Monthly Archives: May 2009

A Little More…

“Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus” is the title of the next section in Mark.  At least, in my Bible it is.  On the outskirts of Jericho, a place where hundreds of years ago the Israelites marched and waited for the walls to fall down, where God began giving the Promised Land to this new nation.  And now, here is a blind man, sitting on the side of the road, crying out to God.

Jesus stops and calls the man.

My text says that the man “sprang up.”  I love this.  He can walk, but he’s blind.  He doesn’t presume to approach Jesus, but calls from a distance.  Then, when Jesus hears him, the man sprang up.  I should imagine.  This blind man seems to see better than so many others, as he calls Jesus the “Son of David.”  The Son of David, of course, is the Messiah, in the line of the kings, the One Israel Has Been Waiting For.

And then there is the Son of David standing next to the blind man and saying “What do you want me to do for you?”

What would you say?  Not if you were blind — that’s easy.  But in your life today, in your going-to-work and getting-dinner-ready and blog-reading life?  What would you say if Jesus asked you that question?

Now, I understand.  We too often think of God as some genie in the sky, and we only have to ask enough or trust enough and we can get whatever we want.  Let’s be honest.  A little bit of us thinks this, somewhere that we push down and ignore, but somewhere we think that we can get what we want if we just try a little harder.  Then, our logical side steps in and reminds us that the God who created the universe isn’t bowing to our whims.  So, we don’t necessarily believe in what’s called the Prosperity Gospel, but we do believe we have a loving, powerful God who cares for us and listens to us.

So let me sidestep the Prosperity Gospel argument by saying, quite obviously, sometimes God does ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Or, at least he did to the blind man on the road outside Jericho.  And, I would imagine, he’s done it once or twice since.

And maybe the problem with the Prosperity Gospel is not that it asks too much, but too little.  Maybe that’s our daily problem, too, or at least mine.  My prayers are often filled with requests, and good requests.  Sometimes healing, but more often accoutrements to make the day more comfortable: a fun time with my daughter, time to get some work done, a little inspiration, maybe even some financial security.  If God would just give me a little more ______, then I could make it the rest of the way.  A little more energy.  A little more money.  A little more time.  A little more patience.

And then I realize that if God answered all these “little mores” my life might be so comfortable I’d never need him again.

So, when he asks “What can I do for you?” maybe the proper answer isn’t a “little more” of something.  Maybe it’s something radical: like sight for a blind person.  Or, in my rather comfortable life, where I have been given many “little mores”: maybe it’s a faith that I can’t control, or a love that makes me ache in the morning, or a flowering of hope that makes me laugh — literally laugh — when I feel the most frustrated.  Maybe, it’s freedom to be my authentic self no matter the situation.  Maybe it’s the courage to chase a boyhood dream.  Maybe it’s the strength to mend an unrepairable relationship.  Maybe it’s something that for so long has seemed impossible — like sight for a blind person — rather than something just out of our reach.

I do know, that when Jesus asks this question, when the Word-Made-Flesh asks, when the Son of God asks this question in a place where a miracle has already happened, the answer is not a little more of anything.  The answer is something much more difficult to provide than that.

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A Walk…

Mark 10.35-45

James and John come up to Jesus and ask to sit at his right and left hand “in his glory.”  Jesus rambles a bit, asking them if they have the mettle to follow him, and James and John say they do.  

Okay, I’ll give you that, says Jesus.  But those seats are not for me to fill.

I can half picture this.  Somewhere on the road, as groups do, little clusters of 3 or 4 disciples are walking, yet all are moving together.  James and John angle their way to Jesus, and out of earshot of the rest, ask him this audacious question.  Later, the two are walking by themselves, a few paces behind Jesus.  They are talking about what Jesus said: “can you drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I will undergo?”  They are discussing this, and a few other disciples maybe ask what they’re talking about.  

“Oh, well Jesus said that the seats at his right and left hand are not for him to fill.”

At first, this is interesting to the other disciples, and this vague idea of “drink from the cup I drink.”  But then, someone asks, “How do you know this?”

Silence and only the sound of Jordan as they walk alongside it.  Then, finally, one of the brothers confesses: “We asked to sit in those places.”

Now for the other disciples to become indignant, this means that they, too, wanted to sit in those places.  It means that, somewhere, they all had this secret desire for power and glory.  And when James and John openly cater to their desire, questions such as “Who do you think you are?” and “How could you ask that?” might come first, followed by “Well, you don’t deserve to sit there” and the like.  

