Monday, November 10, 2008

Our Shalom Vocation, November, 2008 (CT)

Our Shalom Vocation

Peacemaking is more than not making waves.

loathe confrontation. I am sometimes called a "peacemaker," but the truth is that I have always been easily pacified by a counterfeit peace that is really more about not making waves than about right relationship. At the other extreme, I've watched assertive friends make pseudo-peace by the sheer force of their persuasive personalities.

Neither the passive nor the aggressive route brings the kind of peace Jesus had in mind when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Real peace is not just about the ceasing of conflict (between relatives, ethnic groups, or nations); it's also about dealing with underlying causes. Be it the Middle East or the middle of my family room, there are forces of evil at work, manifesting themselves as greed, ego, insecurity, and sometimes aggression.

The problems are infinitely complex; my default response is to shrug my shoulders in low-grade despair. But I know better. I know that Jesus not only desires peace, he is peace. And he wants us to be not only its recipients but also its agents.

There is a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian in which Jesus is delivering his Sermon on the Mount. A woman at the back can't quite hear, and when Jesus intones, "Blessed are the peacemakers," she asks, "What's so special about the cheesemakers?" To which her husband replies: "Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."

It's a ridiculous exchange, but given the context in which Jesus delivered his sermon, I doubt his audience would have found "peacemakers" any less absurd than "cheesemakers." For centuries the Israelites had been promised a messiah to rescue them from a long line of oppressors. When Jesus started teaching, healing, and even resurrecting people, hopes must have soared. I can imagine Jesus clearing his throat, the locals holding their breath as they waited to hear his plan for overturning Roman rule. What a shock it must have been when he opened with, "Congratulations when you are poor in spirit," built to a focus on making peace, and closed with, "How wonderful when you are persecuted."

Jesus' audience was getting a crash course on one of his core messages: The kingdom of God is near—breaking in, alive, active—and it's nothing like you think. Two thousand years later, we have cross-stitched Jesus' words and hung them docilely on our walls, but his real message is no less counterintuitive or shocking.

The Beatitudes are not a tame to-do list of "be-attitudes." They are descriptions of what happens when the kingdom breaks into—and revolutionizes—a person's life. And each of the first six beatitudes builds toward the seventh: Kingdom people will be peacemakers.

Shalom, the Hebrew word for "peace," has expansive connotations. It means harmony, wholeness, and right relationship with God, others, self, and the earth. Isaiah offers prophetic pictures of shalom: the wolf lying with the lamb, weapons turned into farming tools, deserts blooming. Julian of Norwich must have glimpsed shalom when she said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Jesus promises that kingdom people will be not just shalom lovers or even shalom keepers, but shalom makers. God wants to include his children in the family business. Peacemaking is a mandate each of us is called to live out inside our own skin and circumstances, whether we work for the UN or not.

Mrs. Gagner, my daughter's first-grade teacher, is a prime example. She tells her students daily that God loves them, that he knows their names and has plans for them, that they are gifted and valuable beyond calculation. I have watched God use her to make shalom in those little lives. Multiply 26 students per class by a 30-year teaching career, and you start to grasp the staggering effect of just one aspect of one woman's life.

Mrs. Gagner would laugh if she knew she reminds me of a 19th-century Russian priest named Father John of Kronstadt. Most of his fellow clergymen refused to visit the villages that surrounded their cathedrals—chronic poverty had fostered a debauched despair that made the rural areas treacherous. But Father John would enter the slums and get down in the gutters. He would find some guy sleeping off whatever he had done the night before; he would cup his chin, look him in the eyes, and say, "This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God." Wherever Father John went, revival broke out, because people discovered who—and whose—they were. Shalom is contagious.

Preacher, teacher, homemaker, cheesemaker. Whatever our vocations, we are here for a reason. God's kingdom is at hand, breaking in, offering the job opportunity of a lifetime. We get to help him make shalom. Anything less is beneath our dignity.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bigger Than Both Of Us, November/December (TCW)

How my view of our marriage was radically shifted

For the first several years of my marriage, I was fond of paraphrasing C.S. Lewis on the difference between romantic love and friendship. "In The Four Loves," I'd tell whoever might (or might not) be interested, "Lewis points out that friends stand side by side and look out at the world, while lovers stand face to face and look at each other." I often cited this concept in support of date nights; there's nothing like candlelight and a little eye gazing to bolster a marriage.

