Friday, December 27, 2013

Is Love Enough? :: Advent Thoughts

So it's a couple days after Christmas, and I started this blog post about love a few weeks ago, but then got distracted by life. Please forgive the late posting, but these are still some thoughts that I want to share...


We are a culture of dichotomy, of either/or. We love a good, strategically placed "but." (Yeah, that made me giggle, too.) Often I will hear people say things like, "I want my kids to know that I love them, BUT they also need discipline." Or, "I believe that God loves everyone, BUT you reap what you sow."

Now, this is difficult, right? Because, the BIBLE. The Bible is so darn confusing about these things. Because it says both! And, in addition to the "you reap what you sow" stuff, it also says, "God allows rain to fall on the just and the unjust." So, which is it? Do we get what we deserve? Or is it all just random and willy nilly and out of our hands completely?

Father in heaven, our dichotomous, Western, scientifically-minded, masculinity-obsessed culture wants to know -- Is it this one OR that one?

Which is why there are approximately two bazillion Christian denominations -- and why I get almost PTSD level nervous when someone starts a sentence with, "Well, the Bible clearly says..." Uh oh.

But you know, others have written extensively about this topic (Biblical interpretation, namely) and so if you want to read more about it, let me know and I'll send you a short list of books/blogs that I like. Bottom line for me right now is this: The Bible contains all sorts of things, and if I'm gonna stake my life on it, then I'm gonna stick with the major stuff and let other (more conscientious and intelligent) people duke it out over the details.

My major thing right now? God is crazy about me, the way I'm crazy and misty-eyed and speechless when my three year old daughter walks over, puts her hand on my knee, and says, "Mama, I want to tell you a secret..." and then she leans in and says, "I love you so much."

He gets so much JOY from me, the way I get joy from her rendition of Silent Night. "Si-lent night, qui-et night / All is palm, all is quite / Round yon bir-gen, mudder and child / Holy infant, so pen-der and wild..." And so on. Apparently, if she doesn't know the word, she'll just sing whatever she hears. Virgin becomes bir-gen, and so forth.

He is present with me, the way I am present with her when she says, "I wasn't lying to you. I was just saying those words." I know the potential of her good and bad actions even better than she does right now. I feel the weight of that; I believe He does, too. Do I shame her when she messes up? Do I withdraw from her in cold disappointment? By God's grace, I do not and will not. Even though it's tough (excruciating at times), I stay connected to her eyes and to her heart, and we co-labor over these problems.

And as far as I can tell, that is the work of the Incarnation -- connection and interaction in the midst of stink and mess and, even, glory.

May 2014 be a year of Incarnational Joy for you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Hope is not a plan" :: Advent, Week One

At church on Sunday, my pastor gave an excellent sermon on hope. She confessed her interest in crime TV shows (holla!), and gave an excellent quote from one of these shows, in which Hetty Lang of NCIS Los Angeles tells one of her subordinates, "Hope is not a plan, Mr. Callan."

I started getting worried at this point in the sermon. I thought, Oh no, she's going to start talking about how we need to plan to work harder at life / spirituality / relationships. I don't think I can take one more person telling me that my life isn't working because I'm not doing enough.

But. I should not have doubted her so.

She went the total opposite direction. She admitted that, yes, hope is not a plan. But she also stated the obvious truth that any person who has spent any time on the planet knows - which is, that even the best-laid plans often fail. The Scriptures are clear about this (Matt. 5:45, Job 2:10, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes), which is part of why I am so baffled by believers who present their sermons and their lives to us as a sort of how-to-live-and-be-awesome guidebook.

Larry Crabb says it so well in his book Soul Talk, when he says that many people have unwittingly adopted a formulaic view of their spirituality. The formula is basically:

I live a good life + God honors my actions = My life goes reasonably well

How many sermons have I heard that advocate this formula? How many have you heard? I've heard approximately one shitload. And I was nineteen years old (actually, six years old...but my powers of denial are pretty formidable) the first time I doubted this formula. Because you know what happened? The unexpected. The unexpected happened, and it knocked the air right out of me, and my prayers during this time were mostly along the lines of, "Ooouuuuccchhh...." Then again in my mid-20s, and again a couple years ago.

But I gotta tell you, I am getting better at something. I'm getting better at opening my hands - or at least, if I can't do that, of loosening my grip. (Notice I did not say that I'm getting better at expecting the unexpected. This is another mutant form of planning that invokes anxiety, i.e. fear, and I don't want any part of it.) And what helps me let go, even if it's just an itty bitty bit? It's knowing who's got my back, and knowing that he is GOOD.

Because when the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan of life, what is there to do? You roll with the punches. Well, first off, you duck. Because, ew. And then you roll with the punches. You find moments of stillness, and pockets of joy, and you pray one of the three essential prayers, "Help."

And you know that it's not over. Things are still happening, and there is still breath in your lungs, and you are going to be okay.

Yes, hope is not a plan. Thank goodness.