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.