Sunday, March 21, 2010

And There Before Me Lay a Chasm

I remember standing what seemed like a thousand feet high above solid ground on a three foot by three foot square, harnessed and attached to a bungee. The purpose was to jump, to defy logic and bound through the air towards concrete knowing that inches before I cracked open like an egg that rolled off the counter to the floor, I'd rebound and the elastic chord would shoot back toward the heavens, a human yoyo. All of this for fun. Yet when my feet found their heels attached to the remnants of what was solid and their toes pinching only air, somehow, they weren't so sure it was going to be much fun. What human in their right mind ever chooses to drop off any cliff? Life though, is so full of cliffs. One day you are meandering through meadows, bluebirds bantering back and forth and honeybees sipping cotton covered clover. Then you turn around and there before you lays a chasm. We even know they are coming. We're taught to expect them. Jesus promised them when he matter of factly mentioned, "In this world you will have troubles." But still, like the frigid waters of some wild mountain river they suck the breath from our lungs and render our limbs numb with shock. Some are greater than others--the ones that when you dare look down to see if perhaps you might find some way across, or over, or through, you see no bottom. No floor. No end. Then there are those that at first glance appear not much broader than perhaps your most intense running stride. You can jump them. You can swing over. Somehow you manage. And once across, you wipe the nervous sweat from your palms and exhale deeply. "Shoo. That was a close one. Thank God we made it through." But those deep ones. Those long ones. They remind me of the Mediterranean Sea. When the boys and I look at that body of water on the map it seems so small. Yet to the Grecian fisherman standing on her shore, The Mediterranean does not appear to have an end. He can't see the other side. That's what the long cliffs are like. They're the ones you face when the doctors tell you she's a beautiful girl with so much hope for the future, but she'll never stand upright in her adult years--some rare disease has moved into her body and refuses to leave. I listened to a man tell this story just today. Or the orphanage that has enough food for the over 100 children who call it home for only one more week. Then next week comes. Autism. Your major supporter has dropped you. Stage 4. HIV positive. No work tomorrow. Another lay off. I don't love you anymore. The teenage child who looks into your eyes and says, "let me live my life." Alcoholism. Chasms. Deep, deep chasms. And no human in their right mind would choose to drop from one of those precipices. They wouldn't. But they come anyway. We can't stop them. Part of the curse, yes, but knowing that doesn't make navigating them any easier. When I was preparing to bungee jump a too-skinny, grey faced man in baggy blue-jeans gave me clear instructions. I thought I understood them until I reached the crest and looked down. In that moment I remembered none of them. "One. Two. Three. Ma'am? One. Two. Three." "Don't count," I told him. "I'll go when I'm ready." And I did. I jumped down into that darkness. Not because I wanted to anymore. Not because I thought it would be fun anymore. Not because I thought I'd be better for having done it. Only because I'd come that far--there was really no turning back. And only because I believed the chord would hold. It had been strong enough to hold someone twice my size just minutes before. It's that way in our lives too. We've come too far to quit, too far to stop when we see just how dangerous life can be. And The Anchor will hold. I've found that to be true. He promised, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." "I will be with you until the end of the world." So we jump. Jump head-long into the realities of our lives--the chasms, whatever they are--knowing now how things will end up, but to whom we are harnessed. And we trust that His strong right arm is enough to carry us home. And it is on these truths I stand before the cliffs in my own little world. sometimes remembering all the other stuff doesn't matter. What matters is knowing we are held-firmly--by a God who isn't in the business of dropping those whom He loves. "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation." Psalm 91:14-16

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Really, How Did God Intend Us To Eat Oatmeal?

Warning: Probably Gonna Wanna Skip This One If You Aren't Into Thinking For the first time this morning, after thirty-three years, I put chocolate chips in my oatmeal. It was glorious. Why I've never done that before, I have no idea. I mean really, I put oatmeal in my chocolate chip cookies, so why not the reverse? Never occurred to me, I guess. I wasn't raised that way--who was? I mean, raisins, pecans, honey, sure, all acceptable accompaniments to the time honored, traditional stick-to-your-ribs gummy breakfast. But chocolate chips? Isn't it food heresy to include chocolate chips in your humble oatmeal? On the other hand, my first encounter with a portabella mushroom was in a grocery store in chilly Ontario. It literally begged me to eat it and with great excitement I acquiesced offering no resistance. The portabella and I were on an adventure together--to this day, we still are. I'd had no food show, no childhood notions based on the diet of my family, Fanny Farmer hadn't mentioned the portabella to my knowledge and so here I was with this hunk of beefy vegetation and the sky was literally the limit. I've cooked it dozens of ways and just last night as I was eating eggplant parmesan it occurred to me that next I would try it in that manner. Never once have I used a recipe with that mushroom. It tells me how it wants to be eaten and I obediently trust that it has NEVER let me down and eat it anyway it inspires. When we have a previous experience in life, whether intentional or not, that experience inevitably becomes a cap to what we believe can happen, a framework within which we understand the elements of that experience. When we have no previous understanding of a subject, we are free to experience facets and components of that thing from an infinite number of angles. This is why when the Mouk tribe in remote regions Papua New Guinea, a group of people who had been exposed for the first time to the chronological teachings of scripture erupted in dancing and shouts of "EE TAOW, EE TAOW! EE TAOW!!!" "It is good!" The English translation of their delirious shouts of joy speaks to their understanding of what we call the gospel--the truth that Jesus had paid the price for their sins and His eternal love and presence was theirs for the taking. No fancy prayers, no long walks up an aisle to an alter carpeted in horrible mauve or green or orange industrial carpet. No preacher saying, "Speak these words after me." And to my knowledge, none of them, when later referencing that moment in time, ever used the phrase, "I asked Jesus into my heart." Now don't start throwing your compostables at me just yet. I'm not saying either one is right. All I am saying is that the tribal response is one without any preconceived ideas of how it should look and the North American experience is framed by a history steeped in religion that offers a thousand different pictures of how an experience with God should take form--similar to my culinary efforts where oatmeal and portabellas are concerned. I have to ask myself, in how many other areas have I been missing out on the chocolate chips I could be including? How is my portrait of mothering affected by our cultures snap-shots of the task? Is my vision of marriage wet with the paint of my Heavenly Father's art or is it a low-ink photo copy of someone else's wal-mart quality print framed in wood-laminated plastic? And really, when it comes down to it, you know where I am going. On what, ON WHAT is my picture of a walk with God based? On what? Because I want to tell you that I've spent my entire life in church--thirty-three years of pictures, books, essays, flannel graphs, daily breads, conferences, Bible School, good pastors, and songs--that's an awful lot of frames of reference through which to sort. And then there's this: "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. the one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35) The one who comes to me and the one who believes in me will NEVER be hungry or thirsty. Come and believe. How then do I come to Jesus? Where do I go to meet Him? Is it the same for me as it is for you? Is it really that simple? Is it? You tell me. Is it? With love, s

