Friday, February 27, 2009

into great silence



Sometimes I think that art can never fully capture the beauty of real life. Other times I think that real life can never live up to the beauty of art.

The film I just finished watching, Into Great Silence, somehow managed to evoke both of those feelings simultaneously. This documentary by German film-maker Philip Groning details the lives of Carthusian monks living in the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. Groning lived in the monastery for six months and filmed the daily activities of the residents - their prayers, meals, services, tasks, and rare outside excursions. The movie has no score, no voice-overs, and hardly any dialogue. For the first ten minutes I kept absent-mindedly checking the volume on the receiver because it was so unnatural to watch something without any noise.

Watching the movie often felt like looking at a still-life painting: a hooded figure, bowed head, folded hands, a plate of bread and apple beside him, light streaming in through a nearby window. No movement, no sound. I found myself holding my breath at times as I watched, quiet and still, as if I could somehow disturb the prayers of the monk if I shifted my weight or reached for another pretzel.

Of course many of the film's scenes had movement, and even sound. Voices chanting hymns, hammers and axes striking wood, knives chopping celery, electric razors buzzing scalps, scissors snipping fabric -- the sights and sounds of a community living and breathing their calling together. Never rushed, never hurried, always methodical and purposeful. And happy. They were happy.

The film itself is an incredible piece of art - fantastic editing and breathtaking cinematography (especially considering the fact that Groning used no artificial lighting to shoot the film). But what grips the viewer more than anything is the reality of it. These men are not actors. This is not a shoot location, it is their home. There was no set designer or lighting tech who perfectly crafted each shot. Just a talented man with a camera and a desire to capture the simple beauty of simple lives to the glory of God, and the result is nothing short of amazing.

If you ever have the inclination and opportunity to watch it, my recommendation is to do so, not within the framework of entertainment, but rather as a meditative, and perhaps even devotional, exercise. It won't disappoint.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

losing and finding



Christ says, "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree cut down." Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
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Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16: 24-26
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I heard a great sermon from our youth director at the Ash Wednesday service last night. Dave preached on Matthew 16:13-27, focusing on what it means to follow Jesus, to walk so closely with Him that we are covered in His dust. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus explains that following Him means dying. Relating this back to our lives as suburban Christians in the West, Dave pointed out that we probably won't be asked to literally die for the cause of Christ. However, any time that anything - no matter how good, important, beneficial, or pleasing it may be - comes between us and following Christ, it needs to die. Anything that hinders following Christ, is not of Christ.

Though the sermon was great, I found myself frustrated as I listened. I knew Dave was speaking the truth, but as I thought about parts of my life that need to die, all I could think was "Sure, fine, I hear ya. But I've tried to kill this stuff and it won't die!" It wasn't until the next morning that I noticed the operative word in that sentence, and more generally in that sentiment: tried.

This morning God graciously reminded me that I can't put things to death by my own effort. Even Jesus' death was not an act of effort or power, but rather one of submission. I can't, by sheer willpower and good intentions and trying really hard, kill off the things that need to die in my life. [Even writing this is a bit frustrating because it's like, Really? Haven't we learned this approximately 472 times? Are we still at this point? Ugh.] Trying isn't gonna cut it. What does Jesus say? Lay it down. Lose it. Take your hands off of it and let it go.

I get that, or I'm starting to get it. The part I am still struggling with is what He says next, the hopeful part: (Whoever loses his life for me) will find it. He gives it back. Maybe I'm crazy, but in some ways I think it would be easier without that part. More black and white, cut and dry. Following Jesus to death is nicely concrete and has an air of finality, but following Jesus beyond death to resurrection is wide open and scary. And yes, it is also full of hope, promise, and blessing... but I feel untrustworthy of that privilege sometimes. Just take it, I want to say. Don't bother giving it back, I'm sure I'll just screw it up again.

