Author Archives: bjdueholm
I used to think that human beings were the only creatures—aside from the angels—that worshiped. That we lived in this vast silent dead universe, and only our tiny songs of praise were the only worship that filled it up.
I think I was wrong about that. Now I suspect that we’re the only creatures that don’t worship. That cease from worship.
A congregational meeting should have been called and a budget should have been drawn up. We set aside 25% of the ointment for Jesus and sell the rest. 25% of ointment revenue goes to social ministry, 25% to reimburse Martha for this big dinner, 15% to replace the fridge that we bought with a trash bag full of nickels in 1955, 10% for cash reserves.
And the older son felt the terrible weight of those years of work that he and his father had done, without his younger brother and the property he had taken away, and he knew that all the toil and anger and bitterness and poverty were for the sake of this one moment.
That’s the belly-god for you, though. He says “fill me up,” and you try to do it but he’s never full. He says “empty me out” and yet he’s never empty. He’s an easy god to worship, because he’s always with us and he’s never, ever satisfied.
There I was, an hour early in my new dress shoes and business-casual ensemble, wanting to present every bit of the serious and patient foster dad from the suburbs I wish to be. I am always mindful of the stigma that can attach to foster children and foster parenting, and I would do nothing to legitimate that stigma. This child’s excessive exuberance or vocal exertion will be, to me, merely the rough poetry of childhood; my own role will be sober and affectionate, savoring nothing of mercenary or needy motives.
Would it have really been so bad for one of the Israelites to say, “God, please give me the cash value of my share of the manna and my piece of the promised land, I don’t really want to be part of this any more?”
But the sheer accumulation of vastness joined to the repeated elements of praise and the ever-evolving list of intercessions gave me a humble, grateful perspective on my faith and life that I could not have otherwise known I was missing. As I reached those last few chapters of City, where Augustine talks about the play of light on the sea and the consolations of this life of punishment that merely prefigure the glories to be revealed, I felt something like grief at being parted, at my prayer and hearing going on to a new companion.
And honestly, at first blush I was not sympathetic to Augustine’s self-reproach for watching the lizards and the flies. Let yourself watch the animals, my dude. But as my week away from home and church drew to a close, and I thought about that narrow gate through which I had allowed any diversion to come and how eagerly I wanted to go find those diversions anyway, however pointless or even annoying they might be, I started to understand him better.
There is something in human beings that powerfully resists goodness. Something that powerfully resists God. They have ears but do not hear, as the Old Testament says. Jesus heals but in healing shows us how sick we are. Jesus forgives but in forgiving shows us how sinful we are. Jesus teaches good news but in teaching shows us how much we don’t know. And it can be painful to see and hear these things. It can be easier to shut them out.
In each case, notice that the devil is tempting Jesus to do something that sounds good. Food is good, just and peaceful government is good, the mysterious power of God is good. The devil is taunting Jesus to get serious about these things already. What use is feeding a few thousand here and healing a few there and touching a few hearts somewhere else when you could just grab it all at once–fill every stomach, heal every infirmity, hold every heart in the palm of your hand?