How Jesus Ate My Livejournal

Photo Credit: Amancay Maas (flickr)

Photo Credit: Amancay Maas (flickr)

Once upon a time, before this blog was born, I had a Livejournal. For those of you who don’t know, Livejournals are what those of us who compulsively overshare our lives used before Facebook and Twitter.

As a lonely teenager who hated making eye contact, Livejournal was a great way for me to make friends. Some of them I eventually met in “real life,” while others I knew only by their screennames. Many of them found me by discovering we had common interests. You could list all your interests on your Livejournal profile, up to 150 of them, beckoning people who shared them with you.

I maxed out my list, declared myself interested in 150 things.

This is so like me.

Looking back at the last version of this list, dating from my college days, I can see I definitely wasn’t equally interested in all of them. Some of them, like “Ancient Greek” and “books” and “baking” were bona fide obsessions which will never fade entirely from my life.

Others, like “linguistics and “Latin dance,” were more in the “I’m interested enough in these things to take a few classes in them” sort of category.

Still others (“gardening,” “sewing,” “rivers”) were more like, “Eh, I feel like I should be interested in these things, but the feeling isn’t strong enough to get any real experience with them.”

And some were just odd. “Fingerprints”? “Quixoticism”? The things you say in college to try and make yourself sound cool.

I’ve been interested in a lot of things in my life. I like the newness of learning something, not so much the discipline of staying with it until mastery. I’ve dabbled in ballet, modern dance, ballroom dance, swing, bellydance, and Argentine tango. I’ve studied Spanish, German, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, and Latin. I just can’t seem to decide on one thing. Heck, I have trouble with menus.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is necessarily bad. It’s fun and healthy and uplifting to try new things. But I can’t be equally interested in everything, no matter how much I’d like to tell myself I can. My life is (gasp!) not infinite.

And some things are so much more worthy of my interest than others.

“Jesus” is on my Livejournal list of interests too, buried under 149 other things. And, yeah, I was interested in Jesus in college. But let’s face it, not that much.

My faith didn’t grow much in college. I was too busy sampling all kinds of new ideas and running from activity to activity to read my Bible, worship, or pray.

Now I am old and wise by comparison. Not really. I still try to do way too much. But I have learned one powerful thing: the more obsessed I am with Jesus, the better. He isn’t just one more thing on the list of things I’m vaguely interested in.

The more interested I am in Jesus, the more interesting everything else is too. And loving Jesus can be the unifying force that makes all my other seemingly random interests hang together.

With Jesus at the center of things, everywhere I travel becomes part of the Way. Every new idea I find is measured by the Truth. Everything I do becomes part of the Life. Sometimes hard, messy, frustrating? Sure. But also shot through with hope.

This is part of my Christian walk. This is part of learning faithfulness: putting all those random interests under the umbrella of the best One of all.

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Unstoppable Word

Photo credit: Questa Durron, flickr

Photo credit: Questa Durron, flickr

Everyone tried to talk me out of attending that Prophetic Theology class. I take it the professor was not the pride of the school, not something they wanted to showcase to a prospective student. The admissions rep firmly tried to steer me toward an art history class instead, while a current student groaned that said teacher didn’t even know how to use Powerpoint.

He didn’t. He was thoroughly old-fashioned in his manner and his teaching style. He was obviously close to retiring, and he’d gotten a little self-indulgent in the way such people do. In this case, it meant that instead of teaching rigorous methods of interpretation or exciting new theories, he just invited his class to read the Bible and enjoy it together. Not even study it, just enjoy it.

He read several passages out loud in that class, relishing their familiar rhythms. But one of them in particular I heard brand new, like I’d never heard it ever before.

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

I sat up straight, electrified. I understood this as a message from God, delivered in that stuffy classroom.

I heard those words speak to me and say, So you’re here to find out if your life’s work involves sharing the Word of God?

