Truths

I’ve been doing an awful lot of deep work lately. 

After receiving the gift of a very painful wakeup call that I could neither cover up, deny, or ignore, I chose to start facing the truth of who I REALLY am, both in all of the positive ways as well as the negative ways. 

During this whole process I have been taking a hard look at the truths that have governed my life—again, both for good and ill—up until now. These are the truths that have driven me forward, often unawares. They truths have spurred me towards greatness, and also into very dark places. 

My counselor recently had me do a writing exercise that addressed a deep wound that I have carried virtually my whole life. As I wrote, two of these deep truths spilled out of me. Without going into too much depth, I share them here:

1. WHEN THE TIME FOR TESTING COMES, YOU WILL BE FOUND WANTING…

2. … AND THERE WILL BE NO CONSOLATION FOR YOU. 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that during recovery, “Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces (of our lives) are suddenly cast aside,” and new ones set in, and begin to guide behavior. 

These two ideas and attitudes—amongst others—have guided my life for virtually 45 of my 50+ years. And I can see their pathology, the damage they inflict on my soul (and thus, the damage that they indirectly inflict on the people I love and care about). Even as I can ALSO recognize the strange gift that they have brought to me—hours and hours of pursuing and honing my craft and clarifying my vocation—I also wonder, “What ideas and attitudes COULD or SHOULD replace them?” 

Just taking the opposite, maybe they could read like this: 

1. YOU ARE ENOUGH. FURTHERMORE, THERE IS NO TEST; JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE KNOWING THAT YOU ARE ENOUGH…

2. …AND WHEN YOU FALL (FOR ALL OF US SURELY FALL), THE GOD-WHO-SUFFERS IS THERE WITH YOU, AND SO ARE OTHERS WHO LOVE YOU. 

It will take a while to fully live out these truths. But for now, maybe the place to start is to just be able recognize them, and remain AWARE of them as I move through life. 

All of us have these guiding ideas, emotions, and attitudes, and to the degree that we wish to experience healing in this life, there is a beautiful and spacious invitation to discover for ourselves what they are, and then seek to embrace their opposites. 

That Time When Jesus Wrecked My Ministry (Well, sorta)

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

I’ve written before about where my ministry shoulders are “broad”, meaning the areas that I feel competent and trained and able to execute fairly easily. When I began to teach and preach regularly a few years back, that started developing into an area of confidence and competence as well. I never thought of myself as a preacher, but I knew that words mattered to me, and somehow (for better or for worse) I was able to string together series of them into phrases and thoughts that seemed to matter to people. It seemed like I could do some good; people came up and affirmed me, and told me how much these thoughts and phrases had challenged them, or helped them to see God in a new way, or comforted them.

A part of me loved every minute of it.

My ego soaked it up, and began to believe all of those words that I heard. Each time I walked up onto our little platform, I desired to be poignant and clever; I wanted to shake people up, to invite them to see God and His world in an awe-filled and worshipful way. I continued to do some kind of good, and accepted people’s compliments with the requisite, “aw shucks” attitude that pastors are supposed to have.

But in retrospect I think that I was rotting inside.

When I began my sabbatical back in January, Jesus started dealing with me in some very serious, foundational ways, and one of the truths that I’ve had to deal with is how full of myself I can be.

My pride can be horrific.

For the past 10 months or so, I’ve been journeying inside myself to find all these nooks and crannies where destruction lives, and attempting to bring them out into the light where God can deal with them in a loving but firm way.

As a result, I’ve begun to feel somewhat like a normal human being.

But what’s been interesting—and even a little scary—is how it has impacted my ministry.

Because I have less confidence than ever.

Because I stumble over words more (maybe our congregation doesn’t notice, but believe me, I do.).

Because I feel empty. (Not in the spiritual way; in the “Watch-me-I-can-get-this-done-just-fine” way.)

Because I feel mostly like I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

All because Jesus showed up. All because he showed up to show me how ill I truly was, how my ego was destroying me, how my inflated and false sense of self was keeping me from knowing healing and some semblance of love.

He showed up—not because he wanted to tear me down as a pastor—but because he wanted to build me up as a human being. He comes to do that, you know: to turn us into full human beings, like we’ve always been intended to be.

He’s still working on me; I’m still speaking and playing music, and I’m growing used to the idea of not being in control of everything.

He’s better at it than I am.

Lent Reflection #6 :: Jesus Uncomfortable Healings

I’m probably alone in this, but sometimes I feel like Jesus has a funny way of healing people.

To my eyes and ears, Jesus’ healings have a hard edge to them.

For instance, we are told that one time Jesus heals a man with a “withered hand” on the Sabbath, and the religious experts are pretty ticked off about it (Mark 3v1-6). There are some interesting aspects to the story:

  • according to the text at least, the man hasn’t asked Jesus to heal him; in fact, Jesus initiates the whole process (in front of the community in the synagogue)
  • the man’s life isn’t at stake (even for Pharisees, saving life on the Sabbath was actually permitted)

There’s a sense in which Jesus is standing there, and commands the guy (who is not supposed to be in the synagogue), “Get in here and stand up in front of everyone so they can see what’s wrong with you.”

Can you sense the social awkwardness?

What begins to emerge is the possibility that Jesus is essentially using this man’s affliction and subsequent healing as an example, as a way to push the religious authorities into a corner (and to begin to plot Jesus’ death).

