Posts Tagged ‘paradox’

You’re lying. And so am I.

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” [Psalm 50:1-3]

That’s right. God is never really silent. God is speaking through every atom of every living thing in Earth. God is speaking within each and every one of us. This is not a speaking problem, this is a listening problem.

Me and the Silence by
Stefano Bonazzi

I have been silent for some months. I have not written because of an inner vacuum, not an experience of peace and harmony, but a hollowness of spirit. I have gone through a lot of the motions; I have read the Word and I have pondered; I have attended worship services and I have sung the songs. I have engaged a spiritual director. I have hit a singing bowl and followed its vibrations. I have listened to music. But my mind remains a maelstrom.

The mere chaos of our age is a clanging cymbal. The incessant drone of news and tweets from the White House, always a shock that fuels dismay, chills my heart. The cry of sorrow as the rains engulf our Texas cities is loud and persistent. The anger and violence of Charlottesville clamors like a great cloud of bees, buzzing in swarms and demanding attention. The petty annoyances of broken things and the drama of relationships twang and clunk and slam.

And yet, God is speaking too. God is Present. It is not an either/or proposition. Cannot be.

God is in the terror as much as God is in the peace. Can I live in that paradox long enough to trust and learn and discern? God does not change but is the constant to which I am invited to cling. When Mike died, this was clear to me and I was able to stand. But this external chaos has proved to be my master, a master I must shed. For there is only One, whose love and strength and assurance is is promised and waiting.

With whom will I engage this day? In which river will I suspend my heart? The waters can be

gentle but obstacles will always remain.

I must choose to acknowledge God. In the moment. Discipline is a choice. Awareness is a choice. And somewhere along the way, they can become a habit, a norm.

Right now, I hear God in the dripping of the soft rain outside my window. I feel God in the fur of my fat cat. I hear God in the contented sigh of my sleeping dog. And because the view from my chair in my bedroom snags my shoulda gene (wash my clothes, wipe the mirror, make the bed etc.), I close my eyes and look there, in the wonder of my imagination (that great gift of God) where I can see anything I choose to see.


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Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” [John 6:35-36, NIV]  I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” [Psalm 81:10-12, NIV]

 No one can make or convince another person to believe, particularly in the things of God. The proofs will always, somehow, fall short; the explanations sound hollow; the passion suspect. Believe or not: there is no try.

Belief in God requires an acceptance of “other” that is outside our normal range of perception. God is not like us. God is not just me or you or nature or the universe. God is all and God is nothing. God is paradox and logic. God is light and dark. alpha omega

God manifests among us through humans in a variety of ways and for this reason, there have been (and still are) saints and charlatans. Jesus is our prime, for those who believe, of course.

Jesus is the physical God with a specific message and example of grace and redemption and love. Jesus completed the circle of promise that was initiated in the heart and soul of sentient human: Adam, if you will.

But Jesus, the physical, departed earth more than 2000 years ago. What’s left? More God. Spirit. And faith that it all really happened, God really IS and WAS and WILL BE.

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Pooh loveFew us willingly embrace paradox: loss for gain, death for life, serve to lead, and so on. Each and every type is repeated throughout scripture and our first reaction is reason: that is contradictory, that is not possible, that is absurd. Even faith itself is a type of paradox, to believe in what cannot be seen or proved rationally. Paradox is simply inevitable within the Way of Christ. And those who dismiss it, miss it.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. [John 16:7-11, NIV]

And so I wonder about my own loss. I cannot help but read this passage and wonder, is it the same for the death of a loved one? Will there a come a day when I can look back and see, if Mike had not died, we would have missed this other event, this other understanding, this other transformation? I can almost imagine Mike, in his final moments, seeing our future more clearly than we ever could. And perhaps he also thought, I go that they might live in this other way, within this other road.

Mike’s faith was unshakeable and his mantra was that God would provide [Jehovah Jireh]. And he calls me to do the same. Trust God. Let go of what was freely. All will be well.

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One of the biggest mistakes people make in planning a project is that they rarely figure out how to measure their success (or failure). How do you measure your progress? When we were children, many of our parents measured our growth by marks on a door frame. Up and up and up the pencil marks would go. But what about our spiritual lives? Can we measure our growth, our commitment, or our change?

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. [Luke 6:38-39, NIV]

measureAre we using the money we give as a measure of our commitment or our sacrifice in the things of God? I am not saying this is a good thing or bad one, I’m just asking.

In the “world,” more often than not, it’s the norm: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s a kind of joke, a bumper sticker that had it’s day some years back, and yet, the accumulation of wealth and stuff continues. Western cultures, particular, measure by salaries, investments, houses and neighborhoods, travel and vacations, labels, and let us not forget, cars.

