Category Archives: Meditation

The Dark Side of the Moon

It’s where the sun never shines, always facing away from light and warmth. It is in profound shadow, unseen. It is part of the same moon that lights my nights and governs the tides, the part I don’t see and don’t think much about. I can overlook its existence without effort, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – I’m just ignoring half of the moon’s reality.

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to reduce reality to the light parts I can see rather than embrace the totality that includes the parts I cannot. My limitations make it a sure thing that what I cannot see, comprehend, or experience will always be larger than what I see, understand, and encounter. I am too tightly bound by time and place to catch more than a glimpse of the wonder and mystery of God’s universe. The same is true of each and every person I have ever met, spend time with today, and will ever meet in the years left to me. I can never see the whole person, light and dark sides both.

The parts I cannot see aren’t invisible because they are sinister or unacceptable, they are just beyond my scope. I am hoping to keep this truth in mind as I walk through the dark mystery of betrayal and death into the brilliant mystery of resurrection.

[Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, recorded at Abbey Road studios, released by Harvest records in 1973]

 

 

Biding My Time

Wasting my time, resting my mind…

[Pink Floyd, Biding My TimeRelics, recorded 1969-1971, released May, 1971, Starline. It’s not the usual Pink Floyd song – a bit burlesque, with an amazing trombone solo and a bluesy form. It could just as easily be a BB King, Eric Clapton, or Mama Cass number. It would be a great Bob Fosse dance number, too.]

In August of 1999, I was living in a box-filled temporary apartment, teaching a couple of classes, taking care of an eighteen month old son and writing a dissertation; Dave was in an unpaid chaplaincy program, waiting to hear where he would begin his work as a priest.  We had called three apartments home in less than a year, and Colin had undergone hernia surgery at the end of May. Exhausted and facing an uncertain future, at age 35, I got stress-induced shingles. The doctor prescribed Valtrex, codeine, and sleep. The Valtrex cured the shingles in a day, the codeine was unnecessary, and 10 to 12 hours of sleep a day for two weeks restored me to health. I learned a hard and valuable lesson: if I want a good and holy life, I have to maintain a nourishing life pattern and pace.

A good and holy life is an intentionally slower life, an opting out of the workaholic pace that is not only culturally acceptable but socially expected and rewarded. Activity and rest, time spent on and with others, meaningful work, restorative play, and prayerful practices that return my wayward soul to God have to find their places on my life’s calendar. The overly busy periods are inevitable, worries and troubles will come, but they don’t have to become my life’s template.

Choosing such a life should be a no-brainer, and it is – but only  if I trust that a life truly and well lived is always and ever in the embrace of God and the company of beloved neighbor. Am I willing to put in the time, effort, and rest to have such a life?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 

Psalm 131, NRSV

[Photos by Jared Fredrickson]

 

Money

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. I Timothy 6:6-10 NRSV

Money…Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie… 

[Pink Floyd, MoneyThe Wall, recorded December 1978- November 1979, various studios, released by Harvest and Columbia records in November 1979]

Money itself doesn’t seem to be evil, but what people will do to each other and the world around them to gain it certainly can be. It can be used to accomplish some amazing things – look what the Carter Foundation, Lilly Foundation, and Gates foundation have managed to do for the world. Money bought and distributed mosquito nets to combat malaria,  enabled further study in too many humanities fields to name, and continues to make strides in eradicating disease in the poorest parts of the world. It can also fund hate groups and buy political influence for personal or corporate gain.

Within communities of faith, money has gone both ways. I’ve seen churches use bequests to provide a safety net to the homeless and to keep the nearly homeless from the streets. I’ve seen congregations torn apart over $100,000 or less when members cannot agree on how to spend it. I’ve seen parents with more than enough take advantage of Vacation Bible School scholarship programs, using them as cheap daycare; I’ve seen other congregants give up vacation trips to pay VBS costs for entire families. The money itself doesn’t seem to be point: it’s what people are willing to do with it and for it.

Pink Floyd’s take on money lands squarely in Biblical territory. Greed is the issue, not the money itself. Grasping for it and wanting to keep it at the expense of others is beautifully and succinctly stated in Money. Paired with the images offered in official and non-official videos of the song, the power of money and greed cannot be overlooked – it’s well worth a few minutes on YouTube to check them out.

The downside of greed, the devastation that the love of money brings – these are not just inflicted on the world as unfair labor practices, price gouging, and rigged taxation. The ones who gain from such dealings are also devastated, but not in the same way. There is real spiritual damage done to anyone who grasps at money at the expense of those in greatest need; the soul shrinks and it is impossible to find true satisfaction or contentment from any amount of money. Able to buy any amount and kind of food, the miser starves.

