Archive for March, 2015

2015 Lent 22

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 13:1-11

All right, so today God likens Israel to tighty-whities.

I don’t even know where to begin.

The word is actually loincloth.  But when you read the passage, you realize that these aren’t loose fitting boxers here.  This cloth “clings to one’s loins” (v. 11).  These are tighty-whities.

So graphic is the imagery here, and to some extent so comical, I actually double-checked, just to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken and read the wrong passage.  Lectionary passages are intended to be read aloud before a congregation of hearers gathered for the purpose of prayer.  This passage is supposed to be just one part of an extended prayer.

But, really, I’m distracted when I hear this story.  My thoughts aren’t on prayer when I hear these words, for example: “For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord” (v. 11).  Instead I start to wonder things like, “Wait a minute!  Did Jeremiah just suggest that God has private parts?”  Whatever prayerful state I’d been in–now it’s gone!

To make matters worse, these are dirty tighty-whities, no longer fit for wearing, “ruined,” “good for nothing” (v. 7).

And now I’m remembering a hilarious book I just read to my son, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.  It’s book nine of a series, and so far as I know the last of the series, telling the story of Greg Heffley’s middle school experience.  This book, the long haul, focuses on a family road trip.

The family is towing a boat.  At one point someone realizes that the boat cover has come untied and luggage and other belongings are flying out of the boat onto the highway.  So they pull over and spend the next two hours gathering what flotsam and jetsam they can before dark.  They manage to retrieve most of their stuff.  But they also manage to find some extra things; including a pair of board-stiff, dirty underwear found by Rodrick, Greg’s older brother.

Anyway, this is the picture that comes to mind while I’m supposed to be praying!

So, where do I even start?

Thus far during my Lenten practice I’ve been able to fit myself into Jeremiah’s shoes fairly well.  A little snug, maybe; and not quite enough arch support.  But they’ll do in a pinch, I’ve said.

But today?  Ha!  Imagine if I were to stand before a congregation and proclaim to them that they’re just like a pair of dirty, useless tighty-whities.  I couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t do it!  No, today Jeremiah’s shoes hurt.  In fact, I’m sure I have a few blisters.  Today I’m just going to take them off.

I mean, how am I supposed to deal with a passage like this?  I wouldn’t want my kids calling each other names like, “You dirty panty!”  Such name calling strikes me as immature, at best; or maybe just as some kind of joke.  Not to be taken seriously, at any rate!  And yet here is a prophet saying it to God’s people.  Seriously!  And he was told to do so (so the story goes) by God himself!

It’s a tough passage.

. . .

But, ah, that’s just it, isn’t it?  Two kids arguing and one calls the other a puerile name.  It happens all the time.  It’s commonplace, in all cultures and at all times in history.  Doesn’t the book of Jeremiah feel a lot like a common family squabble?

And then I recall yesterday.  The people of Israel–some of Jeremiah’s family members–were conspiring to kill their own brother, the Prophet Jeremiah.  Some family squabble!  Perhaps, then, in likening this conspiracy to good-for-nothing, dirty tighty-whities, God is really encouraging Jeremiah to take his opponents a little less seriously, not to stress so much.

I’ve got opponents too.  Do you?  And sometimes these opponents, those with whom I struggle most deeply on an interpersonal level, I have no choice but to be close with–whether I want to be or not (because they’re family or coworkers or colleagues or whatever).  And at times they can seem overwhelming: they’ve even induced nerve-, digestion-, and sleep-affecting stress!

Opponents is a nice way to say it too.  Many worse, uglier, more descriptive words come to mind when thinking about such asinine people.

But what if I view these difficult persons as worthless tighty-whities?

Okay, then: these are shoes I can fit my feet into!  (Or, to switch the metaphor, this is a loincloth I can wrap around myself!)

2015 Lent 21

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20

Prophets face a certain tension.  That is, they love the people they are called to serve on God’s behalf; and yet the people are often stiff-necked, hard-hearted, stubborn, and so on.

