thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Faith”

Sacred reality

I’ve been noticing in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus appears quite comfortable with reality–even when it gets messy and awkward. He doesn’t avoid, divert or deflect. He doesn’t put a spiritual spin on it. He’s never anxious or embarrassed.

Instead, Jesus allows life to unfold as it will. He steps in the midst of it and welcomes what is. It’s there that he does the extraordinary, and people are radically changed.

Real is sacred.

Case in point is the passage in Mark 9:14-29.

A desperate, distraught father brings his severely afflicted son to Jesus. It’s the man’s last hope.

He’s already asked the disciples to cure his son, but they struck out. A ruckus of theological debate breaks out as a result, and the tension is now running high.

I would have been looking for the nearest exit. I hate conflict. I could see no good coming of the scene being made.

At my best, I would have given Jesus an anxious look, letting him know he better step in and take care of this mess. The sooner the better, too.

Jesus doesn’t rush into action. He seems in no hurry to heal the son, nor relieve the father’s angst.

He simply asks a question. Then waits.

The father spills his story. He tells Jesus and the gathered crowd his painful secret.

Shame makes one keep their story of a demonized son silent. It’s best to keep such family secrets behind closed doors. We work hard to hide our shame, making sure no one knows.

But reality refuses to cooperate. Eventually life events converge and our secret leaks out. The cat’s out of the bag, and the father has little choice but to tell his story.

Just when it can’t get anymore uncomfortable, the son acts out right there on the spot. Right in front of God and everyone.

The son writhes and convulses. Dirt combines with spittle, smearing mud all over the young man. Shrieks add to the drama.

Jesus is unfazed. He doesn’t put an end to the scene. He doesn’t rush in to rescue the father or son. Jesus allows truth to spill out everywhere, for all to see.

No denying reality now.

The father can’t take it any longer. He begs Jesus to intervene. Just when we expect Jesus to save the day, one more bit of truth surfaces.

The father comes to terms with his conflicting thoughts and emotions. He confesses his doubt.

“I believe. Help me in my unbelief!!”

I imagine there were times when the man’s son was free from the demonic affliction. For days, perhaps weeks and months, all was calm. The father could conveniently ignore his son’s condition. Faith came easy. He had his theology and doctrine lined up straight.

But when your son is flailing and contorting and thrashing on the ground, saliva bubbling out of his mouth, streaks of mud on his face and clothes, screaming shrieks of anguish and obscenities—well faith tends to unravel.

Jesus lets it come apart at the seems. The father has an important confession to make. Miraculous intervention before the father has a chance to come to terms with his truth–before he wrestles with the reality of the paradox of faith–would be premature.

In due time, Jesus intervenes. The boy and his father are restored to wholeness.

A good deal of contemporary theology teaches us to minimize, avoid, deny and skirt reality. We invest much time and energy attempting to pray away reality.

We see it as an enemy.

We assume Jesus is uncomfortable with our reality as well. Shame convinces us we are unacceptable in our reality, so we opt for damage control and reality management.

We become heavily invested in our denial, self-protection and shame. We go great links to avoid acknowledging our truth.

It takes reality, real-life experience, to blow the covers off. Even then, we’re a hard sell.

But when reality comes, when we finally embrace what is real, we discover an amazing truth. Jesus is standing with us in the middle of it all.

Redemption comes.

The healing begins.

 

 

 

The victimization card

A common game we play in life is the victimization game.

Something undesirable happens to us. Someone hurts us. Something is withheld from us. We make a horribly sinful choice.

Such experiences are painful. But their real power comes from the meaning or beliefs we assign to them.

We tend to give painful events great power over us. We believe they’ve robbed us of our future. We believe they take away our power. We assume we now have no options.

We’re victimized by the event.

Not just at the time the event happened, but perpetually.

The rest of our life.

Victimization goes something like this: “Because ______ happened, I cannot _________.”

Fill in the blanks.

  • Because this person hurt me in that manner, I can never be happy again.
  • Because my parents withheld the love and affirmation I wanted from me, I cannot have good relationships in my life.
  • Because I was not given that promotion, I’m stuck in this job and can never move forward.

