A Light in the Dark
You light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
So much of art, music, and poetry
is learning to leave spaces,
and reserve words.
So much of maturity
is learning to leave spaces,
and reserve words.
So much of faith is learning
not needing to eat the whole feast
In the Kingdom of God
there is time
to savour his goodness.
His loving kindness endures forever.
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.
(Romans 12:2 -J.B. Phillips version)
I’m weird and finally okay with it.
Some people are just meant to be on the edge of the crowd, not really out there, but not really fitting in either.
If something is trending you’ll find me wending down some other path. I figure the trendies have got that one covered.
When the tourists are snapping photos of each other in front of iced mountain peaks, I’m focusing on lichen blanketed rocks in the ditch. I weep for the clown, rejoice for the beggar, fast at the feast, and arise to do battle at night. When the clan gathers for a celebration in the heat of a summer’s eve, I slip out in the moonlight to breathe the cool falling cedar and pine air as it settles along the creek bed.
My poor, dear mother never knew what to do with me. I was hopelessly out of step.
I tried. I really did. I wore the uncomfortable fashionable clothes and the crippling high heels. I endured the horrid chemical smells of perms and hair dyes and nail polish. I spent far too much of my income and far too many years of my life obsessively following diet and exercise programs that, in the long run, always left me in worse shape than when I started. I listened to hours of pop music trying to understand the allure of a limited assortment of repetitive chords, rhythms and lyrics. I read the best-sellers and watched the Oscared pondering the pay-off of fear and pessimism. I paid attention to political pundits who knew what was wrong with everyone else’s ideas and I faithfully endured more sermons and devotional talks than I dare to recall. I tried to participate in the church ladies’ games (which usually involved rolls of toilet paper and or unscrambling baby and cooking related words.) The only spiritual maturity I gained from those exercises was learning how to doze with my eyes open and with an is-every-body-happy-smile on my face.
Then I realized one day I was spending a lot of effort trying to win the approval of people who didn’t really have mine -not that they were doing anything wrong, it’s just that I had no passion for the things that seemed to move them.
There is only one person whose approval I really need, and that is God’s. He likes weird. He can work with weird. When I look at the weird folk he loved in the Bible I realize I am in good company. Jesus didn’t exactly fit in either.
The crowd can move on without me. I’ll catch up later. Right now I am just enjoying watching the osprey flying a pas de deux, the daisies growing in cracks of asphalt, and working on becoming who God intended me to be in the first place.
Photo: *Doot doot doo, lookin’ out my back door* (OK not my own back door but the back door of the place where we hung out with great friends this week.)
And so I tell you, ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. The one who asks will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the man who knocks.”
Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us.
Moreover, if he did that for us while we were sinners, now that we are men justified by the shedding of his blood, what reason have we to fear the wrath of God?
If, while we were his enemies, Christ reconciled us to God by dying for us, surely now that we are reconciled we may be perfectly certain of our salvation through his living in us.
Nor, I am sure, is this a matter of bare salvation—we may hold our heads high in the light of God’s love because of the reconciliation which Christ has made.
Photo: An Upside Down Kingdom
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I’m upset by division and quarreling I see amongst Christians around me. The interwebby thing is full of it. One week it’s about aggressive sex and submission of women, the next it’s about the right to speak out about how people who don’t trust God’s kindness yet should be forced (by those who supposedly do) to obey his standards anyway. As one editor wrote, “Controversy sells.”
In a previous blog I talked about the problem of living with paradox (two opposing ideas that are both true) and how we tend to want to slide toward one end or the other depending on which part of our soul is dominant –the mind, the will or the emotions.
I have shifted from more than one paradigm to another on many issues, but even in myself there is tension and a desire to find a single logical solution. I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I enjoy debate and the power of witty words to put people down. Then I had a dream in which I was told to stop thinking in two dimensions.
So what dimension am I missing? What is the viewpoint I have not taken into consideration?
Isaiah says God does not think the way we do; he is not limited to a view that is tied to time, or a physical spot on this planet, or even the laws of physics. The spiritual dimension is so much higher than our earth-bound reasoning abilities we have trouble imagining it.
