A Voice in the Shadowlands

Archive for August, 2010

Wrestling Match

A few days ago I saw a picture that has been on my mind ever since. The picture seems to be after a gathering, a group of people are dispersing, anyway. There’s a guy walking towards the camera with a sign that says, “Jesus hung out with 12 guys and a prostitute. He’s a lot more like me than you.” Now, I have no idea what meeting this sign was for.  It seems likely that the cause would be something I wouldn’t agree with, but regardless of it’s original intent, there was a message in there somewhere that I’ve been wrestling with…Who is more like Jesus? and even What was Jesus really like?

It sounds weird, I know, but I have an insanely hard time wrestling with this. Being like Christ is supposed to be the goal of this great experience (experiment?) called Christianity. I mean, the guy’s name is central to the whole name of the religion(/relationship). So in order to do that, we are called to be different; live and act different and right. We polish up our halos, tune up our harps and live. We are called to be in and not of and we tend to focus on the “not of” part more than the “in.” In order to keep the halos shiny and our robes shiny white, we avoid the right things and people. Well, not avoid. We’ll talk to them (most of the time) to invite them to join our club and act surprised when they back away. Typically, after this we shrug and assume that they might have been blinded by the sheen that the new Sin-Away cleaner has given our holy glow.

But was this what Jesus did? Yes, there were definitely people that didn’t care for his holy glow either, but over all people seem to be clambering over each other in an attempt to get closer to him. People were concerned because of the people who came to Jesus and the people Jesus went to find. The untouchable, the unsavory, the detested all were people Jesus took time to get to know just as well as he did the respectable people in society. He did it often enough to worry people.

So when we search to figure out how to be, how do we look at Jesus? We teach that Jesus was a unique phenomenon: the God-man. So much God as if he weren’t human, so much human as if he weren’t God. A paradoxical double 100% blend. We know that it is impossible to be completely like Christ, but we’re still called to be like him. It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the very One who spoke the universe into existence probably joined into a conversation about farting with his twelve best friends under the very stars he made. I’ll give you a minute….See? I told you it was difficult.

How is it possible to live like this guy? Do I copy the holiness that cannot stand to be around sin or the man who dined with prostitutes? Strive hard to keep my robes spotlessly white or be all right if they pick up a little dusty haze while I tell the amazing story of the God-man? If I’m called to live a separate life, how do I become someone that lepers, children and (gulp) tax collectors want to be near? And if we can’t figure out how to do this right, forget about meeting every other Christian’s Christ-like standards.

I hate to say it but it often seems like those we’re supposed to seek out and spread the gospel to are the ones who seem the most like Jesus.

And I don’t expect an answer. And I know I’ll never get this right. But I think my soul would feel lighter if I could make my peace with this tonight. This life isn’t easy though. It’s true that it’s easier to get dragged down than to life someone up. At the same time, though, you can’t help lift someone if you aren’t reaching out.

I’m not posing answers. This is just round Several Hundred in an age old wrestling match for me…

Pax.


Telling Porkies to Myself

A few days ago, I my quiet time led me to a verse that I’d never paid attention to before. I’ve read through the Bible before but, honestly, with so many verses in the Bible, it really comes as no surprise that you always see something that you’ve glossed over before. So, what’s the verse?

Isaiah 28:15 – You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.”

Intrigued, I read the verses around it. Here’s the general gist: Isaiah is telling Israel that they have gotten too big for their britches. They have gotten so lackadaisical and cocky they feel like they don’t need God. God, being the great father that he is, plans on disciplining his renegade hellion children. Their response? Verse 15. They’re not worried. They’ve built up a web of lies so thick that they believe it and think they’re impervious to whatever can happen.

I do that a lot, too. I build up my own little mirages that I often prefer to deal with than face reality, build my relationship with God (even if that means experiencing discipline). In Cockney slang, I’m telling porky pies (lies). Not to my parents, not to friends, or God. I’m lying to myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but it comforts me that I know I’m not alone. People all over feel like they’ve made themselves ironclad. Successful business, check. Hot and cold running women, check. Sycophants following you like puppies (sycophants, by the way, is just a fancy word for kiss-ups, or whatever other word you want to follow kiss), check. For some it’s not those things that build their false confidence. Some of the biggest delusions are the “I’m a contributing member of the church” or “I don’t really do the church thing but I’m a spiritual person.” Whatever the lie…enjoy it while it lasts.

See, the rest of the chapter is one of those fantastic times in the Bible when God lets the sarcasm fly. The remaining verses can be summed up roughly as: “Hmmm, that contract you’ve worked out to cheat death? Yeeeeeah, uhm, I voided that. See, scariness is coming and your blanket isn’t going to be big enough for you to hide under. See, you’ve been doing everything backwards. I want to teach you how to do it right, if you’d just LISTEN TO ME.”