But time, as the song says, goes by. Eventually, I found myself wondering just how many years of marital experience C.S. Lewis actually had.

Don't get me wrong, Lewis is still my literary hero. And my husband, Mark, still has highly gaze-able eyes. They're blue with gray flecks, or gray with blue, depending on his mood and the color of his T-shirt. When he's angry, his eyes turn cold; it's like the sun's been lost in cloud cover. But when he's content, his eyes are warm and alive, and I, to quote a hundred corny love poems, get happily lost in them.

Still, when two people are face to face for an extended period of time, they start to notice things. My husband, for example, has observed over the years that I'm never on time for anything, that I don't fold towels correctly, that I leave a trail of half-consumed Diet Pepsis in my wake, and that I'm incapable of backing the car into the garage in an appropriate fashion. (Three side-view mirrors have been sacrificed to date.) I, on the other hand, have come to realize that Mark never remembers to turn on his cell phone, that he keeps our bedroom at Icelandic temperatures, that he reloads dishes I've already placed in the dishwasher (according to his exacting specifications) when he thinks I'm not looking, and that he's unnaturally legalistic about backing the car into the garage. (Driving in nose-first works just fine, thank you, and not a single mirror need be lost.)

Every marriage has its quirks, of course. Two humans can only cohabitate for so long before weak spots and rough edges start to show. But add in a couple kids, stir in life's stresses and pressures, mix with some trauma and tragedy, glaze with the basic selfishness of human nature, and voilĂ —you've got a recipe for trouble.

A Radical Shift

A few years ago, Mark and I cooked up some trouble that no amount of eye gazing could fix. Neither of us intentionally sabotaged our marriage, but over-extended schedules, miscommunication, and conflicting goals gradually boiled over into estrangement and confusion. I cannot remember a more miserable time.

One of our problems was that I was traveling too much, performing concerts around North America.

Mark felt abandoned: Can't she see she's sacrificing the needs of our family for her ministry and career?

I felt unsupported: Doesn't he understand I'm doing everything humanly possible, burning the candle at both ends, in order to still be there for the family and live up to my spiritual calling and professional obligations?

The only thing we could agree on was that we weren't meeting each other's needs.

I found myself on a flight to Chicago for yet another concert, hunched in my seat, staring out the window, trying to hide my tears from my seatmates. Three hours earlier I'd raced out of the house (late as usual); Mark and I had exchanged a cold good-bye. I felt defensive and hopeless and very lonely. I knew something had to change. Mark, preferably.

I'd been carrying a book around in my travel bag for months—As For Me and My House by Walter Wangerin. A friend had recommended it to me as her favorite tome on marriage, and I kept meaning to read it. I wrestled it from beneath the seat in front of me and cracked open the cover, skeptical about the possibility of finding any real help in the pages. But by the time the plane landed, my understanding of marriage had begun to radically shift.

The idea I'll always remember from Wangerin's book was his suggestion that there are three entities in a marriage: the husband, the wife, and a new, holy creation—the marriage itself. Wangerin pointed out that as long as the focus is on whether each individual's needs are being met, the marriage will be filled with defensiveness and accusation. But if the focus is on what a couple can do to best serve the marriage, to deepen and widen it and help it flourish, then both partners can work unselfishly to that end.

Crammed into the second-to-last row of a 737, I began to see that our marriage wasn't just about Mark and Carolyn. God had invited us to work with him in creating something new and precious; our relationship was a being that needed care. We wouldn't think of ignoring the children God had entrusted to us. Why had it been okay to neglect the relationship he'd given us? I'd been focused on the kids, on ministry, on work, and I expected my marriage to support and sustain me through a busy time. I'd forgotten that a marriage, like all living things, needs nourishment to grow.

I came home to a distant husband and a chaotic house, and I wondered how I was going to put my paradigm shift into any useful practice. But I haltingly shared it with Mark, and I saw a flicker of something in his gray-blue eyes. I think it was hope.

Pulse-quickening Questions

It took a long time to rebuild what we'd let fall into disrepair. We had to stand, side by side, and look at our marriage as if it were a fixer-upper we were going to remodel. I began to put better boundaries between work and family; Mark worked to move from a position of guardedness back into trust. Slowly we became a team again, aiming for the same goals. And one day, 18 months after my Chicago flight, Mark murmured as we drifted off to sleep, "Hey. Things are good." And, reloaded dishwashers notwithstanding, they were.

