Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Blackbird Must Fly

Every morning, a red winged blackbird perches on the branches of a mock orange bush just outside our bathroom window and every morning, does exactly the same thing. He looks at his reflection in the window, opens his mouth in a two-note loud, insistent song, and flies directly into the window, smacking himself in the head. Over and over. Every day.

He's been doing this consistently for four or five springs and although he abandons the behavior by the time midsummer comes around, it's peculiar behavior nevertheless, almost disturbing. On some level, though, I kind of get it. Who of us hasn't done the same? Faced the same circumstances every day, declared loud and clear its perfection of purpose, flown off to accomplish it, and hit our head repeatedly only to do it again the next day?

I have.
And, regarding this particular purpose, this particular window, I'm stopping. Today.

You see, I am a writer. And that is a lovely thing to be, but it also presents a problem.
Writing, I have found, is not living. It's not.
Writers are observers. Their craft demands a certain amount of detachment. One cannot both fully experience something and at the same time retain it for possible later inclusion in a work of literary art. At least I can't. So I have spent the last years, during which I have tried to concentrate more on craft, at arm's length from life. I have butted up against life with a mission, and have banged my head against its glare, but not entered in. And have decided that it's not worth it.

Life, after all, is the gift. Sure, the ability to write is a gift, too, but life.....well, life was given to be lived. I should have known this from the beginning. I named the blog after the concept, the overriding demand life makes to be experienced:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees...

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains...*

Breathing is not living. It's true. Neither is watching it, cataloging it, or reporting it. Little remains of this life to me but what does, I want to live, not just write about..

 —you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods...

’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die... 

 Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.*

I don't know yet what the striving might look like, but I know it doesn't look like this. This daily push to relate significance on a schedule. The blackbird must fly.

Thank you, though, for reading. I pray that you have gotten at least some word that encourages you on your way.
May we meet again in the seeking.

Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mary and Elizabeth: the Heart of Friendship

Hey, girlfriend!
A hug, sometimes a kiss, and smiles all around. We love our friends and love being with them. It doesn't get any better than this...or does it? We laugh, have fun, and enjoy each other, but  is there more? Are we missing the best of what our friendships can bring? 

Fun and affection sometimes relegate God to a back seat and our friendships are no exception. The sheer enjoyment we find in one another's company can leave us forgetting that these encounters, so often full of pleasure, have a higher purpose, too. We can get more than pleasure out of our friendships. We can dedicate them to God.

And we have an example.
At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women..."--Luke 1: 39-42

Wouldn't it be wonderful if our friendships brought not only a feeling of contentment and well being, but an encounter with the holy? I'm convinced that they can, and more. They should.

We come together, after all, from different places, different lives. We meet to share out stories, our songs. We come to laugh together, and to cry. God has afforded us a privilege unique to women. He has made us want strong bonds with close friends, but we don't often honor them as such. Like all of our life's encounters, our friends are intentional parts of our lives. God sent them to us for a purpose--the same purpose as He sends every other circumstance and person--to draw us nearer to Him.

So what does a godly friendship encounter look like? It looks like Mary and Elizabeth's. 

First, we enter one another's homes. We visit each other in the places we live our lives. These are our intimate places, the ones we breathe and eat and love in. They expose us just by the looking. But we share them with our friends.

Then we greet one another. Not just a Hi, or even an embrace, but a greeting heartfelt enough to make a baby leap in the womb. A greeting that acknowledges that we are special to one another. Not "Wassup, girlfriend" but more like a sincere "How wonderful to see you."

Then we share. We listen to one another. Casual friends are not very good at this. Casual acquaintances talk mostly about themselves. Have you listened to your conversations? Most relationships have a giver and a taker, an alpha and a beta. True friendships share equally. Friends listen to one another as often as they tell.

Then we bless one another. We hardly ever do this. I have one relationship in which a friend prays for me every time before we part. Every time. I can't tell you what this adds to my life. I feel blessed every time. Truly blessed. What more can we do for a friend than to bless them?*

Mary and Elizabeth's love for each other wasn't substantially different from the love I feel for my own friends. As women, we are given a heart to love with--husbands, children, and friends. We spend so much time learning to love husbands and children properly, but don't think nearly often enough about what a truly godly friendship can bring.

If I really care about my friends, I will do these things for them, and with them because, each in our own way, we are all truly
blessed among women.

*Sister Fran Ferder, Enter the Story, Give Us This Day, May 31, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The God of No/The God of Yes

One God. 
That's what we have. One God. Unchangeable. Forever.
But which one is He?
Is He the God of the Old Testament--the one who punished and destroyed and slaughtered?
Or is He the God of the New Testament who saves and forgives and loves?

The simple answer is that He's both, but that's the problem. It's not simple. It doesn't make sense. Unless we toss out the Old Testament in the face of the New, our God does not appear unchangeable. He seems almost schizophrenic.
Let God be God, some say. Trust Him today and you will understand Him later. After all, He is the God who said to Moses,
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion on whom I will have compassion.--Romans 9: 15
And it's true. He has that right. He's God.
Why, then, am I still not satisfied?

Take sacrifices, for instance.
In the Old Testament, God set up an complex system of sacrifice--a calf for this, a pair of doves for that, incense, grain--an unending stream of them so that the courts of His tabernacle ran red with blood and stank with entrails every day. And then, after Jesus, they stopped. Just like that.
Old Testament/New Testament.
One God....or two?

Was the coming of Jesus as revolutionary as all that? Really?
Well, as it turns out, yes, it was.
 As it turns out, I need to see both sides of our God, the old and the new testament sides. Otherwise, I will not know Him at all.

