• On Treading Water

    Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting.  So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was.  She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water.  As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way.  So she decided to just tread water until morning came up.  As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent.  She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction.  Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.

    This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!

     

  • Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading

  • The Sacrifice of Isaac . . . Or Provincial Much?*

    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:7-8

    In the pantheon of weird stories in the bible, the Sacrifice (or Binding) of Abraham is often treated as the most inexplicable or as the clearest evidence of how capricious the God of the Old Testament is. However, it seems to me that these conclusions simply demonstrate our poor understanding of history, God’s ways and human nature.  In context and with a decent concept of human nature as well as a proper understanding of what God is about, the story and it’s moral aren’t so hard to understand.

    The reality is that infanticide has always been part of human behavior. It’s been practiced everywhere and through all time periods. Including during the time of Abraham. In fact, there is evidence from both ancient writings and from archaeology of wide-spread infanticide and ritual child sacrifice in the Ancient Near East continuing into Greco-Roman times. Continue reading

  • Being Passive is a Discipline

    Passivity is a discipline. In fact, sometimes I think it is the hardest discipline – particularly in a culture like ours. We humans like to DO things. We like to build. We like to invent. We like to build relationships and parse them out when they breakdown. We like to plant and grow and make. We like to talk and write and sing. We like to be masters of our fate, captains of our ships, directors of our plays. We seek, we strive, we fight, we climb mountains simply because they are there. We admire those who do it well and follow those who champion the cause of doing. Which is good and well. It is as it should be in most ways. And yet . . .

    Here in the great Northern Tundra of the Upper Midwestern United States, there will be a reduced apple harvest this year, although fortunately it’s not as bad as some had feared. You see, as in much of the country, winter was mild and warm weather showed up early. The apple trees woke early from their winter doze and sent out their blossoms into the warmth. However, March and April had merely traded places. The warmth of March that tricked the trees into releasing their blossoms too soon gave way to frosts of April that threatened the delicate apple blossoms before they had time to set fruit. So now, this fall when the trees produce the fruit of a long summer of growing in warmth and rain, their harvest will be inferior. All because the trees were tricked into think their passive winter wait was over and their time to shine and begin the work of making fruit was at hand. But the conditions that made them think their time had come were not sustainable.

    We humans are not trees. We don’t have to be tricked into acting outside of our proper time. But it requires great discipline to refrain from action when conditions seem ripe even when we know it’s not sustainable. We tell ourselves we’ll work it out later. But this is a lesson to learn. To be passive. To wait. And most of all to allow God time enough to work in us and on us. Continue reading

  • The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Much Care For Rules

    Back in college, I was involved in a prison ministry program that put on retreat weekends for boys in a nearby juvenile prison. Which, much as I loved it, seems not to have been especially appealing to most of the other college students on campus. We always struggled to keep our numbers up and eventually reached out to nearby Wheaton College for help. It turns out that putting on retreats for juvenile delinquents wasn’t anymore appealing to college students at Wheaton either. (Wheaton College is a well regarded traditionally white, evangelical Christian college, for those of ya who aren’t familiar with the Christian college scene.)

    The only thing I really knew about Wheaton was that the kids who went there were freaks. The whole place was a freakshow, really. I attended a Rich Mullins concert there and they had people patrolling the aisles making sure no one was dancing. Seriously. Because apparently there was always a concern that some kids would get carried away and start twerking to “Awesome God” and “God, You Are My God”. So, really the anti-dance patrol wasn’t weird, it was protecting us from a whole other realm of uncomfortable that the human mind cannot comprehend.

    I never got all the details, but it turned out that everyone who was enrolled or employed at Wheaton had to sign a morality pledge which included agreeing not to dance. I think there was some exception that was made for married couples who wanted to waltz together off campus or something. Otherwise, no dancing, on campus or off, for any reason, in any season, if you were affiliated with Wheaton.

    Fortunately, the Wheaton College kids never said a word or looked particularly uncomfortable when we swore and made dirty jokes and sat all leaned up against each other and danced like fiends to “Blister in the Sun” at the end of a long day on retreat. Although they may have decided to go find a quiet room to pray in once they listened to the lyrics.

