Saturday, March 23, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
Saturday, March 16, 2013
I do not trust this ocean welling up from within.
I prefer to turn my back to the surf,
concern myself with playing with this tardy water
which seeks the tide.
These rivulets I can collect, control, manage.
I hear the crashing behind, but pay no heed—
it is receding, leaving this space in peace.
Building small muddy dams,
directing the trickles of water here, then there
collects my focus.
The water obeys me, to a point, and this control is calming.
On hands and knees, focused on building this control
directing these streams as they seek
—slowed but never thwarted—reunion,
part with the whole.
The first wave crests my ignorantly unsuspecting feet.
In one crash all control is washed away.
The raw, untamed has returned, claiming its own.
I run up, but not off, the shore.
The moon directs this ebb and flow
that of the tide, ne’er ceasing
that in me, e’er fearing.
The tide stands secure, unfazed by those insecure.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
How do you know if something—events, institutions, habits, relationships, even people—is good or bad? Well, in the Christian vernacular, you judge it by its fruits. What does it produce? Does it produce something good? Then it is good. Does it produce something bad? Then it is bad.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. –Luke 6:43-44a
Well, that sounds easy. However, if it is easy, why do we so often disagree if something is good or bad? (Republicans, Democrats, institutional church, simple church, his friends, her friends, for starters.)
Let’s narrow it down to just people. Can we accurately judge if an individual person is good or bad? What do we think of the following types of people: a passed out drunkard? a husband who lies to save his own life, putting his wife’s life at risk? someone who lies and cheats his way to wealth? a murderer who remains a fugitive for forty years? a brazen prostitute? a promiscuous, arrogant drunk? someone who murdered to hide his adultery?
These are accurate descriptions of some pretty famous people. And these people were not condemned, but commended for their faith! They are found in Hebrews 11: Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Samson, and David, respectively. That last guy, David, was called a man after God’s own heart. Murder and adultery are not God’s heart, so what gives? How do we judge people by their fruit if such obvious bad things end up not being the final word—the key fruit? Well, I have a couple ideas.
First, John the Baptist warns the religious leaders of his day,
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” --Matthew 3:5-12
That’s pretty scary, but look at what he urges, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Repentance by definition is a change. Our fruit that is judged needs to come from that change, that moving away from evil and towards good.
The second half of this next passage has to do with the consequences of not bearing good fruit. But for context, the verses just before it deal with the need for repentance.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” –Luke 13:1-9
The bad things didn’t happen to the Galileans or the eighteen in Siloam because they were more evil. Everyone is equally evil and needs to repent! And it is after shattering this notion that the wicked people are the ones who endure misfortunes (and the implication that those who do not endure misfortunes are therefore good), that Jesus tells a story about fruit—the fruit by which people are judged as good or bad.
The owner of the vineyard has waited three years to eat figs from his fig tree, but it has not produced any figs. He is indignant and wants the useless tree removed. The vinedresser argues for one more year for the fig tree. He proposes what he will do to help it grow better, but concedes that if next year there is no fruit, it can be cut down. What’s interesting about this is that in Leviticus, the Israelites are instructed to not harvest from fruit trees for their first three years. And, all the fruit from the fourth year was holy and a praise offering to God. It was the fifth year that they could eat of it.
My thoughts from this ponderous post are these. We need more grace for ourselves and each other. Yes, we need to judge by fruits. But life is not a 4H contest. We need to see as God sees. Maybe someone is in year three and not producing any fruit, even though we looking on expect it. Maybe you’re feeling your roots dug up and that you’re covered in crap and that you’ll never produce any fruit. But that might just be the sign that you’re about to. Repentance is a decision, yes, but also a process. We need to seek Jesus for the strength to repent, and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And we need Jesus’ comfort during the crap that will help us bear that fruit.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
We—well, let me not put that on you—I need the weight of choice to fully understand mercy.
I need to write more about choice. I’ve been thinking about choice for a little bit longer than I’ve been thinking about grace. But a brief summary is that I think God gives us way more choices than we realize. So often we agonize over decisions. “Lord God, what is Your will? Should I go to this college or that college? Take this job or that job? Go to this house church/bible study or that one?” I think way more often than not, God’s response is, “What do you want?”
