To whom shall we go?

Sometimes I don’t want to speak to God. It’s usually not His fault as far as I can tell.

Today most of the the issue is that I don’t have the words. Where to begin? How do I express what I’m feeling? This is an unusual place for me to find myself in. Most of what I’ve mustered thus far is a mixture of “help please” and “I don’t understand” mixed with a few coherent sentences in our conversation. Frankly I’m also a bit put out with the Lord.

I’m a bit angry that right decisions don’t always mean the things that make me happy. I’m frustrated that this is something I’m angry about and in the midst of all of it I’m trying very hard to find out exactly what it means to be where I am. Not running away, not becoming bitter about challenging scenarios, and choosing  to sit in how I feel in it’s entirety. Welcome to hard things town, Population: Chauncey (and other people I love too, I am not the only one here. It just feels like it sometimes when I’m by myself.)

I talked to my friend Robbie today. He is 2 hours ahead of us (being in Illinois) so when I called him at 6:30 he was up and willing to talk. I was grateful. As we talked he suggested that I try and be silent today and try to hear what God might be saying. I don’t feel like it, but I think this is a good point.

At one point in the gospels Jesus gets ditched by a lot of people. I think it’s the crowds. They leave. Lots of the disciples do too. The Lord looks to the 12 and says, “Are you not leaving too?” to this Simon Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Welcome to our (and my) dilemma. Sometimes where we are is challenging beyond our standards of measurement, but this is where the Lord meets us. Honestly, to whom shall we go if not to the one who has the words of eternal life?

Speak O Lord. Without your words, we are lost beyond hope. With you there is hope. I’ll be waiting for you.

It’s about being.

I went to hot yoga last night. Strangely enough I really enjoyed it. Next time (there will be a next time) I will need 2x as much water.

There were moments when I was reminded of things from the past. All of them involved balancing on the edge of dehydration. I remembered the fateful basketball game in Nicaragua that forced me into a dehydrated state of vomiting, I remembered the way that I felt as a boy at basketball camp right before my vision started swimming (we thought I had exertional asthma…I think I just didn’t hydrate well). I remembered these things and drank water accordingly. I still got a bit dehydrated, but I avoided the sort that brings illness and migraines for the most part. Like I said 2x water and I’d be there 3 times a week.

Why? Well. I’ll tell you.

I also remembered something else. I remembered what it was like to be where I am.

In a sweaty environment charged with calmness and encouraging words I managed to let go enough to just be.

I am finding that I’m the sort of person who constructs for himself systems of bars–think gymnastics, not beer–to jump. Maybe you do this too, I can only be sure of me. I set bars for how I think things should be, how I think I ought to be a part of relationships (with myself, God, and others), and what my response should be to failing to reach the bar.

Lately I’ve been coming face to face with the reality that my bar system sucks. It fails to achieve the task that I set out for it to do. It regularly fails to measure life, to provide me with adequate responses to complex scenarios, and really I think it hinders me meeting with God, myself, and others. I think I’ve been trying too hard to prepare for things before they come. Then when things come that are outside of my prepared responses, I get scared.

The walls of the prison that I have confused with freedom shake when I allow life to be what it is and don’t try and force it into my pre-made categories. God is mysterious, relationships are complex, and there are far more grey areas than I would like to admit. It reminds me of the end of Shawshank Redemption. When your mind in structured to be in a prison, being free is a terrifying proposition. When the world is suddenly open and free and choices are yours to make without the sort of floor lighting that shows you around like the sort found in movie theaters and exit row seating on airplanes…wow, now that seems scary. A significant thing that makes it less scary is that the floor lighting is artificial to begin with.  The light of the day is not bound in the same way as little electric cables. It illuminates everything, not just that which seems necessary.