Yes. The Word will get shared. There is nothing you can do to stop it. It’s coming down from Heaven to Earth like a torrential storm and it won’t come back. Not until it’s washed away every lie and worn down the rock that encases human hearts. Not until it’s nourished the seeds of Spirit and passed out soul food to all who hunger and thirst for justice.

And you can be part of this. No matter what your life holds, you
will be part of this.

I didn’t end up going to grad school there, or at all, at least for now. But the experience of going there was worth it, just for the insight that God’s word is truly unstoppable. Even in an old musty building, delivered by an uncool teacher, in a class no one ever wanted to take, it will never fail to find its way to the ears that need to hear it most.

Solidarity for Sheep

Photo credit: Ambersky235 (flickr)

Photo credit: Ambersky235 (flickr)

That funny word solidarity has come up in my life a lot lately – in my current spiritual reading, a random bookstore find, even a recent episode of Welcome to Night Vale. God speaks through paranormal humor podcasts now? I should have known.

And of course, the s-word comes up a lot at church. In my church we use it a lot, but sometimes it seems like we use it so much I forget what it’s all about.

So what is solidarity? This isn’t the dictionary definition, but I would say it’s being moved to action by your compassion. It’s joining with others in a common cause. For those of us who live lives of relative luxury in this world, it often involves taking up a cause that appears to not be your own – declaring that you stand with others just because they are human and therefore their interests are your interests after all.

And, you guys, I am so bad at it. I am the queen of minding my own business and staying out of trouble. I’m certainly not naturally prone to getting into trouble for other people. Are you kidding me?

But isn’t that the epitome of what Jesus did for us? God could have stayed in the heavenly realm, remote from our world of pain and suffering, and judged us from afar. But God is not like that, and Jesus proved it. In Jesus, God entered the world and became our family, made clear that he would do anything to help us. He would become ultimately vulnerable, even die.

Last week at church we read the story of the good shepherd, and it struck me that Jesus used this story to show his solidarity with us. Among other things, he was saying, “I’m not some hired hand, some stranger who doesn’t care about the sheep and will abandon them at the first sign of trouble. I am the good shepherd, the one who will protect his sheep to the point of laying down his life for them. That’s how much I care about you.”

The thing about solidarity is that it can seem so overwhelming. So much is wrong with the world. So many people are suffering. Who knows where to begin? We can’t take on every cause as our own, right? I usually end up doing nothing rather than trying to decide on one thing.

So I like this way of thinking about it, the story of the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd is close to his sheep and naturally loves them. He wants to protect them because he cares about them. So the question to ask myself is, Who am I growing to love more right now, and how does God want me to stand with them in solidarity? And if there’s no one I love so much I will take on a cause for them, why is that?

I know this is not something I can do alone. I need God to fill me with love by pouring the Spirit into me. Only in this way can I look at others with tenderness and compassion that moves me to help them as naturally as a devoted shepherd protecting his sheep.

 

Humility and Freedom

Epitaph on Nikos Kazantzakis' grave. I don't h...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know Lent is over, but this post from last year has been on my mind lately. I need to write much more about this. Stay tuned.

And please, do share what you need freedom from in the comments so I can pray and ponder with you.

In 2005, on a trip to the island of Crete, I visited the grave of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis. I remember his grave being hard to find, for such a famous landmark. Finally my friends and I drew close to it, the shadows growing long by now. Etched on the headstone in gracefully looping Greek were the words Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

Holy Week is fast approaching, and what I’ve learned this Lent is that I’m not yet as free as I want to be.

Maybe it’s actually the lesson of every Lent. Many of us give up something that seems minor and silly, chocolate perhaps, and we’re hit in the gut by how much we long for it. We go without food, a minor inconvenience for those of us who don’t have medical or psychological reasons to abstain, and we are shocked by how much our hunger pangs obsess us. More than that, we realize how numb we are to the things that matter more. We are brought to tears over our caffeine withdrawal, but not by footage of war on the news. We thirst for our tiny pleasures and think we can do without Love itself.

