Bible

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour or 2 writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Who Is Absalom?

Today I am reading Amos, a tiny book among the group known as the minor prophets. Amos is proclaiming judgment against everyone. He uses a familiar tactic in the Scriptures, beginning with the judgment intended for the enemies of Israel. As we would certainly do, they are in agreement. “Yes, they do deserve this judgment!!! Yaaaayyyyy!!! About time!” Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the same format. He describes “the sinful people,” and once we are appropriately self-righteous, in chapter 2, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

You know, it’s easy to see their problem, their bad decisions, their mistakes and missteps.

Anyway. Amos is from a town called Tekoa. Why do I care? Is this important? Maybe. But Tekoa came up before, in 2 Samuel, and maybe I care about that.

2 Samuel 14:2 “So [Joab] sent for a woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom.” A woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom. I always like it when a wise woman is referenced, it feels like a direct attack on the misogynistic religious patriarchy who would misuse the Bible to keep women quiet and in the background. I know so many wise women and when I need something done well, like Joab, I usually seek out one of these women “from Tekoa.”

It seems that Absalom had done this thing that caused his father David (yes, that David) to exile him, when David’s military commander Joab sought out the woman from Tekoa to manipulate David into seeing where he had strayed from the path. It’s very similar to David’s interaction with the prophet Nathan (“You are that man!!!”). So David brings Absalom back and Absalom then organizes a rebellion and ousts David. Judge Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court often says, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Eventually, David goes back to fight for the throne and wins, chasing Absalom out of the city. Absalom gets hung up in a tree by his long beautiful hair and is killed, against the King’s orders, by…Joab!!! It’s a fascinating story and the thing that started it all was one of Absalom’s brothers, Amnon, raped his sister Tamar and Absalom killed him for it. Actually, the thing that started it is that, in Exodus, the command is to not have “many wives,” but by this point David has 8 wives and 7 concubines. I’d call that ‘many.’

So maybe I don’t care that Amos is from Tekoa, but I care a great deal about Absalom and his great hair and Joab vouching for the wrong guy and David making bad choices and humbly correcting them and revenge and unbridled lust and image and beauty and consequences. It’s everything and more. And we often say the Bible is outdated & irrelevant with nothing to say to us, today.

I think we’ll start to dive into this story a little more for the next few weeks, starting with the phrase, “[Amnon] hated [Tamar] more than he loved her.” It’ll be quite a ride.

The Invitation

Last Sunday I used the phrase, “we are to use our creativity to actively impact our environment,” knowing how many questions it carried along with it, like barnacles hitchhiking on a whale. Do I have any creativity? Does everyone? Either way, what should I do? What is our environment? Can I really impact the world? This all seems so big and overwhelming, is it possible? How do I find time to do this? If God wants this, why doesn’t He do it Himself?

And on and on, right? It sometimes seems like each line of the Scriptures asks more than it answer, every word a doorway to a new idea or avenue of exploration and reflection. That’s not an accident, I don’t think, it is the design.

I’m not going to A any of those Q’s I referenced earlier, except the 1st and last.

1st: Yes.

Last: Built into the story of us, right there in the first 2 books of the Bible, we find our answer. Everything created is given the ability to produce, to participate, to carry on, to move this story forward. If we weren’t supposed to be robots “in the beginning,” why would we be now? (Well, maybe that’s a bad question – we might be because most things we touch, we break. But that doesn’t appear to be God’s intention for us or this entire creation.) We have been gifted with the free will to choose; love or indifference, surrender or control, engagement or apathy. We can be here now, awake to the unbelievable blessings around us, OR, we can sleepwalk down streets jammed with burning bushes, wondering if God exists and, if so, where He is and why He isn’t speaking to us.

This participation applies to our relationship with His Word. This beautiful library of poetry, song, history, wisdom, parable, and whatever Revelation is, is not now and has never been intended to be an instruction manual, like in the glove box of your car or the LEGO booklets that have a step-by-step guide to making their product. If it was, I promise you there wouldn’t be 2 verses that were exact opposites!!!! Those verses are Proverbs 26:4 & 5, google them, and spend the rest of the day considering why they are consecutive verses, instead of spread chapters apart, where we could forget. It’s as if we are being forced to deal with the contradiction. On that note, it’s similar to the parable of the vineyard workers. If the landowner had paid the workers from the first hired to the last, they wouldn’t have known that they all got the same amount. He wanted them to know, wanted to confront them, wanted them to wrestle with the implications. He wanted them to participate in their own growth, wanted them to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”

The invitation has been given, it’s now up to us what we do with it. What kind of world do we want to live in? That might be the biggest question we have to answer on this subject, because the way we answer that will direct our steps on a daily basis. If I want to live in a world of kindness, I will practice kindness.