Sometimes the rag-tag team of disciples, and Jesus’ patience with them, is the best hope I have when I’m feeling rude and angry and, well, hopeless.

Here, I picture Jesus turning around and walking backward, sandals shuffling in the dirt.  “But it shall not be so among you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

And in a moment the disciples remember again what the Kingdom is about.  The whisper of the Jordan comes back, and the scuffle of sandals and dust.  Each disciples and his own thoughts.  Each disciples wondering where he must become a servant today, a person who gives without thought of recognition.  

In the slowness of the morning, I wonder the same thing.  Where am I to serve?  With my wife?  With my daughter?  With my friends and family?  For me, and most of us, the most radical acts of service are not running off to Africa or even all the time running downtown with the homeless, but amongst those who we love and hurt and love again, in the slow steady relationships that show us most truly who we are.  Yes, we must serve in those other places, but it must start in our homes and backyards and neighborhoods and coffee houses.  Because only then is it a way that we live, a way of life.  So again I ask: where can I serve today?

Two-thousand years ago a group of disciples asked the same question, and followers of Jesus have been asking it since.

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Paradox

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.  And after three days he will rise.”

Mark 10.33-34

This is really the crux (I use that word deliberately) of the Christian faith: this idea that God, at His very core, is love and goodness.  This idea, like Paul says in Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”  This idea, like God tells the exiles in Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  

And yet.

And yet here is Jesus telling the disciples that he must go to the cross, and the disciples fail to understand.  Really, how could they understand?  They had left everything to follow this man.  They watched as he calmed the sea and fed 5000 and healed the blind.  Peter proclaimed he was the Messiah, and Jesus said “Blessed are you.”  This man was the embodiment of hope, of love.  This man and this rag-tag team of castoffs, the not-good-enoughs who were apprenticed to no other teacher, whose only hope was the family trade.  Now, they had Jesus.  They witnessed miracle after miracle from his hands.  Now, he tells them that he must die.

There are the disciples, unable to understand what Jesus is saying.  And most often, we stand there, too.  Most often, we cannot place the trials and worries of this life into paradox with the unblemishing promises of God.  We see marriages near us falter and fail.  Family members get sick.  We all know someone who has lost his or her job.  Friends die.  Or, to come too close: we lose hope.  Another setback — vocational, relational, whatever.  Most often, there is the darkness — the warning of death and we can’t comprehend how this can fit in God’s grand scheme.

And yet.  

And yet it is Paul, in that same letter to the Romans, who says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Or in Jeremiah, in the same chapter where God promises hope and a future, he tells the exiles: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.”  In other words: you aren’t going home soon.  There is this terrible paradox.  The promise and the present suffering.  There is Jesus saying that he will die, and the disciples cannot understand.

And yet this is the paradox of the cross: the place where God maybe most truly meets the world.  The symbol itself is a paradox, two perpendicular lines, one reaching to heaven and the other spreading out over the earth.  It is in the paradox of the cross that we find, however faint, a hint of hope.  The death that on Saturday seems overwhelming turns out to be life-saving on Sunday.  The command to stay in Babylon does not diminish God’s plans.  The present sufferings are not worth the glory to be revealed.

And so today I hope to discover the cross in new ways, and the paradox therein.  Sometimes it is simple things that bring the darkness: a crying baby, no time to myself, being stuck inside all day.  Sometimes it is big things: an emergency C-section, a scary diagnosis, the loss of a job.  But the cross demands that we don’t see events in the short-term and in the world’s eyes.  It demands that we imagine and pray and hope for an empty tomb — something more glorious than we could understand, even if we were told.  

No, most of the time we are the disciples on the walk to Jerusalem.  We hope for a kingship.  We are met with a death.  And we are just beginning to comprehend how this death is more beautiful than we could imagine.

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The True Kingdom

Thoughts after reading Mark 10.17-31:

I’ve heard this sermon many, many times.  We’ve got a rich young man.  We’ve got Jesus.  And Jesus tells the rich young man to sell everything and give to the poor.  At this point, the sermon usually goes: now we don’t all have to give away all we own, but what do you need to give up?  

“As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him…”

Jesus is up in Judea and getting ready to head back down to Jerusalem.  This rich young man runs up as Jesus is leaving.  Now, either this rich young man either just got wind Jesus was in town, or he finally mustered the courage to confront Jesus.  My guess would be the second.  He’s been sitting in his opulent house, hearing the crowds that follow Jesus, maybe watching from a distance.  He is intrigued.  He feels somewhere an emptiness — even with his power and riches life is still too much for him to control.  Maybe a servant tells him that Jesus and his disciples are on the edge of town, getting ready to leave.  Spontaneously, maybe even not totally knowing what he’s doing, he runs to Jesus.  And, instead of asking about this emptiness, about this isolation and brokenness, he covers his question in the guise of eternal life.  

