Monday, March 30, 2009

The Cross as Irony

Irony-4. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs...-The American Heritage Dictionary 1971
Ironies on the Cross Ironic isn't it that He who spoke the world into existence speaks so little from the cross? It words are filled with meaning, its silence even more.
 Ironic isn't it that He who planted the world with seed-bearing plants and trees on the land is Himself planted on a tree and bears both the sin of the world and the fruit of righteousness?
 Is it more than irony that He who would never need to experience forgiveness offers it to every dumb sucker working for the system that put Him on the cross; every mean sucker hiding behind religious custom who pulled strings to get Him there; and every other person from that day forward who was sucked into sin?
 Is it not ironic that He speaks of finding paradise for a man who should have by all means found hell while at that moment He is Himself experiencing it? Can it be that He who could pack clouds into His hands like snowballs and throw them at the back of angels halos is alone as no other ever experienced alone-ness? Could He whose kinship with Father and Spirit that was as close as a notion be totally alone and shrouded in heavy darkness? Did Father really turn His back on Him? Did Father cover His Son with darkness to hide the shame? Did the light of the world simply go out? Was this why He who felt so utterly forsaken so as to despair of even the presence of God promise that He would never leave nor forsake you?
 It is not ironic that He who scooped out the depths of the oceans with the palm of His hand, who could trace out the rivers with the tip of His finger, and by pressing His thumb into the earth and form every lake cried out, "I thirst." With just a twitch from His bloodied brow to command it, every body of water on the earth would have gladly changed its course to the foot of the cross to sooth their master's tongue and every cloud would have wrung itself dry of its precious nectar to relieve the fire in His mouth.
But the command was never spoken, for it was not His thirst He was quenching that day, it was ours. 

Vox Dei

You probably wondered why I didn't start the "voices we need to hear" series with this one. You knew it was coming sooner or later, I simply chose "later." Indeed if you listen carefully, you can pick out some of the voice of God in the other voices I've mentioned and a thousand I didn't. Evangelicals get a bit squeamish when you start talking about hearing the voice of God anywhere other than scripture. I understand, it opens the door for the unorthodox, weird, sentimental, irrational, too rational, gooey, goofy, heretical voices to jump in. Its a chance I took. I haven't grown any horns yet, heck, I can't even grow hair. Hebrews, chapter one, verses one and two declare that "in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." God's ultimate, final, most complete speaking to man was\is through Jesus. And the picture of Jesus, who He is, what He taught, what He did is in the bible. We need to hear the voices of nature, our parents, our neighbors, our children, our government, those saints from Christian history, the contrarian, the pacifist, and those whose voices are rarely heard: the poor, the outcast, those with no political or economic power. God may very well speak through them but the message must always be consistent and true to the person and character of Christ as revealed in the Bible. I'll conclude this little series now and move onto something else but do a couple of things for me, if you would. Listen to your own conversations. Around what or who do they center? I did this the last week or so myself and found a rather depressing truth. Most of my conversations centered around me. My time, my calendar, my schedule, my hook, my weight, my family, my enjoyments, my, my, my.... I suppose this is somewhat normal but I seek a new normal. It can be shaped by listening more. The other thing I'd invite you to do is find those who have no voice and speak up for them. I can't tell you who that might me but you can pray and ask God for whom you may speak, at least in prayer at first. He will show you, He will speak to you. He may direct you to orphans in Europe or children scarred by cruel dictators in Africa; He may remind you that the unborn have no voice and the young girls having those babies aren't heard in the volleyball match of politics. He may flood your heart with concern for lonely college kids connected in every way electronically but in no way to God or other lonely hearts. You may develop a heart for the exploited in the gambling\sex industry or for coal miners in China. But is there not somewhere, some people for whom you can pray, or write a letter for, or be involved in missions for those who need a voice? Vox Dei, the voice of God. Hear it in the Bible, but hear it calling to us to from those with no voice or power. There may be many voices we need to hear but One we definitely need to share. Vox Cos

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Longings---Voices We Need to Hear IV

