In Quietness and Trust

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.  Is. 30:15

Identification is dehumanizing by prison number and demoralizing by resumé.  The old adage that we are human beings not human doings hasn’t influenced the way we judge the value of human life.  Yet, the toddler’s mantra, “I can do it all by myself” holds more power in my thinking than Jesus’ declaration that “It is finished.”

I still feel the judgment and want to prove myself worthy.  I’ve watched and read enough hero stories to recognize that as the ideal way to spend one’s life and breath. As a result, changing the world or sacrificing my comforts trying, is the only respectable way to use this one life I’ve been given.  We might fawn all over the excessively affluent in hopes of sharing a crumb of the power that money does buy, but jealousy isn’t the same thing as admiration.  I admire the courageous risk taker more than the trust fund heir. But I too long for fame and influence, but not really because of the changes that influence might bring as much as how deeply I look to that as a source of my own life’s justification.  To be the Robin Hood of justice, reversing a status quo that sucks life from the powerless, is a life meriting the words “well done”.

The successful businesswoman, dressed elegantly, skin polished to defy her age, renovating yet another huge and beautiful home, is better than the woman at home, living off her husband’s labor, squandering her intellect and capacities while finishing yet another series on Netflix.  So the latter tries other ways to earn the same sense of life justification, shunning the material and political awards in a frenzy of service involvements to children and community.  See?  I am found with great  value and worthy of life for these different reasons.

And then it is clear that from either angle, achievements either tangible or relational are the validating measure of life worth.

But what of the moment early on a summer morning  when the lake is still, the trees are green, and that yoga pose is achieved on the paddle board with nobody around to interrupt that perfect moment of peace?  In quietness and trust is your strength.

I would have none of it.  I trust my accomplishments more than those of Jesus.  My confidence is in my labor rather than His.  I haven’t had the faith in His completed work to rest from my own.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.                                                                                                      The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

“Made perfect in Love.”  What if I began to believe I would be perfected before His judgment by His love rather than my doing?  What might a love-perfected me be like?

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fiery Furnace

If the hope of the world is resting on me, its doomed.  I don’t respond to other people’s panic well, maybe like the naysayers in the face of hurricane evacuations.  No, I think I’d actually pack up and head out in that case but I just don’t have the energy to pack up and head out from the possibility that ISIS is going to take over America or that my whole family is going to die from Ebola because Atlanta welcomed patients to Emory or that humanity is going to be wiped out by the measles.  And maybe its resignation that make me less motivated to embark on an urgent 24 hour prayer vigil against all these pending dooms.

I was detoured, but not even slowed down, on my way to Kroger the other day because car had flipped on its side, hit presumably by the other car that hardly had a front to it anymore.  As we passed not so slowly by, four or five firefighters were trying to extract the passenger(s?) from the upturned car.  What a surreal and horrifying image to zip by, not slowing because that is not appropriate, but not honoring the impact of this moment on those lives.  And I understood powerfully how people could roll their eyes at the idea of God’s existence when such devastating things can happen so casually.

Intellectually, theologically, I can explain the compatibility of traumatic suffering with the love and goodness of a personal and affectionate God.  But the more obvious thing surely appears to be an absence of any transcending Truth or value of the individual lives…smash up some here, behead some there, rape a bunch, abandon lots of littles, steal their few possessions from the school cubbies, leave increasing numbers in unfathomable poverty…its hard not to believe that only rose colored glasses could alleviate the dissonance.  And its naive at best and arrogantly delusional at worst to think if we just tried a little harder, worked a little more diligently we could make it all better. These things are not David and Goliath but more like the rising flood waters of a tsunami.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Gen. 6:5-6

Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  Those are strong words.  On one hand, I feel relief in reading them because it affirms what we see.  On the other, I hear the dissenting voices resisting the words “every” and “continually”.  I mean, maybe those firemen were gentle and encouraging, offering hope and peace to the terrified participants of the car wreck.

I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. Gen. 9:13-15

We will not utterly destroy ourselves nor will God obliterate us as our cruelty, selfishness and ignorance deserve.  He will restrain the full extent of evil that is evidently possible.

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to our sins. Is. 64:6-7

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that,as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 5:18-21

Maybe we should see more ISIS, more car wrecks, more anger, more abuse, more division, more neglect, more isolation and more dry and thorny farmland than we do, if left to our own potential darkness.  Maybe evidence of His Transcendence is that there is still light and it causes us to argue against “every and continually”.  Maybe if I actually believed the Bible I would see that it assumes the darkness as normal and evidences God not by the absence or weakness of death and destruction but by His inextinguishable presence in it.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

Obedience to Death

We sang “Refiner’s Fire” the other night and it was a welcome connection to past experiences when Goodness felt orderly, controlled and obvious.  But then the sting came in the singing of the stanza that included “ready to do your will.”  That nauseating, energy sapping yet slightly angering feeling that occurs right after an open wound is bumped, most closely describes how I felt in the moment those words were to be sung.

