Togetherness Within the Church

If the collective “we” are made in the image of the Triune God, what might that look like for the Church?  What does that look like at my church?  

The following is an excerpt from a written examination of my own church’s process toward fuller and fuller togetherness.  It offers some observations and discoveries within our diverse body as we continually co-labor toward oneness in Christ.

As I considered my church from its beginning, I noticed we followed a sort of evolutionary path much like the individual human’s growth trajectory.  I also observed that our moments of brightness have not been limited to an age or a stage or a particular section of the body.  

I do believe that the whole trajectory toward a purer reflection of God glorifies Him–even times that may look to us like chaos and attrition; but for this piece, I mean to focus on our oneness-in-Christ as our moments of brightness, our calling, our reward, our witness to the Triune God, and our eternal destination.  (And I guess I indulged in coming up with a few creeds that I think would be shared by many in our church).   

One thing to note: we happen to be a non-denominational church.  That fact, I think, has enabled the inclusion of more perspectives regarding non-salvation issues, politics, etc.  As such, our unique brand of diversity within our church body has offered complications, complexity, and (when aligned with our calling) a fuller sense of wholeness. 

In times of heightened polarization, it does me well to remember that togetherness is the goal, and that fact is to be served well by–not thwarted by–our individual differences. 

 

“…The positives of being non-denominational is that it has fostered some inter-denominational worship practices.  For example, we follow the traditions of liturgy and lectionary.  We have incorporated The Book of Common Prayer into our services.  We offer weekly communion.  We have prayer candles.  We sing hymns and contemplative and modern worship songs.  Horizon offers a mosaic of ways to worship on a Sunday morning; but instead of being confusing or contradicting, this eclectic method of worship has proved to be connective and inclusive.

 

Another positive of being non-denominational is that it brings in a wide range of people, starting with denominational backgrounds: Presbyterians, Assembly of God, Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and more worship here.  And of course like most churches, we welcome people of different faiths and the self-professed “non-religious” to join us, in hopes that they will one day worship the Creator God with us as well.

 

Somehow this seems to foster a range in demographics as well: young and old, wealthy and homeless, liberal and conservative, churched and unchurched.

 

Not surprisingly, some of us are comfortable with the idea of women in ministry, others are not.  There are people on all sides of the creation and evolution story.  Some of us believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, others believe marriage should be a loving, committed and monogamous relationship-end-of-sentence.  Some identify as “religious”, others, “spiritual”, and still others, both.  We have teetotalers and scotch drinkers, puritans and cigar-smokers, all in one body.

 

As such, represented within our church is a deep respect for tradition and newness, doctrine and enlightenment, science and scripture, contemplation and action, and a desire for right relationship with it all.

 

How can such a vast array of people call the same place “home”?  We are learning.  But we are conscious of the truth that Jesus sought the poor and rich, the Jew and Gentile, male and female, the pious and the sinner, the law-bound and the intelligista, the family, the orphan, and the widow, and was thrilled to call them each “His”.

 

If such a range of people groups are invited to thrive together forever in the Kingdom of God, can they co-exist at our church?  We are learning.

 

It is not always easy to see diversity as a positive, but we cannot deny that diversity, as opposed to likeness, has served as a major catalyst to healthy maturation for us, both individually and as a church.  Often posing as a daunting threat to manage, we have been shaped to embrace the eclectic demographic within our church as one of our biggest assets, specifically because it is teaching us about love.

 

Learning about God by practicing love as demonstrated within the Triune God:

 

God has been teaching us something about himself, and how to be a church after his own heart, specifically through the diversity within our church.

 

Firstly, we are a reflection of God—the Triune God: a diverse and perfectly collaborative Mind-Body-Soul.  The Triune God is the answer to the question of what we, the multifaceted church, are supposed to look like, collectively.  Thanks to my church’s history of differences within our body, we’ve had some practice at what we believe to be our calling: becoming more like the diverse and rightly-collaborating Triune God.  In other words, we don’t have to all be the same in order to be right in God’s eyes.  I believe we are called to represent well, the places to which we’ve been scattered (because God is too big to be represented by one or two voices) and come together under Christ.

 

When there is diversity within a church (differing gifts, demographics, convictions and perspectives, etc.—which our church has aplenty), it can be tempting to impose a yoke of conformity or uniformity to forge a type of unity, or representation, which humans and churches are prone to think they ought to have; but ultimately, uniformity is not the highest witness to the nature of the Triune God.  Our collective collaboration represents God in a fuller, more complex way.

 

In the Father, Son, and Spirit, we see distinct differences working together in reverence, humility, and love.  In one toward the other we see grace and empathy—even obedience and sacrifice.  Likewise, it is our grace and empathy and humility toward our diverse members—not an insistence of conformity—that makes us a truer reflection of God.  We believe this is part of how and whom we are called to be.

 

Learning about God by practicing the love he shows toward us:

 

Secondly, we are a reflection of God’s love toward us.  We have discovered, with relief, that to love people does not require that we agree with them (or that they agree with us).  God loves us, and yet, to be sure, he does not agree with all that we think.  Agreeing on everything is not a prerequisite for God’s love.  Why would we make it a condition of participation in our church?  Neither is “agreement on all disputable matters” our lifeline to salvation.  Christ is our salvation.

 

We will not forsake doctrine or knowledge, and we will not disregard the law; but if we are discerning the truth within them accurately, they should be pointing us to oneness (not sameness—not divisions) in Christ, and oneness with each other.  Even the “lesser matters” should be promoting the same objective.  And this is the objective Christ has for us: belief and faith and hope and trust in the true and actual Christ.  On that much, we insist, is Truth for all.  If we will be like-minded in this one thing, there will be fewer disputable matters placed high enough to divide us.

 

We will not turn a blind eye to destruction, diversions, distractions, and sin.  In fact, we believe that loving the church body includes addressing these things.  But as a general practice, we will set or minds on whatever is good and whatever is pure.

 

We will remember the way of love that Christ showed and shows us humans, and will hold that up as our guide for loving others; meaning, we the church do not rest on our similarities and agreement—our lock-step stride in non-salvation issues—as the highest testament of our Christian love.  Rather, we depend on the exchange of grace and truth, longsuffering and forgiveness, as we look to the Father for our righteousness.  This is our means and measure of co-laboring with Christ, like Christ, into the image of God

 

We have found that specifically diversity offers an abundance of opportunity to practice adding to our faith: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.  These are the greater fruits that can harvest when committed members are vastly different yet called to love.

 

This doesn’t answer all the questions or solve all the problems, but it is a directive which implores us to look up as we go forward as a diverse church.”

 

Well, that’s enough to keep us busy–too busy to devote undue energy on the things that divide us, anyway.  And what’s more, the better we get at this togetherness, the more complete our joy will be!