What I gave up this year was Facebook. Sounds like a tiny thing, right? Well, for me it’s a tiny symptom of a much bigger problem: online or off, I live to be liked. I have an approval addiction. If my actions don’t provoke praise, I immediately question their meaning. If I incur even the tiniest criticism, my stomach churns, my muscles involuntarily tense.

And here’s the upshot of all this: when I care so much about what people think, I ignore what God thinks. I thrill to hear a random fellow bus rider say I’m pretty; did I forget I am by definition “fearfully and wonderfully made“? I quickly grow impatient with trying to help someone if I’m not thanked or swiftly shown progress; is that my answer to “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up“?

I am filled with unreasonable hopes and unrealistic fears. There is a lot of “me” in the way of my freedom. And yet I have one hope I know I can count on: that there is a Higher Power than me, that I don’t have to fix my own brokenness. That Jesus will help me empty myself of my ego so I can be filled with love, like he did in his time here on Earth.

I’d like to close with a prayer for freedom for me and for all us approval addicts. Thank you, Cardinal Merry del Val.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
Deliver me from the desire to be esteemed,
From the desire to be loved,
From the desire to be extolled,
From the desire to be honored,
From the desire to be praised,
From the desire to be preferred to others,
From the desire to be consulted,
From the desire to be approved.

Deliver me from the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being rebuked,
From the fear of being slandered,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected.

O Jesus, grant that I may desire that others may be more loved than I,
That others may be more esteemed than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease,
That others may be chosen and I be set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I, too, become as holy as I can.

Dead Dogs with White Teeth: Reflection on Judgment and Beauty

The other night I saw The Wind Rises, a gorgeous film that is sort of about war but definitely about art. It’s a largely fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, who lived his dream of designing beautiful airplanes, which were then used to kill and destroy. I walked out of the theater wondering what to think about his beautiful dreams which took on a dark life of their own.

I walked out of the theater not knowing what to think. The film was so compelling, so visually beautiful, and I’d enjoyed it. Yet, as I watched, I was always conscious of the violence lurking just outside the frame. The movie alluded to but mostly did not focus on that violence or the consequences of Jiro’s decisions, showcasing instead his fanciful dreams of flying and invented romantic life. I felt almost guilty for liking the movie, like I’d been tricked into seeing beauty where there should be none.

Today I was thinking about it more when I remembered a Muslim story I once heard about Jesus. He and his disciples were walking down a narrow alley, and they came upon the body of a rotting dog. His disciples tried not to look at it as they passed, gagging and making comments of disgust. Jesus, however, knelt down and looked at the dog for a long moment. Then he said, “Praise be to God, it has such beautiful white teeth.”

This story never made it to the Gospels but I love it. Isn’t that so like Jesus, to see beauty in something that seems nothing but dead and vile?

I’m afraid I’m not very much like that. I’m often looking for a reason to judge. I cover my butt by saying that sin is disgusting – doesn’t the Bible say so? Doesn’t God find it utterly offensive?

Yes – but God can also see past it.

God knows we are born into a fallen world, tempted by so many bad choices every day. Some of us are lucky and are born into times and places in history when it’s more or less easy to lead lives of peace. Some of us, like Jiro, are more constrained. He never wanted to build war machines, he just wanted to push the limits of flight.

God can see beyond all the things that limit us. God knows we were made good. To protect the tiny light shining in darkness, to pluck the jewel out of the muck: that’s God’s mission.

Can I dare to love like this, so scandalously?

Pope Francis, who loves the poor and washes prisoners’ feet and sneaks out in the dark of night to comfort the hospital-bound says real change is not possible without love and an appreciation of the beauty in each person:

True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances…

The Joy of the Gospel 199

More than that, he says that all true beauty is breadcrumbs on the trail to Christ:

Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…

If, as St. Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love.

The Joy of the Gospel 167

I think of this and I’m ashamed of my desire to shrink from beauty, even when it’s buried in vileness. After all, this is the same state of my soul. I need to learn to sing a new song, a song that inspires me to look for and enjoy beauty everywhere.