“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  “Here am I Lord, send me!”   I was always the eager kid on the sidelines begging to get into the game.  The committed Christian enthusiastic to carry my cross.

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”  He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Matt. 20:22-23

I didn’t know before, when my world was simple and operated by formulas and could be wrapped up neatly at the end of a prime time episode, how awful were the contents in that cup.

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35-36

Jesus did not beg to drink from the cup or to be sent or to do His Father’s will, but He was obedient.

Obedience responds rather than initiates.  I think perhaps that has been one of my fundamental errors in living the Christian life.  Obedience requires waiting, listening, asking and what I might describe as the humility of passivity.  Sure sure, there is the “activity” of being awake, present, listening, waiting, watching but to think that if I were sleeping God couldn’t say “Wake up!” is a bit arrogant and self-important.  He can gather from inside of a whale, release from prison, speak in a dream, change one’s course walking down the road and give sight to the blind.  He doesn’t need my teacher’s pet eagerness to solicit my obedience.

Ready to do your will?  No, not now.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.

Starting with Ashes

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matt. 4:1

As the ashes were applied to my forehead last night, she said, “Sister, from dust you came and to dust you will return.”  What unanticipated freedom I found in those words!  Sometimes I make too much of the state between ashes and those ashes themselves remind me I was never intended to carry the weights I presume are mine to bear.

And then the ashes direct us toward the wilderness and the “bright sadness” of lent.  To walk into the darkness, feeling its press and its lack and its taunts, that somewhere in that place I may discover where my heart is and what I have truly treasured.

God has cast me into the mire,
    and I have become like dust and ashes.
 I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
    I stand, and you only look at me.
You have turned cruel to me;
    with the might of your hand you persecute me.
You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it,
    and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.
For I know that you will bring me to death
    and to the house appointed for all living.  Job 30:19-23

From Job’s words I picture a terrifying roller coaster that is certain to end in the safety of the carriage house.  Through death to life.  He acknowledges the despair, the abandonment, the rejection, the disappointment, the disorientation, the powerlessness, the anger, the shame and the fear that are ours as God’s children on the way to the Land of the Living.  They do not indicate we have made a wrong turn, either in our actions or in our belief.  They are the way of the cross.

But I so want to change all that I discover to be wrong or painful or broken in the wilderness.  I want to alleviate all these external experiences of disorder and suffering.  And that is where I see what I truly treasure.  I treasure beauty and feel cheated by its absence.   I treasure comfort and feel victimized when it is withheld.  I treasure winning, having and being the best, being the most right, and feel distressed and confounded in any lesser position.

Yet even now, declares the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
 and rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. Joel 2:12-13

He says, “return to me”, but I didn’t realize I had left Him until the Spirit led me through ashes into the wilderness.

Ash Wednesday Ushers Us into the Desert Wilderness

As a child of the 80’s, I was shaped by the Family Ties, Revenge of the Nerds world of tightly constructed social identities.  You were either one of these or one of those.  This was before Silicon Valley and the independent films blurred our lines and had us identifying proudly with characters like Juno, Bridgett Jones and Napoleon Dynamite instead of the blonde and blue eyed cheerleaders.  My own dogmatism is crippling.  My Christian faith is suffering from this same need for a death of definable boundaries, pictured best perhaps as the scene in Forest Gump where as a child he is running so fast that his leg braces come bursting off of his legs along the road.  Mine are just taking longer to clear off as cleanly.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39-40

Even in high school I knew the cute phrases like, “We are human beings not human doings” and “the Bible isn’t a book of rules but a book about God”.  But the right words don’t actually undo all that the world had already taught me about defining lines and distinguishing factors.  Just like cool kids and nerds were obvious and incompatible, liberal and unorthodox Christians were easily and irreversibly distinguished from the REAL Christians who voted this way but never for that party, read this author and never that one, go to this kind of church and would never be found in those kinds of churches, use this kind of language, wear these kinds of bathing suits, revere this public figure and revile that one.  It isn’t ever actually “after school specialish” in the way it plays out, but more insidious.  Its like I’m in this perpetual game of the kick me sign, vigilant to discover who has it on their back before they put one on mine.  If I can spot their error first, I can be safe from being found with one.  And to be found embracing something outside of the approved lines exposes me as an imposter Christian, selling out to the culture around me rather than remaining steadfast and faithful.

But in all of that, is the steadfastness and faithfulness actually to God?  My 80’s form of Christianity has had no capacity for nuance and ambiguity.  Faithfulness has become about adherence to the corporate culture rather than to the Boss.  What if I hate Hawaiian shirt day, can I still do my job well?

In this I am not advocating lone ranger Christian living. I do believe membership in the Church, and a local body in particular, is essential to a healthy faith for a variety of reasons.  But I am also willing to go a lot easier on those desert fathers in the monastic movement than I have before.  Sometimes running hard into the desert is just what it takes to break off those braces.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh,could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom. 8:2-4