As I laid in “child’s position” in the 108 degree room last night there was a significant stretch of time where I just was. I didn’t need to try and fit my life into the system of bars. I was sweaty and a bit dehydrated, but I was also really free to be before God as I was. Confused, assured, a little scared, hopeful, faithful, and still somewhat faithless. In the moment I knew my need for God to meet with me. This time it was not about me meeting with God correctly, properly, or in an orderly fashion. It was about being where I was and letting the Lord meet with me as He was going to. Even if it just meant sweating in silence and feeling nothing other than peace in my own messiness, periodically asking for mercy by means of the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He meets us y’know. As we are. Sometimes that makes me uncomfortable. The idea of freedom to be as broken as we are before the Lord is Yet, in moments like being in a 108 degree room with people far more flexible than I, I begin to hear and feel echoes of the fact that this journey with Jesus is about something that those flexible people understand a bit better than I do: It’s about being.

 

kicking and screaming.

No, not the Will Farrell movie.

I went on a trip to Portland this past weekend with my best friend. It was a great opportunity to share so much of where she comes from and meet people who are extremely significant in her life. I really enjoyed myself, so the title doesn’t apply to anything other than a thought she helped me arrive at. As one does on a road trip, we talked a lot.

At one point we were discussing Pentecostalism. I realized that I’ve never wanted to be a Pentecostal. For some strange reason I just don’t want it. When I lived in Latin America I was “blessed” to be present for several pentecostal services. They rubbed me the wrong way. For a man who has grown up in Lutheran high church liturgy, the flow of a pentecostal service borders on the absurd.

For me church has been ironed into me as a mixture of standing, sitting, singing, saying/affirming meaningful and important things in unison, hearing scripture read, hearing a sermon, and getting communion. All very peaceful. All pleasant and orderly. I feel 100% more at home in a Catholic mass than I do in a pentecostal service. I don’t want to overemphasize the importance of miraculous healings at the expense of everyday miracles. I don’t desire to speak in tongues. Still…

There was a moment in our discussion when the point was raised of “What if God gives you these things?” That stopped me for a bit. Then I almost got frustrated at the idea. Whyever would the Lord give me these things that so often seem obnoxious in my sisters’/brothers’ in the Lord’s tradition? At this point I realized my own foolishness.

God gives what He will. I didn’t exactly ask Him for the things that are a part of me that I appreciate. I didn’t ask Him for most of my spiritual gifts. I’ve always leaned towards wanting the sorts of gifts that manifest themselves in care for others, in listening, in compassion, generosity, etc…but what if God wanted me to dance with all my might as King David did? What if He wanted me to speak in tongues? What if He wanted me to prohpesy?

I suppose I would be the humbled fool who poutily tried to avoid the gifts He wanted me to have.

Confession. Sometimes I avoid pentecostal services because of this thought: What happens if I actually fall over if the guy puts his hand on me? What if the things I don’t really connect with or like are things that God uses in spite of my opinion?

Maybe the heart of the issue is that I might be scared of finding out that I’m not as big of a deal as I sometimes think I am…

Edgy Blog Post #1: Let’s call things what they are.

I hit a moment today when I realized that I’ve been pulling punches for a long time. I’ve been holding myself back from saying things that might possibly offend people and disagreeing strongly because…well…I like being liked and I don’t like estranging myself from other people.

At some level I think it has allowed for me to take it easy and recover from my last year because believe me, when you’re getting thrashed emotionally, spiritually, and mentally the last thing you need is a good ‘ol fashioned theological/philosophical discussion. Things have changed since then.

I am moving from a place of post-college exhaustion to a place where I’m realizing that many of the tools and things that I once enjoyed (and still do) have lain unused in the back of my mind. I have not been applying my ability as a human to make arguments.  Essentially I’ve desired to not make waves.

I used to thrive in waves. I used to live in a torrential adventure of exploration and questions facilitated by professors, friends, and heated discussions. At least I think I did. Some of that was childish disagreements with guys on my freshman year floor as we learned what it meant to live in community. I think that most of it though was founded in refining my perspective and challenging others and being challenged myself. I wanted to learn, to grow, and develop.

