Sunday, December 24, 2006
But the oddest thing was rolling around in my head as I sat there watching this beautiful story unfold—two words: poor planning.
I mean, couldn't God have planned it a little better? First of all, God waits until after Mary is "betrothed" to Joseph to tell her (ask her?) to become pregnant as a virgin. (I understand in their culture "betrothed" meant you were married except for conjugal rights.) Next, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, who knows immediately that she's pregnant, and goes back home when she's showing. That goes over real great with Joseph, who has no clue until this point, so the same angel shows up again to comfort (apologize to?) Joseph with the news that his "wife" really has been faithful to him, still is a virgin, and this pregnancy indeed is from God like she says. Oh. Well, thanks for the heads up. I mean, would it have killed you to tell me this ahead of time? But wait. Now there's this census and everyone has to travel back to the city of their ancestor with their family (!) to be counted, which at this juncture will put Mary at about 9 months. Even if God doesn't know the future, doesn't he know what's going on in the world today? Surely this census had been brewing for some time. It takes more than a phone call to pull one of these things off when you've got a whole world to count without computers. And it's great to have visitors when you have a new baby, but shepherds? These guys are the basest, dirtiest, stinkiest, most unwelcome types for a baby shower. (And here's where the movie departs from the bible version where the wise men weren't there until later—it was just shepherds.) It almost seems like an afterthought, like "I've got this incredible joy in the birth of my only son that I've been anticipating since the foundation of the cosmos, but I forgot to invite anyone to come and see his birth. Wait, it's not too late. Let's round up some shepherds in a field nearby. They're always looking for some excitement." And then they make it to Bethlehem according to plan, except by now the town's full, and from the best I can tell, either they got there at night just in time for a lightning fast delivery, or else Joseph had some real sorry relatives, because they end up setting the baby in the manger (stable?) "because there was no room for them in the inn." And now all their travails are turning to joy at the birth of their child, but before they can get settled in real good in Bethlehem, the angel show up in another dream to warn them of an imminent danger, advising them to flee to Egypt. Egypt?! Yeah. All the babies two and under in the whole region will die because of Jesus, and the angel wants to make sure they don't die for nothing. It really seems like this angel's job in life is disaster recovery. Joseph ends up having two more dreams before they finally get back home.
I mean, when you step back and think about it, couldn't a little planning have gone a long way?
The best thing about the movie for me was Joseph. I love his character and love the way it was acted. Such a good man. His most memorable line for me was on their hard journey to Bethlehem. He feels so inadequate and tells Mary, "I don't think I'll be able to teach him anything." And then I saw him rationing his bread, sharing some with his donkey so it would have the strength to go the distance with the ones he loved. Or even before that when he came to Mary, who everyone would stone for her adultery, and took up for her. And I wondered if Jesus didn't learn something from his earthly father after all.
You know, maybe I'm being unfair with God about the planning thing. Maybe lack of planning is the plan. Maybe God likes to wade into things like that, and maybe he looks for people who are willing to do the same, to go without a plan, perhaps without even knowing where they are going. Maybe God doesn't understand his job to be smoothing out the speed bumps and filling in the potholes in my life through proper planning. Maybe Jesus was serious when he said, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." And when I read that, I wonder if Jesus didn't learn something from his heavenly Father after all.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Did you ever know anyone who seemed to have no trouble making choices?
The thing I'm thinking about now is that we all make choices every day, if they could be called that. And these choices exist on several levels in our minds.
First level. I'm hungry. I will eat. Second level. MacDonald’s sounds good. I will go to MacDonald's. Third level. I could eat something here at home, but I like getting out of the house. Fourth level. I like living the American life of convenience. I will get something convenient. Fifth level. If I’m hungry I obviously should eat because those two things go together. Deepest level. I have needs and they are to be swiftly met by others.
Or it could follow another track.
First level. I’m hungry. I will eat. Second level. Taco Bell sounds good. I will go to Taco Bell. Third level. I could make something here at home, but I don’t have time to prepare something before I get to soccer practice, the bank, my hair appointment, and Radio Shack before it closes. I will get something quick. Fourth level. I could slow down and try to enjoy life, but quick things are better because I can get so much more done. Fifth level. My life consists of the things that I do. I will choose doing lots of things. Deepest level. My life is empty. Who or what will fill me up?
First level. I’m hungry. I will eat. Second level. Wendy’s sounds good. I will go to Wendy’s. Third level. I know it’s not the healthiest, but it tastes good. I will eat tasty food. Fourth level. When I eat healthy, I feel smart but when I eat tasty food I feel pampered. I will be pampered. Fifth level. I deserve to be pampered because of my country of birth (or my race or my gender or my household income…) And so on…
I guess I picked fast food because I imagine we all eat a lot of it (I know I do), and because we all probably choose it with little consideration. Nobody ever thinks these things through to the deepest levels. Maybe once a year does someone ask themselves, you know, why do I eat so much fast food? Or why is it so important to me to…? Or why do I always…? The deeper reasons are seated in our subconscious, or rather somewhere deep in our souls.
I wonder if Jesus lived that way.
Jesus and his class had an on-the-go lifestyle, and they did do fast food. They were known to pick grains as they passed through fields. But I have to wonder, did Jesus’ decision tree look like one of ours?
If you think about it, the deeper choice is a fountain feeding the shallower ones. The deeper choice sweeps the shallower choices along. The deeper choice is weightier. It matters more.
What if we lived from the deep instead of from the surface? What if we lived from our one heart instead of from our many faces? What if we didn’t wait for these external stimuli (hunger, gas prices, boss, commercials, peer pressure, whatever) to blow us around? What if we lived in the constant recognition that every choice was more or less a symptom, and not a cause? What if we rejected the idea that the value of our life is just the sum of our choices? What if we accepted the idea that every choice we make is only a brainchild of the big choice we’ve already made: what we are alive to and what we are dead to? Would that make a difference? Would it be a simpler way to live? a better way?
Jesus said no man can serve two masters. Either he will love the one and hate the other or hate the one and love the other. He will be dead to one and alive to the other. Paul wrote a good bit about this idea of walking in life and death, of simultaneously living and dying in Romans 6-8.
I think Paul and Jesus picked up on something. I think they woke up every day knowing that they were both dead and alive. They woke up every day knowing, then, which things and people were dead and which were alive to them. They woke up every day knowing, then, that whatever choices they made that day were already made because they were just incidental. In other words, the choices that they were faced with on that day were just little versions of the choice they had already made. They were really just opportunities for them to confirm the choice they had already made. Now, I personally think the choices were clearer for Jesus than for Paul. Hence the need for a certain type of prayer.
I have asked people before how I could pray for them. Sometimes they say they need “wisdom” or direction” from God. And they sometimes have this idea that they need to make the “right” choice. Now I’ve heard all kinds of discussion on whether it’s a sin to make the wrong choice or if God doesn’t really care because it is all where your heart is, etc. But those discussions weary me.
Maybe if our prayer started with the question of what I’m alive to and what I’m dead to, then the fog of the choices today would come clear, lose a lot of their heaviness, and let the light in.
One of the results of living this way is freedom. If I know who I am to God, what role He has given me, what I’m alive to, and what I’m dead to, and I am content in that, then the so-called choices that come along every day are a light burden. I think I might even get to the place Jesus was—so free, so focused, so content, so confident, so careless, so care-full, so determined, so joyful.
But I don’t think I can get there at all by studying the Bible, identifying all the choices that might present themselves to me, and being prepared with a right answer for each of them. I do think I can get there by having a profound sense of who I am, what I am about, and what I’m alive to, and what I’m dead to.
But who do you know that is sure of their choices? I think Jesus was. And I think Jesus was because he made his priority knowing his life and his death instead of learning how to make good choices.
Jesus made himself what he is by deathing himself into the will of the eternal Father—thus plunging into the fountain of his own life, the everlasting Fatherhood, and taking the Godhead of the Son. – George MacDonald
All the other choices are just steps along the way.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
If I were going to start a movement this would be the name of it. I long for all senses of the phrase, Jesus before Christianity. Here are Albert Nolan's opening words from the book of the same title,
Many millions throughout the ages have venerated the name of Jesus, but few have understood him and fewer still have tried to put into practice what he wanted to see done. His words have been twisted and turned to mean everything, anything and nothing. His name has been used and abused to justify crimes, to frighten children and to inspire men and women to heroic foolishness. Jesus has been more frequently honored and worshipped for what he did not mean than for what he did mean. The supreme irony is that some of the things he opposed most strongly in the world of his time were resurrected, preached and spread more widely throughout the world—in his name.
