Dec 31, 2011

Miracle


Lay down your arms
Give up the fight
Quiet our hearts for a little while

Things have been spoken
Shouldn't be said
Rattles around in our hearts and our heads

Let's feel what we cannot feel
Know what we cannot know
Let’s heal where we couldn't heal
Oh, it's a miracle, it's a miracle

Let's say what we cannot say
Let’s see what we cannot see
Let’s hear what we could not hear
Oh it’s a mystery, love is a mystery
Oh it's a miracle, it's a miracle
Let's be a miracle


God, help me to believe.

Micah 7:15
   “Yes,” says the Lord,
      “I will do mighty miracles for you,
   like those I did when I rescued you
      from slavery in Egypt.”

Psalm 136:4
   Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
         His faithful love endures forever.

Oct 21, 2011

The Both/And Tightrope



God wants me to be a tightrope walker.  It’s often quite frustrating.

See, I want to fully understand following Jesus and loving others; I want this life I’ve chosen to be fully understandable.  I want to work out the “if A then B, if C then D” flowchart of making choices that will glorify my Father and bless others.  I want to know the answers.  

The problem, I’m discovering, is that simple decisions and actions, the Bs and Ds, often don’t even exist.  It’s not “if A then B”… it’s “if A then Ħ."  And I don’t even know what Ħ is. Often, the answer to “Should I do this or this?” is “Yes.”  This complexity, and the tension that I wrestle with on a daily basis, I view as the tightrope of both/and.  Here are some examples…

  • Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t 50% God and 50% man.  He wasn’t sometimes God and sometimes man.  He was both.  This seeming paradox played out in his complete ability to be human… to feel joy, sorrow, betrayal, peace, hope, pain, anxiety, longing… and his complete ability to be in constant communion with his Father, to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world, and to defeat death.
  • Jesus was full of both grace and truth.  Jesus embodied love, which is not 50% grace and 50% truth, but 100% of both all the time.  I am called to abide in him, to function out of full-on agape.  This doesn’t mean to offer a hug and bite my tongue half of the time, while speaking the truth the other half.  It means to bring both grace and truth to my relationships all of the time. 
  • I am called to both die and live.  I’m called to deny myself, to take up my cross, and to follow Jesus.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it.  Jesus lived that he might die for us, conquering sin and death.  To live is Christ, and to die is gain. 
  • I am called both to need people and to depend on God as my source.  Rich, authentic community is integral to growing in our ability to give and receive love.  In relationships, I am called to encourage others, to walk with others, to rejoice with others, to weep with others, to deeply enjoy living life with others, and to open myself to the same from them.  And yet Jesus is the only friend closer than a brother.  God is the only one in whom I should place my trust and on whom I should depend.
  • The beatitudes, meaning ‘supreme blessedness’, convey the paradoxical desirability of sadness, sacrifice, and longing…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So how can my attitudes, words, and actions be both/ands?  How do I navigate being truthful and graceful at the same time, without compromising one?  How do I fully live as my unique self while dying to it?  How can I be open to both poverty and richness?  Mourning and comfort?  Longing and fullness?  Sorrow and joy?

If I’m honest, my response to the both/and tightrope is on peaceful days, “God, I guess this one’s up to you, because I can’t figure it out,” and on frustrating days, “God, #@)!(&#!$&*#@*!*()%)!@#$(&%^$!”

I am a crappy tightrope walker, and I lose my balance all the time, just like Peter.  I wish there wasn’t a tightrope, and I wish I could follow a flowchart.  And I think this points to my ultimate tension, the tug of war in my heart between trusting God and trusting myself.  If I trust his goodness… if I truly believe that past, present, and future, he desires and is working toward good for me… then I can find freedom in the both/and, knowing that God is holding the rope and the net and me.

