Wednesday, November 27, 2013
That Magnificent Emptiness
Ninety percent of the folks gathered didn't want to be there. No, it wasn't a church meeting. The twenty or so, the number kept changing, had gathered to see their doctors, a group of neurosurgeons. It was the Thursday before Thanksgiving but on this day it was a day of misgivings and questions of 'what ifs' and 'what will be'.
People were there because of accidents, genetic weaknesses, poor decisions, unknown factors, and the wear and tear of living life. They were trussed up, braced up, taped up. They limped, waddled, shuffled on feet, canes, and walkers. A few claimed a wheelchair as their steed. Most were slow but a few strode confidently,quickly and seemed happy. Their treatment or surgery had worked. You could read the relief on some people's faces when they came out from their appointment compared to the concern in their eyes before they went in.
Back, brain, limb and neck troubles didn't seem to be very discriminating. There were black folk, white folk, Asian, Latino and middle eastern folk there. People's age didn't seem to matter a lot either. A few were young, a few old, mostly they were in the middle somewhere. Some were obviously poor, others middle class and a few, at least looked wealthy. Just about as many men were present as ladies.
Despite their differences they all had at least a few things in common. They were in the same waiting room. They were seeing the same doctors. They all had a story to tell and about a third were busy telling them to another third. The remaining third were silent, except for the eyes. The biggest common denominator was pain. They had all been broken, and they needed help. They were all there with some degree of fear. And they were there, every one, waiting in hope.
As a group they were pathetic and at the same time magnificently noble. Mixed with the pain, fear, silence, grief, resignation were strength, joy, resolve, and faith. The scene was familiar, but not just from the thousands of waiting rooms in which I have sat. Where else had I seen this scene, these faces, this pain, this nobility, this strength mixed with fear and carried by hope? Then it hit me--this is our world, our hearts.
This is where and why Jesus came.
And He is why Thanksgiving is possible at all. It is not just because someone else may have it worse, but even in the worst, He brings hope, He brings Himself. It is not that healing will come to every brain, back, or bone in time but that ultimately every heart and life can be whole when time is no more. Some people in waiting rooms will get good news that the back is healed, the bone is mended, the legs can walk, the cancer is gone. For that they can be thankful. But Thanksgiving moves to another plane when it is realized that one day even death will die.
And it is here, into this magnificent mess that Jesus came and why He came. One day, He will empty every waiting room and every grave. And the grace that empties the graves is as indiscriminate as the pain--it is for all who believe.
For that magnificent emptiness we give thanks.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Confession: Chuckles Has Died
I have a confession. With the confession comes an apology. Some days when the world is falling apart or being blown apart or or seems to be missing some parts my sin is more acute, at least on those days I am more aware of it than on light, sunny days. With the increase of technology that allows me to hear about and in most cases view the multiplied tragedies around the world there seem to be fewer of those light and sunny days when grandkids laugh at being tickled, kitchens fill with heavenly aromas, when hugs are long and kisses are deep. I can hide my sin most days but many times I feel like the Mary Tyler Moore character who attended the funeral of 'Chuckles' the clown. (yes, the two young people who read this blog and the six very old people have no idea what I'm talking about---so take a look: go to youtube and search for Mary Tyler Moore show Chuckles the clown funeral---you will see what I mean....) Okay, so here's the confession:
I am a happy Christian.
There, I said it. It's out now. I feel better. I know I am suppose to be burdened, incensed, appalled, and rage with righteous indignation as I launch into action. I see people every day who are hurting, grieving, struggling, stumbling, and grasping at life in the throes of death. And some days those people are me. I literally weep in prayer times or driving alone or lying in bed. And then something hits me and I laugh. I am so sorry for being happy in a sick, fallen, and dying world. I just can't help myself. It's not that I don't get sad or burdened or mad or sick with the pain of this world. It just doesn't overcome me more than a few hours or days. And with further confession, most days they are interspersed, mixed, rotating, and roller-coastering along. Chuckles has died, and I giggle.