Consciously or unconsciously, we choose to become stuck. We wait for the offending party, or some other power-that-be, to undo the hurt done to us. We believe that since they are the one who took away our opportunity, only they can give it back.

We find ourselves stuck. Helpless. And often bitter.

In the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13ff), we see this dynamic. But with an interesting twist: the disciples play the victimization card on Jesus.

The day has grown long. The large crowd is hungry and tired. It’s late.

The disciples grow anxious, feeling the responsibility to feed the mass of people who’ve been clamoring for Jesus’ attention.

How do you feed that many people on very limited supplies? All the disciples seem to have on hand are five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. That might be enough to feed their own small group (Jesus and the 12), but it won’t come close to meeting the needs of this crowd.

So the disciples do what we do when we are anxious. They shift the responsibility to someone else, in this case Jesus.

“Do something about this Jesus. Send them away so we won’t have to deal with this. We don’t want to be responsible. You take charge.”

Jesus refuses to take on their anxiety. Their perceived problem doesn’t become his.

“It’s not necessary to send them away, You go ahead and feed them,” Jesus counters.

The disciples, probably feeling backed into a corner, play their victimization card.

“We can’t feed them, we don’t have enough food here. Not even close.”

Who knows what they didn’t say that told the real story?

  • “If we start feeding them, there won’t be any for us. And we’re really hungry!”
  • “You should have told us about this earlier. You should have planned better.”
  • “This is a bit irresponsible of you Jesus to wait until now to address this problem. What did you expect to happen?”

The disciples feel helpless. They assume there’s nothing they can do to meet this challenge. And it’s obvious they are waiting for Jesus to do something to rescue them, to take care of it.

Assuming this posture, they are victimized by their own story.

Theirs is not an accurate assumption. They do have something they can use. They have some bread and fish. And they have a choice in what they are going to do with these resources.

They can hoard them for their own use. They can give up and quit.

Or they can give what they have to Jesus and partner with him. They can take this seemingly small step of faith and see what happens.

This is the nature of victimization, and our way through it.

I’m most prone to playing the victimization game with God. I perceive he hasn’t provided me enough of whatever I believe I need to have (usually clear direction for my future), and I hear myself mimicking the disciples in this story.

“I can’t go forward. I don’t have enough resources. I can’t do anything until you do something more for me.”

I blame my sense of being stuck on God. I hold him responsible for why my life isn’t working the way I want it to. I grow inactive and waste potential opportunities under the guise of “waiting on God” to act.

I want (read “demand”) guarantees.

I acknowledge there is a time and place to wait on God. Rushing ahead under my own steam is dangerous.

But most of the time, I believe Jesus is telling me to put what I already have to use.

This is both liberating and terrifying.

It’s liberating in that I don’t have to be a victim. There is something I can do. I do have a choice. I have some leverage, no matter how small it may seem.

It’s terrifying because Jesus calls me to take responsibility. To partner with him calls me to face my fears, step into the unpredictable and move forward with faith. It calls me to own my desires and choose accordingly. I no longer have the luxury of being helpless.

It’s only when I quit playing the victimization card that I get to discover what potential miracle awaits on the other side.

Who knows how many we can feed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?

Finding ourselves in music

I must be in contemplative mood today. I’m discovering meanings in various lyrics of songs I’ve been listening to.

While working out this morning, I listened to Brandi Carlile, one of my all-time favorite artists. Her song, Looking Out, came up on my MP3. I took notice of these words:

I am afraid of crossing lines

I am afraid of flying blind

Afraid of inquiring minds

Afraid of being left behind

As I listened, I thought, “This could be the theme song of many of us Christians.” Unfortunately, it could be my theme song more than I like to admit.

These words penetrate on so many levels. I’ll allow them to do their work on you. It seems to the mark of truth–it’s so dang tormenting.

But here’s a thought: Why do we so often allow fear to dictate and dominate our lives. Isn’t Christianity the faith that’s supposed to be all about faith?

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