Set apart this day
Set apart this moment
And convince me that it is all you require of me
Tell me everything I need
For everything I’m supposed to be
Is right here
And right now
Take everything else I have conjured up
And give me your truer, lighter way
I will know your goodness
And even be a testament to it
Without even trying!
Only as I walk, trusting
That THIS is my preordained and holy moment
You’re just going to have to do it, God.
You’re going to have to rescue us
And fix us
Make up for us
Fill in for us
Tell us what to do
And then, lead us
Repair what damage we’ve done to others
Take care of us
Give us a good and true thing to hope in
A reason to go on, that will make everything all right…
You’re going to have to save us, God.
Do it all.
My creed du jour as I see it in the stars, the Bible and in my life:
I was taught a doctrinally correct and semantically secure version of how salvation comes to us, and was encouraged to use this terminology with others, that they might receive salvation as well. Some people call it a statement of faith, or a testimony, or the “Cross Talk”.
Salvation blows in on winds from all directions; and for me (an able, young, “middle” class, private school student), salvation was introduced via my parents, and an institution of Christian tradition—which is to say, it was taught to me before it was cognizantly experienced by me. I cut my teeth on salvation by recanting the words put in my mouth.
Does it sound like I’m about to knock tradition and teaching? Nope. No way. Though for a brief moment, I saw my early training as limits and chains and binds, I now know it as a tremendous privilege and an essential strengthening agent for my foundation, that Christ-in-me might grow high and wide upon it.
Anyway, armed with airtight apologetics (at least as much as a juvenile mind could know), I brought my artillery to places like Mexico and Cambodia to bless the people with the same education that had saved me. It’s not like there is a better or more complete script out there.
“…by the blood of Christ I am saved from my sins…”
May I make a confession? I still don’t get it. Oh, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, that anyone should hear that and be drawn in to want more! Wonder of wonders, the Breath of Heaven is surely alive and working that I believed without proof, as a result of ingesting knowledge that is so high, I cannot attain it.
I am not suggesting that the texts like the Nicene Creed are passé, irrelevant, or beneath me. I am not trying to point out any fallacies within the textbook Christian testimony, because there are none. No, there is power within the Gospel as we share it despite however great or small a grasp we have of it.
But, sharing a doctrine is not the same thing as articulating salvation’s life-in-me. And that is what I want to talk about.
I love challenging people with the following assignment: contemplate your testimony. Especially for those steeped in church-pedigree, what does salvation mean to us? What is your tactile understanding of it, and how has it played out in your life?
If I was walking with a fellow peer, and he/she asked, “What does (The Bible, Christianity, Jesus, church, ‘being saved’) mean for you?” Would I have a true-to-me reply? It’s not so much that I want to have a “right” answer at-the-ready, for my own ego’s sake. Though sadly, there is that… But really, it is good for me to ponder simply for the sake of knowing it within my own self.
Remembering, seeing, and knowing Christ— if I can’t somehow trace the pattern of salvation in my history, well then, is it really there?
OK. Blah. Enough of this, I’ve built up my premise, and I’m pretty sure you and I were on the same page anyway, about the blessedness of the Word of God, and the importance of truly knowing Christ-in-us.
Mostly, I’m just hoping to share my evolving observations as a fellow witness to salvation. Right now, I am throwing and forming a version of a macro-view testimony—as in, not specific to me per se, but specific to all of creation. It’s an explanation that makes sense to me, based on what I observe, and what I’ve been taught. Perhaps I cannot prove my testimony but at this point, there is nothing to disprove it. I write this post from my perspective as a saved, created being, and this is my declaration as I see it in the stars and in the Bible and as it works itself out in my life today.
Contemplation is a form of worship for me—it’s a posture of awe and wonder. Who am I, that God would put the prose of eternity in my mind, and transform me to love it and even grasp a teeny bit of it? I wonder and pursue, not that I must know, but I must wonder—in the same way that I’m inclined to wonder what it would be like to eat fresh oysters at sunset on the coast of Croatia, or what the view is like atop the alps in Switzerland.
For those who worship naturally in another manner, I respect you and your method, too. I understand that my hoping that people will wrestle through a contemplative post would be like someone asking me to find God at the end of an algebraic equation. Gah! So, thank you for reading on. I appreciate that you would contort yourselves to accommodate conjectural thought.
“Woe to me if I do not write”, says the writer. And woe to the thinker who does not express, just as Paul says of preaching the gospel. Pent-up thought is like constipation—like carrying around a baby that is three months overdue. So without further adieu, here is where I stand today: my creed—including re-racking and long shots—a compilation, in step-by-step fashion, of thought on “What is Salvation to Creation” (subject to change, anything but airtight, and open to criticism and other ideas from anyone), and if my peer innocuously asked for the outline of my faith, I’d probably stick to the bold text, and fill then fill it in upon further request:
Separation is a funny thing. It is possibly a delusion. Take for example, quantum mechanics. You might be interested to know that particle physicists are discovering hints of a connection of things despite their “apart-ness”. Plainly put, “this” particle here is affected by, or reacts with “that” particle there, despite the seeming disconnection.