Reopening California: One Small Business Owner’s Perspective. by Natalie Pagel

April 17, 2020

We need to go back to work. And not just for our own sake. Here’s why.

The Economics of an Indefinite Shutdown are Risky for the Future of Healthcare

The California small business workforce represents 48.8% of the private-sector (read: state revenue-generating) workforce in California, according to the US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. In fact, small business owners represent over 99% of the private-sector employers in the state.

While many of their services have been categorized as non-essential during this shutdown, small business tax revenue for the state certainly is essential. Even without knowing the isolated number of state revenue generated by small business, logic would suggest that an indefinite shutdown of business is not a viable solution for the overall health of the state. Of course, not all small businesses are shut down at this time, but Gavin Newsom estimates that unemployment claims have reached 2.7 million. That’s a lot of unemployment expense, and a lot of tax revenue not realized by our state.

While talking about money may sound insensitive in light of those suffering and dying from Coronavirus, much of people’s health depends on the tax dollars now vaporizing from the system.

I propose it’s time to reopen California.

The Stats Reveal Work-Force Age to be Far Less At-Risk

We have given thirty days for America to get American statistics on Coronavirus in America. We have given thirty days for hospital beds to be added, for ventilators, PPE, and test kits to be manufactured and disbursed, and for therapy drugs to be studied and tested.

Today, April 17, 2020, roughly thirty days after the shutdown was implemented, most hospitals are much less crowded than originally anticipated. Tens of thousands of ventilators sit unused, but available. There are drugs which have been proven, in a large number of unsung cases, to have very good results in the treatment of Coronavirus.

To date, 957* deaths have been recorded in California since the known onset of Coronavirus. This is high, and climbing higher. It is about double or triple the average recorded number of deaths for the annual flu. Considering the total population of California which is 40,000,000, this is a virus which has killed one in every 41,797 in our state, and counting.

About 70% of the deaths were attributed to the 65+ age demographic, according to a CDC national statistic. Why do I point that out? Not because I am a self-centered ageist who cares nothing for the elderly. I mean to say that there is a small and clearly distinguished portion of our population who is high-risk. 14.3% of our population is 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau. The rest of us are lower-risk.

Would it be unreasonable to ask those who consider themselves to be high-risk to remain under voluntary quarantine, while the state reopens?

Here’s the other point that begs to be seen in these statistics: of the essential workers who have been working outside of their homes—those in the hospitals and grocery stores and delivery routes—those who are in the most vulnerable vocational positions for contracting Coronavirus: how many have died? That’s an elusive number. Our only clue comes from the other side of the age statistic.

Consider that those under 65 represent about 30% of the 957 Coronavirus deaths in California, or approximately 287 deaths. Also consider that “those under 65” include those currently working in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery routes. About 34,380,000 of us in California are under 65. Even with underlying health conditions remaining in the equation, it would seem that all of us under 65, including those working in constant contact with people—sick or otherwise—are at risk by a factor of one-in-119,791, or 0.000008%, and climbing.

Speaking on behalf of all small business owners, this is a risk factor we will agree to work with. Irresponsible as it may sound, as a matter of continuity, we small business owners tend to focus on determined living, rather than fear of dying.

The Facts Disprove the Models Guiding our Policy-Making

At the onset of Coronavirus in America, modelers projected up to 240,000 deaths with social distancing. Now the projections are 60,000 or less with social distancing. Is this discrepancy due to the fact that we just did a really, really great job at social distancing, or was it that the original models were just really wrong?

As we make sweeping, future-altering policies based on models, I would like to point out that the one thing models prove, when it comes to anything novel, is that models are guesses which usually err on the sensationally wrong side, and the more sensational the number, the more it gets featured by the media and remembered by its consumers.

Is the Mitigation More Deadly than the Virus?

Meanwhile, there is a 100% chance of tumbling into a second Great Depression if so many of us remain unemployed. Fickle and biased as models can be, I wonder what the models would say about poverty which comes with its own risk factors and mortality, including crime, malnutrition, suicide, abuse, addictions, violence, lack of medicine, and no education.

Speaking of education, schools have shut down, and education is now limping along inside student’s homes, at a lesser quantity and quality depending on the district and the family home. And I would be remiss if I did not point out that for many students, being sequestered-in-place presents a higher threat to their safety than their risk of dying from Coronavirus.

We are making unprecedented mandates as if Coronavirus alone is our problem. If that was the case—if that was the only threat to our state—the mere suggestion of reopening might be negligent; but we have many other risk factors and challenges to consider. As we have teetered beyond the edge into economic collapse after just four weeks of shutdown, I hope that all risks are being weighed in this decision to either reopen or continue shutting in California which suddenly has approximately 2.7 million unemployed workers and counting.

Adding insult to injury, even with most hospitals at lower-capacity, they are still unable to provide service to those who need it. Elective surgeries, emergency services, urgent biopsies, diagnostic exams and more, are all on hold because of mandates, optics, or fear of Coronavirus. Overcrowded or underwhelmed–either way, many who are sick or injured for any reason other than Coronavirus, are not getting necessary treatment. My point: the mandates are counteracting their intent. This is not a “do no harm” policy.

The mantra of the state, which has been eagerly preached by its people: “Stay Home. Save Lives,” implies that we who need to go to back work are unvirtuous-at-best in our priorities. It rings a bit like propaganda to me, and I think it’s fair to point out that it is mainly coming from those whose income has not been affected yet. But mostly, in comparing Coronavirus’s mortality statistics with poverty’s mortality rate, I wonder whether this statement is true.

Confirming this skepticism, studies between Denmark and Sweden suggest the voluntary quarantine method using common sense and reasonable prudence, versus a shutdown, has little effect on the mortality rate of Coronavirus, while a shutdown has catastrophic consequences, economic and otherwise.

Is it truly unloving to our high-risk friends to ask that those who consider themselves to be high-risk remain under voluntary quarantine? Is it truly unloving to reopen California for the sake of millions of our families and our state’s overall health, while each of us take our own personal precautions, respectfully?

Never have we asked the “well” population to quarantine indefinitely, especially when there is now a known minority population at-risk who could self-quarantine. Never have we mandated that healthy, viable, working people shut down indefinitely, especially when we know now that collective participation–not collective withdrawal–is the key to the sacred ecosystem of living. At the very most–if we do completely erase the risk of Coronavirus (was that really our goal?)–it will be at the great cost of nearly everything else. Like living. And lives. And freedom.

Incidentally, in case anyone is wondering, should we remain in shutdown despite now knowing the rough statistics about Coronavirus, we can know this about ourselves: a risk factor of 0.000024% is all it takes for us to indefinitely surrender to the government our right to assemble, and our freedom to work, and for education to be severely compromised.