And all of this happens very publicly, in front of everyone. The man is healed, but first the man has to stand up in front of his community.

To me, it’s very tense. Why couldn’t Jesus have privately healed the man? Why couldn’t he have pulled the Pharisees and the Herodians aside and performed this act of political theatre in front of them alone?

Why subject the man to this public scrutiny?

A few chapters later, Mark relates the story of a woman who has been suffering—”bleeding”—for twelve years. Without going too deeply into social laws of the time, the cultural laws maintaining purity at this time were quite strict; this poor woman would have been strictly and severely ostracized.

So in a way you can understand her desperation to get to Jesus; to be made whole again. She reaches out her hand and grasps the edges of his cloak (or prayer shawl) and, “immediately”, we are told, her illness is gone.

Awesome. And then she goes away and is restored to life and community, right?

Almost. Not before Jesus very publicly calls attention to her. 

Before her ultimate restoration, Jesus makes sure the entire group of people knows that she is there, and that she has received a healing.

Again, part of me wonders why Jesus didn’t pull her aside, privately bless her and then restore her to the life.

Why the public display?

The last healing story actually comes out of John’s gospel. Jesus finds a man by a pool believed to have healing properties. The man had been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The man explains why he can’t get into the pool in time, and Jesus responds by saying, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

For some reason, on top of all the very public displays of Jesus’ healings, this one has been sticking with me.

And it’s all because of the mat. 

I don’t know the mat looked like. If it was comfortable; if it was threadbare and worn; if it was donated. I don’t know any of the details.

But I do know what it represented.

It represented the man’s weakness.

It represented his brokenness.

It represented his need for restoration; for health.

And Jesus tells him to pick it up and take it with him. 

If I put myself in the man’s place, I would have longed so deeply to leave the mat behind. Who wants to carry around the reminder of our past? Our brokenness? Our shame?

But instead, Jesus tells him, “No: actually this is the thing you have to bring with you. I know you’d like to leave this part of your life behind, but people need to see this. They need to ask, ‘Hey what’s with the mat?’ And you have to tell them your story.”

Looking back over these three stories, Jesus’ there’s always another agenda operating around Jesus’ healings. They are never “the endpoint.” If they were, it’s possible for Jesus to be considered more of magician—a first century “House”—than the Messiah. The healings are there to make theological points, to tell stories, to point people towards God’s restoration agenda for the entire world. Not to say that it’s great to be healed, but we need to remember that God’s (and Jesus’) agenda is always bigger than our own individual situations, and the healings are always a part of that agenda.

So maybe Jesus has done something for you. Maybe there’s some brokenness in your past (gosh I know there’s some in mine).

And maybe what you really want to do is to leave your mat behind. 

But instead Jesus is telling you, “Pick it up; pick up your past. Pick up your brokenness, the things you’ve seen, the things you’ve done, and even though I have restored you, tell others about them.”

Obviously, just because you carry your mat with you does not mean that you’re still crippled. But somehow you still have to tell people about it.

Live your life in such a way that people go, “Hey what’s with the mat?”

What does your mat represent? Have you left it behind? I think in so many ways Jesus is saying to us, “Go back and get it; carry it with you. Not in a shaming way, but in a way that helps others.”

peace

*e

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It’s Still About Surrender

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Soul-work is hard.

Since my Sabbatical began, I’ve been going inside myself to see more, learn more, and ultimately heal more.

What I’m finding hasn’t been pretty.

For now, I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but this one thing has been coming up, over and over again. This one aspect of my life that, even though it is essentially Christianity 101, I have managed to radically lose sight of. 

It’s the idea of surrender.

It’s the question of who is ultimately in control, not just of “my life” but of the pieces of my life as well.

Does that make sense?

Long ago, I’d bowed my head to the idea that my life is in God’s hands, but what I’m coming to terms with now is that even though I’d done that on a grand scale, on a day-to-day scale I still very much prefer to remain firmly in control.

And that wasn’t working anymore.

Right now, seemingly everywhere I look in my universe I see evidence of how I’m attempting to play God and stay firmly in control of people, situations, ideas, myself. When I can’t (because, um, I’m not God), it brings up such destructive thoughts and ideas.

I’ve really come to understand Paul’s words: “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?” (Romans 7:24 CEB)

Fortunately, I’m also on the road to understanding the second half of that thought: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Even though I thought I’d gotten this a long time ago, I’m learning (again?) that the beginning of freedom and peace is to release of the idea that I control anything in the first place.

If I could, I could save myself.

My job is not to control anything—it’s to cultivate the deep presence of God within me, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Guess what #1: it feels like dying. 

Guess what #2: dying is what we’re called to do in order to let Jesus live his life through us. 

For me right now, the only anecdote to pathological control is to seek God ruthlessly each day and cast myself on Him.

I’m finding that this doesn’t occur in a shotgun prayer as I hurriedly get in my car.

It doesn’t happen between shots of espresso.

It doesn’t even necessarily happen in the moments of desperation when I’m careening off track.

It happens in slowness. Stillness. Purposeful silence. Prayer. Meditation.

Which is, I guess, the way it’s always been.

God is our refuge and strength,

a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

when the waters roar and rage,

when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

Come, see the LORD’s deeds,

what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

burning chariots with fire.

‘That’s enough!

Now know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations;

I am exalted throughout the world!’

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

(Psalm 46)

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