Friday, July 21, 2006

hope

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.

Somehow.

Someday.

There is always hope.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

one

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

psyche

“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
Completely incomplete
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

everyone gets fired

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

in the rain

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

never leave

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 romance

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
The have
The hold
The lush
The bold
The moon
The cloud
The sun
The shroud
The night
The morn
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.

Flossie Coan
August 27, 1920 ~ July 9, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

higher

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.”

“Yeah.”

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.”

“Sad? Why?”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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

every time

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

sex

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

heart matters

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

a Son

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.

Monday, July 03, 2006

drink to remember

Last year I took some guys camping, kind of a men’s retreat. It was a manly campout—lots of fire, lots of smoke, lots of meat, and a little ale. Oh, and shotguns. Yeah. Our theme was the journey of desire. We talked about how desire is essential for the Christian life, even how Jesus’ style of evangelism could be called evangelism of desire (“Come to me all you who are thirsty…”). We also talked about the dangers of desire. Dare we desire? And we talked about desire gone bad. We talked about the Divine Thwarter , how God intentionally blocks our desires, frustrating our attempts to find heaven on earth, drawing us to Him (I always think of that angel sentry guarding the way to Tree of Life with a flaming sword flashing back and forth). And we talked about mishandling desires. And oh are desires mishandled. Afterwards, I had kind of a revelation on a verse in the Bible that I had talked about around the campfire. It’s in the book of Proverbs. Chapter 31. So I sent this message out to the guys, and it went like this…

I just had a revelation going back to our campout, and it’s blowing my mind, so I thought I would see if I could blow yours as well. You’ll remember when I quoted from Proverbs 31,

Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

We talked about the narcotic of pleasure, how “pleasure isn’t nearly so much about true enjoyment as it is about anesthetizing ourselves.” Mostly when people drink it is to forget their poverty and misery. Ask any recovering alcoholic why he drank and he will tell you, “I drank to feel normal like everybody else.” Drinking made him forget that he was inadequate, that he didn’t have what it takes, and how miserable he truly was. Those drinks did not create joy, but suspended misery. They made him forget how impoverished he felt in his soul.

I came to the very edge of saying something but withdrew because Brent earlier had made a comment about the song Hotel California (something about evil song, drug-trip-inspired). But the thought has come back to me:

Some drink to remember
Some drink to forget

Ok. Is that not the test of purification of our desires? It is certainly not wrong to drink wine (“all thing are permissible” and “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink”) and Jesus himself “came eating and drinking”, but why? I can’t imagine that Jesus drank to forget, but rather He drank to remember. He drank to remember the eternal joy that is only echoed in this place we live.

Praise the Lord, O my soul…

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
  and plants for man to cultivate—
  bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man,
  oil to make his face shine,
  and bread that sustains his heart.
The trees of the LORD are well watered,
  the cedars of Lebanon that he planted… (Psalm 104)

Each time Jesus took wine, bread, and oil, did He not remember His home? Every time Jesus healed someone did he not remember what it was like in the New Jerusalem? Every party, every banquet, every deliverance, each scourge, every moment He spent with His Father in solitude, every adventure that Jesus set out on was to remember His Father’s joy, not to forget His own misery.

And He made that available to us. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Jesus wasn’t giving instructions on how to drink from one cup, but from every cup, nor how to partake of one body, but everybody. In every “drink” we take and every “body” we receive we are to remember Christ, to remember our Life that has come but is coming. We use the word adventure and think of many things, but isn’t adventure simply the word for what becomes of our desires? We desire something so we go on an adventure. And every adventure we embrace, whether within or without institutional walls, we are either drinking to remember or drinking to forget. I like the way Jude left it.

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 17-21)

Isn’t my attempt to forget just following the instincts of my fallen nature? And isn’t my attempt to remember just keeping myself in God’s love as I wait for eternal life? Lord, help me to remember and not forget. I will drink the cup you drink and be baptized with the baptism you are baptized with. I am longing for a better country—a heavenly one. I want to follow the example of Christ—whether I eat or drink or whatever I do, I want it to be to remember your glory, not to forget my shame. I’ll be remembering you.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

open fields

Sometimes I daydream about William Wallace running across highland ridges with pack and sword, more like dancing really—such grace in that hard place—with bagpipes and percussion playing in the background, nipping at my heels, making the rocks comes to life, springing me up to the summit for the most breathtaking view of mountain, sea, sunbeam, cloud, and forest. Birds flying below. I stop to take it all in—to let my breath catch my lungs, my blood catch my limbs, my mind catch my heart.

Or better, I’ve just stolen Murron away from her hovel for a ride in the rain through forest glen, then the day breaking through the night, the sun breaking through the clouds, the sweat breaking through the horse’s powerful brawn, and we breaking through the trees into open fields as we gallop away from it all, running for that place where it’s not duties or expectations but romance that orders time.

Sometimes I just want to steal away, get as far away as I can. But if I’m honest, the thing I want most to get away from is me. And when I do take off, I usually realize that fairly quickly. I remember seeing the movie, City of Joy, where this guy was running away from his life, but he got some advice, “You can’t run from your demons.” They go with you.