Jesus cannot be fully identified with the great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity. He was much more than the founder of one of the world’s great religions. He stands above Christianity as the judge of all it has done in his name. Nor can historical Christianity claim him as its exclusive possession. Jesus belongs to all humanity.
Isn't it amazing to think that there was a Jesus before Christianity? That there really was a man who walked the earth, who had friends, who ate and drank, who played, who worked, who taught certain things and lived a certain life? That before the robes and chants and creeds and councils and conventions and denominations and cadences and services and styles and pleas that there was a real, flesh and blood man who talked a certain way, walked a certain way, ate a certain way, slept a certain way, touched a certain way, healed a certain way...who lived a certain way?
Isn't it amazing to think that the image we see on TV and in prayer rooms and in worship services and in seminars and in concerts and in church committee meetings and on Sunday mornings is not in truth Jesus but rather Christianity? That Jesus is before this and will be the judge of how much if any of this was the Word made Flesh ?
Isn't it amazing to think that we are now in a Post-Christian world? That Christianity has run its course?
But the most amazing thing to me is that I don't think God is worried about any of this—not about the travesties done in the name of Christ on the one hand, nor about the conclusion of Christianity on the other.
But if you find yourself frustrated with us for ignoring your demands, for not following your rules, for not accepting your premises, for not joining in on your goals and your methods and your plans—take heart: we have chosen Jesus before Christianity. And it's going to work out.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
It's a good day.
I hold in my hands my very own copy of John Eldredge's brand new book, The Way of the Wild Heart, hot off the press, delivered to my front door step. I can't wait to read it. But for now I can't get over the smell of the ink, the crispness of the pages, the shine of the title, the beauty of the cover, and the idea of once again opening wide my mind, opening wide my heart. First things first. Books, like words, like people you love, are to be savoured, not devoured.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
This one goes out to all the people who have hurt me.
Thank you. You will never know what you have done for me. Because of you I am not happier, not wealthier, not stronger, not more respectable, not better looking. Because of you I am holier. By holier I do not mean that I am more sinless, although that is a clear result, nor do I mean that I am better than you or that God loves me more. What I mean is that I am more set apart, more set aside. I belong less to you, your world, your organizations, your parties, your cliques. Thank you for hurting me, thank you for judging me, thank you for the whispering about me, thank you for sending me away. Thank you above all for the rejection that all the wounds carried. Because if you are a man of enough sorrows, if you become acquainted with enough grief, and if enough people hide their faces from you, then you get to a place where the only one left looking at you is God. And that’s a holy place.
Some people down through history have gone out seeking martyrdom in foreign lands with pagan kings. That those closest to me have hurt me the most has graciously spared me that journey.
From my heart, thank you.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted or endured.
History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
My in-laws came to visit last weekend bearing this album. They said they listened to it over and over all the way to Colorado and back. And they wanted me to hear it. Hmm.
The album is a tribute to the people who died in the terrorist bombing in Omagh in 1998. All the proceeds are going to the families of the victims. You can read about it here on Amazon. It's great if you like Celtic, including Enya singing Silent Night in Gaelic.
I put the CD in and heard Aslan reciting Heaney's poem, which was kind of cool. But still, I had no idea why they wanted me to hear it or what they liked about it. But that all began to change when I got to this song...
by Juliet Turner
You can have my heart
But it isn't new
It's been used and broken
And only comes in blue
It's been down a long road
And it got dirty on the way
If I give it to you will you make it clean
Wash the pain away
You can have my heart
If you don't mind broken things
You can have my heart
If you don't mind these tears
But I heard that you make all things new
So I give these pieces all to you
If you want it you can have my heart
So beyond repair
Nothing I could do
Tried to fix it myself
But it was only worse when I got through
Then you walked into my darkness
And you speak words so sweet
And you hold me like a child
Till my frozen tears fall at your feet
You can have my heart
If you don't mind broken things
You can have my heart
If you don't mind these tears
But I heard that you make all things new
So I give these pieces all to you
If you want it you can have my heart
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
You know, I would have to say the sum of the movie—amid all the special effects, the far out characters, the plot, the subplots, the science, the magic, the freaks, the furballs, the masters, the pawns, the kings, the queens, the pretty, the ugly, and the in betweens—peel all that away and what's at the core is, "Love wins." Love is bigger than Xavier, bigger than Magneto, bigger than the President, bigger than big business, bigger than Wolverine, bigger than Phoenix. Love never fails.
Life is full of all this conflict—this sound and fury, strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage. But in the end, the only thing that matters is not control and rebellion, not recognition and justification, not rights and wrongs and debts and oughts, not power, not wars, not rumors or war, not earthquakes, not nations, not brawn, not brains, but love. Love is bigger than death, and as big as life.
There is no fear in love. And that is why: love wins.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
I remember the time I first met Jessica. We were halfway through our first game, when up walks a woman, claiming that she had signed up her daughter just yesterday, and this was her team. Now, a lot of people had come up before asking if this was their team both at our first practice and that first game, which were two days apart. My experience with YMCA soccer is a month of silence followed by a completely sudden phone call for first practice and first game with uniforms flying at you as fast as team rosters, schedules, and sign-up sheets for snacks and drinks. So, it was not unusual for someone to wander up to me right in the middle of the game as I was doing a bit of high octane coaching with a query about team membership. So this woman says in broken English this is her daughter’s team, and can she play.
What do you do?
I patiently explained to her that we were already playing this game, and that if this is indeed her team, she can show up at practice next week, and if so, I’m happy to include her. I am thinking in the back of my mind: Who are these people? And I need to call the director and ask them if this is real or if these people are just trying to scam a cool uniform, and if it’s real, why didn’t they call me? I was very polite. I don’t think she understood much of what I said.
I asked her if she’s sure this is her team, and tell her that there are a lot of teams, and she’s not on my list (over those few whirlwind days I had probably referred to my list a dozen times). She assured me that this was her team because when she filled out the application form, she requested that she be on the same tame as her cousin, Katia, who was on our team. Oh. I remember looking at this woman staring at me, and I remember looking down at this little girl in her pastel shorts, shirt, and flip flops. I told her that in that case this probably was her team. I welcomed them and invited them to stay and watch, and told them when to show up for practice.
We now turn our attention back to the game, which we are supposed to be coaching.
But my mind was spinning pretty fast, processing this picture. The next time the ball went out of bounds I turned to Jill, explained the story, pointed out the people, and asked her what she thought. I told her I had another uniform in the trunk this girl could have. She shrugged and said it sounded good to her. I sent Jill after the uniform, and then went and found the woman and her daughter, and told them that she could play. Today. They were amazed. The whole family reminded me of one of those little bitty dogs that get shaky and jumpy with excitement when you come around, spinning, jumping, chasing their tail, not really knowing what to do. I told them her uniform would be here in a few minutes. Jessica smiled as she jumped up and down and clapped her hands.
Now I just had to figure out what to do with her.
So I put her in at defense. I figured she couldn’t do much damage there. And she didn’t. We tied the game 1-1, although I don’t know how. It felt like we were getting whipped. It was the herd of turtles thing.
The other thing I remember was after the game seeing Jessica wearing her new uniform with flip flops. And wondering if she had just played the whole fourth quarter in them.
Anyway, since then I’ve made some changes—the important one to this story being a breakaway back, who just stands down at the other team’s end and waits for the ball to come to them, and then kicks it in. I tried a couple of my stronger players out down there, figuring that if someone could dribble pretty well, he could get into a non-herd situation and actually score. That was disastrous. Do you know how hard it is to get a 10 year old boy to stand still and wait for some ball to come to him? Yeah. Thought so.
Enter Jessica. I tried her at the position. As soon as the other team kicks off, she runs as fast as she can the opposite direction to wait by their goal. And she just waits there for the ball. I can’t tell you how many times the ball has come to her. And as soon as she gets it the other team just pounces on her. She’s such a tiny thing. With a big smile. Last week, she actually took several shots. And every time the ball just didn’t have enough umph to get across that line. One time she actually did get it across but the ref wasn’t looking so she didn’t get credit, but that’s another story. It’s also another story how many times she asked, “Coach, didn’t I score?” “Yes, but they didn’t count it. But you and I know the truth.”