The God of the Old Testament is the God of No.
 After men sinned, He had to be. We lost our connection with Him. We would no longer walk with Him in the cool of the day. We could no longer share His heaven. We would die. From that day on, His answer would be No.
Do you hear me, God?
Can I satisfy you, God?
Can I properly worship you, God?
Can I draw near to you?
Will you forgive me?

All the sacrifices....they were never enough. The prayers...they could not pierce the veil.
Mankind needed the one thing they could not provide. They could follow all the rules, perform all the sacrifices, say every prayer, celebrate every feast day, but everything fell short.
In the Old Testament, men learned their hopelessness before a holy God
Nothing they could do was good enough. The answer was, and always would be, No.

Then Jesus came. And died. And rose. And established Himself as not only the perfect sacrifice, but as the perfect and eternal intercessor between sinful man and Holy God.
In that moment, God's No became Yes.
Do you year me, God?
Yes, through Christ.
Do you forgive me, God?
Yes, through Christ.
Will you take me into your eternal presence?
Yes, through Christ.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all--Ephesians 4:4-6
One God.
Old Testament and New. Not schizophrenic--just what God's perfection looks like with and without Christ. 

And that is why we have them both. Jesus may be our friend, but He will never be our buddy. He may be fully human, but He will never be like us. Never.
Christ Jesus is the only One who makes possible any rejoicing, who allows us hope in the face of our own corruption. Christ Jesus lived and died so that God would not have to destroy us, too. His own creation. The ones He loves.

Without the Old Testament, the New Testament has no real purpose. Jesus came to save us from the justifiable wrath of His Father. Without understanding of the coming wrath, His salvation has no meaning.

The temple sacrifices taught us that God meant business. And then He swept them away with the only sacrifice that could actually accomplish its purpose.
In Jesus, God's forever No became a forever Yes.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Creation Test

OK--Here's another test. (If you missed the first one, click here)
This is the creation test, and again consists of only one simple question:
What was the first thing God created?

Are they running through your mind? The plants, the animals, the cosmos?
Maybe you are thinking this:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.--Genesis 1:1
How can anyone argue about that?

Well, not so fast.
Have you ever seen this?
The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old.--Proverbs 8:22

Oh really? And what was this that God made before he made the rest? Go back a few verses:
I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment--Proverbs 8:12

It's Wisdom. God made Wisdom before anything else.
Wisdom. God begat His own Consciousness and Word. He gave them His sound and utterance.*
His own Consciousness. God's awareness of everything.
How great a gift is this? Well, you answer that.
By Wisdom we hear God's voice.
By Wisdom we can know right and wrong.
By Wisdom we have the capacity to discover.
By Wisdom we recognize justice and freedom.

Without Wisdom, God could have made the whole world and we would be completely clueless about it. We would know no inspiration, no curiosity, no wonder. Without Wisdom, we would never come to realization about the greater meaning of anything.
Look at your pet. That is creation without Wisdom. Sweet, loveable, and clueless.

Wisdom had to come first because, through it, God made a way to know Him.
And how did we figure this out?
By using God's gift of Wisdom.
Thank you, Lord.

*Tertullian, (c. 200), Adversus Praxean, 6

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Taking the Sin Test

OK--Today we're taking a little test.
You should know this--
Who committed the first sin?
{Jeopardy theme: ta da da da ta da...}
OK--time's up.
Adam and Eve?
{Annoying buzzer} Nope. Wrong.

Here's the answer:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.--Isaiah 14:12-15
It was Lucifer, God's angel.
And what did Lucifer want? To make himself the Most High. He wanted to be God. Yikes.

That's awfully hard to imagine. I mean, he's an ANGEL, right? How bad can that be?
Evidently, not good enough. And, in a way, Lucifer got what he wanted--he got his very own kingdom to rule in hell and, temporarily at least, he also got to hold sway here on earth. He's became pretty powerful after all that. And all through sin.

Well, then, what about Adam and Eve? What's the deal there?
Well, think about it.  When Eve told the serpent that God had warned her and Adam from eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden because it would cause their death, good ol' Lucifer essentially said, "Hey! Look at me! I didn't listen to God and I didn't die!"
The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."…--Genesis 3:4-5
In essence, Lucifer gave Eve the same line that had been his own downfall. "Take a bite, girl. You can be God."

And we all know what happened next.

Why does this matter? Because it clarifies that we are still doing the same thing we've always done. Listening to that same whisper, succumbing to that same voice.
And it's still saying the same thing.

It's saying that what God is offering isn't good enough. 

And how does it start? The same way it always did.
It starts with discontent. 
"I don't want this, God, I want something else."
"Please change my circumstances, God."
"You must have made a mistake, God."

Now, God does not want robots. He doesn't want people who blindly accept what He's teaching us.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.--Acts 17:11
 And He doesn't expect us to roll merrily along when tragedy strikes or when misfortune comes our way:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.--Matthew 5:4
 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.--Proverbs 19:7

But we must live with a fundamental understanding that God does what He does because He means well for us. 
He loves us. He intends good through our circumstances. No matter what happens or what our situation looks like.
We have to trust Him.
Lucifer didn't. Eve didn't. And you know what happened to them.
If we are to live the way He has mapped out for us--in communion on the road to holiness--we have to achieve a real, basic satisfaction with what we cannot change. When we approach life with discontent rather than gratitude, we end up right smack in Lucifer's lap.
And that low hiss begins to sound like a lullaby.