The Purpose of Our Efforts Thus Far

What was the purpose of shelter-in-place? Was to scrub the state down to a risk-free reality? There’s no doubt we’ve earned it. Loved ones have died of Coronavirus. Loved ones have died of other causes, alone and without family around them, because of the risk of Coronavirus. Convalescing family members have been in isolation for over a month. Senior students have missed their graduation, their last sports year, and some have lost their opportunity for scholarships. Everyone has sacrificed their family vacations. Parents are now working and home-school teaching. Struggling students have been left behind. Millions are unemployed. And frankly, I’m surprised we’re standing for it.

This is a tremendous amount of sacrifice. We’d like to think that this amount of sacrifice was worth it, to the degree which we perceive “worth it” to be. We’ve earned a zero-risk state. But we’re not going to get it, ever. We’ve never had a zero-risk state. We live alongside risk every day–much of it due to our own choices.

As for the original intent of the shutdown, the realistic goals have been accomplished: 1) We have a better understanding of Coronavirus’s statistics in our country, 2) We have the space and the equipment for additional Coronavirus patients, 3) We have slowed the spread. Additionally, we have a new category of data: the adverse affects of prohibiting non-essential activity within the country, over the course of just four weeks.

We are as prepared as we can reasonably be. We know who is at-risk. We have the information and the resources to mitigate within reason and to reopen.

Our Threshold for Risk: Then and Now

More deaths will occur when we open, and more people will continue to file for unemployment as we stay shut. What is the ethical ratio of deaths-to-unemployment? Who could say?

Instead, let’s examine our response to past health crises. Consider that our state had no moral qualms about remaining open in 2017, despite the estimated 6,340** per year by influenza/pneumonia, in California alone, even with a vaccine for the flu (watch those numbers to shape-shift with Covid19 deaths in 2019-2020). In 2017, 13,800** per year died due to chronic lower respiratory disease; 59,516** per year died from cancer; and 62,797** per year died from heart disease… and at no time did the government, or those at-risk for these diseases ask that the state be shut down on their behalf.

Here’s an interesting statistic: did you know that an estimated 80,000 died, nationally, in 2012 of the flu? So says the CDC, according to an article by Maggie Fox of NBC written on 9/27/2018. Our country managed to stay open even then. That’s fairly high number, considering the Coronavirus models’ newly revised projection of 60,000 deaths. I am open to being enlightened, here.

The Problem with Science

As we wait in protest for sanctions to lift, I think it’s worth considering whether those who benefit from crises are the same people who are telling us how long this shutdown should last.

We have been told that science will be our guide for the state’s reopening—not politics. Most critical thinkers and small business owners know that while science may be Apolitical, the interpretation of scientific data is almost always political. If you disagree, compare a sixth grade California science book to a Texas one. The science taught in each is as different as each state’s political climate. Heck, we’ve even re-written history based on politics. So, the promise from Governor Newsom that science will determine our opening brings little comfort. How about we use wisdom, instead?

It’s true, the number of recorded deaths based on available testing so far paints Coronavirus as the most deadly virus in recent history. All the more reason for each of us to be responsible, considerate, kind, careful… but not jobless, indefinitely.

The Facts and Faces of Small Business

While we business owners will remain positive, as a necessary survival skill we must also be realistic and proactive. To that end, I’m speaking up. We are truly not content to remain home indefinitely, crocheting. Our employees are losing their jobs, while we business owners are losing our business—some of us might even be temporarily losing our industries. This will be crippling to our families, and also our state.

We are watching years—even decades—of work be destroyed. Our business and our livelihood is crumbling before our eyes as is the livelihood of those we employ; and the tragedy is, it doesn’t have to. We could have planned around 2-4 weeks of shutdown. We cannot plan around “indefinite”.

As a sign-off, I honor my fellow small-business friends by calling out their business, so we put a face to the tireless and tenacious work they have invested in building and owning a company: you didn’t have a choice, but your job was sacrificed for the health and safety of others, and no one has thanked you yet. So thank you.

You are our community’s dentists, orthodontists, car wash companies, auto mechanics, specialized doctors, dry cleaners, daycare workers, clothing boutique owners, coffee shop and brewery owners, restaurateurs, swim school and music teachers, entertainers, event coordinators, venue/destination owners, CPAs (though they can work from home and might not be affected by the shutdown, they will tell you why this shut down is not sustainable), dance and gymnastics and karate studio owners, art shop teachers, horse trainers, antique shop owners, photographers, private preschools, wine tasting room owners, bakery owners, animal therapy for kids with special needs workers, landscapers, caterers, funeral directors, contractors and tradespeople, builders, realtors, engineers and architects (all of construction will certainly be affected by a depressed economy if the shutdown remains indefinite), stationary supply shop owners, fitness trainers, aestheticians, auto repair shop managers, hair stylists, pet groomers and more!

The Coronavirus will not be the last virus to come through our country. As for indefinite shutdowns as mitigation? Never again.

Time to reopen, California. Open up those beaches and parks and tennis courts. I have a feeling that from many angles, the science will prove that these are the safest places to be. Let’s all be respectful and responsible for ourselves out of consideration for those at high-risk. And let’s get the small businesses back to work.

*This number includes deaths due to Coronavirus, and deaths due to other conditions of those carrying Coronavirus. Typically the number of deaths by annual flu stops getting recorded in the spring. That will not be the case for Coronavirus. Never has there been such eagerness to declare a specific cause of death, and many argue that the final number will be inflated due to the political nature of this virus, and fact of the financial incentive offered when Coronavirus is determined as cause-of-death.

**These figures are from the CDC website based on 2017 which was the most recent year available. The CDC estimates these numbers because it knows not every single death due to (say) pneumonia gets recorded, so they estimate the number. The number of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza are combined for various reasons.

Do You Want to be Healed?

“Do you want to be healed?” he asked, immediately following my run-on statement of

 

grievances

disappointments

sins

exterior problems (eloquently stated, of course)

worries

irritations

injustices…

 

all of which are contributing to my current, toxic state of mind.

 

I didn’t even have to wait a full second for the offer, “Do you want to be healed?”

Hmm.  Such a poignant question.

 

He didn’t say, “Do you want me to fix all your problems?” and to be honest, I might want that more.

As if I could just… be fine.

I even created some of these problems.

 

Very likely, I will still have to exist with these conditions that pull at me, derail me, exhaust me, grieve me; but I could be filled with the fullness of peace… and general “all-shall-be-well”-ness.

That doesn’t sound like enough.

I might just rather complain about things.

 

Do I want to be healed?  What a question.

I shall consider it.

The Importance of Everything: Politics and The Christian

Creation’s Original and Ultimate Design

 

Think with me.

 

Think with me about well-functioning, collaborative systems.  Think about the solar system, and the nervous system.  Or how about sports teams, or the human eye, or a symphony.

