one week down…

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Welcome to Frances Street–this is our front door entryway.

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Which contains the laundry facilities. Talk about accountability on not letting my laundry pile up…

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Immediately off the entryway, across from the laundry is a small toilet (half-bath). Nice to have one of these for company and small potty-training boys who don’t make it up the stairs as quickly.=)

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The entryway, which obviously needs some organization. I’m learning that the answer to many of my problems in life right now is “ikea.” The house is built into a hill so so it’s two levels but the levels are split to go with the grade. So we have several little tiny flights of stairs.

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Just looking back into the entryway towards the front door. You can see the doorway into our  “lounge” there.

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The “lounge” (living room). As we’re on the top of the hill, we have quite a nice view of the town.

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Walk up the stairs, enter the kitchen and you meet this beauty, my #1 favorite thing about my new house. It has a “fan-assisted gas cooker” (still figuring that one out, but seems to do things a bit faster and hotter), a regular coil-heat oven, a grill (broiler) and EIGHT hobs (burners)!! As pastor Mark said, I have no excuse not to be hospitable! When I got my new food processor a few years ago with the shredding blade, I saw it as a challenge to create as many shredded foods as possible. This is my new one–at some point I will be using all eight hobs at once…

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Turn to the right and you see the dining area and the lovely pre-existing hanging system which was put to immediate use.

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Dining area overlooking the back garden. All the furniture was donated or lent by Newtown members for us to use as we settle in.

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My #2 favorite feature of the house: the back garden. Can’t wait to eat out on the patio in the summer and try not to kill all these plants!

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Exit the kitchen and you are on the stairs again.

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At the top of the stairs is the main bath. Does the job. We’re not so adept yet at using the “half-sail” shower guard/door thingy–water everywhere every time yeesh. Looking for a shower curtain like we’re used to…

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Another new favorite is the towel rack directly above the radiator. Brilliant!

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Also at the top of the stairs, to the right of the bath, is the master bedroom. Can’t believe I’m putting this up in its current state, but there you have it… What else do you expect with no dresser yet…!?

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Go up another tiny flight of stairs and you have this little room which will eventually quit being the “worst clothing organization system ever” and magically transform into a lovely guest room. I’m still waiting on my elf. Or, rather, Ikea.

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The apparent star of this slideshow… And a victim of the aforementioned awful clothing organization system. Went to church in his 2-year-old brother’s shirt without any responsible adult noticing until afterwards. Also to the right of where Clive’s standing is the boys’ room. There was a nap in progress when I took these, so no pictures of it but let’s just say that it’s also an Ikea project waiting to happen. Beds to sleep on at least, but they’re certainly having fun with a week off of cleaning their room…

Here’s some of the main events of the last week:

Wednesday, February 13

We landed at the airport, had no trouble at the immigration services, and managed to navigate five trolleys piled with luggage, two children and a stroller from baggage, through customs to the exit where five friendly faces awaited us. They lugged our things out and drove us to our new home and left us to rest. Job and I, who had not slept much on the plane, napped for a few hours while David and Clive started the unpacking. The church had outfitted the house with beds, linens and furniture on loan as well as a full pantry and fridge. The presence of three different varieties of cheese made me a happy new European! Later in the afternoon Clive the younger got to meet Clive the elder for the first time. That evening we walked to Pastor Mark’s home for dinner where his daughters Hannah and Beth elicited the first smiles of the day from Job with their hamster. We also got to use the telephone there and call our parents. We put the boys down at 10 and we got down soon afterwards and didn’t wake up till noon the next day—that’s 14 hours of sleep!!

Thursday

We woke up late and barely managed a meal and getting dressed before the shops closed around 5. But we made a quick stop in the hardware store for a few items and a few purchases at the toy shop. When we arrived home everyone exited the vehicle to allow David full concentration as he parallel parked our borrowed vehicle. You’re looking over the opposite shoulder, opposite hand on the steering wheel and opposite hand on the gear shift and on a steep hill…. So yeah we stood on the pavement and waited. Then we heard giggling behind us and turned around to see one of the church families who had stopped by with a welcome gift and got some extra entertainment thrown in. They graciously gave us the hyacinth and headed out so David could take the slightly larger parking spot they had used!=) Another highlight of the day was having Clive the Elder show us how to turn the hot water on. Here’s how to cure jetlag: take your first shower of two days in ice cold water on a brisk Chesham February morning. That item quickly moved to the top of the to-do list!

Friday

My first run in Chesham. To come to Chesham is to immediately enroll in a new fitness program: “calves of steel.” No matter which direction you head you eventually will hit a steep hill since the town is in a valley. We’re at the top of a hill and between walking to church, school and high street I’m beginning to see how the hobbits can take in second breakfast, elevenses and tea. Although to be fair being chased by Gollum through mountain passes probably burns a few more calories… We made it to Clive’s new school that morning to buy his uniform pieces and also got a lot of cleaning done, more sorting of the stuff, and found out our credit card had been put on hold for security reasons which put put a jam on getting a few things done (grr…. Should have thought to tell them ahead of time we’d be using it internationally…).

Saturday

David’s first run–his knees ages in ten years in that half hour I think. Allan, one of the deacons, came over and apprised us of the internet/phone/cable/banking situations. Afterwards, my very brave husband drove me to a somewhat nearby town to view a couch I had seen on ebay. Unfortunately, it smelled like cigarette smoke, so no go… That evening we had our first fish and chips from the local chip shop. Have to say it was excellent, even for myself who doesn’t normally go for fish.

Sunday

First day at our new church.  I’m quickly learning to have Clive use the toilet before we leave the house as a matter of course… running back up that hill at top speed is no fun. We also had a small chat with our new neighbors and are very excited to find out that they have two boys, one just younger than Clive and one just older than Job. So not only are they sympathetic to the bits of noise they’ll hear from our shared wall, but we have potential playmates!

To be honest, there have been some rough moments this past week: impatience with tired, whiney children, feeling overwhelmed by a to-do list that stretches for months and made more overwhelming by the different ways of getting those things done, and just plain irritability among us all in the midst of our suddenly more chaotic existence. But there have been some bits of order and beauty as well like realizing the care of Christ’s boy for us on both sides of the ocean. In many ways, this time of transition reminds me of the time following the birth of my first child: it’s entirely overwhelming and you feel so disoriented but in that time you find that God provides people who simply carry you along supporting and caring for you till you can find your feet again. And we’ve enjoyed seeing again the people who’ve been in our prayers for the past months, the blessing of new friends and discovering that no matter how crazy life gets I can still share a laugh with my husband about it. Sometimes, due to exhaustion, more laughter than would seem appropriate to anyone else. And that after a pretty icky week, going to church is refreshing and fortifying as it should be. Above all, that Christ is the same yesterday, today, forever and anywhere.

