Eaching

I look forward to the day when

…each morning begins with reciprocal smiles

…each challenge is a treasured opportunity to conquer together

…each heart’s rose uttered is a fragrant breeze inhaled; not a thorn jabbed

…each hurt shared is a lighter load for all and a closer bond between

…each kiss is opening an upstairs window on a cool evening after a blistering day

… I can hardly wait!

Am I Insane?

Today, and really, quite a bit lately, it’s felt like there’s not enough Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 500px, (and so on) to combat these pervasive, tenacious feelings of loneliness.

Supposedly everyone is busy – or so they say – run off their legs, so much to do, gotta get ahead, family first, work’s busy right now — whatever it happens to be. Not me. I’m not busy. Just lonely. Fragmented and lonely. Deep down, under the guts, private parts & public parts lonely.

Loyal wife, three great kids, beautiful house in a super nice suburb lonely.  Rewarding and challenging yet respectful work environment lonely.  When will this finally end, will somebody please help lonely.  Tried therapy and go out with the guys regularly lonely. See myself as loved and sustained by my creator and called to a life of purpose and connection lonely.

Why do I feel like an outsider so much of the time?  By global standards I’m quite affluent and comfortable — yet day to day living is a constant mental battle — I feel depleted and very unlike any of my family or friends are fighting with me… alone, exhausted, and unsure of how to meet the next hour.

Does anyone else feel oppressed by the ordinary like this?  Am I the only one who feels this de-humanized by the structures and patterns of modern life?

Aren’t we made to live more tune with both nature and each other? If everything has to come together in the end, why do we spend so much of energy dividing ourselves?

Of course I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, but I guess I’m just feeling an acute need to have some like-minded people a lot closer in my life.  I’m becoming convinced that suburban consumer society is the nearest thing to hell on earth.  Maybe I’m meant to be here for now, I guess I am — I sure as hell am working on being at peace with my circumstances, because in a material sense few will ever have it as good as I do right now — but these days I’m finding it *very* hard to chart a path of personal peace — and I don’t think I’m meant to do it alone…

Who am I to say that Judas wasn’t forgiven?

A friend just posted his take on “a biblical understanding of suicide” which I read with some interest. Life can be hard. I’ve certainly have had moments of late in which I consider, with the Apostle Paul, the beatitude of unfettered communion with Christ as compared to my present life, and find the choice rather less than “cut and dried” in favor of the latter.  Anyway — in his post, my friend asks “Does anyone think that Judas, the Satan-possessed career thief is in Heaven?” Well, to be honest — I’d wondered about that myself recently. So, taken thus to task, I re-read Matthew 27:3-10. And having done this, I find myself even less sure that I’m qualified to pronounce eternal judgement on Judas.

So, here’s the question that I’ll ask you to consider — should you choose to spend your valuable time by reading on: How do Judas’ final recorded posture and actions toward Jesus compare to those of “thief on the cross” to whom Jesus offers what we must *surely* interpret as an assurance of blessed eternal destiny?

Matthew 27:3

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.

Forgive my iconoclasm — it’s a curse — or is it a gift?  Who knows. To me, that language sure as Hades *sounds* like genuine repentance. Sure — the chief priests didn’t “accept” his symbolic act and offer him forgiveness — instead spewing back accusation and blame — but that crowd is hardly represented by the gospel writers as representing the divine perspective and having authority to speak with authority to the matter of a person’s eternal destiny.

We can surely sympathize with Judas’s feelings here.  A human being, distraught by the real-life dynamics of guilt and repentance in weighty matters like the cause and effect of another’s life or death (let alone the death of someone of such “significance” as Jesus’) is surely prone to being “overwhelmed” by psychological and physiological factors.  Is Judas’ murder (of Jesus) forgivable? Of course! (Could exhibit “A” not be the “chief of sinners” himself.) On what grounds? Repentance, of course. Under what accompanying conditions? I’m not aware of any other immediate conditions from God’s perspective. He is faithful and just. Right???