 

Think Eco systems, or mosaics.  Consider how each piece works together, forming a bigger picture that is far more dazzling and illustrative and advantageous than each piece in isolation.

 

Now think politics.

 

Wait—don’t think about that yet.

 

Go back to thinking about wholeness.  Think about the importance of each element in good design.  Contemplate the meaning of “Gestalt: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”—it’s a condition where the whole is greater—to be whole is greater.

 

Imagine a well-balanced bottle of wine.

 

Remember, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he likens of the body of Christ to the human body: each person and part is different, but absolutely useful and beneficial to the whole.  Sure, the body can adapt to being without some of its parts, but how much better for the arm and the body to be together.

 

Think about life!  Think of all of the different things that must come together in order to be alive.

 

In well-functioning, collaborative systems, everything is important; every ability is a blessing to the whole.  Every part is intended for a place of relevance and dignity because it has the purpose of perfecting-by-participating-with the whole.

 

Non-interrelation means “unsustainable” or obsolescence.

 

THINK about that.

 

 

The Template for Creation’s Original and Ultimate Design

 

Now think about the Triune God.

 

God the Father, Son, and Spirit is a well-functioning, collaborative, living system.

 

He is not just “good”, He is “all things working together for it”.

 

He is a triad of mind, body, and soul — power, sacrifice and connectivity — for the sake of a fuller, bigger, more complete version of power, sacrifice and connectivity.

 

God is fluid diversity.  He is complimentary differences as one complete Being.

 

Scriptures from Genesis illustrate that this multi-faceted Being is the Creator God who creates in like fashion.  He is the over-arching system.  He is the template for all systems.  And specifically, the multi-faceted human creation is formatted as this—resembling God himself.  In fact, we have been created not only to resemble God; we have been created after, in, through, because of, and for Himself the Triune God.

 

Furthermore, the verses in Colossians and Philippians and more convey that we have been created diversely with the intention of working together like (with, in, through, for….) God Himself.

 

The active element, the life-giving element, present even before the beginning—“working together”—is the key.  It makes stuff happen.  “Let us create…”

 

 

Collaboration is the Key

 

With so many moving parts in the boundless Kingdom of God, working together is what keeps all things from becoming a lifeless and spoiling heap.  While there might otherwise be contradiction, redundancy, separation, and ultimate cancellation; working together enables growth, and places of dignity and purpose, value and effectiveness.

 

Think of “working together” as reconciliation—not as in just the good absorbing bad, or the unity that triumphs separation in the sense of forgiveness, though it is that, too—but consider reconciliation simply as: all things collaborating respectfully, perfectly.

 

Reconciliation serves to edify and enhance.  It shapes, sharpens, and develops.  It is active and inclusive; the means and the end.  It increases the whole as it increases all things in size, number, attributes, and behavior to further perpetuate working together with all things (viz. magnify).

 

Reconciliation is our Template.

 

The burgeoning universe reflects its Template in this same way in that all things are working in correspondence with its nature of being active and inclusive.  As a result, it further reflects its Creator by way of it being, as scientists say, both infinite and expanding…  It isn’t enough to be big, and merely have done something once–it is proliferating according to its template, and as such, it is growing into a fuller and more complex version of itself.

 

In a similar way, we can be fully saved, and yet also be led into fuller salvation.  It isn’t enough to just have a static dose of unity or salvation; because this goes against its nature, and the name of its very author.  To be truly alive is to be growing in fuller unity.

 

(I can’t help myself here, I love this stuff.  Here we have a paradox.  “Infinite” and “expanding”–two different concepts which work together to reveal the nature of its Creator.  How?  It showcases the idea that God is big enough to include two truths which would otherwise cancel each other out: like “infinite and expanding”.  The universe is an example of an edifying fusion, held within the hands of the Creator, of two or more truths which could otherwise stand alone.  In so doing, this union of seemingly opposing ideas reveals the presence of God who is big enough, not only to include differences, but unite them as they work together.  It is an expression of the promise in Matthew 18: “Where two or more are held together, there is the Triune God”; for THERE is reconciliation.  Where there is reconciliation, there is the presence of God).

 

Think about that!

 

 

Humanity’s Highest Potential and Ultimate Design: Reconciliation/Collaboration.  Reflecting a Diverse, Collaborative, and Loving God

 

Now think about the human creation.

 

The human creation is a reflection of God.  It’s not just what we ought to be; it’s that we ARE.  By virtue of our vast differences, we reflect a giant, diverse, equipped being.  And when we’re in a spirit of togetherness, we’re in a posture of rightness and authenticity according to our ultimate design (our true identity) simply by being in alignment with what IS: triumphant, unfailing, collaborative oneness (which is actually the definition of love).

 

Expanding this thought: “God-as-oneness, and humans made to reflect such” would suggest that collaboration is our highest form of potential.  Enabled by the Spirit of the reconciling God.

 

When it comes to a concept or a movement, reconciliation is the most important thing.  Being “with”—not “against”—is the nature of our truest identity.  It is more important than any offering to God, says Matthew 5:23-24.  On these grounds, the highest form of righteousness therefore is not isolated purity, but rather collaboration (within/despite the messiness).  It is not rightness in solitary, it is rightness in solidarity.

 

This kind of rightness glorifies the over-arching Truth, and the end-game of God—oneness and unity in and under Christ—as clarified in John 17:21, and in Ephesians 1:10 (initially, this is a most insulting message; and then it is the most relieving, joyous, freeing, empowering message an individual could hear… which is not unlike the way the Gospel is typically received).

 

Collectively, we are as multifaceted as the components of the universe, and each component is nothing short of splendid, if we are to believe Psalm 139:14.  Taking our cue from the systems around us, success for us both individually and collectively actually requires that there be differences.  And its triumph is not realized with a contest of importance for the individual; but rather upon the embracing of the importance of everything.

 

My point with all of this laborious contemplation of the indefinable God, and in exploring concepts like “all” and “paradox” and “oneness” is to propose that a being—specifically the collective human race—which is seemingly all over the board and/or existing in contradiction with itself might not be wrong so much as it is just not yet fully aware.  All of the right parts and pieces are there, it just hasn’t grown into itself yet.  It may be self-aware, but it is not wholly conscious.  And it won’t get “right-er” by cutting itself off from its other parts.

 

Any dysfunction within itself is not due to the fact of widespread differences, but rather the disparaging nature and lack of willingness to work together—a sign of immaturity, and a behavior that further compounds itself.

 

This state of disunity indicates shortsightedness.  It reveals a lack of understanding of whom we’ve been modeled after.  It’s an indication of an absence of God-mindedness, and therefore an absence of the nature of God: humility, for example, or the goal of genuine unity, to name another.