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words for these days

DSC_0494There are two ways of living:

 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy a field.

Living for the kingdom is not a careful, calculated decision but a wild abandonment of everything else in life. It’s not even a choice, but an irresistible compelling. We are citizens of heaven, people under the enchanting spell of grace. In contrast, the careful, calculated decision of the rich young man come from groveling servitude. “He did not own his possessions; they owned him. If he had owned them, he could have been free of them.” (Bernard of Clairvaux) It is impossible to live for stuff and God because it is an issue of worship. What we allow to dictate our days, order our emotions, what we serve and worship shows what we love. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping crumbs in the forest, the little choice we make about what we give and what we take and what we labor for leave a telltale trail straight to where we really are.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Furthermore, it is impossible to truly own anything already destined to be destroyed by sin. No matter how hard I try, I cannot hold on to anything material in this life. The only things I have a lasting part in are the eternal, the “treasures in heaven” that God gives. Granted, the eternal and the physical are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable—and this is why throwing away a shirt or bowl or blanket can feel like throwing away a memory or a friendship. But it is not. Serve what the creation was designed to enable and flesh out rather than the creation itself and embrace the fearlessness that an offer of eternal life can give us.

This is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they don’t harvest or store food in barns for your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Can all your worrying add a single moment to your life?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.

Worry is completely unproductive. In my mind, in the alternate reality I’ve constructed, I think that stuff makes a life and that I control that stuff (by planning, purchasing, choosing, worrying, etc.). But every good gift comes from our Father above whom me call “Abba” to and only have to ask for whatever we need. The stuff? The unbelievers run after these things…

If you think this is a show-uppance (because I think I’m doing this), I wish I could show a replay of the many moments lately where I’ve been the rich young man with the Holy Spirit prying my white-knuckled fingers off of shiny trinkets. But this is not who I want to be—I want to be the girl who sees the treasure, throws comfort and caution to the wind and runs after it. Don’t you?

Bonus: songs for these days

Love is not the easy thing…walk on. What you’ve got they can’t deny it, can’t sell it, can’t buy it. Leave it behind, leave it behind… from U2

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe. I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home. I’m going there to meet my Savior, to dwell with him and never roam. From Wynter Poe

Let’s do this right, you know what I’m talking ‘bout!?” from Lecrae

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! From the Na Band

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taskmasters

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. This is enough for me this year:

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But if I were going to entertain consideration of any this year they would probably be about my use of technology. I recently read Alone Together and while I don’t have time these days to completely synthesize what she says with Scripture, I wanted to at least jot down a few of the more thought-provoking conclusions she draws.

“When part of your life is lived in virtual places—it can be Second Life, a computer game, a social networking site—a vexed relationship develops between what is true and what is ‘true here,’ true in simulation. In games where we expect to play an avatar, we end up being ourselves in the most revealing ways; on social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but our profile ends up as someone else—often the fantasy of who we want to be. Distinctions blur. Virtual places offer connection with uncertain claims to commitment. We don’t count on cyberfriends to come by if we are ill, to celebrate our children’s successes, or help us mourn the death of our parents. People know this, and yet the emotional charge on cyberspace is high. People talk about digital life as the ‘place for hope,’ the place where something new will come to them. In the past, one waited for the sound of the post—by carriage, by foot by truck. Now, when there is a lull, we check our e-mail, texts, and messages.” (p. 153)

“I check my e-mail first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night. I have come to learn that informing myself about new professional problems and demands is not a good way to start or end my day, but my practice unhappily continues. I admitted my ongoing irritation with myself to a friend, a woman in her seventies who has meditated on a biblical reading every morning since she was in her teens. She confessed that it is ever more difficult to begin her spiritual exercises before she checks her e-mail; the discipline to defer opening her inbox is now part of her devotional gesture… Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net and the Net teaches us to need it. Online, like MIT’s cyborgs, we feel enhanced; there is a parallel with the robotic moment of more. But in both cases, moments of more may leave us with lives of less… Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed-and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing. Once we remove ourselves from the flow of physical, messy, untidy life—and both robotics and networked life do that—we become less wiling to get out there and take a chance…. tethered to the network through our mobile devices, we approach a new state of the self, itself. For a start, it presumes certain entitlements: It can absent itself from its physical surround—including the people in it. It can experience the physical and virtual in near simultaneity. And it is able to make more time by multitasking, our twenty-first-century alchemy.” (p. 154)

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

“In this new regime, a train station… is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device… When people have phone conversations in public spaces, their sense of privacy is sustained by the presumption that those around them will treat them not only as anonymous but as if absent…. Or perhaps it makes more sense to think of things the other way around: it is those on the phone who mark themselves as absent. Sometimes people signal their departure by putting a phone to their ear, but it often happens in more subtle ways—there may be a glance down at a mobile device during dinner or a meeting. A ‘place’ used to comprise a physical space and the people within it. What is a place if those who are physically present have their attention on the absent? At a café a block from my home, almost everyone is on a computer or smartphone as they drink their coffee. These people are not my friends, yet somehow I miss their presence.” (p. 155)

“Audrey does everything she can to avoid a call. ‘The phone, it’s awkward. I don’t see the point. Too much just a recap and sharing feelings. With a text… I can answer on my own time. I can respond. I can ignore it. So it really works with my mood. I’m not bound to anything, no commitment… I have control over the conversation and also more control over what I say.’… Texting  offers protection: … ‘There’s planning involved so you can control how you’re portrayed to this person, because you’re choosing these words, editing it before you send it…  A phone conversation is a lot of pressure. You’re always expected to uphold it, to keep it going, and that’s too much pressure… You have to just keep going… “Oh how was your day?” You’re trying to think of something else to say real fast so the conversation doesn’t die out.’ Then Audrey makes up a new word. A text, she argues, is better than a call because in a call ‘there is lot less boundness to the person.’ By this she means that in a call, she could learn too much or say too much, and things could get ‘out of control.’ A call has insufficient boundaries…. When texting, she feels at a reassuring distance. If things start to go in a direction she doesn’t like, she can easily redirect the conversation—or cut it off: ‘In texting you get your main points off; you can really control when you want the conversation to start and end. You say, ‘got to go, bye.’ You just do it… much better than the long drawn-out good-byes, when you have no real reason to leave, but you want to end the conversation.’ This last is what Audrey likes least—the end of conversations. A phone call, she explains, requires the skill to end a conversation ‘when you have no real reason to leave… I don’t know how to do that. I don’t want to learn.’” (p. 190)