That’s one of the things that’s so appealing about Jesus to me now. I have this me that I know can really drag me down. The dilemma is how to get away from me. It’s a paradoxical problem, and it seems like I need a paradoxical solution. And maybe it’s found in Jesus. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” That describes me. I want to both lose my life and find it, all at the same time.

I have this conflict. I want to go but I also want to stay. I feel like this world is not my home and that I was made for much more and better than this, but I also feel very grounded and secure, like this beautiful and strange place somehow was made for me. I feel like blowing this joint because this fallen world and everything in it is passing away, but I also feel like loving and saving it. I feel like this life I am living is one big trap of hopeless dreams, but I also have this sense that I am able to touch it and bring hope even so. And I feel like I have to make a choice. But maybe not.

Maybe traditional Christianity has something to say about this. It talks about God being three persons yet one, or three personalities yet one being. This is the Trinity. There is God who not only created everything but contains everything. The stars, the heavens, the ages, and the worlds all find themselves contained in him. And while that is unfathomable to me, it still makes me feel very secure, like I’m in a great big womb. The second person is called the Spirit or the Wind or the Breath or the Presence, and is just that—God as close as my breath. It is somehow by the Breath that I feel God, that I perceive something of this transcendant being that is so unfathomable. So not only am I contained by God, but I am a container for God, too. But there is still something lacking, something that could become very sterile and religious otherwise, another Person that makes life passionate. Messiah is the third Person I am introduced to. He is my savior, my rescuer. He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother, next to me on the battle field when all hell in unleashed. He is the lover who rides in to steal me away. He is the one who enjoys me and is enjoyed by me, the one who so romances me that I can’t wait for our next embrace. John felt this way about Jesus I think, when he wrote of himself, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

If God is somehow three persons then maybe I don’t have to choose. I shouldn’t have to choose the stability of being grounded and content with the tiny home and tiny life that is chosen for me. And I shouldn’t have to choose the dignity and prominence that comes from being the mouth and finger of God, empowered by his very Breath. And I shouldn’t have to choose the romance of the escape, the rescue, being cherished, and being challenged by my friend and lover, Jesus. I should be able to accept from his hand whatever comes—to me, in me, and around me. But I think that I have to wait for him and trust him, because I don’t always see what’s really going on, and even when I do, I don’t see it fully.

But today I am longing for those open fields.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

want to be free?

We all want to be free. But do we even know what that means? Jesus announced his calling by reading from the ancient text of Isaiah. The heart of it was that he intended to set captives free. I don’t think we Americans have a very good handle on this. I don’t think we can relate to Jesus very well here. We talk about freedom more than anyone else in the world—because we can—but we don’t talk about it the same way as Jesus did. We talk about freedom as if it’s a right. Jesus talked about freedom as if it’s a gift. If someone encroaches on our freedom we hire an attorney. But Jesus came for people with no advocate. We live from the premise that the natural state of man is to be free. But Jesus came to set people free because we are naturally slaves. We believe that people are born free and that freedom must be protected from all forms of bondage. Jesus believed that all people were born slaves and needed to be delivered from bondage.

But beside all that, what does it mean to be free anyway?

We always associate the word choice with freedom. Heck, we even think we’re free to choose God or not. For us freedom means we're the decision maker, we’re the judge, we’re in control. It happens for us when we don’t have to answer to anyone or anything: our choices are our own, they don't lie in someone else's hands. That’s freedom. I read in a book called, The Millionaire Next Door that most millionaires are not actually flashy, Thurston Howell the Third types, but normal people who have made it their goal to save enough money for a “go to hell fund”. That means having enough money that they are financially free, and if their boss or customers were to finally push them over the edge, they could tell them to go to hell because they could live without income for a year or two—they are free of financial dependance on them. They can choose to walk away. For that matter, they can choose a lot of things. Free.

I think Jesus meant something else when he talked about freedom. I don’t think he ever expected our freedom to set us apart from others—in a “go to hell” kind of way. I don’t think he ever intended for us to be so blessed—financially, emotionally, spiritually, or any other way—that we were independent of one another or God. I also don’t think freedom means choice. Choice in many ways is an illusion because the god of choice is the god of self, and “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”

Somehow I think when Jesus talked about freedom it came from his compassion on all us slaves. Somehow I think that even as Jesus read those words he felt the pain of realization that for our freedom someone would have to bleed and die, and it would start with him. Somehow I think that Jesus wanted set us free from selfishness, pride, competition, and isolation—that somehow those were the very demons that were tormenting us. Somehow I think that the chains Jesus broke were actually chains that kept us alone in the dark.

And now I think the kinds of questions Jesus would ask, “Do you want to be well? Do you want to be healed?” were not cruel or even rhetorical. Do I really want to be free? It’s available. But it probably looks very little like the freedom that has been marketed to me in full color slicks. True freedom probably looks very little like the freedom that the god of self desires. I suspect that true freedom does very little to put me above my circumstances and in the center of my life. Is suspect rather that true freedom allows me to go beneath any circumstances and lose my very life without fear.

Who wants to be free?