Tuesday, November 30, 2004

letting go...

There is a card that I used to have in my wallet that I got from a friend in high school. It had that catchy super-Christianized-culture phrase, "Let Go and Let God." In high school I really needed to hear that message. But I guess today I wouldn't mind sitting down with that little pocket sized proverb and have a little chat.

How exactly do I let go? Letting go is primarily a physical action. I can let go of the remote control. I can let go of a baseball. But used in this more ethereal advice it is more of a metaphysical metaphor than anything else. Letting go of something that is not physical has to do more with the mind and heart than it does the muscles in my arm.

I am still at a loss, however, when it comes to letting go of some things in my life. How do I let go of a hurt? How are we supposed to do that? Sure, we toss out phrases like, "Give it to God" or "Turn it over to Jesus" but those are no more helpful than "Let Go and Let God." One might as well tell me to "Leggo my eggo." If only we were dealing with waffles. But I am not trying to let go of breakfast. I am hanging out in the realm of hurts and expectations, memories and forgiveness, the past and the future. These are no more tangible than the Ghost of Christmas Present but they still feel more real than ever.

And does "letting go" mean forgiving and forgetting? Or does it just mean forgiving? Is the forgetting ever possible. And what of our expectations? What happens when we were expecting one thing from God and life and we get another? How valid are our expectations anyway? God was "supposed" to do this, but he has done something else entirely. Our loved one was supposed to be like this but they are someone different.

And what about being "hurt"? Is that the doing of someone else or the doing of ourselves? Are we supposed to give those close to us a "get hurt free" card whereby they are given the permission and power to hurt us at anytime for any reason?

Even our physical body has natural defense mechanisms. Our skin develops scabs to protect us from an immediate injury and calluses to protect us from prolonged pain. Our immune system is equipped to help guard us against viruses and bacterial infections that try to attack us from the inside out. Our muscles grow and develop after they are torn down from workouts. Our skin tans to protect us from the sun.

So why is it so bad to have emotional defense mechanisms? What is so wrong with guarding ourselves from the constant hurt that may occur in our lives? Or are we called by Christ to continue to open ourselves up to injury and assault? We turn the other emotional cheek. We go the extra mile. I know I don't want a heart that is cold and hard from calluses. But I also don't know if a bloodied soul makes for a healthy life.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Pharisaic thanks

Tronster told me the other day that Job is the book that is good to go to when our lives are crappy. And he is right. The strange thing is that he told me this in his "fireroom" at our Towson pre-Thanksgiving link group.

Thanksgiving is a time when we think of the good times. We remember the past turkey days with nostalgia. Ours eyes get glossy as the Tryptophan runs its course and our bloated stomachs bulge through our pants. For most of us, Thankgiving is good reason not to read Job.

It got me thinking. Here I am focusing my mind on the whole story of Job. And it sits in stark contrast to the holiday season. This guy lost everything. And he lost it for no good reason. It seems like Satan and God went to Vegas and decided to do some gambling on the life of Job. I wonder what the odds were. Probably two to one.

In the end, Job did some complaining but he never cursed God much to the dismay of his own wife. His plight wasn't from any sin of his own regardless of what his friends said. And his misery was not for the purpose of strengthening his character, as Jobs youngest friend claimed. We never really find out why God allowed Job to go through such pain. We don't know why he lost all that he had. All we know is that Job was closer to the truth than his friends and that God blessed him doubly after it was all said and done.

I guess I can read Job and be thankful. Much like the Pharisee, I can praise God that I am not like "that guy." I can be thankful that I don't have to sit in a corner and scratch sores off my arm with a piece of pottery. I can thank God that my ten children weren't all taken in one day and that all my wealth wasn't destroyed in a storm. But who wants to do that?

No one wants to read Job on Thanksgiving. And especially not on Christmas. We don't want to be reminded of the seemingly pointless suffering in this world. We want to believe that God has a purpose for all it. But Job doesn't say that. Job simply reminds us that God is all powerful and sovereign. We are reminded by reading that He is God and we are not. We are not comforted by promises of double blessings or by the promise that "everything will be ok." We are only told of the awesome and fearsome power of the Almighty.

The odd thing is that for Job, that was enough. When he faced the magnitude of Yahweh he had no more complaining to do. He simply repented in dust and ashes. Though he seemingly had every right to curse God, let alone complain, he didn't. After facing the the Creator, he was done. He would be content scratching his puss filled sores in his cardboard box with no progeny to follow.