But that's not the end of the story. In the intervening years, it's dawned on us that God calls us to look beyond ourselves not only to learn how we can serve our marriage, but also to discover how our marriage can serve the world. We're blessed in order to be a blessing; that's the way God's been running things since the days of Abraham and Sarah. Every good gift we're given—time, talents, resources—is meant to be passed on in some way. The gift of a good marriage is no exception.

So Mark and I have begun to ask some pulse-quickening questions: How is our marriage adding to the kingdom of God? Who is our marriage blessing? What are we part of that's bigger than ourselves?

This new vision of what our marriage is even for works itself out in a variety of ways. During football season, it means that I take a larger share of the domestic load so Mark can enhance his work as a high school counselor by being a volunteer coach. During my own touring season, our roles are reversed. But the best times are when we get to serve, in big and small ways, together.

Holy Together

A couple of spring breaks ago, Mark took a group of 11th grade students to Juarez, Mexico, to build a playground for children living in an incredibly impoverished area called The Kilometers. I came along, and we brought our young son and daughter as well. Conditions weren't the stuff of romantic get-aways—we slept on the floor of a rustic church basement, listening to the scurry of cockroaches and the whistle of desert winds through the holes in the walls. Fine dining was not in the cards; almost every person on the trip became violently ill throughout the 10 days we were there.

Still, there was an unmistakable sense of being a part of something holy. The high school students weren't church kids, but they met Mexican Christians who were deeply in love with Jesus, and they were intrigued. All of us wept for the indignities we saw, but we were thrilled to feel, in some small way, we were making a difference.

One night we worked on our job site long into the evening, spreading out newly poured concrete with rakes and shovels and dirty bare feet. Our backs ached, our eyes and skin stung from the constant assault of sand and wind. But a Mexican sunset is beautiful even in The Kilometers, and as pinks and oranges streaked the sky, I looked around for my husband. He was in a huddle of teenagers, all of them giddy with the power of doing something good. Our four-year-old was tugging on his sleeve, eager for him to meet her new Mexican friend. He was busy. But I managed to catch his blue-gray eyes, and for a long, romantic moment, he held my gaze. Then we looked out together, friends and lovers, at the work left to be done.

Carolyn Arends, singer and songwriter, is a columnist for our sister publication Christianity Today. She's also author of Wrestling with Angels: Adventures with Faith and Doubt (Harvest House).

Comments welcome here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Theology in Aisle 7, September, 2008 (CT)

Theology in Aisle 7

Trying to organize a God who transcends.

I love office supply stores. Reams of fresh paper (Aisle 16) and boxes of unsharpened pencils (Aisle 5) still give me back-to-school butterflies, the sense that the future is yet to be written and anything is possible. But I'm most drawn to the bins, sorters, and all manner of organizational aids in Aisle 7. They glisten with shiny plastic promise, reminding me I am just one astute purchase away from transforming the paper-riddled chaos of my life into structured bliss.

Recently I found just the thing, a two-foot black box with an open front divided into eight sections. I used my label maker (Aisle 3) to give each compartment its purpose, happily imagining soccer notices and utility bills lying obediently in their designated places. My husband came home and grinned at the box, envisioning it as next month's addition to the rejected-organizational-aid pile. "That," he told me gently, "is a junk collector."

But it will be organized junk.

I labeled one of the compartments "seminary"; this time the back-to-school butterflies were not merely nostalgic. I've begun chipping away at a master's degree, and on the same day I bought my new organizer I decided on a concentration in Spiritual Theology. I've been longing for more structure, not only in my office but also in my faith.

I've been searching for frameworks, outlines, contexts; ways to more thoroughly understand what I believe. The studies I've chosen emphasize systematic theology. The very word systematic gives me that Aisle 7 rush. I can hardly wait to be organized!

But there are people—wise, godly people—who grin at me like my husband did at my organizer. "Do you think," asked my friend Barbara, who happens to be a theology professor, "that part of you is looking for control?" I stared at her blankly. No, part of me isn't looking for control. All of me is looking for control. I hate chaos and uncertainty. I am deeply bothered by doctrinal divisions within even the small confines of my own church tradition. And honestly, I really don't like it when God behaves unpredictably, when he seems to be as much about mystery as he is about revelation, and when he refuses to fit into the slots I have labeled for him.

