Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The true disciple of Jesus Christ has no desire to think of herself as better than she is. After all, she trusts that she is passionately loved by the God of the entire Universe, One whom has intimate knowledge not just of her present dark thoughts and deeds, but of every dark thought and deed that has ever been hers. To know this, to truly believe this, is to take the deep breath of the divinely relaxed, the eternally accepted, the joyfully released. She sees her darkness, ponders it thoughtfully and with sorrow, and lets it go. There is, after all, no more room in this God-filled life. Light has replaced darkness. Love has displaced hate, or worse, apathy. Life has ushered out death. Hope has detoured despair. God's will has replaced self-will. Joy sings as mourning slips out the back door. Acceptance dances while rejection stumbles away. And above all, Truth reigns.

The true disciple of Jesus Christ sees herself as she truly is, without excuse or possibility of freedom but for the terrible sacrifice of her Lord. This translates, in her heart and life, into an unerring love and mercy for others on the grounds of her astounded, overwhelmed, amazed and sweet gratitude.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"A Joyful Awareness of Forgiveness..."

Today, I read this in Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel: "Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung says, 'It deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always dissasociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.'"(Hans Kung, On Being A Christian)

A memory surfaced. A church board meeting, a lay leader looking me in the eye and intently stating that, "We do not tolerate sin in this church", the nodding, quiet approval of the rest of the board save the pastor, who was cringing in his seat and on trial as much as I was. I would be given five minutes to tell my story, to try to explain that I was not guilty of the sin I was being accused of. There would be many more minutes of accusations, rude comments and condemnation. I was not permitted to respond to the comments that followed my five minutes. Of the entire group, I had only personally discussed my situation with one of them. For the rest, their knowledge was based on hearsay, gossip, and evidently from the comments that they were making, lies. At the time, the accusations and betrayal by people I had trusted was traumatic enough, and my focus was on my pain, and the suffering of those who shared a part of my situation.

When I read this quote from The Ragamuffin Gospel, though, the passage of time and healing of hurts afforded me a new perspective. I heard the words again, "We do not tolerate sin in this church.", and in my mind's eye I looked out at the serious, determined faces of the members of the church, and my heart broke for them. At the time, as now, I did not believe that the senitment expressed was that of God. While I was not guilty of the sin on the table at that meeting, I am not innocent. I know that I struggle with sin. And I know that God accepts me.

I remember the words of Jesus well, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:13. And, God's love is expressed in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." I cannot overlook the glorious confession of the apostle Paul, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." 1Tim 1:15

The thing that broke my heart, when I thought about that meeting, was the foul stench of a lie that drifted up from the seemingly logical words, spread out and dispersed over an entire room of sinners, who heard and agreed that God does not accept sin, or those that sin. I knew the people in that room. I knew that not one of them were clean. We had been friends for many years. I knew who despised their spouses, who had terrorized their spouses, children, even co-workers with their anger, who chose fear and mistrust of God over trust and lived worried, hand-wringing lives because of it, who was the town gossip, who was mocked at work for claiming to be a christian because of rude, arrogant, dishonest behavior at the jobsite, who struggled with pornography, bitterness, slander, or worship of money, food, success, or entertainment over God. The only difference between us was a power inequality. They were board members and lay leaders. They had the power. And they believed on some level that God does not accept them as they are. That is a tragedy.

How does one, as a sinner, maintain that God does not accept sinners while running a church filled with sinners? What kind of mental, emotional and spiritual gymnastics does it take to manouver around the fact that one is a sinner? How does one live so close to, as Kung writes, the "joyous awareness of forgiveness" without availing oneself of it by confessing sin and humbling oneself to the God of truth and mercy? How fearful, to sit with arms and legs crossed, narrowed eyes, keeping the secret of one's sin in by pushing the sinful away from the only One who can save.

Oh, but we mustn't condone it. Condone what? The sin that is eating you alive? Of course not! How is it condoning sin, when a Bible study teacher grasps the hands of a drug addict as they pray together for freedom from their sin? When a pastor links arms with a thief as they humbly walk to the foot of the cross, together? Confess their sins together? Receive freedom together? The message we preach is not, "Come to Christ and be perfect like me!" It is, "Come to Christ and know the love that has always been there for both of us!"

The irony is that in order to avoid condoning sin, the church nurtures it among her members by encouraging pride, deception and denial of sin, thereby preventing repentance and confession, which leads to freedom from sin.

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:13-15

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ragamuffin Gospel

I am reading The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. Brennan Manning is a jar of clay that houses a sweet, most fragrant, grace-full, Christ-like spirit, and his writing is a joy and a challenge to read. He holds a mirror up to the reader, and one gets a distinct impression that this is a mirror that the author has looked into deeply and often. It is the mirror of truth, from the perspective of the One who is Truth, the One who blends love and truth in a vital, life-saving, terrifying way.