These aren’t my words, by the way.  These come right out of the Old Testament.  And as the OT puts it, these come right out of God’s own mouth.  The Israelites, God’s chosen people, the people whom God saved from Egypt through the parted waters of the Red Sea–these people God called stiff-necked etc.

Anyway, Jeremiah knows this tension.  God tells Jeremiah today, “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf” (v. 14).  Yet, still, Jeremiah loves these stiff-necked people.

He proclaims God’s message of repentance to them, hoping they will listen.  He prays for them, despite God’s word, because he loves them and cannot help himself.  He comes alongside them and helps them whenever and wherever he can.

Nevertheless, they want to kill him!

“But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” Jeremiah prays–no longer for the Israelites but for himself.  “And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!'” (v. 19).

The gig is up.  Jeremiah, at last, realizes that this people he loves has been betraying him all along.

Some recompense, eh?

So, is it time to pack up the motorcycle and head to the mountains of Mexico?  We shall see–we’ll be continuing in Jeremiah throughout the remainder of Lent (I just peeked ahead in the lectionary)–till Good Friday anyway.

But before I sign off today, there are a couple of pictures that come to mind.

One is of Socrates.  Socrates, as Plato relates, came to his people with a message of hope.  It wasn’t the same message that Jeremiah brought; but it was hopeful nonetheless.  If Jeremiah’s message was salvation through repentance, Socrates’ was salvation through education.  He taught the youth of his day radical ideas, ideas that if put into practice would transform society into a better place.

One of his ideas, by the way, was that there was no pantheon of gods, but only one god.  And for this he was labeled an atheist!

On a bigger level, for bringing transformative ideas to the younger set; for offering a message of salvation through education, he was killed.  Some have called his death second only in terms of tragedy to Jesus Christ’s.

Which, of course, is my second picture.

Jeremiah loved, worked with, served, and prayed for his people.  Yet he was utterly despised, to the point that the people conspired against him to kill him.

Isn’t this the same thing that happened to Jesus Christ?

2015 Lent 20

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by timtrue
Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Jeremiah 10:11-24

All this stuff recently about human nature’s complexities and arguing with God–today we see it come to a head.  Today, Jeremiah argues with God through a prayer:

I know, O Lord, that the way of human beings is not in their control,
that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure;
not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing (vv. 23-24).

Human beings are a piece of work, Jeremiah acknowledges.  But, guess what, God: that includes me.  I, your precious prophet, am a piece of work too.  For I’m a human being.  I make stupid mistakes just like everyone else.  So, yes, correct me.  Show me the correct path to follow.  But don’t do it out of anger.  Just give me what I can handle, enough but not too much.

Have you ever felt this way?  Have you ever prayed a prayer like Jeremiah’s?

It’s not just in morality though.  We mortals also have trouble directing our steps in other ways.

Take that question posed seemingly to all children: what do you want to be when you grow up?  I wanted to be a veterinarian, a concert pianist, a fighter pilot, a motorcycle journalist, an orchestral conductor, a composer, a writer, and a teacher–among other things–along the way.  In other words, I had no idea as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Yet I ended up here, somehow, a priest of the Episcopal Church.  So I closely empathize with Jeremiah’s words: “the way of human beings is not in their control”; and mortals “cannot direct their steps.”

Can you empathize too?

Now that I am a priest, I am feeling this lack of control again.  Keenly.

Earlier this week I announced to my congregation that I will be moving on from my present position as curate.  I’ve accepted a call to be the next rector of a church in Yuma, Arizona.

On the one hand, this move has been coming for more than twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve aspired to just such a position.  That’s how long I’ve been putting myself in the shoes of others I’ve known in this role.

But on the other hand, if you’d have told me twenty years ago that I’d end up in Yuma–or Texas, or Sewanee, or the Episcopal Church–I’d have said pshaw!  Yuma is hot!  The record temperature is 124 degrees.  The one-hundred-teens are typical in July and August.  Why would I ever want to go there?