Faith would be much tidier if God could be contained within mutually agreed upon doctrinal positions. Scripture would be much more manageable if it were pure exposition, if there weren't all those sprawling narratives, wistful poems, and cryptic apocalyptic visions. Why didn't God give us his Word in sermon points that spell out catchy acronyms? Why is it all so messy?

Even our most precise expositor, the apostle Paul, holds revelation and mystery in tension. In his letter to the Ephesians, he proclaims, "God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure" (1:9, NLT). But for all the time Paul spends explaining things, he still has the nerve to celebrate everything he can't understand about God. "Oh, how great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord's thoughts? … All glory to him forever!" (Rom. 11:33-34, 36).

This, I'm beginning to understand, is my challenge: to immerse myself in all that has been revealed about God while celebrating all that is mystery. We have a God who both transcends our messy lives and incarnates himself in them. That reality is hard to organize, but it's the best news there is.

There's a story, often credited to E. Stanley Jones, about a missionary who gets lost in the jungle. He comes upon a village in the middle of the trees, and asks a resident to lead him out. The local agrees, and for an hour he walks ahead of the missionary, clearing a way through the foliage with a machete.

Eventually the missionary asks, "Are you sure we are going the right way? Isn't there a path somewhere?" The villager smiles. "Friend, I am the path."

"I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus tells us (John 14:6); "I AM," declares Yahweh (Ex. 3:14). My ideas about God are not the path. My church tradition, helpful as it is in pointing to him, is not the path. I plan to spend the rest of my life learning the best terminology we have for our understanding of what God has done and is doing, but the terms are not the path. Only God is. Only he can lead me through the jungle that is my life and into the boundless adventure of life with him.

Praise God, there is not a thing in Aisle 7—or in the universe—that can contain him.

Here's To All The Losers, July, 2008 (CT)

Here's To All The Losers

Why defeat at the hands of God is magnificent.

If you like action-adventure, check out the Genesis 32 account of Jacob's Jabbok River wrestling match. Jacob is camped out and stressed out, awaiting a potentially dangerous confrontation with his estranged brother. His worries are interrupted when a stranger jumps him in the darkness. By morning, Jacob realizes he's spent the night wrestling God; somehow he manages to limp away blessed. In the process, he learns that God is more than willing to be grappled with, and that holding on for dear life is the way to go.

It's amazing—and sobering—to realize that Jacob has the strength to resist God. It isn't until the angel of the Lord dislocates Jacob's hip that Jacob surrenders and requests what he's really been fighting for—a blessing. My husband, a wrestling coach, tells me the hip is the wrestler's pivot point, the core of his strength. God can't give Jacob the blessing he desperately needs until he incapacitates him at the center of his human power. Frederick Buechner calls Jacob's resounding loss The Magnificent Defeat.

There's something familiar about Jacob's story.

I'm a singer and songwriter. I recognize that such a vocation is more fun and fulfilling than anyone deserves, and I've spent most of my professional life grinning at my good fortune. But last year, I found myself in the midst of a tour feeling miserable. My own company was handling many of the details, and every night I took the stage consumed with logistics. I've always loved the fact that performing forces me to be in the moment, but this tour I was definitely somewhere else. I'd find myself disoriented in the middle of a song, unsure whether I'd already sung the second verse. Something was wrong.

I prayed. I asked God to restore to me the joy of singing about my salvation. I begged for the ability to be focused and present. And I worried. I suspected that the blessing of my vocation had run its course, and that it was time for me to investigate Tupperware sales.

Three weeks into the tour, I lost my voice. As you might imagine, a singer's voice is an obvious and vulnerable pivot point of strength. I reminded God that it would be helpful to my singing ministry if I could sing. But my voice did not return.

I called a vocal coach and got instructions. "Hourly, sit at a kettle and breathe in the steam. Then add salt to the water and snort it. Put drops of oil of oregano on your tongue. Apply peppermint oil to your upper lip." (Caution: Over-application of peppermint oil leads to a condition I remember now as the moustache of fire.)

I spent 24 hours sequestered in my hotel room in an involuntary silent retreat. No interviews, no fretful logistical phone meetings. I steamed without end. By concert time, my skin had never been smoother or softer. But I still had no voice.

