Friday, June 30, 2006

latitat

Life is much more than it seems. There is so much more going on than meets the eye. I have a friend who is frustrated with this how unspiritual life seems and how little of God’s verifiable, active, supernatural involvement anyone truly experiences. “There’s too much clay,” he summarizes. I understand well.

But my problem is that I love the clay. I love it so much that I would even say that there is not enough clay, except that I know it’s just my own limitations that make it seem that way. What I mean is that there are only so many people I can love in this brief moment I have here, and there are only so many people I can enjoy. To complicate it, love and enjoyment often don’t look that way except in the rearview mirror, and some things that look or feel like love or enjoyment are not that at all. But the limits of my loving and enjoying clay is not the clay. And on the flip side, there is only so much time for a few people to enjoy me, love me, change me, bless me, hurt me, rob me, take advantage of me: to perfect me. My limits are locale and time. The clay, however, is everywhere. And it’s wonderful.

One of my long-time friends is named Clayton. I have a newfound love of that name. For if indeed this world is “Clay Town” then I am happy to have lived here. Somewhere in the Bible it says to love not the world nor the things of the world, for the world and all that is in it is passing away. But somewhere else it says that God so loved the world that He gave his own Son as a gift to it. It’s strange that the same writer, John, would make such a blatant contradiction. He tells us not to love the world, but rather to have the love of God in us, which loves the world (comparing John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15). I love the world, because it is here that I have met and been affected by beautiful and powerful beings that have awakened my soul to her destiny.

But only God can truly awaken. Only God can effect irreversible change. He is the source of all life, and the source of all growth. And yet, people and other creatures have done this to me. As they are vessels that have received the Spirit of God, and as they are mirrors that have reflected the glory of God, they have been interfaces I have had with the God who is in all, over all, and through all. I am not ashamed to worship the Spirit of God in those people, and in those things. As I connect with them, I connect with God. And as I move closer to them I move closer to God. As I have done it unto one of the least of these, I have done it unto God.

People are more than lifeless vessels whose only real value is the Spirit of God inside. The people I love are more than clay pots. They are living vessels. The very image of God. The breath of God has animated some red dirt and created somehow little gods (says Jesus in John 10) who are beautiful and terrible as I would expect gods to be. But these are not Isaiah’s man-made gods whose leftovers were burned to cook his food and keep him warm, but rather God-made gods, whose leftovers are precious to Him and worth binding up if they become broken, God-made gods that were born to be

Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces. (Hopkins)

C.S. Lewis remarked in Weight of Glory that “there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

All of the trouble I have had with Christians has come from their inability or refusal to see themselves as they truly are—glorious. I have the same frustration that William Wallace had with Robert the Bruce in Braveheart. He had so much glory in him, so much authority, so much to give, so many to inspire, but he got convinced through the bad advice of his father that it was best to protect his own interests. He got convinced that his only shot at glory was in manipulating and excercising power over others through various forms of persuasion, compromise, negotiation, and coercion. He was made to believe that his glory was really no glory at all. The father of lies turned his glory into shame. Wallace was confused, hurt, and frustrated by this. I share that. Because so many don’t see themselves as they truly are, they are threatened by the ones around them. And because they are threatened, they either do one of two things: give in to pride and begin competing, or give into malice and begin accusing. Either step up or pull down. Either justify self or blame another. Anything to keep from feeling empty and alone. Instead of just...being...glorious. But even though you refuse to see I refuse not to. I will resist the temptation to look with my eyes. I will trust to hope and to imagination that has been born of this gift of faith. I will continue to see that the fellowship of the glorious is real and it is as close as the breath we share.

More than it seems these dreams inside
Blur reality's line
If I could believe the dreams aside
I am capable more than it seems (Kutless, More Than It Seems)

We are more than we seem. We are misted by a mythic reality. There is so much that must be imagined, believed. There is so much to fight for in the face of certain defeat, so much to see only when our eyes are closed, so much to believe, so much to disbelieve.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

all

All is such an amazing word. In the Bible I read that God is over all, through all, and in all, and that there is one Christ who is all, and is in all. God didn’t shower us with gifts or with parts of himself. He gave himself, his all, his everything. How in the world have we gone so long with “returning a portion of that which God has so richly blessed us with”? God forgive us. Seriously. God forgive us. God make peace with us. God reconcile us to yourself. Take all of us back, not just the presentable parts, not the parts we’ll let go of, but the parts we’ll keep.