So, you already read the end of the story. We won the game, too, and everyone was excited about that, but I got my payoff in that first play. And it wasn’t just Jessica. It was everyone. It was the way they shared, the way they saw her, the way they gave up what they had so she could shine. And even if the ball hadn’t gone in the net I still would’ve been proud to be their coach, proud to be on their team, proud to be human. But this time it did go in. And it reminded me that life does work, that team is possible, and that joy still rolls in from time to time.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Friday, September 22, 2006
So I’m doing some work for this consulting company, and they have this crazy idea about entering time daily, and being accountable for every minute of the day, and coding that to a list of valid activities, some 'billable' and some not. And having it entered by the end of the same day of said activities. Sheesh. Their reasoning is that if they have better data and more of it, it helps them in collections.
Here’s what they grossly misunderstand. If people like you they will pay their bills. They will pay quickly and fully. If people don’t like you, more data just gives them more not to like. If you want collections to go more smoothly there is one sure solution. Make them like you. There are hundreds of ways to accomplish that. Racking your labor force is not one of them.
Truly, keeping a meticulous list of what someone owes you is enough to drain any chance at trust and friendship and joy off of any relationship.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I bought a car from my parents a few years ago. Just gave them cash for it. It was a Lincoln Towncar, and I think it had 96,000 miles on it when I bought it. It was a great car. When you buy a car, you buy more than just the wheels and the engine and the A/C. You buy more than the sound system and the leather seats. You also buy the oil changes and the belt replacements. I’ve had to do all that. And I had to buy gas for it. And I had to replace the suspension system. I didn’t blame my parents for all that. I purchased the car.
It’s the same with a house. When we bought our house we had to find a title company to research the property. They checked for liens and judgments, for back taxes, and stuff like that. And I had to find an inspector, too. Because when you buy a house you not only get all the nice benefits of a shelter from the rain and rooms to sleep in and a kitchen to cook in and a bathroom to bathe in and a/c and a two car garage. You also get all the liabilities. So if the property is found to be in a flood zone or is condemned or something, you get that, too. You also get the leaks and termites and stuff.
And when I was driving in to work today, I was thinking about this. And I was also thinking that if I were a king and conscripted a soldier it would be the same. I’d have to feed him, train him, equip him, and take care of him. If he was hurt I’d have to move him off the line, and when he was recovered I’d have to redeploy him. With a slave it would be even more true. Not only would I have the benefit of all his service, but I’d also have to provide for his basic needs, and even his higher needs like community and family.
Last week our church read Luke 9 in The Message. When I finished reading I asked everyone what they heard. The biggie was this section:
Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I'm leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn't, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God."
Jesus was entering this new stage in his life. He had been healing, setting captives free, and teaching all over the place, but now he set his course for Jerusalm and all that would happen there. And it was like he was giving his disciples the heads up. If they thought this was about self-improvement they were wrong. From now on they would see that this was about self-emptying—first for Jesus, then one by one for each of them. And if they still thought that they were at the center of their own lives, if they still wanted to find a way to win, if they still wanted to find a way to be in charge, they were going to be offended, because the Way was not about filling up but about giving up. And the secret was not to lead but to be led.
And I couldn’t help but think about ownership. People within Christianity talk a lot about choices, the choices everyone has to make day to day. But I don’t know how many of them live like they’ve already made their choice. I do believe in choice, but I think there is really only one. It seems to me that you either live in a reality that you are your own, you have free will, you choose among the things that present themselves to you day by day. Either that, or you live in a reality that you belong to God—sort of as his vehicle or his home or his soldier or his slave. If you are your own, then you can proceed to live your own life, and to make your own decisions, basing them on your knowledge of God and faith. But if you are not your own then you don’t have any decisions to make.
And there are two realities.
The first one goes like this: “Every day I am presented with choices, and my faith helps me decide which way I will live.” And if you live this way then you are your own.
The second goes like this: “Every day I am presented with choices, but they are false choices because they are not really my choices to make. I already made my choice. I am no longer mine.” And if you live this way then you are not your own. You are bought with a price.
To live the first way is to live with the knowledge of God but in a kind of present darkness. To live the second way is to live in the light, to walk the truth that God did really send Jesus to redeem you from sin, and that you really are bought with a price, that you really are not your own, that you really are ransomed and redeemed, and really are being ransomed and redeemed.
The great thing about self-sacrifice, about being purchased by God, and owned by Him, is that He is a good owner. He takes care of his property. He maintains it. He refills it with the needed fuel to make it day to day. He does major repairs (for some of us, MAJOR repairs). He owns it all. He even owns our faults and our liabilities. We don’t even have to worry about them. That's why we don't have to worry about making the wrong choice. That's why we don't have to worry about wearing out or running out. That’s why it’s really kooky when people make such a big deal out of sin that they won’t just confess it. They somehow still think they still own that liability and want to take care of it themselves before they can testify about it. Crazy. Dark.
Maybe the greatest thing about being owned by God is that he has these great ideas for his property. The bible talks about man being the glory of God. And when I read that I get this image of a little child getting this awesome toy and showing it to everyone, always keeping new batteries in it, never letting it leave his sight, sleeping with it, eating with it, and always knowing where it is, and never losing it. But I also think that unlike a little child God never gets tired of it. It’s like the novelty doesn’t wear off for Him. Maybe that has to do with how much he actually paid for it.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I know what I think this blog is about, but we humans have a tremendous capacity for self-deception. So I've kind of entered a new season of life, and I wondered if anything had changed/shifted since March. Here's the new one:
And then I got to wondering...what if you did a word cloud from say, the gospel of John? So I did. And here's what you get.
Kind of interesting what people actually write about, huh?
Update. Stardate 2006.09.10
Ok. I've decided to give the other "gospel" writers equal time. Why not? It should be kind of fun to compare the emphasis of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Monday, September 04, 2006
What makes me so sure I'm not the most important person in the world?
Really. I'm reading Blue Like Jazz again with some friends. And loving it. Loving it for the honesty that Don approaches his own life with, loving it for the candor, loving it for the humor, loving it for the conviction that burns in my heart as sure as a meaty set of curls burns in my biceps.
I have a friend whose email signature includes this tag line:
He does not believe who does not live according to his belief. - Thomas Fuller
And that's what Don Miller and his friend Andrew the Protester have been saying in Blue Like Jazz. "What I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do." So at the end of his chapter on belief (subtitled: the birth of cool) I wrote the words above. Because really, if I look at how I spend my time, my money, mainly my time, what evidence is there that I don't think I'm the most important person in the world? Of course it's a scientific/modern approach to knowledge, a bit of fact gathering to draw a reasonable conclusion and all. I'm done with that. But I do think it's important to consider whether my words and my actions are really on the same team. Am I really and truly conferring to the world the kingdom that was conferred to me, or am I only getting real good at talking about it?
If the main naked person I clothe is me, and the main hungry person I feed is me, and the main person I open the door to my house for is me, and the main thirsty person I give something to drink is me, the main sick person I care for is me, and the main prisoner I am there for is me, then don't I really believe that the main manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world today is me?
I just thought I'd repeat something that I said when I got really worked up in this comment:
Mercy is justice in action.
Far from what I was taught, that justice and mercy are somehow opposing personalities of this Multiple Personality Disorder of a God that is up there somewhere, if you've seen God's mercy you've seen his justice. As wrong as that sounds, mercy is the just thing to do.
I know. It's completely unreasonable. Like God.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I once heard a speaker at the James Robison Bible Conference give a talk called Power, But Not Power, which was essentially about experiencing the power of God in its foolish simplicity without taking up power over others. O that those words would be heard! But I digress. This man's speech began with saying several graceful greetings he'd received in each of several languages he spoke, capping it off with, "but in heaven, we will all speak one language..." and then he spoke something so beautiful in Spanish that I remember wanting to cry even though I didn't have any idea what he'd said until he translated it.