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life: In This Moment

The weeks that have passed our church family recently have taken with them the lives of two beautiful people--human beings who somehow understood the greater things, the things that grip the heart of God. When you pour cream into a mug of ebony coffee and then stir, the brew becomes a thick muddy whirlpool around your spoon and likewise when God stirred these individuals into the landscape of earth, the shade of humanity was permanently changed. Death. The inescapable--apart from being raptured--truth of the physical body. When we interact with the separation of soul from body we inevitably experience incredible grief--how can we not? What we know has been removed to a place about which we've only heard and read. Just yesterday my husband ran into a man for whom he'd done some work last year. The two were one of those happy retired couples that you hope to be like someday. The man told him that one day he and his wife were sitting, talking together and she just fell into his arms. She never spoke again. Death. I couldn't shake the image of her physical body collapsing into the arms of her beloved while her soul freely fluttered into the arms of eternity. A billboard had been planted behind the lids of my eyes declaring the brevity of our physical existence. Maybe I think about death and illness more now that Jeff works as a firefighter and EMT. He comes home with stories and I think of the families who will race to the hospital to hold the hands of their loved ones after Jeff has finished his part of their care. I thank God it wasn't him, wasn't my babies, wasn't my mom, wasn't my dad and I plead with him for protection and safety for those whom I love. How can I not at least ask? But control is not a luxury we can really afford, is it? Ultimately? We don't control the driver who runs the stop sign or the germs whose flight pattern may choose to land on the sweet fingers of our babies, and we don't get to dictate the moment when a man's heart decides it is weary of beating. But we get to choose how we will live--in the moments we have right here and now. We don't know about tomorrow, yesterday is like a breeze that has cooled our faces for a moment and then shifted south. We get today. That's all. Not even this afternoon or tonight, but right now. Now. I read John 11 this morning ,the story of Lazarus' passing--the rather fortunate friend of Jesus whose soul was returned to a rotting corpse. Such a random thing to be released from eternity's grasp and returned to the parenthesis of physical life that hovers between the everlasting Alpha and Omega. Of which I am aware, there's no record of Lazarus' life after his return from the family tomb. Apparently, the event of his resurrection was of greater significance than the days and perhaps even years that followed. And I'm left to wonder if perhaps that is because we love the WOW moments far more than we love to hear about the days that fill the average lives of people. But I have to think that Lazarus was a changed man. I have to think that Mary and Martha were women who didn't take for granted the remaining days of their existence. How could they? As a family, they'd shaken hands with death and by the power of God been unwrapped from her inevitable grip. But then perhaps the reason his resurrection is included in John's account has less to do with the WOW factor and more to do with the reality that most of us live our lives out of tombs. Jesus told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:26) The one who lives and believes in me will never die. I love that phrase. The one who lives and believes. Do you get that? You and I get to live and believe. We get the benefit of the hindsight of saints who've gone before us. Naturally most of us will in fact greet physical death, but what is really tragic is that many of us are as good as dead right now anyway. We get to live following life, which is Jesus, or not. And when we aren't following Him, we are dead men walking. Lazarus got to come back because Jesus called him out of death into life. "Lazarus, come forth!" And His call is the same for you and I, "Come forth! Just as you have been buried with me through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4) Come forth. The heart of our Father is that we would live now as though we had already entered eternity because He came that we would have 'life and have it to the full.' His desire for us is life, now. And He's calling us to walk in life--to leave the grave. Lazarus' sisters said he was gonna stink when he came out. I don't know if he did or not. What I do know is that when you are alive, you don't stink, unless you are hanging around near the graveyard. I wonder how long it took Lazarus to remove those grave clothes and live as though he were alive. Not long, I am sure. Perhaps you are like me, and there are a few grave clothes to which you are clinging. They have no hold on you. Take a spiritual bath in the washing of God's Word and then walk, my friends, walk in newness of life. All we have is the choice to live right now as though we are alive. Pray with me: Lord, help us to release the past into your eternal forgiveness. Help us not to assume we have tomorrow to live, but to choose today to live in the newness of life you have given us. Help us to choose life with our family, with our children, with the world around us. Holy Spirit, please illuminate the areas in our lives where we are clinging to grave clothes, to the tomb. Show us where we are insisting that we cannot have life and then explode your life in those areas so magnificently that we declare, "The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes." May we live, Jesus, as you live and may we reflect your life to the world around us. Amen