If I Could Tell You Time will say nothing but I told you so, Time only knows the price we have to pay, If I could tell you, I would let you know. If we should weep when clowns put on their show, If we should stumble when musicians play, Time will say nothing but I told you so. There are no fortunes to be told, although, Because I love you more than I can say, If I could tell you, I would let you know. The winds must come from somewhere when they blow, There must be reasons why the leaves decay; Time will say nothing but I told you so. Perhaps the roses really want to grow, The vision seriously intends to stay; If I could tell you I would let you know. Suppose all the lions get up and go, And all the brooks and soldiers run away; Will time say nothing but I told you so? If I could tell you, I would let you know. W.H. Auden If you push your head in the pillow at night just right, you can sometimes pick it up. Cupping the hand over the ear and pushing the little flap in the opening of the ear makes it appear too. It's harder to do when you are trying, its just kinda happens and then you are aware of it. You are hearing the steady rhythm of your heart beating. You are hearing the sound it makes keeping you alive. First comes the hard beat, then the echo. THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump. To hear your own heart beat is a good thing but its a thing we take for granted. If we hear it too loudly or think about it too much we change the pillow to the cool side and forget about it. Maybe we shouldn't. I remember when Clay, our youngest suffered with asthma as a child. It was pretty severe. The doctor had us purchase a stethoscope to listen to his lungs to catch the wheezing as soon as possible to start treatment. But that little, cheap stethoscope also picked up the heart beating. As a father this fascinated and took me to a place of awe at the same time. This is my son's heart beat. It keeps him going, it keeps him alive. It was sometimes slow and steady, at other times, depending on the asthma and the medicine, it fairly raced in his chest. It could assure me, it could frighten me. Have you heard your heart lately? Has your Father in heaven heard your heart's slow, steady beat or the one that is racing trying to keep up or catch your breath? And I don't mean the physical one either. I mean your heart as more defined by your longings, desires, hopes, dreams, where all these are hatched and nurtured to maturity. There's the rub. We don't hear that heart. We get so busy living life that there is little life in our living. We haven't heard our hearts lately. We've forgotten to dream, to hope, and when we did it was too little, too hurried. We mistook those beatings as a disturbance and flipped over the pillow and went on with our lives. And we are neither assured nor frightened. So, what is it for which you truly long? Have you settled for survival? Have you decided that just making a living, having some money, enjoying a hobby is enough? What cravings does the voice of your heart speak? What meaning for your life have you sought? Have you heard your own heart? Better still, have you heard God's heart? How about His desires for your heart? There are two ways to read that oft quoted scripture from Psalm 37, verse 4: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." One way to see it is to delight yourself in the Lord and the things you want\need will come your way. That's a nice middle class, materialistic and popular way to look at it. Another way is to delight yourself in the Lord and He will put the right desires, His desires in your heart. In typical fashion we get to wondering about the second half of the verse and forget the key which is the first part of the verse: delight yourself in the Lord. Auden's poem at the beginning of the essay talks about the fickleness of time. It says that time only looks back to say "I told you so." "Time will tell," we say. What will time say about our longings? Were they fulfilled but found empty? Or will we learn to listen to the heart of God, allow Him to fill our hearts with his desires for life and have the visions that truly intend to stay? If I could tell you, I would let you know. Terry

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Voices We Need to Hear III

You won't like this one, I don't either but it doesn't mean I don't need to hear it. It's the voice of dissonance, it's the counter-intuitive, you-can't-be-serious voice; its the "that's quaint but impractical" voice. Let me be a little more specific since there are probably dozens of dissonant voices desirous of your attention each day. I'm not just talking ideological, political, economic or even religious voices. Let's find a specific voice so different that hardly anyone wants to listen, at least not anymore. Let's try on this voice as one we need to hear: the voice of the pacifist. (I think I just heard the click of a dozen computers turn off.......) When is the last time you heard or read anything from a real live pacifist? Can you name one? Do you know one? Can you think of one from history other than MH? Where would you look to find one? I'm not just talking about an anti-war voice or a leftover peace-nik from the late 60's. I mean an honest to God, non-violent, Bible quoting, lover of all humanity, true believer that pacifism is the proper way to approach life from a personal, economic or diplomatic viewpoint. Maybe that's why we don't know any or can't name one. A true Christian pacifist believes that the Biblical teaching of turning the other cheek applies to nations as well as individuals. They believe that "vengeance is mine saith the Lord" means to let God take care of the evildoers in His way and time. Pacifists take seriously the warning that "if you live by the sword you will die by the sword." The beauty of the day of the Lord described as a day when men will no longer teach each other war, a time when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and men shall beat their swords into plows (shares) and their spears into pruning hooks is to actually be lived by the "people of the book" from whence the teachings come. I'm sure there are varying degrees of pacifists, some ultimate, uber pacifists and some, shall we say, more liberal. I recently finished reading Doris Kearns-Goodwin's Team of Rivals about President Lincoln's cabinet during the civil wars. His secretary of war was Edwin Stanton. Stanton had a Quaker background and at an early age had written, " Why is it that military generals are praised and honored instead of being punished as malefactors? The work of war is the "making of widows and orphans--the plundering of towns and villages--the extermination and spoiling of all, making the earth a slaughterhouse." Goodwin writes that three decades after writing this, Stanton was himself responsible for an army of more than 2 million men. There were also few pacifists advocating total non violent approaches to Hitler after 1940. Nevertheless, I believe we should hear them. I've only heard, in person, two pacifists, both at seminary. I've read writings of two, both seminary assignments. I don't think I've seriously read or heard much other than an occasional article since. But we should hear their voices if for no other reason than to keep us humble and searching for better answers. In Isaiah 55 we are told by God that "my thoughts are not your thoughts... " and we would do well to listen humbly and try to discover what God's thoughts are before we respond to the insults of men and nations before we with irrevocable violence. We too easily jump into war in this world and too easily seek a violent answer. Even in the micro world of the home pacifism should be heard. Maybe domestic violence would be lessened if we learned pacifism's lessons. I could personally never be a pacifist. I would defend by family physically if they were physically attacked (see Harrison Ford in Witness) and I believe the Hitlers of the world have to be stopped. But in not listening to the voice of pacifism, we probably lose some reasoning, negotiating, diplomatic and especially spiritual power that we aren't even aware exists. The voice of pacifism takes seriously the Bible's injunctions against violence in the New Testament and beckons us to follow Christ's example when he was confronted with the violence of religious zealots and Roman executions. Should not also His people? Its a hard voice to hear, but pacifism's lessons are for the home, the marketplace and the potential battlefields of the world. The alternatives haven't worked so well after all. In the recorded history of mankind, there are only about seven years where there wasn't a war being fought somewhere. I personally think those seven years scattered around history were just for reloading and letting little boys grow old enough to fight. We must be careful in these hard economic times. People(road rage?) and nations(vital national interests?) often go to war to fix their perceived problems. There will always be principles, people worth fighting far, but there may be other ways to respond that build up rather than destroy. Let's at least hear some dissonant voices who might could help. "Blessed are the peacemakers," Jesus said. Ironic isn't it that the name for the Colt 45 pistol in 1873 was the Peacemaker. Is that really what Jesus meant? Terry