Dangerous Love

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A Hebrew Bible in dust at rest in a library of a Christian University somewhere in the Midwest teased me with these words in its foreword. A Jewish work by Jewish scholars for a Jewish readership, the editor conveyed the exhaustive research which informed the translation. Illusory of the effort was a brief statement about the story of Abraham and Isaac. Some primitive manuscripts relayed a slightly different tale than the one which came later; the one traditionally given. In its original telling, Isaac dies but then is resurrected by God and given back to Abraham.

I cannot un-remember it. Not because I am Christian and this telling is a remarkable archetype, helpful to my own belief. But because of how it is unhelpful. Because the first question I am often asked about this dangerous patriarchal myth is, “Did God really expect Abraham to kill Isaac?” Like a newly discovered crime scene, rabbis, pastors, scholars and skeptics race to the scene with apologetic musings and condemning commentary. Let’s not make their mistake. Let’s not be in a hurry to rush in on this scene only to presuppose answers to questions only Abraham, Isaac and God can tell.

There is a harsh, uncomfortable reality in this tale that will be lost on the majority of soft thinking, spongy-worded spiritual people among us. Those who find it hard to comprehend how it is that conflict is essential to peace,or that love emerges through judgment and disciple, and not the absence of it, are among those who may be fated to forever view this patriarchal myth as if through the wide eyes of the ingenue archaeologist looking for the first time at strange hieroglyphs.

When I was a soldier we may have all said, “We’re all the same color here. We’re all green.” Actuality was that a caste system of competence separated us. Clearly defined lines. Support personnel were one caste. Another is combat support. Combat Arms was a little higher up the food chain, but don’t think that being an Infantry soldier made you elite. Among the Eleven Bravo (11B) military specialty is a class system. Each one rising only to one’s own level of incompetence. Above infantry were Rangers and Paratroop types who wore wings. Hybrids enjoyed special status: Airborne Ranger. Green Berets were more elite but it was an exceptional class of soldier who became the Special Forces soldier. Yes, we’re all green here, but no one casually compared the supply clerk or the mess sergeant to the class of elite soldier.

These soldiers were given something special, only to have it taken away.

These soldiers were tested more often, more severely, because more was riding on their success.

The nation entrusted more to them. The military has just cause to demand more.

On a mission, they would often be alone or small in number so their loyalty and resolve, confidence and competence had to be beyond proven.

So as you read this tale of incomprehensible demands on God’s first prophet, ask this also:

Is Abraham given the fierce, horrific task as a test because God has risked everything on this one man? Do we super focus on the trial? Is it better, perhaps, to simply salute the elite soldier; regard him as one we might aspire to be?

Carefully read the narrative. Study its words. It will rough you up a bit.

Maybe it is a story better handled by callouses than soft hands; better carried by spiritually war-torn veterans than academics.

Neither God nor Abraham nor Isaac are defined by this trial. Yet all are proven by it.

In Abraham’s mental, spiritual, and physical resolve we see a special forces elite who can remain present in each excruciating moment. He is not seduced by yesterday’s promise. He is not distracted by an imagined future.

Here I am, my son.”

Here I am, [my Lord].”

It is only in this moment the providence of God will be seen.

In fear and fire, it is only the moment we can manage.

The Love of God is dangerous; exhilarating; inviting us- driving us- to higher eschalons of trust.

Abraham is still teaching us what it means to walk together with God into a dangerous love relationship.

John 15:13 1 John 4: 18 Romans 5:8

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Luke is reminding us of the Lord’s Prayer.  But this is more than a re-stating of a sacred Christian mantra.  Luke’s edited version is engineered to fit into a larger, more comprehensive lesson.  Luke forces our focus in new directions and insists that we see the Lord’s Prayer in particular ways; forbidding us to hear it and say it mechanically.

I cannot say, “Lead us not into temptation” if I deliberately put myself in a place to be tempted.

I cannot say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” if I am withholding mercy from another until they manage somehow, in their broken and dysfunctional love, to satisfy my demand for personal justice.

I cannot say, “Give us our daily bread”, if in reality I am super focused on tomorrow’s steak.

I cannot say, “Thy kingdom come” if I am resentful of that king’s authority in this moment.

I cannot say, “Hallowed be thy name”, If I am careless with that name.

I cannot say, “Father” if I do not approach God like a child.

Luke is a wordsmith.  Here he weaves three powerful images:  Prayer. Bread. Children.

If Luke is giving us a new twist on the Lord’s Prayer— maybe it is Oliver Twist.

Think of it as “a child’s prayer for bread.”

But I’d rather not.  “A Child’s Prayer for Bread” is too lightweight for human brokenness; too ethereal;  too sacred-sounding to be presented here into the theology of gritty, proclamation gospel.