In the same way, creation is clearly disjointed or broken apart, and far from perfection, but the nearness of the solution is not just “there”, it is “here” and everywhere in between. There is a divine response (empathy) to creation’s reality, and despite creation’s presumption of the Creator’s indifference or non-existence, the Creator is deeply connected to it. The generous and compassionate response to our broken nature is the life and death of Christ—our firstborn—whose resurrected life is in and through all things, working today to restore all things to unity with God.
Believing in separation—believing the lie that we aren’t afforded the option to connect, or that there is nothing to connect to but our own might, is what yields eternal futility.
And yet, the other very real hemline says: if we don’t believe that creation has been separated from God, we are in danger of not consciously choosing to be united with Him. If we don’t see our incomplete, depleting nature as creation—if we live a life of pride, or a life exempt of consequence, if we live in excess, if we have evaded responsibility, if our life does not include struggle, tragedy, or mundanity—then we are in danger of not knowing our reality: that we have an innate, inescapable need for the Creator God.
I have so many questions, like: Why the two acts (separation-union)? I understand that love will not force itself, but why create, in the first place, a creation with an inclination for separation, yet a need for unity? These two opposites are so different, yet so close to one another. But why can’t they just be together in the first place and avoid the whole messy process of integration? Is even God powerless to change the characteristics of mass and energy? Or is that just the story with this universe…
Somewhere near Geneva, Switzerland, and the empirical data soon to be collected from the latest round of experiments conducted by the Hadron Collider might yield enlightenment. Yes, I’m a geek-o-phile—not smart enough to be a geek, but a geekophile, indeed. But also, there is something to be gained by examining the process of salvation in us. And the texts in the Bible. And the unplanned words uttered from my seven and nine year-old. And the Sierra-Nevada ecosystem. Everywhere! Our unity deepens and strengthens as we seek to know it better, and as we believe that our salvation is very near to us.
I am fascinated by two opposite-seeming things integrating, or trying to integrate, and being remade in the process: Husband and wife. Racism and Civil Rights. Justice and Mercy. Energy and a Black Hole. “Bad” things happening to “good” people. People who value conformity, migrating to countries which values independence. Freedom and Iraq. Creator and creation… What will happen??? I am certainly all eyes.
While creation is pulled its own way, the Creator draws us near. Unity is the thing that is being worked toward, despite ourselves. If perfection is the union—a perfect balance—of differences (creator and created), then we could consider “uniting harmoniously with discrepancy” each day to be a divine practice, rather than evidence of a world out of control.
This is excruciating news to an introvert like me who would gladly spend all her money on building distance between me and … everything? A private gate guarding a private road on a private island to a private perch… Yes please!
But alas, God values all of creation; will creation value Him? Will creation learn to reciprocate the deep love of God all around us, and find its fulfillment there?
Well, this is the real cycle of things—to gain some understanding and then end up with more questions.
Anyway, thanks for reading.
Were it not for my woefully short attention span, I woul—
This is what I call a Gamer-Changer: when a scripture that you’ve interpreted one way, suddenly means something entirely and deeply different, and you can’t believe you’ve never seen it that way before. And because it means something different to you now, marks the fact that you are different now—thinking within a larger framework, and you find yourself inclined toward, and wanting, different things.
Scriptures, like say, this one:
“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:23)
What an intriguing verse! Could it really mean what you hope it means?
You are in the process of a transformation which is becoming more and more complete—filled more and more fully with eternal life. How you interpret this verse is like a litmus test which reveals the fullness of that life in you.
You proceed with the certainty that there is no condemnation in Christ and that there is no shame in being immature; you realize, however, it really would be such a shame to be forever immature.
When you were young—when you were a beginner, the way we all start—this verse appealed to the new, worldly self that you came to Christ as. Christ knows this state, He planned for this state—He came to you and to everyone, and sought you out as you were in this state—this endearing, self-centered, small-minded, yet so-adored-by-Christ-state.
And this verse hooked you because of the way you turned it to mean something that further affirmed your self-centric understanding of everything. God in His wisdom set this verse before you, and right or wrong, you were drawn in because of what you hoped it meant. You claimed it. You clung to it. You said you had faith because you wanted it to be true. It became your strength. And your incomplete understanding of it perpetuated a life of further incompleteness.
In this self-centric state, the mountain meant “Anything that keeps me from personal success”.
It was not a wrong interpretation, but it is infinitely far away from being fully right.
In your young faith, you came to believe the mountain must be something like monetary poverty, and lack of opportunity, and failure, and weakness. And so you spent all our time praying against only these things.