I think the dimension that we tend to forget is the Kingdom of God.
Jesus spoke constantly of the Kingdom of God. He said that when the sick were healed and the demonized freed that the Kingdom of God was near.
He said that it was like a mustard seed, like leaven, like a net, like a hidden treasure or a priceless pearl that was worthy of the pursuer divesting himself of everything he had to get it.
He said his kingdom was not of this world and we could not observe this place with physical eyes. He told the people listening to him that it was in the midst of them.
He told the one who admitted that love was greater than sacrifice that he was not far from it.
He said expecting to use money to get there was less than useless; it was a hindrance.
He said that prostitutes and thieves would experience it before the powerful and self-righteous who rejected him.
He said that unless we were willing to enter as little children (I assume that means dropping wealth, power, position, authority, good deeds, hard work, physical strength, education, talent, family or political connections, accomplishment or recognition –all the usual means to success in this world) that we couldn’t get in either.
When the disciples asked how to know the way he was going he said, “I am the way.”
He said he was the door (but it’s a narrow door that requires us to drop our backpacks, curriculum vitaes, and other accumulated assets.)
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9)
He said we had to be born again.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
When the Kingdom of God intersected space and time on earth in the form of Christ Jesus, it opened up a doorway into eternity where things are different, where we realize our thinking is upside down.
“The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand for they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
But the one who has been made spiritually alive has access to another dimension when, by faith, she or he lives in Christ and Christ lives in her or him.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2: 4-7)
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28,29)
For those who trust and obey Jesus Christ, God has already seated them in heavenly places, since that is where Jesus sits and they are in him and he in them.
”… to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)
In the Kingdom of God there is no division in the church. There are no labels. The church is one.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:25-28)
Why then, do we still compete with each other? Why do we think that if we are “righter than thou,” and work hard to impress him, God will let us enter through that door when we die?
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:1-6)
Passions may be the big motivating factor in the world, but God doesn’t think like us.
Could it be that we don’t really trust him enough to obey him and to seek him for understanding of all these paradoxes or for wisdom on how to live in love and the bond of peace?
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
What if we are meant to start to enter into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ now and it’s not all about pie in the sky in the sweet by and by? What if we quit trying so hard to be the greatest and just rest in Jesus’ finished work? What if we trust him enough to believe what he says about us being new creatures and start acting like it? What if we could hear his voice and obey his commandments now?
For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)
People who seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness will not think the same way as those who are bound to earthly logic and reasoning ability. They do not fit in. They are annoying because they refuse to play by the same rules. They don’t wear the same trendy labels; they are frequently misunderstood. They are often persecuted –sometimes by those holding religious power– but that’s not unexpected. They did that to Jesus Christ too.
For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20)
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Why do I avoid labels?
Because I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.
Because I have been through so many paradigm shifts sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a peacenik swimsuit, a woolen toque and a tutu on a John Deere lawn mower tractor –whilst waddling in pink Crocs that ought to be on the other foots.
Because like the blind man, every time I think I have figured out what an elephant feels like God drags me around to the other side –or the other end– and tells me to try again.
Because the phrase that seems to pop out of my mouth most often lately is “On the one hand…” followed by, “But on the other hand…”
Am I indecisive? Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Photo: Mugwump. My Dad used to say a mugwump was a person who sat with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other.
Maybe I’m just tired of making apologies.
This position may look humble, but dropping to the ground is sometimes the only safe posture when caught in the cross-fire between warring factions. I am so very aware of the quarrels among us.
Hymn and organ lovers ….vs….Chorus and drums lovers
Practically experienced….vs….Theoretically indoctrinated
Sinners saved by grace….vs…. Saints who reckon themselves dead to sin
Those who are working out their faith….vs…. Those who are saved by grace and not by works
Those who offer grace….vs…..Those who maintain standards
Those who are sure that God is grieved ….vs….Those who insist that God is in a good mood
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” ….vs….”Jesus said, ‘But I call you friends.’”
“May you prosper as your soul prospers”….vs…. “Rich men, camels & eyes of needles and all that.”
“He who will not work shall not eat”….vs….”He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall cry himself and not be heard.”
