We frail humans are at one time capable of the greatest good and, at the same time, capable of the greatest evil. Change will only come about when each of us takes up the daily struggle ourselves to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving, and above all joyful in the knowledge that, by some miracle of grace, we can change as those around us can change too.
The snake asleep lay cold and hard,
Deposit of forgotten age
My path crossed its eroded rest,
determined by sequestered rage
How long it takes to bear without
the pain that wears so deep within
I stood atop the withered bluff
and nudged the heart of willful sin
I cannot curse you, man of dust,
for pain that keeps the truth from view,
for all alone on bitter hills
I have killed Him, too
I hope to keep this blog a bash-free zone, not that it comes easily to me. Change will require effort. I have been known to wield an acid pen and in the past have taken far too much delight in humour that comes at the expense of another’s dignity. Sorry ‘bout that.
I just read this: Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself, since you, the judge, commit the same sins. God’s judgment, we know, is utterly impartial in its action against such evil-doers. What makes you think that you who so readily judge the sins of others, can consider yourself beyond the judgment of God? Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy towards you as weakness on his part? Don’t you realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2 Phillips translation.)
I do believe we all harbour bash-worthy thoughts and practices in our lives. I also think that most of us are perfectly aware of them. We can make excuses and try to camouflage them from ourselves for a while, but when the spirit of stupid takes up residence in our lives it produces a mound of garbage no amount of room deodorizer can disguise.
There is a difference between offering critique and being critical (“helpful” or otherwise). One is requested and delivered in private with respect by a person who has proven themselves to be trustworthy; the other slops all over the place. Proper loving critique improves, encourages and builds one up. Judgmental criticism is published on Facebook and blogs, broadcast in the media, gossiped at coffee shops, preached from the pulpit and whined at the breakfast table. Condemning judgment (as opposed to wise discernment or encouraging assessment) effectively hits every target but the intended one. (We all know “open letters” are read by everyone except the person to whom they are addressed.) Frequently the purpose of such judgment is to dismiss or even eliminate perceived competition.
Strangely the very issues that trigger our pontifications are often the same besetting temptations we shove back in the closet. You know it is the kid who inherited your own character flaws who most drives you up the wall. When we attempt to parent the whole world those same weaknesses fuel our urge to flame. When momma taught us the dangers of playing with word matches, the fascination with that power didn’t disappear for many of us; we just blow-torched the personal refuse bin of someone at a distance instead.
The problem is that fire spreads.
Chapter three of James says: The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell.
Yes, but what if somebody on the internet is wrong?
Have they asked to be set right? Are you in authority over them? Then they’re probably not listening anyway.
It was God’s kindness that drew me to him. Years of striving and putting in my best efforts and failing to follow even my own moral code led to discouragement. His loving kindness led to encouragement. He poured into me the courage to go on when all I wanted to do was quit. He knows the plans he has for me.
I like the lyrics from Stuart Townend’s song:
Come all you vagabonds,
Come all you ‘don’t belongs’
Winners and losers,
Come, people like me.
Come all you travelers
Tired from the journey,
Come wait a while, stay a while,
Welcome you’ll be.
Come all you questioners,
Looking for answers
And searching for reasons
And sense in it all;
Come all you fallen,
And come all you broken,
Find strength for your body
And food for your soul.
Come those who worry
‘Bout houses and money,
And all those who don’t have
A care in the world;
From every station
The helpless, the hopeless,
The young and the old.
Come all believers
And dreamers and schemers,
And come all you restless
Just searching for home;
Movers and shakers
And givers and takers,
The happy, the sad
And the lost and alone.
With wearied ambition,
And come those who feel
At the end of the road.
And religion haters,
The hurt and ignored.
Come to the feast,
There is room at the table.
Come let us meet in this place
With the King of all kindness
Who welcomes us in
With the wonder of love,
And the power of grace.
The Woman at the Well
My soul longs for you as a parched land.
The memory of honeyed smiles crumbled
and caught by the wind of too-many-words
has scattered among the freeze-dried roses.
Dust fountains, flowing with artificial love
choke the living well,
and like the foreign woman
I have poured buckets of dirt into cracked clay pots.
Sir, give me this water,
this living water,
that I might not have to
come here again
to lower my craving
into the dark well
Jesus often chose to reveal profound truths about himself to women first. He ignored a lot of cultural taboos. The revelation of his true identity to a lone woman at a well in Samaria is one example. I’ve heard so many sermons about this woman and her five husbands and the one she was shacked up with who was not her husband. Across the centuries she is still judged as being promiscuous -and probably seductive.
I knew a woman who had been married five times. I admit to some curiosity as to how she managed to snag five men when I had lovely, talented, caring, single friends in their forties and fifties who had not yet managed to snag one.
Then I met her fifth.
Well, let’s just say anyone could catch one of those. Most people with sense would have taken him off the hook and thrown him back in.
The thing about the cultural norms Jesus was defying is that they were different from many of ours. We don’t realize how revolutionary his relationships with women were unless we understand how disrespected and powerless they were in that place, at that time. Women could not choose to divorce. Men chose to divorce. A provision for divorce was made in the Jewish law so a rejected woman would not starve. A divorce allowed another man to claim her as property so she wouldn’t languish in poverty like many widows in India have done for centuries.
If the woman at the well had five husbands and another guy, it’s because she was rejected five times. The most common cause for rejection was sterility, a source of shame in a place where women were treated like cattle. The likely reason for her to be at the well alone in the heat of the day was not that others considered her a tart, but that she considered herself as damaged, rejected goods. The guy who was not even her husband was probably at the end of a line of very poor options.
Her astounding boldness demonstrated by running back into the town to tell everyone about the man who told her everything about her life at her Messiah encounter speaks of the change of identity Jesus is able to impart. He is not unaware of our reality; he does not reject us for it, but he offers us a better one.
Encounters with Jesus, the real Jesus, the living water, cause us to see ourselves differently. When we understand who he sees us to be, we can leave the craving for identity behind, run in new freedom and make a difference in the world.