Yes, Judas’ subsequent suicide does indeed bear witness to an imperfect degree of faith — Judas’s expression of belief in Jesus’ righteousness and innocence did not appear to overmaster the psycho-somatic impulse to escape from the emotional (and potential physical) torment of the situation. He did not experience immediate freedom from the death-bringing guilt that weighed on his soul — he could not bear it (I’m not sure that I could either, nor that I will do so all the rest of my days) and, in weakness and dispair, broke down and “escaped.”  His “grief” did bring about repentance, but perhaps because he lacked the community to experience affirmation and absolution, he nevertheless slipped back into the “worldly grief” that brings death.

But the way I see our life of following Jesus, so it is with us.  We don’t always win. Paul seems to make allowance for just such “real life” wrestling in Romans 7.  Lapses occur. Sometimes the flesh “happens” to Christians. We regularly find ourselves having committed acts that our “real self” must disown as contrary to its avowed nature — that standard to which we hold ourselves and “own” in our moments of clear-headed self-possession. Eventually (Romans 8) we’re gonna be free from this wrestling, but until this “eventually” becomes reality (i.e. we die or the Lord returns) — we groan with the rest of creation — even if some of the time our sighs ring with the blessed, “knowing better” overtones of the “somewhat more” enlightened (of whom much more will be required — ouch).

So when I reflect on what we know of Judas’ final hours, I find myself unwilling to assume an ex cathedra stance, stroke my virtual beard (I only *wish* I could grow a respectable one) and declare Judas to be eternally beyond the pale of effectual repentance.

Do we *really* believe that God turned an un-hearing ear to Judas’s final recorded words: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood?”

Should we judge by virtue of Judas’ subsequent action (his suicide) that he was “beyond the pale” of grace? What of the actions of his contemporaries at that time in history — were they already the paragons of faith and courage that our hindsight sees them in? Or were their fleshly actions in those hours and moments also what we might today look back on as fearful, faithless, and faltering?

We can’t possibly hold Judas to the “developed” post-Pentecost view of sin, forgiveness, grace and “victorious living” that we see considered, expanded on, and codified in the ensuing half-century. We certainly don’t hold Paul to it at that point in history, nor Peter, et cetera. So why Judas?

Were Judas’ last words of repentance — returned with blame and indifference by the only humans we know he had contact with — insufficient to secure the Father’s embrace?  I’m not prepared to say that.  If Jesus had been physically present with Judas, as he was with the penitent thief on the cross, do we know for sure that Judas would not have had the courage, in that moment, to call on Jesus directly for salvation — as did the thief — and can we imagine that Jesus would have said “No, Judas — there is no hope for you, my grace isn’t sufficient for you — although you’ve declared and defended my righteousness and identity before an accusing party, I will have no part with you.”  Based on what we do have in the story, and the remarkable similarities between the stories, I’m loathe to reject Judas where Jesus accepted the thief on the cross.

Megamind-full

My wife was off doing good deeds tonight, so I had about an hour before bed with the kids — “just us.” I decided to take a chance and watch one of those animated movies on our TV’s “see for free” menu (we’re Netflix subscribers). “Megamind” had always seemed a bit on the “maybe not” side, but I was was nevertheless intrigued — and in the mood for something different.

Turned out to be a good call. I found myself on the verge of tears a number of times —  entranced with empathy as the unlikely alien-hero discovers, by experience, not only the vacuity of selfishness, but also the redemptive power of loving service and self-sacrifice. Sure, sure — hardly a new story, but also one that never really gets old when skillfully told, right?

Speaking of which — I’m regularly astonished at the meaningful messaging to be found in modern animated feature films.  What a far cry from mindlessness of the “Looney Tunes” days! — (which in itself — among countless other examples — is a tear in the paper crown of those who disparage popular culture as a vortex of constantly devolving evil).

Anyway, as I watched, at times nearly helpless with enjoyment and engagement, parallels involuntarily formed in my mind between the spiritual journeys of (an/pro)tagonist Megamind and Saul/Paul of Tarsus in the biblical book of Acts. Curious if I might be stretching the connections, I paused the film to ask the kids a question worded something like this: “Can anyone think of a bible story where someone who started out making very bad, damaging, hurtful choices ended up changing — deciding to make very good, helpful choices?”  Sure enough, my seven year old daughter, after a moment’s effort to recall the correct name, piped up with clairvoyant simplicity — “Saul!”  Voila — connection confirmed by the mouths of babes.  Okay, so the way I “loaded” the question rather led the answer — but I’ll take the affirmation nonetheless — even college professors have to do the same sometimes, right?

