Last week was my birthday, next week is my sister’s, tomorrow is her 27th wedding anniversary. My sister is one of my very favorite people in the world, so it’s a really beautiful time to celebrate her and her marriage, as well as reflect on another year for myself. Where am I, where am I going, what will I add, what will I leave behind, that sort of thing.
One of the gifts I received from my son Elisha was a jigsaw puzzle that was pink. Just pink. No picture, no shading, no distinction to any of it. Just a torturous pink rectangle. We finished it last night (which is why I hadn’t written earlier;) and it’s wonderful. I’m going to glue & frame it, and never, ever do it again.
Samuel also gave me a puzzle, full of musical artists, exactly the puzzle that will be a great time. But he threatened to give me something called an Impossible puzzle. There aren’t any flat edges (gasp!) and there are extra pieces that don’t fit. I’m glad he didn’t. As much as I like to think and talk about it, it’s not welcome in this house.
But it did remind me of our conversation Sunday morning. 1st Corinthians 3 has a terrific passage where Paul asks what materials we’re using to build the local church, and that can easily be adapted to ask what materials we’re using to build our lives. Hopefully, it’s the same answer; our first fruits, not what’s left at the end of the day. Do we find that we’re showing up (to work, our families, the gym, any- and every-where) fully present, awake, engaged, giving the best of us, peaceful, authentic, honest, hands and feet of Jesus…OR…are we exhausted, our attention always split, pretending, dishonest, inauthentic, negative, carrying a spirit of despair, ”as if we don’t belong to the Lord,” where there’s no tomorrow, no new creation, as if the tomb isn’t empty?
The idea is to live lives (build our greatest works of art) with attention & intention. Lives of purpose, meaning, and joy don’t happen by accident, just like they don’t happen by using inferior, leftover, scrap materials. How are we going to walk through this one life we’ve been given? How will we treat the temple of God (and just in case any of us haven’t heard or need reminding, that’s you and me, we are the temple of God)?
What does this have to do with that obnoxious Impossible puzzle? Well, there are many many pieces out there, but not all of them fit. Maybe they fit me, or your neighbor, but they don’t fit you. The real impossibility is to know what pieces to keep and which to discard without having an idea what picture we’re making. The great philosopher the Cheshire Cat says it doesn’t matter which path we take if we don’t know where we’re going.
Marriages don’t last 27 years and counting chasing cars.
We don’t use permanent marker, we don’t chisel anything in stone, we’re just not waking up saying, “God was in this place and I was unaware,” anymore.
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.