Bible

Emotions

I gave a talk at a youth group near Gettysburg last Saturday. The church is fairly conservative (although it could be said that, to me, maybe every church is fairly conservative) and there was a very good chance that I would not play well there. I shared the message for their Sunday service several years ago and have not yet been invited back. The looks on the congregants faces told me as much, so the fact that I was not yet invited back was far less surprising than that I was for their youth group.

I was because I have very good friends who either persuaded everyone else who (hopefully) had forgotten the past or hidden my visit from them altogether. I didn’t ask which one.

My very good friend asked me to come and speak about music and faith. I said yes, of course, then asked “um, what kind of music?” Because the kind of talk I would give on Christian music might not be what she had in mind. And actually, what music I consider to be Christian might not be everyone’s, and we should probably know what definition we’re using to avoid the kind of misunderstandings I enjoy. She said whatever I wanted, and I asked her to pretty please repeat that. And she did. So, I said yes again.

Now, I think it would be fun to explore those songs and ideas here, in a short series based on that talk, called “It’s a Cold and It’s a Broken Hallelujah.”

The songs are: “Emotions,” by Mariah Carey. (So you know and can follow along as intended, we played the videos – easily found in a Google search. For this one, however, I offered to simply play the song because there was “a significant cleavage issue.” And there is.) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Help Is On The Way,” by Rise Against. (This one is the only one that the video is absolutely necessary.) And “Hallelujah,” the cover version by Jeff Buckley.

“Emotions” was a gigantic hit record in 1991. It was all of the words that begin with P: polished, produced, perfect. What an unbelievable showcase for that extraordinary instrument of hers, right?!! She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. The video is exactly like the song, glossy and refined, as if a team of marketers created it in a laboratory for maximum exposure and sales figures.

The problem is that it’s called “Emotions,” and I don’t feel any at all. Except that she’s awesome, I suppose.

Pretending is the other P word that comes to mind with something like this. It’s like an advertisement for LIFE, or at least the life other people are living, that I could be living if only I…whatever. It brings to mind – and the reason I play it in discussions of spirituality – gauzy pictures of Christians with perfect teeth and plastic smiles. This was the perspective I had of people of faith for the first half of my life. To me, they all looked like Joel Osteen book jackets, all smiles and manicured nails. My life wasn’t all smiles and manicured nails. In fact, no life I knew was all smiles. Sometimes, there were tears and dirt and darkness and hairs wildly out of place.

When you’re upset and the wheels are falling off, a Christian, with their cliches and cheery platitudes and “God’s plan,” is often the very last person you’d like to see. The carefully crafted images of rounded edges and masks they wear usually just amplify their uncomfortability and insecurity.

Everything is fine, and if it’s not, shhh, we’ll just hide that behind the closet door and hope it goes away.

Phony (another ‘P!!’) That is what “Emotions” means to me.

I understand that this is not the most positive way to start a conversation, but it gets better. It has to.

Red Canvas Shoes

The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community. 

Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.

The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham  and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.

(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)

We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.       

In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.

I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows??? 

The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.

And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.

It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.

(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)

What If

I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:

What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?

What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?

Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.

You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?

***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***

Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment. 

Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough. 

This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful! 

But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles. 

(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)

I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.         

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

How We Talk

Last Sunday, we walked right into a trap. We were just learning about how to live like the new creations that we are, how to love God and each other, and “love” is supposed to be soft and squishy, like walking in healthy morning grass or good night kisses. These weeks are supposed to be comfortable greatest hit albums.

Then, verse 10: Honor one another above yourselves. So far, so good, relatively innocuous, we can usually ignore the ‘above yourselves’ part and keep reading, right?  

But upon closer examination, I found this (in Gill’s exposition of the Bible): “In honour preferring one another; saints should think honourably of one another, and entertain an honourable esteem of each other; yea, should esteem each other better thou themselves; and not indulge evil surmises, and groundless jealousies of one another, which is contrary to that love that thinks no evil. They should speak honourably of each other in Christian company, and discourage that evil practice of whisperings, backbitings, and innuendos; they should treat each other with honour and respect in their common conversation, and especially when met together as a church of Christ. They should go before each other in giving honour, and showing respect, as the word signifies: they should set each other an example; and which also may be taken into the sense of the word, should prevent one another, not waiting until respect is shown on one side to return it again.”