So what am I thankful for? Am I just thankful that I don't have "too much" suffering in my life? Am I just thankful for the blessings that I do have in my life? What happens when blessings leave and the pain comes? Will I still be thankful? Can I be thankful in God alone? I have to ask myself, "Is it enough that God has called me his child?" Does that reality outweigh all the tangibles in my life?

And maybe that is why Job was blessed by God in the end. I think most of us would laugh in the face of God. We would demand and explanation. We would demand a purpose to our suffering. A purpose that we would understand. For most of us, or maybe just for me, God is hardly enough.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

enemy lovers

Often when we speak of love it is in terms of a romantic relationship. As we near the Christmas season and Thanksgiving holiday, the idea of love often makes us reflect upon warm memories of friends and family. Yet, as Christians, Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

Its easy enough to say, "love your enemies," but nearly impossible for most of us to do. Jesus loved his enemies. God loved us when we were his enemies in sin. But how in the world do we as Christians living in 2004 (soon to be 2005) love our enemies?

I guess we must first ask who are our enemies. I believe there are multiple layers of enemies in our lives. Most of us would say that we don't "hate" anyone necessarily. But on the geopolitical level, "terrorists" are often seen as our enemies. The other political party is seen as the enemy. The family member or former friend that you no longer talk to may be an enemy. And the sort of "mini-enemies" are all around us. The driver who cuts you off in traffic. The bills that pile up month after month. Even our own selves function as an enemy in our lives.

Some of these enemies are easier to love than others. So let me focus on just one for the moment. How do we love the people that are anointed with the title "terrorist?" How do we love them in our hearts and show them love through action? Is there a good way that an American Christian can love an Iraqi Arab who beheads our soldiers? Is there a good way for an Israeli Christian to love a Palestinian Muslim who is a member of Hamas?

In theory we can conjure up pseudo-emotions of compassion and sympathy for these people. But if DC Talk was right, if love really is a verb, then how do we do it? My initial mental picture is a room full of grey hairs who are knitting blankets in their Sunday School room for bombers who get cold the night before the day of their destruction. Is it a class full of 5th graders writing Valentine's cards to the swordsmen who are so proud of their decapitations?

Love your enemies? Sure, I will get right on that.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

voting for the will of God

What to do with those crazy Christians? That is the question I find facing me. All the "fundies" who prayed for Bush to win ... Pat Robertson who prayed for Bush and felt like God told him that Bush would win big ... Bush, himself, who believes that God has placed him there in that position for a reason. What do we do with them? They were right!!

Well, lets back up a bit. The results of the election were as the "fundies" were hoping. There were more people voting this year than ever. And Bush won the popular vote by a HUGE margin. Not only that, but Bush got more popular votes than any president in history. So how am I to understand these crazy Christians.

I have to admit that I did vote for Bush. I disagree with him on some of his policy issues, but on the whole I admire his character and trust his faith. I like most of his views on moral issues and truly believe that he tries to submit to the will of God.

But is that how God works? If a guy's policy issues seem to be contrary to the Kingdom of God, yet his faith is vibrant and alive, does God place his favor upon him. Is God involved at all? Is it totally in the hands of voters and our free will? Is the will of God actively moving people so that their free will choice ends up accomplishing His will? So many questions.

I guess if I put up my tent in one camp or the other these questions would be decided for me. If I was 100% Republican, then what just happened was the will of God. If I was 100% Democrat then what just happened would be another example of sin in the world. If I was all Calvinist, then it wouldn't matter what political party I supported, God's will was accomplished. If I was all Arminian, then I would have to refer to my political party to see whether this was the will of God.

When I read the Old Testament, I see a God who does raise people to power for his purposes. When I read the New Testament, I see Christians who suffer, not glory in wealth and power. When I study the Kingdom of God, it moves beyond the boundaries of theology and politics. So once again I am left with mystery. I am left with my conviction, warranted or not, that there is some synergy between my will and God's will. Somehow God carries out his plan through our free choices.

I also know that I believe that when I was a sophomore in high school I felt that God was leading me to become the senior class president of my high school class. Sure enough, two years later I was senior class president. Was it me? Was it God? I can only say "yes" to both. So who am I to argue with Bush when he believes he was called to be President of the U.S. And as far as Pat Robertson is concerned, I have to admit that he was right. Bush did win big. Whether he got that from projected poll statistics or through his prayer life, who am I to judge.