Thursday, April 28, 2011

Less Than One

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

One of my boys has a problem with his brain. 
(Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?)
What I mean is, he has a problem in his brain that actually affects his eyesight. Somewhere along the line with his development, his brain began to recognize that one eye was sending better images than the other. In response, his brain started ignoring the “bad” image, and only relying on images sent from one eye. 

Most infants’ brains use the images that come from both eyes. My son’s brain ended up using just the one. Because of this, the visual system that normally develops for both eyes only really developed for one, leaving the other mostly unused. So he has seen, really, out of just one eye for a while now.

When you see from only one eye, you end up lacking depth perception. 

(Sometimes, the metaphors... they just drop from the sky, don't they?)

Recently, I heard someone, a respected leader in their (not my) church and community, summarizing the point of John 4. They said that the story of the Samaritan woman is “…about Jesus’ calling out the woman on her sin.” 

Um, ok? 
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a lot more to it than this?
I guess I can admit that within a large commentary about this set of Scripture, you might find the words, “confrontation”, “woman”, “sin”, and “show”  and you might even find them within close proximity of one another… but sheesh.
This person’s take is like walking into the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, grabbing a half-cooked chicken breast and a raw egg, eating them, and walking out and telling me that you just had chicken fried rice. Some ingredients are there, but not nearly all of them, and they’re not cooked. 
And honestly, whatever you ate just may in fact mess with your insides. 
I would only be touching the surface of the content and the angles here to tell you that I believe that Jesus bringing up the woman’s issues is less designed to confront this woman on her sin… but more to expose to her that she has, through seeking to find life in the love of men, has only been led to more brokenness… and that she has been trying for a very long time to fill an inner thirst… a thirst that only God can fill, and is filling through Jesus. Maybe I'm wrong. But I believe He is communicating that He sees her broken heart.

Good gravy, its about so much more than sin here. 
Place yourself in the position of a woman divorced back then. When your security was very closely associated with the man you were married to, and moreover, your ability to remain married to the man. Imagine the guilt and shame that comes with the raw & intimate knowledge of how each marriage fell apart. 
Another man that doesn’t want you. 
Maybe because of what you’ve done. 
Maybe because of what he has done. 
Maybe for no reason at all. 
And now, so desperate to be desired, that she ends up in the arms of someone she shouldn’t be with. 
Do we seriously think that Jesus needed to expose to her that her sin is sin in the eyes of a culture that was so deeply aware of the concepts of clean and unclean, right and wrong… especially with her being Samaritan, a group considered inferior to the Jews?
More so than her sin, I think she was on His mind. I think He saw her. What if His thoughts toward her were larger?

Don’t you know that you are loved more than you can possibly imagine, and that the love from this Lover is so much greater… it matters so much more, and is so life-giving, that you if you drink fully from the well of this love, that you will literally never need to run to another empty well again?
Don’t you see that I have come to save you from yourself?
I think we often have a problem with depth perception.
When the thing we first…
react to,
talk about,
point out,
proclaim from the rooftops,
complain about,
declare we are not about,
…is sin, sin, sin… then we’re likely painting a very skewed picture of God. Like He is some sort of crabby omnipotent pharmacist standing behind His really high counter, sorting the bad pills from the useable ones. Walking a lifetime with God cannot be boiled down to the two ideas of right and wrong. 
He is larger than we see Him, or paint Him to be. So is His story. So is His love. 

And yes, sin matters to God. It’s clear that He is calling us into a greater dependency on Him, which at its core, is submission to Him. And we cannot be redeemed unless there is something from which we’ve been redeemed. 

But let’s not see with one eye, or less than one eye, only focusing on one small portion of the story. 
I was recently told that my oft-felt frustration over the way Christians articulate things about God is really nothing more than a fixation on semantics. (Funny, how when you whip out the word, “semantics,” you’ve now de-valued whatever it is you’re talking about. “Well, this is just semantics, Jim.”) 
Ok, sure. It’s semantics. I just looked it up: “the study of meaning.” (Wikipedia 11 April 2011 at 07:03**) 
Yes. I’m frustrated over the meaning of what Christians say about God. 
There is an 800 lb. gorilla in the sanctuaries of our reputations as followers of Jesus. It is the fact that when we talk about God, we’re often communicating far more than the words on the surface. We’re also quietly (heck, maybe loudly) communicating a lot about ourselves, beliefs, and a lot about our churches. 
And sometimes, what we’re communicating isn’t so pretty. 

