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Posts Tagged ‘paradox’

head in the sandHow often do we blame someone else for our situation? In the extreme, it’s a victim mentality, but in small doses, it’s a type of laziness. If it’s not my fault, I don’t have to do anything about it. I also call it a “head in the sand” approach to life.

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one who troubles Israel?”
Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel; you and your father’s house have! You did as much when you deserted the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals. [I Kings 18: 17-18, CEB]

A young friend of mine demonstrated the extent to which blame can be stretched. Apparently, he had checked out a video game from the library and lost it or misplaced it or loaned it to someone else (I don’t really know the details). Since I work at the library, I know how these things work: a series of emails or texts or phone calls go out to the patron alerting them to a potential fine. At some point, the item is coded as lost and the patron’s cost jumps from a fine to a full replacement cost of the item (this takes several we reached my friend for his lost video game. He was livid at the cost: $75! And the next statement? It’s all that librarian’s fault for making me get a library card. His anger justified because it wasn’t his fault. He’s not the first library user to blame staff for fines and fees.

A more egregious example happened to my own daughter, who we adopted at fifteen and assumed she was an orphan since we had death certificates on both of her parents. Instead, it turned out the birth mother had hit the skids and lost all of her identity papers and did not surface again until some two years after our teen was adopted. And of all things, it was on Russian Facebook that they found one another. But instead of joy of discovery, the mother blamed our daughter for her losses and literally said, “If you hadn’t left, none of this would have happened.”

blameThese stories sound outrageous but are we any better? Am I? How many times have I kicked a chair after I ran into it or cursed a tree limb that connected with my head or bad talked the bank when my check bounced? And of course, while driving, it’s always the other guy!

The first step in changing the rules of the blame game is to identify the moment. If I can catch myself (that means close my mouth before the words come out), I might even be able to stem off the worst of it. And only then do I have even a hair’s breath of chance to figure out why I am passing the buck. Am I afraid of how I will be perceived by others? Do I feel that taking responsibility will diminish me? Does it make me feel better to shift the blame to another person?

In and of itself, the word “blame” has a negative connotation. It carries accusation and condemnation. Just the word alone feels like a burden. And I’m thinking that’s the problem. Instead of shifting the blame, it may be that the paradoxical Christian thing would be to simply accept responsibility (when true) and give God a chance to work with the truth.

Taking responsibility when we err is no fun, but its merits outweigh the negatives in the long run. It’s part of the learning curve and character building. I am not encouraging anyone to become a scapegoat or to become a martyr, taking the weight of guilt when it’s not ours to take. But when our own mistakes and choices bring consequences, then we must confess that truth to ourselves first and thereby invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to bear it and eventually change.

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

It’s a mysterious statement and how interesting, that it comes from the mouth of Zophar, the least likely of the three “friends” of Job. After all, his next breath his full of chastisement and nastiness toward Job. And yet, he does have this one right.

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
    that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,

    for true wisdom has two sides. . . . [Job 11:5-6a, NIV]

In a wonderful online homily, this topic is explored more fully, but it fits in with my own view of the many paradoxes that exist in scripture and faith. An old friend used to call it the both/and of truth. In God, two seemingly opposed truths can actually co-exist. How is that possible? I don’t begin to understand it. But I believe it because it allows for the conundrums that an “all-knowing God” and the “free-will of Human” can be true as well. It is wisdom to accept the possibility of their concurrence.

Another view of the two sides of wisdom might be the simple explanation that everything is not revealed to us, like the iceberg that only shows a tip of itself while the greater story is beneath the water.

both-andAs I see it, God himself declared that Job was a righteous man whose love for God was pure and above all other living men. Job committed no sin that we could see to warrant his suffering. God allowed it to happen at the hand of the enemy. Somehow, God knew it would take Job to the “next level” of understanding and wisdom and faith. At great cost.

A deeper truth had to be examined, a more difficult investigation into human.

I must remember this basic truth as well: all stories have two sides, all of suffering is an iceberg, all sin has a path leading up to it. So often, I hear people condemn those who adhere to looking at the world as black or white, good or bad, etc. But I think it may be a mistake to assume that the only alternative is to say that the world is grey, as though the contrary forces would meld into something new. Instead, it may just be possible, from a God view, that both black and white can live together and still retain their identities.