 

Without the presence of God-mindedness (the ability to see things as God does), and without understanding of where God is leading us (toward fuller unity in Him in all things), “all things” looks like a sin.  Without any hope in the ultimate goodness and authority of God, “working together” looks like a mess.  Incongruent.  It’s counter-intuitive.  It looks like an insult.  It looks impossible.

 

A divided/divisive group is a group which has not grown into the reflection of its Creator who is big enough to include two opposing-seeming concepts, and big enough to overcome the threats of inclusivity.  In its state of immaturity, a divided group sees contradiction (as it is itself in contradiction), where God might be seeing potential for collaboration.  A divisive group sees threat to its individual ideologies, where God sees a place to work together toward a full and perfect ideology—unity in Christ.  Reconciliation.

 

 

How Those in the Kingdom Might Collaborate Toward Their Ultimate Identity (Practical Suggestions for Being Participators in our Maturation Process)

 

Incidentally, with this talk of collaboration, and all things…  I am not suggesting that there is no wrong.  On the contrary, there is wrongness and potential for wrongness everywhere.  There was even potential for bad in the Garden of Eden, remember?  There was that option to disobey; and also, notice that the Voice of Separation visited Eve even before she chose wrongly.  No, there is badness and wrongness in every direction.  But there is also goodness.  So, I’m suggesting we heed Philippians 4:8 and err on the side of focusing on God’s ultimate goal.

 

Furthermore, I’m not proposing we align with, or even allow destruction, and partner with hate.  Even God himself finally cleaves from any being that cannot disembody destruction or a desire for it.  We have the right to dust off our feet and move on if reconciliation is refused.

 

Slander and malice are wrong, but they are God’s enemies to fight.  They are symptoms of disunity.  So, in the case of our politically divided country at-large, I’m suggesting we work with the root cause: our state of separation.

 

How do we turn the tides and begin working together?  Surely we can draw upon the illustrations of our own personal trajectory of becoming more fully one with Christ!

 

For example, here’s how God works with me:  He doesn’t require my 100% agreement in order to begin working together.  Mostly, he relates to and works with the things we have in common.  He does not turn a blind eye to my sins, but calls them out as an exception to the norm.  He takes my “yes”, feeble as it may be, and works with it.  He is empathetic to my conditions.  He validates my perspective and invites me to see His.  He calls me “friend”, and desires that we should “come and reason together”.  He is patient.  Persistent.  He works in correspondence with his nature of edifying, collaborative oneness.  And slowly, over time, though we are vastly different, we are working more and more fully, together.

 

OK, now think politics.

 

What if, in the realm of politics, our right(eous)ness is found more in the way we conduct ourselves toward others, than it is in the causes we are for or against and how passionately we fight for them.

 

What if, on the spectrum of politics as it relates to us Christians, right-ness (correctness) isn’t a place on the spectrum, or a side, or a wing, or a movement; but instead, it’s the act of being reconciliatory from whatever side we’re on.  Doesn’t this seem like a truer reflection of God?

 

You know this already: we are an either/or culture.  The world would have us believe that there is only black and white, and one is right and one is wrong.  We are setting our sights too low as we make our business about delineating–confining–rightness to one side.  Even we Christians sometimes feel it a concession far too “beneath us” (unholy, even!) to unite with those who oppose our worldviews… even though one of the most transcending acts of God’s love was to lower himself into our worldview for the purpose of holy unity.

 

Compounding our state of division, is a constant focus on certain platforms, sources, and outlets which regurgitate and perpetuate a bias toward division, and who parrot the rhetoric of the flesh’s comfort zone: polarization, “me = right”, “wrongness = over there”.  Some media worshipers (those who believe that the media representing one’s personal position is the full extent of Truth) assume that magnifying this method of polarization is actually virtuous.  The world is a dangerous place for non-thinkers.

 

Our positions and proximities may dictate our just involvement in fighting for a cause, but let’s not forget our ultimate identity in the process: respectfully collaborating oneness, in/under/like/through Christ.  If being “Pro”-anything is turning us into a hater of actual people, then we’ve lost sight of our true calling.

 

 

Ideals Versus Creation’s Ultimate Identity: The Christian’s Higher Calling to Sincerely and Respectfully Collaborate (Love)

 

The current status of much of the human race is: antagonistic, divided, angry.  There are several variables contributing to this, but ironically, this is the fruit of a generation preaching tolerance.

 

Well, we tried it.  Tolerance.  Perhaps it was a mistake, or maybe it was a necessary step in the process, but it certainly isn’t our ultimate destination.  How do we treat differences?  Our counterparts?  (Our opposition?)  With tolerance!?

 

Tolerance doesn’t work with humans—we can’t be lukewarm about differences.  It’s like prescribing apathy, numbness, and denial as the answer.  It’s like telling a husband and wife to begrudgingly coexist and hope for the best.

 

While those have helpful short-term benefits in shoring up further-destructive ripple effects, it is not the actual healing vaccine.  It’s like merely administering anesthesia to the eye instead of proceeding to also remove the plank from it so it may function as it was intended.  It’s a right “first do no harm” initial response, but there’s no final virtue in tolerance—there’s no bonding compound there.

 

If the ultimate, final goal is the “oneness” prayed for in John 17, then it’s time to evolve beyond an ideal of tolerating our differences.

 

It’s time to try loving our differences.

 

Ew.  But seriously.

 

I’m not talking about forsaking your own beliefs and jumping sides—no, we’ve been intentionally scattered to all sides so that we can represent each one well.  Neither is the opposite true: that we should coerce or require another to fully align with our beliefs (that’s not love—loving is neither predicated on agreeing nor is it initiated by coercion).

 

I’m talking about being a willing participant in God’s movement toward edifying, collaborative oneness in Christ, in the way that glorifies (reflects) the oneness we understand him to be talking about in John 17:21.

 

A few, immediate clarifications to help talk us off the ledge:

 

  1. Collaboration, as modeled by our Template, is a two-way street. Yes, it involves immense sacrifice, but it’s done for the purpose of bringing about eventual, fulfilling oneness, and edifying give-take.  It’s based on a model of humility that all would be so-inspired—a lowering of oneself that all would be raised to their full potential.  It’s not intended to perpetuate a model of eternal, one-sided martyrdom.  Unity does not magnify under this model.

 

  1. Fully functioning, collaborative oneness includes calling out wrongness, but specifically with the hope and the spirit of the end goal in mind—esteemed togetherness. Compromise doesn’t mean that the boundaries for trespassing have moved; it means that collaboration has been prioritized.  Tuning all actions to this focal point (edifying oneness) is imperative, as it conditions our words and our frequency, and flavors our tone.

