I don’t know if you know this, if this has ever been your experience, but sometimes a Bible passage is difficult. Sometimes we don’t like it. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us. And other times, the passage simply leaves us unmoved. Last Sunday, I gave a message on one of these last kinds that felt a little aimless in my head.
(Maybe I shouldn’t say this, maybe I should have all the answers and be very certain about everything and never give voice to any doubt or anything less than wild enthusiasm. Sigh. If that’s what I’m ‘supposed’ to do, I guess I’m not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be. Or maybe this is exactly who I’m ‘supposed’ to be and what I’m ‘supposed’ to do. What I know is that it’s true and I’m way too old to spend time trying to pretend anymore. I did more than enough of that.)
So. When we get into a passage of Scripture that is difficult, for any reason, what do we do?
This reminds me of a close friend of mine who recently recounted a sermon she had heard in a church service that she did not like at all. She disagreed with most of it, and the other parts were just ok, and her reaction was super fun to watch as her passion boiled over. What was she to do with this? Obviously, a sermon isn’t the Bible, but is the process similar?
The first option is to skip it and move on. This was not available to me. The chapter (1 Corinthians 2) seemed to me redundant and unnecessary, but we go verse-by-verse at the Bridge. I know when passages are tricky or quite unpopular well in advance, ones like this are a bit surprising, but the result is the same. We have to address it. But in our personal lives, we can jump to chapter 3 and move forward.
The second, the one I chose, is to dive in, read, reread, reread again, reread 100 times, follow cross references, read commentaries, articles, pray, meditate, spend time with blank screens, take notes, delete the notes, discover contextual details, ask, seek, and knock. In Sunday’s case, after all of this, I still couldn’t find the hook.
Now, either one of these is a good option. The 3rd is the only one that isn’t, to close our Bibles and disengage. We figure the Bible is old and outdated, we don’t understand it, it’s hopeless, whatever.
As my friend and I talked about the sermon, the only path we would not take is to ignore it. In the Scriptures, if we get angry or vehemently disagree, why? There’s always a reason the text pricks us in a sensitive spot. Why is that? Why did that message affect her in that way? Why did that book, movie, person, interpretation, affect us in that way? Maybe that ‘why’ is exactly the point. That ‘why’ will end up asking more questions, often these soft spots are the places that invite us into the greatest growth.
If we don’t understand, why? Maybe we don’t understand because we need more information, discussion, time, prayer, or maybe we just don’t understand it now. Once I couldn’t swim, but later I could. I’m glad I didn’t get out of the water forever.
We must not quit and walk away. I tried to read the book A Clockwork Orange several times. It’s a hard read, with the language, the vocabulary, the subject matter. Twice I threw the book across the room, promising to NEVER again try to read such a piece of garbage. Then I’d pick it up again and stop early again. Then I finished it and it wasn’t at all garbage, it was brilliant, deep and important, and I am now an avowed Clockwork Orange evangelist.
So, about Sunday. 1. I think the natural vs spiritual is something we’ll come back to again and again. 2. The revelation of the Holy Spirit, the getting out of the way and allowing the Spirit to lead, is very important. Even as that is true, today I’m still missing the usual spark I feel about chapter 2. Maybe it’s just me, now, in this space, and the obstacle is wholly personal. I have no idea, but what I do know is that I can assure you that Sunday, and writing this today, aren’t the end of my wrestling with it. I’m finding this is what faith-ing is, a life walking with. It sure isn’t always firecrackers and mountain tops, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
2 weeks ago, on the Saturday retreat, Patricia quoted de Chardin, “Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace & circumstances acting on your own free will) will make of you tomorrow.”
There’s so much here, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Pulp Fiction, one of my very favorite films, was revolutionary for so many reasons, but the most striking is it’s use of chronology. The first scene is somewhere in the middle of the narrative, the last is later, but also in the middle, the beginning and the end liberally cut-and-pasted elsewhere. That’s what we’ll do here now, hopefully not to such a jarring effect.
“…will make of you tomorrow” implies movement. We (and everything) are becoming something else, growing, maturing. Right about now, as my boy is 2 weeks into his senior year of high school, it’s easy to want nothing more than things to stay exactly the same, as if he would be here forever. We sometimes don’t want to change, it’s uncomfortable and full of scary next steps into unknown realms. Even if now isn’t the greatest, it is familiar, right? We know what to expect, even if those expectations are squashing our spirits.
The other reasons we might not be moving forward are simple: apathy and distraction. Either each day is so full of relentless routine, requiring nothing of us, we’re set to autopilot, bored, listless, uninspired. Or we are distracted by our devices and/or numbing escapes, focused on entertainment, seeking nothing more than pleasure or, at least, a reprieve from the pain.
