Hope Part II

This is the second portion of the message I shared Sunday:

In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I wonder what it was like, in Paul’s sexist society to read those words.  In his world, there was all sorts of segregation between the genders.  There was something that looks like fear of the biological difference between men and women.   Basically, the grown men acted like a 5th grader who’s grown up with out sisters, in terms of how comfortable they were with the reality of women’s biology.   Even today, most guys, myself include, feel a little goofy about being compared to women in labor.  In his day, this suggestion must

have been almost scandalous.

But there is brilliance in this comparison.  Despite the cultural baggage, this is such a powerful phrase.  Paul is saying more than just all of creation—including us—are suffering.  He could have provided plenty of examples of things that both genders experience that are painful.   Notice, for example that he doesn’t say, “The whole of creation is groaning as in the pains of a kidney stone.”

Kidney stones hit men and women.  We expect him to have gone this route, avoided the whole uncomfortable thing and gone with something relevant to men and women.

If you focus on this specific experiences and not the wider picture, there’s not much difference between passing a kidney stone and having a baby.  They both involve a painful process of getting something inside a body outside a body.  They both involve receiving medical support.  They both tend to happen to adults.  We know what causes both and often can predict when they are coming.

The thing is,  nobody gets all emotional about passing a kidney stone.  Nobody calls the experience beautiful and video tapes it.  I’m hoping nobody names the little stone and feels a connection to it.

It’s the end of the story that makes child birth beautiful.  It’s the end of the story that accounts for the meaningful differences between child birth and passing a kidney stone.  It’s  the wider context.

Every pain you feel, every struggle you have, every challenge you face, whether you experience that as beautiful, like a child birth, or painful, like a kidney stone…

So much depends on what we see as the wider context.

When Paul describes us as groaning in child birth, he’s evoking this idea that there is an end to our suffering that is worth waiting for.   Interestingly, he mentions that this end is felt both by the whole world and by individual people.

This particular groups of verses highlights a tension.  It highlights dangers going in to either one of two extremes.

At one extreme are people with out anything to hope in.  They are people who don’t believe that there is anything wider than the story.

Do you watch lost?

This week there was this great exchange between Sawyer and the character who appears to be John Locke.  Locke says, “Do you know why you’re here”

And in a great, black comedy moment, Sawyer says “I’m here because my plane crashed.  And my raft sank.  And the helicopter ran out of gas.  And the submarine turned around.”

And Locke said, “No, that’s not why you’re here at all.”

Locke was a bit like a person who might tell me that I got the three little pigs story wrong.  When it wasn’t so much that I got wrong.  It was that I didn’t include enough.

Locke is basically telling Sawyer that he knows why all those things happened.  He knows the end of the story.  And what goes on at the end of the story changes everything.

These are people who, like Sawyer,  believe that the end of the story is what it appears to be.  As individuals we die with our bodies and then our bodies rot, just as the world is going to die in a nuclear war or get swallowed into the sun or washed away under melting ice caps.

David Foster Wallace was the writer of “Infinte Jest.”  He looked like he was going to be the next big thing.  His book was a tremendous bestseller.  He became something of a rock-star writer.  He was profiled in magazines like Details and Rolling Stone.

He was not  a Christian.

There are ways that he brings to mind, for me, King Solomon, who wrote “Eclesiastes”, the book that Marty preached from a couple weeks ago.  Wallace was smart, rich, and well connected.  On the surface, it appeared he had everything going for him.

He said “I think the reason why people behave in a really ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human and people are really, really afraid.  Fear is the basic condition… But the fact of the matter is, is that, is the that the job we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time… The face I’d put on that terror is the dawning realization that nothing’s enough, you know?  That no pleasure is enough, no achievement is enough.”

In short, there’s nothing within our story that makes it worth it.

I wish I could report that this was just a momentary thought of Wallaces.  I wish I could tell you that he found an end of the story to have hope in.  But a few years after that quote, the talk therapy and psychiatric medications he was taking stopped working.  After a long, painful decent, David Foster Wallace took his own life.

I am not niave enough to think that if David Foster Wallace had simply opened a bible once, that we can truly know that some sort-of instant and life changing transformation would have occurred.

But I do know that he was was a wealthy man who had access to the best health care in the world.  It’s clear that everything the therapists and psychiatrists were doing simply wasn’t enough.  It’s also clear that he tried to find a better end to the story of his own life, that he wanted to live in a story with a satisfactory ending.