To answer, I could say it’s close to my aging parents, a lot closer than where I live now at any rate.  I could say it’s the old west, just a little newer.  I could say it’s at the confluence of California, Arizona, and Mexico, an interesting place, which it is.  I could say how its economy of agriculture and military is strong, and has remained so through our country’s recent recession, which it has.  Or I could say how promising a place it feels to raise a family, which it does.

But above all this, it’s really more that I cannot very effectively direct my own steps; the path I follow is not fully under my control.

So, like Jeremiah, I have a prayer for today too.  Make it yours if you like:

Give me what I can handle, God; enough, but not too much.

2015 Lent 19

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2015 by timtrue

This shot pretty much sums up everything.

Jeremiah 8:18–9:6

If nothing else, I’m learning that the Prophet Jeremiah’s heart was much like what I understand a pastor’s heart to be.  For he saw all the complexities that make up human nature–or, if you prefer, the human condition.

He was able to say, on the one hand, “Beware of your neighbors, and put no trust in any of your kin.”  For he knew, like Shakespeare, that man–the human person–is a piece of work.  Each of us is capable of the most treacherous of acts.

At the same time, on the other hand, he knew genuine joy and health.  There were poor people in the land who remained faithful, trustworthy, and honest despite the looming darkness of war and threat of death.  Some people–if only but a few–valued and practiced integrity regardless.

The human person is capable of both: honor and treachery.

Our culture has a certain fixation on the dark side of a hero.  Did you see Big Hero 6?  It was touted as a kid’s movie.  But the protagonist, a boy of twelve or thirteen, witnessed the death of his older brother near the movie’s beginning and ends up haunted by his own related demons throughout the rest of the story.  Mature themes for a kid’s movie if you ask me!

Our culture recognizes that real life is full of just these sorts of demons.  We’ve come to understand that dysfunctional is the norm and functional is more of an ideal.  The human person is complicated.  It’s not just that a person can be capable of either honor or treachery, good or bad; but, we say, the human person is both honorable and treacherous, good and bad.

Jeremiah shows me that it’s not just our modern-day, psychology-loving culture that understands people.  Jeremiah understood people back in the day (something like 2600 years ago!).  Even earlier, when someone wrote the book of Genesis (maybe more than 3000 years ago), the message of a complicated humanity calls out loudly and clearly.

Anyway, my prayer is that I, too, living in my modern-day, psychology-loving culture, will understand the rich complexities of the people I’ve been called to serve; and, like Jeremiah, will love them and lead them, even arguing with God for them when need be.

2015 Lent 18

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 7:21-34

More doom and gloom from the lone prophet to the stiff-necked people.

But here’s something for us to consider.  They “looked backwards rather than forwards” (v. 24).

God was mad at his people, so the story goes.  So God used Jeremiah to relay a message of frustration and wrath.  The people had done some rotten things, all right.  They neglected the widows and orphans in their land.  Murders and adulteries are mentioned.  Oh, and false worship: the people turned to a god named Topheth, for instance.

But among their other sins, they looked to the past instead of to the future.

How interesting!

It’s part of human nature to meliorify the past, isn’t it?

Okay, I made that word up.  But melior means better in Latin; so it should be a word, I say, meaning to make better.

We tend to look at the past, the good old days, the glory days, and remember all the good but not the bad.  Uncle Rico is the epitome of this selective remembering in the movie Napoleon Dynamite.  Ever see that one?

“Back in the day,” he tells his nephew Napoleon, reminiscing over his own high school days, “I could throw a pigskin a quarter mile.”

Okay, Rico.  But why are you a deadbeat now, living out of your orange bubble-top van?  (If you haven’t already, you’ve really got to see this movie.  It’s a cultural icon.)

Rico meliorifies the past.  That is, he remembers it better than it actually was.  (No way could anyone throw a football 440 yards!)  These were his glory days, to which he longed to return.  He gave little thought to his present life; even less to his future.  The past was his glory.  And there he dwelt.