Again! It wasn’t wrong, until it affirmed that wealth and success and strength were the only things you wanted. It’s wasn’t your fault—they were the only things you knew how to want.
Then, one day, the world revealed in an undeniable way, that your interpretation of that verse was untruthful. It simply could not be. And not long after that, a new understanding was whispered, “The mountain is anything that keeps you from salvation”.
And soon, you actually start wanting salvation! Who knew? You want this new, real thing because God gave you this new desire—He took His heart’s desire and placed it within you, too (another verse you’ve completely misinterpreted).
Suddenly, you realize the mountain is actually pride, distrust, unbelief, bitterness, guilt, apathy, the inability to forgive, or the worship of self-perfection; because what you really want is a Savior and His life of un-threatenable contentment, and you’ve experienced that all those other things get in the way of it. And you see that the higher and faster you try to overcome this mountain by your very self, the steeper and more slippery it becomes, and finally, you realize it is a mountain that must be leveled and thrown into the sea by God alone.
So in your longing for this new thing, you look at your impossible mountain separating you and the kind of saved-living you really want, and you wait for Him to cast the mountain into the sea. And you wait… and hope.. And…… one day, either whiz-bang or still and quiet, it happens. Yes, it happened! God did what He promised He will do! It’s true! The Bible is true!
And somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that that mountain was just the first of a long range ahead of you, but you press on because you know without a doubt now, that God is alive, and true, and powerful, and knowing, and He desires you—He desires you forever. So you’re less overwhelmed by what you know is ahead.
Now you want to shout to your Christian peers: “There is no shame in how you have interpreted various scriptures. He is not wanting that you should be poor and sick; yet He knows that physical wealth and health can eclipse the longing for, and separate you from, ultimate wealth and health forever. God knew and loved you in your separated and finite state. You couldn’t MAKE yourself understand eternity. But now, let’s strive to not be old and grey and still think that Christianity is for the edification of our stature in this world. Make yourselves humbly willing to consider that Christianity is for something much more triumphant and fulfilling than that. Because it really is!”
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…” (John 6:26-27).
I’m obsessed with the book of Hebrews. I love the layers upon infinite layers of truth. I love how it addresses the educated leaders of Christianity and gives them a whoopin’. I love a good whoopin’. I love correction. I love truth.
What hooked me was when a mentor-friend of mine and Lance’s met me for coffee nearly four years ago and we were discussing “getting off of the foundation” as it relates to Christianity—that is, not forsaking it, but growing/building upon it. And he brought up the verses toward the end of chapter five in Hebrews which discusses this very thing.
“Yes,” said my wise friend “the writer essentially says to stop being hung up about basic things like baptism, and to stop merely revolving around the laying on of hands—and do you know what else the writer lumps into the ‘basic’ category, according to my Bible’s translation? Faith in God. Faith… in God.”
Faith in God? If that’s basic, what is … un-basic? What is there beyond that?
This much I knew about the setting of that infamous “get off of the baby’s milk, already” statement: the religious people of the Christian church have gathered around for some teaching. In their small vision for eternal life, they seek only instruction on how to perfect the measurable rituals of religion. They think that in their questions they are being virtuous, but really, their questions belie their immaturity, their stubbornness and vanity.
“Are we still here?” asks the writer, “Are we still here?”
I sense the frustration, the agony and the imploring. I’ve felt this before as a mother—I mirror it with my own children: “Are we still stuck on ‘how to wash hands properly’?” I am but one step below incensed at this point. “We could be doing so many other, more fun, more exciting, more responsible big-girl things if I didn’t have to spend my time reminding you to wash your hands and making sure you actually use soap.” I am more than eager to move beyond this being the thing that trips us up—beyond this being the thing that we have to focus on.
Anyway, last fall, I finally made it my mission to try to figure out what next thing we long-time Christians were supposed to move on to.
I read and studied Hebrews from start to finish. I read it in different translations. I read the cross-reference verses. (I didn’t read the commentaries though… because I’m egotistical and I want to come up with the answer first).
And do you know what I think the answer is? Want to know what I think the writer thinks we’re supposed to be moving toward, though he doesn’t actually say it specifically? (I ask this while acknowledging the irony of thinking YOU might not want to come up with the answer yourself).
The answer is this:
Move away from “Faith in God”…
And move toward faith in God.
And understand that there’s a difference between the two.
I’m a redeemed narcissist. I like to stand in front of people and have their attention… so that I can talk about God. I’m one of those weird people who enjoy public speaking.
I spoke in May at our church about love. It’s a centering concept for me. It’s helpful to have a grounding thought when life begins to feel as if it consists of urgent nonsense.
