Page 2 of 21

How Things Happen

Sometimes when I willingly make a series of decisions I cannot anticipate the consequences of what will happen or what I might undo. What’s more, I can find a version of myself that is not anything close to the version of myself that the world needs or His beloved, the Church needs. Sometimes I find what I thought I needed and what I knew I wanted, God looks at and wonders, “how can I refine your sensibilities?”

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter goes from confessing inspired truth of Jesus’ Messiahship to receiving a stinging rebuke for trying to push a different agenda for Jesus. Funny how we can change, how the light in which we are seen can change in a paragraph, how much we can seem to get right and then so quickly get wrong.

I love Peter. He gets so much wrong. He gets chewed out by the apostle Paul for refusing to eat with people to preserve his reputation. He’s dumber (not a popular phrase) in his theology, more focussed in his eschaology and according to church history was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Christ. He tried to cut someones head off but missed and got an ear.

Have you ever tried to cut someones head off and only got their ear and desperately needed Jesus to heal the persons ear, not knowing how desperately you needed Jesus not just to heal someone’s ear but also to die and raise from the dead for you?

Peter also wrote this:

2 Peter 1:5-8 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Making every effort to add specific things. Much could be said about a lot of those words but the phrase that sticks out to me now is mutual affection or brotherlfy affection (ESV). Sandwiched between godliness and love, this has been the posture I have most questioned within myself as of late. Brotherly affection is kind of snuck in between two big popular Bible words.

And what of the conclusion? If you possess these qualities you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Christ. If you possess a sibling like, familial affection, you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive.

Siblings look out for each other and want the best for one another. Sure, there are moments of rivalry and competition but these usually come when we are at our best, when we are secure enough to play and compete without receiving a loss or defeat that would inflict some permanent damage.

Peter is hardly ever secure enough for healthy competition pre-resurrection. He seems to always be posturing for closeness to Christ’s kingship and wants to distinguish himself from his brothers and apostles. “Even if all else fall away I will not.” And while he doesn’t betray Jesus, he denies Jesus several times as Jesus himself predicted.

Sometimes the thing that we convinced ourselves we would not do after making a display of trying to prove that we will not, we do anyway and to a greater degree of disappointment.

And we are humbled, not necessarily to the point of a guilt stricken death like the betrayer but enough to return to the dark interior of returning to an old life, a version of the self that still can’t catch a fish and brings along others in another fruitless endeavor. It’s not so much a waste of time as it is a missed opportunity to love, to listen, to hold each others hurts.

Part of me wishes, the Bible would have given a glimpse into some more conversations among the disciples, the ones closest to Jesus in the days that followed his death. What were Peter, James and John discussing? What more was Thomas doubting? What were the Mary’s hoping? What did their doubts and disappointments sound like in the waiting and the grieving? I wish they would have given me more of that.

The closest we get is two people we never heard of prior, walking along in the Gospel of Luke, who meet Jesus on the road, then Jesus disappears when they realize who He is.

How does it all happen?

How do we walk along in faith and in hope and with such a desire to love, just to check our pulse and temperature and find that our love is colder than we had hoped? How do I move from thinking I can be gentle to being so far from it?

How impetuous are we/were we Peter? The deliberation, the planning, the charting of a course to move and hope, to plant, and to run just to be shipwrecked on your way to Rome (Paul) or in Peter’s case to let slow prejudice seep back into your mind to where you only eat with the people that most reflect your own preference of self-righteousness.

How do I find myself at a table of strangers when it is my family and friends around me?

I don’t know.

How do I find myself at a table of family and friends when it is strangers and fellow sinners around me?

Brotherly affection.

I have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, yet loves me like a brother and pleads my case before the Father. Somehow, by His Spirit He invites me to participate in that activity, to love in way that puts brother and friend before myself. I hope to be better.

Vacations, Escapes, and Preparation

Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray- Preparation

Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals to holiday and rest- Vacation

Jesus went to the mountain, awoke early to be alone with His Father, went to the garden late at night to ask if the cup of suffering might be taken away- Escape.

By the most common historical estimates, I am now the same age that Jesus was when he died. From what we know about him vocationally, he was a carpenter and a teacher and whether or not he fished, he frequently knew where the fish were and may have been able to produce a catch by merely speaking a word.

He was/is a model of consistency, content to do very little of significance or success by a strictly worldly measurement. He had no home, no insurance policy, no tangible castle or kingdom that we have yet to see. He didn’t even leave behind a really great lasting table we can look at and iconize in a museum.

