Tornadoes, Piper and Grace

Well, let’s just jump into this gigantic mess. I’m not a huge fan of John Piper and I’ve slowly stepped away from the “Neo-Reformed” movement (especially given my recent reading and exploration of Jean Calvin who would not be Neo-Reformed). But I’m also not going to land on the side of Zack Hunt, who I enjoy and admire but with whom I was severely disappointed when I read his “Christian Defense of John Piper” today which amounts to a further insult in an already horrible situation.

John Piper, when I heard him preach several years ago, was extremely gifted as a communicator and I almost changed college choices just so I could attend Bethlehem. It was a heady sermon, with words I didn’t know but which I found intriguing and beautiful as a wide eyed high school student. In the end, I stuck with SPU and made the westward trek to Seattle where I (gasp!) attended Mars Hill faithfully for three years, usually hitching a ride, but sometimes walking in the pouring rain. All that to say — I’ve been in the “Acts 29 Tradition,” including a church plant in Denver where I lasted only about a year before stepping away from the Neo Reformed. Both these men are gifted in a number of areas and yet, something is happening, something is going wrong.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it, like everything else, is a rather complicated and nuanced issue with myriad facets. For the sake of length, however, I want to stay on Piper and the current Twitter issue about the OK tornadoes (and no, I’m dealing with the theology at this exact moment).

Piper set off a firestorm with his tweet about Job and the house falling in on his sons and daughters. It was, however, followed by a second tweet wherein Job notably tears his clothes, weeps and worships. Knowing Piper, knowing many in the Reformed movement (many of whom are dear friends), I would submit that this second tweet was meant to be the primary point — that we weep and yet worship despite our circumstances. Maybe it’s something from my childhood spent between cultures (one which acknowledged suffering and one which decidedly refused to do so), but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable response. Hard, poorly timed and even more poorly expressed; but not heretical or some such.

Now there are threads spreading across Twitter and the blogosphere attacking Piper. What saddens me is that these are being constructed and maintained by those who call themselves Christians. Please, hear me out. I think that Piper expressed himself poorly and fairly inappropriately. I don’t think that Piper really understands the medium of Twitter and the concept of only 140 characters (or the power of those 140 characters). When I sat through that church service, Piper gave a long sermon, at least, long for an American sermon. I think that’s what Piper needs: length, to provide for clarity and context. Twitter, however, doesn’t allow that. In my estimation, Piper (and others) need to either learn that, accept it and start to function within said paradigm, or they need to stop using Twitter….

On the other hand, I’m troubled by the ease with which we, as fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, jumped on Piper. E and I were talking last night over a dinner of baked potatoes and salad; and as I was memorizing Greek vocab he looked over and said sadly, “you know, I lost a lot of respect for Piper today.” I nodded in agreement, muttering “hoh, heh, toh; the. Kai; and or–.” But then I looked up and said, “yes, I did too, but I was also disappointed with how everyone reacted.”

Should Piper be called out on his misuse of Twitter and Scripture ripped from context? Yes, of course. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so you bet! I’m on board with holding people accountable to how they use Scripture to fit their various systems. But the manner in which we do so is extremely important.

When Zack Hunt posted that blank defense today, I was so disappointed, saddened, really. Because the thread below doesn’t really help the situation. And it certainly doesn’t help the outside world looking in. This, in my opinion, is the danger of the blogosphere. We are able to launch accusations across the internet at people with whom we disagree and with whom we should be sharing fellowship rather than volleys of harsh words. Again, I don’t agree with Piper’s tweets, I don’t believe his response was appropriate. We should be mourning with those in OK, not offering pithy verses — as if 140characters can heal the wound of a lost child. But I don’t know that how we have called him to account is entirely appropriate either. We are to be people of grace. Truth, yes, but truth and grace; and I  wonder at how easily we have forgotten that when using the internet to brandish swords and fighting words.

Skies of Sorrowful, Anxious Hearts

Yesterday, when skies were finally breaking blue and the snow began to melt, the phone rang and an upset voice spoke of surgery: emergency, urgent, and no we don’t know why or what or how this could have happened when we were all getting sunburned together this weekend and the babe was crawling and laughing like little ones are meant to do.