This is such a beautiful thought—“that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” God is not on a crusade, not confronting people to make a personal decision. Without anyone’s approval God is reconciling the world to himself, doing away with whatever has caused separation. I didn’t decide it, but what could my objection be? Why would I push Him away? And once reconciled how could I possibly use this to divide others or push anyone else away? Or maybe worse, how could I not see the good in giving all of me? How can I continue to resist Him by holding back from Him or from the world? Christ is all and is in all. Am I?

Another amazing thing I read in the Bible, and that makes me think God really was serious about reconciling and filling all, is when he said that not only were all things His but that all things are ours, too. Some people were arguing about who’s business was whose, and where the lines of authority should be drawn, but Paul bellowed, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” That amazes me. Not only is the world God’s but it’s ours. Life and death are ours, and the present and the future. Kind of makes “none of your business” sound retarded. Kind of makes “that’s what you get” and “I told you so” sound irresponsible.

All that I have and all that I am belongs to God and is in God. My heart is God's, only God's, which is to say my heart is everyone’s and everything’s, and theirs is mine. All. How can I possibly try to rebuild barriers that God is removing?

Wow. What kind of love gives all? And what kind of love receives all?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

nonsense

It truly defies reason and certainly common sense that God would give up His only begotten Son to save the world. It makes no sense that Jesus would die because of his passion for people who hated him—hated him without cause.

Honestly, it doesn’t even make sense that Jesus ought to come back from the dead because he died unjustly so God reversed the decision. That’s the reason I was given, but it really is unreasonable. Many have suffered or died unjustly and that was the end of it. But to come back from the dead? It doesn’t necessarily follow. I mean, if you had told us that this was the only reasonable solution, and you had told us before Jesus rose from the dead, we would have laughed you out of the pulpit. But afterwards, now that myth has become fact, it’s at least palatable. But to say that it’s reasonable? No, it’s not reasonable at all. But it sure feels good. It stirs my heart deeply that someone would die not for his own offenses but for those of others, and then a good God, seeing his sacrifice, would intervene, raise him from the dead, and exalt him above everything. It doesn’t make any sense, it defies experience, natural laws, and reason, but it moves me. And I feel its truth even if I can’t work it out, like a deaf man feels the music though he can’t hear it.

How could I possibly be saved by nonsense and then live by commonsense? Oswald Chambers seems to think that it is impossible to do that:

Suppose God tells you to do something that is an enormous test of your common sense, totally going against it. What will you do? Will you hold back? ...we tend to say, "Yes, but— suppose I do obey God in this matter, what about . . . ?" Or we say, "Yes, I will obey God if what He asks of me doesn’t go against my common sense, but don’t ask me to take a step in the dark." . . . In the spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense . . . By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis—only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God.

You know, if the same Spirit that impassioned Jesus to give up His life for me and the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead is giving Life to me then how can that Life possibly make sense? Isn’t it going to have the same mysterious, nonsensical, mythical, romantic quality as someone dying for those who hate him and coming back from the dead because His Invisible Father’s love for Him? Or are we so numb to the Story that it now makes sense?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

deserts

How much more time are we going to waste trying to get God to love us? This whole transactional idea has got to go. It’s got to go not because it’s weak, but because it is an illusion.

God is over all and through all and in all. How can something have an exchange with something it’s part of? Will the part trade the whole? In accounting we called that intercompany activity, and it is just funny money. No profit. And there is no profit in love. It doesn't work that way.

There’s this bogus hymn that I used to sing somewhere (there are probably many that are similar) that goes like this:

I love the Lord, He has been so good to me
He bled and died, from sin to set me free
No greater gift than this could ever be-eeeeee
I love the Lord because he first loved me

And there’s another just like it:

O how I love Jesus!
And O how I love Jesus!
O how I love Jesus
Because He first loved me!

I think God wants to vomit when people sing those songs. Because it gives this awful message: if you’ll be a good God and be faithful to me and bless me and keep me and love me, then you can be my God and I’ll pay you back. It’s as if we took a page right out of Jacob’s manual:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Genesis 28)

How pathetic. This is NOT how God sees us, and I note that God never answered Jacob. Never spoke to him for a long time after that. I wonder what He was thinking.