Then again... He knows that. And He offers anyway.

i was right



(it may yet snow)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

lent


Sacrament by Matthew Whitney

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season, leading up to Holy Week and Easter. The first time I gave any thought to Lent was my freshman year of college. I had only recently begun to take my faith seriously and was looking forward to celebrating Lent for the first time as a follower of Jesus. But first I wanted to learn more about what it is and why we observe it as Christians, so I did what seemed reasonable: looked up the word "Lent" in the concordance at the back of my Bible. What?! Lent is not mentioned in the Bible? Hmm. If something is not in the Bible, where is the next best place to look? The internet, of course. So that was how I got my first introduction to the idea of liturgical calendars and seasons -- some random website (this was in the dark ages before Wikipedia).

I wish I could say that ever since that day, the liturgical calendar played an important role in my life, but it wasn't really until about two years ago that it re-emerged as an integral part of the way I follow Jesus. As my friend Brian put it, "I think it is impossible for anyone to experience Easter without first experiencing Good Friday." So once again, as I did my freshman year, I look forward to this season. I want to follow Jesus on the road toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. It will be dark and brutal at times, but it will drive me toward a deeper understanding of my utter need, my poverty of spirit, my broken humanity... and on from there, into a new gratitude for His grace, His mercy, His victory.

Monday, February 23, 2009

labyrinth



Today I spent almost four hours laying strips of tape on the floor of the chapel at church. It would have been a lot quicker if I had the spatial intelligence of the average 5th grader... but sadly I do not. When my spatially gifted helpers showed up we made real progress though, and the end result was beautiful.

When I first heard the term "labyrinth" I pictured something like a giant maze with walls or room dividers or something of that nature. Nope, it is just the labyrinth pattern laid out in tape on the floor with different stations at intervals in the path. (If you're not familiar with using a labyrinth as the framework for interactive prayer journey, learn more here. )

The labyrinth experience at our church will be open throughout the course of Lent. If you're reading this and you live in Seattle, I highly recommend that you come check it out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

the oscars according to nate



We've all been hanging out downstairs this evening: me on the computer, Dexter and Nate playing, and Jon playing with the boys, while half-watching the Oscars.

Dexter is 17 months old, so naturally he loves nothing more than toddling around finding buttons to push. The TV button is one of his favorites. It gets him lots of attention and also makes a pretty picture appear or disappear when he pushes it. What could be better?

So tonight, while Tina Fey (in a shiny dress) and Steve Martin (in a nice suit) were in the process of presenting the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Dexter made a move toward turning off the TV. Nate saw him about to push the button and cried out, "No, don't do that Dexter! They're getting married!"

p.s.

Anyone else think it's funny/ridiculous that I changed the name of my blog, saying things like

"this has become a place where I bring my thoughts, questions, prayers, discoveries... the things that carry weight in my life"...

...and then I post about VEGAS?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

what isn't staying


The hotel we 'stayed' in

We went to Vegas last night. Actually, to be strictly accurate, we went to Vegas this morning. Why? Because Jon and I are both too darn stubborn. We had made plans to go to Vegas for one night, flying stand-by with some extra buddy passes from my mom (she works for Alaska). The flight loads looked good all the way up until a couple of hours before we were supposed to leave, at which point it became clear that there would not be extra seats on the plane and we weren't going to make it. So there we are, our bags are packed, our kids are at Nana and Papa's: We're. Going. To. Vegas.

Long story long, we made it there... here's some highlights.

We flew to Orange County, rented a car and drove the 267 miles to Vegas. We got there at 1 AM, which is pretty much late afternoon in Vegas.

We ate at In&Out, each destroying a double-double animal style, chocolate shake and fries. The burgers alone were worth the trip.

We ran into an old friend within 5 minutes of walking into a casino. We hadn't seen him since college - so random.

We played 30 minutes of video poker and I lost $0.30.

We played 30 minutes at the craps table and lost considerably more than $0.30.

We saw all the usual Vegas folk -- the pro athletes, the drunk fraternity guys, the bachelorettes, the slack-jawed slot machine addicts, the high rollers with accompanying entourages... the people who make you say "Only in Vegas."

We walked around in 55 degree weather without coats and said it was warm.

We got a sweet hotel room, maybe the nicest we've stayed in together. And it was cheap (thanks crappy economy!) -- a 5 star room at the price of a 3 star, with 2 buffet meals thrown in for free. Which seems like a great deal until you factor in the gambling...

I drank a Starbucks caramel mocha in an absurdly deep bathtub while watching TV. Yes, there was a TV in the bathroom of our hotel room.

