Grasping

I spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter.

I could probably fill an entire library with a catalog of these things: trivial things, like pop culture.  Irrelevant things like worries for the future that won’t come to pass.  Unimportant things, that arise out of my own brokeness and insecurity.

I am thinking this morning about that last category.  I am thinking about the unimportant things that I worry about because I am broken.   Let’s call them the UTTIWABIB.  The world we live in preys on our uttiwabibs.  Our particular society makes some of them worse.  Consider, for example,  the quest for power and prestige.

Modern-day America creates a hierarchy, a power pyramid.    No matter how we dress it up, no matter how we justify it or rationalize it, there will always be more losers than winners in the power game.  This is the whole point, really, of the pyramid.   It does not matter how catchy Adam Ant’s attempt at a comeback was; no matter how prettily he sings “There is always/room at the top”  it simply isn’t true.

And even if it was true?  Even if there was room for all of us?

I don’t think it’s necessary for me to say much about the ways we can sell our soul.  Like so many things, we can all see that pretty easily when we consider others.  I suspect it is a little less obvious, the ways we do all this ourselves.

Every time we consider the appearance over a reality, every time we worry about what people will think, every time we think about spin doctoring things…  whether it is in our relationships or our work place, our friendships or family connections… every single time we do this, we are selling out.

Let me say that in a way that is more difficult, but much more important:

Every time I do that, I sell out.

I was reading in the book of Mark, this morning.  There is this pair of events.  The way they follow back-to-back is not an accident, I suspect.

The first thing that happens is that two of Jesus’ followers approach him.  They tell him that they want to sit at his right hand.

“You don’t know what you are asking.” Jesus says.  Put differently: You think this is about power and prestige.  You are grabbing after power.  Shortly thereafter, the other followers become “indignant.”  A funny word, indignant.  It seems like the other followers aren’t any better than the first couple.  It seems like perhaps they are upset because others gaining power and prestige would be at their own expense.

Because Jesus comes at them all, and explains that this is not how he operates.  His own followers are playing politics, they are grasping after power.  This is the way of the world they all left behind; Jesus seems to be asking what the point is, of following him, if things just go back to the way they have always been.

And then the second thing happens.  They are out and about.  And a blind man asks that Jesus would have mercy on him.  The followers try to shut the man down, but he calls out, and Jesus hears him, and Jesus heals him.

It’s not really clear how much time has elapsed between these two events.  But they happen back-to-back.  And it is an interesting contrast:

His followers, the guys who are supposed to know what is going on, they say: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  And the blind man, he says ““Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

There are a handful of interesting implications in this contrast.

Jesus followers are supposed to know who he is.  And yet they adress him as teacher.  The blind man calls to him by name, and recognizes Jesus’ lineage.

The followers are looking for more than they need, more than others have.  They are looking for an extra rebate, a bonus.  The blind man just wants to see.

When Jesus’ followers are given what they ask for, it is almost a dark parody; it carries this sinister underside that they have never intended.  Basically, they are told that that sitting at Jesus’ right hand means suffering and death; this is what they have asked for, this is what they will get.

The blind man is healed.  He follows Jesus.

Perhaps the bottom line is just this: we ought to ask for the things we need.  But we ought to be careful of acting entitled to more than what we need.  Healing?  That’s a good thing.  But power and prestige?  That comes with a pretty hefty price tag.

 

 

 

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My Moment of Surrender

There is so much interesting stuff going on, spiritually, on the new U2 C.D.  “Moment of Surrender” might be my favorite song on it, and most of the major themes of the whole C.D. seem to be present on that particular song.  I figured I’d give a shot to unpacking what I think maybe Bono meant.  The whole song is posted, uninterrupted, at the bottom of this post.

(I’m assuming 2 things, here.  The first is that these views aren’t necessarily Bono’s views; it’s a mistake to assume the speaker in a poem or a song is the same person as the writer of the poem or the song.  The second is that these lyrics do in fact mean something.)

Verse 1:

The only change is that 2nd line.  It leaves me thinking that it must be important: Vision over visibility.  After thinking about it, I’ve decided it must be another double-meaning kind-of thing.