Instead of a Child’s Prayer for Bread, let’s call Luke’s lesson:

Beg for bread like a child.

When Jesus teaches us to be “as children” the temptation is to imagine all kinds of lies.

We coo at newborn babies.  Grab at the cutest chubbiest cheeks.Image

If you have had children—or have ever been a child—you know that children are far from innocence and stylized photo poses.

They are not humble.

Children are filled to the eyebrows with a sense of privilege.  They are full of self justification like there was a buy three get one free for each liter sale. Like most adults, there is no distinction for a child between want and need.  The only thing more irritating than a child’s inflamed selfishness is that it happens to be hardwired and riveted to the parental call button:  mom, mom, mom, mom

These are the negative and immature characteristics of what it is be “as a child.”

Is there anything to being as a child that is helpful in my approach to God?

A prayer master during a spiritual retreat once advised his listeners to adopt what he called the APU program as they prayed.  When predictably they asked what the acronym meant, he smiled and said, “Be Aggressive.  Be Persistent.  Be Unreasonable.”

Approaching God like a child in prayer means that I am aggressively curious.

Like that child the week or two before Christmas, who knows the gifts are somewhere in the house,

Search for them.

Just because you can’t see them in no way convinces you they are not there.

You know they are there.

When you search in the most oddball out of the way places, you are sure to find the gift that has been there all along.

Charis — that is, “the gift” –that is, “grace”– is present in your suffering, has been there all along too.

It may not be obvious where Charis is but you can be sure it is there.

Seek and you will find.

If it’s on your Christmas list—you have asked— and it will be given.

See, this is another irritably endearing attribute of children: Children aren’t afraid to ask.

Until we train them to be polite, a child will demand for whatever their little heart desires.

So I say to you: ask and it will be given…everyone who asks receives.

The grace of God is given to the one who is so bold as to stand at a door and knock…and knock and knock.

The man who needs bread—that bread of life that only God can give—never leaves the doorstep—cannot leave because he is starving.

He will not leave without bread.

There is no sense in going home with the same emptiness – that same overwhelming need that drove him to a friend’s door in the inconvenient middle of the night.

Rather than talk you out of what you should and should not ask God for—or in what way you should or should not ask God; I would let God be the parent.  I would encourage you to ask and acquiesce to God the authority of being the parent–  He will give or deny according to His will.

As a child before God, your task is to ask fully anticipating good things.

You are not Charlie Brown. Stop expecting to get a rock at every door you knock on.

So we ask with Aggressive curiosity, Persistent boldness…  and we pray also with all the unreasonable nature of a child.

Before they learn the value of things; before they know the weight of reality—Children dream.

Oh, how children imagine; limitless.

Have you ever noticed that when a child plays “pretend like” or “make believe”, no matter how overwhelming the odds, how strong the bad guy, how impossible victory is—the dragon never wins.

Never.

Somehow, no matter how improbable or unreasonable, the imagined hero is always faster, smarter, stronger —always crushes the serpent’s head under a heel.

Children at imaginative play can overcome the world. It’s old hat. They are veterans at this sort of thing.

This is the kind of spiritual optimism Luke is handing back to us.

You now have permission to dream again; all it takes is faith and trust—and just a pinch of pixie dust  –Third star to the left and straight on till morning.

The Holy Spirit of God is given to those who are Aggressive, Persistent and Unreasonable enough to ask.

When I was a child I wanted to grow up to be just like my Daddy.

I imagined it.

I could see it in my mind.

Now that I am an adult, I still want to grow up to be just like my Daddy—my Abba—my heavenly Father.

So, let me dream, if it’s all right with you.

Let me imagine that I could be an imitator of God.

Let me make believe that all I need for life and godliness has already been given.

Let me dream that I can be as He is in this present world.

Let me aggressively, persistently, and unreasonably trust in the promises my Father made.

Can I ask you to step out of the living room where the adults are: masking the tantrums of their selfish hearts with polite chatter and soul numbing realities?

Would you join me in the play room for a moment?

Here, we children have gathered around Jesus.  He laughs at our silliest jokes; pretends to be frightened when we sneak up behind; listens with wide eyes to our heroic school tales.

Look at us, pestering and bothering the Alpha & Omega.

Listen to us laughing and begging and demanding his time and attention and the Charis he hides in his hand behind his back; taunting us to guess what it is.

We can’t.  No, it’s not a pony!

When you pray, say “Father”.

You can call him Father, but only if you approach him like a child…His ‘specially loved child.

Where God Lives

 

 

A Morning Prayer-

 

To the God worthy of our praise, we pray:

 

Some of us worship in cathedrals and chapels; some in stadiums and store fronts

so that the songs of the ages wrap around us; the prayers of the saints encourage.