Lately in discussions with my lovely (and brilliant) girlfriend I’ve been noticing a bit of stagnation in my thinking. It would seem that not saying challenging things to people has seeped into the deeper parts of me and has started to cause me not wrestling with challenging things. I have been so focused on trying to love the Lord with my heart, soul, and strength that my mind has been a bit left out.

Well, I’ve decided to not go down that road anymore. There was a time when my blog was more than a place to talk about how I felt, it was also a place where I thought about things and asked questions. The Lenten season really feels like a good time to start that back up. I plan on saying things. I’m sure I won’t always have things to say, but when I do…get ready. I’ll probably still be relatively diplomatic, but I will tell you what I think. Even if it means that there are things I haven’t processed all the way through.

So, today’s blog is talking about gender roles in relationships. In which I think it’s important to call things what they are. Healthy when things are healthy, oppressive when things are oppressive, and absurd when things are absurd. Probably all of life is this way.

For me the issue of relationships as a Christian is one where I focus on equality. In the various traditions that make up Christianity there are a variety of them in which women are given lesser roles within relationships. The man is the decider, the head of the house, and the king of his castle. Whereas the woman’s task is to submit, listen, take care of children, and generally not play a fully participatory role in the relationship. She must have things decided for her and this is the will of the Lord for her.

I’ve gotta be honest here. This is bunk. I’m sorry. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make any sense.

I know this comes from a perspective of reading scripture that generally follows this line of thinking (quoting mostly the apostle Paul) ” God says man is the head of the house, that women are to submit, and to not to teach men…so yes Chauncey, that aforementioned paragraph is accurate and what’s more it’s God’s will.” There are verses that accompany all these statements as well.

HOWEVER. When I look at the bible in a bit of a broader context I read about female apostles (Junia at the end of Roman’s, if your translation reads Junias you should ask yourself what translation you’re using and investigate on your own), women sitting at Jesus’ feet as disciples would, and women being the very first people to tell of the Resurrection. The role of women throughout the text seems to at the very least strongly challenge if not overturn entirely the common Evangelical thought process on relationships and women’s roles within them. The OT is fraught with examples of women playing dramatic roles within the context of their strongly Patriarchal societies. Dare I say scandalous examples? Yes. I will.

A sweeping look at the biblical meta narrative ought to give pause to the certainty with which certain individuals tend to look at women’s roles. We ought to start to ask if we have it right.

If we are left with Paul (as quoted above) disagreeing -strangely enough-with himself and then Jesus in the gospels, then we really need to ask ourselves what we are to do with this conundrum.

I think our first step is to acknowledge that there is FAR MORE happening in the text than what a cursory read will tell us. The depth of a 2000 year-old document is significant and the layers of meaning need to be honestly and thoroughly evaluated. It is not always as simple as saying “God says…” You need context. You need to actually think about it, pray about it, talk about it in community, and then perhaps God will reveal what He meant through the author’s words. He might or He might not…and your interpretation could still be wrong. You are a human being. The ivory tower of whoever you decide to listen to is also human. Some are better than others, all are flawed.

I think the second step is one where we acknowledge that we might not understand at all. There might be a constant tension within the text that we have to live, sit, and be uncomfortable in. You don’t like it? Sorry, I guess I don’t either, but that doesn’t make it go away.

And third, it would seem that if Paul’s letter to the Romans agrees with Jesus’ treatment of women and God’s use of them as a whole then we are led to a place where the other verses about women (no matter how strongly worded the patriarchy may be) must be taken at not-face-value. The contrast implies contextual complications that cannot be resolved by simply stacking certain verses against others in some kind of exegetical game of Jenga . Eventually we all lose at Jenga.

With that said, it would seem to me that a relationship that fails to have an egalitarian standpoint misses the broader context of what the biblical witness indicates to us about women. That they are equal to men. That their opinions, actions, thoughts, and roles carry just as much weight in the eyes of the Lord. These things cannot be boxed, ignored, or set aside.