We slept a very little.

We spent $5 at the hotel business center to update our facebook statuses at 4 in the morning. Seriously, what is the matter with us. That is wrong for so many reasons.

We caught up with friends. One of our best friends from college lives in Vegas, so we met up with him and his fiancee at lunchtime, though we didn't end up eating because we had just over-indulged at the hotel buffet. We had considered passing on the buffet because of our lunch plans, but after losing money the night before we needed to milk the Mandalay Bay for all it was worth.

We spent just over 12 hours in Vegas and that is just about enough for me. I used to say that I liked Vegas in 24 hour chunks. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I am saying that to justify the ridiculousness of this day... cognitive dissonance much?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

training



I love the metaphor of training as it relates to the Christian life. The Apostle Paul uses this metaphor in 1st Corinthians, comparing our way of life to training for competitive running. Bishop N.T. Wright likens the virtues of Christianity to the scales and arpeggios of musical training. Whatever the framework, whether running, music, or riding a unicycle, I find it helpful to consider the metaphor of training for spiritual formation.

Did you ever notice, however, that sometimes the training does not resemble the performance? When I teach swim lessons, for example, I might spend two or three lessons at the beginning simply working on body position, breathing, and comfort in the water. No swimming. Why? Because if we don't get those basics down, there is no point in attempting to actually swim yet.

I think God does the same with us. We are so anxious to swim, but its all flailing and sputtering until He teaches us the basics. Swimming may very well be what God has created us to do, but we have to learn to float first. (By the way, if you want a great exposition on what 'the basics' of Christian living are, click the N.T. Wright link. It's long, but worth the time.)

I suppose this ties into my previous post about calling. Satan gets in our ear and pesters, Why aren't you swimming? I thought you were learning to swim? This doesn't look like swimming. This is a waste of time -- let's skip to the good stuff! What a lie. Let's do as Paul says, and run (swim) in such a way as to get the prize. This will mean training - not so glorious or glamorous, and maybe even confusing and counter-intuitive at times. But we trust our coach. We trust and so we train, with the promise that we will one day swim, run, play, be, and reign with Him in glory.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

new name



I have been wanting to change the name of my blog for awhile now. When I started it last year I was not sure what I was going to be writing about. I thought it would probably center around being the mom of two little boys and all the stories, laughs, tears, and (hopefully) insights that go along with that. Which, in some ways, it is.

The name Bringing Up Ballast Boys made it sound like a 'mommy blog' -- and I love mommy blogs, they are great. But this site is not really a 'mommy blog' in the sense that I don't use it primarily for folks to keep up with what my kids are doing, how they're growing, etc. I throw that stuff in once in awhile, but that hasn't emerged as the central purpose of the site.

Instead this has become a place where I bring my thoughts, questions, prayers, discoveries... the things that carry weight in my life. And it just so happens that the meaning of my name fits in with this nicely, something I hadn't noticed until someone pointed it out to me recently. So, there you have it - my newly christened blog. Enjoy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

a plug, a brag, and a kick



The Plug:


Matthew Whitney is a Seattle-based Christian artist who painted the image above, along with many other amazing works that you should definitely go look at right now on his website. Go ahead, I'll wait. [Twiddling thumbs and looking at ceiling...] Good stuff, right? He is creating four new pieces for my church, corresponding to the holy days of the Lenten season (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday). Needless to say, I am stoked.

The Brag:

The original painting pictured above is in my kitchen. It makes me happy. My friend Kelley got it for me as an early birthday present. She spoils me.

The Kick:

For some reason, I have an obsession with trees lately. I'm on a tree kick. First it was the cherry tree in our front yard. Then I got the tree painting. Then I read Psalm 52 and couldn't stop thinking about olive trees. I even asked Matt if he knew what kind of tree it was in the painting, and was thrilled to find out that he did not know, so I am free to believe it is an olive tree.

I guess if you're going to be obsessed with anything in this city, trees are a good choice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

primarily


My wise (and goofy) husband, who clearly missed his calling as a pirate.