So, thanks Dreamworks, for the ever-needed reminder that nobody’s beyond redemption — nobody.  Life’s only wrong is giving up on the power of nurturing, believing, life-bringing love.  Because love conquers all. It has forever to do it, it is doing it, and it will do it. Always, perfectly and completely.

I definitely saw other New Testament parallels in the storyline — but rather than listing them, I’ll invite anyone who’s interested to suggest some below, and if you haven’t seen the film, check it out (it’s available on Netflix, among other places):

Oahu, November 2012

Sunset Sailing & Surfing
Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Footprints in the Sand
Waimea Bay, Oahu Hawaii

Crashing Surf
Waimea Bay, Oahu Hawaii

 

You have no rights.

Forget about “your rights.” You have none. Focus on what’s right for you instead.

Avoid doing things you find distasteful in others. But remember that tastes vary, so don’t insist that others follow suit on your terms.

Mention it when someone hurts or frustrates you — but gently. Share your feelings, then let them find their own path to right.

Stay safe, but never hit back.  Leaving can be keeping safe, and it can just as easily be hitting back.

Stop imprisoning yourself by holding on to “needs” — to be understood, seen as right, or treated a certain way. Let things go. Free yourself.

Take initiative to repair relationships. The future of any relationship depends not on past weaknesses, but on the present choice to embrace.

Never compare yourself to anyone else. All good things are gifts. Celebrate everything beautiful. Be inspired. Create more beauty.

Don’t waste so much time wishing for different circumstances. But don’t settle for anything less than more & better inside of you each day.

Forgiveness: Credit or Debit?

The normal use of the English words “debt” and “forgiveness” in the financial realm, alongside my natural psychological bent to read my life’s story with myself as the hero, and others as the villains, incline me to view myself as the creditor in relational “transactions” of forgiveness. When someone wrongs me, they owe me something-or-other by way of payment to “make it right.”  So when I choose to forgive, releasing someone from that proper requirement, I want to feel like I am really stepping up — using my royal discretion to benevolently give up a benefit that I’m justly entitled to. I naturally cultivate this feeling, and the language and normal way of thinking about forgiveness also build up this way of seeing things.

I do think the debt metaphor works, but I find that, when I act graciously or kindly, seeing myself as a creditor forgiving another’s indebtedness just reinforces my sense of entitlement, self-determination, and self-absorbtion — the parts of myself that are toxic to my well-being, not to mention unattractive to other people. When I forgive as a creditor, I build up my pride – my natural sense that “the world revolves around me” and “I’m doing a pretty good job, dangit, I deserve better!” Frankly, these aren’t the parts of myself that really need much help in building up!

What I try to remind myself is that by genuinely releasing someone who hurts me, I’m not “choosing the high road” or “unselfishly going above and beyond,” I’m merely doing what comes naturally to someone who views their life as a gift, not a right.  The one who benefits the most from not holding on to those hurts is me anyway — so really I owe it to myself to forgive others.

Forgiving others is in my best interest psychologically -but only if I’m truly “giving up” and releasing the situation, not if I use it to build up my sense of entitlement.  Jesus uses debt as a metaphor for forgiveness, but he reverses it. He teaches that I am the one who owes other people the debt of forgiveness. Those little choices I make day-to-day to act according to grace rather than according to nature are nothing special — they’re merely routine payments on the debt of love that I owe to others.

Jesus even intensifies his rather astonishing rewiring of the debt metaphor,  going so far as to say those of us who don’t forgive others can’t make claim to being forgiven by God.  I don’t think he’s fear-mongering or wanting people to feel insecure in their standing with God — he’s just pointing out that when we offer forgiveness to others, it’s evidence that we see ourselves as children of God, originating from and being sustained by him, not as self-centered entities needing to “hold our own” and “stand up for what we’re owed” — in other words, that we see our lives fundamentally as a gift, not a right.  God certainly doesn’t demand cold “natural” debt satisfaction from us — he is our Father — creating, sustaining, and graciously forgiving us — and so if we “get’ him, this is how we’ll be with others: grace will come naturally.

