Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

If You Ever Wished You Could Quit the Human Race…

…join the crowd.

I’d be happy to take a long hiatus from the current version of homo sapiens, because we’re a hot mess. The rage and hatred in the public square are becoming unbearable. As if that weren’t bad enough, I see this same spirit infecting other parts of our life together. Even in my beloved hobby, whose members are family to me, the charges and countercharges, white-hot social media fury, choosing up sides and fighting are on full display.

Now, with the news of the past couple of weeks—pipe bombs in the mail, lives lost at a Pittsburgh synagogue—all of this has shaded into a new level of violence. As it had to. Spew enough words, create enough rage, and weapons often follow.

Bottom line, we’ve done a lot of damage in the past two years. We’ve wreaked a lot of havoc. The damage will take time and space and work to heal. And until we heal, we’ll be very vulnerable to further pain. No wonder people are hiding out, keeping to themselves, refusing to converse, bowling alone.

With all my heart I want to join them. Two things give me pause, and they both came up in silent prayer recently–where so many things come up, courtesy (I believe) of the Spirit.

Thing 1: notice the pronouns two paragraphs above. We’ve done a lot of damage. We’ve wreaked a lot of havoc. Like it or not, I’m one of them—one of us—which means I have to own my own inner dross. It’s true that I make a point of not spewing rage and drama. But the seeds of it live in my heart too, just like they live in most everyone’s heart.

In short, I’m stuck with us. We’re stuck with us.

Thing 2 comes from my orientation as a Christian. Just by our species’ status as still alive and walking around, it’s evident to me that God has not given up on the human race. Quite the opposite when you consider Christianity’s central story: that God, in the person of Jesus, became every bit as human as you and me. That he drank the human experience to its dregs, right down to a humiliating public execution. God is quoted as saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and the Christ story proves it.

If God’s sticking with us, and I have to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1 from the Christian scriptures), that obliges me to stick with us too.

Do I have enthusiasm for this? Oh hell no. Sometimes, though—especially in the chaos that rage and hatred inevitably cause—it’s good to throw a stake in the ground and say, “I have to stand here. I cannot do otherwise.” Then, with that stake keeping me tethered to the good and true, I can do the inner work to figure out how on earth I’m going to follow God’s call with a whole heart.

 

Where Convictions and Friendship Collide

You’re talking with an old friend over coffee. At one point in the conversation, she uses a word that sets off every alarm bell in your head. Clearly she believes something you don’t believe at all. What do you do?

Bill and I have been discussing God for decades. He is a Calvinist, a deep and brilliant thinker, and takes the Bible literally (more or less). We see most things very differently from each other. I love him like a brother, but even more like a role model, because I have watched God’s grace flood his life for many years.

The other day we got to talking about the existence of truth, and as part of that conversation he brought up the idea of certainty. Is it possible to be certain about things in this life—certain about God, about what you read in sacred texts, about anything?

Now I do not like certainty. Not one little bit. Back in my teens and early twenties, I was certain about my beliefs; it wreaked havoc on my emotional life and separated me from people I love. I’ve seen this happen to others as well. From my perspective, less certainty—and more willingness to say, “I don’t know”—would make the world a better place.

So when Bill brought up the word, I had lots of good reasons to laser in on it and proclaim the dangers of certainty.

I didn’t do it.

Here’s why. Bill and I are getting on in years. Our worldviews are well established, and they’ve borne much fruit in our lives. If I start spouting about certainty, I’m doing so from my worldview. That likely won’t be any use to him.

On the other hand, I had no idea what he meant by certainty. So I asked him.

His answer surprised me. He spoke of that inner peace when life seems so good and everything just feels right. Paradoxically, what he meant by certainty was subjective.

Yes, here too I could have gone off on him: certainty can’t be subjective! It’s a logical contradiction! Instead, I took in his meaning and turned it over in my mind, grateful for having learned a little more about the issue at hand, and a little more about what makes Bill tick.

You might say I gave up on truth, or at least intellectual rigor, for relationship. You may be right. That’s what fascinates me. At this point in our friendship, this stage of our lives, this cycle of the universe, it seemed more fruitful to deepen a friendship (and to address the whole conversation) than to rant about a truth or, rather, a truth as I saw it.

What do you think of this choice? Would you have made the same decision? Why or why not? Are there other situations where you’d have chosen the other way? (There are for me.) Feel free to share here or on Facebook.

Discomfort with Easter

I have never liked Easter.

Deep down I’ve known this for years but couldn’t admit it, even to myself. After all, Easter is when we Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead and all it implies: new hope of a new life, God’s victory over death and evil. We sing hymns with words like exult and joy and especially alleluia. What’s not to like?

I never had a good answer to that question. For decades I went through the motions, hoping for some real joy to emerge. I attended church on Easter and sang like everyone else. I meditated on the resurrection to glean what meaning I could. Nothing really took hold.

This past Sunday, while driving to church, the reason for my discomfort with Easter suddenly hit me:

It’s all too tidy.

Total victory for the forces of good. The devil loses, God wins. The details are still playing out centuries later, but a joyous ending is assured.

I’ve seen movies with endings like this, and they make me crazy, because life doesn’t work that way.

From everything I’ve seen, life is messy. Good people do stupid things, sometimes with catastrophic results. Nasty people do heroic things out of the blue. We strive to get along with co-workers and neighbors and relatives who stir up ambivalence in our hearts. We compromise in so many places to get through our days. The most tragic events of our lives can bear fruit in our souls—but they’re tragic nonetheless.

The Easter story is not like this. So I don’t trust it.

But here’s the rub: I am devoted to a faith that declares the resurrection to be true—one of the foundational truths of the whole tradition. If I want to align with my home faith tradition, and I do, I can’t just toss the story out. I have to stare it in the face, to hold the tension between the centuries-old truth and my decades-old discomfort—not trying to resolve it, but seeing what emerges, even letting the story change me.

I have no idea how this will come out, or how long it will take. In the meantime, I’m riveted by the resurrection story in the gospel of Mark (16:1-8)—the original text, without the satisfying ending glommed on. Jesus doesn’t make an appearance in this passage. We simply read of a young man in a tomb telling three women that Jesus has risen from the dead. And how did they react? “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Terror. Fear. Amazement. Questions, undoubtedly. That’s one hot stew of emotions. Like my own.

The solidarity I feel with these women and their reactions gives me a shard of hope. Maybe my response to Easter is not abnormal or abhorrent, but simply human. That’s what the Christian story does so well: it reminds us of our humanity in all its lovely tangled mess—including the joy that, every now and then, rises to the surface.