---------------------------------------------
Nearly all vices are rooted in the future.
-Uncle Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
---------------------------------------------

I got to drive, talk, eat, snowboard, hot tub, and just BE with my husband for almost 12 consecutive hours on Friday. Sweetness. The rare luxury of uninterrupted time together gave us the opportunity for some great conversation, as we could finally move beyond the routine daily dialogue of preschool drop-offs, project deadlines, potty training and the like.

I need to stop here and brag for a minute. My husband is so wise. He knows me better than anyone else and he has the best insights into my crazy life and my (perhaps even crazier) mind. He has this way of speaking the truth to me with grace and love and patience. Oh boy, does this man need patience. Just listening to the sheer quantity of words that his wife disgorges on a daily basis should win him some sort of shiny trophy.

Anyway, at one point on Friday I was ruminating about all the stuff I dream of doing someday, about the different callings that I have sensed for my life at one time or another. And in his gentle and unassuming way, my husband shot an arrow right to the heart of the issue:

Maybe Satan distracts us from God's primary calling on our lives by getting us tied up in our secondary callings.


Isn't it just like the enemy to take something good that God has given us - a hope or dream or promise for our future - and pervert it into being an obsession of the present? There are things for which I know God has gifted me, even things to which I know God has called me... but they are not my primary calling at this time in my life. Focusing on them now, wondering why they are not happening, or even just giving them more time and attention than they merit -- these are all schemes of the enemy to take me away from the freedom and joy that comes with living fully into the present calling of God.

Lord, you have made your present call on my life clear and sure, bringing peace. God, you have given me dreams and gifts for the future, bringing hope. Thank you. Please forgive me when I confuse the future with the present, the secondary with the primary. May I live today and each tomorrow in joyful engagement with your faithful and ever-present calling.

Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

snowboarding, or things i'm not good at



Exactly one month after his 30th birthday, Jon finally got to cash in his promised present from me: a day of snowboarding together at Snoqualmie Pass. Neither of us have snowboarded much, but we love to do physical, recreational stuff together, and since we can't surf much anymore this is the next best thing.

Overall, we had a sweet day together - just spending that much uninterrupted time alone is a rare treat, plus we were able to have some great conversations throughout the course of the day (which I'll probably blog more about later). But part of the experience was challenging to me for two reasons:

1. I am not good at snowboarding. (I have wicked bruises to prove this.)

2. I am not good at doing things that I am not good at.

It's funny how God lines things up in His timing. Earlier in the day I had started reading a blog post from David Taylor, a pastor in Texas. I didn't have time to finish it before we left so I printed it out and brought it along. After four hours of falling, wiping out, eating snow, and the occasional moment of graceful movement down the mountain on a snowboard, I headed back to the car while Jon did one last run. While I waited for him I picked up reading the post again.

Taylor was talking about prayer. About how prayer is terrifying because we can't control it. Instead, he says, "We prefer to do things that we know we are good at and that we can control: laundry (whites only), utility bills, lesson plans, blog entries, chocolate and cold cereal, our Netflix queue, computer code, getting the kids to school on time, lunch appointments, reading our Bible." Far from being a routine task, Taylor says that prayer is demanding work. It can't be done mechanically or by muscle memory. It requires a submission, a relinquishing of power; and yet an acceptance and wielding of a new and more dangerous power. Power that does not conform to our carefully maintained world of things we already know how to do. Power that flows from God Almighty and submits to His will alone.

At one point on the mountain I just laid on my back in the snow and cried. Jon was way ahead of me, successfully finding his front edge, and making nice S patterns down the hill. I was sprawled out on the ground, having fallen for the hundredth time in the worst possible place - a flat spot, where I'd now have to unhook my bindings and walk my sore, sorry self to the next downhill section to try again. I was mad because I'd fallen on a part of the hill that should have been easy and I felt like I was getting worse, not better. Plus my tailbone, elbows, knees, and hips all had bruises and my quads were burning from my wussy "falling leaf" technique on the steep parts.

Eventually I got over myself, went back to the bunny hill, had a good time and finished the night with renewed confidence. Later, after reading Taylor's words, I began to see a parallel between my snowboarding experience and my spiritual life.

I should have just skied. I grew up skiing. I'm a good skier. [I would rather be comfortable and do what I'm already good at than try something new.]