I always love the extra English ‘u,’ as in honour or favourite – bringing to mind the Depeche Mode classic ‘Blasphemous Rumours,’ but we can’t get distracted by its superfluous beauty. This evil surmises and groundless jealousies business hurts, because I often know exactly what everyone else’s motivations are, and that they are not often positive. I know just what the politicians aims are, what co-workers and neighbors really mean when they ask favours, what my sister means when she says that, or my wife with that look she gives. Our expositor Gill seems to think we should stop that. What?!? He seems to be writing that it’s less than honouring to the other to pretend we have clearly discerned their heart.     

And whisperings, backbitings and innuendos? How else is there to talk about someone?

Gill goes on to call us to treat each other with honor and respect in conversation. Ok, but what about the sarcasm, condescension, or manipulation in which we have become so proficient? Sometimes, they don’t even know we’re talking down to them! So funny, isn’t it? Or the open rudeness we proudly call honesty and rationalize as one who “tell(s) it like it is?” Principle and strength of character.

[I was just about to shift the tone of this piece and confess that I am one who has trafficked in sarcasm for much of my life, but the funny part is that you already know that. I’ve been unwittingly employing it for the past several paragraphs, thinking how clever and subversive I was. There wasn’t any in my expressed love for the extra ‘u,’ though.]

The first problem with these tactics we so casually employ is that their chief purpose is to tear down and to minimize another’s worth and value. It’s garden variety judgment – we decide they are less (using whatever qualification) and act accordingly.

Of course, we engage in this judgment for just one reason: our own poor self-esteem. I am afraid that I am actually the one who doesn’t measure up, so I point at others, spread news (always negative information,) gossip, mock. I actively try to belittle and demean thinking that I am fooling everyone into thinking that I am the powerful, the moral, the intellectually superior, when the sorry truth is that I am scared to death of being ‘found out,’of being exposed. This is simple bully behavior. Kids who bully are the most insecure of all, and it’s the same with us. The meanest, most arrogant, selfish, condescending of us are without exception buried under our own perceived inadequacies, desperately wearing masks to hide behind. 

The second problem is that, as we tear each other down, we also destroy any true, authentic relationship. It’s impossible to relate on any deeper level without trust, care, kindness and love. We use our words as a wrecking ball to clear the area around us, further isolating ourselves until we are finally alone. 

The Scriptures are laying out details to bring us closer together, to create a beautiful unity. I’ve only recently begun to read these many lists of ‘shall’s and ‘shall not’s as gifts to protect us from ourselves, providing a vision that we may flourish. We simply can’t achieve this vision while our goal is, ultimately, to defend the altar we’ve erected to ourselves.   

    

  

Holy Hell

Last year, my family made a switch to DirecTV from Comcast to save some money, and it would be impossible to understate the mountain of regret it caused. I was happy to tell them about my poor decision (in emails, phone calls, customer surveys, etc…all of them completely unacknowledged. For example: “Mr Slabach, is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes, I have rued the day I chose to become a customer, hostage to you monsters, so if you could roll back time and prevent me from making the terrible change to DirecTV and your horrible customer service, that would be great. Or you could release me from my contract so I can go somewhere else TODAY. That’s something else you could do for me, but I don’t guess your script has a generic response with up-sell for that.” And without even a pause: “Well, if there’s nothing else, thank you for choosing AT&T and DirecTV. Have a great day.”) I’d be happy to tell you about it, too, but not here. The point of mentioning the woeful telecommunications behemoth is to tell you the nightmare is over. I paid the ransom to release myself from it’s grip and returned to Comcast and, in the process, gained Netflix. With this marvelous addition, we also gained it’s treasure trove of documentaries.

Today I had some free time and chose to spend it watching one called Holy Hell, about a religious cult called Buddhafield. What began as a beautiful space of community and belonging was revealed to have been a blanket covering a bottomless pit of spiritual and sexual abuse that damaged some members for over 20 years. 20 years!!! To tell you the truth, there was nothing surprising about any of it, you could see where it was going from the opening shots. Probably, anyone watching this group function at the time would’ve easily seen it as well. As is pretty standard, the only ones who couldn’t see the group (and it’s despicable leader) for what it was, were the ones on the inside being victimized. But it was the closing interviews that were very interesting, where they reflected on their experience. It had been 10 years since their escape, would they still be full of rage, hatred, resentment? Would they blame the others? Were they able to move past these atrocities? Were they able to have healthy relationships, jobs, careers, and spiritual lives? 

Of course they were angry and wounded, they wept while they told the story. Or at least they were angry, then. As they recounted the horrific details, clearly painful, it was swirled with a peaceful acceptance that was shocking. Each one spoke honestly, never avoiding even the worst of the abuses, but each one used words like thankful and gratitude. The true, lasting sadness was in the mourning over the loss of the community they all shared that was taken from them by the evil of the guru. 

