Incognito

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When I saw this mannequin in a country store she reminded me of someone going incognito. Incognito is Latin for unseen, unknown. The goal of going incognito is the opposite of intimacy, something else I’ve been thinking about lately.

The problem with writing about intimacy with God is that when you use the word intimacy, people think you are talking about sex. Intimacy in current usage is very much about being seen and being known by someone of importance.

We see articles about improving intimate relationships in marriage and advertisements for intimate apparel, which have their place, but there is a greater intimacy with the Creator that goes beyond the physical and the emotional. I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this kind of intimacy without alluding to sexual intimacy, but as I read the Bible, I notice something. God is proficient in the language of symbolism. He doesn’t avoid talking about sex, so why should I?

Sexual intimacy is a metaphor for something even bigger and better.

When God created man and woman they stood before each other naked and unashamed. The Bible says Adam knew Eve and she conceived. According to Strong’s, yada’, the word often translated knew means:
1. to know, learn to know
2. to perceive
3. to perceive and see, find out and discern
4. to discriminate, distinguish
5. to know by experience
6. to recognise, admit, acknowledge, confess
7. to consider

The first act of seduction and the first act of unfaithfulness was when the serpent, the creator of lies, convinced these two humans that if they ignored God’s instructions and ate from the tree, they would become like gods themselves. They would yada’ good and evil.

The first bit of knowledge they perceived, learned and experienced (yada’ again) after they chose to believe the serpent, was that they were naked – and ashamed. The Hebrew word for ashamed also carries the connotation of disappointment. Sin brought a sense of disappointment in themselves and disappointment in each other as part of the package deal That profound disappointment is called shame. They needed a layer of protection to try to keep their shame from being seen. They covered up. They hid from God. They tried to go incognito. Unseen. Unknown. The plan failed. It’s been failing ever since because God came looking for them.

One of the key verses for my life is Philippians 3:10 and 11: “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The problem is that knowing him intimately means confronting the problem of shame that piles up like stinky laundry in front of the door. Can I be honest and tell you that a life-time of sin-awareness has not made me less sinful, but more aware of my shame? I’ve watched an entire industry based on the design, fabrication, and marketing of fashionable religious cover-ups expand in my life. I’ve watched it burgeon in the lives of people around me too.

The thing is about sexual intimacy is that involves us standing naked before someone and exposing our less-than-perfect parts. Am I the only one who has noticed, after many trips to the beach, that I am not the only one with scars and rolls and, um, a disappointing shape? I won’t even mention smells and sounds.

Sexual intimacy requires a lot of trust. One of our greatest fears is taking a risk and later experiencing rejection or betrayal as a result. That’s why Jesus said that when a person claiming to represent God betrays the trust of a vulnerable person, they have committed a heinous crime. If a victim thinks God is on the side of the perpetrator, they are hindered from turning to God for healing. It may take years and many demonstrations of unconditional love before they can regain a sense that God will not also betray them. So many people have believed lies about the nature of God as a result of abuse. I believe God wants to uncover truth about who he really is through his goodness.

Spiritual intimacy also requires trust, perhaps even more than physical intimacy. When we make a spiritual connection we give access to the deepest, most vulnerable part of our being.

Entire literature and film genres cash in on crimes of passion based on fear of rejection and betrayal. It is easier to approach God covered with a thick bullet-proof mantle of religiosity,  to speak in tones of formal scripted recitation, and to never let him get between us and the exit than it is to drop defenses.

But God makes a way.  He deals with shame by inviting us to consider it dead. He makes us into someone new. He shows up with his goodness and covers us with his own righteousness. Jesus’ humiliating experience of hanging naked on a cross as he bore our shame, purchased that righteousness for us.

Intimacy requires the participation of two naked people with nothing hidden, nothing held back. Because God makes the first move by exposing his heart for me, I can drop my own attempts at cover-up. I am free to expose my heart to him. His righteousness becomes mine. In his eyes I am beautiful.

The passage before the verses I’ve claimed as my life theme goes like this:
“…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:8 & 9)

As I was thinking about daring to respond to God’s invitation to increased intimacy, a line from an old song came to mind:

“…dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before his throne.”*

Trust involves risk. For so many years, I found it difficult to trust someone I was told wanted to punish me for not loving and obeying him perfectly. It was too risky to trust. That’s because I didn’t know him. Eventually I took the risk. Trusting someone who demonstrated love by giving his life for me is worth the risk. To be known and loved down to the cellular level by the One who created me is priceless.

It’s worth the cost of dropping disguises — that I may know him.