Gravity scares me. I can't give it control. I won't know how to stop. If I'm going fast, it will hurt worse when I fall. [Power is scary. Submission is scary. The thought of failure is scary.]

I am not getting any better. I am falling on my ass and this isn't even the hard part. [Failure makes me want to stop trying. Failure makes me want to turn around, rather than keep going.]

But then...

Let go.
Let the mountain do its job and you do yours.
Don't be scared to pick up speed.
If you fall, get up.
Relax.
Look around.
It's beautiful here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

ready aim fire


Have you ever felt like God was shooting scripture at you with a BB gun?

(No, Haley... in fact, you should probably go talk to your pastor about that. I'm concerned about you.)


Oh. OK. Well, BB gun heresies aside, I think I am going to have a scar on my backside the shape of Psalm 51 after this week.

Wednesday: Our worship leader posts the songs for Sunday on the band website. (I am singing this week at church.) We are singing God Be Merciful, based on Psalm 51. Ping!

Thursday AM: I think I mentioned in a previous post that I've been reading a psalm a day for awhile now. I wake up, roll over, grab my Bible and see that my bookmark is at Psalm 51. Pow!

Thursday PM: Jon and I occasionally read a daily office before bed. The psalm reading for the evening is from Psalm 51. Zing! Zap! Ouch.

God is quite the marksman.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

a better freedom


Golden Countenance, Makoto Fujimura

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

The above verse has been one of my favorites since I first started reading the Bible. I love the words Jesus chooses here, calling us His little flock, His precious and protected ones. I love the tone of the statement, full of grace and affection. When I think of Jesus saying this, I imagine Him making eye contact with one of the disciples gathered around him, maybe touching an arm or shoulder, speaking gently to them.

This verse was part of the daily office of scripture and prayer that I read this morning, and God brought it back to my mind throughout the day. As I said, I normally find great comfort in this verse. But as the day progressed it got harder to hear, because it became increasingly clear to me that (Lord, have mercy) sometimes I don't want the kingdom.

God's kingdom is exactly that: God's. It is not mine, and it does not operate under my authority or agenda. I can't control it, I can't manipulate it, and I can't make it suit my purposes. Of course, I know the right thing to point out at this moment is that God's kingdom is also glorious beyond anything I can imagine and far better than any plan or purpose of mine. But right now my inner brat is stamping her foot and saying, "I don't care! I think your plan sucks and I don't understand why I can't do things my way. I want to have my cake and I want to eat it too, so there!"

(Waiting for lightning bolt... No? OK apparently I am still alive, so I'll keep writing.)

Michael Card wrote a song called "A Better Freedom", and I will close this post with a few lyrics from it. I don't really want to hear these words right now, but the Holy Spirit can be pretty darn persistent. My prayer tonight is for the grace and strength to believe this, and Lord help my unbelief.

Christ revealed Himself to me
Enslaved my soul to set me free
I was bound to Him at Calvary
And found a better freedom

A better freedom can't be found
By those unwilling to be bound
A better freedom is not known
By those whose hearts will not be owned
But those who follow find a better freedom
.

Monday, February 9, 2009

buds



I'd swear we didn't see them until March last year
But here they are, unmistakable
A dark new pink like
First-fruits
This first weekend of February.

We are going out
The front door tonight,
Which is rare enough in itself
And carries a good omen in the still-bright dusk
Of a still winter evening.

I stop short and my breath
Catches in my throat, holds there
He follows my eyes,
"I guess that tree is not dead after all,"
He says.

We should have trimmed it last Spring
We should have cut it down last Summer
When it disowned its limbs, littering
Broken bark and lichen
And bits of moss.

Just last week I thought it might fall down
Altogether.

And now
It is February. It is cold.
It may yet snow.

But tonight I see the tiniest buds of cherry blossoms on a tree that was dead to me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

lamentations and psalm 48


jeremiah's lamentation, by marc chagall

Earlier this week I went to visit a dear sweet lady in a nursing home. I went with a friend as part of a service day that our Bible study group had coordinated, and we had the privilege of visiting, praying, reading scripture, and singing hymns with women who are members of our church but are no longer unable to attend services. As we sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" with sweet Mary Louise that morning, it made me want to go back and read the verses in Lamentations from which those lyrics are taken. When I found some time to read it the next day, I got ambitious and decided to read the whole book (it's not very long). I've also been reading through Psalms, one a day, and happened to be on Psalm 48 that day.