But, even so, looking back longingly on the glory days isn’t necessarily sinful, is it?

In Israel’s case, apparently it was.

Because they looked there rather than to the future.

Life is in the present.  We can’t return to the past–or to some imagined time when things were better than they actually were.  We can only live in the present; and plan for the future.

And as we plan for the future in the present, we can’t recapture but we can learn from the past.  To help our future planning.

So long as we don’t meliorify it!

This is not looking backwards rather than looking forwards: Israel’s sin; what I call meliorification.  Rather, to plan for the future through reflecting on the past is looking backwards in order to look forwards.  Huge difference!

May God bless your present and future life as you learn from your past.

2015 Lent 17

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2015 by timtrue

Sierra Madre

Jeremiah 7:1-15

Jeremiah’s calling was difficult.  He stood alone against the world.

The Temple in Jerusalem was run by the priests and scribes, leaders who proclaimed a message believed by everyone except Jeremiah.  “This is the Temple of the Lord,” they said.  And everyone answered, “Yea, and amen.”  Everyone, that is, except Jeremiah.

The people took a lot of pride in their Temple.  Rightly so, too, for it was a wonder.

But what if God himself had left the Temple some time ago?  What if God had become tired of the people who worshiped there, for their worship had turned away from God and onto each other?  What if managing the Temple had become such a business to the leaders that the almighty dollar trumped the actual Almighty in importance?  What if God looked around one day, saw that he was no longer needed, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I’m outa here”?  And what if no one noticed?

Well, someone noticed.  His name was Jeremiah.

But no one else did.

Jeremiah stood alone.

Nevertheless, Jeremiah did not split.  He did not say, “Fine!  God’s outa here; so I’m outa here too!”  As discussed in an earlier post, Jeremiah did not pack up his motorcycle and head off into the mountains of Mexico.

But that is just what so many people are doing today in the Episcopal Church.  They see something flawed.  Maybe the leaders are calloused to their real calling: spiritual leadership.  Maybe the almighty dollar has trumped the church’s purpose.  Maybe worship has become more a social event than a time to commune with Christ.

I don’t know: every naysayer has a reason.

But the naysayers are leaving, and have been in droves for the last four decades.  Surely, now the mountains of Mexico feel more like an organized township than a wilderness camp.

Especially, of late, there is this group that has taken the name Anglican for itself.  Subgroups you may have heard of are the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and the Anglican Province in America (APA).  The ironic thing here is that the people who are a part of this so-called Anglican group–many of whom have left the Episcopal Church in droves–are not recognized today by the global Anglican Communion, the organization spearheaded by the actual Anglican Church (the Church of England).  But the Episcopal Church is.  (Who are the real Anglicans here?)

Sheesh!  They ought to call themselves–a spade!–what they really are: Disaffected Evangelicals Formerly on the Episcopal Church’s Team (DEFECT).

But I suppose that doesn’t have quite the attractive ring to it.  And they need to be attractive to people, after all.  For they need to draw in as many seekers as they can in order to get as much money as they can to start and maintain the best programs they can and run the business side of their churches the best they can, after all.

Which, by the way, brings us full circle.

Which, in turn, has led to yet more splits.

(Which leads me to wonder, should the split-offs of the split-offs call themselves Anglicaners, since according to their definition they’re even more Anglican than the group from which they split?)

But, I remind all you naysayers and splitters and splitters from splitters out there, Jeremiah never went to Mexico on his motorcycle.

Riddling Jesus

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2015 by timtrue


John 2:13-22

Do you enjoy riddles?

Here’s one: What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?

Anyone know the answer?

Anyone know the history, where this riddle comes from?

In Greek mythology, the Sphinx guarded the road to the pyramids and other treasures of Egypt.  It would ask this riddle to people who wanted to pass by; and if the person couldn’t answer, the Sphinx would devour the traveler.

