Those of you who know me well, know that I love the outdoors and I love music. In fact, one of my favorite things are outdoor concerts…I just usually can’t afford them. Yesterday was another one of those can’t afford them days, but I made the most of it. While clearing brush from my fence line (a task probably a few years overdue) I kept my phone near by and kept the Avett Brother’s playing as loud as it would go. Much of the time I sang along as well which I’m sure was not pleasant for many within earshot. There is one song that whenever it comes up always strikes me with how poignant the lyrics are. The song is called Ten Thousand Words and the main chorus goes like this, “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different, We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”And even though this song came out almost a decade ago, the lyrics are just as meaningful in our world today as they were then. The underlying truth in that line is what gets me…especially as someone who earns his living primarily talking.
Talking, especially about something we may not know the whole story about, is something we seem to be rather fond of these days. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I don’t like to often think of myself as a fool, although I think I have been called worse, but I am not sure that I always speak from a completely informed platform. I try to pride myself on being culturally relevant and savvy; I study scripture and commentaries for Biblical insight; and I am a social scientist regarding the lives of my students and the environment in which they live. I even started listening to more podcasts to seem more informed about the subjects I tend to engage in with others. But there are still limitations to what I am able to collect in terms of information. I still haven’t walked in everyone’s shoes and I still am unable to see things from their perspectives completely, so maybe there is space to check myself before gushing out my opinion on everything.
What’s sad is when people have no consideration for the others’ beliefs or convictions. We attempt to speak truth/judgment upon them without fully knowing their story. I believe as Christians that we have a message which is of dire importance that we must share with people, but if we don’t know our message well, if we don’t know our audience, if we have no consideration for who they are and where they come from…then we might as well be gushing folly. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. So maybe we could all use that check on our words. And I know I may fall into the category of being like most people who don’t know what they are talking about…but I think we all know better.
I know what you’re thinking…well actually I don’t. This is kind of a weird title, but you will see how it fits in a bit; at least I hope so. A week or so ago we had an amazing service with our students and several of them went to the altar to pray. My wife and I both went and prayed with several students and afterwards she remarked about how awkward it sometimes seems afterward. You have had this amazingly intimate moment with someone, possibly even someone making the most important decision in their life and yet for some reason shortly after it becomes awkward. Not that either of us have ever experienced it, but it kind of sounds almost like a one night stand. Let’s all be honest for a minute…even though hopefully most of us have not experienced a one night stand we at least understand the concept. Guy meets girl or girl meets guy, intimacy ensues and then is shamefully broken off the next day. You can see how wrong and messed up that is without me even spelling it out. And yet for some reason I think that’s probably the same way I feel about those spiritual moments that somehow turn into a weird tension.
In his letter to the church in Galatia Paul puts this into a little better perspective. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1a-2) Now granted, Paul is referring to walking in restoration with someone, but I think the same can be applied for those intimate spiritual moments we have with others. The word for “carry” each other’s burdens is bastazō and the connotation behind it is a sustained carrying. A continued laboring with. Often times we pray with someone and think the matter settled. Or because we all of a sudden have this intimate knowledge of someone’s spiritual journey we feel as if we can’t be normal around them anymore. But truth be told we should actually become more intimate with them.
In reference to the above analogy of one night stands the reason these are so broken is because of the lack of sustained intimacy…it’s just awkward. But you look at those healthy marriages and relationships of those who have enjoyed marital bliss for years and the key to the health in the relationship is sustained intimacy. They walk closely with each other and there ultimately is nothing in the way. If we could understand/model this behavior in our accountability with each other in the Kingdom perhaps there would be a lot less stumbling, falling or failing and a lot more community. I for one am trying to eliminate the one night stand and begin the whole life journey with those around me. May we be so courageous as to get up from the altar and walk with those whom we are called to bastazo life’s burdens with.
My first question had to be, “was it me?” I didn’t feel like I was asking for anything out of the ordinary. But there he was, a defiant almost seven year old refusing to respond in the way I deemed appropriate. I suppose this isn’t even necessarily just one of the joys for adoptive parents, but for parents in general. You feel like you are making wise decisions and not expecting too much of your children and then all of a sudden, Bam!: blatant defiance. And I suppose the most frustrating part is that most of the time we as parents feel like that which we ask of our kids is for their betterment and their relative social “success” in the world around them. And I know we can examine all the realms of childhood psychology and recognize that this is one of the many stages in the individual’s formation into adulthood…but I can’t help but think that perhaps our frustration in this process reflects that of our Father in Heaven at times.
In the book of Luke Jesus shares with his listeners a famous parable about a wise and a foolish builder. We all know the story well, but I am not sure we necessarily understand the context. Immediately preceding the parable we hear Jesus call out to his audience, ““Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” – Luke 6:46 And actually this is where the difficult part in Jesus’ teaching lies. In 1st century Palestine, where Jesus would have delivered this parable, everyone understood the difficulty of building a house. Foundations had to be dug by hand in the summer months in order to avoid freezing and the winter rains. The ground in the summer in Palestine had even been compared to bronze because of the high clay content. But in his book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes Kenneth Bailey comments on what a villager in that part of the world would say regarding the foundational task. “I have asked numerous village builders about the depth they must excavate to construct a stone house. The answer is always the same. They tell me they must dig “down to the rock.” If that means one inch or ten feet, the principle remains the same. Building must be done on the rock.”* And Jesus tells us what this foundation is…”hearing and doing what he says”.