Young man reading small Bible

There are those among us who worship alone.

A holy book lies open but is not being read.

It is reading us.  Page by page it is opening us.

 

Others worship under stars or skies of blue;

they find the God who gives life where creation thrives and sings and calls;

Where rivers run in a race with the wind; and the earth is full of chatter

like children laughing in a park.

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We know You are with us. 

 

 

You are with us now.

 

 

 

Though we worship differently,

today we are in one place, a people who honor You in many ways,

You are the God who inhabits the praises of your people.

Every kind of praise.

As Jesus walked among us, seeing the crowds, his heart was ruptured by their need.

And so he made blind eyes see and ears to hear and legs to walk again.

And by this we learned that if God comes near, ever present, leaning in to hear the resounding praise,

then God sees us; sees the crowd.

And has compassion on us.

 

And maybe that is all that is needed:

To praise the God worthy of our praise.

To trust that when God comes near, Holy Love will flow

like a river running from the broken heart of the One who loves us best.

And we, too, will be made whole.

May it be so.

Amen.Healing-rain

Making Peace with Mediocrity

averageI hate gate-keepers like everyone else.  But what are you going to do?

It’s their job.

The universe will unravel from its delicate weave if the gate-keepers disappear.

Look, I’m just here to shoot straight with you.

You and I are where we are because of who we are; of all we are and what we aren’t.

Gate-keepers aren’t haters.

Gate-keepers just see things in us that we choose to ignore.

Apologies to all the self-help evangelists and polished-toothed motivational speakers but this is as good as it gets, for most of us.

 

Most of us have never had anyone honest enough to look us in the eye and say “this is your strong skill and, at its peak, it’s ‘meets standards’.”

There. I said it.

Feel better?  Can we all get back to work now?

The first time I posited my mediocrity theory a lot of people thought I was promoting laziness.

Hey, this isn’t a license to quit. I am not anti-ambition.

I am anti-unrealistic goals.

A wise man once said we all rise to our own level of incompetence.

Let that sink in.

What sounds like a snarky insult is actually quite genius.

Competency gives us buoyancy.

You only float as high as your compentency compensates for your mass.

I’ve got a lot of mass.

I think too much and act too little.  I’m inconsistent and often insecure.

When your positives don’t outnumber your negatives, your bubble doesn’t float at the surface.

 

A great deal of my disappointment in myself is that I kept imagining myself as “that guy”.

But I never settled the matter that my particular weaknesses or shortcomings might never be more than managed.

Worse, I never settled the matter that my best often falls gently into the graph bubble titled “median”.

But I want to be “that guy”.  The go-to guy. The face people see when a problem needs a solver. The name that fills the table conversation when a new member is needed for the team.

I’m never going to be “that guy”

I go to movies so I can imagine I’m “that guy”.

But I’m not “that guy”.

I’m not even the wing man for “that guy”.

I’m the movie extra guy, late for work, waiting in line for a tall coffee for 25 minutes who gets cut off by “that guy” cutting in line, grabbing what’s hot behind the counter, tossing a 10-spot on his way out the door to dodge bullets, flip the switch, save the world and kiss the girl.

“That guy” is so misunderstood.  His life is hard. Saving the world when no one knows the world is in danger is the worst kind of stress.

I’m not up for that job.

Frankly, I wouldn’t want that job.

Leave that job for “that guy”.

 

Making peace with mediocrity is about making peace with yourself.

It’s meeting with the face in the mirror each morning and believing this face has a purpose.

The nameless ones, faceless under hard hats or combat helmets or the glow of a monitor screen prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Skyscrapers stand by rivets from unheralded hands.

Look out your window.

Remember that you are standing on the successes of mediocre men and women.

You are held up high and see farther because someone showed up to make the mundane and routine happen.

 

What happens to “that guy” when the world is safe and the girl goes back to her day job?

 

I wonder if he feels  lost and without purpose in between global disasters?

Does he feel the need to create crisis just to believe he has purpose?

 

I wonder if he wishes he had a simple job, stable and predictable, to go to.

I wonder if he knows how good it feels to know when your work day will end and who is waiting there to meet you.

 

 

If you see the gate-keepers, thank them, for me, that they kept me out of places I had no business being; and out of business I had no place in.

My tall coffee is up.

Maybe my barista wishes she was crunching numbers in a Fortune 500 instead of crushing beans for me.

But how would I function if my barista wasn’t there, being the best at being an average person?

 

God who made me what am I, and all that I am not,

May I be the best at being common for the common good.

Help me to make peace with my mediocrity for, by it and through it, You love and benefit my neighbor. 

Amen.