He left a story that He did not even write down, yet “by Him, for Him, through Him all things were made.”

And He left the world a Church (more specifically a gathering of those called or summoned). I won’t get into what this gathering is supposed to do, be, look like other than to say “every tribe and tongue worshipping Jesus as King.”

And if I were to add one thing which really is summed up by the word “King,” it’s that I’m not a king, a hero nor do I bring anything of great signicance to this kingdom other than my unique struggling to come to grips with my own existence.

I’m an heir certainly but an heir that has done nothing to earn that position. In fact, I’ve done plenty to garner a reason to lose that position.

Yet, I’m overly aware of the mission. And depending on the day, I might stir myself or allow myself to be stirred to participate in it with a trepidation that would make one think it was optional.

Which is why I think I spend time doing the things in the title of this post. I vacation, get away or take a break from the monotony, the stress, the brokenness I cause, reveal, and am seemingly helpless to fix. It’s why I escape; I go hide for a bit to recalibrate, to find a version of myself that will be bearable and perhaps helpful for the world or at least for the Church to again see. And it’s why I prepare, timidly praying things that I no longer have any idea if I should be asking for, wondering what else I can be courageously willing to lose in order to find the only One that keeps me and to temper my expectation in hope that I accurately perceive how to be obedient despite conflicting desires of the heart.

And I think amidst the vacation, escape and preparation, I find I don’t do even do those things well enough to passibly find entrance into the Kingdom by my own merit. I struggle with the apparently easy things, the things we are supposed to enjoy and delight in.

Maybe that’s a symptom of other things, something more chemical, something that could be easily medicated or maybe in Jesus’ day people put far less expectations on one another or had a more idealized version of community where they weren’t permitted to exploit or enslave one another to move up a tax bracket while their neighbors struggled to provide. They were willing to cancel debts, set people free, and recognized that any form of bondage was to be as temporary as possible, even obsolete (set the captives free). How well they executed that… well?

But there I go talking about some idealized institution or group of empowered people gathering together and forgetting myself, my complacency, my repentance and penance.

And my harshness… contrasted with Jesus’ gentleness. It is impossible to respond to Jesus’ rest when we are feeding the pressure (either self imposed or perceived from the outisde) of the demand to perform ourselves into something we want to be.

Some people are good with achievement and contented by promotion while I light both of those things on fire, while asking out loud, “what good is it?” while searching inside with the question, “am I good enough for…?”

And this is why I need Jesus, my rest, my refuge, my permanent vacation, my escape, my preparer, author, finisher, intercessor, brother, friend who said and demonstrated: “you were worth my blood, no greater love…”

And, then I am able to remember again.

I Gave Up Hope for Lent

I was holding on to so little of it to begin with. With the best of intentions we try to do things we think will be good. I could give you a map of my hope and it would be a very clear map of the things I’ve hoped for and the path I intended to set out on to get there. You could give me your clear map, and together we could look at our maps and feel it all seems so plainly obvious, what we hope for and what we hope to be and to become.

What is very unclear is the path we’ve taken toward our very clear articulations of hope.

I go back and read journals from years back, because I’ve kept so many, used so much ink on something that so little of will ever be read again other than by me. The only person who finds value and disappointment in them. You’d think by how much I wrote I was preparing to be important. I read them and think huh, your goals have been largely unchanged the past 10 years, and then I think huh you’ve accomplished so many more things you never wrote down and gave up on rather than things you’ve claimed you’ve wanted.

More often than not I get the good things I have not hoped for and it leaves me asking why do I hope for things? If everything will work out so arbitrarily why hope just to have your heart feel sick at the thought of having such wildly wrong expectations of things seemingly so simple.

I actually think if we really boiled down what humans want and hope for, it is all essentially identical. I’m sure Jerry Seinfeld has a bit on this. But if its a certain car, its just a metal and motor shaped a different way. If it’s a house its just would and brick and stone shaped a different size with a different look with different decor.

Some of us want love, family and if none of that, then a way to be content until we find our way out.

So if we all want the same things, why am I giving up hope? I read something in one of those journals that in 2017 one of my goals was: “to be the most gentle man I know, to stop fighting for anything, to forsake frustrations and why me’s.” In other words to take whatever comes and be okay with it without letting it ruin me.