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I suppose it’s been foolish of me to imagine that there aren’t degrees within the broad umbrella of service to God. I enjoyed the openness of acceptance, the equality I found in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And so I had imagined there was an across the board sameness to us in the eyes of Spirit. But then, I was reminded by my own pastor that there are promises of “crowns” in heaven for some and not for others. Initially, this message made me uncomfortable. I have spent so many years trying to let go of a performance-oriented faith, a weighing in of the value of my response to grace.

Reality check: Some people deserve recognition for their faithfulness. They may be choosing more wisely how to use their time and energies than me.

Just one day in the courts of Your temple is greaterMotherteresa and child
    than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather serve as a porter at my God’s doorstep
    than live in luxury in the house of the wicked.
For the Eternal God is a sun and a shield.
    The Eternal grants favor and glory;
He doesn’t deny any good thing
    to those who live with integrity. [Psalm 84:10-11, The Voice]

The point is the paradox that the choice is not the “Martha” one of scurrying about and being busy for Jesus. It’s sitting at the feet of the Christ, it’s holding the door, it’s being present and ready when a need comes up and then simply saying, “yes.”

As Pastor Jess taught, if we have accepted the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we are “saved,” meaning we are bound to the Spirit and our own spirits will live forever in heaven, in perpetual unity with the Holy Spirit. But the sweetness of that union depends on my devotion, my surrender, my confession, my poured out life.

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I know the answer to this question because I know we anthropomorphize God.

I can’t help but wonder why You care about mortals—
    sons and daughters of men—
    specks of dust floating about the cosmos.

But You placed the son of man just beneath God
    and honored him like royalty, crowning him with glory and honor.
You ordained him to govern the works of Your hands,
    to nurture the offspring of Your divine imagination; [Psalm 8:4-6a, The Voice]

paradoxWe’re fortunate, really, that God is not much like people but we’re unlucky that human is not nearly like God as God would have hoped or planned. If God were more like us, then I’m sure God would be disappointed.

After all, God gives humans everything they need to make the best of a life: the ability to reason, the ability to create, the ability to love and care and help others. We are given the opportunity to partner with the greatest power in the Universe, the Holy Spirit, and we are asked to participate in the making of heaven on earth.

Instead, we who received the most have deceived the most.

The story of us is reflected in the first story of Adam & Eve. How could they do it? Why did they choose badly? Why do we? In essence, this is our story, day after day after day.

Until we figure out the reality of living within the paradox, we will not get it. I say this, at the very least, for myself. I understand intellectually what it means to love the unlovable, to give out of little instead of plenty, to turn the other cheek, to embrace enemies, to trust God is avenge pain, to sacrifice now for another life, to live outside of my perceived wants and needs, to take up the cross of Christ. I can say all the right words. I can teach the concepts. I know in my head, but I still, like Paul, “I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do.” [Romans 7:18b – 19, The Voice]

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Art by Daniel Gerhartz

Art by Daniel Gerhartz

Intimacy is a charged word. Just having it as the title of this blog will get me hundreds of spam comments and false hits. It has been usurped by the sex trade. And yet, it’s the essence of a true relationship, an authentic kinship, a life-changing connection. The Voice translation says it best:

But if someone responds to and obeys His word, then God’s love has truly taken root and filled him. This is how we know we are in an intimate relationship with Him . . . [I John 2:5]

Now let me add my own tweaks to this verse: But IF I respond to and obey His word [the Christ], then God’s love has truly taken root and filled me. This is how I know I am in an intimate relationship with God.

Intimacy implies detailed knowledge of one another. It’s a given that the Spirit (living within me) has detailed knowledge of me. In fact, I’m pretty sure Spirit Christ knows me better than I know myself. But is it reciprocal? Do I know God? Of course not. I can only know what I am open to know. I can only know what is revealed through God’s actions and the Christ who walked the Earth to show us what God looks like in the flesh.

Here is God: follow me. That was Jesus’s message from the beginning, to each disciple: follow. Live the paradox. Love your enemies, go the second mile, love others as you love yourself, be devoted to God. Enter intimacy.