 

*From My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less by Edward Mote

You Are Loved

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I like this photo of yarrow because it reminds me that all of us are at a different stage in life. Some blossoms are at their colourful peak, some are fading, and others are yet to emerge. Like the flowers of the field that Jesus told us were cared for by a loving Father, our place in the kingdom of God is not determined by anything other than his generous love and our response to him.

 

The Father’s love is greater than fear of not “being a winner,” not being at one’s peak performance-wise, or not being noticed for one`s efforts. Our success relies simply on knowing Him and abiding in his love.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)

Do you feel overlooked? God sees you.

He knows you. He absolutely loves you. Receive his comfort, drink in the sunlight of his grace, live in hope, and let him love you the way you are meant to be loved, wherever you are this day.

Be who you are meant to be — a much loved child of God — and you will do what you are meant to do.

 

Tell It Like It Is

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When I was a teenager my long dark straight hair, parted in the middle Juliet-style, almost reached my waist. I was so proud of it.

My mother hated it. She showed me borrowed magazines full of photos of the cute curly-permed styles she would have loved as a teen, if only her stepmother had allowed her to cut her hair. It seems the fashion pendulum swings its way into the middle of independence struggles in every generation.

My mother did not approve of my skirt length either, but neither did I approve of hers – although I would never dare to say so out loud. We compromised. Rather, I compromised by wearing the skirts she bought and waiting until I reached the bus shelter before rolling them up at the waist.

Miniskirts were not designed for girls living on the prairies in Canadian winter. The January wind in Calgary left more than one of us enduring geometry class amid the distraction of chilblains on our thighs. That factor bore no influence on my need to not look like my mother`s generation, nor did the hazards of wearing fashionable unlined boots with absolutely no traction on ice. I bore frozen toes and ripped stockings with feigned nonchalant flare deserving of an Oscar – at least in front of Mom.

We quarrelled over music as well. I studied classical music and sang in my first opera at 14 (The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel). “Old” music was not the problem. Our problem – ok, my problem – was old church music.

“Listen to this!” I said to her in a voice that was probably too loud for the living room. I played the last two bars of every song in a book called The Church Soloist, High Voice which she bought for me with her own hard-earned money. Banging out insensitive interpretations on the piano I complained, “Except for key changes every single song sounds the same as every single song we have sung in church since the Reformation.”

I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening anymore. Door slamming may have been involved. I could be a horrible, emotional teenager. I knew she loved me, but sometimes I felt like I was fighting for my life. In a way, I was.

Years later I felt the same frustration my mother must have felt when my own kids rejected my taste. I was grateful for parenting classes that explained that the work of adolescents is to discover their own identity and forge their own relationship with God. Sometimes the only thing a young teen knows is that they are not their parent. The separation process begins at birth and accelerates in the years before leaving home.

My grandfather died before I was born. I heard stories about him, but I had no relationship with him. I could see photos and a gravesite, but he was like a mythical figure to me. My Mom had a relationship with him. I didn’t. I could see his influence, but I couldn’t see him.

God has children. God does not have grandchildren. In order to relate to him with a sense of integrity emerging independent young adults need to wrestle with him, interact with him, and enact their own faith by worshipping in a way that engages their own hearts. Parents get to pray a lot, get an opportunity for upgrade in their own faith, and get to try not to take rejection too personally.

The memory of the music battle came up today after I read that Kurt Kaiser died this week. Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael wrote Christian music that shocked our parents and convinced my grandmother that we were on the road to perdition. Their songs seem so innocuous, even embarrassingly bland now, but back then the adults didn’t like it, which meant we could. I remember practising the choral work for youth called “Tell It Like It Is” with my friends at church and feeling like this was cutting edge, daring stuff.

I found a recording of the musical on Youtube today. It sounds as cutting edge as an ice cream scoop now, but at the time it began to give a sheltered fourteen-year old hippy-wannabe an opportunity to express doubts and claim fledgling faith in my own way.

Anyway, I want to honour Mr. Kaiser and his friend Mr. Carmichael for noticing us. It was a start in making cultural connections. He showed me, before I reached that awkward spot in my parenting journey, that every generation needs to sing their own songs their own way. Bonus points if your parents don’t adopt it.

One song Kurt Kaiser wrote stayed with me. In words as simple as a nursery rhyme set to a tune that still had a range greater than a third, (my old person jab there) it communicates the most important message of all time: Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me.

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Even Mom would have liked this arrangement.

Thank you, Mr. Kaiser.

Love, Beauty, Faith, Life

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The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

~Elie Wiesel

I prayed this week about creeping indifference in my own heart. I asked God what he wants to replace it with. Then I heard:

Love

Beauty

Faith

Life