Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Power Of Servant-hood

When I was young I used to love playing jazz. I was convinced there was some higher power in music you could magically tap into if you were in the right frame of mind. But when I got older I realized that you couldn't play your way out of a really bad mood. And I also came to know that music is mostly just numbers. It could bring a certain state of pleasantness to the mind, but it was merely a sense of beauty that's not so different from the same sense of beauty Einstein saw in a perfect equation built upon—you guessed it—numbers. Furthermore, I'm convinced that art in painting also draws upon this balance of numbers. Even in writing and storytelling there's a certain meter that's pleasant to the ear. Poets realized this thousands of years ago, and so they divided sentence structures into repeating rhythmic lines, so numbers is still a part of it all. Writing and storytelling can go considerably deeper than other art forms though because words can express thoughts in a more exacting detail. Not only can you paint a picture with words, you can tell what the picture means. I think that's why Christ came to Earth as a storyteller rather than a musician, a painter, or a sculptor. He wanted to make the best use of the limited amount of time he had to be here in the flesh. But as much as we like to read about the things he said, the stories he told, and the philosophies he conveyed, this was really something that only took up a small portion of his time. The vast majority of it was taken up with playing the role of a servant.

The bible tells over and over of how Jesus healed everyone that came to him. Can you imagine how much time that took to go to each person individually and heal them? And unlike most physicians today, he actually made quite a few house calls. When he wasn't healing the sick he was feeding the poor, making wine at weddings, calming storms, even playing with people's children. John says this in the very last sentence of his gospel: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." You'll notice he said that Jesus did many other things, not that he said many other things. That in fact, he did so many things that it would be impossible to tell about them all.

Something that's become quite popular today among Christians is meditation. They think that if they can just get into the right mode of consciousness that God will bless them for it and reveal all the secrets of the universe or some such thing. And for sure, there is something to be said for quieting the mind and allowing God to fill it. That may in fact be what the Sabbath is all about. But even so, the Sabbath comes but one day per week. Jesus spent time in prayer, and he spent time teaching and storytelling. But the vast majority of his time was spent in work. It was spent serving others day in and day out. He could have healed all the sick on the face of the Earth and fed all the poor with the wave of his hand. Instead he chose to take the hard road and make an example for us to follow in meeting people's needs individually by the sweat of his brow. I can envision Jesus on many hot summer afternoons refusing to leave a place until every one of the thousands who came to him had their needs met. I can see him drenched in sweat, knees aching, back hunched over till he looked like death, all out of love for others to the point of placing their needs before his own.

The bible tells us time and again that the only good religion is the one that defends the cause of the orphan, the widow, the poor etc. I don't care how well you know your bible, or how much time you spend in prayer or meditation. If you aren't sweating and aching in the service of others, you don't yet know Christ, and all your prayers and bible studies are futile.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Job 14

Job 14
1 “Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.
2 They spring up like flowers and wither away;
like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
3 Do you fix your eye on them?
Will you bring them before you for judgment?
4 Who can bring what is pure from the impure?
No one!
5 A person’s days are determined;
you have decreed the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed.
6 So look away from him and let him alone,
till he has put in his time like a hired laborer.

7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As the water of a lake dries up
or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so he lies down and does not rise;
till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
or be roused from their sleep.

13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
16 Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover over my sin.

18 “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones
and torrents wash away the soil,
so you destroy a person’s hope.
20 You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
you change their countenance and send them away.
21 If their children are honored, they do not know it;
if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.
22 They feel but the pain of their own bodies
and mourn only for themselves.”
Is there anything more beautiful in all the books in all the world? The entire chapter of Job 14 is utterly perfect. "So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired laborer." People are always praying for God's intervening into the affairs of mortals, but Job knew better. Miracles are rare. They're supposed to be. More often than not it feels as though God created the world and then walked away from it. Job felt it too. It's like when a kid leaves the nest and has to make his own way in the world. The parent has to let them go. That's what God did when he created the universe. He made it for us, and then let us go, knowing full well that we'd return to him one day. Maybe we demanded our freedom. But we had to experience material life with all the joys and all the pains that go with it if we were ever to be anything more than mere puppets.

You have to read Job with the same honesty he had when he said these things. One moment he's full of understanding. The next he's full of questions that almost end in despair. One moment he's certain of his place in the world. The next he feels abandoned: "Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble." He's wiser and more honest than any man the world has ever known. Theologians, philosophers, and psychologists try to make God fit into their own life's context. Job will have none of this. Some questions were meant to go unanswered, and he knows it. But it doesn't stop the questioner from making his queries known. Life is certainty followed by uncertainty over and over in a never ending cycle till: "All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come." Job bottom lines it for us. Most people think life is about survival, first of the self, then of the human race as a whole. But that's not at all what life is for. Life is about work, but not in self survival. It's about finding joy in service to others and letting go of the self. The Christian life is antithetical to politics. Politics is about getting what you want, whereas the Christian has no self and instead says, "How may I serve you?" We had Jesus to teach us this. Job had to figure it out on his own. There was never a mortal like Job.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Holy Synchronicities

One point I've been trying to drive home with people for nearly twenty years now is that God doesn't care what your opinions about him or the bible are. That's not what's meant when Christ talks about believing in him or having faith. Belief and opinion simply do not equate. He didn't say that if you believe he exists you can gain entrance to Heaven. When he uses terms like belief and faith, what he's always talking about is something along the lines of putting your hope and trust in him.

Well either someone's been listening to me, or what is more likely the case, God plants seeds in several people simultaneously for the sowing. I've always thought the latter to be true. That is, God plants certain notions and inclinations in people here and there the world over when he wants to make a point or bring about a change rather than relying on just one person to do it alone. Besides, if only one person was given the message it might swell his head and make him think he's special or better than others. God's too good a parent to set someone up for moral failure (except for on certain occasions when he's trying to teach us our shortcomings).

I'm finishing up on Orson Scott Card's Ender Quartet. Now there are some things I have a great aversion to in Card's writing style. He's a stream of consciousness writer, and that generally means (and certainly means in Card's case) an author constantly telling you exactly what his characters are thinking instead of allowing you the satisfaction of figuring it out yourself. But regardless of writing style, Card does make some potent points now and then, and in the final book of the series, Children Of The Mind, he writes the following:

"I certainly do too believe in God," said Ender, annoyed.

"Oh, you're willing to concede God's existence, but that's not what I meant. I mean believe in him the way a mother means it when she says to her son, I believe in you. She's not saying she believes that he exists—what is that worth?—she's saying she believes in his future, she trusts that he'll do all the good that is in him to do. She puts the future in his hands, that's how she believes in him. You don't believe in Christ that way Andrew, [Ender]. ... You aren't leaving anything up to God. You don't believe in him."

Card says it better than I ever did. This in fact is exactly why I've taken to writing fiction and is also the reason Christ taught short stories known as parables to his followers. You can set up situations between characters to express a moral truth in such a way as to make the reader see it more clearly, make it seep in more deeply. It's what writing's all about, expressing the things God places within you to others, and doing it with the best clarity and simplicity you can muster. Simplicity has been the key to what God's been trying to bring out of me as of late. Oddly, writers tend to think that filling pages with indecipherable terms and six syllable words will gain them respectability in their profession, but it seldom works out that way. We have a whole genre of literature called Literary Fiction which is devoted to exactly that, and the amount of memorable works that have come from that field are infinitesimal. It's all just lofty words with no heart in them more often than not. If you're expressing something from God, you should want as many people as possible to understand and learn from it, and that means clarity and simplicity. God will bless that.

And pay attention to those holy synchronicities when they crop up in your life. It usually means you're on the right track.