On the one hand, vision over visibility means we’re no longer wanting everybody to notice us; (visibility) we’re wanting to see things the way they are (vision.)  On the other hand, it also means we’d rather be graced with religious visions rather than mere visibility, or seeing.

In addition to the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, the themes that seem to be wrestled with through out the C.D. is finding God in the every day, and even in the middle of pain and loss and despair, and trying to work out just how community connects to God.

If you just want to see Bono’s amazing lyrics uninterrupted by my feeble attempts at thinking too hard, they are below:

Moment Of Surrender

I tied myself with wire
To let the horses run free
Playing with the fire
Until the fire played with me

The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too cool to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

We set ourselves on fire
Oh God, do not deny her
It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pentecost

At the moment of surrender
Of vision of over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I tied myself with wire
To let the horses run free
Playing with the fire
Until the fire played with me

Is the idea here that the guy in the son was looking for freedom but found himself enslaved?  Are the horses and fire about our animlastic urges?

When we let these things free, when we live our way, we tie ourselves up, we get burned by the fire, even though we thought we playing with them.  That first verse gives me this idea that there was a guy who just lived the way he wanted to live.  Maybe not a bad guy, just a guy who does what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

Verse 2:
The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too cool to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

And so the guy gets married.  He doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing.  He’s not even sure that marriage is an absolute.  But it seems like the thing to do.

(A caveat: the guy that I’m imagining is basically me.  So maybe I’m just projecting.  Maybe this isn’t in the song at all.)

Verse 3:
We set ourselves on fire
Oh God, do not deny her
It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

Interesting that fire comes up again.  In general, fire is a thing which is necessary but quickly gets out of control.  Biblically, fire is often used for purifying, but is also a symbol of God, as in the burning bush.

And so in this verse, it seems like there’s some realization.  The world is bigger than it seems, perhaps.  Marriage isn’t some casual thing.  Perhaps the idea is that through our animal instincts  is the way that this can come. 

(This is a trait that cuts across many of U2 songs: the idea that we can get  a glimpse of God in sex.  Sometimes, the idea almost seems like we get a sort-of redemption through this.  While I wouldn’t want to make that claim– which was very much held by the Romantics of centuries past, which also gets manifested in lots of works by folks like Nine Inch Nails– I also am unsure whether Bono would agree with this claim or would simply get that it’s a tempting thing to believe.)

At any rate, it seems like the person in this song is confronted with a new reality.   There’s so very much in those last couple lines:  

It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

Again, perhaps this is all just projection.  But once, I thought the important question was: Do I believe in Love?  And what this really meant was, Is there more than just the rush of hormones associated with chasing after sex?

When I began to see that we are bigger than our chemical highs, when I began to suspect that there was something greater at work in the creation of sex, it became a radically different question.

The question was: If something bigger– way bigger– than natural forces was at work, what does this force think about me?

And perhaps it’s that way for the guy in the song: through a marriage he stumbled into, he begins to see that there is a God.  The question of how this God feels about him is quite an important one.

Next Verse:
At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

And so suddently he is pulled out of the world he has always inhabited.  He realizes that there is something bigger than what people think of him.  He realizes that if this thing is as big as it seems, submitting to it is the only appropirate response.

Firsr Half of the Next Verse:
I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back

Before that moment of surrender, the guy was dwarfed by the hugeness of the universe, by the insignificance of our humanity if scientific explanations are the full story.

Verse continues:
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

Deep inside, he always knew that those explanations, they weren’t right.  That way of living was wrong.  Partially because that way of living meant being in charge and we are made to surrender.

Next verse:
I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

And so in the mundane realities of every day life, the guy continues to see this whole other world, a more important one.

 

Next Verse:
I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pentecost

I struggled with this verse for a while.  Because at first, it seemed like the last line applied to every body.  But if the guy on the subway is the one counting down to the pentecost, it makes a lot more sense.

Nearly everybody else doesn’t see the world as he does.  Nearly everybody else in the world doesn’t recognize that we’re all supposed to be traveling through the stations of the cross.  (I love the play on words: Subway stations/stations of the cross)  Even in this transformed life, it’s not easy.  But we can look to a time where we are transformed, just as the disciples were at the first pentecost.

