August 26, 2014

Sloppy

A few days ago, my youngest daughter, who’s 18 mos. old, came up to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. And not just any kiss, she really planted it on there, and afterwards, I had to wipe soggy goldfish crumbs off of my face. As a parent, I know that this comes with the territory, and so far from being offended by the goo, I felt loved by my daughter. And it brought to mind a line from one of my favorite songs:

"and then heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss …"

I find this line brilliant, both in the poetry and in the theology. Good relationships, like the ones Jesus describes (for family and for friends), are like this - vulnerable, messy, honest. My daughter doesn’t feel the need to pretend around me or anybody else because she’s not yet learned betrayal, or contempt, or any of the other experiences that lead to the masks that we create for ourselves to hide from others. Good relationships are about removing those masks again and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, raw, honest … in spite of and because of and through the mess. 

Heaven met earth not in a showdown of power, but in these raw, vulnerable, messy places. … like the innocence of a kid planting a sloppy wet goldfishy kiss on the cheek of her father, or like the buzzy razz I gave my daughter after she kissed me. I know some people don’t like that line because it seems too awkward, too raw, too much like a teenager kissing a first date, and so they replace this phrase with “unforeseen kiss.” But I think that misses the point altogether; Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He came to earth - the prophets told of His coming - so there was nothing “unforeseen” about it. It’s not a phrase about romance; it’s a phrase about vulnerability and pure, unadulterated joy. And so that’s why I use the original version, because when I hear that phrase, I’m reminded that there’s something elegantly simple and yet infinitely deep about the way God loves us.

How he loves us so …

August 22, 2014

Object Lesson

There are things that you are, and things that you are not. 

You are not an animal that devours others. You are not at the mercy of your urges, be they biological or emotional. You are not merely a sexual being, nor are you merely a robot for production; you are far more. You are not a piece of meat and metal available for consumption by others, for their visual or tactile or emotional pleasure. You are not an object to be moved around by the flights and fancy of those who see you as one. You are not meant to be the object of fantasy, nor are you to treat others as the objects of fantasy.

Hear it again: you are not an object.

And you are not alone.

You are free, or rather, you have been freed. Not by yourself or for yourself, but with others and for others. You are capable of beautiful dreams, of creativity and compassion and empathy, of generosity and gentleness, of self-control and mercy. You are capable of dependence on one greater than yourself, for it is not under your own power or authority, but under the One who has freed you.

You are part of a community, whether you know it or not. You are the son, daughter, child, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin, granddaughter, or grandson of another human being. And you must always remember to look at others in that same way; don't look at them, see them. There is more to you than the way others describe you. You are loved without hesitation or condition. And you are given the task of loving others likewise.

You are a child of God.

Today, and the day after that, and the day after that, from now forward, you are Eschat Chayil (woman of valor) and Ish Gibor Chayil (mighty man of valor). May you live up to that name! May it become your identity, child of God. May you live out of what you are, instead of what you are not. May it inspire you forward, carry you through the times when encouragement is sparse, and overflow into others in times of plenty. May others catch your enthusiasm, be it a vociferous shout or a quiet confidence. And may you tell this story others, and so doing, draw them into the ekklesia, the community of the freed.

August 19, 2014

Activate

Believe it or not, more energy is wasted turning on lightbulbs than it takes to simply leave them on. The energy required to activate the reaction of a burning element inside the lightbulb is much greater than the energy it takes to sustain that same reaction of the element burning. The extra power it takes to start the reaction is called ‘activation energy.’ 

Chemistry is a scientific discipline all about getting one thing to turn into another thing at the most fundamental level. This happens in “reactions,” which sometimes means adding heat, sometimes requires the presence of other substances to start the reaction, and other times simply requires lots of time. Most of the time, it means all three. And at the end of the reaction, there will always be a product and some waste. To make things more complicated, in the real world, as soon as you change one thing, the products and by-products of that reaction will change their surroundings, and you may get secondary or even chain reactions that you didn’t expect. 

The same is true for implementing change.

When we start new ministries or change existing ministries at a fundamental level, it will always require activation energy. We’ll need more time, usually more financial resources (buying that curriculum, advertising, equipment, whatever), and of course, additional people to get things up and running. Sometimes this will mean being willing to add more stuff to an already busy schedule for a little while (if it’s truly activation energy, it should calm down after it gets started).