A scholarly question.  A question that still makes him look good.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus gives him the scholarly answer.  Keep the commandments.  C’mon, you’ve heard this since grade school.  But, Jesus only refers to the commandments that deal with other people.  Don’t murder.  Don’t steal.  Don’t lie.  Honor your father and mother.  He skips the commandments that say things like “You shall have no other gods before me.”

The man presses Jesus.  And, my guess is, that if we were privy to the emotions behind the conversation, this man immediately realizes he needs more of an answer.  I’ve tried that.  It’s not enough.  I’m actually not just interested in this academically.  I’m desperately interested for my life right now.  Jesus, Mark writes, looked at the man and loved him.

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

If we remember the passage before this one, the passage about the children and how the Kingdom of God belongs to such people, we realize that in some way this passage, too, is talking about the Kingdom.  

Too often, I am at the center of my kingdom.  And what matters is the easy stuff: don’t murder, don’t steal, sure.  Keep a healthy bank account.  Ask scholarly questions without looking too weak.  Hold your head high.  Keep it together, and when you can’t, don’t let anybody know.  

But we see God’s Kingdom is different.  It’s not about bank accounts or looking good.  It’s about following.  It’s about coming like a child.  Why else would Jesus go on to tell his disciples, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  

Children.  His disciples didn’t get it all yet, but they were following.  They were trying.  They were listening.  They had left their bank accounts and status.  They had left their little kingdoms for the True Kingdom.

And so may we.  May we not build little kingdoms around ourselves — kingdoms where we have it all together and hold the gilded scepter.  May we give up the lead role in our cage and take a walk-on part in the war (okay, that’s a song lyric, but it works).  

I don’t know what I need to give up.  I’m not going to sell the house or run off to Africa.  But, slowly and surely, I want to be a part of the True Kingdom.  I want my values to change, so I let go of the need and worry and anxiety of keeping up appearances and can trust rampantly and riotously.  

And maybe, I can live up to that ancient commandment that Jesus does not mention in so many words: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

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Like Children…

Continuing on my journaling/posting kick, here’s my thoughts after reading Mark 10.13-16.  

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”

Monday morning and Ellis was up early.  I had no time to eat breakfast.  I prayed that I would.  I didn’t.

I think of what this verse means: for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.  Jesus obviously saw something in children that we all see.  He saw a certain awe, maybe, or wonder, or openness.  

While I haven’t been around a ton of kids lately, I have been heavily researching babies.  I love when Ellis opens her eyes wide at a red wall or at a bright green spring tree.  I wonder: what would it be to see a tree for the first time?  A dark red wall?  A human face?  I begin to understand why she stares so.  I begin to think about the world in new ways: the majesty in a tree, the beauty in a wall.  I stop and look anew.

Or, I think about Ellis’ concerns — eating, getting changed, being held.  Such simplicity.  I love the way I can pick her up and calm her.  I love how she doesn’t worry about me dropping her.  If I were held by someone 20 times my size, and he was trying to get a drink and change the channel and hold me all at the same time, I might have some doubts.  Not Ellis.  She knows I won’t drop her.  Such trust.  

She has no self-consciousness.  She can burp and fart with the best of them.  Later, I’m sure she’ll say certain statements that will cause us to throw our heads back and laugh.  She is persistent.  She’ll cry until she gets what she wants.  

She is absolutely beautiful.

I think of myself today: unable to eat breakfast the way I wanted.  Tired, thinking about a second cup of coffee.  Where is the Kingdom in my life today?  Or, better: how is my life a part of the Kingdom?

Do I trust God will hold me?  Will he provide?  Do I worry about myself and how others perceive me?  Am I willing to be persistent?  Do I trust God knows what’s best for me?  

I have a moment, now, to get breakfast.  Ellis is asleep.  She is able to trust and not worry, to be persistent, to know that we know what’s best for her.  

May the orientation of my life — the trust and wonder and persistence and the host of other attributes that I’m working on fill my small role in the Kingdom today.

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Marriage is what brings us together today…

DSC_0044Well, I know my blog track record hasn’t been stellar lately, but my journaling record has been lately.  Of course, no one reads my journal (or can read it, as I’m sure Brooke would remind me), so I’m seeking to combine the two.  

