Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lent Backwards

The Easter buffet at The
Carolina Inn is a bounteous
feast to follow the fasting
of the Lenten season..
Despite the fact that Jesus says that our fasting is supposed to be private (Matthew 6), I have written about Lent several times… like the awful time I gave up french fries, or the unbearable time I gave up Facebook, or the time I laughably attempted to give up the unchecked pursuit of my own agenda… 

I wasn’t raised in a tradition that observes Lent, and despite regular Sunday church attendance and choir practice on Thursdays, my family didn’t speak of spiritual things… but in my later years, I’ve embraced Lent as a part of the rhythm of the spiritual year… We join with Christ in His sufferings for 6 six weeks by denying ourselves candy or fries or what have you, then we celebrate His glorious resurrection on Easter (in our case with an all-church rendition of Handel's famous Hallelujah Chorus and an obscenely generous buffet lunch at The Carolina Inn).

On Easter at the Chapel Hill Bible Church all the 
people stand and sing Hallelujah! It sounds like this.
When I was a kid, no one I knew gave up stuff for Lent… that I knew of. I did know one Catholic family. Did they observe Lent? Maybe their mom didn’t serve meat during that time? I can't know. Anyway, now it seems like it’s becoming more of a thing that people are doing, Catholic or not. I can’t begin to guess why it’s gotten to be a popular thing. I mean, far be it from me to assume where anyone’s heart is at. I can barely keep up with my own. 

As for me, well, I’m not going to lie – I'm carrying a bit of a mixed bag of reasons… I often choose sweets as my thing to give up with the unspoken hope that my body will recover from all the delish cakes and candy and gravy and stuffing I’ve crammed into it over the holidays. Real spiritual, right?

Since I'm not giving up sweets,
I've eaten nearly all of this fantastic
caramel cake Tom got me for
As for this year… a couple of weeks ago, I posted this on Facebook: “It's been Lent for three days and I still haven't decided what to give up…” And of course the nuts in the peanut gallery were eager to recommend that I give up all sorts of things from Facebook to procrastination to Lent itself. It was a nice chuckle – until this one guy left this comment: “Just give up your sins to Christ Jesus. This is all you need to do to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Believe in Jesus. John 3:16.

I love that guy!!! First of all, y’all know how much I love John 3:16. That there is my jam. And second of all, this is what I’ve been writing about, isn’t it? Faith alone. Jesus alone. Not that people who give up Lent are attempting to purchase or influence their salvation… Like I said, it’s more of a spiritual exercise… 

Nonetheless, I’ve decided that this year, that I actually AM giving up giving up things for Lent. So that I can focus on the sufficiency of the Jesus’s sacrifice to achieve our salvation. Once we embrace this, nothing we do or don’t do can add or subtract from this.

“Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s what Paul said in Romans 8. 

So maybe I’m doing the Lent thing backwards this year – sacrifice then celebrate, right? But to remember the true fact that Jesus paid it all… This is always in season!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

No offense, y'all...

I just want to be loved – is that so wrong?
When I was writing the previous post, I asked my Buddhist friend if he minded whether I included our exchange in a blog post... I told him that my post would be "nothing too offensive"... but then while I was writing, I realized that I have absolutely no idea whether or not my words were offensive to him or to anyone else!

For all I know everything I say could be making you or someone else roll their eyes and say, "What a chump! How dare she?!" And honestly, knowing that I might offend someone does bother me. Not that I care if they like me or not – okay, who am I kidding? I do want to be liked. (Remember when Jon Lovitz would play that guy who would say, "I just want to be loved - is that so wrong?")

Black clothes, check... concha belts, check... boots,
check! I think these guys from The Alarm have been 
in my closet! It would be a shame if they 
didn't show us those outfits!
But more important, I don't want to hurt your feelings, or turn you off from getting to know God because I've portrayed Him as about anything but love and grace. Or been anything but loving and gracious.

I'm tempted sometimes to NOT write because it seems presumptuous... I know that evangelism is sometimes seen as being sort of paternalistic... Isn't that the word that's used to describe the British Empire who invaded lands for the people's own good? Okay, so maybe it is kind of like that – but I only want to see your heart invaded by the love and grace of God. Again, is that so wrong? Wouldn't it be cool if the sun never set on God's love and grace? 

When I do write, I sometimes find myself tempted to self-edit to make it palatable to any- and everyone who might stumble over it. But I'm a Christian – it says so at the top of the blog. And Jesus told us to tell everybody. (Matthew 28:14) And for me, to NOT say Jesus, well... it would be kind of like living in my closet... And it's really dark in there. And messy. And full of black clothes, concha belts and ankle boots. No, I have to be the city on the hill... the light on top of the bushel... the salty salt... (Luke 14)

And in the end, I'm only just musing – going over some ideas I'm having... Everything I say is as I understand it, and you are welcome to ponder my words or not. I view it as a conversation, even though I usually don't hear your side. Not that I wouldn't like to... Because I really would.

Monday, February 15, 2016

I need a remedy, remedy, remedy, remedy…

You can download this sweet
Adam and Eve coloring page here.
One advantage of posting so infrequently is that I have a LOT of time to chew on ideas before I tap them out on my crumby keyboard. And I’ve been going over this one pretty thoroughly since I threw up the last post. 

In that post, I talked about Christmas as being about the cancellation of our debt to God… and well, I put that up, and naturally, my crazy brain KEPT going over it. I thought - maybe some people are thinking, “What do I owe God anyway?” And I guess if you don’t believe in God, you can assume you owe Him nothing. But what if He exists? What do people owe Him? 