Sep 16, 2011

Beyond Flatland

There is a wonderful story called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions that has had a profound impact on my worldview and my faith. The premise is that there exists a world with only two spatial dimensions called Flatland. This world is made of two-dimensional objects and two-dimensional people (polygons). They only know what is in front, behind, above, and below. There is no concept of a third dimension. There is no to the right or to the left. When a person approaches another, it looks like a line directly ahead growing in length; when a person moves away from another, the line shrinks. Only the edge of a polygon person can be seen as he approaches. The people of this world know government, art, education, politics, etc. It is a civilization in two dimensions.

One day, the protagonist of the story, the Square, has a dream about visiting a one-dimensional world, Lineland. He imagines one-dimensional beings, points, moving forward and backward along the line of their universe. Later on in the story, the Square is visited by an other-worldly being, the Sphere, who opens his eyes to the idea of his three-dimensional world, Spaceland. To the Square, the Sphere is supernatural. As the Sphere enters the Square’s two-dimensional world, he looks to the Square like a line that appears out of nothing. The Square’s view of the universe is expanded as his mind attempts to wrap around the concept of a third dimension.

In imagining how the Square would perceive the Sphere in his two-dimensional space and how the Sphere could perform seeming miracles (appearing and disappearing, and causing two-dimensional objects to do the same), my own views of creation and the Creator have expanded. Theoretical physicists postulate the existence of many more dimensions than we are aware of... some are curled up, some have superstrings wound about them, and all are every bit as real and as present as what you see in front of you.  There is profound meaning in this idea that reality is much more than what we can measure or perceive.

A Creator of a universe is by definition other, outside of that universe. I believe that the Creator of our universe (and perhaps countless other universes), as a loving Father, is always reaching into our existence, like the Sphere into Flatland. He is always creating and expanding and influencing and interacting, because, as wild as it sounds, our Creator cares for us and deeply desires that we know him. What does it look like to our dimensionally-limited perception when a Being outside of space and time reaches into our multi-dimensional universe? It can be overwhelming or imperceptible or uninterpretable or confusing, just as it is for the Square interacting with the Sphere. I draw comfort, gratitude, and awe from the truth that, as a created being, I cannot fathom my Creator or the ways in which he moves. Isaiah articulates this compellingly:

          “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
                    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
          For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                    so my ways are higher than your ways
                    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

And yet, my Creator must be so gentle, so tender, to engage with his creation in tolerable, much less loving, ways. Gulliver had to take special care not to crush the Lilliputians inadvertently. How much more care must the Creator take with the created? David sings:

          But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy,
                    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
          Look down and have mercy on me.
                    Give your strength to your servant;
                    save me, the son of your servant.

My prayer is that I will grow in knowledge of both God’s otherness and his gentleness… and that I will continue to be awed and humbled by the expansiveness of his creation.

Sep 3, 2011

Weary Worry




I am very future-oriented.  This is an aspect of my personality, and it is often a strength.  I see patterns in life and predict possible outcomes.  I am always thinking, always analyzing, always refining mental models and trying to draw meaningful conclusions.  This is who I am, and God made me this way, and it is good.

The other side of this double-edged personality sword (bonus points for anyone who sends me a drawing of a double-edged personality sword) is a propensity for worry.  Not only do I always think; I often fear.  Not only do I always analyze; I often criticize.  Not only do I always refine mental models and draw meaningful conclusions; I often catastrophize and focus on flaws, inconsistencies, inadequacies, and doom. 

The focus of my worrying, interestingly, has rarely been my work.  It has rarely been my science or my grades, despite the amount of time and energy I've spent on them.  Rather, the object of my anxiety has usually been relationships.  This points to my ultimate fear, which drives my worry: loss of relationship.  I am so scared of being forgotten or replaced or unwanted.  I am so scared of being alone.  I have experienced these losses in my life to the extent that I now have an anxiety-shaped feedback loop inside of me, demanding that I hunt for warning signs/patterns of potential loss and prevent prevent prevent. Whenever an uncertainty in relationship arises, the danger alarms sound, and my mind begins to attack the “problem” from every possible angle, ad nauseum (sometimes literally).  In uncertain times, I wear myself out, and I am often unable to experience the present for focusing on a future of loss.


Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

The first paragraph says that prayer is a replacement for worry.  I am exhorted (1) to tell God exactly where I am and what I need (or what I think I need) and (2) to choose to thank him for what he has done.  The first requires a recognition of my own fears. The second requires an acknowledgment of God’s faithfulness (NOT a feeling of gratitude, which comes and goes)... and a choosing to thank, independent of anxiety-ridden feelings.  And these two actions, being honest with God and choosing to thank him, produce an incomprehensible, circumstance-independent peace.  This peace, according to Paul, has the power to guard my heart and mind.  And how I long for something outside of myself to keep watch, to relieve my own feeble and weary lookout! 

The second paragraph is an exhortation to focus not on what may go wrong, but on what is and will be right.  What does this look like in the context of relationship, the focus of my worries?  God has filled my life with people who love and know me, and the depth of this knowing continues to expand.  I see him moving in my loved ones' lives, and I see him moving in my own.  And even beyond the present circumstances, the future, where I usually reside, is ultimately filled with deep, satisfying, life-giving relationships with God and others forever.  There will be no more loss.

So my prayer for myself and anyone else struggling with worry is that we would authentically tell God how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, and what we need…  that we would ask him for help… that we would take time to acknowledge to him and ourselves the wonderful things he has already done… and that, in whatever life area brings anxiety, we would choose to think about the beautiful, the true, and the good.  Father, help me to think about patterns of your loveliness and faithfulness in my life.  Help me to analyze the steadfastness of your provision.  Help me to refine my model of your unfailing love, which fills my past, present, and future, and to draw peaceful and confident conclusions.  Amen.


(Three-months-later edit: Check out John's poem.)

Aug 28, 2011

Unique

One of the wonderful things about my church is our emphasis on the uniqueness of each person.  Psalm 139 is a go-to in casual conversation, in growth groups, and in Sunday sermons.  The more we know about ourselves (our strengths and talents, what makes us tick, our values, our feelings), the more we know about God’s unique love for us and God's unique plan for us...  And the more we can use these ‘specialties’ to love God, others, and ourselves well.  These three calls to love (God, others, and self), according to Jesus, are the key ingredients for lasting life.  I’ve come to understand during my journey over the last few years that it is not narcissism to probe my inner workings, to pay close attention to my feelings, or to delight in my strengths.  It is not a stumbling block or a way of tuning God out.  Quite the opposite, it is the only way to hear God from an authentic place, to make space for him to speak into my current realities, and to open myself to deep transformation. 

Having been ‘primed’ to pay more attention to the uniqueness of myself and others, I’ve recently become interested in (which for me is pretty close to obsessed with) MBTI.  It’s definitely not hypothesis-driven science.  It’s definitely empirical and broad-stroke descriptive rather than proscriptive.  (So is much of medicine, though, and this doesn’t discount its efficacy.)  Having made this disclaimer, I’d like to delineate what I love about MBTI and being an INFJ.

  • I love knowing that there are other intense, brooding, all-or-nothing souls out there who routinely wear themselves out thinking about possibilities, problems, and people (INFJs).
  • I love recognizing that not everyone is like me, and that an action that would mean something negative coming from me doesn’t necessarily mean the same coming from someone else.  For example, emotional withdrawal is not a harbinger of doom for everyone…  For some people (not me!), it can mean simply a need for space to process, or even just physical fatigue. 
  • I love opening to the beauties of our differences.
  • I love seeing the complexity of the Creator in the complexities of our personalities, and I am comforted by the fact that he made human beings so different from each other but still called it all ‘good’.
  • I love feeling small and overwhelmed with the intricacies of others, because it reminds me that I’m not in control and that I couldn’t be even if I wanted to.

How humbling and peace-giving is the thought that the incomprehensible God, whose infinity is evidenced in the psalmist’s words…


O Lord, you have examined my heart
      and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
      You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
      and when I rest at home.
      You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
      even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
      You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
      too great for me to understand!

…How beautiful is the thought that he desires intimacy with me, in whom he delights!