 

  1. We do not have to collaborate with everyone. We just need to be willing to collaborate with anyone.  But God gives us who he gives us.  Remember Jesus, the Savior of Creation, through whom all things were made?  God only gave him 12.  Sure, Jesus had his mobs and his crowds and… well, all, but as for those whom God wanted Jesus to be daily and deliberately edifying and collaborative with?   Twelve.

 

  1. This is not a petition that we should change the world—after all, God has already overcome the world. Also, we don’t own the world’s reaction.  This is a petition to change ourselves.  This is about being a willing participant in the working out of our own salvation.  Let’s ourselves strive to be a collaborative and edifying person.

 

When we collaborate, compassion meets wisdom.  Ideals meet strategy.  Justice meets mercy.  Freedom meets accountability, and “righteousness and peace kiss…”.  Provision meets sustainability and aptitude, so that deep need meets deep fulfillment.

 

With regards to politics, we are not inconsequential as citizens in this movement toward collaboration—quite the opposite.  Politicians may posture as leaders, but the privilege of a democracy comes with the burden that it is the people who need to change first—not the politicians.

 

So, if I may, here’s something that we the people could do to help enable edifying oneness.

 

As far as what to do, let’s consider reflecting, toward others, the collaborative process of salvation in our own lives.

 

As far as what not to do: let’s examine the words and deeds that come out of our own mouths which have only served to defile us as a people, and especially as Christians.  Christians, please reconsider that smug remark.  We tend to fancy ourselves cognoscentis given our prolific access to information, but God alone is the only source which offers absolute truth, and we need people on all sides to help us understand this, because God is that big.

 

Inserting a derogatory quip into a conversation or into a social media post is like airing dirty laundry or a hoisting the flag of immaturity or hypocrisy in one’s own front yard.  Especially if it is in the name Christianity.  It simply displays a lack of understanding of our own identity, and therefore God’s identity as well.

 

Inasmuch as it is up to us, let’s be a collaborative people, leaving the vengeance up to God.  The responsibility alone of becoming a person who could sincerely hope for unity with all under Christ is plenty enough to keep us busy at work—far too busy to be throwing stones at others.

 

There are a lot of right causes out there; and there are even right causes which currently oppose one another, prompting many to wonder, “Which cause is the most righteous?”  But righteousness is neither a cause nor a single ideal like tolerance.  Righteousness is Christ-in-us, working toward an even fuller measure of Christ-in-us.  This is God’s goal for us.  Eventually, Christ alone is to be creation’s identity, manifesting in infinite and diverse ways throughout all of creation.  Let’s be about this business and see how that affects politics.

 

If we can focus on that goal first and foremost, I wonder how that would influence our actions as we fight for good causes and/or address those who oppose us.

 

Reconciliation and collaboration require sacrifice which often poses as injustice and suffering, but it is the catalyst to becoming whom we’ve been created to be in Christ.  Sacrifice (lowering oneself for the sake of unity) is vital to our participation in the kingdom of God in this world.  It is the way out of our current, dead-ended, divisive environment (Philippians 3:10).  It is the way to participate in God’s ultimate glory (I Peter 4:13), because this is how we magnify the complete, perfectly-collaborative God.  This is what it looks like to work in correspondence with his nature.

 

Reconciliation is a miracle.  Even more, that we would want reconciliation—be assured that this will take a miracle.  But God promises he will give us our heart’s desires, so pray that he put this desire in our hearts.

 

Then, when the tides begin to shift, and we begin to collectively turn toward one another instead of on one another, we can be certain it was God who began a good work, who remains persistent, using all things to work together, that all of creation would reach its fullest potential—an edifying body of oneness full of Christ—like (as, with, in, for, under, and respectfully collaborating with…) God himself.

 

The Seer

This one is for the Drama Geeks, because nothing makes the rest of the population more uncomfortable than a dramatic monologue.  The following is a conversation between two people, but the script was written for just the one part.  Anyone know if there’s a name for that kind of thing?  Anyway:

 

The Seer: A Conversation-Monologue

 

Hello, my friend!  It is so good to see you.  Please come in!

 

(The Seer welcomes the Visitor in)

 

I’ve been looking forward to today.  May I take your bags and coat?  I’ll put them right over there.

 

(The Seer takes the bags and returns to the Visitor)

 

Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.  I know how much trouble it can be, but I am so exited you came.  Would you like to look around?

 

(Pauses for the Visitor’s reply)

 

Of course—you’ve had quite the trip.  Please, take a load off.  Have a seat—there’s a great view of the town square from here.  Feel free to put your feet up.  How was your trip?

 

(Listening to the Visitor)

 

I love people watching, too.  And you’re exactly right, this town is known for a little bit of everything: artists, philosophers; teachers, students; liberal, conservative; new and old…  There wasn’t always such a broad spectrum, but we’re the better for it.

 

I’ve had this place forever—just off the square, to be close to everything.  I’m glad you found the entrance.  It’s fairly modest because I wanted people to feel comfortable approaching it; but you’d be surprised of the irony: it’s such a simple door, that no one seems to find it in the first place.

 

I know you’ve got some questions, but would you like some tea first?  Cucumber water?  Anything you want…  Kombucha, coffee, lavender soda…

 

(A pause to listen for the Visitor’s request)

 

I sure do have an orange blossom + lemon verbena spritzer with a dash of elderflower-infused simple syrup, and a sprig of mint and blackberries for garnish.  Made with fresh ingredients just this morning!

 

(Silence while the Visitor looks around and then asks some questions about the interior)

 

Why thank you, yes, that boarder is a frieze, carved quite awhile ago, but I meant to tell a timeless-togetherness type of story with it.  No, no—I didn’t do it myself.  My favorite artist did it for me.  Actually we sort of did it together.

 

The parquetry flooring?  Yes, painstakingly chiseled and polished and fit together perfectly—so many different shapes and pieces of wood and yet there’s not even the slightest gap between each one—only lines which compose a most beautif—

 

(Seer is interrupted by a question)

 

My favorite artist did it!

 

(Another question)

 

Oh, that mosaic took quite awhile.  I love how big it is.  Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?  All those colors…  It was done by my f—

 

…How’d you know?  Yes!  My absolute favorite!

 

…Who?  Well, all kinds of people.

 

…Yes you can too have “all favorites”.

 

(The Seer chuckles endearingly at the youthful, shortsightedness in the Visitor’s retort)

 

Now.  Would you like to stay here, or would you like to move onto the terrace?  There’s a fantastic view of the countryside.

 

(Visitor chooses)

 

Wonderful!  Come with me.

 

…The tile was hand-painted—

 

…No, no!—I absolutely love that you notice all these things—and ask about them, too!

 

…The hallway, yes, real gold in the gilding.

 

…For sure.  The favorite.  See that painting?  Look closer.  See those brushstrokes?  Each one, confident.  Definitive.  Purposeful.  I love it.