So long story not-so-short, I ended up reading the book of Lamentations and Psalm 48 on the same day. What an incredibly sharp contrast. Compare these two verses:

Lamentations 1:1 How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was a queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

Psalm 48:1-3 Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.

In Lamentations, the author goes into great, and even graphic, detail of the ruin and destruction of the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege on the city. He weeps for her defiled temple, her plundered treasure, her starving children, her slaughtered princes. He acknowledges that it was the sin of the people and their worthless prophets that led to the tragic downfall of Jerusalem. It is a ruthlessly hard book to read. Even though it contains some beautiful statements of hope and faith, the last words are still "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure." Did you heave a big sigh just reading that? I did.

But as much as I have learned to love the Old Testament, I have also learned the importance of reading it with New Testament eyes. Our story does not end with the last words of the book of Lamentations. I realize that Psalm 48 is still in the Old Testament, but I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sheds new light on these words from verse 8: As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever.

There is still significant and sobering truth to be found in the words of Lamentations: our sin is not without consequence. But in the light of God's abundant grace to us in Jesus Christ we see the eternal reality -- the enemy has been defeated and our city is safe. Psalm 48:4 says, "When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together, they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror." God is in His city, His holy mountain, His people. In contrast to the last verses of Lamentations, Psalm 48 ends with these words of assurance: "For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

the hidden righteousness



I am currently reading The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is fantastic. It is thoroughly kicking my butt. The middle of the book is an exposition on Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and there is one part of it in particular that I keep coming back to over and over. In Chapter 14, titled "The Hidden Righteousness", Bonhoeffer gives his treatment of Matthew 6:1-4. I like the version he uses in the book, it is a bit like KJV:

Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven. When therefore thou doest alms sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what they right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and they Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee.

I get the part about not tooting your own horn, so to speak. I understand that living out the righteousness of life in Christ is not done for the 'glory of men.' The Christian strives to do what is right before God at all times, no matter who is watching, because all that is done is to God's glory anyway. In Bonhoeffer's words, "Our activity must be visible, but never be done for the sake of making it visible."

The tricky part is the last verse. What's all this secret, left-hand, right-hand stuff? We know from Matthew 5 that it is quite impossible to live the (in his words) "extraordinary" life of discipleship in secret, without the world noticing. If you go an extra mile with your enemy, or give your cloak to someone who has taken your tunic, folks will start to talk. In light of this, Bonhoeffer asks, "From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves." Elsewhere he puts it like this, "We have to take heed that we do not take heed of our own righteousness."

For an overly self-aware, Psych major, hyper-analytical head case... well, you can see why this is tying my brain in knots. Much of my thought life typically revolves around self-reflection, Did I do the right thing? Did I say the right thing? Did I handle that situation the way God wanted me to? So what's bugging me about this chapter is that it is more or less saying that all those questions are a waste of time, and are in fact the opposite of true righteousness in Christ. It would seem that in the very moment of my concern as to whether I am following Christ, it is just then that I cease to be following Him.

This is frustrating because I can't handle it with my usual set of spiritual (religious?) tools. I can't try harder to not notice myself. I can't pray more about not noticing myself. I can't spend time reflecting on ways to not notice myself. I can't put up sticky notes with little reminders: Haley, don't forget to forget yourself today! Pftthhth. So what I am I left with? Probably just what I need. I am left with the call and desire to look only to Jesus. As Bonhoeffer says, "to put to death the 'old man' with all his virtues and qualities, and this can only be done where the disciple forgets self and clings solely to Christ."