And suddenly, things changed. The world seemed to stall and one could hardly help but wonder how everyone at the grocery seemed to go on with life as though nothing had happened, nothing out of the ordinary.

Boston has stopped, for them the world whirls round at a different pace. And all the problems of weddings and school and loans and apartments disappear into the right perspective. The world, my roommate says, is no less and no more evil than it was on Sunday. We’re just seeing it in new ways.

And so much of the soul yearns to say that God gives and God takes away and blessed be His name no matter what side of the equation we land on. But so much of the soul kicks and screams in protest that this isn’t the world we were made for, the life we were intended to have before that foolish reach in the garden.

The sky wrings its hands in sorrow and the snow falls, heavy and blowing again. Does she mourn and worry like we do? Or does she know how to better trust the one who made her and thrust stars and clouds and sun and moon into her care? We want to have open hands, to trust and pray with confidence. But the fearful knowledge of the mangled mess which we call earth and life is sometimes overwhelming, despite the streaks of light that are always shining in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome the light, but sometimes, on hands and knees, in hospital rooms and empty homes, it is hard to see the light which is Jesus, reaching back and pulling us on to the future where all things are made new and right.

The battle is not done.
Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied
 and earth and heaven won.

Friday Good

Today I rolled out of bed, climbed from the loft and hurried to get ready in twenty minutes. I burnt an egg, forgot my Bible, and brushed my teeth while texting E apologies that I was running late, even though it was my appointment to which I was late. I hardly remembered as I slid my macbook into the bright timbuktu bag, I hardly realized it was a day other than Friday. I only thought once, in a momentary glance at my Bible, splayed out on the coffee table to pages in Isaiah, I barely remembered in that instant that this Friday was more than just the last day of Spring Break and the day that Ethan’s parents would be in town.

Twenty minutes isn’t time to contemplate Good Friday.

We drove through construction, always Colorado spends the time between winter snows under construction. Like some bizarre metaphor for life: that we’re always under process, except when ice and frozen earth bring us to grinding halt. But even then, with the water in the grooves of the road, melting and freezing with each day’s cycle, even then there is process and change; even if we don’t see it until the cracks have spread to wide gaping holes.

I lay on the table at the chiropractor, wincing beneath the hands of massage and adjustment. My knee stretches out and back in, and when he’s pushing on a certain point in the muscle I can feel the pain radiate to both ends of my leg, and he’s shaking his head that I want to go rock climbing today. My body is broken, and I want to do what? But he sighs and gives me permission, says it won’t help but it probably won’t make things worse.

An old friend, one who has helped immeasurably with Ethan’s business start, texted E this morning while we were waiting through that construction zone. Something about writing a reference and at the end of his cheery morning message, left a little wish: Good Friday to you. But there was hardly time to think of that when we were driving me to work, and shuttling E off to his own last day at a lingering worksite that seems to push back with everything he does.

I came in to work and found an email where I was graciously dragged over hot coals. Sometimes, when they’re being polite, the anger is almost more severe, the disappointment more stinging. And apparently the office is closing early today, though no one told me and my hours are all over the place for this month’s paycheck, this month’s survival. Why are we closing early?

Good Friday.

Because today is the day that Jesus died. The day that he — God come down among us — let himself be stripped, broken, crushed and crucified. Last week he was riding in, prophetic statements abounding and triumph seeming close at hand. Tonight, at Tenebrae, he’ll not make a noise as he goes to the slaughter, like the sheep they killed each Passover: quiet, calm, resolute and sure. In darkness and shadows we’ll remember the one who took on fallen humanity, took on my broken body, my harried pace, my unkempt sin and put it to death with the piercing of his hands, and torn back, crushed side and bloodied head. And in his death he took on the curse: the bold rebellion of sin within humanity and the bruised earth suffering beneath, fighting back at you and me, even as we fight amongst ourselves.

Because Jesus came, came to do this act of love. Came to take me on, broken and angry. Came to walk at Ethan’s side, tired and frustrated. Came to walk among us, know us, reveal the One to us, and then in the most unexpected act in history: came to fling out his arms, take on all our mess and ruined humanity, and in his great, bloody embrace, came to take it all away.