Image result for Ash Wednesday

I hope too much in things or people who let me down. I have too high of expectations even when some expectations for things are comparatively low, they have proven still too high.

I give up my hope, it is God’s. God can do with it what He pleases. Maybe I will get it back when this whole thing is over.

Ashes for beauty after all.

The Awe of Heaven is Mercy

Any chance I have to write or have a conversation to talk about mercy, I take. Mercy is an astounding quality in God. The All Powerful restrains his judgment because of His goodness. God patiently withholds the full measure of punishment in favor of a loyal love for His creation, His friends, His Son’s Bride. God, who always catches us in the act of our sin, who knows every anxious and sinful thought, chooses compassion.

What got me thinking about all this is the mercy seat in the Old Testament and how this mercy seat is flanked by two cherubim facing one another while there wings hover over the mercy seat as a covering. And they there stand simultaneously in awe and in protection of the covering to the Ark of the Covenant.

Mercy seat - Wikipedia

I don’t want to get into a full blown theology lesson; we don’t have time for that. Nor do we really have time for information unless it leads to some type of encounter with God. Jesus himself says, ‘Go and find out what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (In other words I want the experience of loyalty in relationship over your constantly giving up things just to appease me).

So I will massively summarize any historical/metaphorical significance to say that the mercy seat is best understood as the covering to the covenant. It is the place of provision for those who would inevitably break the Old Covenant. Thus the mercy of God is the only provision for His people to avoid judgment.

Mary Magdelene sees her own glimpse of this in the tomb where 2 angels are sitting facing each other at the head and feet of where Jesus’ body had been lain. And all they ask is “Woman, why are you weeeping?” Likely because they are not sad but in awe.

I believe it is confounding for the angels to understand that God has made a provision through atonement for humans when there appears to be none made for angels. I believe they stand or sit in awe and in silence and reverence as they see a God who allows Himself to be wounded to make a way for His beloved.

I think they probably for a moment felt: “What is even the point of the covenant or the commands if You had a covering? Did You always intend to offer forgiveness through the shedding of the blood of Your Son? Was this always the plan, to cover them? Was this your ploy, to show them unmatched loyalty, love and kindness? Your wrath melted way by Your desire for mercy? How?”

I don’t think they can figure it out. I know we cannot figure out how it operates. Why does God desire to relieve us so, from the sin we choose? Why does he offer to place the blame elsewhere and give us an out by drawing us in to trade sin for Spirit?

All, so he can dwell in us, with us, close enough to breathe on us and through us. God has a seat of mercy so we will be seated with Him at His table, enjoying His presence and one another as we are forever enamored by the fact that He made, for us, a way.

Mercy is always making a way.

I Don’t Like What God Says

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”- Jesus Luke 6:27-28

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Jesus Luke 17:33

“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” -Jesus Luke 17:4

These are some things that I don’t like that Jesus tells me. To say nothing of the assurance of suffering. Comingled with there are promises of joy(one of the many likebale things Jesus also says).

I don’t like when God asks His people to wait an unknown amount of time. I don’t love trying to interpret the voice of the Spirit when God seems content to leave me in His mystery.

But I do like God’s nearness, God’s presence and God’s faithfulness when I am not faithful, which is why I think it wise to hear what He says and trust it and cherish it, even if it is cutting.

Because it is cutting. God does not coddle our sensibilities and push us to harm ourselves into further disobedience. He is willing to remove the poison, the sin, the plank through pain if it must be so. Usually, it must be so. We covet our sin under our scars and try to keep them there.

I, in my subconbscious imagine saying, “I have healed sufficiently, and this frequent painful blemish of sin is under the skin, and it would be too risky to remove it completely. So I will tolerate it longer.”

But God with a sword from his mouth is prepared to cut. He bypasses our itching ears which desire the next piece of positive affirmation or self-help advice for something a bit more raw and real and lasting. Thus Luke 17:33 paraphrased. “You’re comfort is less of my interest than your surrender because when you surrender, holy comfort will come.” A comfort where we become contented rather than left striving for more.

Yet we fear. I fear losing the things I’ve built which at this point is…. *looks around, reminding self of the things left behind, multiple times, recalling how I usually end up asking why and worrying until the next thing inevitably comes*… a wonderful library of books in garages and storage units all over New Jersey, amassed a collection of wrestling memorabilia in similar places and what of the stocks, and the places I’ve been and the experiences that no one can take from me. Ultimately though, who cares, they are vapors and God will test it all in the fire.