“Communities are places where one feels safe enough to take the good and the bad. In communities, others come through for us in hard times, so we are willing to hear what they have to say, even if we don’t like it. What Molly experiences is not community. Those who run online confessional sites suggest that it is tie to ‘broaden our definition of community’ to include these virtual places. But this strips language of its meaning. If we start to call online spaces where we are with other people ‘communities,’ it is easy to forget what that word used to mean. From its derivation, it literally means ‘to give among each other.’… Perhaps community should not have a broader but a narrower definition. We used to have a name for a group that got together because its members shared common interests: we called it a club. But in the main, we would not think of confessing our secrets to the members of our clubs. But we have come to a point at which it is near heresy to suggest that MySpace or Facebook or Second Life is not a community. I have used the word myself and argued that these environments correspond to what sociologist Ray Oldenberg called ‘the great good place.’ These were the coffee shops, the parks, and the barbershops that used to be points of assembly for acquaintances and neighbors, the people who made up the landscape of life. I think I spoke too quickly. I used the word ‘community’ for worlds of weak ties. Communities are constituted by physical proximity, shared concerns, real consequences, and common responsibilities. Its members help each other in the most practical ways. On the lower east side of Manhattan, my great grandparents belonged to a block association rife with deep antagonisms. I grew up hearing stories about those times. There was envy, concern that one family as doing better than another; there was suspicion, fear that one family was stealing from another. And yet these families took care of each other, helping each other when money was tight, when there was illness, when someone died. If one family was evicted, it boarded with a neighboring one. They buried each other. What do we owe to each other in simulation?… What real-life responsibilities do we have for those we meet in games? Am I my avatar’s keeper?” (p. 238)

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think
We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Never be wise in your own sight.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 “When media are always there, waiting to be wanted, people lose a sense of choosing to communicate. Those who use BlackBerry smartphones talk about the fascination of watching their lives ‘scroll by.’ They watch their lives as though watching a movie… When the BlackBerry movie of one’s life becomes one’s life, there is a problem: the BlackBerry version is the unedited version of one’s life. It contains more than one has time to live. Although we can’t keep up with it, we feel responsible for it. It is, after all, our life. We strive to be a self that can keep up with its e-mail. Our networked devices encourage a new notion of time because they promise that one can layer more activities onto it. Because you can text while doing something else, texting does not seem to take time but to give you time. This is more than welcome; it is magical. We have managed to squeeze in that extra little bit, but the fastest living among us encourage us to read books with titles such as In Praise of Slowness. And we have found ways of spending more time with friends and family in which we hardly give them any attention at all. We are overwhelmed across the generations. Teenagers complain that parents don’t look up from their phones at dinner and that they bring their phones to school sporting events. Hannah, sixteen, is a solemn, quiet high school junior. She tells me that for years she has tried to get her mother’s attention when her mother comes to fetch her after school or after dance lessons. Hannah says, ‘The car will start; she’d be driving still looking down, looking at her messages, but still no hello.’… parents say they are ashamed of such behavior but quickly get around to explaining, if not justifying, it. They say they are more stressed than ever as they try to keep up with e-mail and messages. They always feel behind…” (P. 193)

“I ask the group (of teens) a question: ‘When was the last time you felt that you didn’t want to be interrupted?’ I expect to hear many stories. There are none. Silence. ‘I’m waiting to be interrupted right now,’ one says. For him, what I would term ‘interruption’ is the beginning of a connection.” (P. 171)

“Sociologist David Riesman, writing in the mid-1950s, remarked on the American turn from an inner- to an other-directed sense of self. Without a firm inner sense of purpose, people looked to their neighbors for validation. Today, cell phone in hand, other-directedness is raised to a higher power. At the moment of beginning to have a thought or feeling, we can have it validated, almost prevalidated… Ricki, fifteen… describes that necessity: ‘I have a lot of people on my contact list. If one friend doesn’t “get it,” I call another.’ This marks a turn to a hyper-other-directedness. This young woman’s contact or buddy list has become something like a list of ‘spare parts’ for her fragile adolescent self. When she uses the expression ‘get it,’ I think she means ‘pick up the phone.’… Ricki counts on her friends to finish her thoughts. Technology does not cause but encourages a sensibility in which the validation of a feeling becomes part of establishing it, even part of the feeling itself. I have said that in the psychoanalytic tradition, one speaks about narcissism not to indicate people who love themselves, but a personality so fragile that it needs constant support. It cannot tolerate the complex demands of other people but tries to relate to them by distorting who they are and splitting off what it needs, what it can use. So, the narcissistic self gets on with others by dealing only with their made-to-measure representations. These representations (some analytic traditions refer to them as ‘part object,’ others as ‘self-objects’) are all that the fragile self can handle… A fragile person can also be supported by selected and limited contact with people (say the people on a cell phone ‘favorites’ list). In a life of texting and messaging, those on that contact list can be made to appear almost on demand. You can take what you need and move on. And, if not gratified, you can try someone else. Again, technology, on its own, does not cause this new way of relating to our emotions and other people. But it does make it easy.” (p. 176)

“‘Facebook has taken over my life.’ She is unable to log off…. ‘I find myself looking at random people’s photos, or going to random things. Then I realize after that it was a waste of time.’ A second says she is afraid she will ‘miss something’ and cannot put down her phone… A third sums up all she has heard: ‘Technology is bad because people are not as strong as its pull.’ Anxiety is part of the new connectivity… Our habitual narratives about technology begin with respective disparagement of what came before and move on to idealize the new… The realtechnik of connectivity culture is about possibilities and fulfillment, but it also is about the problems and dislocations of the tethered self. Technology helps us manage life stresses but generates anxieties of its own.” (p. 242)

“Like a sleek, gym-toned body, an appealing online self requires work to achieve. A sophomore girl says, “I get anxious if my last wall post was from a week ago because it looks like you’re a nerd. It really matters. People know it is a way that people are gong to judge you.’ A senior boy painstakingly explains how to keep ‘your Facebook in shape.’ First you have to conserve your energy. ‘It is a waste of time,’ he says, ‘to use Facebook messaging’ because these messages are like e-mail, private between the correspondents. ‘They will do nothing for your image.’ The essential is ‘to spend some time every day writing things on other people’s walls so that they will respond on your wall.’ If you do this religiously, you will look popular. Hannah succumbed to this mentality and her time on Facebook got out of control. She explains how one thing led to another: ‘You’re online. Someone asks you something. You feel like they want to know. It makes you feel good, so you keep on typing… It’s like being flattered for hours. But who are they really?’” (p. 251)

I’ve also been doing a little reading lately on Islam and what these two topics have in common is the combination of an unrelenting taskmaster, an impossible task and a resigned acceptance of failure. Many young people don’t feel a strong sense of sin, but an overbearing sense of failure, of not being equal to the occupation of human life with only ever-increasing awareness. It’s true that opportunities and the availability of information is unparalleled, but the caliber of the average human remains unchanged. For example, older people’s parenting advice often goes one of two directions. 1) Ignore all new information and do everything exactly the same as we did or 2) You’re so blessed to have so many fantastic parenting resources available to you now! Both strains seem to miss the fact that the problem is not information (too much or too little) but, um, me. Committing to do your best on any given task requires, well, more commitment these days. On any given topic, the available information and resources has just googleplexed* in the past twenty years. And the conversation about that topic is experiencing speed gains the way investments experience compound interest.