Now back to my confrontation with my kids. For years we as humans struggle to form our individual identity. It is almost as if our life’s credo is independence at all costs. And yet, we as Christians declare Jesus as Lord. Our “digging for our foundation” is so contrary to who we have sought to become because it essentially becomes a journey from independence back to dependence. We dig through our hardened bronze-like resolve for personal freedom to yield our very foundation to the will and words of Christ. And I can only think of one way in which this can be achieved; intimacy. If we don’t know the words of Christ, then how do we struggle to obey them. If we aren’t allowing ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily then how do we know who to become dependent upon.
The digging is difficult through the sun-baked soil of individualism. But if we are to really embrace Jesus as Lord then we obey and obey and obey until we find ourselves bonded to His foundation…and ultimately becoming more like our Lord.
*Kenneth E. Bailey. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 324). Kindle Edition.
So at this point, unless you have been living under a rock, we are all acquainted with the Hunger Games phenomena. I myself am even a fan of this trilogy. But I think it’s social commentary has more to say to us than one would gather at first glance (Spoiler alert: I might reveal sensitive details to the story line and or movie; depending on your mode of consumption). And that’s just the point. The series is about an oppressive capitol that wreaks havoc upon it’s subjugates by consumption of the goods produced by those subjects. And as if that isn’t enough they destroy any hope of collective unification among their subjects by pitting children from each of the districts against each other in a battle to the death in what is known as the Hunger Games. And now here comes the ironic part…Western Culture (I speak mainly of the 1st world i.e. the United States and parts of Western Europe) spent over $155 million dollars this weekend to be reminded through film about it’s consumptive tendencies. Do you know what $155 million could do in healing wrongs wrought in the world?
$155 million could supply 7.75 million people with clean water who previously did not have it (http://charitywater.org). $155 million could build over 7,000 schools in impoverished third world areas (http://worldvision.org). $155 million could fund over 8,000 lawyers annually for International Justice Mission in order for them to work to free slaves around the world (http://ijm.org). Or $155 million dollars could cement the fact that we have no idea of what righteousness looks like in our world today and perhaps the fact that we are no better than the evil “Capitol” in the Hunger Games trilogy.
In Matthew 5:6 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” I love the fact that the words for seeking righteousness refer to basic human needs; hunger and thirst. And righteousness in this sense is not what you may think. You see righteousness, at least as it was understood by a 1st century Jew, meant right-relationship; justice for your fellow man. So Jesus is essentially saying, “Blessed are you when that which drives you, almost as much as your life sustaining drives, is the desire to see justice for your fellow man. And guess what? You will be so driven that you will be filled. You will see justice done, otherwise your hunger and thirst will never be abated.” Okay, maybe that was a little wordy for Jesus but you get the point.
That’s ultimately the problem in our broken world. Misplaced hunger. We hunger for entertainment and escape, rather than deliverance from oppression from those who make our clothes, grow our crops, build our toys and suffer our indifference. I am pretty sure at this point the $155 million speaks for itself. And although I loved the story…even the movie, I can’t help but be convicted by my appetite.
Don’t we all love confrontation? I mean I know I do. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and start confronting all the ills of society and relationships as I go throughout my day. Really, it’s my Morning Cup of Jo. For those of you who know me well, you know that this is the most outlandish of the outlandish claims I am prone to making. In fact, unfortunately I err to much to the other side. Maybe if I just ignore “the issue” it will go away. Or maybe I can “drop” subtle hints or employ others it will mend itself that way. Seriously this was/sometimes still is me.
Now the reason I say “was” is due to the fact that my amazing wife keeps me in check. The only thing she lets stew is soup. All of our cards are always on the table and our marriage is all the better for it. In fact, she once revealed to a group of ladies that we never (with the exception of about three occasions) have fights* in our marriage and they were astonished. Which I thought was kind of crazy. After all, we are best friends. And why would you fight with your best friend all the time? It really comes back to a Biblical treatment of relationships. In Matthew 18:15-17 puts it like this, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (On a side note, this passage includes a verse that is taken out of context more than any verse in the Bible I think, “where two or three are gathered…” It’s not about worship or prayer gatherings, but about the honest confrontation of the breakdown of healthy relationships.) But there you have it. Jesus shows us how to deal with being wronged by others…you go to them in an honest, open, and healthy fashion with the expectation of reconciliation.
The major problem I see hear is not that there is a breakdown of this mode of conflict resolution within our marriages, but that it has been modeled in the church. How can we expect our marriages to be healthy relationships when we see passive aggression becoming the mode of operand for church life. You see it all the time…this person goes over another persons head to a pastor because it’s easier to tattle; said board member rallies others to confront an issue versus joining the fray themselves; writing an email that goes all around the issue versus stating the obvious; circumventing the full life of the body by having closed room discussions…Is this really the way?
I sometimes wander how Christ would respond to our church politics and our resultant relationships that model that form. Do you think we might have some tables being turned over? Pretty sure Jesus was never passive aggressive in his relationships and aren’t we all trying to be a little more like Him.
*This was not defined as differences of opinions but rather as a breakdown in communication where someone raises their voice, calls a name or gets their feelings hurt.