In my last moments on earth, I hope I can look back on what I did with the money I had and see that it did more than put a car in the driveway and an extra jacket in the front hall closet. I hope I scattered some of it far enough afield that it grew into something that nourished the world.

A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, it is enough.

But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. I Timothy 6: 6-10, The Message

 

 

 

 

Another Brick…

They build walls and chimneys, provide paving materials for sidewalks and roads, and will get you to the Emerald City if they happen to be yellow. Thrown through a window, they make robbing the store a whole lot easier.  All these things are possible for a remarkably low price and a lot of hard work.

I’ve built a few things with old bricks I found in my backyard; I’ve done the same for the library learning garden with orphan bricks from projects completed long ago. Friday, I used up all but a couple of those library bricks to build a small garden bed. It’s off the broad side of the storage shed, and it’s for the groundhog who lives under it.  Two hours of digging, putting bricks in place, and spreading garden soil, manure, and compost brought it into being. What was just a patch of scraggly grass in sandy soil is now a place that will feed the groundhog and his squirrel and rabbit neighbors.

Without those discarded, forgotten bricks, the garden bed wouldn’t survive the first Spring rainfall. Small and discarded no more, they make a life giving garden possible.

…such wonderful possibilities to come from finding what was lost…

photos by Jared Fredrickson, March 2019

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

I wouldn’t call Pink Floyd a religiously inclined band, but I would call them existentially aware to a fault. With the ambiguity that suffuses almost every Pink Floyd song ever (with and without Roger Waters), with the edge-of-the-abyss or edge-of-enlightenment vantage point that calls into question the idea that material success and/or conformity to societal norms will bring happiness and peace, the album’s title would make more sense as a question than as a statement. Is asking deep, existential questions a momentary lapse of reason, or is it breaking away from a socially agreed upon shallow insanity?

Taken one way, Pink Floyd’s music brings only despair. They ask life’s deep questions, but there are no life affirming answers. Is there nothing more than existential emptiness? If that’s what true reality is, seeking it is indeed a momentary lapse of reason.

That doesn’t mean the questions aren’t good and true, but it does mean that the answers cannot be insubstantial or quickly offered and accepted. Any sunshine-and-roses platitude that refuses to acknowledge the darkness within and the darkness without is worthless. The genius of Pink Floyd is offering this truth set to music.

But what happens when the deep questions are asked, and when darkness and despair cry out my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)

God answers not by erasing the pain, but by taking all of it into a holy and loving embrace. Some call it transfiguration, some transformation, some epiphany. The bold may even call it resurrection. Whatever the word used, it’s more than enough.

[Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour, producers; recorded November 1986-March 1987, London, EMI/Columbia records, 1987. This may or may not be a Pink Floyd album, depending on which side of the argument you fall. It was released after Roger Waters left the band, with legal issues before and after its release.]

Limited Time, Finite Life

The Sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older…

[Pink Floyd, TimeThe Dark Side of the Moon, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, recorded June, 1972 – January, 1973, released March, 1973: Harvest Records]

The predictability of the sun rising and setting, of the seasons coming and going, sometimes gives us the impression that nothing will ever change in a fundamental way. Biblically speaking, what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NRSV) This pattern gives an unchanging structure to our days, weeks, months, and years. But within that structure, we change. We are born, we grow up, we age, and we die. We are finite, and our time limited.

The lyrics of Time tell this truth; although we age every day, we are apt to spend the life we’ve been given without thought or intention as if it were an eternally renewable resource. It isn’t. This is the truth we are asked to ponder during Lent; we will return to ashes, and the world which existed long before us will continue on its way well beyond our life span. We need to remember that out days are numbered and that, with few exceptions, we will not be remembered by the generations that follow after us. Without a larger perspective on the whole thing, all would end in tears and despair.

But there is a larger perspective, a larger reality that takes up all the days we live and all the days that came before us, and all the days that will follow. We are not a cosmic accident, alone in an indifferent universe. We are beloved creatures of the One who set this cosmos in motion. If we remember this, if we trust this, contemplating our own mortality leads to a greater love for life, a greater appreciation for the here and now we inhabit, and the possibility to see within our life’s limitations the hand of God and footprints of Jesus. We may not see the end, we may not be the center of the universe, but we are universally beloved. Death doesn’t change this.