    Then, one night back at the church where we roomed while doing the retreat, one of the young Wheaton women bopped a little too deliberately to the music. Shook her tushy a little back and forth while snapping her fingers even. And a young man from Wheaton looked at her in shock. She was violating their pledge. He was required to report her come Monday morning. And she knew it. Not only was she dancing, but she was putting him in the position of having to choose what to do about it. You could almost see his world starting to come unhinged.

    “Uh, what are you doing?” he asked her, trying not to look as uncomfortable as he clearly felt. Continue reading

  • Remembering What It’s Like To Worship

    There’s a bible verse from the ever popular prophet Joel which I turn to sometimes when I have sorrow over things I had lost. It says:

    “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . ” Joel 2:25

    I have long believed that there is nothing I can lose that God will not return to me with interest. And that when it was returned to me, I would know it more truly and more deeply for having to do without it. Which may or may not actually be true, but I choose to believe it because life is better when I believe it than when I don’t. It helped me let go a little more gracefully, as I knew that I would receive it back in time. Sometimes it was cold comfort, but this verse gave me hope that life would eventually get better when I needed something to remind me.

    Over the last month, I’ve started having the oddest sensation of being given back my good memories. It’s as if I’d completely forgotten that I really had been happy once. It wasn’t just something I told myself when I needed to shore up my confidence. I really was very happy once. I really did have a happy family once. I really did have an amazing marriage once. I really did have a good, although never perfect or easy, life once.

    It’s like I’m coming out of this place where only the darkness existed and emerging back into the light. I can’t quite trust any of it and none of it makes much difference to my present circumstances, but it’s rather wonderful to be rediscovering the things that made my life good. It’s been like coming home and finding a box full of old pictures that had been lost in a move years ago.

    One of the things I had lost was music. I wrote a post a while ago about realizing that I had forgotten how to sing nearly every song I knew a couple of years ago. The only songs I could remember were songs about God that I had learned while doing prison ministry. I would be singing my baby daughter to sleep and all I could remember were the same 4 or 5 songs attached to a time I would just as soon forget. Sometimes I choked on the words.

    Eventually my daughter no longer needed to be sung to sleep and I stopped singing altogether. Which is something I’d done before, as you will remember if you have read my first book like a good little Upside Down World minion. ;) But there’s a reason that shamans will ask the sick and depressed, “when did you stop singing?” Sickness of the heart and a lack of music go hand in hand.

    So, for whatever reason, lately I’ve been rediscovering songs that I used to love that I had nearly forgotten. Yesterday, I happened to hear the song Gloria by the Christian duo Watermark and I remembered what it was like to worship. My heart used to sing this song, once upon a time. (My mouth has a harder time.)

    A while back, I started a post by saying that one day I want to be able to write a post that’s all “God is great! He healed my wounds and lifted me from the pit!” But I gave up lying a while back. So, this isn’t that post yet. But I finally remember what it is like to be able to do that. And it is so good. Enjoy!

    Gloria

    I wish I could crash like the waves
    Or turn like the autumn leaves
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could smell like the forest
    The fragrance lifting a mighty chorus
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I think I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try

    I wish I could roll like the thunder
    To leave the earth below in wonder
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could fall like the summer rain
    And every drop would sing Your name
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I’m sure I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try, I must try

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee

    Every breath that I breathe
    Every moment in my history
    Is an effort to praise You
    An effort to praise You

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Oh, Gloria
    Glory in Excelsis Deo
    Gloria, Gloria
    Gloria
    Gloria, Gloria, Gloria

    -L & C Nockles

  • Power and Love On the Cross

    One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43

    Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!

    And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.

    What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.

    When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.

  • “I See Men Like Trees”

    “They came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” ~ Mark 8:22-26
    trees

  • Walking each other home sm

    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions are might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading

  • THIS

    This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is June 2014. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. I’m just repeating things God has made clear to those who put trust in his word. You know, all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument:

    God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in people who will make any sacrifice imaginable to protect the Christian faith but refuse to be moved by the site of despair all around them. Who claim that their way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

    Really they are just refusing to be broken by the site of God’s suffering children. What kind of father is happy that his kid claims to be sweeping the floor as they’ve been asked while listening as their brother begs them to stop hitting him with a broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed. One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading