the question

reachingSo, God …
If you are not depending on me to save the world,
What then?

If I am not the one who must uphold your honor,
If I am not the one who must proclaim what is true,
If I am not the one who will make all things right,
What good am I?

Funny how it seems I either think that I am God,
Or presume that I must do the work of Jesus.
Either I must tell you how to make (or fix) the world,
Or I must save it.

On second thought, it is not really so funny.
At best it is sad and delusional,
And sets me up for utter failure.
At worst … well …

Jesus, himself, says, ‘No one is good but God.’
Perhaps this is not a differentiation
On a scale of goodness.
(God is good. You are not.)

Perhaps it points to a difference in role.
In fact, all the stories in Luke 18
Might be read as a suggestion of this difference.

The unjust judge grants the woman’s pleas just to stop her pestering.
It is the tax collector, not the Pharisee whose prayer does its work.
It is in becoming like a little child that you enter the kingdom.
The rich young ruler, who has fully obeyed the law, is unwilling to give up his money, his power, and simply follow and rely on God.
Jesus tells the apostles of his coming crucifixion, which they cannot understand.
The blind man begs for sight, and though they try to quiet him, he continues to beg and is blessed.

None of these stories make sense when measured in terms of ‘goodness’ and ‘deserving.’

I must admit that, at first, I was not sure I liked this arrangement.
If it were about deserving, and if I were good enough, I could demand certain actions from God.
Then, after sixty-some years of trying to be good enough, I am slowly recognizing that there really is a better way.

So … What good am I?
Not good enough.
Good thing that’s not what matters.
That’s not even the right question.

When I’m reaching for assurance,
I don’t have to depend on me.

Whew!

[photo by Valerie Everett per cc 2.0]

no magic

magicThere is no magic.

There is only mystery.

Magic presumes a mastery of the mysterious, where certain incantations will constrain the outcome. But mystery will not be constrained.

That is good news, when mystery is the very heart of goodness.

I want to release myself to the embrace of mystery.  I just don’t know how. So, I keep trying magic. Until I give up my attempts at control, I keep the mystery at bay. Such is my quandary.

I’d pray about it, except that I keep turning prayer into an attempt at magic, an Aladdin’s lamp. Three wishes will be granted for the rubbing.

Just like to me mess up a blessing.

Aauugh!

Why won’t I learn? When you bargain with a loving God, you only cheat yourself.

[photo by Linus Bohman per cc 2.0]

Those slubs

raw silkThe mirror of my mind’s eye
Is much more flattering
Than the one framed on my bathroom door.

My imagined goodness, too,
Contains all the contemplated kindnesses,
Not just those actually done.

My projects are better when I plan them
Than when they reach completion,
With all their wrinkles and flaws.

The problem is
When I am content with imagining
Nothing really happens.

I must embrace the flaws
If I am to love the life that is,
If I am to live at all.

Like raw silk,
The slubs are part of its beauty.
They add richness and grace.

Those cracks, dear Lenard,
As you knew so well,
Are where the life gets in.

[photo by mary per cc 2.0]

quandaries with prayer

restless

When it comes to prayer,
I am like a fidgety child,
Too tired to go to sleep.
My urgencies unsettle my heart,
Crying out for a way out.

My focus is me,
And so my prayers become
An incessant prattle,
Begging and pleading
For what I want.

It’s not that my desires are wrong,
It’s just that they rivet my focus
And overwhelm my heart.
Ironic, because prayer, for so many,
Is a path to peace.

And yet the instructions for prayer:
Ask, seek, knock,
Seem to confirm that focus.
Perhaps, I can find a bit of wisdom, there:
The way out is through.

I must bring myself to prayer
And all my baggage comes with me.
Until I speak my troubles,
I can think of nothing else.
And, besides, a friend will listen to prattle.

And so I come with all my messy pleas,
And sit down beside you,
And pour them out.
And you, my Holy Friend,
You listen.

That is a start.

[photo by Joe Benjamin per cc 2.0]

Unity with Ourselves

mirror image(A small talk given during Lent 2012 at FUMC Denton)

The focus of tonight’s gathering – my assigned topic – is ‘Unity with Ourselves.’  When I mentioned that to my husband, he laughed.    Isn’t that a given?

Well, for some people, more than others, I think.   Less so for me.

I know too well the mess that sits between my ears . . . and more between my head and heart.

I understand too fully Paul’s dilemma, when he says in Romans 7, “I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

Why does that happen? I’m not sure I can answer for Paul, but I have some sense of the seeds of my own predicament. Growing up, I wanted to be the good little girl – and from the outside, I think most folks would say I was . . . That set me up.

The first lie I can remember telling was to my Sunday school teacher. She asked me if I was a ‘daily Bible reader’ that week. I said, ‘yes.’   I told that lie more than once.    Good little girls should be able to say yes to that question, I thought. But, I was not a daily Bible reader most weeks, even though I often managed a few days each week.