In short to do anything other than support gender equality from a biblical standpoint is to participate in the oppression of women. It’s time to call things what they are.

Blogosphere, I have thrown my thoughts into the wind. Let them drift where they may. Be irritated if you are, be pleased, be angry, be sad. I will still respect you still.

Throw Down.

I was remembering my last year of work yesterday. I’ll tell you straight up, I don’t know that I’ve had a more unpleasant experience than the one I had last year. Lots of wonderful people, but an overarching theme of “Just what the hell are you doing God?” Perhaps the use of hell and God in that context makes me sound foolish, but really. That’s what it felt like. I didn’t know what He was doing. At all.

Last year I prayed for a job. I got one. Initially I was super pumped as the job was using all of my education and experience in a combined job that I hoped would be sweet. As the job wore on I hit storm after storm and by the end of 11 months of being a teacher’s aide in a minimum security detention center I was an emotionally, spiritually, and mentally exhausted wreck of a human being. The state of my person was seemingly that of the animal that is washed ashore half-alive, barely able to drag itself out of the crashing waves.

In short you can call it an ass-kicking. That’s what it was. I got my metaphysical ass-kicked. No real sense of actual fighting. The few times that youth squared up to me I would note a look of “You’re really big…” in their eyes before they backed down.

In many ways I’m still recovering from this past year. When you pray for a job and the one that comes turns out to be the one I described above, it really leaves you with significant questions for the Lord. Things like, “Why exactly should I trust you again?” or “Do you even notice this?”

In my prayers last year though I regularly maintained a pious objectivity. I didn’t ask God the questions in the way they actually felt. I asked for help, but I don’t remember asking Him the questions I had in the last paragraph. I didn’t want to emotionally dump on the Lord who has given me so much. Clearly talking to Him means holding it back and saying what I would say to my grandparents….However…

In the book of Job we read about a man who loses everything he has. Family, house, job, everything. He sits in silence for seven days and then starts asking questions and making statements. Things like “It would be better to have not been born.” His friends throw out some useless and inaccurate advice (you’re a sinner, you deserve punishment, etc…), but Job brings out the big guns. He asks God to show Himself. To clear things up. To explain just what exactly is going on.

Miraculously, God shows up. He answers no questions that Job asks. He talks about creation and with not so subtle sarcasm the Lord points out that Job was not there when things started. He essentially boils the issue down to “Who are you to ask me these things?”

Here’s the strange thing. Job completely backs down. He says something along the lines of “Surely I spoke of things too wonderful for me to understand.”

The stranger thing though: God honors Job’s questions. Instead of God casting Job the critic of His actions, the asker of hard questions into some form of divine wrath…God blesses Job. He gives him buckets of stuff, but I think the most important thing for me is what follows in God’s talk with Job’s friends. The ones who gave crappy advice.

God talks to them. He tells them that Job will make sacrifices to and ask their forgiveness of God. God will listen to Job’s prayers. Not theirs it would seem. God goes on to say “My servant Job has said what is right of me.”

Job doesn’t hold back any of his emotional storm from the Lord. He puts it out there. He asks hard questions of his God. and God appreciates it.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of that. That Job’s full emotional self-disclosure to God with all his disappointment, fear, pain, and doubt is something with which the Lord is pleased.

Reflecting on my year last year I wish I had done that more. I think having moments of sheer breakdown before the Lord is something we have labeled as bad. That somehow someway along the line we were told to “hold it together” or to “lock it up” for fear that our own weakness would break ourselves or break other people.

In contrast I think that holding together by force that which is already broken and weak and carrying on as though it were strong is just plain wrong. Jesus came in part to bear the burdens of humanity, to be with us, to be what we could not be. We’re not going to have it all together.

I think that God looks at us and says “Throw down. Say it. Be where you are. You don’t have to pretend to get it.”

I wish I would do this more.