(And as John would probably say, if we aren’t practicing kindness, maybe we don’t really want to live in a world of kindness. Maybe we don’t really believe kindness works.)

If we want to live in a world of generosity, we will be generous. If we want love, we will love.

This is the invitation. There is a party, now how will we dress and what will we bring?

2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

What I have found is that sometimes I get busy, distracted like those dogs i the Pixar classic UP shouting “Squirrel!!!” I chase the new & shiny or what I mistakenly perceive as urgent and easily turn a blind eye to the things that have brought me so much peace and growth. It’s maddening when I finally see it. My soul is (and has been) thirsty, trying to catch my eye and my attention.

Last week was Easter and during the message – I know that sounds like I am disconnected, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I prepare well so I can remain open and receptive to any promptings, which often come – so anyway, during the message I had a tremendous clarity that I absolutely believed the words I was saying. I know, I know, we hope that goes without saying, but what I mean is that because I believe, because I know this, maybe my life should be reflecting this knowing.

This revelation sounded odd to Elisha, who already thinks my life does reflect this love, this passion. But what he doesn’t see is that in my Google calendar, I have reminders for the dishes (Monday & Friday, because I love my wife) and to call my sister on Thursdays and text/call my mom every other day, and not a one for prayer or meditation. I NEVER miss a workout ever, but I sometimes “don’t have time” to sit down and read my Bible, even just 1 verse.

On the 1st of the month when I take care of the bills, the first thing I do is write a check to the Bridge. I give 1st because if I wait until the end, there won’t be “enough.” My time, though, is different. You know, I have been saying (and I said it Easter Sunday) that we settle for “table scraps” from others when we should not, but it’s those words that are haunting me because scraps of time are what I am too often tossing to God.

I suppose I shouldn’t say this out loud, or maybe this is precisely what I should say out loud. Who knows? As a lifelong over-sharer, I’ve never been great at knowing that line. This is me. So starting over Monday (faith is such a journey of starts and stops and re-starts and re-stops) I give to God right away, for as long as we want or need. And it is so great.

Sometimes we just sit, or I read and am relatively unmoved, and then sometimes I receive this beautiful peach in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, which I’ll share with you.

[Just a side note, do you know at the end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2, Paul says (my paraphrase): “I didn’t come to you when I said because I didn’t want to yell at you again?” Isn’t that awesome? It’s easy to love the Bible.]

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,[d] will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

How could I, why would I, not find time for this?????????

If

The accounts of the wilderness temptations of Jesus begin with hunger, and that’s the perfect context. We’re all more susceptible when we’re hungry or tired or otherwise physically compromised. My sister and my son become absolute monsters when it’s too long without food. Maybe I do, too. Maybe we all do. I know I am not the ray of sunshine everybody thinks I am when I don’t sleep well or at all. This was 40 days & nights of fasting, of course the tempter would come then.

Then, when He’s hungry, the conversation begins, “If You’re the Son of God…” IF You are the Son of God. IF.

It’s these 2 letters at the very beginning of this story that have me struck me so deeply. I guess it’s because of all the time I’ve spent asking the question, Who am I? The truth about God and the devil are so evident in this exchange. God speaks at His baptism “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” and the next word Jesus hears is “IF.” God is also speaking to us, we are His children, His creation, His beloved, and the lies begin with the same 2 heartbreaking letters, IF. “You are loved” & “you belong” become “If you are loved” & “if you belong.” It’s a subtle twist that is designed to introduce doubt. Fear. Insecurity. Inadequacy. The question of who I am quickly morphs into a detailed list of the many reasons why I am not enough. For Him, for her, for them, for me.

