What God is really like

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Surprised by Wonder

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Lord, catch me off guard today.
Surprise me with some moment
of beauty or pain
So that at least for the moment
I may be startled into seeing that you
are here in all your splendor,
Always and everywhere,
Barely hidden,
Beneath.
Beyond,
Within this life I breathe.

–Frederick Buechner

The Scandalous God

manger-baby-copy-2The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.
         –Frederick Buechner

The man who shut down the storm

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When he saw a big crowd approaching, he figured he didn’t have enough steam left to do much for them that day, so he went and climbed into a boat for a few hours’ peace, only to find that the disciples were hot on his heels and wanted to go along too. So he took them. Then he lay down in the stern of the boat with a pillow under his head, Mark says (4:34), and went to sleep . . .

He didn’t doze off in the bow where the spray would get him and the whitecaps slapped harder. He climbed back into the stern instead. There was a pillow under his head. Maybe somebody put it there for him. Maybe they didn’t think to put it there till after he’d gone to sleep, and then somebody lifted his head a little off the hard deck and slipped it under.

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He must have gone out like a light because Mark says the storm didn’t wake him, not even when the waves got so high they started washing in over the sides. They let him sleep on until finally they were so scared they couldn’t stand it any longer and woke him up. They addressed him respectfully enough as Teacher, but what they said was reproachful, petulant almost. “Don’t you see that we’re all drowning?” (Mark 4:38).

It was the wind rather than the disciples that Jesus seems to have spoken to first, as soon as he’d gotten his eyes open. “He rebuked it,” Mark says (4:38). “Cut that out!” — you can almost picture him staring it down with the hair lashing his face as he holds on to the gunwales to keep from being blown overboard. He was gentler with the sea. “Take it easy,” he said. “Quiet down.” When it came the disciples’ turn, he said, “Why did you panic?” and then “What kind of faith do you call that?” but they were so impressed to find that the wind had stopped blowing and the sea had flattened out again that they didn’t get around to answering him (4:39-41).

–Frederick Buechner,
Beyond Words

Not Wild Enough

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Published in: on 06/18/2016 at 16:48  Leave a Comment  
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The worse thing is not the last

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What God Does

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Jesus Christ is what God does,
and the cross is where God did it.
–Frederick Buechner

One Can Never be Sure

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THE CHILD IS BORN in the night among the beasts. The sweet breath and steaming dung of the beasts. And nothing is ever the same again.

Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man . . .

–Frederick Buechner
The Hungering Dark

Holy ground

Following Jesus
Incarnation means
that all ground is
holy ground because
God not only made it
but walked on it, ate
and slept and worked
and died on it.

–Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 12/11/2015 at 21:09  Leave a Comment  
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The final flood of light

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The world is full of dark shadows,
to be sure both the world without
and the world within …
But praise and trust him …
for the knowledge that what’s lost
is nothing to what’s found,
and that all the dark there ever was,
set next to light,
would scarcely fill a cup.

–Frederick Buechner

Everything changes

index copy 3If the Lord is indeed our shepherd, then everything goes topsy-turvy. Losing becomes finding and crying becomes laughing. The last become first and the weak become strong.

Instead of life being done in by death in the end as we always supposed, death is done in finally by life in the end. If the Lord is our host at the great feast, then the sky is the limit.

–Frederick Buechner
Secrets in the Dark

The “folly” of following Jesus

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If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own — and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.

—Frederick Buechner
Listening to Your Life

Child’s play and the Kingdom

dsc_00201-1Unless you become like a child, Jesus said, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and maybe part of what that means is that in the long run what is good about religion is playing the way a child plays at being grown up until he finds that being grown up is just another way of playing and thereby starts to grow up himself. Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the Kingdom will come, until—in the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignance and mystery of it—you start to see that the playing is itself the first-fruits of the Kingdom’s coming and of God’s presence within us and among us.

–Frederick Buechner
Now and Then

Jonah, the whale and the worm

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Within a few minutes of swallowing the prophet Jonah, the whale suffered a severe attack of acid indigestion, and it’s not hard to see why. Jonah had a disposition that was enough to curdle milk.

When God ordered him to go to Nineveh and tell them there to shape up and get saved, the expression on Jonah’s face was that of a man who has just gotten a whiff of trouble in his septic tank. In the first place, the Ninevites were foreigners and thus off his beat. In the second place, far from wanting to see them get saved, nothing would have pleased him more than to see them get what he thought they had coming to them.

It was as the result of a desperate attempt to get himself out of the assignment that he got himself swallowed by the whale instead; but the whale couldn’t stomach him for long, and in the end Jonah went ahead, and with a little more prodding from God, did what he’d been told. He hated every minute of it, however, and when the Ninevites succumbed to his eloquence and promised to shape up, he sat down under a leafy castor oil plant to shade him from the blistering sun and smouldered inwardly. It was an opening that God could not resist.

He caused the castor oil plant to shrivel up to the last leaf, and when Jonah got all upset at being back in the ghastly heat again, God pretended to misunderstand what was bugging him.

“Here you are, all upset out of pity for one small castor oil plant that has shriveled up,” he said, “so what’s wrong with having pity for this whole place that’s headed for Hell in a handcart if something’s not done about it?” (Jonah 4:10-11).

It is one of the rare instances in the Old Testament of God’s wry sense of humor, and it seems almost certain that Jonah didn’t fail to appreciate it.

–Frederick Buechner
Peculiar Treasures

Published in: on 02/03/2015 at 20:53  Leave a Comment  
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Once upon a time is now

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But the whole point of the fairy tale of the Gospel is, of course, that he is the king in spite of everything. The frog turns out to be the prince, the ugly duckling the swan, the little gray man who asks for bread the great magician with the power of life and death in his hands, and though the steadfast tin soldier falls into the flames, his love turns out to be fireproof. There is no less danger and darkness in the Gospel than there is in the Brothers Grimm, but beyond and above all there is the joy of it, this tale of a light breaking into the world that not even the darkness can overcome.