Finally, after many travelers had come to their respective tragic ends, a man named Oedipus answered this riddle successfully; and the Sphinx met her tragic end, turning into sandstone and eventually crumbling—which is why she has no nose today.

The answer to the riddle, then: man.  In the morning of life, a man is a baby and thus crawls on all fours.  At life’s midday, a man walks upright, on two legs.  In the evening of life, when a man is old, he uses a cane and thus has three legs.

Here’s another riddle:

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, / Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. / It lies behind stars and under hills, / And empty holes it fills. / It comes out first and follows after, / Ends life, kills laughter.

Anyone know whence this riddle cometh?

This is one of Gollum’s, posed to Bilbo in The Hobbit.  Bilbo is lost in a cave deep within a mountain.  It’s the cave where he finds the notorious ring.  Here he encounters Gollum and strikes up a deal.  They’ll play a riddle game.  If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the cave.  But if Gollum wins, Bilbo becomes his dinner.  Yikes!

Anyway, anyone know the answer to this riddle?

Dark. Dark cannot be seen, cannot be felt, and so on.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a puzzle solver.  Riddles are a kind of puzzle for me.  When someone poses a good riddle to me—a clever one with only one possible answer, like the ones just discussed—it sticks with me.  I wrestle with it.  I struggle over it.  I think about it in my sleep—or so it feels like I do.  Until, at last, I either figure out the answer or return frustrated and defeated to the person who asked it.  Can anyone relate?

Now, let’s turn to today’s Gospel reading.

Here is a well-known story.  And, it seems, no matter how many times I’ve read, thought about, and even studied it, my initial gut response is always, “Yeah!  Go, Jesus!”

Here Jesus stands armed with a whip, determined to set things right.  Jesus is my kind of hero!  Jesus is the kind of leader I want to follow!  Yes!  Go, Jesus!

But then I begin to settle down.  The adrenaline rush is over.  And I start to realize the setting: the place where this scenario is taking place; and the people whom Jesus opposes.

Jesus is in the Temple!  This is a beautiful worship space, well designed as the spiritual center of the holy city Jerusalem.  And everything taking place here isn’t necessarily wrong.

People need a place to exchange their common currency—with images of Caesar on it—for the image-less drachmae, the coins required for the Temple tax.

Likewise, spiritual pilgrims need to buy sacrificial animals, meaning animals without blemish.  It would be very difficult to carry a turtledove, for example, from a long distance away and keep it unblemished.

Arguably, then, all these tables that Jesus is now overturning are in fact necessary for the Temple to function properly.

And the people who confront Jesus—those whom Jesus apparently opposes—are the Temple leaders.

You know what this is?  This place is the cathedral of Jesus’s day!  And these leaders?  They’re the cathedral dean and his canons; they’re the rector and his associate priests.

Now my adrenaline begins pumping again and I’m thinking, “Hey, wait a minute!”

And I find myself very sympathetic when these religious leaders ask Jesus to show them his credentials.  “What sign can you show us for doing this?” they ask.  By what authority, Jesus, are you causing this scene?

And to answer them, Jesus poses a riddle.  “Destroy this temple,” he says; “and in three days I will raise it up.”

Well, we know the answer to this riddle from the words that follow.  Jesus is not speaking about the literal Temple, the physical building and grounds still being constructed after forty-six years of work.  Rather, Jesus is talking of his own physical body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, which the political and religious leaders will in fact destroy; and the temple which Jesus himself will in fact raise from the dead after three days.  We know the answer to Jesus’s riddle.

But, I wonder, after their initial response, did the leaders Jesus confronted wrestle with his riddle?  Did they ponder his riddle, puzzle over it, lose sleep over it, and perhaps even grow frustrated as they sought unsuccessfully to understand what Jesus meant?

These leaders were doing what they knew how to do.  They were taking their jobs seriously.  And they did their jobs well.  Pilgrims needed a place to exchange money; pilgrims needed to obtain unblemished animals for sacrificial purposes.  And the leaders had attended even to these very particular details.  To put it in modern terminology, they were meeting the people where they were!  The Temple leaders were making Temple worship user-friendly!