Making choices is how we grow in maturity. And we are called to be mature daughters and sons of our Father God. I’ve watched my friends give their children choices. “Do you want yogurt or cheerios for breakfast?” It does not matter which one the two year old picks. Yogurt is not better than cheerios. What matters is that she picks. For a timid child, giving them the option allows them to figure out their preferences and that their preferences matter. It helps them develop into themselves. For a strong willed child, picking what they want for breakfast gives them a proper avenue to voice their preferences, so that their will isn’t squashed by always hearing “No.” And as children grow, they are given more choices and more meaningful choices. This is important, because once they are adults, they will have to make their choices. If they don’t have practice—if they haven’t grown in maturity—then they won’t know now to make choices.
Now, before I get back to mercy, let me say that there are wrong choices. “Should I do an afterschool sport or do drugs?” Yes, doing drugs is a wrong choice. But many many more of the choices that we agonize over are not right or wrong choices.
So, considering mercy, if every situation has a right and a wrong answer, there isn’t much room to plea for mercy. If you choose the wrong answer, you deserve the consequences. That is our underlying, unspoken assumption. And with that assumption, we give lip service to grace and forgiveness. Job’s friends are the classic example of this. They knew that because all this bad stuff was happening, Job had chosen wrongly, and the bad stuff was a just consequence of that choice. Their advice was not to plea for God’s mercy, but to repent and accept the (presumably just) punishment.
But the thing about choices is that if I have free choices, so does everyone else. When I make a choice, it is rarely in isolation, and therefore my choice presents a choice to another person. The other person has to choose how they are going to respond to my action, my choice. I may desire a certain response. But making a free choice necessarily involves letting go of expectations of the other person’s response. And this is when I understood, I mean really understood, mercy.
When we are faced with choices—no, that’s wrong. We aren’t “faced” with choices. Rather, we are given choices. The ability to choose is a gift. But when we use our gift and choose, there is no guarantee how it will turn out, how another person will respond or how a situation will unfold. We can choose wisely and well, and things can still turn out badly, or painfully. Understanding and experiencing that, mercy now makes sense to me. Mercy more than makes sense, it becomes our desperate need and is a totally unmerited favor.
My favorite Hebrew word is “chesed”. It means steadfast, convenantal, love. It is often translated as loving kindness, but that’s kind of weak. “Steadfast love” captures it a bit better. But in other translations it is “mercy.” God’s covenant with us, His steadfast love, is a very merciful thing, healing us from the sin of our flat out wrong choices and from the painful outcomes of good choices.
When we are freed from the fatalism of the belief in one Right choice in every decision, we can grow in maturity. We can cry out for mercy, and believe that it will be given. Because God chooses to show us mercy.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I’m going in about six different directions tonight, with four different ideas that squirmingly won’t sit still and two poems dancing tantalizingly out of my reach.
This is what I love. This is what gets me jazzed up. Pondering ideas. Mulling them over. The random, goofy loose association, that often connects things in profound ways. Joy for joy’s sake can be profound. But it must be allowed to just be. Just enjoy joy in the moment. Do not demand wisdom from it. Joy will birth wisdom when she so desires. Joy is a gift, and joy delights in giving gifts. Freely receive. Do not require. Approach joy seeking meaning, purpose, direction, and she flees. She demands to be enjoyed for herself, and herself alone. Gifts are gifts, free gifts, no strings attached, but cannot be expected or demanded. Revel in joy for joy’s sake. They say laughter is the best medicine. But if you seek medicine first, laughter is reticent to approach.
I have always wanted To Know and To Understand. I sought out wisdom with all seriousness. I remember a time in junior high on the school bus going home. Two friends that I'd know since kindergarten, were trying to get me to be nonsensical. To say something without meaning, an absurdity. Even as simple as “the snow is green.” But I could not see the point, and I would not. It almost went beyond volition—I’m not sure that I even could. I held on to the quest To Know with such a grip that no silliness could be allowed.