My insufficient grasp of love became undeniable to me one day as I found myself writing a letter to a heartbroken friend of mine and I wanted to tell her that I loved her (as if that might fix something—old narcissist ways die hard). I sat there staring at the paper, wanting to tell her why I loved her, and all I could think of were reasons that gratified me. (“You are generous with me, you are kind to me”, and so on). Yet I didn’t want to send the message that in order for me to love her, she needed to be those things—especially to me. I did love her, but what did that mean?
I was further convicted when one night, while putting my girls to bed, was telling my girls why I loved them and I was saying things like: you’re fun, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, kind… But did they have to be those things in order for me to love them? What if they didn’t possess any of those things?
My understanding of love felt conditional and self-serving because my reasons for having it were. I knew that was wrong, or at least wildly incomplete, but I didn’t know what a right definition was. I wrestled with this for months.
Then, one day I realized the unchanging factual basis of my love for my daughters is this: They belong to me. This is why I love them: They are mine. It’s not what they did, it’s not a reward—they didn’t earn it. No, my love for them is based on the fact of our irrevocable oneness. And the presence or lack of squishy or warm feelings neither denies nor confirms nor excludes the presence of love.
Love is oneness. Love looks like committed unity. This is my mechanical, non-emotional, nuts-and-bolts definition of Love. I love my girls because together, we are one. They belong to me and I belong to them, and it is not based on mutual reciprocity or worthiness or adorable qualities. It is not fickle or conditional; it simply IS, as a result of their existence.
As I learned in a Young Marrieds class, love is a commitment, not a feeling. And thanks to Corinthians 13, I know that love is patient and kind and does not seek its own way. But there was more, so much more to learn about love, so I studied the Bible to see what it had to say about love. Here is what I’ve learned so far:
Love—oneness—with all, through oneness with the Father is the final eventuality. It is the means, the end and the whole point of everything. It is the desire and the will of the Father, whose will, WILL be done. Oneness with each other in Christ is the only safe thing to hope in because it is the only real guarantee.
I do not know if my girls will reach the height of personal success, or not get into a car accident, or marry someone I approve of. And I hope that they stay kind and fun and sweet. I hope all of these things and will pray for these things, but at the end of the day, love persists regardless.
Whatever we are one with will be our virtue and our condemner. But there is no condemnation in the love of Christ—a love which holds no record of wrong. Oneness with Him is our virtue, our validation and our fulfillment. Love Him first, and these things (validation, fulfillment, and more) will be added.
When we see the will of God for what it really is (eternal love/oneness with us), we see how abundantly He provides for it. Remember Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid? Did he really want his fence painted or his car waxed? No, he was training Ralph Maccio for success in the ultimate ring. In this same way, love and acts of love transform us into people familiar with the movements of eternal life: sacrifice, a belonging, and humility. He provides for our coming to our own end, which awakens a need in us to unite with something bigger.
If you are not being charged by “likes” from the world, and instead find yourself at the end of the day humbled and needing Christ—CONGRATULATIONS!! You are the winner. You are being nurtured toward the whole point: humbled oneness with Christ—or, love.
We are loved. We didn’t earn it and we can’t un-earn it. It’s not based on my adorable qualities or lack thereof. It isn’t based on my goodness at all. Love is this: belonging, oneness—specifically oneness with Christ who is in and through all things. The more fully we can align and immerse in this, the more fully in love we are.
I have this undeveloped hunch that several homeless people have a big secret. A secret that some of them don’t even know yet. That some of them are angels. And that I will be working for them in the next age. I walk by them, curious; I look into their eyes and try to make out a sense of knowing. Is it there? Do they know?
So it was no surprise to me the other day when this thing that I’m going to tell you about, happened.
I’ve been trying out a fledgling coffee shop in the developing, sputtering-toward-its-potential, historical district of my town. The first time I went there coincided with the time when, out of nowhere, extremely loud and profane exclamations belonging to an older male bellowed out from across the street and down a few doors. The surprised patrons walking nearby at that moment scurried into the closest open, public doors.
The worker at the coffee shop I scurried into came out from behind the counter, and peered outside the doorway and around the corner to see what all the excitement was about. After a few seconds the shouting stopped, and the coffee shop owner said, to no one in particular, “Historical Roseville… iiiiiiiiiiit’s exciting!” (He said it with the inflection of an announcer at a WWF event). He followed it up with a mumble, “The weird thing was that he was yelling at his own reflection in the window.”
I decided to go back a couple weeks later, because 1) I’m a bleeding-heart, small-business supporter (albeit contradicted by my love affair with Amazon Prime), especially IF, 2) The product is good. And in my opinion, this place has the best coffee in town. So, the second time I went, I sat outside on a bench fashioned by two-by-four lumber and cinder blocks. The small table for my bench was composed in the same way. Very endearing to anyone like myself who has ever tried to express their inner person with dorm room furniture.