Some people – myself included – look to the Bible for answers… and it’s chock full of info about what God expects from folks – starting with Adam and Eve, who he told “don’t eat that fruit.” (Genesis 2:17) And of course they did, so… now we’re in a right pickle. 

Keep reading the Good Book and it will almost feel like that Bob Dylan song, Subterranean Homesick Blues – which is a driving auditory barrage of do this don’t do thats… including, but not limited to, the following: “Light yourself a candle / Don’t wear sandals / Try to avoid the scandals / Don’t wanna be a bum / You better chew gum” and “Get dressed, get blessed / Try to be a success / Please her, please him, buy gifts / Don’t steal, don’t lift…” Then comes the refrain that reminds us to be wary that we’ve probably done something wrong whether we know it or not. “Look out kid / It’s somethin’ you did / God knows when / But you’re doin’ it again…”

It's definitely something you did...
Bob Dylan is an enigmatic character, to be sure – his words subject to endless dissection. How much more of a puzzle is the will of God?

Sure, we’ve got direct orders – like the Law of Moses… which includes the biggies like the Ten Commandments PLUS hundreds of tiny specific rules like refraining from eating shellfish, wearing blended fabrics and muzzling your ox while he’s treading out grain, and what to do if there’s mildew in your house...

Then there’s the general guideline that Malachi gives: to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Malachi 6:8) Similarly, in the New Testament, James gives this instruction: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

And Jesus himself says that the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent - ie. Jesus. (John 6:29)

So… which of these do I owe God? Some of it? All of it? Obedience to each tiny law? A general attitude of humility and love for God and fellow man? Belief in Jesus? 

I guess that’s what the guy who asked Jesus “What must I do for eternal life?” was asking. (Luke 18:18) Or the guy who asked Him “What’s the most important commandment?” (Matthew 22:36) Folks like us – we always want to know the loophole. Are we lazy? In my case, yes. Just scammin’ for an easy A? Again, yes. 

Or… is it just that we know that WHATEVER the requirements, we suck at fulfilling them. 

Here’s an exchange I had on FB a while back with a friend of mine who practices Buddhism: 

EP: One of the more painful implications of Buddhist belief is that I experience Donald Trump because I was once like Donald Trump, and if I don't treat the Donald with compassion, I could be just like him or worse the next go round. 
ME: or worse???
EP: Yeah, the negative karma can be exponential.
Guy I don’t know: (emoji that looks like the guy in that painting “The Scream”) 
Me: think i’ll stick with grace… :-P
EP: Oh well, one person's medicine is another person’s poison.
EP: Just to round it out, the good karma from acts of virtue is also exponential.

Donald deserves compassion, like all human beings,
but instead, I am posting a goofy pic of him where he
looks like he is trying to hold in a poot.
Well, that was the end of the conversation, but not the end of me thinking about it, as is my way. And what I thought was, first, it sounds like I’d rather be forgiven than attempt to treat “the Donald” with compassion… which is not what I meant at all. It’s more like… I am 100% sure that my ability to show “the Donald” compassion will fall far short of … the compassion other human beings deserve. 

So while the idea that acts of virtue attract good karma may be comforting to some, well… I’m not altogether sure I have any acts of virtue. Seriously. I’m just trying to get through each day, my friend… I try to do what I can, love folks… not be Hitler… but all day long, I fall short. And I’m so tired. 

And that’s why I told my friend that I would stick with grace. Because I suck. And I’m tired. And to tie this in with what we owe God… well… it doesn’t really matter. I mean, whether it’s the Ten Commandments, or the exhortation to love my neighbor as myself, I’m just not going to be able to do it. The only one of these instructions I can remotely follow is the believing in Jesus… and even that I’m lousy at sometimes. I’m totally with the guy who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Look at this pic of Chris Robinson - we
have this same fake owl on our deck!
And if all of this sounds like I am a completely miserable human being with the lowest self-esteem of anyone in history, I'll say that I actually experience a pretty average sequence of ups and downs and mediums in my life – with times that I am so happy I could cry! 

And remember that part of the Presbyterian credo is our TOTAL DEPRAVITY. Which I guess is what this is. Paul knew all about it… He said: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7)

This is a pretty popular part of the Bible, because a LOT of people can dig what Paul is layin’ down here… And I guess total depravity would suck if there was no remedy… (Like Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, I sing, “I need a remedy, remedy, remedy, remedy…”) but there is! Because then Paul says: “But Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And that’s what I meant about our debts being paid… see? Yay, right? 

Now… I guess I may not have really answered the question “What do I owe God?” so much as reflected on my own poverty… That is to say, it doesn’t matter how much I owe when I don’t have ANY. I mean, it matters, but… only as far as I realize that I DO owe God, and I  accept the payment He provides.

My mom. What do we owe
the one who gives us life?
I should at least call her.
Which is, I guess, your standard accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… but what then? That’s a question I’m constantly asking myself: “What does the Christian life look like?” Do I just continue on my merry way acting like it never happened – like a child who pretends his parents who gave him life and everything he has don’t exist?* Or do I get involved with this God who gave me life and everything I have. And what does this “getting involved” look like? 

I’m still trying to work that out… and the best I can figure is to try to follow what Jesus said were the greatest commandments – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Which, again, I suck at doing… :-P  …and that’s where that remedy aka cancelled debt comes in handy…

As you have probably guessed, I am having a hard time bringing this to a sharp, sassy conclusion… Here's the best I can do... What do we owe God? Everything. What does He require? Faith. What then? Love. 

*Haha… when I wrote this, I was convicted so bad about how infrequently I call or see my own mother!! So I called her! But then I had to hang up because I kept getting a bunch of "more important" calls on the other line… And there you have it… :-P