Friday, May 30, 2008
Over the past year, I have been watching trust slowly erode between me and another person. We were never close, but had what I thought was mutual respect and goals coupled with an ability to bridge differences in style and methodology.
Bit by bit, the trust links broke. Happened on both sides, I believe, but I can't be sure. I can only know for sure what I experienced here. And if I am to use this as a learning experience so that I might walk in greater integrity, then it is worth examining carefully.
I made a bundle of mistakes. I assumed understanding when there apparently was none. I didn't take the time to check things out and make sure we were on the same page. I was a coward when it came to setting up and living with genuine accountability standards. I would take my frustrations with the situation elsewhere rather than dealing with them straightforwardly and with much more honesty. Yes, I made a huge number of mistakes.
Now is where the true wrestling begins, for those are the easy things to admit. For I discovered what looked like a systematic undertaking to by the other party to avoid, betray, undermine, and ultimately destroy, all clothed in niceness and innocent looks and face-to-face agreement with plans and requests.
There's a part of me that wants to think the whole world is my fault—that if only I would have/could have done things differently, that the outcome would have been more to my pleasing. While this can be seen as misplaced guilt, it is also the ultimate power play. If the world is my fault, then I have the ultimate power over the world and everything in it. But what if others are as autonomous and as responsible (or irresponsible) as I am? What if I really can't control the actions of others, but only my own? Then what do I do with this betrayal here? No matter how many mistakes I made, there are still the independent actions of another to consider.
It has long been my choice to trust first, to make trust my default position, and leave that place only when overwhelming evidence exists to suggest that I am wrong to continue to trust. I believe this is the proper way to act as a Christian, as one who firmly believes that, no matter how hard it may be to find, that each of us is indelibly marked with the Imago Dei, the Image of God, upon our souls. Leaving behind that foundation to relationships fills me with pain and grief. The loss throws me off balance.
I believe that the basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God choses to trust us again by virtue of our reconciliation, our reconnection with God. ,made real and possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God chooses to trust us again, to trust me, Christy, to walk through my life seeking to love God and to love my neighbor, whomever that may be. God trusts that I, Christy, will not betray that powerful calling. And God gets it wrong over and over again. So how does God choose to trust again? Or does sometimes it get to be too much for God after all?
There do seem to be place written about in our Bibles where God appears to just give up and give people over to their own wickedness. So folk just sink deep into their selfishness and their destructive activities they call pleasures and stop trusting and caring about anyone else and then finally discover that since they don't trust or care about anyone else, no one else trusts or cares for them and finally, finally, will start to turn back to God and say, “help; I'm sorry—please let me come back again.”
And that becomes the hinge-point. That moment of real metanoia, repentance, mind-change that provides a radically new perspective on the situation. When I can finally say, “I have seen this whole thing wrongly. I have wanted only what I wanted, and never taken into account who or what or how I was destroying in my pursuit of my own goals.” That process is called “idolatry” and it is why the Bible is filled with admonitions against it. Idolatry—the old fashioned word for what all of us do day in and day out—worship something, anything besides the Holy God who calls us to the same state of holiness that God exists in.
Idolatry is wonderfully seductive. It's full of thoughts like: just turn aside for a little while—it will pay off in the long run. Or: This moment of illicit pleasure taken at the expense of another or of your integrity, of power used to kill rather than create, of exposure to the sordid in the name of education will not really hurt anyone.
The practice of idolatry invites us to take the wide and lazy path to destruction, not the narrow and demanding path to become fully human. It invites us to the easy way out, not the hard way in. It invites us to downgrade the holiness and expectations of God to a “well, God is gracious and all is forgiven anyway, so what does it matter?”
I seem now to have wandered a long way from the betrayal and lack of trust that began this post. But I believe that a willingness to betray others only comes when we have decided to betray God and worship something else. Like our own ambitions, our own comfort, our own grievances, our own slights. A rebirth of trust can only come when these things are faced—by all concerned. It will only happen by long, hard looks at ourselves and repentance that doesn't give us wiggle room but makes us face the actions with honesty and courage.
Hardly anyone gets there, in my opinion.
Hope I'll be different.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Does God Listen to Our Prayers?
Just a little while ago, I was sitting at my desk in the church office in earnest prayer for a member of the congregation who had announced on Sunday that she was losing her job and needed to find another. She's a single mother, doing a spectacular job with her children, a creative, hard-working, generous, intelligent woman and I had promised her that I would make this need my special care in prayer.