Then, when we decide to implement that change, we have to be willing to pay the price of the by-products and the chain-reactions. That means also being willing to lose some of the stuff we had from before that no longer fits the new vision (events, old equipment, etc.) - good things, valuable things! And, speaking of valuable things, it usually means being willing to lose a few people who just can’t get behind the change. It doesn’t mean they are any less followers of Jesus, it simply means they might better align their gifts or resources with another part of God’s vision elsewhere.

It will never be a question of “if” change, but rather of “what” and “when” and “how” change. God is a God of creation and of creativity, which means He’s always starting new things, re/making things new one at a time, and what’s more, the world around us is also always changing. Whether or not we’re ready - to use another metaphor - are we willing to hoist our sails into the winds of God’s Spirit and follow? Are we listening to the Spirit who moves to new horizons? Are we willing to put more of our resources and effort into activating new ministries in response to a changing world (and let others die) if that’s where God is going?

August 15, 2014

On Ravens and Writing Desks

“You should learn not to make personal remarks,” Alice said with some severity, “it's very rude.”
The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he SAID was, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
‘Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. ‘I’m glad they've begun asking riddles.’—“I believe I can guess that,” she added aloud.
“Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” said the March Hare.
“Exactly so,” said Alice.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ’I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”
“It IS the same thing with you,” said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn't much.
Words matter.

We can choose how we shape our words. The right choice of words can open up untold worlds of possibilities; they can free slaves, bring lovers together, and spur young minds to change the world. The wrong words, on the other hand, can be devastating; they can start wars, objectify and abuse the vulnerable, and cause the fear-filled oppression of millions.

The apostle James said that our words can be like freshwater, giving life, or like saltwater, tainting it. Saltwater words manipulate, deceive, create fear, because salt water words are, at their core, entirely interested in the self. Saltwater words are about gathering power over others, power to influence, power to control. Saltwater words are inconsistent with one another, for they are meant to manipulate others, and instead of bearing truth, they are at most full of half-truths.

You see, saltwater words say one thing and do another. Freshwater words, the words of life, are consistent with action, with the way you live your life. But the thing is, sometimes they can be the

exact

same

words.

The difference is consistency. The difference is intent. It is no coincidence that earlier, in chapter one, James connected freshwater words to serving orphans, widows, and the poor. Freshwater words breathe *life* into others. This is the very essence of the Kingdom: life.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Live your words.

August 12, 2014

Catalyst

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [Albert Einstein]
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus confronts the systemic evils in society around Him, vicious cycles that spiral out of control and take everyone and everything with them. The insidious thing about these cycles is that they are self-perpetuating; revenge leads to retaliation leads to revenge; inconsistency and deception only lead to more inconsistency and deception; lust leads to dehumanizing of others which leads to more lust and objectification and so on. In the midst of these cycles, one emotion is always constant: hopelessness. It’s as though dreaming of a better world has stopped because that’s what these cycles do - convince those involved that there are no other options, that violence is the only viable solution to violence, that somehow, we can get out of a lie by telling another one.

But it never works. And it’s almost like nobody notices.

Like there’s no way out.

Systemic evil.

But Jesus came to redeem the world, the catalyst in God’s plan of re-creation, to make all things new, to set the captives free, release the prisoners, declare the year of the Lord’s favor. If that’s true, that means that there must be a way out of these cycles. Which brings me back to the Sermon. Jesus tells us about the cycle (“you have heard it said”) and then introduces the way out (“but I say to you”).

So how does one break a vicious cycle?

In each of the cycles, people buy into the system as victims, as passive participants; things happen *to* them. But for Jesus, we’re not supposed to sit back; people who sit back and let things happen are actually perpetuating the systems as much as those who want to keep oppression in place. For Jesus, it’s like there’s no moral neutral; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And so every solution Jesus proposes has something in common: action.

A catalyst is required in the midst of every cycle to begin restoration. To paraphrase Einstein (see above), to continue doing what we’ve always done and expect something to change would be insane; something new is needed, and in every circumstance Jesus’ solution is counter-intuitive. In the cycle of violence and retaliation, love for the enemy is prescribed. It’s never suggested that we are capable of this on our own. Love - the kind that can love an enemy - comes through and from the One who IS love. Yet love is an action; to take care of one’s enemy makes absolutely no sense if you’ve grown up steeped in a culture of revenge. Nobody loves their enemy - that’s why they’re enemies.

But Jesus says this must end. He calls us to act, in the power and character of the Spirit who set us free. So love your enemy. Pray for them. Take care of them when they need it.

Because love takes action.