Which causes me to wonder even more. What about us?  Is Jesus telling us a riddle here to get us thinking?  Should we be puzzling over his words?

Like the Temple leaders, both as individual disciples and as a corporate church, we have a pretty good thing going, a pretty well-oiled machine running.  We might spend some time troubleshooting and brainstorming now and again, to improve our machine; but we are pretty much settled into a routine, a method—disciplines—for maintaining our spirituality.

We are settled on them: these disciplines.  We’ve had good reason to do so.  And so, after a while of practicing our routines, we’ve come to think we have it down.  At best, we say, it works for me; at worst, we think, everyone else should do it my way too.

But what if there is something about my way that needs to change?  What if I’ve become blind to something?  Who will I allow to get my attention?  And how will they get it?

Maybe it’s time for me to consider this riddle from Jesus.  Maybe it’s time—right now, in the middle of Lent—as an individual disciple of Christ, to ask questions like:

  • What is Jesus trying to tell me?
  • How can I serve Jesus better?
  • Where have I been blind to Jesus?
  • Where have my own self-serving routines eclipsed Jesus?

Or maybe it’s time to ask these questions not as individuals but as a church.  The riddles, the perplexing questions, are there—if we look for them.

A friend recently posed this one to me.

There’s this group on the internet called Mystery Worshiper.  You can look them up.  They’re kind of like Mystery Shopper.

Anonymous people worship in churches and then write up evaluations of their experiences.  One of questions by which this group evaluates a church is, “What were the first words you heard spoken in the worship service?”  The answer they favor is, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” for this opening acclamation is vertical: God-directed.  The answer they criticize most harshly is, “Welcome to St. So-and-so’s,” for this salutation is horizontal: directed at the worshiper.  Worship should be vertical, they say; not horizontal.

Well, the astute worshiper here will note that we usually practice the latter, not the former.  But that’s not the point.  Whatever the case, whether we agree with this approach or not, it’s a good place to start; a good question—a kind of riddle—for us to consider as a church.

  • How might we be eclipsing Jesus as a corporate body?
  • Are our outreach efforts more interested in serving Jesus or ourselves?
  • Do we value things like user-friendliness too much?
  • Are we trying too hard to meet people where they are?

Following Christ is a riddle worth pondering deeply.

2015 Lent 16

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 5:20-31

An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes? (vv. 30-31)

The Israel of Jeremiah’s day was a theocracy.  That is, it was governed politically by God.  God’s prophets and priests functioned doubly as political leaders.

What if we were to change the words up a little?  What if instead of an ancient theocracy we were talking about a modern democracy, such as our own country?  What words would we use then?  Pundits and politicians?

Okay.  But, still, one more word-change is needed.  For prophets prophesy; but what do pundits do?  Speculate?

Fine.  So we have this:

An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the pundits speculate falsely,
and the politicians rule as the pundits direct;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?

It’s surprising how modern the Old Testament can be!

Frankly, this sounds like statements I’ve heard from both poles of the American political spectrum.  Of course, they each say it about the other side.  Which makes me wonder, do they cancel each other out?

At any rate, I’m glad for separation of church and state today.  Especially as a priest!

Let the pundits speculate and the politicians politick, I say.  As for me, I’ll do what I’ve been called to do, even if, like Jeremiah, I have to stand alone.

2015 Lent 15

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 5:1-9

Speaking of his people, the Israelites, God tells Jeremiah (among other things), “They were well-fed lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.  Shall I not punish them for these things?” (vv. 8-9).

How do we humans get to this point?  And here I don’t mean just the particular sin of adultery, but acting well-fed and lusty, more like beasts than humans.  How do we get so fixated on our own passions that we lose all sense of rationality–the characteristic above all others that distinguishes humans from beasts?