Of course when I was in Spain I told Lucía and Nicolás that I agreed that Spanish would surely be the language we all speak in heaven, and how I particularly like the way they greet each other with kisses and leave each other with Adios which literally translates, To God. But ever since 1992 when I got stuck on the idea of Spanish being such a heavenly language, I have been on a quest to find something I'm proud of in English. I have found one thing: you're welcome. In Spanish when you thank someone—which is said beautifully as gracias (literally grace), they answer de nada (literally of nothing). But that just seems cheap to me. Now, we do that, too. We say, don't mention it or even it's nothing or no biggie. But you're welcome is such a beautiful phrase. You're well come. Don't those words make you feel like you're a long lost friend that someone has been expecting to show up so that he could finally do the good in his heart towards you? Well come. I sometimes think that's what God says when we say grace. You're welcome. I like it anyway.
What I don't like is stupid junk like this. If you speak English, please read the following words aloud:
Not only is it idiotic to have four letters when one would do. Not only what do g and h have do with anything? Not only is it stupid to prounounce the same letters so many different ways. But worst of all, it doesn't exactly welcome anyone who would learn our tongue.
So anyway, I'm back to trying to learn Spanish again. My kids will probably learn it first, seeing that they have a private tutor who just left from her weekly afternoon with the Coans.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Fray Luis Ponce de León entered the University of Salamanca at the age of fourteen and in 1544 joined the Augustinian order. In 1561 he obtained a chair in Theology at Salamanca; in 1571 he attained the chair of Sacred Letters as well. While at the University, he translated classical and biblical literature and wrote on religious themes. He was denounced to the Inquisition and was consequently imprisoned at Valladolid from March 1572 until December 1576; the charges against him were then abandoned, and he was released with an admonition. The first day after returning from four years’ imprisonment, all eyes were on him, waiting for what bitterness, what railing, what grudges were four years imprisoned in his heart, waiting for public vindication from his seat of power, his lectern. He began that lecture with, “As we were saying yesterday…” and continued with the sublime voice of his calling, which was to impart young intellectuals in this Spanish university we visited with truth and virtue.
I feel like I’ve been unable to speak for some time now on this blog, unable to write or even converse. But today I am back, and for me it was just yesterday. I would start with something very short, a simple thought that maybe is (or isn’t) profound. And this one is for my conservative friends. It’s actually more of a question.
The opposite of justice is _____________________.
(see comments for the answer)
Friday, July 21, 2006
I’ve been talking with some friends lately about Christian music. Part of that was sparked by what Bono said about God preferring Rock & Roll to Gospel (it was basically that God prefers truth to happyclappy).
I really don't like the "Christian" label. Partly, I have the same problem as Rob Bell, like I'm supposed to accept bad art because it's got my team's mascot on it? But for me it goes even deeper. Most songwriters going for that Christian label feel like their audience demands happiness, utually a "victory chant" or maybe a minor song that ends with a major chord in the last measure. That doesn't feel true to me, to my life experience.
What feels very true to me is a sort of "cursed assurance". I have all these really great promises in the Bible but I don't see them working out, and I have no guarantee on the timing, and I really have no guarantee that they apply to me personally. I've seen the dead end of Name It And Claim It Boulevard, and yet I still have this trust for the heart of God. I've given up on a story that is supposed to make me happy. I wake up every day and things change. Good stuff happens, bad stuff happens, but all with an ambivalence to me and my happiness. Each day is like an invitation to go deeper no matter if it looks better or worse. It's like God is saying, "If you're having trouble looking too far ahead for the happily ever after, just close your eyes." I know that God has given me his very great and precious promises. The only thing is that it seems like God's best promises have to do with making me one with him, and taking me where he is. And when I think about how that played out for Jesus, it seems there was very little God was doing FOR him and a lot God was doing TO him and THROUGH him. He had that "cursed assurance" thing. He was made a curse for others so that they could enjoy the blessing of God. And John even had the gall to say that the same fate is ours, "Christ laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." I want to change the words to this old hymn:
CURSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE
OH, WHAT A FORETASTE OF GLORY DIVINE!
So that’s what hope looks like to me these days. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed watching clouds roll in and others break. Most of the things I hoped for I don’t anymore because they’re gone and I’m changed by their going. I hope for different things now. But I’m more careful, or less, depending on how you want to look at it. The hope I now have is more like Frodo’s or Jesus’. In his heart Frodo began to understand his quest would claim his life. Same with Jesus. My life will be consumed one way or another, and I hope that something good might come to me, either before or after. It’s a less personal hope, but a more certain one I think.
Aragorn’s line keeps rolling around in my head, the one from the movie when Elrond brought Andúril to him and said, “I give hope to Men.” He responds, “I keep none for myself.”
But there is good reason to hope. Because really, I am not waiting for my world to all come together. I am waiting to let my world come undone.
In Rob Bell’s Everything is Spiritual tour, he talked about the poem of creation, the one found in Genesis 1. He spent a good deal of time talking about the about the beauty and truth of its lyrics, meter, rhythm, and symmetry, and that was interesting. He also pointed out something that has always fascinated me—that with God evening precedes morning. Night gives birth to day. And I have always taken that as hopeful, because in this dark night of the soul I am in the beginning, not the end of God’s cycle.
But there is one more thing in this poem, something I had never seen before. It was the way of God separating and then filling, separating and then filling, separating and then filling. The first three days are God separating. The second three days are God filling. A matched set. In the same order. The first day God separates light from darkness with space, and the fourth day he fills them with stars. The second day God separates the waters with sky, and the fifth day he fills them with fish and birds. The third day God separates the seas with land, and the sixth day he fills the land with all sorts of animals, saving the best for last: Man...and then Woman.
But how is this hopeful? I used to be presented with faith as a sort of victory march where I am supposed to get closer and closer to God, believe more and more, obey more and more, understand more and more, win more and more, have more and more, and essentially by moving “from glory to glory” be promoted, ultimately to the very image of God. Faith was “Onward Christian soldier marching as to war / With the cross of Jesus going on before”, and God was waiting atop his holy hill for me to finally get it right, with his help of course. But what if the writer of Genesis truly had a revelation of God, truly captured in those verses the essence and nature of Creation? If so, then the rhythm that is found in those first six days (and the seventh) explains a lot. If the way of God is to separate and then fill, then this separation I feel is a portend of a refill.
I get this image of God exhaling, and then inhaling, exhaling, and then inhaling. I get this image of God quaking the earth, splitting it asunder, and then a river of life rushing through to fill it. I get this image of people being separated by sin, evil, misunderstandings, and then reconciliation rushing through to fill it. I get this image of a God being separated from his Creation, and then a Messiah rushing in to fill and restore all. And somehow it’s all happening like it’s supposed to because it’s all part of the life of the Creator who separates, and then fills.
And so I have this dark hope that maybe would be called despair because I am simply doing nothing about it. And I have this upside down view of God that maybe would be called falling away. In truth, I am still hoping to fall, waiting for the world to fall, waiting for everything to come undone, because only then will the season change, the color return, and this wide canyon of hope be filled.
And this is why that seventh day is so intriguing to me. The Seventh, the Sabbath, the Rest. The activity of hope is the most torturous of all activity. Do nothing. Rest. Let. Allow. Accept. Die. In the book of Hebrews it says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-Rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” And what an effort it is. Everything is screaming, Touch it! Do something! Work it! Fix it! Save it! Fill it! And hope comes along and whispers darkly, Wait. Rest. Sleep. Trust. Believe. Watch.
That’s my hope. And I can’t say that I found it through brilliant application or by mustard-seed faith. I can’t say I found it at all. It found me. I didn’t even want it. It threw itself on me as the crack began to grow and my world started coming undone.
This hope whispers to me that three days hence space will be filled with stars, that three days hence sky will be teeming with fowl, that three days hence earth will be covered with feet, that three days hence the Grave will be filled with the Life, and that somehow three days hence I will see all that was separated, filled.
There is always hope.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Have you ever got one person stuck in your head and it’s like they’re the only one in the world? And it doesn’t matter who else comes along, or how perfect they are. It’s like your eyes, as good as they are, can only see one person. Or maybe it’s your heart.