Next moment:
At the moment of surrender
Of vision of over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

Partners…

Somebody (I forget who) said “I’d have an easier time with Christians if they weren’t so busy stepping all over each other to climb up on a cross.”

There are all sorts of things running around in this criticism.  Some of the things it points at are things that to me aren’t criticisms at all.  But I think it’s also lampooning our tendency to quietly suffer, to humbly allow ourselves to be hurt, ridiculed, and insulted.

For example, somebody has repeated a behavior over and over and over again.  We think about the whole idea of forgiving somebody 70 X 7 times.  And so we’re mostly sure they are going to do the same hurtful thing again.  But we think we’re doing what we’re supposed to do when we let them.

Sometimes I allow myself to be hurt by others.  And I call up a picture of Jesus on the cross.  And I feel pretty good about it, in a bad kind of way.

This morning I read this in Ephesians 5, “5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.”

I wonder if I always skimmed over this.  I wonder if I didn’t have fresh eyes to see.  I wonder if it sounds different in other translations.  I always thought that the admonition was to not be decietful with other people; I thought this was saying “Don’t be partners in crime with someone”

But that’s not actually what it’s saying.  It’s saying “Don’t allow yourself to be decieved by others.”  And the reasoning is fascinating: don’t allow yourself to become a victim because when we do this, we create victimizers.  When we act like prey we are helping others to learn to become a predator.  

The last verse does use that word, partner.  But it’s not talking about a conscious, willing partnership.  It’s saying that when we allow others to decieve us we are entering into a partnership nonethless.

Just for clarities sake, I’m not claiming that every time we are victimized are we partners.  The whole point is those cases where we know what we’re doing, where we allow ourselves to let this happen.  There are real predators.  There are are innocent victims.  When somebody is doing something unexpected to hurt me then there is no partnership. 

There is more advice which runs contrary to the way we Christians often do things.  Later in the chapter it says Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible.”

What does it mean, to “mention what the disobedient do in secret”… Is it when we sit around in a small group, and share with everybody that so-and-so keeps hurting us and we pray that they will stop?

If it is, then I have some changing to do. 

It seems like this verse is saying that we have an obligation to go to the person hurting us and tell them, bring the light to them.  This is one way to make sense of what follows:

 This is why it is said:
   “Wake up, O sleeper,
      rise from the dead,
   and Christ will shine on you.”

 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Here, what jumped out at me was the word, wise.  So often when we set ourselves up in these situations where we forgive and forgive and forgive, we know that there is a level on which we’re being quite stupid.  Rationally, we know what’s going to happen.  In honesty, I find it kind of refreshing to be told to be wise around these things.

For me, this all leads to questions about how best to reconcile these truths to the reality of the cross.  It can almost appear that Jesus did the thing we’re told not to do.  He unwisely partnered with us in all our sin.

Interestingly, the next part of this chapter is one of the most-talked about in all of the bible.  It’s the one about husbands and wives submitting.  It’s used as the basis for traditional thought and progressive feminist thought in Christianity.  It’s used in weddings, as a model for devotion to spouses, as a model of devotion to the church.

But I think that there is a different read in the fuller context of the chapter.  The additional truth we get when we look at the whole thing is this: one act of submission is to not allow ourselves to be victimized by people’s habitual sins.  Wives submit to husbands by preventing them from acting in anger.  Husbands submit to their wives by preventing them from acting in greed… and vice-versa.  We shouldn’t just accept mediocrity from each other.  But we should call each other out, we should challenge each other, we should not partner with their sin by allowing ourselves to be victimized by it.

The second half of this chapter of Ephesians talks about being presenting in purity.  It explains I think, why Christ wasn’t partnering with us in our sin.  He had the power to destroy it, so he did.  And I think maybe there is this implication that we should do the same, first for our spouses then those around us.  When we have the power to destroy sin in others’ lives we should.  We feed their sin when we constantly forgive them and then position the person to do it again.

Of course this can be taken t far.  There is lots about forgiving verses forgetting, codependent relationships, etc. that I haven’t even touched on.  But it’s interesting how seeing just a couple phrases and viewing a chapter as a whole can bring this whole other meaning to scripture.

The losers are the winners

I saw a book tonight.  The title was something darn close to “Live Green and be a millionaire”

The subtitle indicated that really, doing the right thing is a win-win proposition.  Apparently, Somehow, being environmentally conscious actually creates wealth.  Who knew?

