Month: November 2021

A 3 Or 4

No post here or anywhere last week because I was quite ill. In fact, over the last 3 weeks, a virus (not THE virus) has swept through this house, affecting each of us to varying degrees. This happens. Spending time in close contact with others carries a certain risk, as people are walking, talking, hugging germ farms.

So we get sick from time to time.

Now that I think about it, spending time in close contact with others carries giant mounds of “certain risks,” so many, and so big, that it’s easy to wonder why we would ever spend time in close contact with others. If we are honest, some parts of the quarantine weren’t awful, right? We had a built-in excuse for anything and everything we didn’t really want to do. Nearly every one of our relationships and communities suffered from the distance. Screens are a substitute, but they just aren’t that great of a substitute. My dad had a saying, “6 in one, a half dozen in the other,” meaning the 2 choices were so similar, the choice was insignificant. Screens are not 6 or a half dozen, they’re more like a 3 or 4.

We are still hanging on to the excuse. It’s become the new “washing my hair,” the new “I don’t have time, I’m too busy.” We all know we have time. We maybe don’t have time for this, but we do have time. It’s hardly ever about dirty hair or jammed schedules.

Maybe we just don’t want to take the risk, and would like to be safe instead.

The author Paulo Coelho wrote: “A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of a boat.” It is not the purpose of a human being, either.

Since my cold is still stubbornly hanging on, a standing Monday morning meeting was moved from in-person to Zoom. The person I meet is lovely, and is also lovely on Zoom. (Like I said, it’s a 3 or 4, not a zero – it doesn’t turn beautiful things into trash.) But both of us would be lying if we said it was the same. In her living room, we can easily spend an entire morning in deep, thoughtful conversation. Today it was barely 45 minutes until we both faced silence and the familiar, “well… I guess we’ll get going.”

This isn’t a surprise. BEFORE the fall in Genesis, 1 thing was “not good,” and that was for you & I to be alone. We are made for this kind of relationship, to celebrate, to laugh, to cry, to bear each other’s burdens. I have been made to share in your mess. My arms were made to wrap around you, and if that sometimes means we get sick, well then, I guess I’ll get sick.

Words Matter

Here’s something I read from an article written by Edward Klink III: “Let me state it plainly: it is impossible to have a faithful walk with Christ and Christian life—biblically or practically—without committed participation in a local church. To talk about Jesus and not his body, the church, is not to talk fully and rightly about Jesus at all! You cannot just have a spiritual relationship with Jesus without a real connection to his physical body. Even talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus” can be misleading if not properly defined. To say that a person has a personal relationship with Jesus is to speak about how a person becomes a Christian, not how a person lives as a Christian.”

I often read things pretty mindlessly, almost like skimming. I don’t know why I’m in such a rush that I can’t give a few minutes to engage wholeheartedly, I’m not that busy. Just today, my inbox had several weeks worth of email (that gmail helpfully categorizes as Promotions and files them away) needing to be addressed eventually. One was an expired invitation for a special virtual conference that I remember seeing and being interested in, but without immediate attention it became just another tap of the trash can icon.

Anyway. I keep them because of a well-intentioned desire to return & carefully read. Then on a day like today, I open and pretend to read them all before moving them to the garbage heap. But this article, this paragraph in particular, against all odds got stuck in my mind and brought the momentum to a screeching halt.

Is it really “impossible?” What does the subjective phrase “faithful walk” mean? Or “committed participation?” And “real connection?” What a fascinating few lines of text, right? All good writing asks something of us; to stop, to be here, to engage. To put aside the thoughts of meal prep or fantasy football lineups or the next item looming on the calendar. Even to put aside our own accepted positions that have not been re-evaluated in way too long, taken for granted as true (or if not necessarily true, they are our accepted positions, and should be defended as such.)

Do I think it’s impossible? Maybe. I used to think it was absolutely possible, even preferable, to be without a local church, which is full of hypocrites (like me) and other’s issues (like mine). I don’t so much anymore. Now I’m sure it’s not preferable, but impossible?