I just saw Superman Returns for the second time, and I have to say it’s one of the best movies I have ever seen. So many allusions to God and Jesus and the gospel. I found myself in tears several times. I’m sure I will have to write more about it, but the thing that’s been rolling around in my head since the first time I saw it (in fact since the first time I saw Superman I) is Why Lois Lane? Lois was never the prettiest. She was not the smartest. She was not the wisest. She was not the bravest. She had some issues that would drive anyone nuts, she smoked, she was self-absorbed, and she was terribly farsighted (not to see that Clark was Superman despite his antics). You would have to say she was stuck somewhere between plain and unimpressive, which is right where Superman was stuck. I mean, Superman was Superman! Superman could have had any girl he wanted. Any girl. But it was Lois. And there was nothing for it. To him, everything she did was beautiful. Kind of like,
Something about you now
I can't quite figure out
Everything she does is beautiful
Everything she does is right
Cause it's you and me and all other people
With nothing to do, nothing to prove
And it's you and me and all other people
And I don't know why I can't keep my eyes off you
You and Me, by Lifehouse
Have you ever got one thought stuck in your head and it’s like it’s the only thought in the world? And it doesn’t matter what other thoughts comes along, or how perfect they are. It’s like your mind, as good as it is, can only see that one thought. Or maybe it’s your heart.
I’m around people all the time that have issues. Do you know anyone like this? For the most part they are perfectly normal and have so much going for them, but they have one issue and it’s like kryptonite for them. They love God and quote the Bible and care for people, but then they say that they don’t believe in God because they cannot believe in a god who would send someone to hell. Or they can’t believe in a god who would wipe out entire civilizations because of their systemic sin, or would wipe out a lot of people because their king sinned. Or they’re sure God hates them. Or they can’t forgive God for not healing them. And the list goes on. I mean the list is as long as there are people. Except of course that I don’t have any issues. When people leave me they don’t say, “Wow, Steve is really a great guy, but what’s up with that one thing?” Yeah, right.
Or it could be the other way around. Someone lays hold of a dream and there’s nothing for it. The facts don’t count. Then we hear their incredible story, like Mark Inglis, the double amputee who climbed Mount Everest!
It’s like every human being has this uncanny ability to get stuck on one thing, or on one person, and nothing else matters except their one.
And lest I think it’s a fallen humanity thing, I read Song of Songs or Hosea or John 3:16 and come away thinking that God himself has this same weakness. He gets you stuck in His head, and then it doesn’t matter what you do or how bad everything gets messed up, He is going to pursue you. And He will continue to pursue you and rescue you because “The king is enthralled by your beauty” (Psalm 45).
But to suggest that God the All Powerful has a weakness? If this must be called a weakness, this ability to get stuck on someone and forget the facts, even to the point that you would die for her, then I guess I am saying that. We must have inherited our weakness from God. It’s part of His image.
It really doesn’t make any sense, but it’s really sweet how Superman loves Lois. And honestly, it’s not the incredible special effects or our worship of a super-man who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or leaps tall buildings in a single bound that keeps us coming back to this story. It’s not that he fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, or the American way. It’s the love he has for the world, and the special love he has for Lois Lane. And He goes all the way. He loves her enough to let her go, to change his identity and hide, even from her, to protect her from those who would hurt him by hurting her. She's the one.
That’s the most endearing thing to me about Superman and about God. It’s like he’s got a world to save, but he’s always around for me.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
“The fable of Cupid and Psyche is usually considered allegorical. The greek name for buterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyoment of true and pure happiness.” – Bulfinch’s Mythology
I think that is beautiful.
Psyche is the word Christ would have used for soul if he talked with Greek audiences. It was the word his followers used when writing what are now the scriptures. For example, Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from fleshly cravings, which war against your psyche.” And I think Christ accepted the butterfly as a good avatar for the soul. Yet, I think Christ saw the human soul’s condition differently. It is not that the caterpillar is imperfect and weak, and must be made to suffer, and must be purged of her vices and learn virtue, and must somehow appease the gods who will then accept her and allow her to come up. Christ seems to think that the suffering and death is to release the life and beauty and truth of the caterpillar that is within, trapped under a veil of fleshy caterpillar skin. To the Greeks the caterpillar’s flight was an act of achievement by it. To Christ it was a liberation that happens to it. Any suffering and ultimately death of soul is about letting go of all she’s held on to.
Another thing about the realm of Psyche is jealous gods. The gods of Greece are jealous. If a soul dared to be proud or vain or was honored in some way that a god wanted to be honored, one of them would afflict that soul for trespassing until they had their revenge and seized their glory back. The God of Christ is also jealous, but in a different way. His jealousy is that of a jealous lover, ruthless in his pursuit of the girl whose true beauty he is smitten with. The Bible talks about God being a “consuming fire”, and that this fire is his jealous love for his girl. (Dt 4.24, Heb 12.29) That’s why it says not to mess around “for jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge; he will not accept any compensation; he will refuse the bribe, however great it is.” (Prov 6.34)
It’s an altogether different butterfly for the God of Christ.
The story of Psyche and Cupid (Eros) is beautifully retold by C.S. Lewis in what is now my favorite of his works, Till We Have Faces. That book changed me like no other. It changed me because it did not address my mind at all. It would only be consumed like truth nectar, like milk and honey for the soul, and it began working its way through to every part of me, reviving all of my members, and restoring sight to the eyes of my heart. The story begins with a soul crying for justice against the gods, to have her complaint of unfairness heard and answered. It ends (I don’t think I will give too much away) with her being answered in a different way than she expected, and being both undone and done. Kind of like a butterfly.
Lewis said he read the original story in one of the few surviving Latin novels, Metamorphoses (which would translate I suppose changes or transformations). And I think that’s appropriate for the story of Psyche, the beautiful girl who was metamorphasized from a creeper below to one who took up wings and graced the heavens. And I think that’s why I like this song more than most “worship” songs I have ever heard, because it gives voice to my soul and expresses what is so frustrating about this earthbound existence whose end is a cocoon and what is so exhilirating about pursuing (or is it being pursued?) by a jealous God.
Desperate for changing
Starving for truth
I'm closer to where I started
Chasing after you
I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you
Forgetting all I'm lacking
I'll take your invitation
You take all of me now...
I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you
I'm living for the only thing I know
I'm running and not quite sure where to go
And I don't know what I'm diving into
Just hanging by a moment here with you
There's nothing else to lose
There's nothing else to find
There's nothing in the world
That can change my mind
There is nothing else
There is nothing else
There is nothing else
Desperate for changing
Starving for truth
I'm closer to where I started
Chasing after you....
Hanging by a Momemt, by Lifehouse
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Why do I allow myself to waste in anxiety? Either something has happened that I want to change (regret) or something might happen that I want to avoid (worry). Either anxiety has the same effect—sleeplessness, mental exhaustion, depression, fear, isolation, acid indigestion—it’s like there’s this fireworm eating my insides away, burning and burning and burning, never tiring of burning.
It’s kind of like being in hell.
I was lately thinking that my problem may not be weak faith or “sin in my life” or lacking spiritual gifts or negligence to take up authority by naming and claiming the fireworm’s demise. My problem may be that I need to die.
It’s like there are these arrows that are shot into me or that I can see coming in, and I am trying like heck to push them away or pull them out. Maybe I should love the arrows for what they are killing in me, piece by piece—first a hand, then an eye, then a foot, and so on, until only I remain.
I think there are two ways to avoid anxieties: sudden deliverance or sudden death. Either someone stronger than me has to rescue me, or I have to be killed. And I can sum up my part in both of these in two words: LET GO. Neither worry nor regret can accomplish sudden deliverance or sudden death. Only letting go can.
Surely God in his mercy does not want me anxious. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing”, and Psalm 127 talks about the vanity of being anxious because God gives sleep to those he loves. Now it comes to me that sleep is a metaphor for death. Hmm. Let go.
Tomorrow I’m going to a memorial service for my grandmom who went to sleep Sunday morning and won’t be waking up in this world. When I called my aunt, she said, “Granna was just exhausted.” But the fire is quenched now. She let go.
Jesus said it’s better to enter life maimed than to enter hell with two hands, better to lose an eye and a foot than to be tossing and turning in one piece where “the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched”. And Jesus promises that everyone gets fired, it’s just a matter of whether the fire will be quenched or not. I have experienced both. I really think that I could have enjoyed peace and beat that worm if I had let go.
Something that helps me let go of stuff is accepting that the fireworm is from God. George MacDonald said,
I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing. Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren—rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.
Everyone gets fired. (Mark 9:42) The question is will we let go? The question is when?