Wallace had too little to hope in.

But at the other end of the spectrum is the idea that we become so full of ourselves that we think we can see exactly what it is that we’re hoping in.  We think we know.

Scripture tell us that Hope that is seen is no hope at all.

If God could paint a picture of exactly what our eternity is, he would kill our hope.  If we actually saw, it wouldn’t be hope any more at all.  There’s an idea implied here that’s spelled out elsewhere in scripture.  Hoping makes us better.  It grows our patience.

If we ask ourselves what we use to see, the first thing we answer is “our eyes.”  But if we consider it a moment, we’d realize that we use our past experiences and our limited concepts as much as we do our eyes.

Anthropologists have this interesting story to tell about aborigines.  There are people who spend their whole lives in the jungle.  The largest open spaces they ever see are smaller than this stage.  They never experience the effect that things that are further off are smaller.

When you take these aborigines into a plain, and they see an elephant several miles away, they assume that the elephant is tiny.  The aborigine is seeing.

When we see something new, we always base our responses on what we have seen before.  Have you ever had a friend who shaved off their beard or radically changed hair styles, and you didn’t even notice because you just projected what you expected to be there?

If we think we can see our eternity, we’re using only our past, limited, and fallible experiences in a fallen world.

There are people who call themselves followers of Christ, I think, who go to this extreme.    They believe that they can see.  And they kill hope.  I was one, when I was stingy with the water with that kid.  I believed that I was following Christ.  I placed my hope in him for my salvation.  And yet the salvation I was longing for, it wasn’t a whole lot.  I thought that I could still see that the world was the sort of place where you should give people what they deserve.  I should have held on to the hope that it was more.

Some times I watch my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I squirm on the inside.  I want to disassociate myself from them.  They look at the economy of the world: things are bought, things are paid for, you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get.  And when they talk about life like good deeds earn us God’s frequent flier miles.  If you can only earn enough of them, you get to redeem them at the end to take a plane ride to heaven.

Sometimes, we even treat Jesus like he’s some sort-of pack animal.  We think of him as the instrument of transportation, not transformation.  He’s going to give us a ride to some destination, and then we’re going to dismount, leave Him behind, and go run amuck in some sort-of theme park that’s been waiting for us.

The focus is on escape.  And the reason for all the good they do is called into question.  Their lives of goodness were simply an attempt to bribe God.  Their acceptance of Jesus is really just a plan to get him to take us to Heaven.

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Hope

I’ve had the honor to speak at church a few times now.  Today, was the time I did the best job, I think, of getting out of the way so that what God wanted me to say could get said.  This is the first chunk of what I shared:

So, There were these little pigs.  They were ready to grow up and build homes of their own.

The first made a house of straw.  And along came the big bad wolf.  And he said “Little pig, little pig, let me in,”  “And the pigs said, ‘not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin.’ And the wolf said, “Then, I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”  And he took a great inhalation, and then he roared, and he knocked the pigs house down.

The end.

I hope you’ll notice there’s something missing from my take on that story.  If you’d never heard that story before, what would you think of it?  And more importantly, if you’ve never heard that story before, what would you infer happens after the house got knocked down?

If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d assume the Wolf had himself a BLT for lunch.  If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d consider that a pretty lousy story, and a rather tragic one.

If you did know that story, on the other hand, you’d probably tell me I got it all wrong.  I could say, “Well, did I get the beginning part wrong, where the pig moves away.”

And you’d probably say, “Well, no, you didn’t get that part wrong… You over simplified, because in my version, there are 3 pigs.  But mostly that’s right.  The pigs grew up and moved away.”

And I could say “What about the wolf?  Did I get that wrong?”

And you’d have to say, “No, there’s a wolf in my story, too.”

And I could say, “How about the dialogue.  I mean, it sounds kind of stupid, chinny-chin-chin”

You’d have to say, “No, they talk that stupid in mine…”

And we could keep going.  And you’d have to admit that there was no one specific part of my story that was wrong: it was merely that I took too narrow a view, I wasn’t willing to pull back far enough to share the end of the story that you would prefer.

I’d like to suggest that the person who determines what scene counts as the ending is the person who determines what kind of story it is.  The message of “Three Little Pigs” is “Life stinks” if you stop it where I did.

If you end “Romeo and Juliet” after their wedding, around act 2 or 3, it’s a cute little Romantic Comedy.   This seems to be the version that ___ listened to before she wrote the song.   If you stop “The Princess Bride” before they find out Wesley is only mostly dead, it’s a pretty tragic tale.  Or you could go the other direction.  If they added a scene onto….

If you take any story, and end it in a different place, you have shaped a very different story.  Notice how you don’t need to change the facts of the story itself.  You just need to change what counts as the last scene.

One of the reasons that this is so significant is that what we believe about the story we are in shapes the sort of characters we are in a huge way.  We wouldn’t put bumbling air heads in an action movie.  We wouldn’t put ponderous philosophers in a comedy.  Once we figure out what kind-of story we are in, we work hard at being the sort of characters who populate this story.

I was trying to work these questions out  around the time I came to Christ.   The church’s intern put together this battle of the bands at the opening of a skate park at the YMCA.  My wife and I and a few members of our small group ended up supporting them by selling hot dogs, nachos, waters, and stuff.

It was a hot summer day.  And there we were, representing the church.

This cute, sweaty, skate boarding kid came up to me.  And he asked me if he could have a water for free.  I pointed him to the water fountain inside.  And when I turned around, my wife was looking at me quizzically.

There was this sort-of awkward moment between myself and everybody else.

She’d been a Christian most of her life.  And to her, it went with out saying.  In a situation like that, you just give the kid a water.  For me, this was a pretty mind-altering idea.  I’ve been a left wing hippie sort my whole life.  Then and now, I’m not one to put much faith in Adam Smith’s invisible hands… and yet, I was living in a story with a certain sort of ending.   I was living in a story where the order of things, the way things were ones where you earned and deserved what you got.  Kiley, on the other hand, lived in a story where you deserve more than you got.   She had a belief that the old order would pass away. At the end of the story.  And she was living these changes out in the here and now.

One of the things that I think is worth noticing is that this issue wasn’t one of beliefs.  I was taking baby steps, but at that point, I had taken steps.  If you had asked me about heaven, I would have told you I believed in at that point.

But the heaven I believed in?  It wasn’t much of a heaven.  I began with what I could see, and assumed that the future would be pretty much like that..  It would have been very easy for me to get stuck where I was.  Many of the problems I have are because I do get stuck back there, some times.  I box in God.  I put these limits on the end of the story.  I believe that the end of the story I’m living in isn’t much better or different than the world is now.

I think it’s also clear that this dynamic is relevant for people who don’t call themselves Christians.   As you might have noticed, we’ve been experimenting with something new here at FC.  We’ve created a story about a fictious family, the Elliots, and we’re following them through a season of their life.

The Elliots have been given reason to wonder what sort-of story they are in.  The story began with a funeral, and it brought with it questions.  One way to express these questions: What sort of story are we in?

None of us can deny that death happens.  But when families experience the death of a loved one, the question on everyone’s mind is “What happens next?”  Is death the end of the story?  Or is there something after?

This question plays itself out in two different ways.  There is the question for the individual.  In the case of the Elliots, there is the survivors are wondering: Does Jonah still exist?  Is he living on?  Will he be reborn?

And today we saw Sam grappling with the other portion of the question.   He noticed this connection between himself and Pastor Rick.  Though Sam never new it, Rick was in some way responsible for Sam’s love of the music of Peter Murphy.

There’s a much more important side to this question.  Do we impact the world around us?  Does our influence spread beyond us?  Or does it die with us?

There are other questions going on, in the Elliots, about where the story ends.  We hope you’re a little bit curious about the interaction between Hillary Elliot and Pastor Rick.  You might have guessed they have some shared mistakes in their past.   It’s an incredibly important question: when we make mistakes, when we get hurt, is this the end of the story?  Or is there something that comes after this?

I’d like to spend our time together exploring this today.  What is our hope in?  What do we hope for?  What is the end of the story we’re living?  When we know the answer to that question—what kind of story are we living in—then there will be significant changes in the sort-of characters that we’re going to be.

In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The toolbox

Sometimes, when I’m feeling all depressed, somewhere, deep inside, it’s because I want to be.  I’m not proud of the fact that I can throw some pretty epic pity parties for myself.  But there are times, when I do.