It’s refreshing to be reminded that the Biblical anthropology presents a design with inherent limits. God created us as physical beings, to experience life as our two feet take us**, to communicate with eyebrows, tone and inflection as well as an alphabet, and to require a pause every night. And with the ultimate limit—that doing our best will never be good enough. This is not resignation to failure but the question before the answer. We must stop asking young people “If you died tonight where would you spend eternity?” and “Why should a holy God let you into His heaven?” and start asking “Why can’t you sleep at night?” and “What will you do when you realize that you can’t have it all, do it all or be it all to someone?” In other words, at some point in life you will (or have) realized that you cannot make for yourself what you are hungry for. But the hunger is real. So that the religious person slaving away at Sundays and prayers and good deeds and the person working like a dog for the next big thing are the same. And so am I when I eschew the God-drawn boundaries upon me and bow to the summons of a datapop, the altar of Pinterest, or choose the offering of efficiency over intimacy. In the words of Isaiah, this is being “a companion of ashes.” These are idols we make out of the leftovers of our real work then carry around carefully with a “do not disturb” sign slung around the neck. They wear us out with their demands for doing.

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
            their idols are on beasts and livestock;

 these things you carry are borne
            as burdens on weary beasts.

They stoop; they bow down together;
            they cannot save the burden,
            but themselves go into captivity.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
            all the remnant of the house of Israel,
             who have been borne by me from before your birth,
            carried from the womb;

even to your old age I am he,
            and to gray hairs I will carry you.

I have made, and I will bear;
            I will carry and will save.”

God, on the other hand, does things. Like hearing a prayer in the living room and sending an email to the office in answer. Like arranging for a stranger to call, offering to buy your car for your asking price whenever you leave the country. Like stroking your concerns over border agencies with stories of Cyrus and then returning visas in the mail two weeks before the minimum processing times. Like hearing your prayer for a church discussing support and sending a first-time visitor in off the streets of Maryland to hear the discussion and then comment on how brilliant the idea of church restoration is for the UK… in a thick Scottish brogue.

It’s true, His answer isn’t always “yes,” but neither is it the bait and switch of an idol, the elusive “place for hope.” And rather than calling to be tended, to be propped up and carried, he calls this: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

*This is an entirely amateur estimation based on my child’s current favorite number.
**For more on this, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment by Jacobsen is a good read.

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An Allegory*

Scene One: The Call 

She pressed “7” for delete in a small rush of rage. Incredulity, really. Perhaps some people in Washington were only pawns playing games, but she was here because of what she believed in. As tough as losing a job was, she’d rather pack and go home any day than work for them. The job offer did nothing but confirm how deeply entrenched they were in mere politics. As her finger lifted, something in her mind shifted although just the slightest nudge. She heard her own recently spoken words: to her friends, at church back home, before she left: “You know, I hear people talk about how you shouldn’t discuss gay rights unless you at least have one gay friend, but seriously—when was the last time most liberals sat down with a conservative Christian!? When was the last time they talked with—let alone worked with—someone who really believes in God and holds the convictions our Constitution was written with!?” But the message was already deleted anyway. She threw the phone into her bag, settled the straps back onto her shoulder and rounded the corner. Then she felt the bag do its familiar buzz–the senator’s office was calling again. The nudge nudged again but Jess nudged back more firmly and silenced the call. It would only be a waste of time.

She walked on listening to the swish-swish of her pencil skirt and trying to formulate a plan. If nothing else, there would at least be grassroots campaigning to manage and while it wouldn’t be as intoxicating as working in the halls of congress she reasoned she’d still be contributing to the party’s success in a tangible way. She walked past the Christopher Columbus fountain, now empty for the season, and across the street to catch the metro. The coffee shop called—a little caffeine couldn’t hurt the brainstorming. She stood in line, glanced around and nearly missed her chance to call her order in. “Oh, sorry-yes, tall cappuccino. Jess.” Seeing someone praying in public in the city would have caught her eye any day, but she knew who this was. Right then, apparently, the prayer ended and Jess found herself caught staring.

“Hey, Jess Wright, right?”

“Well yes. Is it James?… you work with Senator Wallace, right?”

“Yeah. Funny that I would run into you—the only reason I even know your last name is because he had one of the other guys in the office trying to catch you today. Heard what happened, sorry.”

“Well, thanks—I mean, I understand that the finances have to prioritized these days but of course I’ll miss being there. There’s still plenty to do.”

James looked confused. “Well you’re right about that, but… did you talk to the Senator yet?”

“Um—one tall cappuccino, thanks—well I’m just still trying to figure everything out, you know. Look I’ve got to catch my train, so if you’ll forgive me I’ll have to…”

“Oh, right! Well, we’ll be seeing you!”

Now it was her turn to look confused. “Um, yeah… see ya.”

“God bless.”

Jess swish-swished even more determinedly as if walking itself was productive. At least it was away; away from the events of the day and the confusing conversations. In fact, she could make it productive and head to the party headquarters instead of her apartment; the caffeine was working already! She followed the signs for the capitol south metro stop and boarded the train, enjoying a feeling of purpose. The train lurched forward but then stopped, still in the station. The lights buzzed off as the passengers looked at each other and around. They sat there for 7 minutes, each second pressing on Jess’s nerves—it took barely more time than this to simply walk to the headquarters from Union Station.  To make things worse, along with the darkness and waiting, there was a woman singing to herself. She sang in the old lady way of hovering around the notes but never quite on them. After a minute she stood up, assembled her load of mismatched packs and bags together and walked down the train till she came to Jess. “God bless honey” Jess heard in the same shaky but sure voice—she looked up. In front of her face was a brochure with a familiar rainbow logo and behind it a toothless grin. Of course. “No thanks.” But the figure didn’t budge and after several uncomfortable seconds sat down directly across from Jess. “Honey, you don’t look so well. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” People in the vicinity either looked up or pretended not to hear. Jess squirmed. “Well, I’m a Christian; I’ll be fine, thanks.” As much sense as this made to Jess, it apparently meant something different to her new companion: “Oh praise the Lord!” Her hand went up and her eyes rolled back in her head. “Jesus Savior Lord Almighty, I bring before you my dear sister…” Jess stood up and walked to the door and pushed the emergency bar to open it. She ignored the agitation of the other passengers as the door cracked open-she knew there were no other trains at this time and she could just hop across the tracks and then walk the 5 blocks to the headquarters and probably end up beating this one. She stepped through the now spring-less flapping door and found the ground with one foot. As her toes touched the ground she heard the screams of the wheels and the beastly groans of the train coming to life. Lights flashed and with one scream Jess fell under the train.