I was alone at my table, which is the way I prefer it—alone—with my journal and laptop. There was a thoughtful handful of fresh flowers in the small vase on the table. A homeless man hobbled by, mumbling something about an AA meeting. Then he hobbled by three more times, hunched over, shabby, repeating his line about looking for the meeting. Then the man paused to rest on a window sill near me. He asked if it would bother me if he smoked.
“Yes.” I told him, “The smoking would bother me”.
But I had this feeling I ought to listen to him if he talked, and sure enough, after sitting together for a few moments of silence, another character trailed through, shaking his fist at enemy demons, and the man sitting next to me says, “There sure is a lot of evil in this world; but if there wasn’t any evil, how would we know what ‘good’ is?”
“Wow!” I exclaimed, “That is profound!”
That wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. “Well, thank you”, he said softly. “I don’t… people don’t usually think…” He trailed off. He wasn’t looking for pity, so he didn’t need to say what he meant: “People don’t usually think I have anything to offer.”
“Did you go to college?” he asked.
“Yes”, I said.
“What did you learn?”
“I tried school”, said the man. “But it seemed more suited for teaching people how to make money. Doesn’t it seem that way to you? Nothin’ wrong with that, but I’m looking for real knowledge. Like, how to be a decent human being. Seems like that would solve some of the real problems we have. I mean, for a top food-producing country, we sure have a lot of hungry people. Maybe if we were more decent, and less focused on making money, we might actually do some real good. Sometimes I think most of the people who resort to drugs are the ones who just can’t believe the cruelty and greed of this world.”
He went on to tell a story of when he worked on a shrimp boat and ate until he was nearly sick of food, and how he realized then that the main thing we all need to learn is how to be fed.
Twenty minutes into it, he was still talking, and I would have left at any time (because in my midlife age, I am getting less polite; and with less time ahead of me, I feel less inclined to indulge other peoples’ need to talk), except that I was intrigued. I was doing myself a favor by sitting and listening. Meanwhile, several strollers-by glanced at me with “whaddyagonnado”-type faces, or eye rolls, and at one point the coffee shop worker came out to casually offer the seating in the back that they hadn’t quite finished painting yet, but it was available if I wanted it.
After a pause, the man I was talking with picked up where he left off, “It seems like we could learn a lot from the Creator, but people seem offended by that. For the life of me I can’t understand why that would be an offensive idea—that there is a Creator. I’m sort of dumbfounded by that.”
Then he turned to me and asked, “Do you have anything for me?”
Right or wrong, I felt a little disheartened for a second until he clarified, “I mean, knowledge—do you have any knowledge for me? I have everything else I need, but what one thing do you know that has helped you, that could maybe help me?”
The “Dueling Banjos” tune popped into my head.
Oh, the importance of being prepared for these moments. And, oh, the disappointment I feel toward myself when I feel so unprepared…
It was clear this man already knew the true “One Thing”. But as for a “one bit of knowledge-thing”, I’m not one of those people like the cowboy-sensei from City Slickers who has this “One Thing” of knowledge that I stay with or hand out. I tend to move from thought to thought, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch. So I considered the current branch that I was dangling from at that very second.
“Well”, I started, as a pithy thought bubbled to the surface, “I think what I’m grappling with right now is the belief that I’m OK.”
“Huh?” asked the man.
“What I mean to say, is that I—we all—do all kinds of ridiculous things, believing that we are not OK.”
“Oh,” he said. “Huh.”
It was time for me to go, so I strapped on my purse and put on my sunglasses. I went over to shake his hand, and as we shook, he kindly said, “Thank you, my dear, you are an inspiration.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Robert”, he said. “But my given name is Roadrunner.”
And that was that.
I finally got the permission I was yearning for without me knowing I was yearning for it. All I know is that one day I was staring out a window and suddenly it was there—not just gestating academically in my head like it had doing been for the last decade. No, suddenly it was brought to life in me—and made into something that empowers and frees me, instead of something that I merely weigh or that weighs on me.
Over the last thirty years or so, our somewhat isolated, Western microclimate has weathered shifting seasons of thinking. Included in this category is the once-popular “No Tolerance” line of thought, which has given way to the more recent “Anti-No Tolerance” norm. In hopes of nullifying the off-putting effects of opposition, we now oppose opposition. “A-conviction” is the new “conviction”. (Which is still a conviction).
This makes perfect sense according to the saying “We become the mirror image of that which we oppose” (Richard Rohr). The reality of opposition perpetuates itself.
Especially we Christians don’t do so well with opposition. Whatever our convictions are, the threat of differences has caused and still causes gut-wrenching, cringe-worthy destructive reactions. We were given our tools, but we weren’t mature enough to use them without inflicting unnecessary pain. But God is so patient.