A few days ago I wrote about an old high school friend who’d recently spent some time in jail for doing things he and I had never dreamed of doing in high school.  How did he get to the point where he either doesn’t value or care about the law–or even himself?

Then two days ago I explored an issue I really don’t know much about but nonetheless recognize as a horrible injustice: human trafficking.  How do humans become so calloused to the dignity of other human beings that they end up perpetrating such injustice?

How do we humans reach a point of such brazen disregard for God and humanity?

And then there’s this: when others do such things, oh, then it’s clearly, definitively, black-and-whitely wrong; but when I engage in them, somehow it’s all okay–or at least not so identifiably wrong.  When my opponent lies it’s, “No way!  Did you hear that malicious slander?”  But when I lie it’s, “Oh, come on; I was just bending the truth a little bit.”

It’s beastly.  It’s lusty.  It’s irrational.

I don’t know how we get to this point, exactly; but we do.  And when we do we have a knack for convincing ourselves that, somehow, in my case it’s not so bad as it seems, really.  It’s my story, we tell ourselves, and so I’m the only one who really understands it.

To which I say, yes, it is your story.  And, yes, you’re in the midst of it.  So it feels justifiable.  But have you tried to remove yourself from it, to step outside of your own narcissism for a few and look at it from an outsider’s point of view?  Maybe then it will look a little less justifiable.  Yes, no one else really understands.  Maybe you don’t really understand either.

Whatever the case, the truly loving person is the one who comes along, sees the wrong, and cares for the wrongdoer anyway.  The loving one sympathizes, sees through the wrong, finds the dignity, and even advocates, arguing on the wrongdoer’s behalf if need be.

Doing so–sympathizing, seeing through and beyond the wrong, advocating–doesn’t mean the loving one condones the sin.  A parent still loves her eight year-old after discovering a stolen teddy bear in her bed.  A loving parent sympathizes and advocates without condoning the act.

But neither does the loving one want harm to come upon the wrongdoer: what loving mother would allow harm to come to her thieving daughter?

Loving discipline requires much wisdom, wisdom that is rational.

And here is the true tension between justice and mercy: wise, loving discipline.

This tension, though, is not a dichotomy: either justice or mercy.  Rather, with love, it’s both justice and mercy.

Surely Jeremiah understood this tension.  Which is why he advocates, even to the point of arguing with God.

Surely we rational humans understand this tension too.  Which is why a loving mother disciplines her daughter appropriately.

So, to bring it back home, how do we get there?  I don’t really know, as I already said.  But maybe, it seems to me anyway, the trouble comes when set aside our self-discipline, when we allow our beastly passions to trump our rational humanity.

2015 Lent 14

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , on March 5, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28

Here Jeremiah argues with God.

We’ve seen this theme in the Old Testament before.  Moses argues with God many times, more than once interceding on behalf of the stiff-necked and hard-hearted people he’d been called to lead.

I’ve stated elsewhere (to the chagrin of some of my friends) that even the apostle Paul argued with God.  He prayed three times, for example, that God would take away the thorn in his flesh before finally yielding.

I’ve explained that it is okay for us to argue with God too.  Protesting God’s will through emotion is not the same thing as renouncing our faith (though some of my friends, those ones I’ve chagrined, seem to think so).

And so here, today, Jeremiah argues with God, going so far even as to accuse God of deception!

“I said, ‘Ah, Lord God, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, “It shall be well with you,” even while the sword is at the throat!'” (v. 10).

But what else can he do?  War is come upon Israel, this nation that he loves deeply; and he’s powerless to stop it.  Unless he can persuade God to relent:

“My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!  Oh, the walls of my heart!  My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (v. 19).

If God is indeed sovereign over all, surely Jeremiah is thinking, why doesn’t God stem this tide?

Does Jeremiah have any other reasonable recourse?

Point is, it’s okay for us–for you–to be emotional with God.  Arguing, crying out, even casting blame and accusing God–doing these things does not mean you’ve lost your faith.  God can handle it.  And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.