Thus says your Lord, the LORD, even your God Who contends for His people, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

My brokenness, forever under repair, my fallen nature evidenced in a body that so easily falls apart, the sin that makes me rush instead of wait, wait on the Lord, those things for which I am due much, much more than strained knees and abrasive emails, for that he took on flesh and carried away the cup of wrath: from me, from the nations, from the earth.

All this on a Friday we so desperately and hopefully call Good.

 

Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

WHY: singleness, dating and sanctification

Well, well, everyone said with a smirk when we told them, and finally! with sighs of happy exasperation.

It’s been nearly a year since I finally came around and told Ethan I had feelings for him – and had had them for ages. He grinned, like a silly school boy who’s just been told that the girl of his dreams will go to prom with him. And then he recovered slightly, shrugged, said he’d known for a long time, and hugged me like I was a long lost friend.

Dating has been interesting. It’s pushed me through a lot with counseling, helped drudge up and heal things I’d forgotten were buried beneath layers of hopeful disregard. It’s been strange to discover needs and dependence – something I always let other people have and refused to find in myself. I’ve found encouragement, grace and confidence in myself – that I am loved, and will be loved. That I am in fact liked. I rediscovered womanhood, pulled down the walls of achievement and discarded the mantra that as a woman I have to do things twice as well to gain half as much recognition. Instead, my femininity became a gift and not a burden, something to celebrated and not battled.

But it has not been easy. We were both so independent, so used to our own lives and schedules. Perhaps most of all, we were neither of us prepared for the terror of needing someone else when our defense has always been to simply walk away. We still do it sometimes, me just last week. I slammed a door, stormed up to my apartment and then cried while I searched for supplies to make a lonely dinner. I’d barely stuck my head in the fridge for the third time when a fist pounded on my door and I realized I didn’t want to be alone or argue, just wanted to hug, make up and cry. I used to think I was the self-made-woman who everyone wanted to be friends with for her intelligence and skills. Looking into Ethan’s eyes that night I saw that version of myself crumble and I relearned that I need him and I need God and the self-made-man is an American myth of faulty independence. I relearn that every. single. day.

Last year, a friend of mine said marriage was hard because it was like looking into a mirror of his own selfishness every day. He said he could feel it claw up from somewhere inside him, sin and contempt, frustration over nothing, selfish angst over everything. He warned me, “you don’t know how easy you have it, being single.” I laughed, because in a way I knew how easy my singleness was, I knew because all my married friends were saying the same thing.

Today, E picked me up for work. He was late, so I was late, I stumbled in after the provost and hurried to a health screening, and I was seething while I cheerfully made small talk with superiors as we filled out paperwork. It’s not fair, my head was screaming, that he gets free use of my car and I am late to work nearly every day. The little child that personifies my selfishness was stamping her foot, arms crossed over chest and sticking out her lower lip. It just isn’t fair.

But, you see, it is actually quite fair – this give and take and compromise and frustrations that force growth. It is quite fair to be faced with my selfishness, my greed, my self absorption and unwillingness to budge on just about anything. I’m the sun in this little universe, but slowly I’m being deflated and pushed back to rightful position of tiny star orbited by nothing. It is quite fair, this learning to give up and putting sin to death. Because this is the beauty of relationship after the fall. He’s my best friend and there’s much good in that. I’m my own worst enemy and he mirrors that, he quietly, patiently, stubbornly forces me to grow. Marriage is sanctification, and dating is getting close to that refining fire.

So, to my single friends who lamented the holiday of love last week…you have it easy, in one way (one for which I’m often jealous). Don’t long for dating, don’t long for marriage as an answer to prayers and a fairy tale ending. Long for it as a chance to grow, to learn what it really means to love in spite of canceled dates, tight budgets, missed signals and reordered dreams. Long for the chance to be sanctified, to be continually reminded of the cross and redemption, of sin and futility in human nature. Because if we aren’t open to that chance of glorifying God by loving unconditionally even when things are hard – well, I don’t think we’ll make it far because we won’t have understood marriage and relationships in the first place.