Somehow along the way, my hands were relaxed. My grip loosened. I let go of control. I was taught to release, relax, and to trust. Grace is gentle and stubborn like that. Gentle enough to not break the fragile, earnest yearning. Yet stubborn enough to persist through all defenses.
And I so enjoy that.
photo credit: GlacierTim via photopin cc
Monday, March 4, 2013
So this post is a result of recently watching half of the movie “Bridesmaids”, reading a powerful blog post “The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be”, and thinking about the parable of the man who hired laborers for his vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). You don’t have to have seen the movie—I’ll explain the scene I’m thinking of—but reading that blog post and that parable might be helpful. In short, “The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be” is about a marriage conference at her church and how she, as a woman who has suffered sexual abuse, responds. The parable is the one where the owner of the vineyard hires workers at the start of the day and agrees on the standard day’s wages for them. Then he goes out several more times throughout the day to hire more people, and tells them that he will pay them whatever is right. When he pays everyone at the end of the day, he pays the ones who were hired last and who worked the shortest amount of time, first, and he pays them the standard day’s wages. When he gets to paying those who worked first and the entire day, they thought they were going to get more, but they get paid the standard day’s wages. They start to grumble, and the owner says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius [a day’s wage]? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
Our expectations stem from what we believe that we are owed. What am I owed?
When it comes to sex, what am I owed? Our culture teaches that sex is about self-fulfillment. Culture’s expectation is that your partner must meet your needs. There is a scene in “Bridesmaids” where the main characters are on a plane to Las Vegas. Rita, a bawdy discontented wife, is talking with Becca, a soft spoken conservative wife, and is aghast at finding out that Becca’s only sexual experience has been with her husband. The scene is presented such that not knowing “what you want” is so foreign as to be comedic.
In contrast, the church teaches abstinence and emphasizes purity. And I agree with this approach to sexuality. But purity can be preached to the exclusion of grace. The message that sex is worth the wait can be hounded so as to produce a response of fear, shame, and hopelessness. A moment of weakness from which you can never recover. Or the choice was taken from you in an abuse that you had no power to stop. (Another good blog post is “The Day I Turned in My V-Card”.)
I’m guessing that both sides set up false expectations. They both place the focus on self and what the self can either get out of it or what the self must do. Culture’s expectation is that you are owed “the best” and it is your right to search until you find it. This unfortunately dooms you to forever searching. The church’s expectation, whether intended or not, is that if like in the parable you bear the heat of the day and remain sexually pure, it will be worth the wait and your efforts will be rewarded with fabulous married sex. This unfortunately sets up a culture of fear and shame, and a rude awakening that healthy sexuality—within marriage—will still take work.
The proper place for sex is inside the marriage covenant. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church—and is a great mystery (Ephesians 5:31-32). Do you know that God made about 350,000 species of beetles? And no snowflake is or will ever be copied? Think about how each of our finger prints of the current 7 billion living humans is different. That’s 70 billion different combinations of loops, whorls, and arches! If God is that into uniqueness and creativity, why do we think that we could have correct expectations or predictions about the consummation of the deepest human covenant? God is the giver of all good gifts. Gift cards and form letters aren’t good gifts! And that's what expectations are--generic gift cards and form letters. Good gifts keep the person receiving the gift in mind and they are unique to that person.
Don’t put expectations of any kind on people—but especially of sex. So if you're teaching, be mindful that there is probably diversity in your audience. On an individual level, don’t listen to culture’s demands that you explore and experiment to find the perfect partner who will always satisfy your desires. You don't know what they are! Trust your Creator to give you a good gift. Also, don’t take up the shame that if you didn’t wait until marriage for sex or if that choice was taken from you, what was worth the wait will never be. You can never go where Grace will not reach and heal you.
Part of a good gift is the mystery of it. The union between man and wife in marriage is a mystery and a gift. Your Father knows how to give good gifts. Trust Him.
Don’t pick up expectations. Put down the ones you have. I have to and have been putting down dread. What do you have to put down? Any married folk want to offer insight or maybe correct me? :o)