Scene Two: A Prayer and a Rescue

The light was so bright and words seemed so much bigger than they were supposed to be. She opened her eyes all the way and it got better and kept getting better. Within a few days the doctor came to discharge her. “You realize there’s no way you should have survived what happened to you, right?” He smiled. “Your mother and father insist upon telling me it’s a miracle and while I wouldn’t normally use that language, I can’t think of anything else to call this.” Jess smiled at her parents and then back at the doctor. “We believe in a God who does the impossible.”

Jess stood back with her church that Sunday, surrounded by the people who had prayed so desperately and now smiling so broadly. She sang the praise songs like never before, so grateful to be alive and back with these people. When the song service was finished, the pastor asked her to come forward and just share a small testimony with the church about the accident. “After that, would you mind if I prayed for you?” She laughed a little. “How could I say ‘no’ to that!”

She moved in front of the mike and squinted at the smiling faces in front of her. “What can I say? I prayed to God and he saved me! The last thing I remember was everything just going completely dark. My legs fell down and I tried to hold on to the door but couldn’t keep my grip and then I was under it. Well, I said the darkness was the last thing I remembered, but actually it was…” She struggled to control her voice. “Praying. I remember praying. I didn’t even know what in the world God could possibly do or even if I got a complete sentence out, but…” Amens while she paused again.  “The world rejects the idea of a miracle and would rather trust in anything else, but today I’m standing here to say this: God is in the business of saving people!” doesn’t give the double meaning of belonging (i.e., salvation belongs to the Lord)

Scene Three: The Bare Minimum and the Excess of Mercy

Jess was medically cleared and she had found a job closer to home with the campaign, but during the week following the accident she continued to receive calls from Senator Wallace’s office. She finally returned them only to get an office assistant with instructions to schedule an interview for her, so with a sigh of exasperation Jess gave in and scheduled it. She needed to go into the city to get her things out of her roommate’s way anyway. In her mind, this was her main reason for the trip so she didn’t even dress up—jeans, sweatshirt and a ponytail. She ran an errand on the way and arrived five minutes late to find the Senator himself waiting for her. After a minimum of small talk, Jess felt the need to express her disinterest in the position. The Senator was surprised but polite and was getting up to leave when he noticed her shirt. “What does that mean?” he asked, pointing to the symbol on the front. It was an old shirt her youth group had designed after the youth pastor preached a series on peer pressure. It had the words “peer pressure” in a circle and a cross over it stamping them out. “Oh, this? Oh, it’s such an old shirt—made it with my church when I was in high school. It’s supposed to show how, um, other people’s opinions don’t define us because of what God did.” The Senator had a quizzical look and Jess felt her heartrate go up as she fought the nudging again. “Well that’s certainly a powerful message for young people. I wish I could help my own kids with some of these peer pressure situations and I have to say I never thought of that connection. How does that work exactly?” She swallowed. “Well, it’s, um, really about the idea that the most important thing in life is God and if you’re right with Him—through the forgiveness in Jesus—then other people’s opinions won’t shape who you are or give you hope or despair.” No wonder your children are dealing with this—look at your own political history of catering to every whim! They were now at the door and the Senator saw the verse on her back. To her great discomfort, he read it aloud: “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” She laughed nervously and quickly made her goodbyes, cleared her room and left the city.

In the next few weeks several unpredictable things happened. First, the Democrats shot way ahead in the polls. There were several contributing factors in recent events but their glee reeked of cockiness. Second, Jess’s pastor from the city called her and asked her to come back and work at the church part time. Apparently the daily lunch prayer hour they had run for several years was now extraordinarily busy and they needed extra staff to provide the lunch and pray with newcomers. Even though her job would end with the election, Jess turned him down. But soon the news of a spiritual awakening in Washington was too big to ignore, even by the major news venues, even in an election season. All over the channels reporters showed congressmen and congresswomen holding prayer meetings in their offices or leaving the building to pray at nearby churches. Jess felt her stomach churn when she recognized that nearly everyone they were showing was a democrat. Typical liberal media.

The election came, the democrats won and Jess watched with disgust as the president quoted Scripture in his victory speech. Hypocrites. Between losing her job (and income) and the images plastered everywhere of democrats praying and leading bible studies and the president claiming a mandate, Jess felt absolutely depressed. How could God let all this happen? Everything she had lived the last year of her life for was now gone. They had been there all along fighting for Biblical values and trying to do what was right and run a clean campaign and here are these guys at the eleventh hour pulling God in, using him. And God letting it work.

Scene Four: Debating the Definition of Mercy

There weren’t many jobs available and Jess had tried them all. Even her own father, a business owner, couldn’t give her any work—he was in the process of cutting back as it was. The days of exuberant worship were gone now. Some days she tried to pray and listen to Scripture, but the words seemed like they were written for someone else. What was the point of believing all these words of God when he himself didn’t come alongside to back them up? Did God’s promises mean anything if years of faithful work and faith could lead to this: a tough economy, disillusionment and His apparent blessing on sinners. The final straw came in the mail. While seeing the congressional seal on the stationary was painful enough, it was the handwritten note from Senator Wallace that really hurt. It was a thank you note for a conversation, her so-called interview a few months back. Because her shirt and two sentences had started something in his life, something with the Bible, with God, with his family and his whole life. So he’s one too. How dare he blame this on me. This is exactly why I tried to avoid this conversation, God! How could you let this happen!? It was that night that Jess was back in the hospital and this time it was no accident. Wish God would have left me alone to die under that train. Would’ve been easier than this anyway.