 

(They walk down a hall, lined with artwork toward a room whose exterior wall consists of single-lite double-doors)

 

Let me open the doors for you.

 

Ahhh…  do you smell that?

 

…Well, let’s see, it’s a combination of grass, fertile dirt, lavender, the bread being baked in the shop on the square…  And also, very faintly, since the breeze is coming from all the way over that mountain range, it’s carrying a bit of an alpine smell.

 

(A pause to take everything in.  They sit at a table)

 

I agree.  Very peaceful.  But… you still look tense.

 

…I don’t know, something about your shoulders, your heavily creased brow, your clenched teeth…  your… knuckles, yo—

 

…OK, I’ll stop.  How about, you start?

 

…Those are lemon trees.  Lemon trees!  That’s what else you smell.  Now THAT is my absolute favorite fragrance….  And olive trees.  By the way, I have some olives—

 

…Yes, fresh Buffalo mozzarella and feta, too.  Tomatoes from right down there, and some fresh figs.  I just happen to have a platter piled with all of those things on the credenza inside.  You enjoy the fragrance of those citrus blossoms while I grab the platter.

 

(The Seer returns carrying a platter of cheeses, tomatoes, olives, figs…)

 

My pleasure!  I put some baguette chunks on there, too.  Still warm—I just picked one out at the bakery.

 

…Yes just now.

 

…I can be very speedy.

 

(The Seer offers the platter, and then eats an olive)

 

Mmm.  Exquisite.  Simple, and exquisite.

 

Indeed I do have gelato.  The finest quality, too.  But what do you say we leave some room for that later.  My hope is to leave room for something… more important.  We’ll get to the gelato in a bit.

 

…It’s OK, we can just sit together.

 

(Another pause)

 

I agree.  Computers can be very frustrating.

 

….And that pesky vacuum of yours, too…

 

Why don’t you tell me why you came today.

 

…I know, but I like to hear it in your words.

 

…..Hello?  Did I lose you again?  So many worries…

 

I have a tissue box here.

 

…I know, you don’t cry.  It’s not for you, it’s for me.

 

Tell me.

 

(The Seer listens.  And weeps).  Oh, my heart.

 

Yes.  She is …my favorite.  So delicate!  I love that you sing to her every night.

 

…My heart aches for your friend, too…

 

…Oh my, that is a lot of money.  That must feel overwhelming…

 

…So much pressure you put on yourself.

 

…I’ve noticed that, as well.  Why do you think you feel so low?

 

(The Seer listens intently, compassionately, and hands the visitor a tissue)

 

So many things.  So many, many things.

 

(More quiet)

 

I mean to tell you something about all of your worries.  I hesitate only because people don’t believe me when I tell them this, and that makes me sad.

 

May I tell you?  Oh, I hope you’ll believe me.  I have seen what happens with each one of your concerns, and I have such good news that I can’t stop smiling—even though right is…  Well, anyway, do I have you?  Right now?  If I tell you, will you listen?

 

Listen, now.  Here is the truth:

 

(Seer leans in, and says quietly):

 

It all works out.

 

(The Seer listens to the doubtful but hopeful questioning)

 

Yes, that works out.

 

…That, too.

 

…Something bigger happens there—so big that that becomes a non-issue.

 

…I’m intimately aware of that.  I knew it was coming, and I’ve had a plan since forever to make sure that that specifically would soon work out to even better than before you saw it seem to come to fall apart.

 

…You’re seeing it from the other side.  Yes, broken, but I can do far more with brokenness than without.

 

…I got it.  I have it completely.

 

It works out in the end!  It ALL works in the end.

 

…No, the “end” is different than the way you define it.  The beginning is different, than where you’ve pegged it, too.  It’s bigger than what you think.  But whether it works out here or there, does it make a difference to you if it finally does, once and for all?

 

…Yes, I understand.  Sooner is better than later.  But…  neither sooner nor later are relevant when—

 

(The Visitor seems to object)

 

…It will all be OK.  Please believe me.

 

…Ludicrous, yes.

 

…Not practical help—it would seem not.

 

…Ridiculous?  I’ve been told even worse…  but that doesn’t make it any less true.

 

This is the part where you become a little bit relieved, maybe?  Or… hopeful?  Perhaps you might be willing to entertain a teeny bit of joy in your heart about this?

 

…But I DO know.

 

…But I AM here.

 

…(Seer chuckles) Well, I’m even smarter and stronger than you.

 

(Silence for awhile)

 

It all works out in the end.  This is a promise and a guarantee.  Everything.  Every last bit.  Every tiny detail, every concern, every fear, every problem… it is finished.  Resolved.  It all turns into something else that will make you want to jump up and down and do flip flops.

 

But, my favorite one, in order for you to be OK while everything is being worked out…  You have to believe me, too.

 

Will you?

The Good Side

“What is good?  Who is right?” many ask.

 

“God alone”, some would say.

 

“Then who or what is God?” ask some amongst those.

 

A select few might pursue an answer—and might even be willing to lose themselves in the question—and ask, and wrestle, and contemplate, and persist, and be willing to learn, and might even allow themselves to change.

 

Their findings, though, would lead to a problem: God is a mystery, and a contradiction in terms.

 

He wants to be known, and yet cannot be fully known.  He sanctifies some, and yet loves all.  He implores us to endure, and yet saves the ones who surrender.

 

He is only, and yet all: two seemingly opposing concepts.

 

Even more, God is a Trinity(!) of … of what?  Spirit, matter, and oneness?  Purity, dichotomy, and reconciliation?  Authority, willingness, and medium?

 

More compounding yet, the beloved creation is created in this image: paradox—diversity—bonded polarity, which is reflected even down creation’s molecule!

 

“What then?” ask fewer still.  “What is right amidst mystery and paradox?”

 

The least of these remaining seekers might consider that the problem is neither God, nor differences; but rather their own limited framework which has not evolved to possess paradox—an immaturity which cannot grasp that “right” is not one solitary, isolated concept which can be fully contained or manifested individually; but rather it is all things, working together for the good of all things.

 

If the Triune God is good, then perhaps this is good: paradox collaborating sustainably, mutually, in a way that is both humble and edifying.

 

Perhaps “right” is not a place or a side on the spectrum; but rather the whole spectrum working together, toward more togetherness.

 

And then, the only thing out of step with “good” is a total disregard or devaluation of diversity; or fear and suppression of differences; or anything which fosters a fracturing of “whole”-mindedness; or an isolated or elitist nature…

 

The only one good thing to agree upon is God alone; and the way to reflect this good is not to demand sameness, or merely tolerate differences; but instead to embrace, with fierce respect and utter relief, seemingly opposing concepts, knowing that each completes the other—that one isn’t right without the other.