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
It is said of God that he makes it to rain on the just and the unjust. I wonder if rain is not a metaphor of forgiveness. How Jesus left was—he was taken up and hidden behind a cloud. Every now and then the clouds come down, and then I see clearly.
My friend Jon says that sin is whatever comes between two people. Somewhere in the bible it says that if we confess our sins we will be healed, and somewhere else it says that there is no condemnation for us. It seems to me that the God treats sin like clouds. They can easily blow away or come down, but that doesn’t mean they’re light—think about how much water floats above the earth in one of those massive thunderclouds. But when it rains, when we get that glorious “storm of perfection” as Andy Andrews calls it, it’s like everything is right and good, and God is with us.
I remember what seems like a lifetime ago when we were having a draught. Some friends and I were down at our neighborhood clubhouse when the rain started coming. We heard it on the windows and opened the door to smell the wonderful aroma. As it began to rain harder and harder we finally couldn’t stand it. We went full outside and threw our arms up in the air as if to worship, threw back our heads with our mouths open, and soaked up the goodness. We didn’t earn it. We couldn’t turn it off. We just enjoyed it and thanked God for it. We needed it so desparately.
I wonder if rain is not a metaphor for forgiveness.
I could stay in the rain forever.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Jesus promised me that he’d never leave me. But he did leave me. At least, he promised me he would never leave me if I take his words to his first disciples to apply to me, too. And I do. He said “Go and make disciples of all nations…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But then he left. Maybe you could say he technically didn’t leave because Luke says “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight”, but I think that’s sneaky. After all, he also promised that he’d “come back” for me. No, whether he was taken or he took off, he left.
In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian’s wicked brother told him that his wife was in hell because she was a suicide. On the hill of the cross in Jerusalem, he wondered aloud, “How can you be in hell, when you’re in my heart?” And that makes me wonder, too.
I think Jesus hasn’t left me. I think he is in my heart, which to me means he is my desire, the one I want, the one I think about, the one I hope for. I think being left is not even a physical thing at all, because God was talking about never leaving people and never forsaking people before Jesus even came. When Moses was about to die, he told Joshua not to worry, that God would never leave him nor forsake him, that just how he was with Moses he would be with Joshua. But there’s no way this was talking about face to face. Jesus said that God is a Spirit and that no one has ever even seen Him, so not being left is a spiritual thing, not a body thing.
This is even true among people. Paul wrote to the Colossians that he was absent from them in body, but present in spirit. On the flip side, I have been left by people in the same room. There they were, honoring me with their lips, but their hearts were far from me. But I have also felt the presence of a friend in my heart, even though we were miles apart. That is priceless, but even though I feel that presence, I still feel the separation, too.
It’s like I live in Shadowlands, the places where I can’t see Jesus face to face, but see his shadow and feel his cool breath blow across my heart as He whispers precious words to me. He is still with me. His thoughts are on me. I am his desire. He has great hopes yet for me. Even though I am on the other side of this cloud.
So many clouds.
Clouds of confusion, clouds of doubt, clouds of lies, clouds of distortion, clouds of tyrrany, clouds of manipulation, clouds of wounds, clouds of blame, clouds of immaturity, clouds of timing, clouds of fog, storm clouds, toxic clouds, fire clouds.
But the clouds are just an illusion. The other illusion is which one left the other. It’s only a matter of perspective. We both are still right where we have always been—in each other’s hearts. Clouds don’t change that. Neither does time.
He promised me that he would never leave. And I believe.
How could he be gone when he is in my heart?
One day we will be face to face, or as the first disciples say, mouth to mouth. That day is precious to me.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
The sweetened breath
The moistened air
The supple beauty
The sculptured brawn
The pulsing blood
The throbbing hearts
The rhythmic beat
The dancing strings
The mingling hair
The gentle breeze
The daring charge
The swift retreat
The risk of discovery
The thrill of embrace
The raging thunder of cannon blast
The reckless solace alone at last
The clutching fingers pressed in skin
The folding heroine opening in
The risk of death
The hope of love
The promise of war
The test of faith
Romance is born
She always waited for a lover who would come back for her, sweep her off her feet, and take her to be with him forever. She’s with Him now.
August 27, 1920 ~ July 9, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Do you ever want to just blow this joint?
After Jesus came back from the dead, he taught his guys for a few weeks, and then he flew. He had just finished giving them their commission, and then according to Luke, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?’”
I’ll tell you why. They wanted to get out, too. If not out of disgust for this place, then for the love of Christ!
Everything gets so screwed up. Sometimes it’s impossible to even imagine heaven on earth, even though that’s exactly what God promised. I know there’s a lot of bad “escape” theology in Christianity. Maybe there’s just too many Left Behind books floating around. I know in my heart that God is not wanting to get me out of of the world, but instead to get Himself in the world. I know God is wanting his kingdom to come here—to the earth—and it’s through me. I know all that. But some days are just evil. I do want to escape.
When dreaming I'm guided through another world
Time and time again
At sunrise I fight to stay asleep
'Cause I don't want to leave the comfort of this place
'Cause there's a hunger, a longing to escape
From the life I live when I'm awake
So let's go there
Let's make our escape
Come on, let's go there
Let's ask can we stay?
Can you take me higher?
To the place where blind men see
Can you take me higher?
To the place with golden streets (Higher by Creed)
I saw Champions on Ice today. As we began walking back to the office where we parked, Grace remarked how beautiful the skating was. I didn’t say anything the whole way, even though I was thinking that I couldn’t agree more with that. I wanted to get higher before I talked.
We walked through the gardens of the Centex building and past the wedding banquet that was being prepared on the veranda of Marie Gabrielle, and went up to where I work. Then we walked over to the south side of the building and looked down at where we had just come from. When you’re in the garden it’s lush and green, and the water is nice, but until you get up high you can’t tell that there is a design to it all.
Grace said, “Wow!”
I asked, “Did you know that’s what it looked like when we were walking through it?”
“No. Not at all.”
I stared out the window for a while and then said, “Yes, Grace, it was beautiful, the skating. So beautiful that it made me sad.”
“Well, I’m just thinking about how hard it is to make something beautiful, all the dedication, the discipline, the sacrifices they and their friends and their family have made, the injuries, the diets, the exercise programs. It takes so much effort to make something that beautiful. And it only lasts for a while ... And I am thinking about all the ugliness, too. I’ve seen enough ice skating movies to know that there’s a dark side. But it’s not just movie drama—I saw it unfolding on the nightly news with Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan a few Olympics ago. There’s all this ambition and competition and envy beneath something so beautiful. Who’s the keeper of the gold, the silver, the bronze? And how are they announced? ... And then the rest of the story. We have no idea what’s really going on in their lives—one of them could be going through an ugly divorce, one of their mothers may have just died, or one of their three year old daughters might have just been molested. It’s like the beauty is there, but it glides on so much ugliness, pain, and work. So much effort.”
“And then I think about how some things are truly beautiful to the core but look ugly. Like Jesus dying on the cross. Or like a story that you’re halfway into and you don’t like the way it’s going.”
I saw Pirates of the Carribean 2 yesterday. I didn’t like it. For a lot of reasons, but I won’t go into that. But now I’m just left here with a story that was disjointed, is halfway through, I don’t like the way it’s going. Yesterday was a hard day. Today was a hard day. It’s been a hard week. It’s been a hard year.
I looked back out the window and said, “So we drive everywhere and come up with a million things to do, get new cars, build new bridges and roads, and do everything to keep from thinking too much about beauty and ugly and what kind of story we’re in.”
Can you take me higher? Is there really a place where beautiful is just beautiful?
And what is to become of these stories that are halfway through and I don’t like the way they’re going? And the story-teller seems to have fallen asleep…a year ago…and I don’t even know if I want him to wake up and finish the story. Maybe it’d be better for him to just scrap this one and start all over.
Redemption is the word I’m looking for. For Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner and Jack Sparrow and Tonya and Nancy and me and all the characters in the story I’m in, for all the martryrs and skaters and even beauty herself. I keep hoping, I keep believing that somehow Jesus didn’t just fly away. He somehow went higher. And if he went higher then there is a higher place, a place where we blind men can see. A place where streets aren't just gold plated.
Friday, July 07, 2006
The story about the prodigal son is another one of those stories that we all know to be true. Or rather, we all hope it to be true, we all feel it should be true, but not until we’ve walked with God do we know it to be true.