Perhaps a Time Out is an order. Maybe it’s a good thing that for now, we’ve (or at least I have) stalled out in this purgatory of not wanting to take sides. Maybe it’s a healthy exercise to drop the rope on convictions for a second and let the dust settle until I can see Christ in all this before I grab my torch and pitchfork.
For a long time, I have agonized and contemplated, not so much where I stand on things, but whether or not it is helpful at all to take a stand on things. My transformation is still very much in-process: I started as a black and white thinker. Then certain life events helped transition me into someone who suddenly could neither claim any stand nor support any boundary. “What is right? All is grey!”
This nebulous place is appropriately paralyzing. Better to wait to act until I’ve matured. It was/is an appropriate part of my process, but paralysis is not my ultimate destination. But there I sat: hesitant, unknowing, and uncomfortable amidst the other evolving frozen chosen—all the while, wishing for a righteous, hard line to cling too. “Boundlessness” can be a hard concept to live with. I was part put-off, and part envious of anyone who could voice a conviction at all.
Then I began to take a deeper look into why I was so paralyzed. Why can’t I embrace a certain conviction? For me, this was the reason: I didn’t want to imply hatred toward someone by saying that I disagreed with them. I didn’t want to be the self-righteous jerk that Jesus rebuked over again in the Bible, and I didn’t want to be the jerk that the “anti-haters” have understandably risen up against. I didn’t want to make people feel the way I feel when someone says to me: “Women should not be given a position of authority in church.”
Many of us haven’t really learned how do detach hatred from disagreement. In turn, disagreeing has become synonymous with hating, and so (perhaps rightly?) society has removed the privilege of being able disagree.
But one day, as I was staring out the window, I saw some of what God disagreed with about me, and at that same moment I also saw that He loved me. God agreeing with me was never a condition for His love for me. In the same way, I don’t agree with everything my girls do, but it has no bearing on whether I love them or not. Suddenly, I understood without a doubt that in Christ, it is possible to disagree and love.
The funny thing is, I knew this—I knew this! Dallas Willard said it a long time ago. But this knowledge possessed no power and no meaning for this area of my life, until that day.
Anyway, in that sudden ah-ha moment, I was given permission to re-embrace my convictions as I am in Christ. I was graciously given a place to unapologetically and lovingly stand. Even more, I was given the grace to permit others to have their place, too.
It’s a step beyond “agreeing to disagree”—like un-invested co-habitants who just ignore the elephant in the room; like couples who must refrain from a topic, lest a nuclear war ensue. “First, do no harm”—it’s a right mantra, but it doesn’t end there. There’s a next step. Here’s the vision for it: After waiting patiently for God to give us a place to stand, and allowing Him to transform us into loving, Christ-centered people who can stand there, we unique people progress into unique people who deeply love and respect one another—people who are somehow unoffending and unoffended—despite standing alongside people of known and fundamental differences. We suddenly possess a love that is uniting instead of fracturing. And we don’t love each other because we agree on major issues; we love each other because that’s what people in Christ do. Period.
I am coming out of neutral. I am being put into gear, with permission to proceed with conviction. Not that I plan on shouting my particular stance from the mountaintop, nor shall my stance be the basis for my ministry. It’s just that I get to have it again.
See for yourself, as you enthrone Christ over your convictions—from that position of being in and under Christ—we are the same as everyone else. We are all people who are deeply loved despite our differences.
I don’t mean to insult the enormity of our differences by writing out some smug, cut-and-dried perspective of it all. I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out. But I think I’ve gotten a taste of the next step in my salvation that God is working out within me.
Pray for our deliverance into whatever next, more loving, less threatening place God has for us. He is the only one that can do it. Come Lord Jesus, hurry. And let’s get ready—being in Christ can do mysterious and unexpected things to a person.
The beloved human has been maturing for millennia.
Interestingly, the growth pattern of the individual psyche and even our spiritual evolution somewhat resembles the course of the still-developing human race. Not so surprising then, is the idea that history indicates a moment of sweet naivety, an age of barbarianism, a time of domination-by-rules, a period of quietness or darkness, followed by a ripeness for knowledge, leading into rebellions and revolutions and emancipation and deeper learning, a surge in industrial able-ness hemmed in by the maddening reality of limitation, a broadening into holistic seeing, an assertion toward human decency…
Or something like that.
Life’s composition de facto—its progression, and the fact of its organized procession—did/do we achieve it in a sort of pre-meditated way? Or does it just… happen. Often haphazard messy-like, yet naturally suited for the purpose of maturing. Its template, seemingly too monumental and mysterious to have been pre-planned, is also too consistent, and intricately apropos to have been an accident.
This is a truth: To be alive is to be ushered through a process of maturing, and it does more harm than good to rush it or deny it. A certain framework for development exists, and whether we acknowledge it or not, or whether we respect it or not, or are aligned with it or not, it is proved—you might even say “glorified”. It prevails even if we don’t believe in it.