These few gigantic enemies of growth are illusions. Nothing can ever stay the same. There’s a saying in the business world – “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It isn’t only the business world.
“Don’t try to force…” What is more common to the human experience than our predilection for control? We want to be there, now. We want to bypass the 10,000 hours, jumping right to mastery. When I officiate weddings, I read 1 Corinthians and every time I say “Love is patient,” I look at the couple for any small sense of honest recognition. We really hate patience, we write nasty reviews if we sit in the waiting room for 5 minutes. Don’t try to force? I didn’t want to start with those words because they include a built in anxiety that can be overwhelming.
How do we reach that promise of tomorrow, then?
“Grace & circumstances acting on our own free will.” It’s a triangle with the pressures, trials and celebrations of the world around us and our desire to step into who we will be as the 2 shorter sides. The longest, most significant side being the grace of God (grace means gift, or gifts, blessings, the unreasonable undeserved unending love of God). All of these work together as a sort of forge to create a new me & you, like a nice chili. Great chili doesn’t happen in the microwave, right? That triangle is called “time” by de Chardin.
So. Now. Who are we today? Who will we be tomorrow? What kind of future is possible if we partner with God?
We’re talking about this today because Sunday I referenced another thing Patricia said, “You will find meaning where you give meaning.” And I think this principle works to replace “meaning” with anything: significance, grace, care, trust, kindness, honesty, peace.
Where are we giving our attention, or our own free will? I want it to be these beautiful lives, families, communities of ours. I want to know what kind of future (my own as well as the future of all things) is possible if we’re intentional, careful, patient and extraordinarily loving. I believe if we give these things, we’ll find these things, and with God’s extravagant grace and love, the tomorrow we make will be a million times better than we ever could have imagined.
I touched on something Sunday in a Biblical/theological context, but I’m thinking more and more that it has wide reaching, wildly impactful applications if we only take it out into the streets and grocery stores and schools.
Speaking of schools, the first day for our local school district was yesterday. Last week, we circled the middle & high school while a group of us prayed over/for the students, staff, administration, and parents. I struggled with a big nagging question: what is my responsibility in all of this? First, what do I mean by “all of this?” The school district is no different from the rest of culture (and, to draw some parallels, the Corinthian church) in that they (we) are angry, frustrated, and all of the other adjectives that erupt from the root condition: divided. How do I (we) bring unity to a deeply fractured community? How do I help to heal, to replace insecurity with belonging, replace inadequacy with kindness and love? This is probably something we’ll explore here in the next few weeks, months, & years.
Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary ideas and concepts. The BIG illustration Sunday was that “the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead” is inside each of us. How can that not change everything about the way we see everything? Easy, because we’ve heard it so many times, it’s become simply a collection of letters in an old book instead of the same power that raised Jesus Christ is inside of us. John 3:16, the Church, Communion, and on and on. There is no shortage of examples in the Scriptures.
Now think of our lives through these lenses. Of course there are a million conveniences that are modern miracles (including the mind-blowing one we are communicating on/through right now), but consider spouses, children, and friends, too.
If we begin to see all as gifts, do you think that could seismically shift the way we hold them?
I think we usually choose to view our days, possessions, and people through a paradigm of entitlement, through the twisted picture of what “I” deserve.
Maybe a change in perspective could eliminate the negativity, and the army of should’s. We can get anything we want from any area of the world at our grocery store, we can mostly afford the things we need, we can drive there at any time of the day or night, and be out quickly and easily. Instead, we complain that the prices are increasing, the cart wheels squeal, the others inside are too slow, it should be easier/cheaper/more convenient for me. Our desire for more obscures the very real wonder of what is.
My wife is gorgeous, capable, independent, funny, brilliant, and caring. (If you know her, you know I could continue this list, but I do have to stop at some point.) She’s well out of my league, but we’ve been together for over 20 years so I can focus on how she eats pretzels or on the music she listens to. I can drift from gratitude into the tragic distraction of how she should be doing the smallest, most trivial thing. Obviously, she should always be doing the thing the way I want her to, right?
If you look at any social media, you’ll see an avalanche of this exact mindset. The school should be doing (anything) like this. My neighbor should be parking, cutting his grass, voting the way I want. My kids should ______. The President/government/authorities should whatever. And this leads to a perpetual discontent.
I started this little diatribe with “Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary.” I think what I’m really saying is that maybe that’s not the best thing for us, and maybe it’s costing us more than we can imagine. Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I was unaware.” I don’t want to be unaware anymore. If I could only open my eyes to the world around me, I bet I would see colors and textures and beauty that would leave me speechless. Maybe the only spiritual journey is one of waking up; to Jesus, faith, the Bible, ourselves, each other, love, peace, and the items on the grocery store shelves.