Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rocks and Hard Places

I didn't get a Father's day card last year. I was fairly pragmatic. After all, its just a made up day and mostly geared to selling cards, gifts and generally sustaining our consumerist economy. If you're not hung over, bloated or broke after a big day then it can't have been that good, can it? I'm not heartless though. It did hurt a little. It must have, because I can remember how I felt. But piling misery on misery really doesn't have any beneficial effects so it's not good to dwell on these things.

I got one this year and it feels worse. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is true if you're on a promise. But when nearness is painful, distance is a mercy. When you're separated from your family by distance you can count the miles but when you're separated by regret the counting never stops. I'm on my own with a lovely Father's Day card in the window. It says "Thank you for everything." So I did something right but it feels like cold comfort. My own father used to endorse the line, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all." How is that? It's a hell of a lot more painful. They say things are better 'felt than telt'. Failure can be a foundation for success but whereas a lost football match is a learning experience, a failed marriage is a disaster.

Merriam-Webster defines dissonance as 'a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord.' When you convince yourself that love was worth it but your heart screams, "No," that's cognitive dissonance. I don't feel like a father and I don't want convincing that I should - that would not resolve the dissonance. Everyone has a picture of how life should look and when the picture on the wall is different to the one in your head you invariably want to change the picture on the wall. You can pretend they are the same or close your eyes and ignore the reality but at some point you have to negotiate.

I've been arguing with a guy concerning consequences. It's common for Christians to believe that they simply have to ask God's forgiveness and he makes everything right. But nothing could be further from the truth. Cause and effect is a fundamental principle and (fatalism aside) if you separate the two, the universe ceases to make sense. Put your bare finger in the fire and it will be burnt. If we deny reality we are likely to make poor decisions. However, it's as much a mistake to take the painting at face value, as it is to refuse to believe it exists. Neither should you dismiss your dreams just because reality won't budge.

It's becoming apparent to me that my focus should be on that painting that causes me so much distress in that I must either concur with reality or at least come to some arrangement. You don't negotiate a rock by insisting that it shouldn't be there. Neither do you allow it to dictate your actions. Your options will depend on the tools at hand, the size of the rock and your knowledge of what lies beyond and you must consider all three. That card in the window challenges my mind's eye. I have something physical in front of me so what will be my response? To think, "What if?" or to first receive the message in the spirit in which it was given, then negotiate that rock.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Out of Plum

I've recently read the book of Esther. Its remarkable in that it is the only book of the Bible that mentions neither God, worship or prayer. It's an encouragement for those of us who acknowledge the Great Commission but feel uncomfortable bringing God into every conversation. I cringe at some of the words and phrases Christians dream up to claim ground for God. "Godincidence" is one of them. This is supposed to counter the idea that things happen by chance. Rather, God orchestrates our circumstances to bring about his plans for good.

Far from bringing a fresh perspective it merely presents a narrow Christian world-view that is ill conceived and poorly constructed. I am fond of the idea of Jesus being the unseen guest. After all, Jesus said that where two or three of us are gathered together, there is he in the midst. On the other hand, it can sound a little spooky to think that an invisible person is constantly watching you.

Nearly every book in the Bible brings a different perspective about God, his people and what he is trying to teach us. Some talk of the inconsistencies in the Bible but most of these can be explained by contrasting the contexts in which the stories or lessons appear and that they are directed at different audiences with different perceptions. Finding the Bible difficult to understand is not, of itself, a bad thing. Life lessons that are difficult to master often bring the greatest rewards.

Through the book of Esther we are challenged to find God in the schemes and devices of a Persian king, a Jewish queen and an anti-Semitic nobleman. It doesn't even directly relate to any other book of the Bible, nor is it mentioned in the New Testament. It doesn't easily fit Christian morality (Esther is encouraged to be a concubine). Many of us, when we were introduced to the Christian faith, were encouraged to measure everything against the Word of God. Unfortunately the plum line we were measuring against was not tightened by a free hanging weight but by a flexible but fixed end.

For the plum to be true it must be free to find its own line. Too often we allow the line to rest, only to fix it in position because we are afraid it will swing. We then take that position to be true. With all the checks and balances we still need God's Word to find its own plum. We can then check our experiences and information against the truth. It may give us different answers from time to time but if we trust that its God's Word we need not be perturbed. Like the book of Esther we don't need to bring God into everything we do. Jesus said, "If you know the truth, the truth will set you free." If we allow God to be what he is then we can be free to be what we are.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Welcome Home

In a previous post I asked, "Who is Jesus?" I'm not sure that I really answered the question, rather that I questioned our answers. Young children disregard those around them as they play or interact with their friends or immediate family. They have no thought about how they appear or relate to strangers. When asked a question they often simply hide, stare or offer an answer that doesn't relate to the question at all. They first must establish a context in which the conversation is taking place. If the question doesn't relate to the child then its irrelevant and meaningless and who the person is, is also irrelevant until the child can build a framework in which that person has meaning.

One of the greatest challenges for a Christian (or any person of faith) is prayer. Formal prayer is easy because it's very much like sending a letter to Santa. You simply need to know that your god has the position of 'God' then your letter will arrive at the right place. You only need to know who God is in a formal sense rather his relationship to you. Many of us could pray to a concept of God but if he appeared before us we would be struck dumb, not because of his awesomeness but because we would now have to relate to him as a person. We are as children in our prayer pen; unaware that God is in the room because we don't really know who he is.

Children don't ask who their parents or siblings are. It wouldn't even occur to them to ask. But as the child grows relationships change. Strangers become friends and friends become strangers. This is true of our relationship with God too and it's a challenge we must face if we are to maintain any sort of meaningful prayer life (if we have one in the first place).

In order to be safe, Jesus tells us that we need to believe in him, not in an abstract sense but that he is who he says he is. In John's gospel Jesus holds a conversation with the Jewish leaders repeating over and over that he is the Christ but they won't recognise him. Eventually he spells out that he is the "I AM", forcing them to make a decision. We read of him 'crying out' and speaking in a 'loud voice'. In his dialogue with those leaders you get a sense of his frustration - that he wants everyone to know who it is they are going to crucify.

Many ask for proof that God exists but who of us would not be insulted if asked that question of us. God has no need to prove that he exists. James tells us that demons know God exists - much good it does them. What God wants us to know is that he is a person we can relate to - a father and brother, friend and comforter. Even if God exists we are still alone in the universe unless we have a relationship with him - unless his personhood is meaningful. Is this not the true meaning of salvation - to know God in spirit and truth?

Does it sound so strange now, that in order to be saved God asks only that we believe in him? No child deserves to have a mother and father in that no one earns the right to be a son or daughter. Salvation is not a right that can be earned it is a relationship that can only be experienced. Salvation is a hug, a kiss, a smile, a 'welcome home'. To be saved is to know that you belong - to know that you are no longer alone.