Then, though, there are these other times.  With all my heart and soul, I don’t want to be down.

I have this little metaphorical  tool box, when I’m feeling down and I don’t want to be.  I open it and I survey the trusty options within:

One of my tools is to hike.  One is to read the bible.   I network with family and friends.  I write.  I pray.

Often times, I can find the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, I can’t find which one.  It is too much.  It is too scary to think I might try one and have it not work.  There is this perverse side to hope.  If I hold out the hope that something might make things better, it is safer and it is easier than actually trying it.  Because if I don’t try it, I can always hold on to the belief that things would get better.  But if I actually take it out of the tool box, and do it, and if things haven’t changed… that’s bad.

So there are these times that I just stare into the toolbox, paralyzed.

But the worst is when I reach inside it.  And I try the first tool.  And the second.  And the third.

And eventually?

Eventually the tool box is empty.  It’s contents lay around my ankles.  I am still sad, or alone, or depressed, or whatever.

It occurs to me: if I had more tools in the toolbox, perhaps I’d have fewer of these experiences of staring into that empty thing.

And so the question of the evening:

What are the tools in your toolbox; what do you do when you’re feeling down?

The Repo man

The re-po man

who came for my innocence

hammered on my door

at 2 A.M.

 

I asked him

if he came at this hour

because

it was the time of day that whatever happened, it still felt like a dream.

 

I don’t think he heard me.

He took my innocence away.

And he said a thing

I new surely he said to everyone.

 

“I’m sure this is just some kind of mistake.

You call your dealer tomorrow.

And work it all out.

I bet you’ll have your innocence back in no time.”

 

It was a strange thing for a man to say,

who wore a ketchup-stained tank top…

whose beer belly interposed itself between us

like a whole other presence.

 

I felt absurdly thankful to the man

for his token attempt at comforting me.

 

The thing I never realized

was that innocence was this anchor

that my hope used to be anchored to.

The next day, my hope floated away.

 

I guess my hope was maybe a cloud.

I discovered that it had always watered my joy.

Because, when it was gone,

my joy shriveled up and died.

 

I am trying, now

to talk my faith back in off the ledge.

“What’s the point of it all” it asks

“What’s the point of it all.”

Sometimes

Sometimes, I feel like those trees:

Naked, exposed, stripped of those leaves,

rooted to the dawning Spring’s thawing soil,

my arms,

like branches,

held up toward the blue and blue and blue sky.

held up so long

that the tips have been bleached by the elements.

 

And sometimes this waiting is all that I can do.

Sometimes knowing that Winter is over,

it’s hard to really believe

Sometimes knowing that Winter is over

is all that keeps me going.

Sometimes, despite this doubt.

The truth is also undeniable.

Martyrs

How many stories go untold?

Somewhere in a dry place, far away

there is a boy who is about to become a man.

He has made a choice to hear a whisper within.

He knows that Allah would not have him destroy His Creation

No matter what they all scream.

And there is a girl, a teen-aged city-girl.

She knows about the narrow path out.

She is clinging to hope in a world almost

without hope.

Somewhere– right now– the sun is casting long, sad shadows.

A figure, impossibly stretched out, passes through a skinny doorway.

The bars, for the first time, are only behind him.

He knows now for the first,

prison is so much more than a place and so much less than a home.

We could theoretically count up

All the cars that had ever been filled up

with fertilizer, gasoline, dynamite, plastique…

We might, in heaven or hell

line up all the drivers

who pinned the accelerator that last desperate time…

We might glue back together

the annihilated leather shreads

of those belts laden heavy

worn by cowards who thought they were heroes.

who thought that suicide redeems homicide.

A photograph so easily documents the carnage

where the lives used to be.

But how can we trace

the sustenance and hope

which blossom like a mushroom cloud

from the rear of the red cross supply truck which ventures into devestation?

We could record all the mad men’s ramblings

package them into a box set,

and dub them revolutionary manifestoes…

But we can only dream

the stories of those

for whom violence

is the road not taken.

We will continue to document

the bodies lost in the blasts…

But how will we trace

the hope that the true heroes have sewn?

I want to be a guerilla of hope.

I will wage a holy peace.

I will see the truth untellable

I will know The Story behind the stories;

offering up my own single life

is better than serving up a thousand thousand deaths