Every single time I have waken from my shame to return to him, he was still there waiting with open arms to receive me back. Amazing. And more than that, he has come running out to pre-empt my attempt at self-blame and self-debasement so that my return is not in shame but in glory. If you haven’t experienced God like this, then you haven’t experienced God, probably because someone has been lying to you.
I have been lost so many times. And found just as many. Anyone who tells you that there are lost people and then there are “saved” people has got two things messed up, I think. First, the opposite of lost is not saved, it’s found. The father said, “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So, there are lost people and found people. Second, you can be lost and found many times.
My friend Brent was telling us about a dark time in his life, when he felt like he was away from the Lord. I said, “So basically you were lost.” He froze. “No, I was a Christian.” I said, “But you said, you were in the dark, you didn’t know which way was up, you were confused about everything, and you didn’t even know where to begin to get back to Jesus. So,” I said, “it sounds like you were lost.” We talked about that a bit that day, and have continued to talk about it.
I know I have been lost many times and found just as many. More than being entirely lost, I have lost heart, lost interest, lost friends, lost dreams, lost purity, lost every kind of thing that can be lost. And every time, God has been waiting at home for me, and come running out for the joy of receiving me back. That’s who he is. “The son of man came to seek and to save that what was lost.”
What was lost is not a code word for non-Christian. When we label other people “the lost” to raise money for our mission we are being abusive. We are the lost. We are the losers. All of us. All humanity. Believers and unbelievers. Everything about us can get lost. And the son of man came to seek and to save what was lost. He still comes. Every time.
Being lost is much wider than we have imagined. Not only does it not mean “people who don’t go to church”. Neither does being lost mean having a loose lifestyle. You can be lost in a tight one as well. Being lost means being separated from God, and that can happen in many ways. Pharisees, for example are lost because of their “yeast of hypocrisy”. Here’s something Henri Nouwen wrote about the two brothers:
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son, who runs away from home to an alien country, and the older son, who stays home to do his duty. The younger son dissipates himself with alcohol and sex; the older son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling all his obligations. Both are lost. Their father grieves over both, because with neither of them does he experience the intimacy he desires.
Both lust and cold obedience can prevent us from being true children of God. Whether we are like the younger son or the older son, we have to come home to the place where we can rest in the embrace of God's unconditional love. (Bread for the Journey)
It’s easy to see the younger son as being lost, but the older son was, too. The good news in all this is that the gospel is for us. I know so many TIRED Christians who believe that now that they’re not lost anymore that the gospel is for everyone else. But they do get lost. And the great thing about being lost is that Daddy is always waiting at home where there is rest.
We had a plaque at our old house hanging over the table that said, “home is where the heart is”. How easy it is for me—and I think for everyone—to leave home. But the Father’s heart is always open, bidding us come back home, to come back to the heart. He’s still waiting to run and meet us to catch us in His arms. Every time.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
I need a new definition for sex. I’m trying this one on and I think it fits pretty well.
sex n. – being closer to someone than you can be
The reason I need a new definition is because the ones that are floating around out there are weak, incomplete, and perverted. That’s what my world has done with something as beautiful as sex. And the church instead of offering a divine definition has done the typical: reacted, accepted what the world has to say, toed the battle lines where the god of the world has drawn them, or retreated in fear of something God made and calls good. The church should be promoting sex every chance they get, brining sex to every corner of the world. But I imagine that a lot of Christians would be appalled that would even I talk of sex this way—maybe even blush at the title of this post. But lofty glances from lofty people do little to save.
Sex is being closer to someone than you can be, and sexual desire is the desire to be closer to someone than you can be. Both are good. Both are good not only in a human sense, but in a divine one as well. We all have this desire to be closer to another being than we can be.
If you take even a casual look at carnal sex, you will see this definition holding true. Two people want to be closer than they can be. They want to be closer than speaking, closer than face-to-face, closer than hugging, closer than touching. They want to be in each other. If this weren’t true, then what is up with French kissing? And it’s a violent desire. Think about it.
My friend Jon said he still remembers the first time he held hands with a girl with fingers interlocked, and how fast his heart beat. He was experiencing this same thing. As his fingers went inside hers and her fingers went inside his, they experienced the fringes of sex. It’s no good for us to be close. We want the other person inside of us, one with us.
I haven’t read a lot of Freud. Most of what I know came from a sociology class I took in college, that and common knowledge from society and movies. What everyone seems to agree on is that Freud sexualized everything. He saw sex everywhere, as the source of all kinds of issues that people have to sort out and deal with. He even tagged the pleasure infants have in nursing and filling diapers as sexual. I think he was on to something. But I think he may have shot too low. It’s more than a physical sensation. I have a nine month old son named Caleb. Sometimes he gets so excited about one of us that he opens his mouth wide and tries to take a bite out of our cheek. Freud would say this is his sexual desire. I say that’s true. But it’s not reproduction or pleasure Caleb is after. He wants to be closer to one of his family members than he can be, and this is the best he can do. It's not a physical condition of his species. It's a spiritual condition inherited from his race and their metanarrative.
And while we’re talking about putting things in our mouth, let’s talk about eating. This world was always supposed to be the place where people enjoyed fellowship with each other and with their God. But in the fall of mankind, that connection was severed (literally sexed). Ever since then the plans of God for us have always been connected with the land. God’s original charter to adam included both filling the earth and subduing it. God’s word to Abraham and his descendants was that he would join them to a promised land, which He did. But when they didn’t give the land her rest every seventh year like He told them to, He had them carried off into captivity so that the land would “enjoy her sabbaths while it lies desolate without them”. In the New Testament, too, I read about the land groaning, waiting for restoration to come through mankind. Eating is sex, too. It is how we are closer to the land than we can be. We’re not content to enjoy being close to her. We want to taste her inside of us. What we eat and drink becomes one with us and produces life in us. This also kind of makes me think about when Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” Eating is sexual. It too is being closer than you can be.
And God. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, they enjoyed intercourse with (they freely ate of) each other, the land, and God. It wasn’t until they were unfaithful to God (ate from another) that this intercourse was frustrated. It was frustrated with a treble hook: land with thorns, marriage with contention, and God through a veil. Three different areas: human, terrestrial, and divine. All frustrated. The intercourse is inhibited, and the attempt to restore the spiritual connection is a sexual proposition.
Look how sexual Jesus’ language was in his final prayer on earth. He wants us to be closer than we can be—to be one. He wants to unveil his glory for us. He wants to be in us. He wants us to be in him. This talk reminds me of the phrase one flesh or one body, referring to sex.
My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are—I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one. Then the world will know that you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you've given me to be with me, so they can see my glory. You gave me the glory because you loved me even before the world began! O righteous Father, the world doesn't know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. And I have revealed you to them and will keep on revealing you. I will do this so that your love for me may be in them and I in them. (John 17)
A glorious body unveiled…Jesus in his bride…the bride in Jesus...his love in her...
If you think this is sexualizing something that was not intended to be, listen to what else Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” That’s wedding language. In Jesus’ day a groom would be betrothed to his bride, and then he would leave her to prepare a place for them to live together. Because God had granted each Israelite family a place to live, and also because the extended family in Jesus’ time was central to their life, grooms would build their house connected to their father’s house. And of course it shouldn’t be surprising at all to hear Jesus talk this way—after all the bible does begin and end with a bride and a groom.
All sex is frustrating. Because you can never be closer to someone than you can be. The marriage bed satisfies for a moment. The best of friends can only share so much heart to heart fellowship. Hunger always returns. Even moments of true intercourse with God are short-lived, and for most of us, rare. Because there is still a barrier that even sex, the most transcendent thing in our world, cannot penetrate. Ecstasy is not an option. Not now, anyway.
But somehow there is a day coming when sex will be no more—when we will be able to be closer than we (presently) can be. George MacDonald thought that when we were released from the shackles of this nature that we would be able to flow in and out of each other’s beings, that we could know each other fully, even as we are fully known. That’s an unnerving thought for now. But one day I think we will probably find it more pleasing than sex.