I am not a good friend. Not really.

I protect my heart from most people. Trust is slow. Betrayal feared.

But love requires an open heart, as does intimacy. One cannot come without the other and vice versa. Otherwise, they are both conditional.

My unconscious messages: I will love you if you don’t hurt me. I will expose my true self to you if you prove you are trustworthy. I would rather you not know me.

To have intimacy with God, I must practice with Human, for that is all we really have to work with. Except for pets. They’re easy. They already have the unconditional love part down pat. I am grateful for those small learnings over the years, at the least.

Come Lord Jesus. Teach this girl again. Open my heart. Give me courage to believe that my open heart will be protected in the shadow of your wings.

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hinds_feetA good part of me is struggling with the word “sacrifice.” Just a quick look at the thesaurus and there’s no wonder I’m hedging, words like lose, endure, renounce, forfeit, and part with. They all resound loss. In our currently turbulent world, can I afford to lose anything more? Can I afford not to?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2]

It feels like an oxymoron [self-contradictory]. How can I be a “living” sacrifice; won’t I be gone and spent? It’s the most blatant paradox in all of scripture and it’s repeated over and over again: to live is to die; to die is to live. [What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. I Corinthians 15:36]. We see it in nature all the time: the earth replenishing itself.

Too often, I can only see this life, this skin, this body. I try not to be afraid to die. I understand the promises of life after death, I espouse alternate realities and a rich spirit life in which the Presence of Christ is much bigger than this three-dimensional me. But I hold still fast to what I have. Perhaps it is rooted in our family’s poverty when I was young, but how long can I allow that wanting self to rule my life of plenty?

Many years ago, I read Hannah Hurnard’s “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” the allegorical story of Much Afraid whose Chief Shepherd encouraged to take a journey up the mountain with two companions, Sorrow and Suffering. She did not like these companions at first, at all. They seem to be taking her the wrong way, down and not up. But she is convinced to trust the Shepherd, and so she goes, marking that decision with an altar (a benchmark).

And so I am reminded that a living sacrifice is not a one-time, lay it down kind of thing. It’s a another journey. A living sacrifice is ongoing, daily, with understanding, becoming and transforming, letting go of one part, growing another. It is a renewal through pruning. It is communal and by agreement. I must choose.

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Throughout the Bible, the imagery of wine is used in a positive light, like Jesus turning water into wine or the Passover cup where it symbolizes the shedding of his own blood. But the winepress itself, the process, that pressure and transformation holds other implications.

Revelation 14:19
So the angel swung his scythe on the earth and stripped the grapes and gathered the vintage from the vines of the earth and cast it into the huge winepress of God’s indignation and wrath.
[Amplified]

It’s not a gentle business, the pressing of grapes, or for that matter, gathering them either. In the case of true wine making, there is a particular pressure applied to avoid smashing the seeds which give a more bitter flavor. Were they as concerned in ancient times? I don’t know since it was done with feet. In any case, once the grapes are smashed, they are no longer good as grapes. They must become something else.

Generally, I have only known the kinder forms of metamorphosis. The Holy Spirit is a gentle craftsman of my heart and soul. I am forgiven daily and given many, many opportunities to try again, to learn, to grow, to change and ultimately, to become a sweet aroma to both humankind and God. I want to translate myself into a creature of love and daring.

But I also understand that kicking against the goads of God’s will for me, fighting the process, forcing my way on the path, only makes it more difficult. And so, challenges and difficulties can arise to bring me back around.

It’s hard to see and understand the God way because it’s a way of mystery and paradox. It’s the path that Indiana Jones couldn’t see over the abyss. It cannot be seen or felt until one takes that step of faith. It’s not the golden chalice but the well-worn, humble one that is the Holy Grail.

Eventually, though, a day does come in the stretch of humankind when God allows the worst to happen. Like the pain of Job who lost everything to find everything, so it will be with Earth: a great shattering.

I don’t like the idea of contemplating such a turn of events nor do I want to be there. I don’t want to be there because of my own stubborn nature. I don’t want to know the winepress of wrath.

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