A few minutes later, I was checking email and saw one from someone who had been at the worship service on Sunday. She's not a regular attender at this point in her life, so it was one of those unusual joys to see her that day. She wanted me to pass on to the woman who was losing her job information about employment that might be suitable that had just come open at her place of work.
I immediately forward this and also phoned the woman looking for the job. We both had the same response--wow! Now, we don't know if this job will work out or not, but what a reminder that God really is listening and very aware of the circumstances of our lives. This was a moment of what some call "synchronicity"--almost like a wrinkle in time, when two things not normally joined together suddenly touch each other. It also reminded me that God is not limited by time or space, as I am.
One would think, as a pastor and one who intentionally seeks to live with spiritual eyes, that I would not find this so unusual. But I am as limited as anyone else. I am also as subject to disappointment and doubt as anyone else--perhaps even more so than others. What a needed lift and reminder this was of the loving presence of God. Thank You.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
My husband and I attended part of the Memorial Day service at the DFW National Cemetery (http://www.cem.va.gov/CEMs/nchp/dallasftworth.asp). Because I’m not very heat tolerant, sitting outside in the sunshine for an hour or so was not an option, but we were able to observe the moving “missing man formation” by the fighter planes, and spent some time in silence at the gravesides of Keith’s aunt and father, both WWII veterans, and both buried there.
The immaculately kept cemetery, located in the hilly area in southern Dallas, was filled people, buses, cars. It was good to see that many eager to honor those to whom we owe so much.
We are a fortunate people, and too often treat our privileged way of life without the respect and awe it deserves. We complain about minuscule things, like the price of gasoline, and the housing crisis probably primarily caused by the greedy few. In those complaints, we often neglect to honor the freedom that may lead to those problems, but also leads to creative solutions to them, solutions that very well may leave the world better than it is now.
Sunday morning prayers in liturgical churches almost always contain a phrase that pleads to God for those in power, that they may use that power to free the oppressed and bring peace. This would be a prayer that would be well offered daily, not just weekly, and especially for a country like ours. We don’t have the best track record here, but we do try. It’s a place to start.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
A friend and I were talking last week about the often heard phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” She contends, and I agree, that such a phrase is less than helpful and really not true. There are times in life when we are very much given more than we can handle. I feel quite sure the many Chinese families who have lost their only child (due to the rigidly enforced one-child rule) in the multiple schools collapses in that terrible earthquake there most definitely have on their plates far more than they can handle. I suspect those who leaped to their deaths from one of the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11 had also been given far more than they could handle. Those have always been the tough things that are more than we can handle—our anguish and grief just spill over—we can’t handle it.
I also think there are joyful things that are more than we can handle. When I contemplate the love my husband and I have for each other, I realize that it is really more than I can handle. It is a good so great that it just spills over. I have that same sense when thinking about my children and grandchildren and the delight I have in their lives—that delight can’t be contained; it can’t be “handled.” It just spills over. I also experience that spilling-over abundance when working at a task that is beautifully suited to who I am and the kinds of talents I have—the privilege of doing something like that so fills me with joy that it also spills over. I can’t handle it.
The real question is not “Why does God give us more than we can handle?” because having more than we can handle is just the nature of life. The more important question is: “What spills out of us when we are in those situations when we can’t handle what life has handed us?”
What spills out? Is it anger, blame, selfishness, hoarding, fear, paranoia? Is it courage, personal responsibility, generosity, hope and concern for others? Do we pull deep within ourselves to find the reservoirs of self-control and the ability to face what seem to be insurmountable obstacles because we have been carefully cultivating these qualities for years? Or do we reach inside and find it empty because we have insisted that life hand us no frustrations and that all wants and needs must be immediately gratified? Do we just find more sophisticated ways to express normal two-year-old temper tantrums when things don’t go our way? Or, have we realized that temper tantrums must be transformed into a core of inner strength that will serve us well for the rest of our lives?
What does spill over for you? It tells the world who you are.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
So, we have a cyclone in Myanmar, a small country also known as Burma in Southeast Asia, and countless numbers are dead and goodness knows how many more are homeless and in desperate circumstances. As always, the international aid community, led by the United States, swings into action. Supplies ready, medical staff standing by. And, according to a report by the Associated Press, here’s what happened:
“Even as the death toll climbed, Myanmar's authoritarian regime continued to bar nearly all foreigners experienced in managing humanitarian crises from reaching survivors of Cyclone Nargis.
With hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed in the disaster zone, refugees packed into Buddhist monasteries or camped in the open, drinking dirty water contaminated by dead bodies and animal carcasses. Medicine and food were sorely lacking — even as supplies bottled up at the main international airport.”
Want a little more on this one? Here’s another quote from that report: “Children — many of them orphans — are suffering from fever, diarrhea and respiratory infections, it said. Many survivors complained of getting rotting rice while soldiers kept the best food for themselves.”
I’m just disgusted. That cyclone devastated the country on May 2. I’m writing this on May 12—ten days later. And aid is just now being let into the country. Why? Because a bunch of power-hungry people who control the county don’t want the world to know just how badly they’ve managed to muck things up over there. Why not let a few hundred thousand people die or suffer in unimaginable ways in order to keep the world press ignorant of their cruelty and incompetence? It’s worth the cost so they can stay in power.
Yes, I’m just disgusted. And I can’t even imagine how the Creator of the universe and of humanity must look at this. Surely God weeps over this travesty.
Power is such a dangerous thing. The ability to control the destiny of others opens the soul to corruption and rot and the insatiable need for more and more power and less and less accountability. It’s no wonder those in power made sure they got rid of Jesus, the sent one of God who said things like, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?” (Luke 9:23-25, New Living Translation).
What is real power? Being able to give it up for the sake of others. Being so confident in the goodness of God that we can lay down our lives for others, rather than asking them to lay down their lives for us. At this point in my life, I tend to be pretty careful before suggesting that someone is in danger of eternal separation from God, but I’m guessing those military leaders in Myanmar are right on the edge of that place. I’m almost ready to say that I hope what they experience at the hand of God is equivalent to what they have forced upon the people in their regime. I hope we all learn from this horror what damage we can do when grabbing power over the lives of others and remaining unaccountable for what we do with it. Real power gives life. The kind of power we see in Myanmar only offers death. This is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the life, and the truth.” Let’s all try Jesus’ way and see what happens.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Every four years, a group of people come together for a somewhat strange gathering for the uninitiated: it is called the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. At this gathering, there will be representatives from across the world, who have traveled to pray and worship and debate and learn and eventually to make decisions that will affect all members of this large group, over eight million strong.
The process is slow, laborious, often tedious, frequently frustrating. Because we are international in scope, and because there is high value placed on diversity and openness and careful listening and cultural sensitivity, simple motions on the conference floor may take hours to "perfect" before they can be voted upon. Every delegate (about 1,000) has the privilege of speaking to every motion. Most don't exercise that privilege, thank goodness, but all know it is theirs if needed.
The United Methodist Church has been described as a "wide umbrella" able to offer covering and space for people of radically divergent opinions. As I heard one person say recently, "Senator Hillary Clinton and President George Bush are both United Methodists. If they can both fit under that umbrella, then we have room for just about anybody!"
Underlying all those radically divergent opinions, however, is one common mandate: we are all called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Every one of us. As United Methodists, we work through this mandate held together by something called "the connection."
"The connection:" it's the glue that holds and preserves us. It's the connection that holds us up when someone begins to fall. It's the connection that leads us to rush to the aid of others when tragedy strikes. It's the connection that gives Christians from a big city in the US a sense of love for Christians from rural Africa, and vice-versa.
As part of that connection, I was privileged to hear Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, a small nation in Africa, speak last week. This powerful woman, born and reared in Liberia, educated in schools established and supported by The United Methodist Church, has stepped in to lead a country left devastated by the previous president, Charles Taylor, now exiled from that country. The challenges she faces boggle the mind—85% unemployment, a economy ruined by the greed and corruption of the former president, mass illiteracy, poverty so intense I personally can't even imagine it.
With courage, conviction, presence and power, President Johnson-Sirleaf and her administration are beginning to make inroads to recovery. As I listened to this woman speak, I became even more aware of the responsibility of every Christian, not just one called to political office, to work to fight injustice and help bring peace to the world. How often we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God has called each of us to connect with one another and to help bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth—a place of justice, righteousness and hope. Let us all have the same courage that President Johnson-Sirleaf evidences as we live as God's men and women in this world.