In Jeremiah 24:5-7 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” The worst thing that could happen was exile. They were removed from everything that mattered to them; their land, history, name, their temple and their God. Yet this perspective was as one of beauty and grace.

Maybe the DirecTV debacle was actually a good thing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t have been offered the package with Netflix if I was a current customer. (I wish it wasn’t that way – it’s like marriages, all too often. Once you get the girl, you let yourself go and take her for granted, stop pursuing her. Like telecommunications companies.) When I look back at the worst things that happened to me… I don’t hate them as much anymore. In fact, I’m almost thankful they happened, because they changed me in profound ways. They taught me lessons I might not have learned otherwise. 

As usual, it’s never the circumstance, it’s our response to the circumstance.

We’ve all been victims of someone’s violence, we’ve all been exiles, we’ve all experienced DirecTV. It’s how God uses these trials to grow us that can be the most astonishing gift… Now, if we can only be open to the transformation.

         

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

What Do You Want?

There’s this story in the Bible: 

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

We have spent the previous weeks discussing weight and value and priority, and this is why. Because sometimes Jesus stops, as He’s leaving the city and asks, What do you want?

What will you say??? What He’s really asking is, what’s important to you, what is the desire of your heart, who are you and what are you about?

So, what is it that we want Him to do for us? (…And how you interpret that question speaks volumes…)

It’s entirely possible we don’t really know.

Modern political elections have become exercises in complaint, shouting from a negative stance. We are asked to not vote for him or her, to vote against this or that, to look at problems and grumble over what is obviously broken – the notion that we could support ideas or people and discuss solutions is quaint and hopelessly outdated.

In our lives, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want to do, where things have gone wrong, where we are unfulfilled, and you know what, Jesus, now that You mention it, I actually have no idea. I’ve been sitting here on this road shouting because I know my situation is messed up, that I am uncomfortable and empty and anxious and depressed and angry, I don’t sleep at night and I have this ulcer and I couldn’t pay my bills last month and my boss is super-mean to me and I’m bored and tired all the time… I know I don’t want that, but what do I want?

Again, I’m not going to tell anyone what they want – maybe I want a fancy pair of jeans or my sidewalk fixed or better health insurance or to build a wall or a new job or a new boyfriend or this boyfriend to treat me better or whatever. That’s between you and Jesus (we’ll get right back to this.)

What I will say is: that blind man could’ve said, “You know, Son Of David, it’s hard being blind, what I want is a new special cane or a service dog or a friend who can lead me around.” Right? We very often settle for less. We settle for the good when we really want the great. We don’t want to ask for too much, maybe, not be greedy. We end our prayers, our answer to this question, with “whatever is Your will.” This man shoots for the moon and makes no apology for asking. “I want to see.”

It’s impossible, it’s pretty narrow in scope, small in relation to the world, but Jesus asked, and this blind man knows exactly what he wants. AND he believes Jesus can – and will – do it.

Maybe He has a bigger gift for us than those jeans. Maybe we are asking for a ‘standard of living’ pay raise when He has a corner office reserved for us. Maybe we’re just asking for the abuse to stop when He has a complete transformation planned.

Maybe He is just aching to say Yes, and give us our sight, give us a vision.

Did you ever think, “you’re so much better than that?” Sarah McLachlan had a song (called ‘Good Enough’ and is my #4 favorite song of all time) where she sang, “you’re so much more than good enough.”

But that’s between you and Jesus. That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks discussing weight and value and priority. So that we actually give some time to learning ourselves, figuring ourselves out and getting an answer to His question. Because when we do, when we invite Him into this search and self-discovery (sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a maddeningly slow process), He will show us where we have settled, where we’ve been looking for canes, where we’ve been praying for just ok. He will show us who we are, what we’ve been created for, and why we are all “so much more than [the] good enough” we’ve accepted for far too long.    

Wisdom of My Dad

Now that we’ve introduced the concept of weight, there is an obvious question: how do I know what weighs more to me? We will completely omit the word ‘should’ here, as in “how do I know what should weigh more to me?” and add the words “to me,” because as we’ve discussed, weight might be different for each of us… and that is ok.

This question and how we answer it is vital because every single thing about how we live our daily lives hangs on our internal ranking system. My dad used to repeat, over and over, with disdain, shaking his head, “Priorities, man.” He also used to say, “Girls are strange, man,” and “Be really careful who you marry, man,” with the same tone and shaking head. (In hindsight, my dad was much wiser than I ever understood.)

