent do you want to go with, your mommy or your daddy?” The child answered, “I want to stay with my mommy and I want to stay with my daddy.” They ended up placing the child with the mother. The next day the father came to the preschool and tearfully shared that his child would no longer be in school.

This is the third child this has happened to in this one preschool in the past year. It raises urgent moral and theological questions for all Christians.

The Pastor lifted up the thorny issues: On the one hand we must have reasonable laws to regulate immigration and our borders. On the other hand we are a huge country with vast resources and we have the capability to do more than we are. What to do?

But more important than those is the crystal clarity presented in the scripture text of the morning, the parable from Matthew 25, that reminds us that the sharpest evaluation of life will be according to what we did “for the least of these.” Just who are the least of these is not left to the imagination: those who are thirsty, hungry, naked, sick, strangers, and imprisoned. These are the most vulnerable and sidelined in our society. When we reach to them we are reaching to the center of the holy itself. When we don’t, we don’t.

The Pastor challenged us to hold this real tension between law and compassion. There has to be a coming together of the two in some redemptive way. In the end, before all eternity, our moral fiber is not evaluated nearly as much by how we well we kept ourselves safe through the harsh enforcement of the laws of the moment, but rather by the virtues of love, mercy, compassion, kindness, and yes, welcoming the stranger.

That is why Christians of many stripes mobilized at the border to protest the immorality of separating children and parents who were sent across the country to different detention centers.

One of the most troubling history lessons shared by the Pastor was the American legacy of separating parents and children in families of color: Native American Indians, African slaves, Japanese during WW II. It is always people of color. And it is today.

None of this is acceptable and no Christian should tuck in their children at night with love and safety without calling to mind the plight of the most vulnerable, those who are not tucked in with love and safety. We must commit to halting the abuse of children and families who are the most powerless within our borders. They are the strangers of Matthew 25. Will we welcome them and how?

Lord, when did we see you?

 

With granite cliffs

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

DC75EB88-3905-4A1B-97D6-702E97054C2FWith granite cliffs looking over my shoulder I trace the lines of the banks until they disappear into the mist.

This river has a mind of its own and won’t give up secrets to just anyone.

But maybe it will today.

Dreams are tricksters that love to lurk in the shadows. They wait until every guard is down, the last eyelid closed, and some new brainwave yanks consciousness away from the senses. And after the warehouse foreman of the mind takes his break and the loading dock is quiet a secret signal is flashed and the game is on.

When dreams make their side-wise entrance it’s not onto an ordinary stage. This stage is in three or four or more dimensions. It’s a multi-level stage with landings and under-crofts and rooms that connect to whatever they need. Time is blurred and the past is the present is the future is all of them at once. This is the odd stage of dreams and boy do they love to play there.

If this kind of stage is baffling to the daytime mind, the plot, if you can follow it, is even more so. The cast of characters comes from ordinary time and mythic time, the shadows and bright places, impulse, ecstasy and eternity. A dream may slip through your fingers like an phantom or have a good long run over many nights. Sometimes dreams just wink at you and then lay down a long patch of rubber at the intersection. Something needs to be told, resolved, changed.

And then there are the beautiful dream visions. Like ladders to heaven. Curious geometric shapes that are so harmonious you can only gasp. Strange singing in another tongue. Traveling, passing and lifting. Falling, descending and darkness. Somebody waving for you to come join them.

Most of all dreams are like fancy escorts. They take you by the arm and help you across the river to wherever you need to go. They negotiate dangerous passages and suggest a way out of the peculiar place in which you find yourself. None of it makes sense to the rational mind and the rational mind can’t go there, not alone, because it doesn’t know how to travel these parts; there is no map to get you from here to there.

I’m telling you, watch out. Your dreams are after you and they won’t divulge the time of the next attack. I’m not even sure you could prepare for it if you wanted to. But you can welcome, listen, and watch. They are on your side, after all.  As strange as they are, they are on your side.