I wonder how tired God gets of saying that over and over and over again. I know when I’m being spiritually smart I’m amazed at how steep my learning curve is. I feel like the kid who says that 6th grade was the best 4 years of his life. The crazy thing is, life could be so much easier if I popped the bubble I’ve surrounded myself in, crawl out from under the blankets and face life, scariness and awesomeness combined, for what it is.

Anyone willing to pop the bubble with me?

Pax.


Brush Up Your Shakespeare

As a theatre geek, it is almost a requisite to like Shakespeare. I’m not sure when the rule was passed, but it was and there are very few things that can get you out of your obligation. I, however, have never been coerced into loving the Bard.

Sure, the man had very few (if any) original story-lines, but most folks will tell you that good theatre is simply stealing an idea and giving it a twist. Where Shakespeare truly shines are his characters and his words. Words have power. Great words can make great changes. It’s one of the things I love best about theatre. A crowd comes into a theatre. They laugh or cry or reminisce and, if the play is truly a good play, when the crowd leaves they bring with them new or different ideas.

Shakespeare has a challenge in the modern world, though; speech has changed a lot since the late-16th century. Add to this the fact that Shakespeare’s plays (in fact most plays) are written to be seen and not read and this becomes more challenging. Top that off with thousands of school kids being forced to read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and the rest under the watchful eye of a school teacher pressed to meet requirements more than teach a love for literature and the challenge starts to look like Everest.

Its similar to how a lot of people feel about Christianity. People hear how wonderful the Christian experience is supposed to be (and don’t get me wrong, it is) and then they sit to read things from a book that was written long before their time or sit in church while they were exposed to the gospel to a point of numbness. But then again, Scripture while edifying to read, is truly meant to be lived and presented to the world.

See, it doesn’t matter how well you know the written word. I’ve seen many times where a new actor to Shakespeare thinks that a true show of mastery is to rattle off all the ‘thees,’ ‘thous’ and archaic terms and allusions at a million miles an hour. Impressive? Maybe if you’re doing a fast rap. The words, though, are dull. The jokes are lost. The innuendo fades. The true proof you know what you’re talking about comes from bringing the words to life so that they breathe emotion and a modern audience can join in the experience that groundlings in the Globe had. The oft confused “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” moves through the muddlesome minds of the masses, past what seems to be the meaning (Hey, Romeo, where are you?) and, clear as a bell, Juliet’s try heart-cry of “Romeo, why couldn’t you have come from any other family? Why does it have to be my family’s sworn enemy?”

Paul seemed to understand that a performance packs more punch and is more clearly understood than just the written word. While Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” Paul wrote a letter to Titus. In this short letter, Paul hits to the heart of the matter. In a world where Christians and Christianity are misunderstood, Paul reminds Titus to teach his congregation to not just know but to live Christ. The reason? Because living Christ can draw people to him.

Jaques in As You Like It is right. All the world is a stage. We’re all actors with entrances and exits, but does our act pack a punch? It doesn’t mean that everyone will understand or appreciate it. Good actors get panned all the time. What we need to be sure of, though, is that our audience got the point. Oh, and before I forget, what’s wonderful in both Shakespeare and the Christian walk is that you never get so good you can’t get better. There’s always something deeper to explore, some mystery that we can make clearer.

So, brush up your Shakespeare…

Pax

N.B. – A mea culpa for the bad grammar earlier. If we shadows have offended, hopefully now it all is mended.


Remembering Jake

The last few days I’ve been thinking about an old friend of mine. This year, if everything went right, he should be in fourth grade by now. When I last saw him, he was in kindergarten and I was his drama teacher. His name was…well, we’ll call him Jake and I think he actually taught me more than I could ever teach him.

Jake was completely ADHD and more boy than his body could handle. If he managed to sit still for thirty seconds, he was about to explode. The first day I met him, he came in with his class he asked me if he could sit in a chair instead of the floor like the rest of the class.

“No, buddy, I’m sorry. That chair is only for the kids who have to go time-out.”

He shrugged and replied, “Oh, that’s OK. I’ll be here a lot.” He was right.

About half-way through the year, I had an epiphany. I needed to change my approach with Jake. So, Jake and I struck a deal. He was going become my shadow. As soon as he came in the class, he would glue himself to my side and follow me wherever I went. That way, when he was starting to get antsy, I could find an excuse to walk around, or reach over and touch his shoulder to remind him he needed to check himself. Some days were better than others. Some days were a LOT better than others.