I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. (Ecclesiastes 1:14b-15, NRSV)

A different brick in the (ivy covered) wall…

I was going to write on Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall [The Wall, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, recorded 12/1978-11/1979, Harvest/ Columbia records, November, 1979], but some famous, wealthy parents are being charged with paying people to falsify test scores, to admit their non-athletic children as college athletes, and to fake disabilities -all this to get children into their preferred elite schools. The issue with this sometimes ivy covered brick wall isn’t an education that dulls the hearts and minds of its learners: it’s the difficulty of getting past the wall and into the classrooms it surrounds.

Even without cheating, wealth tips the scales in favor of its children. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Wealthy parents give their children educational advantages by living in towns with excellent public schools, enrolling them in private schools, and paying for tutors to improve grades.
  2. Wealthy children can afford to take a “college tour,” visiting several schools and talking with admissions workers: they are aware of the variety of options available and do not need financial aid to attend.
  3. Expensive standardized tests and college application fees aren’t a problem. The students who would need a waiver for the fees are often the ones who don’t know such a thing is available to them.
  4. Parents and other family members have attended college in the past, bringing their own experience in navigating the admissions process to their children’s advantage.
  5. Alumni/ae have helpful connections, and that helps their children gain admission.

 

Some of the disadvantages that lack of money brings:

  1. Schools in poor towns often don’t have the resources to help struggling students navigate the college admissions process. Guidance and connections are limited.
  2. Lack of resources often means lack of awareness of aid offered by top tier schools.
  3. Teachers may discourage bright but poor learners from pursuing an ivy league or other top flight college education.
  4. Taking a campus tour outside the immediate area is too expensive for many students and their families.
  5. Parents who haven’t been to college don’t know how to help their children get through the admissions process.

Wealth has always made getting to the other side of the higher education brick wall easier. Lack of money isn’t just a lack of wealth: it’s a lack of awareness of the possibilities that exist, and often a limited ability to imagine an improvement in life quality through education. While a change in the family bank balance may not be possible, increasing opportunity and awareness is. Public libraries offer free access to computers and resources, and assistance in using them. Learning readiness programs such as Head Start help children achieve future academic success by fostering their development. Mentors can help broaden a young person’s perspective.

Jesus didn’t say everyone would have the same advantages and opportunities; he recognized that the poor struggle in ways that the wealthy do not. But Jesus did realize that taking advantage of the poor by denying them opportunity or by gaming the system in favor of one’s own came at a steep price that no amount of money could equal:

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? (Mark 8:36)

 

Can you tell the difference

…so you think you can tell heaven from hell…

[Pink Floyd, Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here, David Gilmour & Roger Waters, released September 12, 1975, Harvest (UK) and Columbia/CBS (USA)records]

In the 1970’s, I figured only clinically depressed and suicidal people couldn’t tell heaven from hell. But in 2019, I’m so sure. How many of us have wasted our numbered days chasing after more than we need: money, better job titles, and that extra square footage? How often, when none of it brings peace and joy, do we double down – as if more of what doesn’t work will miraculously do the trick.

Heaven and hell aren’t the penthouse and basement of reality. They aren’t the opposite ends of a punishment/reward yardstick. Heaven is knowing how much we are loved, and how much we can love self and others. Hell is both ignorance and rejection of that love, bringing a darkness into the soul and leeching everything that is good and lovely out of our lives.

You and I may get it wrong sometimes, mistaking that green field for a cold steel rain, but we know what choosing heaven instead of hell looks like. It’s choosing to see and help those in need, spending time on what enlarges the heart and soul, and knowing that wealth cannot bring joy or peace. If you and I remember how Jesus spent his numbered days, spotting the difference between heaven and hell won’t be very difficult.

Lord, may my eyes see heaven and my heart and soul choose it over hell. Amen.

Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)

Bill Albritton kindly offered to write on a common expression. In honor of Mardi Gras, here it is…

Laissez les bons temps rouler

As Mardi Gras approaches, I think about this old Cajun French toast: Let the good times roll! A couple of key words here for me are let and roll. It doesn’t say that we have to make these good times happen—we let/allow them to happen. In other words, let’s not get in the way of them. All of our efforting, striving, manufacturing is of no avail and perhaps might even restrict these “good times”. It’s like telling someone You’re not in the mood? Well, get in the mood! Or maybe it’s like trying to be happy?
Did you ever try to stop rolling down a hill as a kid? If it’s a good hill, it’s pretty hard to stop yourself as I recall—and there were very few times I would want to do that, anyway. When you’re on a roll, you just enjoy it. Trying to roll is hard—rolling is easy.
Several books and a song have used Let Go and Let God in their titles. I’m taking this advice seriously this Lenten season—oh, but not too seriously.
[Bill Albritton offers his gifts of writing, teaching, singing, and praying to God, neighbor, church community, and world. I am grateful beyond words.]