Thursday, August 26, 2010

A time for every purpose under heaven

After weeks upon weeks of consideration I've decided that it is time for me to set this blog aside. I cannot say for how long. It may be forever, or it may be for a few weeks. I'll leave it here, a record of my thoughts these last couple of years (the ones I dared air publicly that is), a reminder of this stretch of my sojourn.

I began my writing a much different person than I am today. I resist the urge to be embarrassed by my earlier views and attitudes. I was not perfected then, nor am I now. But I pray I never go backward. I want to step forward, arms flung wide open, into the fullness of the freedom that is in Christ, ready to embrace fellow believers of every variety and move forward with them reveling in and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hopeless and hurting world.

So, what's next? I can't say really, except that I plan to take my life and my writing in a different direction. That direction might just become clearer if I do it away from the confusing din of the internet.

As for my friends here, I haven't died yet, and I don't want to lose you. Please contact me via e-mail or Facebook if ever you want to keep in touch.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not the image of God!

"Suggestion for persons entering heaven: Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in."
~ Mark Twain

Meet Schubert. He's pretty cute, in a gremlinish way. Now I know that "dog" is the mirror image of "god", but Schubert is nobody's co-pilot and we can all raise our voices in thanksgiving that he is not created in the image of God. I shudder to think of a world created and ruled by the likes of him!

Schub is the brunt of a lot of jokes around here. We can get away with that because the only English words he understands besides his name are "Do you need to go potty?" "Sit," "Down", and I think he understands "No!" though he doesn't always obey that one. He also rolls on his back with a big smile and his tongue lolling out if you point your fingers like a gun and pretend to shoot him. He agrees to do this because it always ends in his belly getting rubbed. Truth be told, no one who knows Schubert would argue with me if I said, "Schubert's god is his belly."  It's the plain truth and I've never encountered another creature who is so obvious about it.  Schub has two primary goals in life (he had a third, but the vet took care of that other one): to have his belly filled and to have his belly rubbed.

"Look out for the dogs... their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things...." (Phil. 3:2a,19b)
Now, Paul, in his letter is not really speaking of dogs. He's using the term "dogs" to describe those early legalists known as the Judaizers. No doubt they did not think of themselves as worldly. They were convinced they were more spiritual than the rest, bringing in the Law to those "lawless" gentile Christians. The apostle did not agree. But it's not really in my mind today to discuss legalists. What I've got on my mind is sin, I mean, what is sin anyway? I know the common response is "disobedience to God" or "rebellion". I don't argue that those are sins, but what is at the heart of those. What on earth (good pun, but unintended) would lead a person to rebel?  God created mankind in His image - no small honor. Really, what could be loftier? What more could we want?

Well, we can want the one thing in our world we haven't been given. And isn't that pretty much what we are always so inclined to want? Of course, back in the Garden days we weren't so inclined to want that one thing, because we had all we needed already, and then some, and had been told not to want it by God, whose word was good enough for us back then. But, in that Garden was a tempter who already knew the dark pleasure and the emptiness of rebellion, and whose great desire now was to lead a fledgling race which bears the image of his hated Enemy into that rebellion with him. What a coup it would be to take little images of God and make them into his own likeness, and lower. These beings were made of the earth, the same earth that brought forth the animals. If these beings could be made to rebel against the God who created them, to lose the spiritual life He'd breathed into the lungs of their souls, well, what would be left would be little more than animal life. Or maybe the Enemy really did expect his trickery to lead to the instant death of these little images of God. I wonder if he was surprised to see them continue to live and breath, sewing leaves together in their hidey-hole, and even more surprised when God not only didn't kill them but sacrificed animals to give them better clothes to hide under.

But I think I've strayed away from my point. What would lead such a noble creature to rebel? He wouldn't rebel for the joy of rebelling. He had no experience with such a feeling. No, it would have to be a legitimate desire perverted. Ultimately it was his belly that won out, abetted by the spiritual-sounding excuse that to eat would make him godly. His belly wanted that fruit more than it wanted God, and so that belly became its god. So mankind lowered his/herself to the level of dogs, and the devil was pleased. Aside from death, what baser fate could he wish upon creatures that remind him at every glance of the God he hates? What satisfaction he no doubt derives from seeing God's images behaving like Schubert. And for all these years we've continued the tradition of using godliness as an excuse to fill our "bellies" - a blasphemy little Schubert wouldn't dream of.

But let me finish with this: I mean no insult to dear little Schub. My husband will not let me get by with lowering his special little pet to the level of a sinner. It is, after all, no sin whatsoever for him to behave as he does. He's a dog. He's doing exactly what he was made to do and operating exactly within the nature God gave him. Schubert is a foul but affectionate little brute, which is just as God created him to be. Schubert is not a sinner; I am. And in that sense he is a finer individual than me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How do I go on?

How do I keep on
when my good works aren't good enough
when my spirituality isn't spiritual enough
when my heart is breaking
and everyone's a critic?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jesus in the streets and Judgment Day

The last eight months have been a time of existential crisis in my household. We've seen the death of my mother, the alleged beating death of the child of Christian friends, the death of an unbelieving best friend. On top of this, we've encountered dozens of people, some believing, some no longer so, who've been battered by "Christian" doctrine. And through it all, the Great Recession made itself felt through my husband's sixteen months as an unemployment statistic. These last months life has taken us to task for our beliefs and tried them by fire.

