Friday, September 16, 2016

Failing Faithfulness

It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is not where I had planned to be at 5:30 in the morning. Funny thing about plans…and plots…and planes…

I’m on my way to Peru, Indiana in the passenger seat (never fear…I don’t blog-and-drive...which I hear is illegal now…) of a slightly rusty, dirty-brown 2003 Dodge Caravan (technically I believe it is red…next time I wash it I will verify).

While in Peru for about 3 hours I’ll make a side trip to Kokomo to get the oil changed and tires rotated so that this 252,000 mile mode of transportation affectionately known around here as B.O.B. (Bucket Of Bolts) will, hopefully, quiet down and behave for the weekend so we can get to Rogers, Arkansas and back, followed by a trip for Seth and I to Michigan and back to Indiana on Sunday to pick up Ian and Miah.

Actually, one of Seth’s birthday presents was a new side mirror for B.O.B. It may sound odd, but let me explain.

Seth turned 16 yesterday. When I envisioned what my firstborn’s 16th birthday would look like, even before he existed, well…let's just say this wasn’t it. Not because of my son, mind you! While he isn’t perfect, and I am not even ashamed to admit that in public, Seth would be the first one to tell you the same, so I have no fear of offending him here – and that is just the point. You can envision what you want to do with and for your children, but you cannot envision who they are going to be. Because it isn’t entirely up to you. You aren’t God. And even if you were, that’s not how God works. We are free creatures. God guides our steps…we make plans…and in the end the best of our co-creative work together is what lasts. God’s guidance and our plans are often thwarted- by ourselves, by others, by culture, by random events, and by both good and evil forces at work. The vast majority of the time – perhaps all the time – we will find ourselves in a place of plans, plots, and planes gone wrong. Most of the time, as it turns out, “this 747 can’t go fast enough.” Lesson learned…and being learned…

Humanity, all of us, in one way or another or a whole bunch of ways (that’d be me…), have abused our God-given freedom. In theological conversations, we hear much about the “problem of evil.” But I wonder if we have neglected to give attention to “the problem of freedom.”

I have come to believe that the answer to this problem, that freedom can be abused, is not to shut down our freedom and control everything (many believe in a God who controls everything, and this is, in one form or another, their answer – follow the rules and do not use your freedom but rather give it up…preferably to the one who has the gold power (either real or perceived) to attempt to tell you what to do and how to live).

Nor is the answer to this problem to throw off any inhibition and to do whatever we please. In other words, the answer to abuse of freedom is not even more unrestrained, uninhibited abuse of freedom. My spouse often likes to quote Augustine, “love God and do as you please…” – but when she does she always includes the remainder of the quote - “…for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Doing whatever we please is not license to sin; it is choosing to accept God's invitation to cooperate with God in bringing about the fullness of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

I find it interesting that in the Scriptures, Paul the Apostle does not write to the ecclesia in Galatia, “do not use your freedom” but rather, “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (5:13). Paul says that we are “called to be free” (5:13). I believe Paul is right.

And what is his answer? How can we live out the balancing act of being free, yet not abusing our freedom? By living freely within the bounds of this one guiding principle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I often say when speaking on this subject, you simply cannot love your neighbor if you cannot love yourself. There are some things you just can’t do. And that is one of them. There are some things even God cannot do. And you’re not God, anyway.

Paul goes on to say that the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other – “so you are not do whatever you want” (5:17). Paul doesn’t contradict Augustine with this – in fact, he goes on to confirm it: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (5:18). There is much more I could say about this…but you are probably still wondering why I bought Seth a new side mirror for B.O.B. for his birthday, so I had better finish explaining.

So I can’t afford to put a brand new car in the driveway for my son’s 16th birthday. That’s one part I would have envisioned many years ago. Actually, only a very, very tiny, privileged few kids ever get the idealistic new car in the driveway. A slightly higher percentage get a used car. In USAmerica and a few other places, maybe half (maybe) get use of their parent(s) car…if their parents have a car…when their parent(s) say they can use it (this was my case when I turned 16). And the rest of the world (the majority, the least of these) just has to wait.

So what I could afford, thanks to the help of others, was a new side mirror – which I have needed since I accidentally cracked mine 4 years ago on a cold night in Peru. It was a very, very cold night. I had no idea just how cold. But that’s a story.

By getting this side mirror, we finally have a vehicle in good enough shape that I feel comfortable training Seth to drive. He’s been waiting longer than I, or he, had hoped. Some kids get their license on the day they turn 16. Others have to wait a few months (that was my case…I was still in driver’s ed when I turned 16…), still others even longer. And some never learn. Now Seth can learn. It wasn’t perfect. But life is messy. And that’s OK.

I gave Seth all I could, and in fact, more than I could (without the help of others, I wouldn’t have been able to do even this). In the Scriptures, there is a poor widow who puts in the offering all she has, and Jesus says she gave more than all the others who were giving, because she gave out of her poverty, and not out of her wealth. Did her giving change the world? It would appear not. But her story is still changing me, and many others, today.

Maybe it is time we start giving out of our poverty – out of what we can’t afford to give, out of all we have, as great or as little as that might be; and not out of what we can afford to give. There are some things we just can’t do. But we will never know what those things are until we attempt them. Some call that failure. Others call it foolishness. I call it faithfulness. I think Jesus would agree.

So this day…what once upon a time was the worst day of my life (as opposed to the worst day of the year that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago)...I choose to reclaim this day as a day that the Lord has made, that I will rejoice and be glad in, content and at peace whatever the circumstances. As a wise person I am close to once said, “Love is a choice.” She could not have been more right. I choose to give all I have, and all I can, and even what I think I can’t, failing my way to faithfulness. I choose love.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Worst Day of the Year

I am pretty sure everyone has a worst day of the year.  By this, I do not mean, 'the worst day of your life.'  Sometimes those two things coincide.  But they can also be quite different and separate occasions. 