For now, we are all frustrated down here. We all continue to be baffled by Adam and Eve being “naked and unashamed”. Even creation herself waits, frustrated, in “eager expectation” for the children of God to be exposed. We continue to want to be closer to another than we can be, and scared to death of it at the same time. And sometimes we really mess up because of it. I wonder how much of our messing up is just because we fail to see what is really going on. I wonder if it's because we fail to know what we really want. There are so many other fruits that look like they might be edible and might satisfy, so many people to consume, and so many gods we would make our own or give ourselves over to. So the girl longing for shelter and affection she never found at home gives her body for fifteen minutes of glory followed by years of shame. The woman eats her way to high blood pressure and heart disease. The shaman does all kinds of bizarre things to get a god to possess him. The leader slaughters and consumes his followers to fill his ego. These are all perversions of sex. Underneath each, there is this desire to be closer to someone or something than you can be and an impatience for the Day when that veil will finally be removed.
I am longing for that day. Come, Lord Jesus.
But to me it looks like the church is going a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction on this one. Either she sticks her head in the sand or gets red-faced and screams about our oversexed culture. We are not oversexed. We are undersexed. This culture is way underconnected. We have extremely isolated lives, and it's only made worse by technology—from cell phones to chat rooms to porn sites to ipods, it is so easy to withdraw, check out, and say no to sex. And I'm talking about the church. Most Christians in the burbs don't know their neighbors—don't even know their names. The divorce rate is just as high in Christianity as it is in the general population. And try to find true community among Christians who would prefer one another to the point of laying down their lives for each other. Don't even think about finding a group of people Jesus talked about who are "one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." As Rob Bell said, "And so we have more cell phones than ever, and we're more lonely and isolated than ever. And we have more chat rooms than ever, and we have people hurting more than ever, because they don't have somebody they can lean on. Our culture is not oversexed. We have no idea what sex really means." I’d go further than saying we need others to lean on. I’d say we need others to come into, to commingle with, to become one body with. And I think Jesus would say that, too. Oh, he did say that.
You can't even talk about sex without using hushed tones, certainly not in mixed company, and then usually only in "accountability" groups with a special time to confess "sexual sins" (which really would be better understood as "sins against sex"). But this just proves that the church really doesn't have anything to say about sex, about connecting, about moving towards one another, about becoming one, about becoming closer than we can be. The church has accepted what the world has to say about sex ("it's something dirty and forbidden and narrowly defined by what those bad people show you on late night tv or during superbowl half-time or on forbidden internet sites or in adult bookstores") and retreated in fear. Part of the reason the church doesn't have anything to say is because she's stuck in the tarbaby. Porn and romance novels and random hookups and other “sins against one’s own body” (which are thriving among church members) will wither away in a connected community—this junk feeds on loneliness and isolation and inferiority and hopelessness.
One more thing. I think all the yelling and protesting and picketing and boycotting also goes to show that the church really doesn't have anything to say about sex. When you are deaf and mute about what is good and true and pure and beautiful, you get loud about the perversions of it, which you don't understand. I know it’s true in me. I will blast the thing I hate in myself when I see it in someone else. If you think sex is good and is God’s plan for humanity then just do it. Connect. Be one. Move freely in and out of each other. Show what sex really is. Be closer than you can be. Reject boundaries that keep people alone and in the dark. Greet one another with a holy kiss. Plant a tree. Plant a garden. Throw a banquet. Live like there is no male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Live like this world in its present form is passing away. And by all means, reject the perverted, shameful, narrow, definition of sex that is everywhere accepted and learn what it is that everyone falling for that is really craving—the hope that’s tucked away in you and me.
Sex is good. And what is even better is coming.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Everywhere I look I see broken hearts. You can always tell a broken heart. The pieces cut you when you try to pick them up. They can’t help it. I think this is the way Jesus saw everyone. That’s why he was Compassion. I don’t accept any portrayal of God if he is not compassionate. To me that is so crucial in distinguishing love from all that parodies love.
I was talking with a couple of friends the other night about the compassion of Jesus, especially with broken hearts and shattered lives. He was the friend of sinners. You never heard Jesus speaking harshly to seedy types like tax collectors or prostitutes or social outcasts like lepers or beggars. You see Jesus dignifying their lives. On the other hand, he was harsh, scathing the religious and the well-to-do types with his fiery words. He didn’t judge them, but he had a mouthful about the way they treated others, particularly the way they kept them under their thumbs. It was like Jesus expected so much more from them, so much better than that from people who had better access to God through education and free time and wealth. His words were meant to challenge them, and I wonder…perhaps even to break their hearts?
Jesus, after all, came to bind up the brokenhearted. And yet here were these people who had so insulated themselves from the world that their hard hearts were there on display—in the form of a whole heart, looking as if they were unbroken, untouched by the great fall. So here comes Jesus throwing rocks. It’s as if Jesus felt like every heart should be broken. Or maybe it was more like Jesus realized that every heart was broken, and for anyone to deny that, to piece it together and prop it up and encase it within togetherness, was to deny the way things really are, to deny the divine narrative, to deny God.
I am sick to death of people pretending they are fine. I am also sick to death of people telling others to get over it, as if a broken heart is something you just shrug off and move on. Time doesn’t heal, and there is no strength to be found in the shards of shattered hearts. If time healed, Jesus wouldn’t have come to bind up—God would have kept out of our business and just let the magic of time heal all wounds. And to suggest that it’s good for someone to charge forward with half a heart laying on the ground as fine people pass by and casually crush it under foot is evil. That is not the heart of God for broken hearts. At all.
It is odd how Jesus came speaking and doing. He taught that if your eye or hand causes you to sin to pluck it out or cut it off, because it would be better to enter eternal life without that part of your body. Yet Jesus was constantly healing blind eyes and withered hands of known sinners. On the other hand, Jesus came telling people to love with all their hearts. Yet when he saw hearts that weren’t broken he threw stones at them. When he verbally assaulted the Scribes and Pharisees about their practice of religion, that was very hurtful. You could imagine being a banker or financial planner who had devoted your life to helping churches get their finances in order to be right with God and man, and Jesus came accusing you of knowing nothing of money or God, and of mishandling both. I don't think I'm overstating this—they were well aware that Jesus was a teacher come from God, as one of them said. It is almost like Jesus wants to make sure that everyone feels their chest cave in, and tastes those bitter tears that trickle out of a collapsing heart. It is almost like Jesus wants to make sure that everything that can be broken is broken.
The struggle for me is to see that when Jesus breaks my heart it is his compassion that motivates him. When my dreams lie in pieces all around me, when my desires fade into a mist and burn off in the heat of cruel daylight, can I believe that the God who let this happen to me (or makes this happen to me!) loves me still? Could I even believe that this is the proof he loves me? When I wonder if my heart was created just so it could be broken, can I be satisfied when the answer is yes? Can I accept and even believe that my broken heart is the cornerstone for a relationship with the healer of broken hearts?
If anything of me matters to God it is my heart—more than my actions, more than my words, more than my mind, more than my body, more than my soul. It’s hard to believe that when my heart breaks once again. I don’t know. Maybe it’s in these times that God wants to show me some more of His compassion—some that my heart wasn’t ready for until it was broken.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
God had a lot of ways to express his demands on humanity. There are a lot of ways to say that we need to be good or to be baptized or to keep a law or a tradition. There are lots of ways to let us know that God expects us to behave a certain way or worship a certain way or live by certain principles. But there is only one way for God to say that he is reconciling the world to himself. There is only one way to say that the beautiful work of art that flowered from the stalk that is God and fell was being raised from the dead, exalted, reconnected with the divine, and given power to shine with the glory that was meant for it ere the foundations of the world. To do that, you need a Son, a Message made of Flesh. And the Message of Flesh has to do more than lipservice. The Son doesn't deliver the message. The Son is the Message. And the Message is here. This story didn't happen somewhere else, in some other universe, or in some other reality. The magic was made in this garden, and that means that this garden is the home for both stalk and flower.
God wanted to reconcile all things to himself. To do this he first bound himself to his creation. He bound himself to the human race by burying his seed in a woman's womb and fathering a son in us. That son then bound himself to the earth by dying and being buried in her heart. And when the father raised the son up, he exalted not only him, but the earth and humanity with him, for the bonds were true.
If all God wanted to do was tell us what was true or how to live or what pleased him, he had many ways to do that. And, in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made eternity, who is the brightness of glory and the very flower of the divine seed, sustaining all things by his powerful Message.
We are not instructed. We are reconciled.
We are not told. We are Sonned.
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