Sometimes we’re communicating that we lack depth perception.

That we could be seeing with one eye. 

Or less than one. 
Darn semantics.


Addendum: I'm writing this portion two days after my original post: my friend Amy asked a great question that helped me realize I wasn't done yet... 

Ok so where were we? Oh yeah... those darn semantics. 

When you go further into the non-scholarly but oh so handy wiki word study on semantics, you'll also find that it says this: "...It typically focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as wordsphrasessigns and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata..." (I gave the citation earlier in this post, so don't have a coronary. Ooh and don't you love the word denotata? I'm so using that word soon. I just made a wager with a friend he couldn't use the word "denouement" in one of his stellar sermons.)

Sorry. Semantics. Words. Phrases. Signs. Symbols. Relationships... denotata. 

This is when semantics really become a pain. 

Because now we're talking about ways that we communicate beyond the way we slice a bit of Scripture, or the songs we sing, or our church's "What We Believe" web page. 

Now we're talking about the things that we maybe take for granted. Like how we treat people.

Now we're talking about ways of doing that communicate all kinds of things that we really don't want to communicate (at least I don't think we want to):
  • "Blessed are the ones who were broken and then get fixed like we did." 
  • "You're not a real man unless you love God." 
  • "God created you to be lesser and subservient to others. I mean just look at you."
  • "We love sinners, but your kind of sin, well honestly that's just a little too, um, dirty...." 
  • "There is a time limit on the grace you will receive."
  • "My way or the highway." 
  • "If you really love Jesus, it shows in how together your life is."
  • "Leave the sensing, praying, thinking, deciding and choosing to us. We know what we're doing." 
  • "We hold the keys to Heaven and Hell."
  • "God can be broken down into a series of books, paragraphs, definitions and phrases."
  • "Salvation is a checklist."
Maybe if we saw with greater depth perception, we'd see that lost in the "semantics" that we tend to disregard are the manifold ways that we can tend to articulate things about God that are not of Him, but really more of us.

Some people, when you begin digging into the work of changing the way we do what we do as followers of Jesus, dismiss your language and say, "Well for Pete's sake, the Holy Spirit does the work... you sound like we want to replace God!" 

No, we don't. 
  • We sound like people who want to try to care about the lost and the found the way Jesus did. 
  • We sound like we people who want His love to flow into the places where we've not let it in the past... into the places that have caused us to wound others when we've not meant to. 
  • We sound like people who want to be marked by love, grace, mercy, openness, peace, kindness, gentleness, integrity, freedom, patience, authenticity... service; profound giving. 
  • We sound like people who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ... but who are tired of being ashamed of our reputation for control, reaction, fear and insecurity that precedes us. 
So yeah, let me wrap up a second time. 

I think we need to open both eyes wide to see the depth of meaning in all that we do. 

We work countless hours to nail down what we believe on websites and blogs, but we rarely spend time paying attention to the basics of fleshing it out, especially when we gather.

How we communicate with others. 
The things we assume about others. 
Our efforts to control through speech, relationship, program and the Bible. 
The way we preach to/at others. 
How we react to people who do what we don't understand. 
The way in which we open up and describe the John 4s. 
How wide we open our arms to our enemy. 
How we categorize people according to "class" in our minds.  
The way we strive to be authentic and to push past our fears in relating. 
The way we put to death our fierce lust for power, prestige, pleasure, control, and well, more
The way that we rely in real time on God's Holy Spirit for guidance. 

You see, these are the places where we bring life to all of the belief that we're so good at constructing, outlining and exegeting

It would be no bad thing to let the evidence of our belief precede us, once we can get the two of them together. 

But hey, I could be wrong.

After all, its just semantics. 

** Since Wikipedia is editable by the masses, please know that it is not considered a scholarly and credible reference source. This is because at any given time, information pirates, knowledge terrorists or mind gremlins could create an account, login, plant false information and lead you and I awry in our online quest for knowledge. So trust this definition at risk of your own intellectual risk.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Every Effort

There’s this devastating WWII movie from a long time ago.

I won’t tell you the name of the movie, in case you have a very, very old “to watch” list, and you haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. I’d hate to spoil it so soon (it was released in 1992) without having given you a chance to hop in the car and rent the VHS tape.

Cold, gritty and grey… this movie was about war.

But it was less about the physical violence that we tend to unleash on one another, and more about the violence that war wages against hope. Sometimes the most devastating consequences of our fights are not contained in the conflicts themselves, but in what unfolds along the quiet margins.