ADHD kids are special. Like the John Mayer song (yes, I am going to quote John Mayer), they’re bigger than their body gives them credit for. There’s so much life that it just spills out all over themselves, the room, and anyone in the vicinity. They’re a challenge and not everyone is up for it. Jake’s teacher wasn’t up for it. Like most ADHD kids, Jake was told that he was bad. Now, we’re all fallen and I agree with the verse that says not one person is good, but as far as being truly bad, most five-year-olds don’t fall in that category. Hitler, yes. A hyperactive kindergartner with a screwed up family life? Most likely, he just needs some patience, constancy, and a rudder. Almost daily at school, though, Jake go the verbal smack down that he was bad. I’ll admit that I had a soft spot for Jake. Mostly because I was a talkative, bouncy kid who spent the majority of first grade standing with his nose in a corner because of said talking and bouncing.

One day, there came a breaking point. To be honest, it was a day where it was hard to teach and most of it was due to Jake. His teacher dropped him off telling him he was bad and when she arrived to pick up the class, she picked right up where she left off. The class left and I set about doing teacherly things. After a minute, I looked over to the door to see if it was closed (For all the talking teachers give about closing doors, they’re some of the worst violators of that rule). As I expected the door was open. What was unexpected was the little, blond crying ball in the doorjamb – Jake.

I went to see what was wrong. Jake turned to me and through his tears said, “Mr. A, am I a bad boy? I don’t want to be bad. Teacher says I am. I don’t want to be bad. I just want a good day. Just one good day!” If there were any words after that, they were drowned out by tears. Almost crying myself, I told Jake that No. He wasn’t a bad boy. He was a wiggly boy. And that was O.K. because boys were supposed to be wiggly, except that some them needed a little extra help. That was what I was there for. Together we could help him have good days in drama.

It worked, most of the time. The day came when I felt like Jake could handle sitting with the class and stop being my shadow. We discussed this and Jake grudgingly went along, or so I thought. I became convinced that day that Jake was channeling hellfire that day. At the end of the class, Jake came up to me.

“Mr. A, do you want to talk to me ’bout my ‘havior?”

“What do you think, buddy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“‘Cause I was bad.”

“Do you know why you were bad?”

“Cause I wanted you to like me again. When I was bad, you liked me. You wanted me near you. Now, you don’t like me any more. You only like me like the rest of the class now.”

I never knew if I got him to understand, but I explained that I liked him just as much as I always did. I saw him get to be able to behave and was proud of him and wanted him to show me he could be just as good as the rest of the kids. If he ever needed me, he would know I was right there.

This was a long story, I know, but I swear there is a point. You see, I feel an awful lot like Jake a good portion of the time. I’m sure a lot of you are, too. No matter how much I try to be good on my own…I can’t. I tell myself I’m bad. The world tells me I am. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to have that golden “One Good Day.” God knows that, though. He looks at all of us and reminds us that we can’t achieve it on our own. We desperately, totally have to have him guide us in this. When we follow him, we can get our acts straight and set our houses in order. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, just that if we follow our Teacher, it’ll work out all right.

Sometimes, though, when everything is good and we’ve been following along, God seems so far away. Occasionally, it’s our natural drifting because we get too comfortable. I often think that sometimes, though, God seems far away just to help us remember that we need to always be trusting and leaning on him. When he seems distant, that’s our cue not just to trust him but to search for him. I know that too many times I pull a Jake and try to act up because I figure even if I attract God’s anger, well, at least I’m getting attention from him. That, my friends, is not how it’s supposed to be…but then again, in the eyes of eternity, we’re all kindergartners.

So, while I try to remember the lessons Jake taught me, maybe you can pick up something from a kindergartner, too.

Jake, wherever you are, I think of you and thank God that for a school year we crossed paths. Always remember to be the Great Teacher’s shadow.

Pax


Speak Up…

I got slapped today and it smarted. Not physically, though I think the sting from that kind of slap would have long since passed. No, I got one of those “Pull yourself together and calm down, man” kind of slaps (though mercifully not as dramatic as that epic scene from Airplane. If you don’t know what I mean, go ahead, Youtube it. I can wait. See, what I mean?). A simple email made me realize that I need to get my act together about something that gets way too overlooked or misunderstood – Prayer.

Prayer is hard for me, at least at first. I was told when I was little I was borderline ADD and I think as I’ve grown older I’ve crossed over into that wonderful world. I start to try to pray with all the best intention but The Lord’s Prayer is too much for me. The mention of bread gets me thinking about lunch and if we’re doing the “debts and debtors” version, I start wondering if I got all my bills paid for the month yet. You laugh, but most of you out there do the same thing.