I think John understood God much better when he wrote these words:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4)

It’s not: We love God because he loved us. It’s: We love because God loved us. It’s like we received it from him not to owe him back but we carry his love in us freely. NOT I love God back because he loved me first. Because then if He doesn’t love me, isn’t faithful to me, doesn’t seem like He’s really good, doesn’t bless me, etc., etc., etc. then I really won’t love him. And of course if we would treat God this way then we would treat His children (all people) this way, too.

And it even goes further than this. We are love in the same way that God is love. Unless we're still doing the transaction thing.

So back to what I was saying, it’s not bad because it’s a pathetic attempt to earn God’s love. It’s bad because it’s an illusion. There is no separation between God and us and his love. God’s love is everywhere, it is all around, because God is love, and because God is over all and through all and in all. It is inescapable. The only thing I can do is to refuse God’s love. And one of the best ways, ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to refuse God’s love is to try to earn it. The only thing it can mean if I am trying to earn his love is that I am holding something back intentionally from the love that is over all and through all and in all.

Nobody, not even John or anyone in the Bible, said it better for me than Barlow Girl:

Why, why are You still here with me?
Didn't You see what I've done?
In my shame I want to run and hide myself
But it's here I see the truth
I don't deserve You

But I need You to love me, and I
I won't keep my heart from You this time
And I'll stop this pretending that I can
Somehow deserve what I already have

(I Need You to Love Me)

It's not that God loves me even though I don't deserve it. Not at all. The idea of deserving love has never crossed God's mind. God is love.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thursday, June 08, 2006

you give them something to eat, part ii

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

disrupted

I hate having my life disrupted by routine. - Caskie Stinnett

relevant

For years churches have wanted to be relevant, and were concerned they weren’t. And they should be concerned. But churches can’t be relevant. People that make up churches can.

So tell me…when someone comes to you who is wrecked by alcoholism, do you want to just go get drunk? When someone comes into your life who self-inflicts, do you want to cut yourself? Or who is suicidal—do you wonder what it would be like to end it all? Do you care that much? Do you pity these people, or are you actually sympathetic, empathetic, com-passionate? Do you actually feel what they feel? When a wife has been left for the other woman do you feel betrayed? Or feel the shame crawling over your skin if your friend is the one having the affair? When someone comes into your community who has been burned by Christians, ministers, church staff, do they need to get over it and decide to trust again, or are you going to enter a season of disillusionment?

The church is not an institution. It’s us. If we’re not relevant, the church is not relevant.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

you give them something to eat

You give them something to eat.

- Jesus

This is such an incredible and troubling line to me. The disciples are doing their best to follow Jesus. They’re not Jesus. They’re just following him. What do they know? If they have a problem, they turn to Jesus. They cast their cares upon him for he cares for them. But Jesus didn’t look at himself the same way these elders saw him, nor did he see them as they saw themselves.

Jesus saw himself as the first among many who would follow.

Sometimes I come across someone who needs help. When leaving the movie with a couple of friends a few weeks ago, a guy staggered up and sat carefully on the steps in front of the theater. He was shaking. He was stoned. He wore a t-shirt jeans, was kind of dumpy, and had a mohawk—one of the 18 inch straight out kind that made him look more like a Trojan or a rooster than a savage. In any case he looked like an outcast. My friends and I stayed around talking, and I frequently looked back over my shoulder to see what he was doing, to see if he was ok, and prayed in my mind the whole time. I asked God to comfort him and lead him to peace. I asked God to protect him on that very night with his angels. I don’t know how he got there or where he was going next. Maybe he was going to meet someone there. Maybe he liked movies but didn’t have any money. Maybe he was hoping some of his friends would happen upon him. Maybe being at the theater was the last time he could remember having fun. Maybe the theater reminded him of one of his few happy childhood moments with his mom or his dad. Or maybe he was just confused—harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.

Anyway, I prayed for him. As we got ready to leave, I mentioned the guy to my friends. One of them, no stranger to bad drug trips, said he had seen him and was wondering what was up with him as well. The other asked if I wanted to go over and help him. I told him no, that I had been praying for him the whole time, and that I believe God will take care of him. But it’s bugged me ever since.