A funny thing happened when I took the stage. I felt calm, and present. The whole quiet day I'd had nothing to do but steam, read, and pray. A paraphrase of Psalm 23 ran through my head: You make me lie down by still waters—or steamy, salty ones. I walked up to the microphone and had a sudden conviction that my voice would be not only restored, but also brilliantly transformed.

It wasn't. I still couldn't sing. Not a bit. I croaked, I cracked, I sort of whisper-rapped. It was awful. But the audience leaned in. They smiled. They prayed for me and breathed with me. Never certain what my swollen vocal cords would do next, I was in the moment, adapting, adjusting, and—eventually—enjoying a new and improbably wonderful way of doing ministry. It was, to both my chagrin and my delight, one of my best concerts ever.

As wrestling matches go, my laryngitis bout was barely a skirmish. I've had much tougher (and longer) fights, and I've got friends facing challenges I don't even want to imagine. In some cases (cancer, AIDS, and worse) I'm pretty sure the opponent is no angel of the Lord. But there is testimony among believers past and present that at the end (and only at the end) of the human rope is strength and peace beyond compare. Maybe that's what Jesus was getting at when he said the poor in spirit get the kingdom of heaven. With death on a cross looming on his horizon, he was intimately familiar with the victory that comes only through magnificent defeat.

I don't know that it ever feels good to have our own strength overcome. But if we want to be blessed, if we want to relocate from living in our own resources to resting in the middle of God's goodness, power, and provision, sometimes a little dislocation is necessary.

Just ask Jacob.

The Grace of Wrath, May, 2008 (CT)

The Grace of Wrath

Is there any story about God that isn't a love story?

hen Evan Almighty hit theaters last summer, some evangelicals worried that elements of the movie were sacrilegious. One of their particular objections got me thinking.

In the film, God (played by Morgan Freeman) claims that people miss the point of the story of Noah's Ark because they think it's about God's anger, when really it's a "love story." Some Christians saw that statement as an offensive distortion of the Genesis account of God's wrath. Their protest left me pondering what I suspect is a fundamentally important question: Is there any story about God that isn't a love story?

Growing up, I had two images of God. The first was a painting on my bedroom wall, Bernhard Plockhorst's Jesus Blessing the Children. After bedtime prayers, I would drift off imagining I was one of those children in Jesus' embrace. Everything about that picture reinforced the first thing I was taught in Sunday school: God Is Love.

My other image was a mental one I'll call "The Vengeful God," a peeved Father Time crossed with an accusing Uncle Sam. That picture helped me remember that God hates sin, and reinforced the second thing I learned in Sunday school: God Is Holy.

We sang about grace at my church, and we meant it. But we suspected that an exclusive emphasis on God's love would lessen our desire to live holy lives. So periodically, our preacher would thunder about God's wrath and judgment, ensuring we were never "soft on sin."

God is love, BUT God hates sin. How does one hold those two realities in tension? I unconsciously developed a theology that intermittently had God the Son and God the Father in a good cop, bad cop routine, with the Holy Spirit stepping in as a sympathetic parole officer.

I professed that God was love all the way through, but deep down I couldn't help assuming he was a bit like me. Even his love had to have limits. It stopped at sin and turned into wrath. Naturally.

My understanding began to change when I read Baxter Kruger's depiction of God's wrath as his love in action—his emphatic "No!" to anything that leads to our destruction. That perspective flipped a switch for my husband and me. If our daughter stepped into oncoming traffic, she might perceive our reaction (screaming "No!" and yanking her out of harm's way) to be harsh and unloving. But in reality it would be an expression of our fiercest and purest love. Is that how it is with God?

What if God's wrath is not a caveat, qualification, or even a counterpoint to his love, but an expression of it? What if God grieves sin less because it offends his sensibilities, and more because he hates the way it distorts our perceptions and separates us from him?

Recently, my friend Liliane told me the story of her conversion. Years ago, someone handed her a pamphlet with Jesus on the cover asking, "Do you love me?" Honestly, I can't say I do, Liliane whispered to Jesus. I really like you, though. I want to get to know you.

For a year, Liliane attended church and spent time with people who knew Jesus. One day, with a start, she realized she did love him. He'd captured her heart.

"That whole first year, I didn't read the Bible, and I'm really glad I waited," she told me, laughing at my raised eyebrow. "You know how, when you're with someone you really trust, you can say the hard things if you need to? Now that I know God, I see his love all through the Bible, even in the hard bits."