Before she was discharged, her father came in, eager to share something. “Jess, guess what—remember that big client I told you about, the one I pitched to last week? I thought I’d never get the contract, but they just called me and it’s mine. You know what this means, right? I’ll have loads of work now and you’ll be my first hire of course!” Jess smiled, a smile so real it started tears. “Dad, you have no idea how good that is to hear.” “Well, maybe I have some idea. You’re due for some good news. ‘A merry heart does good like a medicine,’” he quoted. Thank you, God, for letting the contract work she prayed as she fell sleep that night, comfortable and unworried.

But in the morning her dad called; the client had backed out—her job was gone. She sat on the couch, fuming. She drank her coffee and turned the T.V. on but she didn’t taste or hear anything but rage. Her stomach felt like an unmoving smoldering rock sending sparks throughout her entire body. Where are you now? What’s the point of letting me live if you give me nothing. Nothing. Unbelievably, Senator Wallace’s face appeared on the screen in front of her. He was leading a prayer meeting; the camera scanned the room where hundreds of people sat with their heads bowed. She pressed the power button and stared unblinking at the shrinking pinpoint of light on her parents’ old set. How dare you take this job from me?! Where is your goodness and mercy now? She took another sip of the Maxwell House. Man, I really miss my cappuccino.

*it’s not about the train.

 

 

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Clive is in Kindergarten (aka it’s the end of the world as we know it)

 When the rain is blowin’ in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love. 

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love. 

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

 I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
No, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love. 

Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regrets
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet. 

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love. 

(“Make You Feel My Love,” Bob Dylan)

Two persistent thoughts on this:
First, I wish I could make everything perfect for him. I wanted the best, most classic wooden pencils and the pinkest Pink Pearl. I want a kindergarten teacher with a PhD. I want everyone to recognize what a delightful, hilarious, intelligent, and passionate little boy he is. I never want him to be picked on, ignored or have a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day. And so the night before his first day when the pencils and eraser disappeared and the neighbor talked about sketchy bus schedules I was in a bit of a panic. I laid in bed with David and cried “I just want everything to be perfect for him” and the Holy Spirit turned my own words on me like a tiny little stinger that kept on pricking. Really, why would I want this? Well, because this is what we all want, were born wanting. But, having been taught the Bible and the life of Christ as I have I should have known better. My foolishness here is so clear. 1) As if I could provide this. 2) Feeling the drag of this world’s fall from perfection is exactly what will show him his need of a Savior. 3) If there is any tiny seed of trust in his heart then the Spirit will use the blaze of hardship to sprout it. The embryonic theodicy conversations we’re having about lightning and thunder and why God doesn’t make it stop as soon as we pray are terrifying. Terrifying because he’s meeting a God that even his parents can’t explain and that doesn’t always give all the answers. The choice to trust or reject has become clear. And rather than wanting for him a life with no questions, I must want for him the faith of One who could cry out ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” and yet trust. If I am in tears over a Pink Pearl eraser can you imagine the torrent of emotion that flooded the Father when his Son called to him. Dying. Talk about wanting perfection. But in this world there is only life on the other side of death.

The above Dylan song embodies the type of no-holes-barred love I think a parent feels. Every time I hear it I get sniffly and teary-eyed (which why I keep meaning to take it off my work playlist…). There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love. But while I never want my boys to doubt my love for them, my love can’t meet their deepest needs. So playing mother bear with God’s sovereignty should be where I draw the line. There will be some horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days but I’m begging the Spirit to meet Clive there and bring him the Son of a Father whose love will someday make all things right again.

Second, it’s just plain weird that he has this little independent life. He gets on the bus and for the next 3 ½ hours innumerable things happen to him minute by minute that I’m lucky to get a minimal summary of later. Up until this point there was very little that happened in his life that I wasn’t completely apprised of, if not experiencing it right alongside him. There was very little I had to inquire about let alone wonder about. Lauren Winner wrote that the only times in life when two individuals are so intertwined they are indistinguishable is intercourse and pregnancy. But even when I was pregnant I remember realizing the independence of this entirely other person. I couldn’t make him stop kicking me. Up until that moment he was this opinionless, will-less amoeba, but he insisted upon kicking at especially inconvenient times and in especially painful places and there was nothing I could do to make him stop. And so he made his personhood known. There’s this illusion in motherhood that our child’s life is the tiny universe over which we are god. It’s an easy trap to fall into and I think it happens like this: helpless tiny bag of bones comes home from hospital and depends on you for survival. You do the only obvious decent thing and help it survive only to realize that it will take nearly everything you have and yet you keep on giving and giving and giving. Then suddenly one day they don’t need you anymore and all the routines of care and feelings of significance that have filled your life go running away with them. Of course it doesn’t have to happen like that and there a multitude of varieties on this theme, but there are enough moping, controlling and bored older women to prove it a common pattern. We insist that our kids stay by our side or we emotionally manipulate them into guilt for not doing so or we fall for the lie that motherhood is our only meaning and occupation in life. What we need is a view of our lives as image-bearers that fits before kids, with kids, without kids, after kids and for all eternity. The picture of ourselves as the sole responsible, omniscient and omnipotent party over the lives of our children is not going to work. Because we don’t fit any of those categories. We’re not the only: God clearly designed for fathers to be part of this process from the very, ahem, beginning. And Hillary may have thought it takes a village but the believer should think it takes a body. There’s a balance of gifts and diversity within the church that is a protection for ourselves from myopic pride and its destruction upon our children. Let the church have her wise way. It’s not perfect, but you are a part of its imperfect glory. And let God have his way. We don’t fit any of the above categories, but he is the very definition. There is story upon story in the Scriptures of idiot parents and the God who rescued their children. This of course does nothing to take away the duties incumbent upon us as parents but there is a sort of limitlessness to the job here that requires fine-tuned lowliness. The right type of parenting will (as Charles Anderson wrote of busyness) say, “I can’t do much but I am motivated to do as much as I can because God deserves whatever I have.” The wrong type of parenting is a refusal to recognize either our responsibilities or our limits. It says, “If I just work a little harder, buy a few more things, read them a few more books, explain this to them, get them to eat healthier food, be more consistent in my training, take this educational path, etc., etc., then they will have a healthy, happy, successful life.” If only. It’s a tricky thing to draw the boundaries here because it is true that our influence and obligation is huge—how can you give too much to someone whose entire existence you shape from the first breath? But Satan knows to take this gift and use it to feed our security and sense of importance and we dance most ungracefully towards justification by works rather than faith. Precisely because it is so huge we must hold the reins tightly on our self-sufficiency. When little eyes look up to you, point them beyond yourself to their Maker.

