Substrates of Thought

The way I think about the world is different from most of the people I know.

Beneath every discourse are the assumptions which form our world view.  I have engaged cultures across the United States and the world.  Even as I have wrestled with these views to embrace them, I am wrestling now with my roots.  I have returned to the place where I started.  Juxtaposed against the trees, rivers, and skies which witnessed my childhood, I invite you to examine (as best we can) the substrates of our thought.  We will have to acknowledge our assumptions to enter here, to accept them and be comfortable.

Let me say from the start: it’s going to take some time and clarification to work through these ideas.  Exploring our implicit assumptions about the world is a little like trying to describe color without the use of adjectives.  How do you even do that?

I said recently, “I…have beliefs, which I usually keep to myself. At this point in my life, I am no longer afraid to voice some of them. Unfortunately, the way I think is very different from most people I know. That’s part of the reason I’ve decided to start talking about things, but it’s going to take time for people to really hear what I’m saying. That’s okay. I guess I knew it would take some time and clarification before I opened my mouth.”

 

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Questions and Answers

I love gmail.  They should pay me to say that, but they do not.  I love them all the same.  And one reason is that I do not delete my email.  It is all there, in the analogues of time, waiting for me to search.  And so it was today, when I was looking for something completely different, that I found a quote from 2007,

“I think there is an important distinction between wanting questions answered, wanting answers, and wanting someone to answer.”

Wanting questions answered…

To me, this deals with the details of an event.  What happened, when, who was involved.  It can also deal with some of what people were thinking, what specifically motivated their actions, what their hope was in the choices they made.

Wanting answers…

I think that when you want answers, you are predominantly dealing with the question of why.  People may not be able to answer to your satisfaction…in fact probably will not be able to answer to your satisfaction.  I try to address this mostly to God, because He will know what I’m really asking…and He will be able to satisfy my heart like no one else can…even if it is like He answered Job.

In the book of Job, after Job has lost everything and finally turned to God wanting answers, God answers from a whirlwind, with questions of His own, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”  It is one of my favorite sections of the Bible, in which God basically puts the smack down.  Still, I believe it is a merciful and loving reply, because in that place of wanting answers, often the things we think we want are not the things we need.

Wanting someone to answer…

This may be the most difficult position, because no person can fully meet this desire.  None of us can redeem ourselves.  It is what set’s Christianity apart from every other religion…in every other religion, people try to make up for their faults.  But in Christianity, we can only fall into the arms of grace.  The same grace that flows down from the cross to forgive us from the things we’ve done and heal us from the things done to us is the same grace that forgives those who have hurt us.  So when we want someone to answer, we will always come up empty handed until we take that desire to the Cross, where Jesus answered for us all, for all we have done, for all that has been done contrary to His love.  Somehow, someway, Jesus makes up the difference.  He has to.  Because those others, the ones we want to answer for what they’ve done…they can’t afford to pay.

Revelation of Grace

“…nothing in us can absorb sin.  Nothing.  Even when we are the one being sinned against, we still cannot handle sin…”

TrueFaced Thrall, McNicol, Lynch

The annual remembrance of Christ’s passion provides for me another opportunity to think about the work of the cross.  I think I said it last year…how all sin is destroyed on the cross of Jesus.  The sins we have committed, and the sins committed against us.  The effect of sin is always the same: a broken heart.  TrueFaced says it this way:
“When we sin or when someone else sins against us, we experience some automatic responses.  If we do the sinning, our automatic response is called guilt.  If someone else sins against us, our automatic response is called hurt.  God designed these two responses to tell us that something wrong has happened, that something just got fractured and needs healing.”

Good News for the Broken

The cross of Christ does not make sense if you think you have it all together.  The extravagant love of God seems wasteful.  The Good News does not seem good at all until you know your own desperation before God.  But we live in a sin soaked world and all of us have been brushing up against sin since we entered this world.  It has broken our hearts.

The effects of sin, whether it is ours or someone elses, are the same: broken heartedness.  The answer is also the same: the cross.

Hebrews 12 describes Jesus as, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)  Look at our responses to sin in the passage from TrueFaced: guilt or hurt.  These are both good indicators that we need Jesus.  But so often we hide our guilt and hurt in a vain effort to make them go away.  Left unchecked, both become shame.  Shame moves us from “something wrong has happened” to “I am wrong.”  But Jesus despises the shame and pushes through to the cross anyway…for the joy set before Him.

Do you know what Joy was set before Jesus that He would go through everything He endured?

You.

Me.

We are His joy, and “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  (Romans 6:5 ESV)

God is doing a really cool work in me this season.  I haven’t been keeping up with the Lenten devotion I talked about in my last post…but mostly because God had other things in mind.  I guess He’s God.  I guess He can do that.