When all or most of it burns and we are left with some ashes, Jesus walks up to ledge of Flat Earth Heaven, looks down on us and shouts, “I will trade you those for beauty.”

He trades dead ends for pastures and narrow paths. He bottles the tears we sow, and somehow some day reap joy. He expands our capacity to fall fully into reciprical give and take forgivness. And he acknowledges and has endured human suffering so we can be assured we are not alone in our experience. And He doesn’t rush to deliver us from the temporal if it doesn’t keep us fixed on the eternal.

Does Donald Trump have a God problem? - BBC News

Which is why I think about other things I don’t like, empty promises, exploiting individual hopes for plastic prosperous amalgams of something that sound Christian or Christlike but is actually shallow self-aggrandizement, the willingness to change the service/servant and friendship language in Scripture for leadership because it sounds more important. I don’t like the way we exalt the already proud and promising individuals instead of looking at the heart of the humbled.

But it doesn’t really matter what I like. Unlucky for me, it’s not what I like (to quote the opposite of a song lyric). God likes uncomfortable things. He likes things we overlook. He likes things that have been counted out and invites them to banquets. He also likes faithfulness in spite of reasons to give up. He likes people who take steps in faith and He rewards those who share in his suffering.

I don’t always like what God says, but I do love who He is because He is undeniably good.

Assiduous and the Open Doors

I don’t know what your philosophy is on coming up with a word for the year, but I like them more than resolutions because my self-discipline is poor. For example I just had a glass bottle coke, burger and fries, 5 days into a health and fitness challenge. It was my cheat meal for the 20 seconds of High Intensity exercise I did 3 days ago. Resolutions can be manipulated, given up on, become burdensome. Words or what I historically have believed about them have meaning, are somewhat fixed except for the few that can mean multiple things. Words we learn, and typically, don’t lose them, although I can’t remember the word I picked 3 or 4 years ago. No wait, I just did as I wrote that last sentence. The word was Emprise.

I typically try to land on a word I previously did not know the definition of, which is why this year I discovered the word Assiduous while google searching “extreme patience”. Though that is not the definiton of assiduous.

Assiduous means: showing great care and perseverance, marked by careful unremitting attention or persistent application.

I’m not sure I could pick a word that describes me equally more and less. When I am focussed or desire something enough, I usually show some measure of perseverance and care. But equally as much, when I am uncertain and confused I can let things fall by the wayside.

For example I’m not sure I will finish this blog post. Not because I don’t want to write, rather because I feel internal angst as I write it. I want the uncertain pit in my stomach to go away. I want to have an answer to the question of open doors.

I ran into a minister I interviewed with for a chuch position here in Charleston last week. I withdrew my name from consideration right before Christmas, and shortly after, they decided to make a hire. I debate whether I should have stuck it out and waited for an answer, but if there is one thing I have learned from people as of late, it’s that answers change, and they change quickly. Perhaps, it is a symptom of our world and its current state. Perhaps we are overexposed. Or perhaps we just don’t want to know.

I talked to a friend this past weekend for over 2 hours over the course of 2 days about a seeming indecision he was having. I thought through our conversation we made progress regarding his decision, yet he essentially did nothing about it (one could say he did the opposite).

So much of life or arguably all of it is actually not determined by solely our decisions. However, it does not excuse our decisions. We decide if we will show great care and perseverance. We decide if we will give our unremitting attention and persistent application to something or someone. And we also decide not to, which brings me to thinking about “open doors.”

Open door Painting by Linda Karslake | Saatchi Art

You know how your supposed to knock on a bathroom door or stall just in case someone on the other side didn’t lock it. I hardly ever knock, not because I’m consciously wanting to walk in on someone pooping, but because I always lock the door. There are times when I lock the door and am about to go the bathroom, and then go back and check the nob just in case. I expect an open door until someone locks or closes it. There are also some doors I don’t open, some doors in some instances I never open. Like the door to a strip club, I would never walk through that, a vape shop, 99% likely not to open that door. Any store involving hunting. At this stage of a life, unfortunately, I still have no reason to open a door to a jewelry store.

And then there are some doors, I do knock on because I am unsure. I am not sure it will open or if am welcome or expected. Usually, those doors I am more aware of the uncertainty within myself. I fear some level of consequence if the door does not open or want to avoid some level of sadness. But those doors, the ones with the most risk of being disappointed by, usually have the most potential for joy. So I knock on them, and I hope.