I was reading Jonah this week and found it unexpectedly fitting. Here is a man just ripped that God’s will was done and not his. Jonah would rather die than lose his grip on his own self-righteousness and perceived injustices in life. God pointedly asks him twice, “As you right to be so angry?” Jonah thought he knew better than God, but as God reminded him, he had created everything that Jonah was so self-righteous about. Sometimes we get in such a self-righteous hot bother we completely miss that we are trying to override the Creator himself, the One who loves our children more than we ever can.

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Soft-scrambled (juicy, tasty, not well-done…)

(juicy, tasty, not well-done…)

-In some relationships (ministry and parenting come especially to mind), we sometimes do too much for others because we overestimate the significance of our role. Rather than finding room in life to trust God, we agonize over our decisions in a way that tips over from a pursuit of holy responsibility into opinionated and over-analyzed self-importance. We think people need us when they need God. Or we lay on others the burden of our investment rather than the liberating weight of God’s grace. What we do for and with people should be viewed as a sharing rather than an investment. Grace is not ours to create, give or expect returns on. Don’t talk to people to show that you care about them, but because you do. Don’t give your children opportunities in life so they can make something of themselves but because life is a splendid creation.

-Why do we always, always, always want single people to get married and married people to have children? Obviously, both are God’s good creation and, at times, incredibly glorious. But, in this world, they are also some of the biggest cans of worms you can open. I mean, even in a marriage as blessed as I consider myself to have experienced, the deep happiness often comes by way of much deep struggle.

And I’m not even touching the much harder issues of abuse and unhappy marriages. And raising kids? They are better than worms, but at some moments not by much. It’s a telling fact that for a good portion of your child-rearing career there will be monkeys more well-behaved and communicative than your child. And, again, I’m not even mentioning the heartache of an estranged child or the pressures of a childhood disease or disability. It’s great, but it’s hard. And so back to the original question—why again do we push and shove people into these things with prodding and teasing, knowing full well the difficulty and knowing perhaps very little of their readiness or God’s will for them? The negative answer would be that misery loves company, but I think there’s more going on here. In short, we love a good story. And a large part of the drama and tension that God built into the story of our world centers on relationships. Will God abandon his creatures? Will His creatures recognize his love for them? Will God leave His Son hanging on the cross? Will the Son go back to the Father? Will the Son come again for his brothers and sisters? He made his image into male and female, two beings built to find each other. The eye of the hurricane of all this love and reciprocity is the Trinity and our common-grace-glimpse of it is in the will-he/won’t-she tension of romance and its ensuing explosion of life. We’re suckers for a good story and we want a happy ending. On the flip side, given the curse-battered condition of this drama (in pain you will bring forth children and your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you), we should perhaps rein in a little on the teasing and shameless questioning, finding a time to mourn and a time to dance. It’s good, but it’s hard.

-In other news, I’m so humbled and grateful that God has been answering my son’s prayers. Clive was having a series of nightmares and so we started praying to God that He would give him some relief. And each night we have prayed God has been gracious. And my son has noticed—so much so that one night when I wasn’t home to pray with him and he woke in the middle of the night with a nightmare, he ran straight to my bedside and demanded that we pray for help. And last night he wanted me to pray that God would help him to “dream about all the lego sets in the world.” I was a little hesitant on this one and explained that God might want to help him dream about something else good, but we would give it a go anyway. And this morning he reported with a sleepy grin some pretty cool new lego sets he had dreamed up. God is good.=)

-Our brains are built to synthesize. We’re the imagers of the One who starts our whole story with categories and we’re born looking for neat, tidy ones to stuff everything in life into. My youngest, though barely talking, is already testing his theories, pointing to circles to ask if they’re balls and cows to ask if they’re horses. Sometimes these early attempts can be embarrassing like when your child labels people “bad” or gets the categories confused (true story: I bore the title of “other daddy” for a while). I’m reading How We Decide right now and in the chapter entitled “The Brain Is an Argument,” he compares the decisions of our brains to that of a board where the members may disagree and even contentiously debate, but the decision is presented as unanimous. Often the only way we can make any decisions in such a complex world is by ignoring some of the pertinent information. The subjects were both Republicans and Democrats and both heard contradictory statements by both candidates and were asked to rate them on a 1-4 scale of contradiction from mild to strong. Every single time their party allegiance predicted the contradiction rating. In other words, if they were Republican they found Kerry’s statements strongly contradictory and Bush’s mildly so; if they were Democrats the opposite. MRI brain imaging used on the people hearing facts contradicting their political position shows them using their prefrontal cortex (largely responsible for rational thought) not to analyze the facts but to suppress negative emotions when the contradictions were heard. And we intentionally filter out what we don’t want to hear. He also tells of an experiment where consistent churchgoers and atheists were asked to listen to a tape of an atheist attacking Christianity. The trick was that the tape had a lot of static, but the sound quality could be improved with just a push of the button. The result? Atheists busy pushing buttons and Christians listening to a bunch of nothing. Same thing with smokers and a speech on lung cancer. Now a lot of this is common sense (who enjoys listening to someone they disagree with?) but here’s what interesting: that our brain tries to substitute emotion for fact in order to synthesize. So the points at which we feel most emotional, most passionate or even confident might be exactly where there’s an inconsistency that our brain’s trying to patch up for us. Another experiment with political pundits found that when they made the most confident predictions was when they were mostly likely to be wrong. Now there’s an argument against cable news (said my happily agreeing brain who already hates the stuff…) In those moments, our rational abilities become enslaved to our emotions and get busy working to find some kind of justification for the logical gap we just encountered. Our rationality, in effect, becomes a liability in our search for the truth rather than an asset. Lehrer says this: “It feels good to be certain. Confidence is comforting… It’s not easy to make up your mind when your mind consists of so many competing parts. This is why being sure about something can be such a relief… Being certain means that you aren’t worried about being wrong.” This reminded me of something I had read by D. A. Carson a long time ago—I can’t quote it exactly but it was to the effect that many Christians confuse certainty with truth. Or even intentionally opt for it. We’d rather feel “not wrong” sometimes than know God more—now that’s sad. Lehrer’s advice on fighting this default brain setting is to “encourage some inner dissonance. We must force ourselves to think about the information we don’t want to think about, to pay attention to the data that disturbs our entrenched beliefs. When we start censoring our minds, turning off those brain areas that contradict our assumptions, we end up ignoring relevant evidence.” And to follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who intentionally “filled his cabinet with rival politicians who had extremely different ideologies… his ability to tolerate dissent was an enormous asset.” In Biblical language I think this is largely related to pride and our tendency to substitute the Creator with the creature, whether it be ourselves or comfort or approval of peers. (Remember the “being certain means you aren’t worried about being wrong” quote? Straight pride there.) Or maybe just intellectual exhaustion—the Bible is not an easy book to understand. And it reminds me of the wisdom Scriptures, especially Ecclesiastes, which had a high tolerance for dissonance—based on the realization that truth is a Person and an infinite and mysterious One at that. Ultimately we have to be ok with not having all the answers because only He does and He’s not handing them all out yet. I have a hunch there’s a lot of surprise endings in store.

