Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On The Bible

The more I discuss interpretations of scripture, the more I come to an inevitable conclusion.  A person can legitimately use the bible to prove radically opposing ideas.  Yes, I said legitimately.  Over and over and over and over I listen to people insisting and arguing about "what the bible says."  Both sides arguing feverishly (myself not infrequently one of the ones arguing) and throwing scripture verses like stones.  Both sides using commonly accepted interpretive principles (different principles at different locations).  Both sides generally using the Bible as a legal document to prove their point about God or morality or politics or whatever suits their fancy.  And both sides doing so justifiably, coming to valid conclusions that are diametrically opposed.  What does that tell us about scripture?

I just can't help but come to another conclusion:  I don't think we're using scripture the right way.  Scripture is a testimony.  It is a story of how God has worked in the lives of the heroes (and at times, the villains) of our faith.  I cannot find where its writers insist that it is of inerrant nature.  They do claim a kind of authority for themselves and for their writing, but I don't know if the kind of authority it claims is the kind of authority we want to push off on it.  I do believe scripture is inspired, but I fear that my understanding of inspired is not the same as large portions of the Christian community.   Neither do I find that they are consistent with their own specified understanding of inspiration.

The question is... how should we be using it.  Hmmm... I have some ideas.  Maybe I'll consider them on here sometime.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Unconditional (Again)

I am bone weary of the old line, "Scripture never says God's love is unconditional."  First of all, I'm not sure there was koine Greek word that was an exact match for "unconditional."  But it's written all over Scripture in the large letters of God's behavior and heart, even if it's not in the fine print.  Today, someone quoted Hosea 9:15 in defense of the conditional love of God:

All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels. (Hos 9:15 NAU)

Pretty convincing right?  But for God's sake, look at the BIG picture.  God told Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife - A PROSTITUTE! - as an example of his love for his people.  It can't get much clearer than this,

Then the LORD said to me, "Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes." (Hos 3:1 NAU)  

God loves his children in complete and utter faithlessness.  God's final word in Hosea 9, "Return to me, my anger has passed, I am going to bless you and keep you in my love."  And HOSEA is supposed to be a good example of God's conditional love?  I don't think so.  But to dispense with all this, let me just quote my response to this person:

You're right that scripture doesn't use the word "unconditional." That is a true statement. And yet...
Of the (arguably) four Greek words for love (storge, phileo, eros, agape), "agape" does in fact include the meaning of selfless, unconditional love (as that of parent to child). Of course, if you want to get into the semantics of "unconditional," that's a different matter. Obviously parent-child love requires the condition of a parent-child relationship. But that relationship is generally assumed by people who are talking about God loving his "children" or creation unconditionally.
Secondly, unconditional love is EXEMPLIFIED in the New Testament (and particularly the gospels) over and over again. The stoning of the adulterous woman in John 8 (setting aside the questionable pedigree of that passage), the woman at the well, the healing of the man let down through the roof by his friends, the thief on the cross.
I could go on, but "unconditional love" is most clearly demonstrated in the cross and in Jesus' own words, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." My friend, it doesn't get any more unconditional than that. Jesus demonstrates the very love he taught his disciples (Mat 5:43-48), "love your enemies." Why? Jesus answers, "so that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven." So you can be like God, like your Daddy, who loves his enemies too. "Be perfect [complete, whole]," says Jesus referring directly to that unconditional loving nature, "as your Father in Heaven is perfect."
And this we know, we interpret the Old Testament by the New. JESUS is our hermeneutical key and the cross is our chief interpretive principal. If there appears to be a conflict between Hosea and Jesus, go with Jesus any day of the week.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Faith in Faithlessness

My shoes are wet.  My feet are cold.  I am not enamored with the beauty of nature.  I am distracted by its inconvenience.  It is in these moments that I realize how disconnected I am with the ways of God.  God has created a beautiful mystery even in the fragile wonder of the morning dew and all I can see is how it frustrates my intentions.  That's just like me.  I am not a model of faith.  I am a model of foolishness.  I am thankful that Jesus loves prostitutes and sinners and fools.  I am in good company.

The past four weeks has been one of the hardest periods of my life.  Since we made the decision to move back here, it's been like a 5 mile free-fall drop into uncertainty.  The virtually non-stop work has been a mercy from God.  I have little time to dwell on all the ways this could fall apart.  I'm exhausted at night, but at least I can sleep.  No energy left to stay awake all night worrying, a skill at which I have become exceptionally proficient.

Still, no matter how busy, there is always the loneliness.  I've always felt lonely.  But recently I have been particularly justified in the feeling.  I have no one here.  Traci has her family.  And I suppose I have them as well, though I feel like I am constantly a guest in someone else's life.  I can see her changing a bit since we moved here.  I am glad to see her healing in some ways.  I have put her through so much over the past 16 years, it's a small thing for me to feel lonely so that she can be happy.  I should thank God for letting me see past myself for a few brief moments for the sake of my family.  It's sad to recognize that those moments are indeed so few.

That doesn't change the fact that I miss the people who have become so deeply engraved upon my life.  When things went to hell in Iowa, there were some who loved me through the pain and the betrayal and the morass of despair, hopelessness and crushing self-doubt.  I miss them very, very much.  I thank God for them, and I feel in some ways like I have lost them, even though I know I haven't.  Not really.  Again, you know how much you've loved someone by how much you miss them when they're not with you.

I know that God is with us wherever we go.  But sometimes we really are alone.  I don't think it's right to deny that.  Loneliness is not an illusion.  However, we are never completely alone.  Never without the life and the love that is Jesus.