And then I imagine those looking on, watching me approach some doors and the ones I walk through and the ones that are locked and wonder what they might be thinking watching all this. I wonder how often they say, that is the door you should be knocking on or walking through. Or even, that is the door to the room or space you should stay in for a while. Maybe, you should be assiduous in that space, in that place, with that person. And maybe you should rest and work and find rhythm right here in this green pasture, besides those still waters.

And maybe, if we do that, our patience will just might feel like delight.

Is Our Fire Grace or Compulsion?

The things that we say and the things that we do when stripped of there cover should probably bear greater consideration. From a motives stand point, I think it is important to be clear what we hope to get out of our requests. From a statement standpoint, I don’t think complaining or accusing are enduring ways to get both what we want and to be satisfied with what we have. Additionally, listening feels like it has become like art, optional, unless perceived as a utility for “good”.

That leaves us with loud shouting about things we want to change which is met with a total lack of patience to hear what the other actually needs. The effect is division, which outside of Christ should come as no surprise at all. Jesus’ statement that he came to bring division among households should not leave us surprised when there are divisions over politics. Jesus, mind you also gave a stern warning to his disciples about politics. After performing wonderful miracles of feeding the hungry, Jesus in a boat tells the disciples, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees (Legalism with love) and the leaven of Herod (impure political power)”

In other words don’t rely on your perfect performance to be a vehicle for provision, also don’t rely on the imperfect promises of false power to supply you what you need. Putting faith in either leaves you empty, enraged and unsteady.

But, what of those with even the purest motives? Like you.

What if your everyday decisions and best efforts are to be zealous for the Lord? Well, I have a story.

In my Bro’s Bible Study we are reading 1 Kings, specifically the stories of Elijah, the prophet who is taken up to heaven in a chariot tornado, who before that, has a seemingly unprovoked showdown at Mount Carmel. I say unprovoked, but Elijah is angered by being accused that he is one who is ruining Israel. (Who do you think is ruining your nation? a question worth asking of yourself) Instead, Elijah responds with an accusation (Who do you want to accuse?) “No it was you and your father’s family. Now get everybody together and let’s have a good ol fashioned God-off.”

Photo: Fire in the sky - Need to Know | PBS

He organizes a gathering, and then after his rivals fail, he prays an interesting prayer. He asks for fire to fall on his sacrifice (What are we willing to sacrfice or allow to burn to prove a point? And should we?), “Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” God seems to answer the prayer, fire falls and then some people worship God (I think?), and Elijah commands the people to kill (Are you also willing to kill to get what you want? See James 4:2-3) a bunch of prophets of a false god.

I read that story and then read what follows, and wonder what did God actually want from Elijah or anyone at this time in history? Because in the next chapter, the nation is unchanged, Jezebel, the queen calls for the death of Elijah, Ahab, the King is fine with it, and Elijah seemingly throws in the towel and asks to die. Why? I think it is because he does not get what he expects.

In asking for the spectacle, which he did get, the result was not the immediate change of heart for the nation or its leadership. Quite frankly, I don’t know that God gave any indication to what Elijah’s expectation should have been. (Maybe the expectation should be, the nation is fallen and broken. It sucks, it’s not as a great a place to live as you hoped it would become. You’re expecting far too much of your leaders and the kingodms of this world and far too little of your God and His Kingdom to come and is in part here).

How, on a personal level might one apply this if one has completely ignored my parentheticals thus far, you might ask? I’ve wanted the spectacle, the fire, the moment that changes everything. I’ve wanted to have at least a clear answer. I want people to name my feelings for me rather than denying them or muddling the waters with indecision or deferment. Yet, God wants faith and friendship.

In 1 Kings 19 God isn’t in wind, fire, or earthquakes, He comes in whispers. Just prior to that he comes with a meal and an offer of rest. (Maybe God doesn’t get mad at us for not working a steady job for 3 months. Maybe He’s not evaluating whether that makes us worthy of love, worth getting to know, evaluating whether we’re lazy or indecisive or stubborn or bitter. Maybe He just was dying to love us and enjoy ys and hope that we’d enjoy Him and His people).

Then God gives instruction on how to finish well because all the zeal and effort has not led to the desired outcome or output. Elijah complains that it has all been so inefficient, yet God sees the future and sees what this was meant to set up. Just as Moses only led the Israelites during the wilderness leg of the journey just to transfer Promise Land leadership to Joshua, Elijah transfers a double portion to Elisha, anoints new kings and receives the promise that 7,000 prophets were being raised up while Jezebel had her eyes fixed on trying to kill one (Elijah) whom God protected.