'Why is this so?' I ask myself. I look for answers. I try to keep my reactions context appropriate. I defend myself: "God made me that way." But did He? "I choose to be that way." Why then is the happiness so spontaneous and ever-present? I get theological. Maybe I get the "joke" that Jesus pulled on the devil--Incarnation, who could see that coming? The God\Man Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world? Come on, how could you not laugh at what that did to Satan's plans? The Resurrection? Are you kidding me? Free grace; forgiveness; cleansing; power over death and sin; purpose for living even in pain; HEAVEN! The poet-song writer summed it up by saying "How can I keep from singing?" and I say how can I keep from laughing? Those last facts have brought me in contact with grace-filled moments, love filled people, joy filled hearts, hope that just doesn't quit, even when I have. Chuckles has died and I giggle.
Thankfully, I don't bear this burden alone. There are others in the underworld of grace. Let me share with you a few lines from Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, (buy it!) a wonderful little book on counting your blessings in a truly meaningful way from a very gifted writer: "I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for the early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is Joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse is true. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents that bring the fullest Light to all the world."
Well said, Ann V. You express thanksgiving and joy. I don't have your beauty of language to express the depths of what I think and feel, but I can confess to being happy. And please try to be forgiving of me when I remember that Chuckles has died and I giggle.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
ordinary god At first glance you don't like those words. When first written I didn't either. Questions arise, defenses kick in, assessments are offered. "Why didn't he capitalize 'god'?" " There is nothing ordinary about God!" "Cos must be a liberal!"
We jump too quickly, we decide without knowing. We see a blank canvas, we see a completed theology, and a full statement of life. ordinary god is none of those things but it could be all of them. We don't know for one simple reason. ordinary god is not punctuated. There are no capitalizations, there are no commas, pre-fixes or suffixes. There are two words thrown on a page. The words have great potential for meaning but there must be punctuation and rules of grammar applied before we know----anything.
Let's play god with ordinary god. Let's capitalize the g. ordinary God. That's a start but now we have a bigger problem. The capitalization now means the God, the big, real, true God who, out of respect, people of faith capitalize his name. Now we have an adjective 'ordinary' describing 'God.' Looks problematic. Let's add a suffix---'ly.' ordinari-ly God. That's better. Maybe we are saying how we understand God to normally act. 'ordinarily God does this or that. Or maybe we are saying some things about ourselves and our actions with 'God." Let's add a comma, too. It could be like this: ordinarily, God, I go to church on Sundays, but today I'm going fishing.' We are not sure if that is the best way to punctuate ordinary god but it is at least honest.
Let's try a prefix. Let's add 'extra' to ordinary. "Extraordinary God." We like that. We have capitalized 'god' and made him 'extra-ordinary' with a prefix. Now God is extraordinary. That looks right. We feel better. But how do you know how to punctuate 'ordinary' and 'god'? We chose punctuation that reflects our understanding, our theology. There are dozens of other ways to punctuate ordinary god. We may only know a few.
Consider two points: all our points and grammar do not actually punctuate God. He has declared, "I AM WHO I AM!" Try as we might we will never in completeness punctuate God. He is already whole, complete and perfectly declared. Our punctuation can only show our ignorance or, best, some growth in understanding. Secondly, it is we who are punctuated by the hand of God. ordinary man.... ordinary woman.... ordinary human. He punctuates our lives with a comma slowing us down long enough to see Him work. He punctuates our lives with a period or exclamation point. Where he puts a period we do well not try to add a question mark or move beyond where He says 'stop.' He capitalizes words, time, people in our lives adding emphasis and respect. He adds the prefixes of life to add definition and meaning. He adds the suffixes of life to add the hows and whys as He knows we need them. At times the points are light (.....) and times they seem heavy (!!). He will dress our ordinary man as He deems right, as we submit our will, our very lives to His pen strokes.
How has He punctuated your life? Consider what superlatives He has added with just His presence- mystery, wonder, glorious, majestic, eternal- added to our lives they take on new meaning. He adds the suffix 'ful' to almost everything He punctuates in our lives--joy-ful, prayer-ful, hope-ful, peace-ful, thank-ful. Review the run-on sentences , those partially done ideas and commitments, He has corrected, overcome or let stand for us to learn from their failings. Notice the mistakes He has erased, if, in His grace you ever knew them. Remember that in all the punctuation added or subtracted, His pen is filled with the ink of grace and each stroke is made with love.
And each mark is made
In His Blood,