We Must Play

I make it no secret that I often consult God regarding my wardrobe.  It’s not because I do not feel capable of choosing my own clothes (although some days that is debatable), or because I think I will accomplish some spiritual aim for having consulted Him, or worse yet, simply to be more spiritual somehow.  It is, quite frankly, because He is my friend.

The idea that life could be more…or less…spiritual seems strange to me.  Either the spiritual is real, and is an integral part of everything we do, or it is not.  I think the trouble in accepting this comes, for most people, in the perceived weightiness of it.  Because I am lacking in profundity today (but apparently not lacking in big, obscure words), I will quote C. S. Lewis:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

You could probably just stop reading there.  ‘The Weight of Glory” has been my favorite essay, and probably even my favorite extra-Biblical writing, since I first read it in college.  It is foundational to my world view, particularly that last paragraph (quoted above).  But the part which is ringing in my ears today is, “We must play.”

God is a lot of fun.  He is tender and joyful and dynamic.  He likes delicious things (as evidenced when He turned water into wine and it was the best wine of the evening).  He likes laughter (the second patriarch of the Old Testament is named Isaac which means, literally, laughter).  If we understood how truly joyful He is, would we take ourselves so seriously?  Would we be so afraid of the reality that everything is sacred?  Or would we take more delight in each other, more delight in following Him where He leads, more delight in every bit of life?

Working with God is a lot of fun.  It is a life worth living.

Spring

I am actively jealous of all my cold-weather friends right now.

Spring begins in February.  After enduring bitter winds and snow and ice or the long, dry dead of winter, spring is beginning.  What was once a dismal grey forest is beginning to show hints of red and green in the bark as life returns to the tree.  The earth and the farmers know before the rest of us that the bitter chill is over.  The warming color will lead to buds on the tree that prove life really has returned.  Tiny green leaves and the earliest blossoms will poke through.  Each week a new wave of color and scent will greet the alert observer until summer’s branches unfurl their splendourous boughs.

That is, if I am remembering correctly.  I cannot witness the coming of spring like those of you entrenched in snow right now. And I am jealous.

Spring always finds me in the winters of my life, reminding me of God’s perfect timing, of His faithfulness, of new life.  The only other thing which speaks to me so powerfully of His consistency and patience is being in the ocean, learning the patterns of the waves.

I guess I need to learn to surf.

Does anyone know where I can find a wetsuit?

How are you?

I think I’ve been asked this question a million times in the last three days.

How are you…

Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole.  I haven’t been asked a million times.  But more than a handful, and each time I want to give an honest answer.  Each time I am asked in the context of community, and I try to hear the subtext, “I care about you and want to know you more.”

I thought about posting about how much I like community, how complex, rich, and frightening it is; I thought about posting about how much I hate Valentine’s Day but am trying not to; I thought about posting more about God’s timing and how it’s not about me…but I have settled on the simple three word question:

How are you?

The question overwhelms me.  It always has, for it’s complexity and depth asked so often in brief encounters.  But I always want to know, when I ask, and I want to be known.  So I try to find short answers to a long question.

I am busy.  I am richly blessed.  I am seeing God move.  But mostly, I am desperate for God.

I am desperate for God to come and teach me His “unforced rhythm of grace”.  I am desperate for His presence to comfort me.  I need for Him to come in all my relationships and teach me how to live.  I need Him to interpret for me this list of personal failings my heart will not let go.  I am desperate to see God move in the lives of my friends, everywhere I look. I feel the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow among the people I love…financial, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational needs…some are met, some are waiting.    Some are big, some seem small, but all of them, every single one, is held by Heaven.  I am desperate for Him to find us here.  I am desperate for Him to pull me out of the bitterness I am wrestling with, for Him to speak somehow into the questions and the silences I keep, for Him to interrupt and…well…interrupt.  I just…want…Him.

And so I end each day grateful.  Grateful for the longing, grateful for His presence which is so near, grateful for His faithfulness, grateful that in the longing there is hope.

And that is how I am.

Reflection and Repentance (Bible Week…Day 8)

Turning 30 was hard for me this year.

This was not my plan for my life.

Now before you start lecturing me, I knew six years ago that I wasn’t going to be living my plans for my life.   It was then, in my first apartment after college, that God said I had good dreams, but it was time for me to live His dreams instead of mine.  So I’m good with that.

Sort of.

I expected to be married and have kids by 30.  Call me crazy, it was just a thought I had.  I expected to be walking or even running in whatever career or ministry God had for me…not one year in, still trying to find my balance.  I expected to be using this degree that cost me six years of my life, which I have not seen fully utilized yet.

It hurt.

I hurt.

So having spent this last week witnessing God’s faithfulness and impeccable timing in the Bible, I am trying to let the trust in Him soak into my soul.

His faithfulness stands tall against my litany of mistrust and the tears pour slowly down.

This must be what repentance feels like.

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