It’s a rephrase of the first question of the enemy, “Did God really say…?” Did God really say I’m His? Did God really say forgiven? Did God really say Jesus Alone? Did God really say I am loved? All false teaching preys on this insidious perversion that begins with 2 tiny, innocuous letters.

Think about the cracks introduced in any statement when they are added. She loves me, and IF she loves me. Such a little thing makes such a big difference.

If He is the Son of God, He would change these stones to bread, or throw Himself off the highest peak to prove it. And His answer is always “It is written.” Where it is written, there isn’t an “if” at all. Our identity is written all over His word, His hands and His heart.

But that doesn’t play well to those of us who are usually looking for the fine print, at best, and at worst, any reason to inflict the greatest amount of harm (on ourselves and/or others). The stories I see played out in real time and the ones that try to run on a loop in my head follow the same template: We are not worthy of wonder. We are not worthy of peace. We are not worthy of love. We settle for the scraps that fall from the table when our seats are reserved for the feast.

The journey of faith for me has looked like a divine hand that lifts and moves the needle when the record gets stuck on IF instead of the beautiful symphony that He has created in everything. It’s the opposite of humility to de-value His creation, even when that creation is in the mirror. It’s arrogance to believe that we are beyond His forgiveness and love, it’s disrespectful to believe that He made such a grievous mistake in us, and it’s the most disgusting form of idolatry to ever believe one word of the devil – especially if that one word is as small and ‘harmless’ as IF.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a bad day. My very good friend with the biggest softest most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen wrote to me: “I’m sad about yesterday and how ugly we are to each other.” And all there is to say is, me too. I’m not surprised, though, and so far I can’t tell what is more depressing, that it happened or that none of us are surprised.

But there is this other side of things that came out of me to her and cleared things up for me. Have you ever felt like you honestly don’t know how you feel? Like there are so many emotions, some polar opposites, and they aren’t creating any sort of cohesive environment. Like it’s snowing and you’re warm and sweaty. Or like you’re listening to Britney Spears and enjoying it. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t make sense.

Yesterday was this no good horrible very bad day and as I watched the news and refreshed my browser every 30 or 40 seconds to see new reports of tear gas and evacuation and then broken glass, my heart was indeed breaking but I was strangely hopeful amid the wreckage. Now I know why.

Because she also ended her message with “How are you?” That’s why.

You see, sometimes something really terrible happens and it leads to change that couldn’t happen otherwise. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are just fine, but then we get fired or she leaves or we have a breakdown and there’s no more point in pretending. We run and run until we simply can’t run anymore. Sometimes, the darkness has to be complete before we realize how dark it is and look for a light.

The system has been broken for years, and now there’s no use in pretending it’s not so bad anymore. And only now that we can’t ignore it can we begin to look at how to repair it.

I drove the same car for 16 years and, when asked when I would get a new one, always responded, “Why? It’s perfect.” It wasn’t perfect, had many warning signs it was on it’s last legs, no heat, no air, I couldn’t use lights and wipers at the same time, but they were minor enough that I could look the other way. Then it turned itself off while I was driving. Now I have a new car.

So, I’m sad and hopeful. The car not only turned itself off but burst into flames and exploded. And now maybe we’ll get a new car.

It’s a huge mountain to climb. Where do we start? How do we start? Do the actions of you and me amount to anything? Who knows, but what I’ll do in the meantime reminds me of a joke (more like a story) that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” What I’ll do in the meantime is take bites. I will Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” AND I’ll love you like crazy. Agape love. Kindness. Gentleness. Peace. Patience. I believe love is way more contagious than any virus, so soon we’ll all be Philippians 4:8-ing and loving each other as if we were made to do it, which of course, we were.

The other way hasn’t worked, we’ve tried it for sooo long, and it is now obvious to everyone. My friend in her heartache reached out to/for me to see how I was, “How are you?” She has a son and that son who is growing up with her, watching her, will see this empathy, this compassion, this care. He will see a new design for life, which isn’t new at all, it goes all the way back to Genesis 1 & 2. But this “new” design will be the one he uses to craft his life and his life will “storm the rotunda” of every building we’re lucky enough for him to enter. It’s this design that can change history.

Maybe it won’t, maybe there will be no reversing our downward spiral. But what empty tombs and Sundays prove to me is that it can. And that is more than enough to eat another bite.