-The mercy of death. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand rand take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. In the car the other day, Clive asked why we didn’t know where the garden of Eden was and David and I fell on this as the answer. It’s bad enough to live in this world beset by sin in every way, but to do so with no reprieve in sight is certainly worse. Life gives time for faith and death gives way for resurrection. All of us have days that we can’t wait to end, where bedtime is more than welcome. As I’ve said before, “this day just needs to die.” Sometimes more time seems to be only more opportunity for sin. And, in faithless moments, this is the appeal of suicide—to reach out and take for oneself the mirage of blessing like Eve. To bring the end in sight and make a choice that ends all choices. Only His hand, though, can unravel the cords we bind ourselves in and our self-designed “blessing” only binds more as anyone who’s experienced the aftermath of a suicide can tell. Only from His hands comes true rest and while 70 or 80 years might seem long, it is infinitesimally small to Him and to the eternity we’ll share with Him, free from the knowledge of good and evil.

Absent from flesh, O blissful thought
What joy this moment brings
Freed from the blame my sin has brought
From pain and death and its sting.

I go where God and glory shine,
To one eternal day
This failing body I now resign
For the angels point my way.
(Watts/Barnes)

 

 

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the pulled punch (part 2)

Sometimes Satan comes in by the back door, quiet and unassuming, at the place we only have a sideways glance for. All attention is focused on the prime target, the obvious fight, and we leave our, um, rear flank open for a good whipping. David was busy not killing Saul and almost killed Nabal.

In the middle of the story of Saul and David are two nearly identical stories and in between those two stories is one about a woman caught in the middle of everything. While hiding from Saul, David and his men had to eat. He had provided protection for this man, Nabal’s, flocks and then requested food in exchange. Seems weird to us, but apparently a pretty standard understanding in that day. But Nabal, living up to his name, refuses and offends David, basically taking advantage of him. So David, in a weak moment, runs to avenge himself, full of the same passion and skill we’ve seen before, but this time misguided. Abigail, a beautiful and wise woman famously married to a rude idiot, runs to meet him. And the man who took out a giant listens to her—not because she was beautiful (although it probably didn’t hurt) or she flattered him or because he was wrong about Nabal, but because she reminded him of his responsibility before God.

Vengeance is mine… Jehovah will vindicate his people! See now that I, even I, am he and there is no god beside me; I kill and make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

She echoes Moses’ song in Deuteronomy, which echoes the first commandment from Sinai: you shall have no other gods in my presence. A life that recognizes God’s proper place refuses to put trust and confidence in anything else. Nothing compares to God, nothing is in the same category, nothing else is worthy of our prayers, reliance, pursuit, adoration and unwavering loyalty. So Abigail deftly puts David back in his place by putting God in His. She reminds him that God wants to give him a dynasty because it will be characterized by fighting God’s battles (not his) and by sinlessness (so don’t!). If you are threatened, you will be kept alive by the care of God but your enemies will not be kept in his care but abandoned. And because of this when you are king, by the hand of God, you won’t have the burden of conscience that comes from needless bloodshed or the second-guessing of self-achievement. She says all this using language that reminds David of his battle with Goliath (a battle that was God’s battle, motivated not by revenge or offense to him, but to God) and with a double reminder of the error that is saving yourself. Perhaps the lady married to the rude idiot knew something of waiting for the deliverance of God.

David gave Abigail his ear (and then some) and it’s evident in his next encounter with Saul. In the first story, Saul practically falls into David’s lap, walking right into the cave he was hiding in. In the second, David rose and came to the place where Saul was encamped, and walks through Saul’s entire army in the dead of the night. In the first story, David cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, a reaching of his hand and weapon that was a little too close for comfort. The second time around, he refuses to touch him, only taking his spear and water bottle to prove his proximity. All of this adds up to a David who is simultaneously more bold and more harmless, a strange combination. His rash reaction to Nabal has made him wary of himself, but more resolute to trust God. As he tells Abishai in chapter 26, The Lord will strike Saul, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. David refused to kill the anointed the first time around, but now he does so because (as Abigail reminded him) both his own wellbeing and the timing of Saul’s death are within God’s hand. To kill Saul would be sin, which meant that it could not be a battle the Lord wanted him to fight—and fighting it would be to abandon the God who had made him king as the only God worth serving. David taunts Abner for not protecting the life of the anointed. His point is that he, Saul’s supposed enemy, is doing a better job at protecting him than his own commander, thus proving his innocence and determination to do God’s will. “David dreams of power; his dream, however, has limits beyond which he will not go. In that moment of refusal, David seems to know that violence against Saul would destroy him as well as Saul.” (Brueggeman) David refused to be a king after his own heart.

Sometimes the hardest part of a fight is standing still, waiting for the right moment. Outwardly David looks spotlessly courageous, but the psalms tell a different story of an intense inward struggle over the danger in his life and the implications it had for God’s faithfulness. As Murphy said of David, “He has to cooperate with the divine providence by doing nothing: the story of David exhibits “the paradox that all evil must be punished, but it is heroic to refrain from punishing… ‘David’s heroism comes not from deeds of war but from his heroic mercy… David’s heroic mercy is sustained and kept intact through his faith in a God who alone is just, whom he can trust to punish the evil he faces.”

It is here that we see the beauty of Christ as God’s final anointed one, truest Son of David. As Jesus hung on a cross, awaiting vindication of his righteousness, his lips muttered the words of his ancestor who had travailed the wilderness and found the faithfulness of God. When God shows up we see the heart David lived according to. We chase the infinite spiral of the incarnation when we wonder who followed who here. But both teach us that snatching for ourselves is never true achievement, that often if we just stand still God’s matchlessness will shine, that waiting for God is hard but deeply satisfactory. That life comes from death and sometimes the pulled punch wins the battle. The waiting and the fighting of the completely blameless One has given us so much glory—a king not just after God’s heart, but God for a king. Whatever’s worth fighting for should be given, not taken.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

          in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

         till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,

         to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

         he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah

         God will send out this steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My heart is steadfast, O God,

         my heart is steadfast!

I will sing and make melody!

Awake, my glory!

          Awake, O harp and lyre!

         I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;

         I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,

         your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!

         Let your glory be over all the earth!  

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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