Here’s an example of me proving the growth cycle as I go against it: In my quest to earn the parent’s “Best Cultivator of Thinking Children” award, I played around with the idea of skipping some steps of the growth process with my girls. I tried to bypass the barbarian age by appealing to their logic and reason. Except that they didn’t have anything for me to work with at ages two, or three or four. I thought if I did a fabulous job explaining why people shouldn’t run into the street, that my toddlers would simply not do it. But no, there isn’t a way around the age—barbarians need rules which are regularly enforced, not the thirty minute-long lectures which I am so good at. History buffs would back me up on this: Enlightenment is born after navigating a dark and barbaric terrain. Infertile as that ground may seem. God have mercy.
Here is another example of the growth process prevailing as I go along with or against it depending on the day: I am anxious to get to the “assertion toward human decency” and even the “peace and harmony” end of the spectrum within my household. As a result, I am in a constant state of temptation to simply give my kids what they want so that they’ll be happy, in hopes that therefore, we can all be in peaceful relationship with one another—as if getting what one wants and removing all resistance is the secret shortcut to a peaceful existence. But I’ve witnessed the absurdity of this idea. I have seen with my own eyes that peace and happiness do not occur without first having cultivated in them respect and unselfishness, obedience and self-control. I must do my time in these trenches, teaching and modeling and encouraging these things first, before I can hope for any lasting payoff of steadfast peace. God help me. There is a process.
Each season of life is necessary. Have you ever known an adolescent who was never bound to a set of rules in their elementary years? Have you met an elementary-aged boy or girl whose early childhood innocence was taken? How about an adult was never given any freedom, or room for rebellion when in their late teens? A mid-lifer who has never experienced their own limitation? Or an elderly person who never learned to see beyond him/herself? There becomes something unpleasant, and ‘isms which can be worked through, but are in themselves, unhelpful or destructive—often to no fault of that individual—when steps are skipped, or robbed, or avoided. All ages are important—one best gets “there” by first being “here”.
Each season is necessary, and also each season must come to an end so that the next one can begin. Ever tried to re-create that favorite age and relive it again? I was not popular in high school, so there was never any danger of me regressing and trying to relive those inglorious days. But I did love college. I thrived there. And, for a long time afterward, I found myself trying to arrange my post-college environment to resemble an exciting, free, driven, purposed, inspired, wisdom-seeking place with many like-minded peers. The result of that? Something palpably unnatural. Inauthentic. Unrewarding. Downright icky. Like, Pet Cemetery-(the movie)-weird. Note to self: only God resurrects.
As some of us are inclined to cling to the past, many others of us would rather hop on the express lane to the next thing—to somewhere beyond wherever we’re currently at on the spectrum, believing that all promise is confined to the future. For example, my young married friends want a gratifying, non-challenging relationship with their spouse; and my eight year old wants an apartment. But even if we could take a quantum leap into the future, would we have the maturity to live in it or the means to sustain it? No, the place of promise is every bit as much about us being transformed into people who can live there as it is about the actual place. For that matter, if this place is correlated with our reciprocal ability to live in it, then perhaps this place is actually already here, and we just haven’t evolved enough to see it?
The enticement within the dangling carrot of “the next thing” is the promise of some kind of unthreatened contentment. Whether she could articulate it or not, that’s what my eight year-old is seeking in the next mountain range over. As intangible and lack-luster as that sounds, isn’t that the ultimate state of being? Marketing and advertising companies make trillions by promising this. Satisfaction without threat? Yes, please—I’d like me some of that.
Perhaps in my barbaric age, I would have asked as my six year old does whenever we’re going somewhere: “When will we get there?” If we’ve got a homing device within us that is set on contentment (read: perfectly and completely evolved beings—matured to a place above all threat), and if we’re hardwired to believe that such a thing is possible, then the next logical question is: “When or how do I get to this place of satisfaction?”
This is a necessary question. It is a question that is intended to be asked—so no offense implied by the word “barbaric”. One gets best to whatever is next by knowing some of the answer to this question; and likely, anyone reading a Christian blog already knows the answer, which includes the idea that we are made fully perfect and suitable for eternity by way of a seeming devolution.
Equally as interesting (to me, anyway) is asking this question on behalf of the whole human civilization. We can be sure that God is continually working on this angle. When/how will the whole human get to a state of perfect wholeness which prospers in contentment? Perhaps the answer is the same as the individual’s life cycle. By taking cues again from the natural order of the individual life, maybe the human’s whole and ultimate deliverance into salvation… reflects the same downward movement. Maybe the beloved human doesn’t finally figure out its way into salvation, or climb its way into heaven; rather, maybe the world crumbles and falls into the hands of the Resurrecting God. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t hint at this.