My sarcastic asides not withstanding, something clicked as I stood there, judging that particular book by its cover.  The thing that occured to me is this:

We love win-wins.  We love it when things work out in such a way that it’s best for everybody.  How many times have we heard variations on the following themes: What’s good for America is good for the world… What’s good for business is good for the environment… Everyone benefits from this arrangement.

Really?

The people who oppose these plans that benefits everybody: are they stupid or massochistic?  Clearly they must be one or the other, to oppose their own best interests. 

I don’t want to overstate my case.  Sometimes their are win-wins.  Sometimes there are options which really are the best for everybody.

But the vast majority of situations are win-lose propositions.  There will be people that benefit and people that are hurt by most decisions.  We try to deny this.  It’s hard to choose between being a millionaire OR being enviromentally conscious.  It’s hard choosing between the good for America and the good for the world.  It’s hard choosing between the best interests of the environment or big business. 

Whenever a decision is made, there’s probably some sort of consolation prize for the loser.  There is a silver lining to the cloud.  I don’t have a problem with people expressing that.  I do have a problem with people misrepresenting it, though, and claiming that the home version of the game is just as good as the million dollar jackpot.  In addition to the blatant dishonesty inherent in turning everything into a win-win, this system turns us into spoiled brats.  We live in a world that feeds us the delusion that we can have our cake and eat it, too. 

 There is no way around a simple reality: If we eat our cake, then there are only a few options open to us.  A) Eat somebody else’s cake.  B) Pretend we’re still eating a cake.  C) Actually be mature enough to realize that we don’t have any more cake.

In different times and places, those who have the power looked the weak in the eye and called it like they saw it.  They said “I win, you lose.  I will take what I want because I have the power.”

Sometimes, the power shifted.  Sometimes, the disenfranchised became the franchise.  They put on little red berets and took power… and then, they said that same thing they’d heard so often “I win, you lose.  I will take what I want because now I have the power.”

There are some things which have not changed.  There are still people with power who are taking what they want.  But there are some things that have changed.  These people have PR firms working for them now.  They look us in the eye and they say “I win, you win.  We can both have what we want.”  The idea is not to give the other group a share.  It’s simply to make them think they have a share.

This is why Jeus is such a radical counter-cultural force.  This is why people think they need to repackage him.  He did more than speak the truth.  He was the truth.  He did more than say that there are winners and losers in the game of life.  He identified with the “losers”.

  He said that we should step out of the whole power play.  He did not just take the next step in this never ending dance.  He changed the whole song.   He challenged us to do more than grab after power or accept being dominated.  He challenged us to a third way, a bigger way by being smaller, a way into life by going through death.  It’s not always clear and easy, just how to do this.  It is a narrow door, a hard way, but ultimately the only journey worth the effort.

 

 

Obedience (edited)

So my pastor (and friend, Marty, over at www.pastormarty.wordpress.com) posed the question via email:

When is obedience easy?  When is it hard?

I decided to post my response.  I’ve asked the other leaders he posed the question to if I might post their responses.  There responses follow mine.  It’s kind-of nice, sometimes, to not be the only person who sees things in a certain light.  I found it interesting how much on the same page we all were.

So I had this initial reaction to that question.  And I recoiled.  I decided that my initial answer was way too bleak.  I thought there must be a different way to frame it.

I thought, for a while.

And I concluded, that, in fact, my initial answer was correct and it was self-deceit that lead me to want to soft-peddle.

So here it is:

The easiest thing about obedience to God is that sometimes it’s fun.  Other times there are secondary benefits, like looking all spiritual and stuff.

Often times, obedience to God makes sense: I can easily see what God wants me to do.  Lots of the time, God quickly and directly rewards obedience.  Having an easy time seeing the fruits of what I’ve sewn makes obedience easy.

When God gives me a happy little buzz, it both reminds me of my mispent college days and makes obedience easy.  There’s an embarassingly small list of places I’m simply in the habit of being obedient around.  Being in the habit makes it easy.