Oh…right…

I’ve been told that I can do a pretty impressive impression of “Kronk” from the film the Emperor’s New Groove. He has a deep voice that I can mimic easily. He’s a somewhat daft, but extremely endearing character in the film. His antics–in case you don’t remember them–look like this:

 

Now, there are moments when I discover to my chagrin and amusement that I’m very much absurd in a similar manner to Kronk. I feel that I am often several steps behind when things take place. Especially with the Lord. I guess that’s to be expected, but when things get clarified (and they do) I often feel as though I’m the one who has been having the “Reason number 2: Look what I can do.” sort of discussion with myself.

As my blog might lead you to believe I spent two months in Europe. I think that one of the main points that God was trying to get through to me in two months of meandering through foreign lands was a concept summed up in two words: “Trust me.”

Today as I strolled to work on the way back from lunch I was pondering a few things that my brother had said to me. He told me that I needed to give my fears up to the Lord. As I walked down the alley by trash bins, the man who dances during his lunch break, and the back courtyard of the Solstice Cafe the sun broke through the clouds. It was warm.

In a moment I recalled many experiences, good and challenging (often both) that had lead me to where I am. Where I am is quite lovely by the way. I’ve been scared of losing the inexplicably undeserved blessings that I have been given. But when I thought for that moment in the warm sun shining through the clouds I remembered that the One who calls me is trustworthy.

Trusting in the Lord is still the thing I’m learning to do. I guess I’ll probably be learning that  for a long time.

Ok Jesus…so I need to trust you…I also need your help to do that. Help please.

 

The Real Fight

There was a group on SPU campus many years ago that called themselves “the fight.” Lots of my really good friends were a part of this group. I didn’t show up much. Firstly, as a student I had lots of things to do, and quite frankly I didn’t see much of a reason to hit a second church service mid-week (it isn’t as though Ash Wendesday happens every week). Also, the theological perspective wasn’t one that I really jived with.

It actually started as a group in which myself and a bunch of guys got together to pray. That was what we were originally about. Meeting weekly to pray with brothers in the Lord is money. Then things started to change. I didn’t know exactly why it rubbed me the wrong way at the time, but it did. The group began to manifest a perspective of masculinity that was founded in movies like Braveheart and books written by John Eldridge. Prayer became less of a focus as the group shifted to a standard evangelical church service model where the preaching became seemingly more and more emphatically grounded in the work we needed to do.

It seemed like we needed to stop doing lots of things and start doing lots of other things. I won’t go into great detail, but I will say that it seemed like while we were told that Jesus did everything necessary for atonement…we had a lot of work that needed to be done and WE had to do it. Otherwise, well…fill in the blank with what you assume would finish that statement.

Here’s the thing about this idea that really bothers me: it’s stupid.

I know that’s blunt, but really. It’s not taking seriously what Christ’s life, death, and resurrection means. When you boil it down it means He did the work. All of it. He continues do to the work. We participate in His work. We participate in in that work through the Holy Spirit.

The idea of spurring ourselves on to greater and greater spiritual heights as though we were both the horse and his boy on adventures is a broken and flawed idea. We are moved by the Spirit, in the Spirit, and participate in the true humanity of Christ therein. It is not just some spiritual version of the man at the circus who can lift the most weight getting the most salvation. The reality is that the weight to be lifted was and is lifted by Christ on our behalf. He is the only real human (shout out to Deitrich Bonhoeffer.)

What brought all this on you ask? I was reading my bible this morning and yet again one of those money verses leaped out at me.

In Deuteronomy the Lord is talking to the Israelites and He tells them about war. He says (in paraphrased fashion) that “When you go up against armies with chariots that are larger than you do not be afraid of them for it is the Lord who fights for you to give you victory.”

Let that sink in.

The Lord fights for you.

I’ve been thinking about life recently and this is the case. The battles I win are in and through the grace of God. I don’t win them by my own strength…and neither do you.

The real fight has been and always will be the Lord’s. He fights for us. Let us not be afraid.