To be totally honest, I am still not sure I know what this means, and I welcome your thoughts and insights. In the meantime, I have more reading to do.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

happy together

I've noticed that I tend to take video of my kids when they're doing something new or out of the ordinary. That's great, but I want to remember the day-to-day stuff too. Here's a one-minute video of Nate and Dexter just doing their thing today. I am so thankful that my boys love each other.


video

platitudes, part 2


The Value of $300, by Scott Erickson

After I posted yesterday, I started feeling like maybe I was just grumpy and that I shouldn't have been so negative and ranting. But then your comments let me know that I had hit a vein and maybe there was some truth behind the grumpiness. That being said, I also want to acknowledge that, for many people, offering these little sayings (trite as they may be) is their best attempt to care for a hurting friend, and it comes from a place of love and concern. I don't mean to belittle those people, but more to challenge all of us to think more deeply about what we really have to offer those who are hurting.

So here's the promised follow-up to yesterday's post.

When people say things like "If [insert unfavorable event here] happened, that just means there is something better out there for you," this is what I interpret it to mean: God would only take away whatever good thing you've lost if His plan was to give you something even better to replace it. That sounds nice and comforting. What a fair and reasonable God we have, right?

The problem I have with this (besides its obvious lack of Biblical foundation), is that it essentially takes our massive, mysterious God and shrinks Him down to be the God of privileged upper-middle class people who went to college and always know where their next meal is coming from. Because, truthfully, those are often the only people who have a reasonable shot at "something better" coming along. This version of God has nothing to say to most of the world. He only makes sense to people who are already rich, safe, and healthy. What does this God have to offer an AIDS orphan in Kenya? What will He do for a coke baby born to teenage parents in Detroit? Doesn't it sound completely ridiculous and even offensive to say, "Cheer up kid, God wouldn't have taken away your healthy central nervous system if He didn't have something better in mind for you down the road!"

In the circles I run in (and I'm guessing you're probably no different), most of us are rich, safe and healthy, so it's easy to slip into the mindset that God's top priority is for us to stay that way. But if that's the case, then He is not the God of the orphaned, the poor, and the sick. The Bible says otherwise: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:5) So how do we reconcile these things? What hope can we offer people, whether they are dealing with a loss on their six-figure retirement account or struggling to break the cycle of poverty in a third-world country?

Only this: Our story ends well, because we have the victory in Jesus Christ. Your story ends well, when you claim the victory of Jesus Christ. Of course, our stories do not always end well in this life. Jesus himself was murdered, as were many of his disciples. Orphans die, retirement accounts tank, poverty continues. But in Christ, we have the victory -- Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) The hope we have in Christ does not rest on "something better" coming along. The "something better" has already come in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who does not give as the world gives, and therefore we need not be afraid (John 14:27). The hope we have in Him is secure, and it is our only assurance that our story will indeed end well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

platitudes



I've been hearing a lot of platitudes lately. People are losing their jobs, struggling with finances, and dealing with the realities of life in a crappy economy. In response to this, their friends, acquaintances, and facebook strangers are offering plenty of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" flavored responses. Not that there's anything wrong with trying to cheer up a friend or offer a bit of hope. But I guess that's where I take issue with the "Chin up, Charlie" crowd: Are you really offering hope? Or just empty promises and false prophecies?

The most common platitude I've been hearing, especially among Christians, is "Everything happens for a reason." This idea gets passed off as being spiritual and Godly, and while I suppose you could squeeze this phrase from some verses in the Bible if you had no regard for context, I don't find this idea to be particularly Biblical. Maybe that's because it is usually accompanied by a further half-truth, "I'm sorry [insert unfavorable event here] happened, but that just means there's something better out there for you."

I have a few issues with this mentality. First of all, although I firmly believe in God's sovereignty over all creation, I don't think that there is some specific, predetermined reason for every bad thing that happens in our lives, apart from the fact that we live in a broken world. I don't believe, like some folks, that the reason Hurricane Katrina happened was so that people would turn from their sinful ways and seek God. And as much as I love The Sound of Music, I am not entirely convinced that "when God closes a door, He always opens a window." I hate to say this, but quite honestly if you just lost your job in this economy there might not be something better coming along.

This post is getting depressing so I should probably just stop here. I'll end by saying that although I don't believe that there is a good reason for every crappy thing that happens, I absolutely believe that nothing, nothing, is beyond God's redemption. Tomorrow I'll write about why God's redemption is not necessarily "something better coming along," or at least not from the perspective of our upper-middle-class privileged American suburban lives.