Had I been honest – there would have been grace. But I wasn’t looking for grace; I was looking for honor.  I was trying to hold the ‘goodness’ within myself.    That’s not where goodness dwells.

So I began to create a pseudo self. The good girl, the competent one, the righteous one. It reminds me of an essay by Anne Lamott, who talks of her delight that on Halloween we get to see folks as they are – as rascals and heroes and divas and such – instead of all dressed up in the costumes of everyday life – the suits and uniforms that represent the roles we try to play – the power ties and high heels we wear to divert attention from our shaky knees.

You can feel pretty lonely and impotent, trapped behind that everyday cardboard mask. Yet you are afraid to put it down. People might really see you.

Not that they don’t already see you, of course. I’m really the only one fooled by the game. I’m the only one really surprised – and horrified – that I am not perfect – that the good little girl, herself, is a lie. And so I bear my cardboard shield . . . and all it does is keep me hidden from myself.

Well, that’s not actually all it does. It also robs me of the opportunities for grace and connection. By upholding a false sense of my own self-contained wholeness, it keeps me from finding the wholeness that is real – the one that comes through connection – with Christ and with each other.

Paul saw it, too. He says, from the midst of his quandary,

‘Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me?’ and then he answers,

‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, my Lord.’

There is now no condemnation, but deliverance.

No need to stand on my own, but in the spirit.

So, here, during Lent, I find myself before the mirror of God – a mirror that will reflect only the truth.

Join me here, in your imagination, if you will.

We stand before that mirror, and the mask is gone. It’s pretty scary. When we lift our eyes we can see ourselves as we really are – but what we also see – in a way that washes all the fear aside – is the Christ, whose eyes are fixed upon us and filled with deepest love.

The me – the real me – is the one that Christ so loved. There is no ‘good little girl.’ There is, instead, a woman – full of aches and holes – but also gifted. Gifted in just such a way that my part fits with yours. That my words, through grace, might warm your heart and your heart, through grace, might move your hands toward justice – might hold a child, might feed a hungry one, might speak comfort to a friend, might work against the powers that oppress. That your lips might sing out a song of assurance. And when I see your love lived out, it warms my heart in turn, and moves my hands, my lips, as well, and shores up my resolve. There, before the mirror, there is, at last, a wholeness – a wholeness woven through us all by the love and grace of God.

It makes me smile. I don’t really like high heels anyway. Deep down I know that I’d rather be a part of a whole that pulls me into the bigger vision of God, rather than some small complete package on my own – even if that were possible.

So, as we round this corner of the year, as we live the season of Lent, let us look into that mirror. Let us realize that this season is not so much about eliciting some sense of mortification in ourselves – that was already there, behind our masks. It is, instead, about remembering to drop the mask and let the grace of Christ flood in. It’s about embracing the love that makes us part of the greater whole. It’s about the coming power of the resurrection, which, even as it is already here, is growing stronger in us all.

It’s realizing, with Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ – not even our masks. It’s realizing that the unstoppable power of God is on the rise – and that we are invited to be a part of that whole, wonderful, loving reflection of truth.

[photo by onn aka “Blue” Aldaman per cc 2.0]

hard things

let go
One of the hardest things to do is to let go.
It seems an abdication.
Irresponsible.

But, when I cannot actually be responsible for it all,
It may be good to let go my desperate grip.
It might actually be wise and helpful.

So, how, exactly, do I let go?
Should I move my fingers just so?
Just what is the gesture of release?
See? I step out of one quandary into another.

Perhaps, if I would just accept the gentle embrace,
And return the love to its source,
Then letting go would simply happen.

Ok … so, how do I do that?
Again around the circle.
Dancing with the quandaries,
Rather than your grace.

Yep, letting go is a hard thing.
As hard as I can make it.

Did I just hear you chuckle?

[photo by Garrett Charles per cc 2.0]

The Other Cheek

longing for light… I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. – Matthew 5

What kind of good news is this? Don’t resist? Let the bad guys have their way? In fact, give them even more than they ask? Geez!

Get real! If someone busts my chops, I’m not gonna hang around and let them do it again. I’ll fight back or I’ll leave and plot my revenge.

How do you think you’ll win by letting the bad guys have their way?!?

Oh.

I remember now. That cross thing.

Surely you don’t expect me to follow that path. Surely . . . This is so totally bassackwards. I think I’ll just sit down here in the dirt and sulk. I mean, really!

Really? Can you really mean that I should give myself to abuse and let it go . . . and let it go, again? (It really does seem wrong, doesn’t it? I mean not even just selfishly foolish, but bigger picture foolish, too? Doesn’t it?)

Where are your eyes? Mine are too blind to see . . .

I have been struck across the face. Slapped silly, I guess.  Help me know how I should respond. It seems so wrong …

Can you take this half-baked prayer and breathe life into it? Into me?  I do hope so.

Amen.

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[photo by Christina VanMeter per cc 2.0]