 

This is my political statement:

 

(I like the artist’s word for “opposite”.  They call it “complimentary, or complimenting”.)

 

Let’s not muzzle our complimentary counterparts with a derogatory label.  Especially if our definition of “right” has not evolved to embrace paradox.

 

Let’s not magnify destruction and division that exists on all sides by participating in it, ourselves.  Instead, let’s value the person who sees the same thing, but from a different angle—even more, let’s expect that what they have to bring to the table might be wisdom of a complimentary nature, and worthy of the honor of, at least, consideration.

 

Consider that valuing the complimentary (read: opposing) parties actually glorifies the paradoxical, Triune God (that is, if glorifying means “to reflect; or to magnify, or make bigger by participating in the same nature”).

 

We have been selectively and specifically placed at certain spots all over the spectrum—not to alienate or even stay put, but to balance and weigh in from our different vantage points, and to work with the whole, toward “good”, understanding that “good” = sustainable, humble, optimal, and edifying wholeness.

 

Wherever we’ve been put—wherever we are right now, let’s strive to exemplify this side of good.

Never More Than You Can Handle: A Debunking

“The Lord will never give you more than you can handle”.  This phrase has practically risen to scripture-status.

 

I have never found comfort in it.

 

Its origin is earnestness and hopefulness; but possibly, also, ignorance and denial.

 

The young, pre-suffering me used this saying to rationalize and categorize suffering away from me, because I surely couldn’t handle it.  And it compelled me to take it a step further—I judged people who were suffering, but weren’t handling it well.

 

Fast forward a decade or two, when hardships came.  To the me who was now suffering, this saying meant “I should be handling my suffering”.  If I’m not handling it I’m failing.

 

Fast forward another decade, post-crisis.  Now, “The Lord will never give you more than you can handle” sounds like a terrible thing to say to anyone, but I appreciate the good intentions.

 

Isn’t the Gospel message about God handling it?

 

May I make a suggestion?  How about instead, believing that God will never allow anything to happen that He can’t fully restore.  He’ll never give me more that HE can handle.

 

I know we know this, but life and culture have a way of dissuading our focus; and instead of hoping on God in our hardships, we easily promote hoping in ourselves handling it.

 

How about instead, banking on the hope that God will never let anyone go farther than where He can’t reach them?

 

Consider re-phrasing that unfounded but beloved proverb above, to: God will not allow even the smallest thing to happen, which He hasn’t intimately foreknown, and consequently provided a way for redemption.  And not just back to “how it was” redemption, but to ultimate, better than new, honorable and deeply loved status.

 

If even our Wounded Healer didn’t “handle” his own resurrection, neither should we put on that aspiration or criteria for coming out the other side.

 

Do you know someone who is suffering?  Believe instead these things about God for this person.  Hope in this about God for the person, more so than the wounded’s (or perhaps your own?) proper handling of things.

 

“Preach the Gospel.  When necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi.

Receiving or Achieving?

Yes, my mind tends to think in cheesy billboard rhymes.  But it was the sound bite that downloaded instantly into my head when someone asked me to speak on “Finding God in Suffering”.

 

Plain and simple:  The Gospel message (that God will save those who profess they can’t do it themselves) is for receiving—not achieving.  In fact it is a contradiction in terms to attempt to achieve the Gospel.

 

In my beginning, I approached religion just as I approached any other merit-based entity.  I was good at earning things.  Meritocracy promoted a world order that made sense to me, and put me towards the top of that order.  I believed that God loved me here: in the light of my self-manifested goodness.

 

This logic was woven in my DNA.  It had nothing to do with how I was raised—I know this because my parents went to opposite extremes to tell me that I was marvelous and wonderful just because I was theirs—because I existed, because I was me.  I knew without a doubt that their love was unconditional, and had nothing to do with my achievements.

 

Boring.  A love that anyone could have didn’t seem very special.

 

Free love didn’t seem very self-edifying, right?  It had nothing to do with my awesomeness.  It had more to do with their awesomeness.  So I sought the other kind—the kind of love that values the things that young Me valued and possessed (good choices, self-discipline, abilities, high scores, etc.  All very noble, yes?).  A love based on this would reflect ME.  Would edify ME.  And I really liked myself.  In fact, I still do :).

 

I was good in the arena of this religion—Eugene Peterson calls it the gospel of “Salvation by self-help” (see his fabulous translation of Hebrews).

 

Alright.  Enter suffering.

 

Suffering removed the things of me that I valued–good and bad things.  I lost my valued ability to control things, to be admirable, to achieve goodness and worthiness according to the gospel of achieving.  With the loss of valuables comes the loss of perceived self-value.  This is suffering.  Or at least one form of it.

 

In that state of suffering I found God.  Or as some people say, God found me.  Or, I let myself be found…  I suppose any version of that is right.

 

Here’s what suffering (finally) did for me:

 

  • It gave me an opportunity to consider a different Gospel: God saves. Not me.

 

  • It separated me unto a place where I felt God’s pursuit of me. It put me where, eventually, I knew His divine empathy (something I could never have accepted in my non-humbled state).  It enabled me to experience these things that are relational qualities instead of merely doctrinal or religious ones.

 

  • It produced a new hope in me: from personal success, to eternal rescue. I switched from hoping in me to hoping in Him.

 

Anyway, suffering is fertile ground.  I hate to even make a bulleted list, because it comes off as exhaustive, yet the beneficial dividends of suffering are infinite.  So let this only be an encouragement to patiently endure, with certain hope, toward your own list of the payouts of suffering.

 

As with everything in the Kingdom of God, the Gospel is wherever there is space for it.  Think Sabbath, communion, Nativity…  The things of salvation come to wherever space has been made for it, or to where a sacrifice has occurred.  (And sometimes it just comes no matter what because God is that good).

 

But for me, suffering created (gouged, gored, gutted, and crushed) space in me to RECEIVE the good news.  GOD saves!  Not me!  What a relief, because suffering also showed me my limitations, and proved that I cannot save myself.  To hope in this is futile.

 

Where I was once full of myself, as is the inherent way of the flesh-organism, I now had space to want something grander.  And that I could accept that there really even was anything grander, and want it, was the work of God alone, regardless of whatever evil-seeming means that realization came about.

 

It’s right there in the beatitudes.  Blessed are you who suffer.  Blessed are you who are unable.  For that which you cannot do for your own self will be given to you by God, eternally and infinitely.  If only you will RECEIVE it!

 

This is a perennial lesson.  I have learned this, I am still learning this, I will be learning this again.

 

First Thing on Today’s to-do List

Is to believe this:

 

God is sufficient for me regardless of the choices others make

AND

God is sufficient for others regardless of the choices I make.

 

Do you know how much better my life would be if I really believed that?

God help make it so!!!

 

If You Believe That God is Good,

then live like it is so.