That is the Gospel,
this meeting of darkness and light
and the final victory of light.

That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, the one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still. To preach the Gospel in its original power and mystery is to claim in whatever way the preacher finds it possible to claim it that once upon a time is this time, now, and here is the dark wood that the light gleams at the heart of like a jewel, and the ones who are to live happily ever after are…all who labor and are heavy laden, the poor naked wretches wheresoever they be.

–Frederick Buechner
Telling the Truth

Listen for Him

17582_603996602948044_422615885_nTHE QUESTION is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys.

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We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement.

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But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.

–Frederick Buechner
The Sacred Journey

Holiness in a barn

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Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of mankind.

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If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, the birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.

–Frederick Buechner
Secrets in the Dark

Image:
“Behold The Lamb Of God”
by Walter Rane

The journey home

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Bethlehem is not the end
of our journey
but the beginning—
the place through which
we must pass if ever we are
to reach home.

–Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 12/15/2014 at 5:30  Leave a Comment  
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Getting it all right

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“You haven’t got it right!” says the exasperated piano teacher. Junior is holding his hands the way he’s been told. His fingering is unexceptionable. He has memorized the piece perfectly. He has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But his heart’s not in it, only his fingers. What he’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping. He has succeeded in boring everybody to death, including himself.

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Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees were playing it by the book. They didn’t slip up on a single do or don’t. But they were getting it all wrong.

Righteousness is getting it all right.
If you play it the way
it’s supposed to be played,
there shouldn’t be a still foot
in the house.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Sanctification

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In “Beauty and the Beast,” it is only when the Beast discovers that Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.

In the experience of Saint Paul,
it is only when we discover
that God really loves us
in all our unloveliness
that we ourselves start
to become godlike.

Paul’s word for this gradual transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is sanctification, and he sees it as the second stage in the process of salvation.

Being sanctified is a long and painful stage because with part of themselves sinners prefer their sin, just as with part of himself the Beast prefers his glistening snout and curved tusks. Many drop out with the job hardly more than begun, and among those who stay with it there are few if any who don’t drag their feet most of the way.

But little by little—less by taking pains than by taking it easy— the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person, the healed person to become a healing person, the loved person to become a loving person. God does most of it. The end of the process, Paul says, is eternal life.

  –Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Artwork: Scott Gustafson

God’s artistic style

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Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria—each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them.

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In the words of Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare.

Glory is what God looks like
when for the time being
all you have to look at him with
is a pair of eyes.

~Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 10/12/2014 at 5:33  Leave a Comment  
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Freedom

LookingWe have freedom to the degree that the master whom we obey grants it to us in return for our obedience. We do well to choose a master in terms of how much freedom we get for how much obedience…

To obey the dictates of our own consciences leaves us freedom from the sense of moral guilt, but not the freedom to gratify our own strongest appetites.

To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human.

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The old prayer speaks of God “in whose service is perfect freedom.” The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love itself, which above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

It is a promise

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The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us–loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief.

–Frederick Buechner
A Room Called Remember

We can only point

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It is impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle. All-wise. All-powerful. All-loving. All knowing. We bore to death both God and ourselves with our chatter. God cannot be expressed but only experienced.

In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there is something about his eyes and his voice. There is something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross—the way he carries me.”

–Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking

Sin is centrifugal

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“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way…”
(Isa. 53:6 NIV)

The power of sin is centrifugal. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left. “The wages of sin is death” is Saint Paul’s way of saying the same thing.

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you’re part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self…

Sin pushes others away and
widens the gap between you and them
and also the gaps within your self.

Sex is sinful to the degree that, instead of drawing you closer to other human beings in their humanness, it unites bodies but leaves the lives inside them hungrier and more alone than before.

Religion and unreligion are both sinful to the degree that they widen the gap between you and the people who don’t share your views…

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Original sin means we all originate out of a sinful world, which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that center everything that seems to impede its freewheeling. More even than hunger, poverty, or disease, it is what Jesus said he came to save the world from.

–Frederick Buechner

Touching another life

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The life I touch…
will touch another life,
and in turn another,
until who knows where
the trembling stops.

–Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 07/15/2014 at 9:05  Leave a Comment  
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Only one miracle

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After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. “There is only one miracle,” he answered. “It is life.” Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die? More often than not do you really listen when people are speaking to you instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself? If your answer to all or most of these questions is No, the chances are that you’re dead.

–Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking

When blessing runs wild

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When the camel you’re riding runs wild, nothing will stop it. You cling to its neck. You wrench at its beard and long lip. You cry into its soft ear for mercy. You threaten vengeance. Either you hurl yourself to death from its pitching back or you ride out its madness to the end. It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me. Often since then I have cried for mercy with sand in my teeth…The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.

–Frederick Buechner
The Son of Laughter

In the midst of life

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Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…at supper time, or walking along a road…He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.

–Frederick Buechner
The Magnificent Defeat

Only by Dying

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IF DEATH WAS TO be truly defeated, it was only by dying himself that Jesus believed he could defeat it. If he was to reach the hearts of men, it was only by suffering his own heart to be broken on their behalf that he believed he could reach them. To heal the sick and restore sight to the blind; to preach good news to the poor and liberty to the captives; to wear himself out with his endless teaching and traveling the whole length and breadth of the land—it had not worked because it was not enough. There had to be more. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” the Gospel says, and it was a journey from which he seems to have known that he would both never return and return always even unto the end of time and beyond.

–Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 04/17/2014 at 6:22  Leave a Comment  
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