Pure Joy

There are times, that I look at people who are less mature than me, and I want to say “Really?!? All you have to do is ________ and you can’t simply do that and just figure it out and get along with other people.”
My own kids and my students are two groups that come to mind, that occasionally I think this about.
As if it doesn’t apply to me.
I have been meditating on the opening of the book of James, today. We focused on it at the amazing Fellowship church.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
Seeing the oppurtunities for peaceful, blessed living, that is right in front of us… That is maybe our fundamental mission in life. And just maybe, it’s the difference between heaven and hell.
What if eternal torment is a real, living possibility, but it’s not a place we are sent by God? What if our experiences, maturity, and responses to the challenges of life determine what the after life is like for us?
When I am feeling judgemental, I look at others in “easier” positions, and I think, “Man, if I was in that position, everything would be so easy. If I didn’t have to worry about bills, providing, balancing professional and personal obligations, it would be so easy.”
Of course, there was a time before I had all these challenges. And at the time I didn’t see it that way at all. Souls more evolved than mine, people with different, bigger challenges, might be tempted to say the same thing to me. “The Kingdom is right there, so close! Why don’t you just grab for it?!?”

James is making a huge and radical statement: trials produce perseverance, and perseverance makes us complete. He specifically says that when we are complete, we will not lack anything. If we were truly complete in this way, if we lacked in nothing, what need would we have of the comic-book version of heaven, where we sit on the clouds, or participate in some sort-of eternal theme park.
This reading makes sense of the otherwise strange segue; suddenly James is talking about wisdom in verse 5. But if this complete-ness is actually a deep and Godly sort of wisdom, then it begins to be a reasonable transition. Leaving this implication, that maybe, sometimes, we can side-step trials and the accompanying suffering, by making like Solomon and asking God for wisdom.
In the middle of it all, it can be hard to find comfort in all this… But when we sit back and reflect and recall on our pain and suffering, I think maybe there is some reassurance here.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

One thought on “Pure Joy”

  1. Good thoughts Jeff. I think more people in our culture need to think this way. Quote of the day “If we were truly complete in this way, if we lacked in nothing, what need would we have of the comic-book version of heaven, where we sit on the clouds, or participate in some sort-of eternal theme park.”

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