Prayer isn’t meant to be like that. It seems so hard at times and it’s an easy habit to slip out of. It’s supposed to be conversation and I forget that too much. After going long stretches of time (translated as months) without really praying, I feel that I have to edit my approach to speak to the Almighty Creator Who Sustains All Things. This, for me, usually ends up in a very King James-y kind of language. “Oh-eth Lord-eth, here-eth am I.” I either abandon that approach or the prayer altogether before I get more than a few sentences in. Let me let you in on a little secret: You know why the King James Bible sounds like it does? Because that’s how people talked when the Bible was translated in the 1600s. They were trying to be assessable to the people, so it’s ok to pray in a way you can wrap your mind around, too. Takes a bit of pressure off, doesn’t it?

What I love about prayer is that there are so many kinds you can find in the Bible. Times are good? Talk to God. Times could be better? Talk to God. Life not working out quite like you thought? Talk to God. You find yourself in a deep pit surrounded by a bunch of lions who are looking at you like the Papa John’s guy just showed up? Talk to God. I, also, love the fact that many of the prayers (good and bad) are songs. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Look at the Psalms – David has a lot of prayers that are “God everything is great and you’re wonderful” but aside from these Biblical Top 40 hits, he also dabbles in the emo and screamo (God have you forgotten me? Are you going to let me die?) to the blues. While we aren’t supposed to use God like a Divine Home Shopping Network, all in all, there’s only one way you can really screw up prayer and that’s not to do it. I’ve found from personal experience that if you get in the habit, the knowledge of how to approach the throne and with what tends to come with the flow.

Listen to, or read, other people’s prayers. Just having a peek into other people’s prayer lives can be enlightening Though if you are like me, when you listen to another person’s prayer try not to laugh too hard when you find that one person who adds God or Lord after every few seconds. I have a friend who does it because it helps him keep his mind focused in the right direction, but to me it comes across as if he’s worried that God is ADD and he has to keep getting his attention. This is the beauty of it, find what works and go with it.

A side note: The conversational/relational prayers are not just important, they’re vital to a relationship (try having a relationship with someone who won’t talk to you. That’s what God’s experiencing when you don’t talk with him. Yes, he’s all-knowing but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to hear your take on it). There are other types of prayers as well, though. Some of the faithful who are now gone would pray through meditating on God. Try it sometime. Get to a quiet place and slowly go over the different names and qualities of God. Take a moment in between to ruminate and marinate on it. What it means in general. How that aspect of God relates to you. After a while, you’ll find it easier. Familiarity leads to comfort and constancy.

And if I seem like I’m preaching a sermon, well I am. To me. Because these are things I know but forget. I have a horrible habit of getting perturbed (that’s a big fancy word for pissed off. Use it and you not only seem intelligent, teachers don’t call you down) with God not doing things as I dictate and I decide to “punish” him by not talking. Yes, I realize that sounds incredibly 13-year-old girl of me, but it’s what I do. After going long enough without talking to him, I start to forget that I even was talking to him at one time. Then I have to start over again. Vicious cycle.

So, I’m challenging myself, and whoever else is up for a challenge as well, to speak up. Flare prayers have their place but I’m talking about honest to goodness conversation. Call him God. Call him Father. Call him Papa but call him. And here’s a bigger challenge: Shut up at times to listen to what he has to say, too.

Pax


We Aren’t Whales…

In my quiet time this morning, one of the…less pleasant Bible verses came up. Proverbs 26:11 – “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.” Peter, in his second letter, takes the verse and applies it to people who experience the gospel and reject it’s truth only to go back to their old life. While you can’t argue with the wisdom of that, I don’t think it’s the only application. Having recently been reminded on Sunday that “Stupid is as stupid does” it all seems to line up very well.

Fools, in the Bible, are not just dumb but stubbornly dumb. Fools reject wisdom and help, deny that God exists, and (one of my favorites) his mouth invites a beating. For the most part, though, it’s not that he can’t learn, he refuses to because he is happy being where he is. We’re called to more than that.

Today’s quiet time, Bren managed to point out that part of this revolved around releasing things for forgiveness. I’d never thought about this before. It can go one of two ways: We spend our entire life focusing on how we were wronged and try to draw such power and bitterness that can’t let go of the mess to forgive the one who wronged us, or we can be so focused on our own wrongs and sins that they come to define us and we’d rather wallow in that filth than move on because we don’t think we deserve to move on. Both sides are bull. We, as children of the Creator, cannot be defined by one mishap, whether our fault or someone else’s. You have to let go of it. It’s scary, and believe me I know, because it requires letting go of something that we’ve given so much meaning, so much of ourselves, to.