Despite the disturbing sound of that, based on the evidence at hand, is there any reason to think that we would eventually create a utopian, eternal life for ourselves? Or do we just finally, sort of, roll over into it? When do we get there? How do we get there? This is the Way that was revealed to us: to be about the Father’s tasks before us to the best of our ability (whatever that means), and to wait and pray for our deliverance into something greater. May God deliver us sooner rather than later.
I find all of that fascinating to think about, and asking when or how we get there is essential, that we may know it and practice it. But recently, I was inspired to contemplate this next question:
“Do we need to worry about getting there?”
In light of life’s purposeful procession reflected in life throughout the universe, a person could wonder: do we mature ourselves, or does the process of life mature us? I’m initially inclined to think I play a large role in completing and perfecting myself—it certainly requires trust and humility to think otherwise—but if history can offer any insight as to how we got from there to here, it would seem that the human has little more responsibility than to simply be about the tasks put before him to the best of his ability (whatever that means), and to wait and hope for something greater.
Have I made my role more complicated than that? Don’t I have more control than that? Doesn’t God want more for us, or from us, than that?
Consider this illustration of a symphony: When regarding a singular bar or measure in a piece, there is no clear melody, the crescendo leads to nowhere and the movements seem to collide without any real rhyme or reason. Only when hearing the whole piece does each stanza have full value. Even more, we know that the purpose of playing music is not to simply race to the end of it—rather, it was written to be enjoyed, and so that all would play to each one’s best ability, while watching the conductor. The truth is, the orchestral-like flow of life is designed and conducted by an intentional and involved Creator for the ultimate good of all things. We certainly have our part to play, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the living, breathing, knowing conductor to bring a performance to its completion.
It opens the pressure valve a bit when I look at life from this angle. It releases me from the impossible task of perfecting myself on my own, or knowing things beyond what I can know, or doing things that I cannot do with resources that I do not have. When I trust that the process of life is adequately purposed for the perfect completion of all things including me, my hope finds a home in something much bigger than just perfecting my own part in everything. I’m suddenly less fearful of what the moment takes away, and instead, I’m more hopeful in what the fullness of time will create. I am less anxious about getting to my “there”, and am suddenly more patient with my “here”. And I am less paranoid about what I (or anyone else) am doing wrong, and more encouraged to simply participate.
So, as far as wanting to know when we will get there, all that we can be certain of is that God is never rushed. He owns time. And He has complete faith in His ability to create and direct a beloved creation into its intended, beautiful wholeness in His own time. How will we get there? It’s a lot less convoluted than I make it out to be. The answer is: here. I get there by way of doing the tasks put before me to the best of my ability while I wait and pray for my deliverance.
Do we have to worry about getting there? As believers in Christ, we can trust the process of life to bring us to perfect completion—to bring about a good work—enduring every season, because our process is being conducted by a loving, all-powerful Creator who is fully invested in the age we are in right now, whether it looks like He is or not. My perfection never hinged on my achievement of it. Neither is that the case for our whole human self. But God’s will for the perfect completion of the whole human will come to pass. If I want to get to a content and unthreatened place in the pre-ordained trajectory of humanity, I’d do best to simply believe this. May God’s will be done.
Our promised land has not passed us by. Neither is the land of contentment a certain place on the continuum as much as it is the whole continuum. Therefore, our calling is simply to be on it. We may feel as if we have moved either toward or away from some of the values that make us promising candidates for eternal satisfaction, but we are certainly not far away from God’s ability to restore the beloved human to its full and whole state. Depending on your perspective, the human race may be in a crescendo or a decrescendo, but either way, the current dynamic was scored and perfected long ago. For that matter it is probably unhelpful to idolize previous generations, and it is equally unhelpful to doom or blame this next one, regardless of what our surroundings may look like. We generations have much less control than we think in the ultimate outcome. Fortunately, God is still in control. Even now, He is guiding, directing and knowing; providing us daily with the means to become and possess satisfaction without threat.
Seeing the human from an more evolved perspective is to know that the biggest factor for a person’s maturation is not so much one person’s perfect choices, or the other person’s perfect reactions, but mostly time—the process of life, my earnest participation, and a patient acceptance of that. Unthreatened contentment is the result of embracing the whole thing. I am a kinder parent when I believe this.
In every age, God is God. God is in control. Believing that is the way to contentment.
One last illustration:
I watched an adventure documentary about a Dutch girl named Laura Dekker who became the youngest person to sail around the world alone. It took her two years—she was fourteen when she started her journey and sixteen when she finished. At the end of the documentary, the spirit of her exit interview went something like this:
“When I first started sailing, all I wanted to do was beat the storms and avoid the doldrums. But now I know how to be OK with all of those things. Yes, I plot my course, but I have learned how to be a part of good and bad weather in order to get where I’m going. I have grown into someone who is content with the whole experience, and that changed everything for me.”