Thursday, January 20, 2011

Remembering our place

here was an evening a little over a week ago when it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Some late nights studying combined with some early mornings had left me fatigued and frustrated. I had more to get done than I had energy to do. Ever been there? Playing on the floor with the children I actually fell asleep on the wood floor! I realized that I was going to have to rest. So I put the children to bed, left the to-do list for later, and went to bed hours before my normal bed-time. And you know what? The world didn't end.

In the Bible, God commands us to rest. No command seems more needed for us modern workaholics. We need a rest from our work. We need a rest from our computers. We need a rest from our cell-phones. We need a rest from our self-importance. We've come to mistake busyness for righteousness, crammed day-planners for full-souls.

We are called to work, yes, but to work and rest. Rest keeps us from turning our work or our place in our work into an idol. That is why we need Sabbath. Sabbath, after all, isn't just to rest our bodies, but for the reorientation of our souls. It is only in stopping and not doing that we remember this world doesn't spin on our efforts but upon God's grace. We are creatures, he is the creator. We are important . . . but we're not that important. God gives us jobs to do, yes, but he doesn't ask us to do everything. Resting, sleeping, practicing Sabbath remind us that his work is bigger than ours even if our work does find its proper place in him.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work - Exodus 20:9-10.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Curiosity as Compassion

In the gospels, Jesus shows a remarkable interest in other people: a foreign women at a well, a blind beggar behind the crowd, a short tax collector up in the tree. In each and every case he dignifies a person with his attention. What must that attention have felt like for people who usually received only sneers and even more often were simply passed over without being noticed at all? What does it feel like to you when someone notices you? Remembers your name, or your birthday, or some tidbit of information that you volunteered about yourself the last time you were together? Or how did it feel the last time someone asked you a good question and then stuck around long enough to truly hear your answer?

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in her book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (yes, that's the book I quoted last week. It's a really good book!) makes the claim that curiosity is a form of compassion. It shows up in her chapter on being a good conversationalist. She argues that showing interest in another person, asking them, "What is it like to be you?" is an act of love. And so it is. There is nothing more encouraging, more soul enriching, than for another person to take a genuine interest in you. Nothing more insulting than being ignored.

One of the great promises of the gospel is that God has not ignored us. He knows our names. He knows the hairs on our head. He knows our fears and our desires and, yes, even our sins. And he loves us just the same. God pays attention to us. What an act of compassion. And what a challenge. If we are to love others as Christ has loved us, we must practice paying attention to them. We must put down our phones. We must slow down our days. We must give the beggar our conversations above and beyond giving him our change. We must recognize that quantity of time is quality time with our children. We must be curious as to who people are behind our labels - clerk, waitress, employee, boss, policeman, politician, etc. We must be willing to ask and learn, "What is it like to be you?"

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor - Psalm 8:4-5

Thursday, January 6, 2011

You can't handle the truth! Probably. But we sure do need it.

I’ve begun the New Year reading an excellent book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre which speaks of the importance of loving language. There are all sorts of reasons to love words, but one of the primary reasons is that words and conversations help us discern the truth. We of course know, and McEtyre points out, words can equally be used to cover up the truth. After all, hearing the truth about ourselves, about our world, is never an easy thing. She quotes the philosopher, Pascal, “We hate the truth, and people hide it from us; we want to be flattered, and people flatter us; we like being deceived and we are deceived” and then adds her own commentary, “The deceptions we particularly seem to want are those that comfort, insulate, legitimate, and provide ready excuses for inaction.”

We know things are not well with our marriage or our family, but we let our spouses or children convince us otherwise. We know that what the politician says probably isn’t true, but we vote for him anyway. We know that our own promises to do better or drink less or save more are completely empty, but we voice them nevertheless. We do so, because deceptions bring us a temporary peace. Voicing and believing lies proves easier than hearing the truth that shall set us free.

Our culture is so full of such lies (and we tell so many), it’s difficult for us to even begin to commit ourselves to telling and hearing the truth, even if it’s God who speaks such truth. And yet, salvation won’t be found in those who declare “Peace, peace” where there is no peace (Jeremiah 8:11). No, only with the One who can both accurately diagnose our disease and then provide the cure will redeem us from our sins. But how do we open ourselves up to hearing his word? McEntyre provides some penetrating questions that might just bring us closer to the truth, “What today am I avoiding knowing? Why? What point of view am I protecting? Why?” David put it slightly differently but equally effective, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).