The answer to that depends on how we define “faithful walk,” “committed participation,” and “real connection,” I suppose. And as none of our definitions will be the same, it’s hard to use a word like impossible. If we use Klink’s definitions of “faithful” or “committed,” it’s impossible. Maybe not if we use mine. And my own definitions have changed over the years, even over the days or minutes, and will surely continue to transform.

I know, after a global pandemic caused a seismic shift in my concept of “connection,” I’m more convinced that a local church isn’t a luxury.

I also know that I’m very wary of using the word “impossible” in the context of a faith based on a God who became a man who died and was resurrected. It seems after all we’ve seen and heard, we should probably excise the word from our vocabulary.

So we could spend forever chewing on those words and how they play out in our own lives, but it’s that last sentence and the difference between “becoming” and “living” that is chewing on me. The point I’m trying to to make is that words matter. Becoming a follower of Jesus is different from living as one – becoming involves One Big Yes, living requires thousands of them. Can we do that – living – alone, without a community? I guess the answer is maybe, but the better question is, why on earth would we want to?

dishonor

My family & I read a devotional with the suggested passages of the Bible and then answer the questions. This is a relatively new practice for us. Maybe not that new. We’ve started this type of thing several thousand times over their lives, sometimes it lasts for a day or 2, sometimes for a week, hardly ever longer. When I think about my boys having no spiritual study or direction in their own homes, I am embarrassed and know exactly why God had to look for the man in the garden in Genesis 3. We desperately want to hide our faces rather than see & feel the look of disappointment in His eyes. Where are you?

Anyway. The topic last night was our bodies, presenting them as living sacrifices to the God who made them and gave them to us. It’s a devotional “for athletes,” so it focused on drugs, mostly the performance enhancing kind. As far as I know, my boys don’t have much experience with these, so I changed the first question a little. “What substances do you put in your body that might bring dishonor to the name of God?” became, “Do you do anything that might dishonor this gift you’ve been given?”

There is a fine line here. It’s a decidedly good thing to examine the care we take with ourselves, what God would consider His temple. And we can even examine the ways we dishonor ourselves that, in turn, dishonor this gift and the Giver.

But it is a very bad thing to cross that line into the space where God is disappointed with us, looking down with arms crossed shaking His head. Do you remember when your parents would say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed,” and it would break your heart in a million pieces? That is the posture we assign to God, and through that posture we receive guilt and, even worse, shame. This is the shame that causes us to run away to hide our faces.

It’s so bad because, as far as I can tell, it’s just not true. As it says in Romans, there isn’t any condemnation or separation from God. There isn’t any distance we can go that’s too far away, no amount that is just too much. In the Age of Grace, our transgressions are as far removed as the east is from the west. (Ps. 103) The shame we feel doesn’t come from God at all, we are the ones dragging that baggage to the feast.

I don’t think true life change happens from a negative impulse (like “shall not ___,” “stop ___,” etc.) Instead, it comes from a big, strong Yes. The shall not is a consequence of a beautiful shall. What I mean is, there’s no room for cake when we’re so full of Brussels sprouts. (Which is probably a bad example because Brussels sprouts are soooooooooo gross.) We will stop scrolling porn sites when we’re turning pages in a great uplifting book. There’s no time to stoke the embers of infidelity when we’re fanning the flames of a passionate marriage. We won’t have energy to gossip when we’re listening to and following our divine call.

So. The earlier question’s ‘dishonor’ can lead to visions of disappointment which leads to shame which leads nowhere. I’m convinced that look in God’s eyes is a crushing sadness that comes from His awareness of the violence we’ll inflict on ourselves.

I don’t believe God is mad at me anymore for my lack of follow through. (It’s a great thing to dive into the Bible and this devotional, the conversation an even better thing, the connection the absolute best thing.) I think His heart breaks at the horribly destructive words I point at me, His own carefully, wonderfully made creation.

My answer to the question is, yes, I do. I have been mean and disrespectful of me way too often. The only difference is that His arms aren’t crossed, they’re wrapped around me loving me into a different perspective, a different response, a different reality.