On the other hand: often times, obedience is so hard and boring.  It is often time thankless, painful, and unpopular.  There are ways I know that I’m supposed to obedient to God that make absolutely no sense to my puny little ant-brain.  There must be some knuckleheaded

part of me that thinks God owes me an explanation. 

Obedience is so very hard when it seems like I’m being punished (by the world) for my obedience.  Sometimes I don’t even feel all proud of myself when I’m obedient, let alone get a buzz.  Sometimes it’s just rote, a duty.  (Which leads to the question if in fact I’m being obedient at all if I’m doing it grudginly.)

Obedience is so tough when it’s out of my comfort zone, something I’m not in the habbit of doing…

My buddy Steve (director of family ministries at Fellowship Church) says:

Wow. What a question when you seriously sit down and think through it for a moment.  At first anyone’s response might be, I am obedient and begin to list the things we’re involved in.  but if we again begin at the brokenness sign post we have to come to grips that we don’t obey as much as we think we do on a day to day basis.  And we can come up with many justifications for our decisions (even using biblical wisdom for support), but in the end we must admit where we have pushed the HS aside and have done what we think is best.

The easiest thing about obedience is when it’s something that we’ve already done before or fits nicely in our schedule and budget.  It’s something that we’ve already gone through the awkwardness of it and realized the end it was far rewarding than what was first assumed like going to a small group, leading a small group, praying in public, praying by ourselves, calling people on the phone, engaging in deep conversation with someone at lunch, inviting people over for dinner, doing foster care, going on a missions trip, teaching and sharing what we know about the bible and admitting we don’t have all the answers, asking others to volunteer, reading Jeff’s blogs (needed a change of pace here)…you get the point.

The hardest thing about obedience is when it makes me uncomfortable and I’m unsure of the outcome, or I’m pretty certain the outcome is not a pat on the back but perhaps a “foolish” decision or against a passion I thought God had placed within me.  It’s decisions that shake more than just me around, those that influence my family, the church…It’s those decisions that truly challenge me to build my faith, be confident in God’s leading, and those which I know I’m going to have to “consider it joy” when I know it’s not going to feel like Joy.  It’s things that obviously look like perseverance, endurance, suffering, sacrifice, brokenness, humility, foolishness and uninspiring.

Al is a bit briefer (more brief?  It’s hard to be grammatically correct as I write this at 3 AM) was Al, director of Foyer Services (or some such) at FC.

Jeff I appreciate your honesty.  You’re always so candid on these topics.  The easiest thing for me… It’s right.  Not that doing what’s right is easy, but the idea that it is the right thing to do is very motivating for me.

Also, I want to pursue truth, and want my life to reflect the truth of who God is.  I think obedience is one of the best ways to display this.

The difficult thing about obedience is that it goes directly against my flesh.  When I am in the flesh, you know the very few times (Note sarcastic tone), the last thing I want to do is obey God.  I have this struggle, the sin that easily besets me, REBELLION!  My flesh wants to do the opposite of what anyone in authority tells me to do.  Then I want to shove it in their face and say, “Ha!  What do you think about that?” 

That last comment of mine is not usually the best approach with God, especially when it comes to disobedience!   So, those are my thoughts.

Power Dynamics ( a fragment?)

To be accepted

requires more than surrender of that which I would otherwise do…

It is not enough to kneel before hypocrisy.

To be accepted

Requires that I hang a banner behind a throne

beuaitfully embroidered with the word hypocrite.

Then, after hanging it.

I kneel and kiss the ring.

And proclaim allegience…

Praising that I can not

but he can

she can

it can

do what I can not do.

Consider, for example, the beauty pageant.

Good girl slut Maddona Whores

Proclaiming peace in their bathing suits.

In bodies that are impossible to achieve through the normal course of things…

In high heeled shoes which brake the ankles…

with breast implants that cause cancer which eat the breasts…

We hang a sign on the one most objectified.

It is not enough that they submit to be objectified.

It is also that they must not objectify themselves:

Remember the beauty queens

who lost their crowns

when they fooled around

with each other?

It is not enough to refrain.

We must also submit

to that which we can not do.

Consider, for example, the death penalty.

Murder because you murdered

proclaiming balance in an eye for an eye.

We will demonstrate your wrongness

by repeating your actions

your actions which are not crimes only by virtue of the agent doing them.