I'll be perfectly frank. My spiritual house, what there was of it, no longer exists. I'd erected an elaborate but stark structure, peaks and angles of intricate, flawless, or so it seemed, doctrine. I first began to notice something was wrong when my mother died. My house was cold - so cold. I looked around and realized for the first time that it had no walls and no fire in the hearth could remain lit for long with the winds that kept blowing through. I shivered. I realized what had been missing all along was love. That was the only thing which could keep my heart warm, but it seemed my doctrinal structure, though lovely to look at could not withstand the weight or heat of love. When all the rest followed over the months which ensued, that structure in which I'd taken such pride crumbled right down to its foundation. But that foundation remained, apparently impervious, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. He remains, the One who loves me and atoned for my sin; but now it remains to rebuild. And this time I want to be oh so careful. I must take the scattered remnants and identify which ones were sound, which ones weak, which ones deserve key positions and are strong enough to support the rest of the structure and which are not. As I look at what is left of my house I can see that I used good materials but in wrong ways leaving it all unstable, unsound. I'm an inexperienced builder and I'm suffering the effects of my whimsy and my pride.*

Next to Paul, I sat weeping on the love seat one morning. "I want to see Jesus. I want to know Him. I want to know how He is, what kind of person He is, to hear the sound, and the tone of His voice. I want to experience his demeanor. Is he gentle to the weak and hurting? Is He tender to the doubting? When he tells His people to fear not, is it a barked command, or a word of compassion and comfort? Is He angry? Is He really the Clint Eastwood of gods that so many so gleefully represent Him to be? Or is it true that "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,until he brings justice to victory"? My dear mother was a bruised reed, so was the daughter of my friends, and so am I. Does he demean and disregard my pain because I'm a woman, as so many Christians do? How can I know Him? Where do I find Him? And what does it mean to "follow Him"?

So, yet again, I turned to the one place where though I cannot hear His voice, I can at least read His words. I turned to the Gospels. I've been doing my best to make out His tone of voice, trying to forget the tone which I've heard countless others give to His words over the years, asking Him over and over to show me what He's really like.

Last Sunday, during worship, this passage of Scripture was read:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" Matthew 7:21-23
This is one of those generally terrifying passages so often used to terrify people into...well...into something, whatever thing. It's a very versatile verse likely not least because most of us are pretty vague as to the meaning of "lawlessness". Come on quick. I'll give you ten seconds to define lawlessness..........(Now, if you were a practicing Orthodox Jew, this would likely be easy. But for the Christian it's another matter altogether. After all, we've been told that "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.' Now if is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith. But the Law is not of faith..." [Gal. 3:10-12a])

In fact, the Law never could be fulfilled by not committing a List of Ten prohibited actions, or any others deeds we may in our zeal add to the list. "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." (Col. 2:20-23) No, regulations and laws are not what the faithful live by. The faithful live by faith; and "faith worketh by love.....For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

In short, those who do the will of the Father in Heaven are those who love. Lawlessness equals lovelessness.

Last Sunday when I heard that verse read my mind did not do the thing it usually does with it. This time my thoughts flew to a different "Judgment Day" passage:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46
And this brings me back to my original quest, my prayer, my deep desire to know Jesus. We've all heard the verse, and we all, believers and unbelievers alike know to the core of our beings that "Faith without works is dead," that "talk is cheap," that "actions speak louder than words". The truth is, no matter how "doctrinally sound" or "Bible-believing" we claim to be, we don't know Jesus by hearing His words, even by listening avidly and voraciously to them, even by studying them and preaching (or prophecying) them any more than we know a celebrity by looking at pictures and reading magazines. No, we know Jesus when do His words: when we follow in His steps and do as He does. More particularly, we know Him when we love who He loves. Until we begin to love our neighbors and our enemies in the most practical of ways we will not know or love Jesus.
" your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:35-36
And so it seems clear, if I want to see Jesus - to really know Him, if I want to be a daughter of God, I will look to serve Him in the needs of others. If I really want to show my love to Him, I will love Him through His creatures made in His image - my fellow humans.

I read His words in the Book then I look for His face in the streets.

And off I go. Seeking His face. I'm not sure how to find him in my little town where even the poorest receive regular meals and free clothing. But I can start in my heart, thinking kind thoughts of those He loves (which is every living soul), and letting those kind thoughts spill over into kind words and deeds. I can stop looking down on those who are weak and devastated by the curse of the world's sin or their own. I can stop categorizing people with the words "them" and "those" and begin thinking of "them" as people, sinful, hurting, weak, people just like me and more than that, "Those people" are my only chance to love Jesus in this life. I must stop mentally belittling and victimizing people with caricatures, slurs, stereotyping, inward sneers and mockery. Then perhaps when I meet Christ face to face in the hurt or physical need of another I will really love Him, and them. Perhaps Then, when I finally meet Him it won't be with words of boasting of wondrous words and works of the Law, but with humble surprise..."When did I help you Jesus?....All I did was love them. Considering all you've done for me, how could I do any less?"

May God grant me grace for my sojourn.

 *The final three sentences of this paragraph were added at a later date, for the sake of clarity.