There are some pretty hard bits in Scripture. It is difficult to frame, say, the saga of Sodom and Gomorrah as a love story. But if we truly believe that God not only loves, but is love, we must believe there is no action he can take that is not animated by love.

My church was right to be concerned that an inadequate understanding of God's righteousness would lead to sin. After all, one of Satan's strategies with Eve was to undermine the reality of God's judgment: "You will not surely die."

But his more sinister tactic was first to get Eve to doubt God's love and character: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" His strategy worked then, and it works now. Our sin is rooted not only in a lack of reverence for God's holiness, but also in a profoundly insufficient understanding of his love.

God is love, SO God hates sin. We are loved with a holy love that cries "No!" again and again to the things that destroy us. We are part of an epic love story, and what we all need desperately is to know the Author better.

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Carbonated Holiness, March, 2008 (CT)

Carbonated Holiness

Laughter is serious business.

Recently, I threw out three boxes worth of my kids' Sunday school crafts. I felt heartless and vaguely evil. But really, one can only store so much Fun Foam in a single house.

Still, there was one piece of art I was compelled to save. My daughter had cut out and colored pictures of children engaged in different acts of worship, and glued them onto a sheet. (She was three; you were expecting decoupage?)

Bethany had been particularly proud of this assignment because of the gluing part. (I think she may have a future in adhesives.) The day she brought it home, I acknowledged the excellence of the glue-work and then asked her to tell me what the pictures represented. "Praying! Giving! Reading the Bible!" she shouted as I pointed to each scene.

I saved the best picture for last—a boy with his mouth open wide in song. Singing is my favorite form of worship. I knew it would be Bethany's too, what with her mother being a singer and all.

"Laughing," said Bethany, when I pointed to the boy with the open mouth.

I stood corrected. Laughing is my favorite form of worship.

I've been backing up my laughter-as-worship theory for a while now, collecting various quotes on the matter. I was recently compelled to stop reading Anne Lamott's Plan B long enough to shout "Yes!" (complete with fist-pump), and scribble this line on an airplane napkin: "Laughter is carbonated holiness." And anyone who knows me will understand why I give a hearty amen to this bit of wisdom from Woody Allen: "I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose." (In my case, there was an unfortunate incident involving Diet Coke, and the memory of it gives poignancy to the idea of laughter as carbonated holiness.)

But my favorite quote may be this one from Karl Barth: "Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God." Of course, Barth must have meant the good kind of laughter, born from joy or relief or the sweet surprise of community. There is also derisive laughter, rooted in pettiness or vulgarity or cruelty. It's not hard to tell the redemptive kind—laughter that is reflexive, even involuntary worship—from the destructive kind.

Laughter can change and grow, and sometimes it changes and grows us. Consider the laughter of Abraham's Sarah, blossoming from incredulity into incredible joy. When Sarah had a baby at long, impossible last, she named him Isaac—which means, of course, "laughter."

A good laugh is a release—even if only for a moment—from worry, strife, and self. It is a sudden, often unbidden confession that someway, somehow, all is well, or at least there is a hope that it can be.

It's telling that we talk about "gales" of laughter. We instinctively recognize that laughter belongs to the world of wind, or Spirit—unexpected joy arrives on the gust of a fresh current and carries us to a different place from the one where it found us. That is why I suspect that Lamott is right—that laughter is holiness, that it is part of the life of God, and that to laugh from your belly is to worship the Giver of all good gifts.

Trinitarian theologians use the word perichoresis to describe the happy fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Their relationship is often pictured as a tireless and joyful divine dance. I can't think about that holy dance without remembering certain jigs that have been known to take place in our family room. (For shy, repressed, reserved, uncoordinated, Canadian Baptists, we can really cut a rug.) When our kids were toddlers, my husband, Mark, and I would twirl and spin them until they were helpless with laughter so hard it was soundless, and then we would laugh at them laughing until we were all worn out with gladness. If we'd have thought of it, we could have quoted the psalmist as we held our aching sides on the family room floor: "Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. … The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy."

It's serious business, laughter. It's the kind of sacrifice of praise that puts our insides right. The old cliché is true: Laughter is a medicine that reminds us that our sickness will one day be healed and we shall be whole and holy. Until then, laughter is the Elmer's Glue that attaches us to the goodness that inhabits this world, and to the gladness that hints at the world to come.

Copyright © 2008 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

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