Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where God Is

Our story begins in slavery. All of us.

That is the truth of which we are reminded at the dawn of each new year - with the practice and celebration of Advent.  Yes, the season of anticipation is a season of remembering our bondage.  It is a time to open our eyes and admit our powerlessness.  We are a people in darkness - so much so that we do not even recognize it. When we remember the coming of Messiah what we recognize is our need for Him to come to us today, to come and deliver us again. Still.

Do you need to be delivered?  

Those of us who make our way to recovery usually do so because we have recognized something profound.  It is Paul's confession in Romans 7:21, in fact:
So, I notice that when I want to do what is good and life-giving, I actually have a mode of thinking, feeling, and acting that is destructive...  
Most translations say that this "evil" is "present with me" or "right beside me."  I have likened it before to Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25:

There is a way that seems right (to me) but
in the end it leads to death.

Let me emphasize this for any non-recovery readers out there:

OUR WAY REALLY SEEMS RIGHT.

You know, all those times that you look at someone else and think, 

"I can't believe he just did that.  You just don't do that." 
-or- 

"I work hard to NEVER be _________"
needy
alone
angry
sad
like 'those people'
arrogant
poor
ignorant 
wrong
bored
etc.

That is the way that seems right to you.  And it goes with you everywhere you go; it is right beside you.  And it probably always will be.

That is why AA members always begin their time by saying, "Hi, may name is ____, and I'm an alcoholic."  They are confessing out-loud that the way that seems right to them - the mode of acting and thinking and feeling that is right beside them - is alcohol.  Alcohol is their Pharaoh waiting to enslave them, ever present in Egypt where they used to make their home.  They say it because they know that the only way NOT to go back is to acknowledge what is waiting for them if they do - lest they forget!

And if our story begins in Egypt, then John "the Baptist" tells us how to prepare, how to receive our deliverance: Repent.  

What he describes is not a one-time turning away from one clear "sin."  What he describes is everyday life.  You know that thing that is present with you, right beside you, that way that seems right to you?  You need to repent of that the same way that you used to practice it - diligently, regularly, constantly.  The language John uses is "bear the fruit of repentance" and I think this is intentional. John is talking about an ongoing process of submission very much like working the ground - season in and season out - in order to bear good fruit.

I like to think of it as living a life worthy of repentance.  Like the alcoholic, I do not get to forget that I once lived in Egypt and served another master, because my Egypt is right beside me, and I need to live in constant repentance from it, not in fear, but in constant seeking and surrender to my new master, my Deliverer, and His path for me.

This repentance, this constant surrender in humility, then, is the wilderness.

This is the wilderness to which we are led when we are led from our bondage.  I think we experience it as a wilderness because it is new and a little scary, and we have absolutely no idea what to do!  But it is the place where God teaches us how to be faithful.  It is the place where we die and are resurrected so that we might go in and take the land of God's promise to us - but again, not once: constantly.  It is in and from this wilderness place that Jesus entered into "ministry" and I am convinced that this is the place from which we minister, too.  It is only as we follow God's Spirit into the wilderness and receive His provision, direction, correction, and anointing that we then have wisdom, provision, direction, correction, and hope to offer others.  It is only as we die and receive new life that we have new life to offer others.

This wilderness repentance process is a lifestyle and it takes a lifetime.  We are constantly learning how to be  a faithful people, submitted and surrendered to our God.  And I think that what we find as we learn how to live there is that "God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves" (AA Big Book).  As we learn to live in the wilderness, God is invading the land and conquering the giants, preparing a place for us.  And the greatest irony is, the Promised Land is actually the land of our past, our brokenness and humiliation.  

If God leads us out of slavery into the wilderness, then as we learn how to be faithful there, God is going in and rebuilding the New City of his Promise right on the ruins of the old.

This is where the simple story of Israel's exodus begins to fail us - and must expand to encompass everything that happened after they were given their land.  They made quite a mess of things.  They were beaten down and destroyed.  They were sold back into captivity and homelessness.  They needed to be rebuilt.  We need to be rebuilt.

I offer this story in this, the infancy of a new year, in order for us to find ourselves in it.  Where am I?  Where are you?  Are we in Egypt, longing to be delivered (or making our home there with reservations about letting go)?  Are we beginning to learn what it means to live a life worthy of repentance or are we wandering in the wilderness storing up manna only to have it rot in our tents?  Some of us complain about the desert (me) while others quietly slip down and forge their idols with the gold they brought from Egypt.  We both have the nerve to be shocked when God confronts us with his presence, provision, and call.

