Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Reconciliatory High

I got in a dispute with someone several months ago. It bothers me every day. I think about what I would have said differently to avoid it. I try to get in their head and imagine how they perceived it.

I saw this person a couple days ago and approached them, probably so I could feel better about the situation and not dwell on it anymore. Maybe it was my way of forgiving and being forgiven. The latter sounds better.

We had a nice conversation. It was superficial. But, maybe reconciliation can use shallow conversation as its launching pad.

I was on a high after that. I felt like I had the desire and energy and go and seek reconciliation with everyone I needed to reconcile with. That high lasted about three minutes.

Jesus’ words came to mind: “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother and sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them…” (Matthew 5:24)

Jesus takes reconciliation gravely. Pun intended.

My high made me wonder if God is always on a reconciliatory high. If “He delights to show mercy” He must be. Some smoke weed to get high. God reconciles to get high.

Christians believe God reconciles us to Himself though Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I do not think, "We were at war with God" leaves any wiggle room. Implied in the good news of reconciliation is the bad news of alienation. The reason talking to the person I had a dispute with was reconciliatory is because we were estranged.

It’s amazing to think God never withholds Himself and that He delights in being merciful. God always wants us to be reconciled to Him. Proof is that God already reconciled (past tense) us to Himself. Since God reconciled Himself to us we are able to be reconciled to Him. It's a good idea to do that.

How amazing that our Father God always has a reconciliatory attitude. He is constantly waiting for us to come home like father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

*Painting is "Stag at Sharkey's" by George Bellows.



Monday, April 24, 2017

I Can't See Mama!

Asha waved to us from inside the garage as Makara and I drove away. Makara and I were going downtown. As the garage door closed Asha disappeared. In a sad and panicked voice Makara said, “I can’t see Mama! Where did she go?” I told her just because you cannot see her does not mean she is not there.

Our garage door acted like a veil that kept Makara from keeping a visual on Asha. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a visual on Jesus? But, we do not. He ascended. He left us. Something like a garage door, which Christians compare to a thin veil, hides God. But, just because we cannot see Him does not mean He is not there.

Jesus said it is to our advantage that He go away. He said if He did not go away the Helper (the Holy Spirit) would not come to us. He said if He went away He could send Him. (John 16:7) Jesus was eager to start the church who would be His “witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) He seemed to imply the beginning of the spreading of the good news and subsequent church were dependent on His departure.

I still do not understand why Jesus had to leave. Why couldn’t those things be done with Him here?

I would have been furious had I attended the ascension. “What do you mean you are going to be taken up? Where is heaven? We are here. You acted like you cared for us, but now you are going away."

The garage door closes. “I can’t see Jesus! Where did He go?”

Witnesses to Jesus’ ascension were told He would return just like He left. PBS kid’s character Daniel Tiger sings, "grown-ups come back.” When Asha or I leave, Makara consoles herself by reciting that song. That hope is her solace in our absence. It is beautiful because she is clearly combating her fear with faith and hope. That is what our hope in Jesus’ return should look like.

Makara is learning about the thin veil that separates us when she cannot see us. She is learning to trust beyond what she can see. So are we. Jesus behind the garage door is our solace in His visible, physical absence. (We believe God is mysteriously everywhere and inhabits those who have the Holy Spirit so we do not believe He is literally absent.)

Jesus, those of us you have convinced of your presence (in your absence) would be crazy to not believe. Even still we sometimes question our sanity.

*Painting is "The Ascension of Christ" by Salvador Dali (1904-1989).



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Effect of Goodness

Let’s say there was a mean man and a virtuous man. (Which is not entirely realistic because good people have bad in them and bad people have good in them.)

The mean man is more aware of his crooked ethics and morals when he is around is virtuous friend than when he is not. The mean man understands his friend is good and when he speaks to him he hears what he says through his friend’s ears.

When the mean man is around his virtuous friend the derogatory comments that comprise 80% of his conversations with his other friends seem obsolete, foolish and embarrassing.

The mean man might be inclined to discontinue his relationship with the virtuous man and continue on his dark and merry way. But it would be in his best interest not to. If the mean man walks it is indicative of what he wants most.