“By His stripes we are healed”….vs….”Knowing Him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
Reverential folk….vs…. “I got to move it, move it, move it!” folk
Church building builders.…vs….church building leavers
Seeing something from one particular viewpoint is called a paradigm. Oliver Sachs wrote about a middle-aged man who regained the sight he lost in childhood, but who then faced so many challenges he chose to ignore his new faculty after a while. A dog from the front looks completely different from a dog from the side, yet they are both dogs. Who knew?
A paradigm is our most comfortable default position. Things fit nicely and work well. We only have to deal with one construct at a time that way. For example, we assume a beloved nephew has been unfairly fired, and advocate for him — then we find out from the boss he embezzled a gazillion pencils. It was easier before we knew both sides of the story. We still love him and support him; we are proud of his brilliance, but now we are also ashamed of his stupidity.
Paradox greatly complicates things, but God’s ways seem to be more about paradox than paradigm. Jesus often spoke of two seemingly opposite concepts which are both true. The Bible is full of paradox like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “You need to lay down your life in order to live,” “You receive through giving,” “Rest under his yoke,” “You are strongest when you are weak,” “We see the unseen,” and many more.
Paradox is awkward. It feels unstable. We tend to want to gravitate to one end or the other. We polarize easily.
It struck me this week that the pole we choose to slide toward is often strongly influenced by which aspect of our soul dominates –mind, will or emotion.
Look at worship styles, for example. For some, worship means thinking, studying, discussing ideas about God, and listening to sermons which exegete the Bible with skill. For them, authentic worship is getting doctrine right.
For some, worship is an act of the will. These people love words like decide, purpose, endeavour, determine. Worship for them is a deed, whether it is signing up to commit to journaling for forty days, or volunteering for a new program , or inviting someone home for soup, or buying a plane ticket to The Gambia. For them, authentic worship means not only hearing but doing.
For some, worship must engage the emotions, whether it’s quiet contentment or raucous rejoicing; they desire an encounter with God that touches them deeply. For them authentic worship doesn’t ignore emotions forever; it connects and moves the heart.
At one point or another I have cycled and re-cycled through all three camps.
Here’s the thing. The mind, the will and the emotions are all fine, God-given, God-created parts of our souls –but they are all limited and, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying, refining and empowering them to operate from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, they remain, well, self-centered. Proof of self-centeredness is that we continue to engage in silly disputes over who is right and who Papa God likes best.
I was asking Papa God about this, after listening to yet another discussion of sovereignty vs. free will (which, as usual, produced more heat than light). Both sides could quote scriptures to back their positions. That night I dreamed I was playing on the floor like a child. A kind, gentle, patient person was helping me fit metal puzzle pieces together. (These puzzles drive me nuts. I hardly ever figure them out.) In the dream I actually got a couple of them to work. After quite a bit of effort we finished a complicated mat-like square of interconnecting puzzle pieces about a meter long and a meter wide. I was as happy as a toddler and clapped for myself with glee, although the man helping me had done nearly all of the work.
“Yay me! Me so smart!”
Then he started building upwards. He was making connections and building a solid cube about a meter long and wide AND a meter high.
I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
He smiled and said, “Quit thinking in two dimensions.”
I recognized him as Jesus.
I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Unity is about more than living with the tension of paradox. Paradox is not “this or this;” it’s ”this and this.” But paradox is also incomplete.
Building a solid structure also requires another dimension– another way of thinking –another viewpoint.
Without opening the door
the curious host
let the Teacher in.
Beside him the once-dead man,
having left his grave clothes on the stone,
reclined to dine.
Beside the calloused feet
of hungry men
the sister flitted
with bowls of ripened fruit,
slabs of risen bread,
platters of spiced meat,
pitchers of waiting wine.
In the doorway
the listening one,
emptied of darkness,
loosed her hair.
With no authority,
no priestly garments,
no holiness of her own,
she broke the box,
poured out her adoration,
the King of Kings.
(The story of this dinner party is told in John 12 and Mark 14)
But you are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
a people for his own possession,
that you may proclaim
the excellencies of him who called you
out of darkness
into his marvelous light.
(1 Peter 2:9)