Very slowly, I’ve been working through the Gospel of Mark.  I take just a few verses a day and chew on them.  And, I’ll journal on a thought or idea that sticks out at me, inspires me, convicts me.  Today, I read Mark 10.1-12.  Jesus talks to the Pharisees about marriage, and about how the Pharisees have been playing fast-and-loose with divorce.  

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.”  Mark 10.6-8

Allow me to sidestep the whole divorce rate in our country today (somewhere, sometime Jesus also said something about judging others) and jump straight to my own thoughts and life.  

You see, I’m rather fond of my flesh.  My body.  I often take myself on runs in order to take care of my body; I like to spend time outside because it just feels good; I make sure to eat 3+ meals a day because I get hungry a lot.  I shower (almost) daily.  I take naps.  I try to get eight hours every night (though certain babies are making that a bit more difficult).  Really, I do a lot to take care of my flesh.  My body.

And my body takes care of me.  You see, if I’m out running and it’s hot, my body does this cool thing of wetting me down and cooling me off.  If I’m too tired my body will yawn.  If I get cut my body lets me know.  My body is my way of communicating with the world — through my face and hands, primarily — and lets the world communicate with me.  

So I think of this: the two shall become one flesh.  I think of how I care for my body, and I wonder if I care for Brooke the same.  Do I think of her or obsess over her the way I do a late meal when I’m hungry and tired?  Do I seek to just make her feel good the way I do by taking a walk outside?  Do I constantly seek her best the way I do by running and trying to eat healthy?  

Do I rely on her the way I rely on my flesh: to keep me safe and healthy, to help me interact with the world, to be a source of joy?  Do I hope for her the way I hope for myself, and fight for her the way I fight for myself?  Or, is there a distinction: are her hopes and joys subtly different than mine?

The answer to these questions, naturally, is sometimes yes and sometimes no.  Yet, for me today, I hope to see Brooke with slightly different eyes, seeing her more and more as my flesh, someone mystically joined with my by God Himself.  May those of us who are married see our spouses the same.

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Random Thoughts…

So, for the past two weeks I’ve been on my own all day with El.  And, I’ve been searching for ways to fill the long stretches of time when I have to walk and hold her.  Fortunately, God made Baby Bjorns and I can use both hands while lulling her back to sleep.  And, I’m going to attempt to update the ole’ blog in the process over the next few weeks.  

Here’s the first blog post in awhile: Random Thoughts whilst caring for Ellis.

Why are cop shows/movies always about catching murderers or sexual deviants (never thieves)?  Actually, thieves are celebrated in movies and shows for their cunning, and the fact that no one really ever gets hurt by stealing millions of dollars (or dollars worth of paintings — if you steal something other than money on a show, it has to be a painting).

I have never celebrated so many burps in my life, as I have with Ellis.

Why doesn’t anyone celebrate my burps?

If we leave the house messy enough, does that count as a security system?  Seriously, I don’t want to walk through the house in the middle of the night — I can’t imagine a cat burglar trying to make it through.

I think a person’s ability to play well with others generally peaks somewhere in early elementary school.

I believe the definition of having “made it” in America today means getting your own Wikipedia page.

I’d really like to have an announcer following my every move all day.  “Oh, he’s going to the fridge.  Let’s see what he does.  He feints for the yogurt but pulls out the ham!  Yessir!”

Can anyone else other than Verne Lundquist get away with saying “Yessir!” as an acceptable exclamation?  At least, you have to be over 60 to even think about pulling it off.

I find myself rocking back and forth sometimes even when I’m not holding Ellis, out of habit.

Other than Baby Bjorns, I don’t know how parents of yesteryear survived without podcasts.

Nice to see The Office close out its season well.  It really does best with plausible relationship dysfunction.  Which is why the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline didn’t sit well: it wasn’t plausible.  

Do you think at the fall of the Egyptian dynasty, anybody thought to him or herself, “Sure, our empire’s crumbling, but we had a really nice run.  Plus, those pyramids aren’t going anywhere for awhile.”

In 1000 years, I hope America has more to show for herself than the show “Two and a Half Men.”  In fact, I hope no historian ever finds that show.  Come to think of it, I hope most sitcoms disappear from the records when historians take stock of our culture.

I wonder what it’s like not to have consciousness.  What goes through your mind?  Do you know what’s going through your mind?

Okay.  I’ll stop here.  It’s good to be back.  We’ll see what my brain comes up with in the next few days.

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