It requires realizing one thing: We aren’t whales. Sperm whales in particular. You see, sperm whales have a rare gift. Their waste is worth its weight in gold. Sperm whales produce waste product called ambergris. It’s something they produce to save their intestinal tract from the harsh beaks of the squid that they love oh so very much to eat. Yes. In their intestines. Yes. Waste. And it tends to come out where your waste does (although it seems like on occasion, they will puke some of it up, especially if it is too large of a mass to pass). This product floats on the surface and cures until it’s a hard, waxy and grey and becomes perfect for perfumes or cooking. For the purposes of today’s post (and everyone’s well-being) we are going to assume that the sperm whale we’re discussing went to a kegger last night. Whaley the whale gets sick, pukes and finds he can sell his sick for a hefty sum.

If I ever found myself in Whaley’s situation, I just have a puddle of sick and some slightly moist shoes.  No one wants what I’m selling (if I tried to sell it, I would likely end up with a nice room with padded walls and a fairly tight fitting jacket) and, if I were smart, should get the heck away from said puddle. Too many times though, my cockiness leads me away only to think, eh, I bet it won’t happen that way again and I just find myself with another puddle of puke. It takes effort to step away but it usually takes more than that. Yes, you can’t praise self-discipline enough. It’s something that too many people have too little of. Still, often times we’re not strong enough on our own. Dogs often need a leash to forcibly drag them away from things. Even when you call their name and they know they shouldn’t, when their being dragged off they tend to look back over their shoulders longingly.

So let’s agree on a few things: We aren’t whales. Our crap is worthless. It’s better not to be a stubborn fool. So what do we do? Realize that the problem is bigger than ourselves, trust Papa to lead us away from it, and make the conscious effort to let go. God will only take us as far as we allow him. It’s not easy to give up control, but it sure does make life make more sense when you don’t have to do it all.

Pax


But That’s Just the First Part of the Story

I wish there were more to the Bible. Well, the stories at least. If I were totally honest, I kinda wish God would have added more narratives and fewer letters. Sorry, Paul, but your cyclical thinking causes my ADD to run screaming into the hills. A good story (Biblical or otherwise) can hold my attention for ages. This is why the Bible leaves me wanting more. There are some awesome or mysterious or mysteriously awesome characters that come in, play a bit part and exeunt, never to be seen again.

I feel a bit robbed. I want to know backstories, what happens, motivations. It was funny to me that I had a revelation after I found out that J.K. Rowling had a write-up for all of her characters and even a few that didn’t make it into the books. “Ah ha!,” I thought. “So, that must be what it’s like with God. He wrote this huge book, knew that he couldn’t give every detail about everyone without causing people’s brain’s to melt, but he knows all of their stories because that’s what a good writer does (plus, it ensures continuity).” Yeah. That’s right. I know most of you just wondered if it was sacrilegious of me to compare God to the writer of Harry Potter. As far as I can find, it’s not a sin and if it is, at least I didn’t commit the ultimate sin and read Twilight. Yes, I just went there, too.

I wish I knew more about:

Joseph’s Egyptian wife, Aseneth. Her father was a priest (of Ra, was it?), and now she’s married to this guy who doesn’t worship her gods. Was there tension? Did she convert? How did she feel once she went from having no in-laws to being swarmed with a small army of them?

What was Tzipporah, Moses’ wife, thinking when she randomly has to circumcise her son on the fly? For an odd and much debated story, read Exodus 4, starting around verse 24. And what else happened to her. It had to be interesting inside that family’s tent.

There’s a prophet in the New Testament named Agabus. He shows up a few times during Acts and I find him rather cool, though he shows up, prophecies and pretty much peaces out. Granted, that seems to be par for the course for prophets in the Bible, but still. Fun fact: Agabus’ name can mean either a locust or a father’s joy.

What happened to Mary, Martha and Lazarus…and was their’s a crazily co-dependant relationship?

Did Lot’s wife have a future in the condiment business?

What happened during the rest of the Gerasene demoniac’s life?

What was Barabbas’ story and did he ever realize what a big thing he was a part of when he was set free during the Passion?

And, honestly, the list goes on and on and on.

I don’t worry about it, but it is something I ponder. What about ya’ll? Does this ever pop up into your heads or is there something different that you ponder about the Bible?

And allow me to make clear, I don’t believe God dropped the ball. The Bible is perfect just how it is. I actually tend to enjoy my mental trips trying to figure out the beginning and end of these stories we get a glimpse of. There are days, even, where it seems like these loose ends is another gift from God to me. Which rocks if you ask me.

Pax