To have an impact on the mean man the virtuous man did not preach sweaty sermons. He did not hold him hostage and make him say a sinner’s prayer. He did nothing but simply be himself. He was as plain as good is.

He did not hover over the mean man and try to make him change, because the type of change that would produce might be disingenuous. The good man did not shame him either. But, he would not spare the bad man the honest truth about himself even if it hurt him, because love has the best interest of the beloved in mind.

This is how it is with God and us. When we are around God, who has befriended us, we have a sense of how He thinks about what we think, say and do. We learn many of our ways are not enlightened or wise. We also learn we are more loved and accepted than we could ever imagine.

Jesus' simple and merciful presence transforms us like the good man’s presence can transform the bad man, if he will let it. God’s mercy takes the form of discipline too. God loves us enough to tear down walls, but he does not destroy them and vacate the site. He rebuilds.

Hopefully the good man’s kindness leads to a changed life for the bad man. Hopefully God’s kindness leads us to change our lives. God’s goodness, and our goodness, is not without effect. It is contagious.

*Painting is "The Bridge, Blackwell's Island" by George Bellows (1882-1925)




Monday, April 10, 2017

From a Wicker Chair near the Front Range

It was a spring day in Colorado. I sat in a wicker chair outside a coffeeshop near Roxborough State Park (pictured) and was looking at the mountains. There was a man, probably in his 60s at the table next to me. He started talking to me. He told me about his life. He had all the wisdom and calm I would hope to have at his age.

I did not doubt his wisdom. But I knew I could not integrate the things he was telling me that very day. I could not learn in 30 minutes what will take me the next 30 years.

This is why our parent’s advice, even though tried and true, needs to be tried and found true again. It’s not that children doubt their predecessor’s wisdom. It’s that humans do not learn facts by being told them, but by living their life.

We might agree forgiveness is best. But we have to learn it through experience. We might agree it is best not to generalize and judge others. But we have to learn it through experience.

Today I can tell you what I need to work on and learn in the next 30 years. I do not need more head knowledge about what I need to learn. I need more experience, more failure, more success, more integration, more time. Growth through experience is unlike salvation because it is not handed out. Though a gift, like salvation, it comes by being weathered.

Today, when I remember that conversation I notice there is a difference between knowing something and knowing something. To truly know something we have to toil and tinker, unlearn and relearn. That is why hearing knowledge from a wicker chair has its limitations- it depends on time and the future integration of it's content. That is why Jesus not only taught us how to live, but gave us His Spirit to help us live.

What if the man in the wicker chair was my older self telling my younger self the wisdom I would attain in the next 30 years? If so, I should have had the wisdom to disclaim all I said knowing I could not offer the younger me the experiences only time can afford.

I would have told myself, “Son, this is only advice from a wicker chair. I can tell you nothing except what time and its Lord have ratified for me. Stand up. Head west into the Rockies. In a few decades you will come out somewhere near Grand Junction, Lord willing, like the man you are talking to.”



Saturday, April 1, 2017

Illustrious Legs

“He does not take pleasure in the legs of man.” –Psalm 147:10

This is not to say God does not delight in our femur, tibia and soleus. God probably thinks they are beautiful and delights in many of the things we accomplish with them.

But God wisely does not trust in our legs- a metaphor for overall human strength- to do the heaviest works because they are weak. The most important things in the long history of the universe would remain unaccomplished if God relied solely on the legs of humans that can run only 28 mph at best and be unusable at worst.

God knows our legs alone cannot initiate and integrate the power that was used to raise Jesus from the grave. Though we have free will and can accomplish much and it is God’s hope for us to do so, we cannot change our hearts, heal our emotional pain, or raise our bodies from the dead with our strength alone.

Only God can boast legs that work to the degree we wish ours did.

As a matter of wisdom we should hope in the strength of God’s legs- a metaphor for efficiency and capacity.

God is helpful to tell us all other legs we find to stand on are inadequate. God is helpful in showing us, in many ways, are our legs are not the only legs we should stand on.

Maybe today, instead of getting back on our feet and brushing ourselves off like they tell us to do, we should sit and rest our legs for a few minutes. We could consider that all of us are terminally ill and have legs and eyes that will fail in a few years. We could look to the enigmatic, real and illustrious God and take pleasure in His legs.