My Goodness!!!

Most people have some sense of “the right thing to do,” whether or not they are religious, and religions teach quite explicitly that our behaviour matters, setting out guidelines for “doing good” as we go about our lives.  The problem with do-gooding is that it feeds right in to our innate desire to evaluate life with ourselves at the center. I am wired to believe that by doing the right stuff, long enough and hard enough, I can establish myself as [spiritually] successful — a “basically good” person.   This is how we end up with an overdeveloped sense of self-satisfaction regarding our moral performance – the idea that me (and my tribe) are good people (especially as compared to the average outsider). Closely after this follows the idea that if everyone else would just get with our program, all would be right in the world. Next step, holy war (acting in “love” of course).

Even when we’re thinking a bit deeper than behaviour — aware that life is less about what we do, and more about who we are, we can become enamored with the idea that life’s goal is to be a good person — someone who’s genuinely motivated by the highest principles, and who acts in integrity with those principles to the greatest extent possible.  And it is true that, just like “good behavior” is of some value to us, realizing the importance of “being good” can also be a positive contribution to a meaningful life. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to succeed at the goal of “becoming a good person” without becoming prideful in the process — and the way I see it, pride is the essential root of human badness.

This is why we need to be utterly ruthless with our thinking, feeling, and language about “being good.”  I must work against the idea that my goal in life is basic goodness (kindness, unselfishness). I find this very hard.  I’m constantly thinking this way — both because of growing up in Christian sub-culture (and,  frankly, still being pretty immersed in it), but also because all humans possess a moral impulse (a feeling of rightness or entitlement).  But Jesus knew better.  He knew all about about religion’s tricky and incisive bent toward self-righteousness. That’s why Jesus strictly forbids to referring to people, even to himself, as good.  He didn’t do this because he wasn’t good — but because he recognized the critical importance of right thinking — and his mission was to demonstrate exactly the mindset that we ought to have.  Jesus knew that comparing myself to someone and calling them good, or considering myself good vis-a-vis someone else is the road to death, not life.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe that we each must desire to be good, and out of this to do good, but this isn’t the end-game.  If being good is my goal, I will fail — sidelined inevitably by pride. Goodness only works when kept in its place as a means to an end.  Instead I ought to work to see my entire life as an extension of God’s primal goodness, and my life as originating from and continually flowing out of his life. When this is my perspective, my relative goodness (and that of others) becomes literally nothing to me — of no consequence whatsoever.  Instead, by ceasing my efforts at physical and metaphysical conquest, and resting in a profound sense of divine providence, I achieve at last, as if through the back door, the reason for my existence (and I probably end up being pretty good and doing a fair bit of good as a side-effect).

I think the goal of life is neatly summed up in the delicious idea of laboring to enter God’s rest. I think God is more concerned about us seeing him as good and acknowledging him as the source of our life than he is about what we do.  Doing good will follow not from the resolve to be good, but from realizing God as the only good, allowing life to flow naturally from this essential fact, and constantly reminding ourselves that it is so.

When I feel the urge to moralize — to “stand up and strive for what is right” in universal and catagorical terms — I try to remember Jesus’ words on goodness. If he forbade his followers to call HIMSELF good, I think we can be pretty sure that thinking about ourselves or other people as fundamentally good or bad isn’t going to contribute to our spiritual well-being.

All goodness comes from God — this is the principle upon which we are to utterly avoid making distinctions amongst ourselves, boasting loudly about “right and wrong,” and asserting our own space/time passions over against other people.  Frankly, most of what I see labeled as religion, even within Christianity, looks a lot like this.  We do all these things when we forget that life is God’s gift, and everything good comes from him.  When I fail, the solution isn’t to try to be better, it’s to recognize my utter inability to succeed — to in a sense, “glory” in my failure — which is to humble myself before God — depending solely on his empowering for my future success. 1

Note: Jesus’ teaching on goodness in the story of the Rich Young Ruler came together for me on this topic as I read a chapter entitled “The Way” in George MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons” — which I highly recommend. The whole book is great, and it’s old enough to be free from copyrights, so digital copies are easily available.