Sometimes, or honestly, all the time, God is far less concerned in what you can accomplish then if you are willing to stay in step with Him and release the sense of accomplishment in favor of obedience and friendship.

I think at times Elijah and we put God in a position where we are trying to compel him to act. We potentially back ourselves into a corner and ask God to perform when in reality He has left room for us to take steps of faith and spend time in communion with Him without fear of or desire for death (something to end).

But things do end and usually, there is grace in that too.

The Radiant Hope of Weeping

I watched It’s a Wonderful Life last weekend with some amazing friends in a theatre. Writing that sentence feels like I am confessing to a crime based on the state of the world right now. But I’m merely giving context to my most recent relationship with tears. I would say the amount I cried was just under the inappropriate amount for a movie. What that exact amount is, who’s to say? If I was judging, I would say I snuck in just enough tears to be considered a stable, regulated, adult male who is in touch with his feelings. Maybe I’m idealizing, but this is my blog and you’re just reading it. 

I think the film was a good exercise in hope. When you have received the subject of your hope, you cease to be in need of hope to have it. You may however need some measure of hope to keep it. Yet, when we have attained something, we quickly move into the assumption that we will retain it. In other words, hope floats above the surface expectant that it will catch something underneath the surface. Once the thing hoped for comes to the surface, we no longer have need of hope. We, instead, need the unction to receive it.

Which is why I believe hope is anticipatory joy. I’ve heard hope described as the joyful expectation of something good, which I kind of buy into. I’m almost fully bought into that definition as long as what we don’t imagine is a child waiting on a shortish line to ride a rollercoaster, or kids on Christmas morning, or a bride and groom on their wedding day. In other words I don’t think hope can be defined by surface joy. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. I don’t think Jesus was giddy in anticipation of His betrayal, arrest or crucifixion. I do think he was eager/anxious to share a meal with his disciples beforehand in anticipation of sharing that meal again and anew in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Which brings me to the illustration in Scripture of hope as an anchor. Anchors go deep, to keep you steady on the surface. To keep you steady amidst the swirling uncertain movement around you, despite the inability to entirely protect what is within you. Hope in its depths might reveal itself through tears, through trembling.

Jesus' Feet – God's Grace ~ God's Glory!

Luke 7:36-50, A woman who is a sinner walks into someone else’s household to anoint Jesus’ feet, weeping on them, kissing them, wiping them off with her hair, and anointing them with ointment. Imagine if today you were throwing a party and a woman uninvited comes in whose only descriptor is that she is of disreputable character. This is an opinion shared by most of the people there except your other guest who is the most kind, gentle and intriguing person at the party, who also has a secret. He is God, unbeknownst to the guests, unbeknownst to you the host. Would you not also be curious what this woman could possibly want instead of what your other guest know about the woman?

And what she wants is what I want to write about and to think about:

  1. At base line, she might have just wanted to show honor and gratitude to Jesus. I believe the base of Christian hope is we want to honor who we believe God to be freely in the face of a world that can be cruel and judgmental while ignoring their own darkness. She recognized Jesus’ light and beauty and hoped to be able to honor it.
  2. Maybe she was able to foresee forgiveness and was hoping to be offered that at all costs. If by an act of grace she was able to see and expect that, it would seem her faith in fact has saved her. She was forgiven; she got what she hoped for. But wave of the hand forgiveness as much as it may lift the weight of guilt what I think humans are after is actually a bit more than forgiveness which leads me to what I think she was hoping for.
  3. Friendship. Context is important. Luke 7:34-35 is actually where this story should start. Jesus states that his reputation among the crowds and religious leaders is that “he is a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is justified by her children (or by what she bears, produces).” Ironically the story that follows is Jesus in the house of Pharisee who is approached by a woman who is a sinner, a woman who perhaps has heard a rumor that Jesus might also want to be her friend.

Catharsis, Neurosis, Jesus

After almost 2 months of not writing, I realize the cognitive dissonance I live in when it comes to writing. I regularly vocalize something like this: “I am usually doing my best spiritually and emotionally when I am writing and reflecting regularly on what I feel like the Lord is speaking to me.” Then I don’t write and end up confused or uncertain of what to do or who to be.

