Saturday, March 27, 2010
I ran across a quote the other day. I may not have it quite right, and I don't remember who said it, but its essence stayed with me, rattling around in my skull, and resurfacing often enough that I started thinking more about it.
Essentially it went like this. "Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes a message."
This reminds me that what must shape my faith, shape my beliefs, shape my message, shape my attitudes and behaviors, must be my experience of Christ's love. That love that will not let me go. It is that experience that changes everything. It is not the dogma, the words. Indeed if I focus on the dogma I find myself being pulled into ways of being I don't like. Sometimes I find myself being judgmental. "Well if they were REALLY Christian they would (or wouldn't ) support health care reform." I find myself being judgmental of those who are being judgmental. "Those people are hateful and I hate people like that."
Focusing on dogma, on the oughts, and shoulds and musts of faith leaves me feeling unsettled, insecure, and frankly a little down. But focusing on my experience of Christ's love makes a huge difference. To be loved the way Christ loves - with a love that led to the cross, to death. What a love! When I think about it, I am stunned. Christ doing the unspeakable, going the way of death, for me. Me!
That love frees me. It frees me from wallowing in shame, remorse, self hatred and guilt. It frees me from getting locked in to self-destructive ways. It frees me to be open to God's love and compassion. Yes, we can block even God's love. When I focus on the "words" of faith I end up trapped in low spiritual self-esteem.
But when I focus on the experience of Christ's, and ultimately God's love? Then I can accept God's acceptance of me. And I am free to be open. Free to risk. Free to love others. I don't have to live and act in fear. And it is in that moment that I really have a message.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Gerald May once wrote "grace threatens all my normalities" It took me a while to get it. But then,after time, that statement began to make sense. Grace threatens all that I once thought was normal and true. I threatens the way I look at the world. At others. At life. Even at myself. It has become normal, over 50 odd years (OK, its closer to 60) for me to think of myself as "not enough." This is one of the great demons I must fight with on a regular basis. That profound feeling that somehow I don't measure up. But grace threatens this dysfunctional belief and says, "God loves me! God loves me. God loves me. God loves me!" It is normal for me to look at certain people and think they are messed up harbingers of evil. That they are hateful, or greedy. Alas, it is normal for me to find people I despise. But grace reminds me that these people were created in God's image, and God loves them as much as that saintly person I adore. Anne Lamott, in thinking about this says "it drives me crazy, that God seems to have no taste and no standards." It drives me crazy too. But when I am in the sphere of grace I remember it is a good thing. That way God can love me too.
The amazing thing about grace is how is changes us. Grace means you are in a totally different place than you were before. Grace means you are in a place you could never have gotten to on your own.
If I am really honest, my old "normalities" are often pretty sad. They are full of fear, prejudice, and selfishness. I am so thankful, that God can challenge those old thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs, and move me into that new place where grace abounds. I like the way Paul puts it in Ephesians 2. "For it is by grace that you have been saved, though faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God - so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Now that is truly a "new normal."
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I spent the entirety of last week going through training to be a neglect and abuse investigator. Not exactly a "light" way to spend a week. There were many stories of vulnerable people having bad things happen to them. Sexual physical and psychological abuse, and neglect. It breaks your heart. I was reminded that all too often ugly things happen to innocent and good people. I think about the people I counsel who have often experienced terrible abuse as children. Of the wonderful man in my church who has cancer. Of the young man with the traumatic brain injury from a car wreck.
They are out there, these victims. And frankly it's a little hard to take. I find myself angry, frustrated, confused, and often downright disappointed by God. After all, I think I know how God ought to act. And allowing bad things to happen to innocents is not on my list of acceptable behavior.
I decided to Google "bad things and good people." There were some interesting results. I found a group of sites that said basically the idea of bad things happening to good people is not even theologically sound. Why? Because there are no good people. "All have sinned" they point out "and fall short of the glory of God." Sorry, that answer doesn't work for me.
Others suggest that if we could just understand the big picture, the "why", the causal purpose of events then we would be fine. The problem is that all too often we never figure out the "why", ever. Think about Job who really never got an answer to the causal question. I know for sure there are times I haven't gotten an answer. And I intend to ask about those events if I ever get the chance.
Chances are that often we will never understand some things. So if we begin our efforts to deal with our stuggles by trying to answer the question of "why" we will never get beyond the question. And getting stuck on the question we will get stuck in our disappointment, our confusion and despair. And thus we will become frozen.
In the upper room the disciples were really confused. They had seen betrayal, had talked about denial, and had heard rumors of death. In the midst of all that did Jesus offer them another explanation of the ways of God? A theological dissertation on the implications of the cross? An apologetic? A reminder that there are "no good people?"
No, Jesus said "trust in God, trust also in me." Trust. Sometimes that is not easy to do. For in our moments of disappointment, in those moments when bad things happen to innocents, trusting God is not an easy thing. C.S. Lewis after the death of his wife described the struggle this way. "My fear is not that I will cease to believe in God, but that I will believe such terrible things about God."
But God still says..."Look at me, and trust." "Remember who I am, what I am like, what I have done, what I have promised. Look at me, and keep moving. And you and I will go through it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly, together.
Anne Lamott, in the book "Plan B, Other thoughts about Faith" talks about a time when she was terribly confused and in despair. She cried out to a friend, "I want to know what to do!" He answered. "Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe... We breathe, we eat, we remember that God is present whenever people suffer. God is here with us when we are miserable." Anne didn't like that answer. "But look at the suffering" she responded. "It seems like people are abandoned by God. How do we not lose our minds?" The friend replied. "YOU take care of the suffering." I like that answer. In short it was the same as that of Jesus. Trust in God, and keep living, and loving, and caring, and helping. Keep going with God.
Simple, if not easy. But I like thinking about it that way. Left foot, right foot, left foot, breath. Go with God and see what happens, one step at a time. Also known as trust.