Jesus made known to his disciples everything he learned from His Father. And Jesus told them that that they were to go on and do everything He had done. And yet, they turned to Jesus when they were in trouble or didn’t know what to do. It seems like Jesus put up with them for a little while because he understood it was a process of learning by discovery. But eventually he expected them to just know and be and do…without continually crying out to him.

You give them something to eat.

This amazes me. And it bothers me too, because I frankly don’t get it. When I break bread it doesn’t multiply, and it seems like it’s my fault, like there is something wrong with me. It might not bother me so much if it was one of those unique Jesus moments, one of those special times when Jesus supposedly did something as a sign to reveal his glory and prove He was the Messiah. But this was not one of those moments, and man does that make me feel naked.

The scene was that Jesus had sent out the twelve on their own to heal the sick and to deliver those under demonic oppression, which they did. Then they reconnected with Jesus and withdrew, but everyone followed them. Jesus of course welcomed the crowd (of 5000-10,000) and began healing everyone who needed it. Then the twelve came to Jesus and asked him to send all the people into town to eat. I imagine the crowd looked pretty bedraggled. This is when Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” Us? We? But we’re not Jesus. We’re just following him. We are powerless. He is the only one who can do miracles. Maybe that’s not what they said, but it’s what I am tempted to say. And it’s certainly what most Christians say and expect me to say. But I think Jesus had other ideas.

Like I said, this wasn’t one of those miracle moments unique to Jesus. If it was, then it would be easier for me to dismiss it. But the same story had happened before. A man just like us named Elisha was out in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of his own disciples in the middle of a famine. A man showed up with a few loaves of bread for Elisha, but he said to give it to the people. When the guy complained that there was no way what he brought would feed 100 men, Elisha replied, “They will eat and have leftovers.” And they did.

Maybe Jesus was thinking about this very story when he told the twelve, “You give them something to eat.” Yeah, he probably was.

Jesus saw himself as the first among many who would follow, but also as the inheritor of all who came before him. He is the sum of all things. He is over all, in all, and through all. And in him we live and move and have our being. So why wouldn’t he expect us to feed his sheep?

You know, I bet it’s just as frustrating for Jesus as it is for me. I bet he wonders when I will get it, quit asking him to do everything, and starting giving them something to eat.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

thy drugs are quick

I only just now understood this line from Romeo and Juliet, and got another glimpse of the brilliance of Shakespeare:

O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick.

What beauty. I think it came to me because I was for some reason telling my kids the Apostle's Creed the other night in the car. They said they had never heard it but then I reminded them of Rich Mullins' song, which he called simply Creed, and the light bulbs started flickering on a little. Here's the creed as I learned it anyway:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
The third day He rose from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.
Amen.

Not particularly stirring, but I guess it's had its uses as heretic bane. The kids didn't know what to make of the arcane phrase, "the quick and the dead" (what a great phrase) as I didn't as a child either. Of course, to the ancients, quick meant alive or pregnant.

But as I was reading Romeo and Juliet again and got to the puzzling final words of Romeo, I understood the double entendre. Of course the drugs were fast-acting, which should appeal to Americans, but that is hardly Romantic. Romeo was praising the apothecary as true for being the only one able to deliver him from his body of death so that he could live forever with his true love. The apothecary's poison was the only way for him to die and be with Juliet. O the beauty and irony of this scene!

This a great telling of my own tragedy. The problem in my relationship with God, this Sacred Romance if you will, is that I was born into a family, in fact an entire race, that is at war with God's family. Call it an ancient grudge if you please. And though we have fallen in love with each other, I am still fortune's fool, because I have the wrong name. My family separates me forever from my true love. But Juliet has the answer, and her offer is in fact the same offer made by Christ.

Juliet said it like this:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name!
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
... doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Jesus said it like this:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.

Two beautiful invitations to a romantic love affair. Cursed because of my name, by the family I was born into, by my own mother and father, and longing to join my new found True Love, the offer comes - "doff thy name, and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all Myself." And I reply, "I take thee at thy word. Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd." To die to my family, even my own life. Lesser love might require less, but as for me:

O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.