While I descended upon the mountain for you, etching my heart for you in its very stones; while I poured out my desire for you and ached to make you my people, you longed for Egypt, grasped for that which would not sustain you, and then gave yourselves in frothy excitement to an idol, making love to her at my feet.

Some of us have accepted this desert assignment reluctantly, others have given ourselves to the wilderness trek, but we eye the Land of Promise with trepidation.  We are not interested in revisiting the ruins of our past.  We want a new city that has nothing to do with the old.  We want a reset button, not redemption.

I don't know what comes after redemption and the rebuilding of our ruins.  If the Passover Feast is any indication, then after drinking of the cup of redemption, the last bit has something to do with being taken to be with God.  This makes me think of another story.

I have come to understand that my "way that seems right" is legalistic perfectionism laced with codependency.  I like to feel guilty about things and take responsibility for that which is not mine.  I also enjoy beating myself up in an effort to achieve perfection.  The image of a slave being pummeled in order to perform inhuman tasks and build someone else's city is very apt, now that I think about it.  And in the course of doing things my way, a city, indeed, was built - on shifting sand - as the saying goes.  When it toppled I recognized a poignant truth: This is the best that I can do.  I have worked hard at "the way that seems right" and it produced death. I would rather have nothing and be with God, where I will always be satisfied with the Fruit of His Spirit.

I don't know about you, but I want to be where God is.  

May He call us out and make us faithful and even rebuild the ruins of our past so that we can be with Him.

Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fires, Floods, Tornadoes, Ruins and Parades

Blogging lately has been like trying to write during a house fire.  Thanksgiving new-ness sparked a rush of flaming homework that made the Christmas road trip burn so bright that New Year's was nothing but coals, ash, and hot air.  I was shivering out in the cold watching the last timbers cave into a glowing husk before I even realized that I should have grabbed my laptop (and then realized upon my realization that I had).

Huh. 

Speaking of natural disasters: ideas, emotions, and un-uttered observations are whirling in my head like a funnel cloud just beginning to extend its insidious finger out of an ominous sky.  I don't know if I should linger and zoom in for that amazing, once-in-a-lifetime shot or turn and run as fast and as far as I can in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be), I've always been a little fascinated by extreme weather, so here I've sat as debris and small animals go flying all around me.

Look. There's a pig - that looks like a turkey.

This is a very strange way to say that life very often does NOT look the way you expect it to.  House fires, whirlwinds, holidays and homework have a way of overrunning riverbanks and sweeping you away into strange new positions among strange new locations, all while leaving you feeling very cold and very wet and wondering if you are going to be able to breath from one moment to the next.  In fact, you imagine that once you get a chance to really think about it, you will probably be good and traumatized.  But trauma requires time for reflection, I think, and who has time for that?

Me.  Apparently.

And for good reason.  You see, in the parade of moments (because parades, in my opinion, are just another kind of disaster) there was one thought that kept occurring to me and that has begged me to come back and visit - you know, when I have time to share a cup of coffee and maybe even try a homemade scone.  The thought went something like this:

"Ouch."

No. That's not quite it.  It was more like:

"No - ouch! Danget! What the ...?"

"No, I don't want to ... Ouch! That hurts! Danget, can this be fixed? What the ...!"

One of my favorite authors, Rowan Williams, puts it this way:
Restoration means going back to the ruins of the past, to the devastated and depopulated land and building there, with the help of God, a city which is new but which still stands on the same earth as the old. It is going back to the memories of the painful, humiliating past and bringing them to redemption in the present.
God builds redemption on disaster sites.  It's the only way to build redemption, as it turns out.  In fact, when I try to vacate the premises, He gently takes me back.  Rowan goes on to say:
My future will not be mine without the concrete memories of all my past.  Our hope, then, is like the prophetic hope, a hope for the past, a hope for our native soil.  God will take us back to the place where our cities and temples, our ideals and aspirations, faith and love, were destroyed and defeated.  Risen life in and with Christ is now, entirely fresh, full of what we could never have foreseen or planned, yet is built from the bricks and mortar, messy and unlovely, of our past.
Where are is the caution tape in your life?  Where are the disaster sites - the places you'd really rather not go, the things you'd really rather not feel again?  My God is Building up Ruins.  Anyone else want to sign up for that?