1. These themes are readily seen (and connected) in the book of James – which, incidentally, seems to be all about grace (not salvation-by-works, for which it is widely reputed and famously detracted).

Offensive Defensiveness

Maybe you “heard” me say something that I didn’t say, or at least I didn’t mean it like that, or whatever. You take exception, I feel misunderstood, and my vehement protest ensues.  Something (in the moment it feels like justice, but it’s more likely pride) compels me to try to stop your words from flowing out — so I cut you off.  It feels to me like the fire you’re breathing will burn up the oxygen remaining in our atmosphere — I’m trying to help settle things down… But instead of cooling things off, my interruption just increases your frustration.  Sound familiar?

I know I should just shut up and listen. I really do want to hear your story. But sitting silently while you earnestly misrepresent my words (or worse, my thoughts) — without interjecting a correction — well, that’s hard. I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s really, really hard.

Why is it so hard? Why do I interrupt? What harm is there in just listening? Is there any real harm — other than some temporary pain while I listen to you and wait to clarify? I’m starting to learn that self defence is at cross purposes with self help. My impulse to “hold my own” and maintain my place by making my point definitely doesn’t increase my freedom — rather it further enslaves me in my small, selfish world.

When falsely accused, healthy people respond calmly, sometimes even with silence — and are also quick to accept responsibility for any shred of truth in a critique, even if harshly delivered.  People who can do this are people who understand the ultimate reality behind truth and lies.

Truth is an underlying positive, creative force of life.  Lies are impotent derivatives — lifeless except when animated by the embrace of a response.  To even speak of lies as having “life” seems wrong — they have only what life we allow them. (Re-)Embracing a corresponding truth always kills a lie (or, more accurately – reclaims the shadow-life that we lent it), and brings us back to a free and unified oneness of existence.

Truth can’t be harmed or diminished by lies. But, when I’m falsely accused or misunderstood, efforts to “set the record straight” often become the opposite of the kindness and “rightness” that I believed I was standing up for. Once-false accusations thus become true.  What’s worse, I don’t usually realize that it’s happened.

Rare is the person who can do self-defense without offending. When the nature of a situation or relationship doesn’t absolutely demand it of me (and it doesn’t do so nearly as often as I feel the urge) — I may be better off not clarifying or defending myself in a tense situation. Before responding defensively, I should get better at asking myself exactly what I’m feeling. Am I actually defending my pride, reputation, image, or desire to feel like I’m being or achieving something great?  If there is any sense of self-superiority involved (and there usually is — somewhere underneath — even when I’ve convinced myself that I have higher motives), then chances are that remaining silent or a simply diffusing the situation as best I can might be a better way to build that reputation. If I allow my actions to speak over time instead of quickly voicing a retort, not only will the defence will be more compelling (albeit slower in coming), but the resulting reputation will be genuine — based on who I actually am rather than on how I’m trying to project myself.

Speaking the truth is easy, speaking the truth in love is much more difficult. In fact, I think it’s impossible without a trust relationship of some kind. We too often forget that it’s completely useless to speak the truth to someone who doesn’t know we love them.

I’m better off to focus on loving people first (that is, living the truth), and speaking out hard, confronting, universal truths only once someone is secure in my love.  I see this pattern in Jesus’ relationships. (Except with people who thought they already knew right and wrong and felt entitled to preferential treatment from God and other people – there he pulled no punches in calling their self-rightousness exactly as he saw it).

Letting things go is good for me. I love to talk. I think I’m so great. Although it feels painful to allow the beautiful (to me) flower of my unspoken words to die unseen, nestled inside it are the seeds of new opportunities to live and love in the truth — new life and opportunity are born through loss and death. I think I may just find a good deal of freedom as I get better at allowing time and life do more of my talking for me. When I rest in the truth that I know, I silently reclaim my life from the weak and secondary power that lies try to exert over me.  When accused by those who don’t understand me, I possess my own soul by steadfast endurance.