In the movie, a group of tired German Army soldiers run into a young American Intelligence Squad. Both sides know the other side is hidden nearby, and tensions run high.

But at some point, you begin to see that the Germans are more bent on peace than fighting, and decide that rather than die in a war they fear is turning, they will surrender to the Americans, who have begun to seem more human than the war has ever allowed them to seem.

On the night of Christmas Eve, there is this moment when all of the cold, darkness and separation of war give way to a beautiful cry for peace as the opposing squads hear one another singing Christmas melodies from their own trenches and join the singing, in their own languages, with each other.

But the next day, in the closing moments of the Germans’ approach to surrender, there is a tragic misunderstanding, and both sides pick their guns back up and unload on each other at close range. It’s not just violent; it’s utterly heartbreaking.

When I have made you my enemy, the very last thing I’m willing to lay down isn’t my weapon; it’s my firm belief that you would never be willing to lay down yours.

I was recently in conflict with someone via the ‘miracle’ of social networking. It started out simply enough, with one person making a comment on a wall.

Well, then the second person made a comment about the comment on the first person’s wall. Then the first person made a comment about the comment that the second person made about the first person’s original comment. Subsequently, (stay with me here) the second person reciprocated that comment about the comment they had made by making another comment of their own.

So on, and so on. There was a lot of commenting.

Eventually, along the margins, there were these battle lines drawn, insinuations made, tensions got very high, and moreover, some very strong opinions were developed on both “sides” about the other “side” and their positions.

We made enemies out of one another.

Obviously it wasn’t even close to the movie, A Midnight Clear. (Oops, did I just write that out loud?) However, we were not going to put down our weapons anytime soon. It had to end. So I employed economic sanctions and sent a delegation in with Hillary. (Totally kidding.)

But Ironically enough, our fight started over the love and saving work of Jesus.

It’s sad, really. In the quiet margins of this discussion over Jesus’ love, a few weapons designed for nothing but battle were wielded. It went from a discussion about redemption to something quite near the opposite.

Here is what I believe.

I think that we in the Christian church can have a tendency to stop listening early in any conversation that challenges either the content of our belief or the way we live out those beliefs. I think we immediately draw battle lines and we make it about “us” vs. “them”. It’s simply safe.

If I make you my enemy, I don’t have to listen to you anymore.

If I make you one of “them” when it comes to spirituality, I now have God on my side, not yours.

Let this hit a little closer to home. If you and I are in a conflict, it’s easier if I can sort of make you the “enemy” in my mind… or at the very least, one of “them”… And when this is the case,

I no longer have to listen to what you’re saying.

I only have to think about what I am going to say next.

And I’m no longer responsible to put pride, arrogance and judgment to death in the way I treat you. It’s safe.

Hope is one of the biggest casualties when followers of Jesus engage disagreement in the same way the world does. Of all the moments that people need to see the difference that it makes to follow Jesus… you would think this would be a biggie.

It may not be the hope that you or I sense that is the casualty, but perhaps the hope that could have been taking root in the heart of someone on the “outside” watching how we carry ourselves as followers of God.

Especially when our conflict is with people who are supposedly on our own team.

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

A good friend recently reminded me of this verse and the challenge to “make every effort” at peace. Make no mistake… this is not a command to agree.

Thank Heaven.

This is a command to be set apart in the way we disagree. I think we have a lot to learn here.

I admit, it certainly is harder to see and sense the evidence of what God is doing when I’m fully rooted in reacting in my own way, and not being set apart.

I wonder what it would change for you, for me… for the church, or for my social networking buddy… if this idea hit squarely on our hearts and minds.

Or maybe most importantly, our trigger fingers.
So here’s the deal.

May you pray.

May you pray, like I am learning to, that God would sit down and set up shop in the center of our hearts when we deal with conflict.

When we’re called on the carpet, or when we are doing the calling.
When we’re debating Scripture, or seeing someone take it for granted.
When we’re addressing suffering, and someone doesn’t like the way we’re doing it.
Or maybe when we’re suffering, and someone is rolling over us with commandments.

May you pray to see and know that you are called to something larger.

Something that is so large that it can only be contained and wielded within you by the power of God’s Holy Spirit…who will help you (and me) to not be so arrogant, to not be so rooted in what we know that we forget how much we don’t, and to remember that when even the greatest thing that we can come up with is something thought up by us, that that isn’t so much… and that God is so very gracious to listen, approach and love.

And oh yes… and also to make every effort.