I remember the embarrassment I felt when my half-sister (twenty years my senior) from Estonia had an opportunity to visit us in our home and she was befuddled as to why we had rooms in which their primary function was to sleep. She, with her three room apartment, no running hot water and a wood stove for cooking, raised a child and later housed that same adult child, his wife, and their two children. Every room, every inch of their apartment was multi-purpose.

The other day, I looked outside my front door and saw five cars parked outside our house. Every adult in our home has his or her own car.

all inSo, let me get back to the question of measuring the depth of the soul.

Am I really sold out to Christ, am I all in? Who would know? How do I know? Is it because I tithe now or attend services faithfully or volunteer each week? Are these viable measures? Or perhaps it’s the minutes I pray or read the Bible? Perhaps I memorize verses or know how to open my Bible to the chapter and verse without too much flipping. Perhaps I have kept score of the number of people who have come to Christ by my witness, my story, my relationships?

Being a believer or follower of Christ is not like getting a black belt in Tae Kwan Do or judo. There are no tangible tests.

It’s a way and a journey. It’s a marriage of sorts. It’s an intimacy. And each one is unique and different. So, why do we do all these things, these activities, these measurements? Because people have discovered through the years that our relationship with God can be enhanced. But honestly, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. But maybe, just maybe, this or that practice, will open the door wide to your heart and soul, and once it’s fully open, the Holy Spirit fills you.

And at that point, you simply are, because of I AM and you are bound. And all that is done is a natural outgrowth of that relationship. The surprise comes in the paradox. Give to receive, die to live.

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who will goThe scripture designated for this seventh day of Advent is the entire chapter of Isaiah 6. It is not for the faint-hearted. For my purposes, I have selected the most well known:

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.” [Isaiah 6:8, CEB]

It all sounds so romantic. God calling out to the people and asking for a volunteer. In our minds’ eye, we imagine our hands shooting up in wonderful abandon. “Me, me, send me!” Or not.

I remember the first time I heard a missionary from Africa (I forget which country now, it was so long ago) telling his tales of serving in some remote villages. He told stories of wonder and miracles, even the raising of a dead man. I listened in awe. And then he asked the audience, who would like to return with me? Who will go? Some part of me wanted to go. Nothing was really in my way except for funds. I was single at the time and only just left New York and I was living back in Indianapolis. And yet, I sat and wept. He came to me after the service. We both knew I was to go, but he would not encourage me or discourage me. He simply asked why I cried. And I confessed, I could not face the fear of the unknown and the death of all the rest of my dreams, sketchy though they were. I still mourn that decision in many ways for I know that was a fork in my road.

All of this is not to say that I am sorry for the life I have lived. And I know, as we all know, that there have been many more turning points and many more forks in the path.

But let us not fool ourselves. Sending and going are serious business.

In Isaiah’s case, even moreso, because he knew from the outset that none would hear the words nor believe him. The language, in English, is confusing as it sounds like God is commanding the people not to hear. But that is not quite the sense of the meaning. It’s the outcome that is described: the people will not listen, they will not understand, they will not see the signs. And yet, Isaiah, knowing this from the beginning, went anyway.

For us, success in the things of God is not the outcome but the intent. Our faithfulness is to the mission, not the achievements. Another mystery in a culture of ambition and striving, accumulating the most toys, having the biggest house, or filling our closets with shoes and our garages with cars.

If Jesus had that ethos and taught his disciples differently, who would ever go?

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New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

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waterI am not really that good at breaking down knowledge into sequential bites. Teachers, for this reason, are truly amazing. They understand what a student has to learn first and then second and so on. It’s hard for me to analyze what I know and then back up to how I figured something out or how I learned a particular task or took advantage of an inborn talent.

But this much I know, in order to “come to the water,” a person must realize he/she is thirsty, in other words, in need. Meaningful change cannot happen without acknowledging the status quo as a) not working or b) not acceptable.

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
    and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? [Isaiah 55:1-2a; CEB]

Part Two: Once a person figures out that he/she is thirsty and starts looking around for something to quench that thirst, this is the point when circumstances and people play a vital role.

When I am thirsty, I don’t always pick the best thirst-quencher. Intellectually, I may know that water is probably best, but I am guilty of popping a beer or soda instead. Sometimes I choose badly because of convenience, sometimes I choose badly because I am offered something else from a person nearby.

And lastly, accept the paradox of God’s offer: water where there does not appear to be water; food where there is no money to buy food, etc. God, through Jesus, is continually offering and calling and drawing Human to the Godhead, to a life of Spirit, where thirst is perpetually quenched. We are so used to living a life of unmet needs and wants; we can barely comprehend an existence or space in which we would be completely satisfied. This is the life within, not the daily grind. If the Spirit is quenched, the 3-D life can be conquered, the journey can tolerated, the sorrows born, the disappointments made powerless.

Why spend money [time, energy, etc.] for what isn’t food? Believe in a better way.

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