There is something that happens within a church when one hapless saint decides to live in utter truth. I am not speaking of the truth that only points to others and never at oneself. When we become truly truthful with ourselves about ourselves, we have no energy, time or arrogance left to fuel a pointing at someone else. We come face to face with the awful and lovely truth - we are not worthy to condemn or judge others. It's awful because it stabs our pride. It is lovely because it sets us free from bitterness and anger and the ugliness of being meanly judgmental. Because believe me, no matter how large our audience is as we rip the shreds out of someone else's life and reputation, each one walks away from us determined never to trust themselves to our ugly spirits of gossip and condemnation. It is lovely to be set free from such ugliness.

There is something that happens in a church when a saint begins to be honest about themselves. Some of the faithful will try to console the honest one. Oh, you aren't really that bad. We all make mistakes. You aren't taking on this ministry because you don't want to? You mustn't think so little of yourself, of course you have much to offer!

Some will use guilt to send the truth scurrying back under the rock that it came from. But you should want to serve God! Oh, you mustn't be angry, it's not nice. I understand that you are hurting, but you are making us all feel so uncomfortable! There are some things you just need to keep to yourself!

Some get angry. If you were my wife/husband/friend, I'd leave you. I wouldn't put up with that. We don't tolerate sin in this church. You are causing problems here!

Thankfully, the grace of God is greater than all the reactions of his people. And when God sees a child of His with the courage to be honest about who she really is, His reaction is grace. Unconditional love. Pleasure at the faith it takes to brave the truth. Honored at the trust in Him that is displayed, even by one who is being honest enough to admit a lack of trust in Him. It takes a tremendous amount of faith in the love of God to be able to tell Him that you feel you don't have faith in the love of God! A mustard seed. That's all it takes to thrill God's heart!

I have just started The Ragamuffin Gospel, and already I am thrilled.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Excuse me for a moment, I need to go hug my husband...

Last night Marc found what looked like a mole on his head, a large, irregular, crusty black/brown/greyish ugly nightmare of a mole. He asked me what it was, and as I looked at it, I felt a cold chill fill my belly. It looked like every suspicious mole that I had ever seen on every P.S.A about skin cancer. Just yesterday, Marc had tried to get an appointment for a general check up with his family doctor and was told to call back in October to try again. The colder my innards got, the more steely determination I garnered and I told him that I would call to get an appointment to have it checked out.

I was scared. It took a lot of energy to reign in my considerable imagination. There was no point picking out funeral clothes right away. I found myself following Marc around with my eyes. My husband is a strong man, physically, spiritually and emotionally. He has a keen mind, wide shoulders and a carpenter's arms. He moves through his world with a virile confidence. His heart is soft, and he cries easily, laughs loudly, and is moved to a fearful anger at injustice, especially to children. He leaps at the opportunity to help others, in immediate situations but also with issues that require a commitment of days, weeks, even months if needed.

It seemed odd, that one little spot on his head, under a cloud of blond-grey curls, could threaten such a vibrant, dynamic life.

When we went to bed, I held onto him a bit longer than usual. He asked me if I was okay. I told him how afraid I was. He didn't seem afraid, which didn't surprise me. Marc and I seem to stagger our anxious moments, so that when I am feeling weak, he is feeling strong and visa versa. We don't plan it that way, but it helps us to offer support to each other in difficult times. We joked a bit about when he was allowed to die. I maintained that "'til death do we part" mean my death, not his. He stood corrected. It was silly, but it helped. Then I said, we needed to remember that we are eternal. He agreed, that we would not really die, just our bodies will. I know that his light, his life will never end. I just don't want it going on somewhere I am not, which it would should he move to Heaven prematurely. But go on, he will.

Today, I was able to get an appointment for him to see his doctor in the morning. We went together, and he found out that he had what is called a senior keratosis which is basically a benign growth that looks like skin cancer, but isn't. It's going to be removed and biopsied (Marc offered to remove it himself, but the doctor prescribed patience). Marc thought I would have fun with the "senior" part, which I will. So all is well. I still feel like holding onto him, which he doesn't mind. He was wisely and subtly comforting, acknowledging my fear without stumbling into it or dismissing it. I, in general, really appreciate Marc. We are, after all, still newly married, having celebrated out fourth anniversary in January. He is still the love of my life, my Mr. ooh-la-la. I see no reason why he won't continue to be for the rest of our lives. It is not as if either one of us is perfect or even easy to live with. It has not been an easy transition, combining our lives together.

The thing is, that we have consistently chosen to put ourselves aside to care for each other, to actually do and be what we promised to do and be at our wedding ceremony. Maybe not right away, when conflict hits but always eventually. One thing about getting married later in life is that you get to really listen to the vows, and you know what you are doing when you make those promises. We took them seriously. Of course we have had our moments, moments that we are not proud of. But moments are just moments. Life and love are built on decisions, not moments as the greeting card industry would have us believe.

I don't know if any of this means anything, but it is what I am thinking today, and so it's my duty and pleasure to these thoughts with you.

I'm going to go hug my husband.

My Zimbio