For This

I’ve been reading these novels by Fredrik Backman that are incredibly moving, heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time in the same measure. You know the things that are so beautiful you know you could never in a bazillion years create something so lovely AND make you want to try? These novels are like that.

Anyway, in the one I started today (Britt-Marie Was Here), the title character says, “I want someone to know I’m here.” Those words and that emotion dismantle me because I know how many Britt-Marie’s there are in my town, on my street, alone and invisible. Alone, in crowded rooms and offices as well as empty houses. Invisible, moving in total anonymity, never knowing or being known. I know that sometimes I’m Britt-Marie. That we’re all Britt-Marie, sometimes.

We all need to be seen, known. We all need to be accepted, to belong. We all need to be loved. And how many of us go to bed with that need unmet?

This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival, but it’s not. Instead, it’s killing us. We’re invisible and we were never meant to be invisible.

We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together, to care for each other, to be our brother’s keeper.

There are too many Britt-Marie’s, and this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas, of the love of Jesus, become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know the Britt-Marie’s are here. And I want us to be the ones that know.

At my old church, the pastor, Barb, used to implore us to action by calling us “Church” as if it were our name. It is our name, and it’s long past time for us to act. The Child came and His name is “God With Us.” He calls us to put hands and feet and hearts to His love, to put flesh to His ‘With.’

Christmas is desperately needed this year, on the 25th and every day thereafter. Christmas can be a way of life, “with” can be our purpose. We are here, all of us. Jesus came and “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message translation) so that we would know, without a doubt, exactly how much we matter. This Child, this Savior, changed our lives, transformed us with His boundless love. And for what? For this, Church; to be the ones who know.

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

119

Psalm 119 (which is a really really loooong Psalm) says:

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word (v. 37)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow Your statutes (v. 59)

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (v. 106)

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands (v. 143)

Those who love Your law have great peace (v. 165)

We’ve been talking an awful lot about commands on Sunday mornings, which can easily be understood as a gospel of works. This sort of gospel is not “good news” at all because it’s based on us getting it right, on us doing all the things, checking all the boxes, earning and climbing higher and higher. How high? Who knows? Just higher. 1 John 5 continues in this vein, so what do we do with that? It sounds like a “have-to” situation.

It’s not a “have-to.” John refers to it as a “proof” of faith, an outward representation of an inner reality. If we get a nice new coat on Christmas morning, we’ll wear it. The wearing is the proof that we have it. I can say all day that I have the best new coat ever, worth more than all the money in the world, but how will you know if I never wear it? Why wouldn’t I wear it? That would be odd.

I bought a new sweater 2 weeks ago and it’s thick and soft, what my mom would call cozy warm. I haven’t worn it yet because it hasn’t been cold enough in those 2 weeks, but I can’t wait to put it on and show it to you. It seems strange to have this awesome sweater and ask, “Do I have to wear it? How often? Around who? What if I don’t?” I am looking for any excuse to wear my new sweater. I’ve been checking the weather every night.

This coat or sweater is our gift, it’s free, and whether we wear it or not, it’s ours. BUT it gets cold. John and Psalm 119 (maybe, probably written by Ezra, the priest) make it sound like following these commands is pretty integral to the kind of cozy warm life we’d like to have. I like peace. I sometimes feel pressure and stress bearing down on me. We all do, it’s 2020. It would be cool to have joy in 2020 instead of upset stomachs and headaches.

This Psalm stood out me because I’ve been pondering my life quite a bit lately. This isn’t very unusual, I am a ponderer, and when I do, I look for practices that line up with the values that carry more weight with me. For instance, I go to the gym most days. If not carefully monitored, ‘most days’ easily turns into ‘every day’ and my body and spirit suffer. One of my core values is to be a healthy man (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), and no rest days compromises that. So I turn and add some structure to help me pursue that particular value.

These commands are our coats and sweaters, our rest days. They are the tangible bricks that build the walls of our lives. We put on Love. We put on honesty and Sabbath and not wanting our neighbors donkeys (which is another way of saying, we are grateful for what we have). These things aren’t the point, Jesus is, but 2020 has been very cold and we’ve been so distracted by that cold, we’ve been missing that BIG point. Maybe remembering our coats and our rest days, maybe some Psalm 119-ing, would be just the thing we need to focus again.