Archives For lessons

There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus

Lazarus, Come Forth

randomlychad  —  September 21, 2016 — Leave a comment
deesisPanel2_lazarus from Flickr via Wylio

© 2012 Tim, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Today, I woke with thoughts of Lazarus in my head. To my knowledge, I myself have never been, you know, dead. The neurons are still firing up in my head. At least I’d like to think so. We’ll leave that for you, gentle reader, to decide.

“Lazarus, come forth.” It wasn’t a suggestion, but a command. This was clearly a miracle performed to show those in Bethany (where Jesus had spent so much time) that the Lord had power death. We understand that. We also understand the grief, the sense of loss, Mary, Martha, and Jesus himself felt over Lazarus’s demise. Yet this also was a command which would not have been necessary had Jesus come sooner, had healed Lazarus as he’d healed so many others.

Yet he didn’t.

Dare we impugn Lazarus? Was he lacking in faith? He knew the Lord–saw him–in ways we ourselves do not, and cannot, now know him. Yes, he lives inside. Lazarus knew him, ate with him, laughed with him, loved him.

Yet Jesus let him die.

What a letdown this was for everybody. Mary, Martha, their family, friends, the people of Bethany who knew what Jesus could do, what he had done. They knew, they saw. And yet here was one of his closest friends laid in a tomb, mouldering after three days (“I’m a servant of the Lord! Look what it’s done for me!”).

And if Lazarus, beloved of Jesus, was allowed to die what does this say of us? It seems that, rather than our best lives now, often the beloved of the Lord suffer great hardships, great losses, even die, before the miracles happen. The Christian life is, and this is not original to me, about death:

Jesus’s death on the cross, our respective deaths to ourselves. For it is in dying that we live. The lesson of Lazarus then is that while, yes, God can (and does) heal He doesn’t always. We don’t know why, except that we know him, have experienced his character–that he is good. So the lesson is that even (and sometimes especially) death can be redeemed. Somehow out of death–death to ourselves, expectations, plans–life arises.

Death often precedes the miraculous, the numinous, intruding into the courses of our everyday lives. Why is this? Only God knows.

All that we can do is lay down the gift (life) which God has given each of us back at his feet from whence it originated.

Only then can we truly live. And like Lazarus, we will live again.

Believest thou this?

I’m not one for lists, formulas, ten steps to this, ten steps to that. But there is one secret to success that, in our quest for shortcuts, glory, viral fame, we overlook.
 
 Why?
 
 Because it’s not sexy. It doesn’t sell books, promise riches, cure cancer, or even make life easier.
 
 What is this secret?
 
 Sure you’re ready?
 
 Here it is:
 
 Show up, and do the work.
 
 Told you it wasn’t sexy. It’s not what itching ears want to hear. Let me put it this way: if even the Bible says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” what does that say about the rest of life, and the things that are worth doing?
 
 They’re not going to come easy. There are no shortcuts.
 
 I don’t care if you’re a writer, a bodybuilder, a homemaker, a husband, a wife, a student, an employee. The secret to success in any of those things is: show up, and do the work. Whoever said that love isn’t work, that doing what we love isn’t work, lied. Nothing ever worth doing comes easily.
 
 We know this. We all know this, but we want instant success. Conversations are the currency of any relationship; show up, and listen. Extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Do the hard work of humbling yourself when you’re wrong.
 
 Words are the currency of the writer; continue putting them down on the page–even if no one will ever see them. Show up; don’t give up.
 
 Iron is the currency of the bodybuilder; to grow, one must lift–and continue lifting.
 
 What do these all have in common? Grit.
 
 Grit, determination, and self-discipline.
 
 See? I told you it wasn’t sexy. But it’s true. And hard truths always and everywhere trump sexy lies. I don’t need to tell you that this requires sacrifice, a giving up of the things we like to pursue what we love.
 
 So show up, and do the work.
 
 
 

Let’s say you’re husband out for your monthly dinner date night with your wife. Monthly, because that’s what you can afford within your household budget. Because it’s a popular, well-known place you made your reservations far in advance. You and wife arranged childcare; you’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

You get there, availing yourselves of valet parking. You don’t do this often, so you want the full experience. You get inside, get seated, order drinks and appetizers. You unwind, relax, enjoy one another’s company like you haven’t in some time.

Your meals come. You switch with your wife, because it wasn’t quite what she expected. You don’t mind, you love her, and hey! It’s food!

You talk, holding hands, looking lovingly into one another’s eyes. You order dessert. Chocolate mousse cheesecake. It disappears.

The check comes; your jaw hits the floor. It’s far higher than you budgeted for. Turns out the restaurant has a policy of randomly assigning the bills, distributing them arbitrarily. And you got the check for a large party. You’re stuck.

It’s the restaurant’s policy. Nothing you can do.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS BERNIE SANDERS.

Much ink has been spilled about the injustices, the inequities, seen all around us everyday. Kids go to bed hungry while parents shoot up dope. Or worse, kids wind up dead. There isn’t day goes by without a report of road rage; somebody cut someone else off, and then someone gets beat, shot, or run over. We regulate, legislate, send folks to anger management classes, hold sensitivity training at work, and try to watch our words. We’re simultaneously anxious, uptight, fried, yet we somehow don’t want to offend…

We sublimate, self-medicate, and stuff our feelings. Is it any wonder, with the the amounts of both intrinsic, and extrinsic, repression that there are slips in the space/time continuum? That there are blow ups? We are selfish by nature, out to get our own, looking out for number one (as the saying goes). We’re indignant when someone tramples upon our (perceived) rights, yet have no trouble trampling another’s rights, boundaries, space, to get what’s ours.

It’s reductio ad absursum. Yet we are blind to it. And no matter how enlightened, how modern, we become there are no programs, classes, sweat lodges, pilgrimages, substances, or really anything which can effect a change in what we call human nature. The heart simply cannot be changed by anything existing within the same broken, reprobate system in which it itself dwells. This calls for outside intervention.

No cleanses, juice fasts, or high colonics will ever rid us of the foolishness bound up in our hearts. A wise teacher once said it is not that which enters a man which defiles him, but rather that which comes out of him.

Out of his heart.

Many, many there are who seek enlightenment upon their own terms. But few there are who find new life.

The kids are not all right.

That’s why God sent His Son, Jesus. He may not be the immediate answer to every ill in this vale of tears, but He certainly is the ultimate one.

Seek Him while He may be found.