I am looking forward to what God is going to do here.  At the same time, I'm scared to death of what he's going to do here.  I was reading a biography of Rich Mullins recently and I resonated with a comment that he made about feeling like the plow that takes all the hits as it turns the soil.  In reality, I know that I have really suffered very little.  But I do feel like that sometimes.  I feel like it's my role in life to smack into all the rocks.  I suppose the good news is, all I have to do is weather the hits.  I'm not the one driving the plow, I'm just one of many blades; I just have to stay in the ground and go where God drives me.  That thought makes my heart rise into my throat, and I feel in this moment like maybe that's who I want to be.  Maybe that's who I always have been.  Maybe I shouldn't be afraid to be who I am.  God, please don't let the collateral damage take out my family.  Protect my children.

The past few weeks have been like the dew in my life.  My toes are squishing around in wet shoes now, but the sun is rising in the east and in His glorious wonder God is soon going to burn it away.  And in my own foolish Israelite way, I will miss it when its gone.  I don't know how a person can miss pain, but I always do.  And I'll see how even cold feet are a blessing, and how, if only I had faith, I would have enjoyed the beauty of the dawn.  God grant me the grace to trust you and see the beauty of your love in every moment.

In the same biography of Rich Mullins, there was quote from Brennan Manning's typical benediction.  I want to share it with the me who will read this later - and anyone else unfortunate enough to stumble upon this blog:

May all of your expectations be frustrated,
May all of your plans be thwarted,
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
And can sing and dance in the love of God,
Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Conversation That Never Happened

Some things I wish I would have said, to the voice inside my head.

The door closes and the room feels to small for the tension and the elephant sitting awkwardly and uncomfortably between us.  He slides a tray out of his desk and writes something on one of many post-it notes stuck there.  The drawer closes and we face each other over the massive cherry desk.

The Voice Inside My Head:  So, what brings you here today?

Me:  Well, it's been three years.

TVIMH:  I guess it has.  (Pause).  So... rumor has it you're leaving town.

Me:  For once, rumor has it right.  And how are things here?

TVIMH:  Doing well.

Me:  I'm glad to hear that.


Me:  So, I guess, before I left, I wanted to clear the air.

TVIMH:  I see.  (The faint hint of a frustrated smirk shows at the corners of his lips.)  I think the air is clear enough.

Me:  Maybe not.

TVIMH:  I think you've had your say.  You're finally going away and I'm not going to have this discussion with you.  (He starts to get up and leave.)

Me:  Genesis 50:20.

TVIMH:  What?

Me:  Genesis 50:20.  "You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it to me for good."

TVIMH:  You have a lot of nerve!

Me:  Maybe.  I'm still not sure yet.  But I wanted to say "Thank You."


Me:  When I met with you guys right before the end, M** said, "I hope that some day you'll be able to agree that this was the right thing to do."  Back then, I remember feeling there was something prophetic about his words.  That's why they've stuck with me all this time.

He sits back down in his chair, a doubtful but intrigued look on his face.

Me:  Don't misunderstand me.  What you did was wrong.  I can't judge your reasons.  Maybe you honestly thought you were doing the right thing; but I suspect that at the end of the day, you know that your behavior was wrong too.  But even if you don't, it doesn't matter.  I wasn't perfect either.  There were things I could have done differently.  Could have done with more understanding.  Could have done more or less of.  

Still, I want you to know I tried.  I really did.  Up until the very end, I tried to do everything as best I could.  It felt like you guys were ripping my heart out and hanging me out to dry, but I wanted to do what Jesus would do.  

That's why I didn't fight it.  I suppose you could have used my history against me if I had refused to step down.  I hope you would have been above that.  But it was possible.  However, in the end, I left willingly because I honestly wanted to do the right thing.  Because I didn't want my family to suffer even more unnecessarily.  Because I didn't want to cause a storm in the church.  Because I didn't want to damage the church anymore than you already were threatening.  Because I didn't want to be where I wasn't wanted.  Because...  Well, maybe because I was just so damned tired and part of me knew that it was the right time to go.

And it was the right time to go.  That's really why I came by today.  To tell you that M** was right.  I agree that it was the right thing.  It was high time for me to leave, but my own pious loyalty would never have let me.  I loved you, and I would have stayed in that hideous, psychologically abusive work relationship until you drained me of every bit of confidence and trust I had.  

I've learned that you can do the right thing for the wrong intentions; God can show mercy and love even in our own hateful actions.  It's a comforting thing to know, considering I'm not innocent either.

It hurt that I had given 6 years of my life supporting you despite your relentless pride and arrogance which had been crippling the church long before I came.  It killed me that I tried so hard to do the right thing and the whole time you were busy burying me in slander to the people that I loved and tried my best to serve.  I almost couldn't believe when I heard some of the lies that you (and the others) spread about me, even after I left.  It hurt like hell.

Of course, I know there are two sides to every story.  Maybe in the end we were both wrong.  Maybe some of the lies you told were truths I just can't acknowledge about myself.  Maybe I wasn't doing the right thing, but merely justifying my own actions.  Maybe you felt the way you did because I never supported you enough.  Anything is possible.

Honestly, I don't think it makes two cents worth of difference in the end.  I just want peace.  Peace for both of us.  I know we'll never see eye to eye.  I guess I just wanted you to know that I meant it three years ago when I said, "I forgive you."  In the time afterwards, I developed a lot of hurt.  But I want you to know that I forgive you again.  I'm thankful for the way God has worked.  I'm thankful for the loving, nurturing, blessing people God has placed in my life to move me past so much of all that.  I pray some day he'll bring me all the way through.  I'm looking forward to the future.  In the meantime, may God grant all his best to both of us, even when it hurts like crazy.

TVIMH:  Are you done?

Me:  I think so.

TVIMH:  Then you can show yourself out.

"It won't be the first time," I think to myself.  Opening the door, I turn for just a moment.

Me:  Peace, brother.