For some people, 'the worst day of the year' is what most people would consider a good day.  Some really do not like having birthdays.  Some do not like particular holidays.  For others it makes ‘more sense’, at least from the outside looking in:  The anniversary of losing a loved one, or an emotionally difficult or tragic event in one’s life.

The truth is, I have had enough of those over the course of 40 years to nominate any number of days, quite legitimately, as “The Worst Day of the Year.”  And yet…somehow… every year…since 2003…it always comes back to this day.  The last day of August.  The last day of so many things.  And the first day of so many others.

The thing is, you never know when and where the seed of hope has been planted.  And even when we are certain of the impossibility of a situation, when all has clearly and irreparably been lost…there is yet hope, unseen as it may be.  The author of the letter Hebrews in the Christian Scriptures writes this: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (11:1).

I wonder what she may have been hoping for personally and for her community…and I wonder what it was that she did not see.  And I wonder how it was, in the midst of whatever it was she had hoped for and longed to see, that she was able to be inspired by the Spirit to write those utterly rebellious, defiant, foolish words.

Perhaps it is because sometimes what matters most is not what we do know, but what we don’t know.  Were we capable of knowing everything…would we really want to?  I suspect the answer to that is something along the lines of, “not as much as we think we would…”  There are things that are very important to know in this life.  As a person who always favors having more information rather than less, no matter how distressing that information may be, I certainly get that.  What I need to remember, though, is that there are also things that are very important not to know in this life.  Sometimes it’s better not to know, because it is in the not knowing that we become more sure of what we hope for and more certain of what we do not see.

*           *           *

It has been almost a year since I tasted the first sip of coffee…in my life…ever…it reminds me of an old song by Caedmon’s Call, “I Just Don’t Want Coffee.”  For 39-1/2 years of my life, this song resonated with me…and for many, many more reasons than just the fact that I was not a coffee drinker…

…but now…I do drink coffee…in fact, even on the worst day of my life it has become, as we like to talk about all the time in my family, one of my “favorite parts of the day.”  Now, I do want coffee.  Perhaps I even need it.  And that’s OK.  Especially if my motivation is to share it with my world and my community.  And, it is. It is good.  And it is well.

But there is another old song by Caedmon’s Call that has endured around this place for almost as long, “Faith My Eyes.” And today…it is the song that resonates most:

As I survey the ground for ants
Looking for a place to sit and read
And I'm reminded of the streets of my hometown
How they're much like this concrete that's warm beneath my feet

And how I'm all wrapped up in my mother's face
With a touch of my father just up around the eyes
And the sound of my brother's laugh
More wrapped up in what binds our ever distant lives

But if I must go
Things I trust will be better off without me
But I don't want to know
'Cause life is better off a mystery

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
Keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

Hometown weather is on TV
And I imagine the lives of the people living there
And I'm curious if they imagine me
'Cause they just wanna leave, I wish that I could stay

And I get turned around
And I mistake my happiness for blessing
And I'm blessed as the poor
Still I judge success by how I'm dressing

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
Keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

So I'll sing a song of my hometown
Breathe the air and walk the streets
And maybe find a place to sit and read
But the ants are welcome company

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
To keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

*           *           *

On this, the last day of August, 2016, I would do well to remember that what was true 13 years ago is just as true today:  A seed that was yet unseen, unknown, and undiscovered had been planted.  There is always faith, always hope.  And always love.  Because the greatest of these is always love

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Deserted, But Not Deserted

As a disciple of Jesus, know that Jesus will never desert you.  But know also that as a disciple of Jesus, should Jesus gift and call you as a prophet, Jesus will always desert you.

Not everyone is deserted.  Just prophets.

You can be a disciple even after you have forsaken, abandoned, deserted Jesus.  There is always forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation available to you.  And Jesus will never forsake, abandon, or desert you.

But prophets… prophets must always be deserted.  Not deserted.  But desert-ed.  Not everyone has to go into the desert.  But prophets always do. 

Paul.  Jesus.  John the Baptist.  The desert mothers and fathers.  Elijah.  Elisha.  Moses.
Being desert-ed is not about discipline for a sinful way of life.  The entire company of Israel was disobedient and unbelieving, and they wandered in the desert for 40 years because of it.  But they were not all prophets, of that I can assure you!  But Moses was a prophet.  And he too had to experience the desert, yet for different reasons.  It is not that Moses was sinless, of course.  He, too, fell from time to time.  But as a prophet, consecrated to God and made holy, this is not what characterized his life.  Rather, what characterized his life was the experience of being desert-ed. 

For it was there, in that experience of desert-ion, that he became who he needed to be in order to best fulfill God’s desires for God’s people.  It was never just about Moses and what Moses needed.  It was about the people of God, the Least of These, and what they all needed, collectively, together.  The irony is that prophets are called into the desert alone in order to be shaped and formed into vessels that carry the burdens of many.

Paul instructs the ecclesia to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  And what is the law of Christ?  Jesus says it is to love God, yourself, and others with everything you are and everything you have (Luke 10:27-28).  Love comes first, and though love requires everything, love is all that is required.

Jesus gives different gifts to each disciple. God gives us the grace needed to live out these gifts according to the measure of grace needed to do so.  Whatever amount of grace we need, God gives, and it is always ‘just enough.’  For some, gifted and called to be prophets, the grace needed, and the grace that is supplied by God, is ‘just enough’ to endure the experience of being desert-ed.  But thanks be to God, we are never deserted.