So to get back into it, I’m going to throw out a few definitions:

Catharsis- the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Neurosis- a relatively mild mental illness, not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality.

Why these words? I feel like humans or maybe just I have a tendency to settle for the first while I make room for the other. I’ll explain but I’d like to offer a story in Scripture.

In 1 Samuel 24, King Saul is taking a leak in a cave near some sheep pens. Actually he had to have been pooping. If the men were far back in the cave and they had time to talk about the plan to kill Saul, I think one is less alert and more comfortable popping squat.

So Saul is pooping in a cave and David creeps up and cuts a piece of Saul’s robe off, and David, because he has a sensitive conscience feels guilty. He then sternly lets all of the men around him know that they should have never entertained the thought of attacking the king. So David lets Saul re-leave, after his (Saul’s) relieving to the readers relief, though David would have to relive this event in a similar way later. See what I did there. We are all impressed, but I digress.

David then calls out of the cave. Saul turns around. David bows to the ground. Then David gives a plea to Saul and tries to prove to Saul that he has no intention of harming him, by showing him mercy in the cave and providing the cloth he cut, as evidence.

Saul responds with recognition and weeps asking David to keep an oath in regards to Saul’s family when David becomes king. An oath is made. Catharsis. The oath is later kept but in a few chapters, Saul is trying to kill David again. Neurosis

David is on the run a while. Saul is hung up on killing David, to preserve his kingship.

***

I have a confession. Sometimes I approach Scripture in search of catharsis and sometimes my prayer or lack of focussed prayer turns into neurosis. Both are not particularly helpful.

I was struck by some of these thoughts while reading Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene and Eric Peterson. In one particular letter, Eugene critiques Kierkegaard’s biblical interpretation in Fear and Trembling as too neurotic, as Kierkegaard reflects on his broken engagement comparing his own circumstances to God testing Abraham with Isaac at Moriah.

I literally read that last week and had the thought, “Yeah, Kierkegaard feels unwell and mentally off even in his writings which is probably why he never could fit into a pastoral vocation.” Then, the Sunday sermon at church was about Abraham and Isaac, and I began to do the exact same thing with my own circumstances, not giving a second thought to Kierkegaard’s error.

It is amazing that man so radical, who had so much to say and critique in 42 years of living could have so much passion for the Church and disdain for the institution. He who seemingly died from his own exhaustive criticism, could have potentially avoided it all, had he let himself be loved or let himself be given over to a love that would have made him more tender. Instead, neurosis with Jesus.

Catharsis with a little Jesus risks shallowness. Neurosis with a little Jesus might mean depth but risks isolation. There is a middle, a homeostasis, a peace, that allows us to be accessible in our dealing with others while holding the tension of acknowledging present, even consistent suffering whilst remaining hopeful, expectant of good.

By the time David is being hunted down again I think he resists catharsis and returns to his enemies the Philistines for some type of refuge. It’s a strange place to be, going to a town of people who you were once at war with, who you received fame for killing their best warrior only to make your home with them.

Jesus to the cross.

Lose your life to find it.

These actions, behaviors, thoughts occupy the space between catharsis and neurosis and sometimes feel like they are dangerously close to dipping into one of the two. I don’t know how to tell when we have dipped in, I just know who keeps us in the midst.

Today or Tomorrow

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

James 4:13-17

Every Thursday my friend Caleb let’s me know that I could die tomorrow.

This has evolved.

On Friday’s we say that we could die today.

These morbid reminders serve to keep us present. Rather than functioning as unceasing evaluations leading to judgments, I believe the inention is to keep us dreaming while faithful to the plans and purposes of God in the midst of the mundane and in the midst of insane.

But telling the difference between the two can sometimes be hard to map or articulate rationally, which is why I won’t try here.

What I will say in regards to James 4:13-17 is this: The Lord directs our steps and while I do believe He cares about our plans, He is equally willing to disrupt them when we have yielded to His will.

At this stage in the game, if I wrote that I was staying somewhere for the next 3 years it would seem inconsistent (though I do want to). I don’t much like 5 year plans, but I have one in mind that doesn’t involve marriage or having a family.

But I won’t boast about pretentious plans. I also won’t pretend like my next move will yield a profit.

Admittedly, I also know it’s not a great time to leave your stable job when you need insurance and are in the middle rehabilitating you knee after surgery. I also am aware that historically I am a better functioning human being when I’m working and have a routine.

But I also know this: Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

So I’m preparing to do it.