Should I sleep an extra 10, or 30, minutes or eat breakfast?

Should we eat out tonight or put that money into savings?

See what I mean? Every single thing. Do you make time to floss? Eat vegetables? Go to the gym? When you’re there, do you lift weights or run on a treadmill? Do you show up late to appointments? Do you read your Bible or pray or watch Game of Thrones?

Every. Single. Thing.

If you don’t flow, you’ve decided that it’s not important (or at least not as important as something else.) If you show up late, you’ve decided that your time is weightier than mine, that those 5 minutes are worth more than sending a message of respect. If you eat vegetables or go to the gym, you may have decided that taking care of your body is emotionally and spiritually valuable as well as physically, at the expense of any number of other tasks or hobbies.  

If you stop at the bar on the way home instead of going straight home to eat dinner with your family or refuse to pay child support or drink too much or tend an addiction, you’ve made decisions. And, for the record, nobody’s here to judge whether those choices are good or bad. We just need to agree that every decision we make is based upon our discernment of weight.

Once we agree on that, everything becomes an intentional act of will.

That’s important because we live an awful lot of our lives as if things are out of our control, mindlessly sleepwalking through the beautiful moments of each of our days.

Have you ever thought consciously about breakfast? Or sleep? Or being late? Or spending time with your buddies? And what messages each of those decisions sends – to you, your soul, your family, and your God?

The enemy of mindfulness – and gratitude – is numb disconnect, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing. 

The other part of the Scriptural invitation is to connect and finally wake up to the amazing gifts of love that are our lives.     

Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!

Before we get to the details that will change your life (that sounds like a spiritualish self-help promise on a book jacket – “Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!” – in a whimsical font over a gauzy picture of me with a cheesy smile and big hair, doesn’t it?) Before we get there, we have to ask some hard questions, figure some things out and do some homework. You can’t paint the walls and choose fixtures before you pour the foundation. 

In the Bible, we see that there are some situations where we are faced with a choice where the options come into conflict with each other and are both mandated in the Scriptures. (Wait, WHAT?!!!?) 

There’s a story about a Good Samaritan. (It’s found in Luke 10:25-37, you can read it now, I’ll wait…) So, the first 2 religious men crossed the street to avoid him and walked right on by. The horror, right? Except for, in Numbers 19:11 “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.” and Leviticus 5:2 “Or if a person touches anything unclean–whether the carcass of an unclean wild animal or livestock or crawling creature–even if he is unaware of it, he is unclean and guilty.” and Leviticus 21:1 The Lord said to Moses: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron—say to them, ‘For a dead person no priest is to defile himself among his people…” and Leviticus 21:11 “He must not go near any dead body or make himself unclean, even for his father or mother.” 

It’s a horrible thing they did, until we realize they did exactly what they were supposed to do! 

George Bradford Caird says, “it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care.” 

But, as far as “care” goes, also in Leviticus (19:18), it says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and Deuteronomy 15:11 “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” and Proverbs 14:21 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” and Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and the needy”

So, what would you do? Would you follow the law, the Bible? Which part? How do you choose? Which is weightier?

In Luke 14:1-5 “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?””

Well, of course we’d all pull our donkey out of the well. But in Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” 

Isn’t rescuing our donkeys “work?” Of course, it is. 

Now what? 

And add to that that we might choose differently, right? The honest truth is that things that are weightier to me might not be to you.

It seems that the Scriptures are an invitation into a certain way of life, where everything isn’t spelled out and it’s not all black and white. Maybe this is because what you may value, or need, at certain times in your life aren’t the things you will value at others. And maybe its because we’re not all at the same place on the journey. Maybe maybe maybe, so many maybe’s. But this big, beautiful book is like a doorway into questions and more questions and transformation, and letting go of our need to understand, to have everything under control, and to be right. 

There’s another story, about a kid who disowns his family, runs off and makes a giant mess of his life. Eventually, when he realizes how giant the mess is, he returns. The Father doesn’t wait for an explanation or even an “I’m sorry, dad,” He throws a party because He’s just so happy the son is home. Now, everyone is happy about this, except for one, the kid’s brother. And it ends with the Father inviting him in. But if he chooses to go in, he’ll have to leave all of his ‘rightness’ outside, and discover who his Father is, who his brother is, and what he’s been dying to know all along: who he is. What weighs more, the party or being right? 

And I’ll give you one guess to what the Bible does with this… nothing. The story ends before he decides, with the brother, with you and me, outside, the invitation hanging unanswered in the thick night air.