Monday, August 3, 2015

Fully Human, Fully God...But How??

This quarter, my pastor is teaching a Sunday school class called Veiled in Flesh. It's an intro class about Christology, that is, understanding who the Bible says that Jesus is. We talked for weeks about the Virgin birth, what it is and what it isn't, arguments for and against, the logic of it, and its doctrinal importance.
All in a Sunday school class?
Yes.
 How does that work? Well, my pastor loves teaching (in his "spare time" he teaches at a local seminary) so it's all kind of like cat nip to him. He encourages questions and loves discussing things that aren't on the 15-page hand out. Because of this, sometimes we end up on very interesting scholarly bunny trails. The one that is on my mind still today is this: did Jesus ever get sick?

Through the discussion of the Virgin birth, we had to grapple with the concept of Jesus being fully God and fully man. Of course, that is a loaded thought. People have been discussing and dissecting this concept for years. How does it all work? Can it work? What are the implications?

We started yesterday's class looking at the outcome of The Chalcedonian Confession from 451. In it, they discuss their understanding of what Jesus being both human and divine means for faith and understanding of the scripture. One of the things that really stood out (maybe because it was also the point my pastor was trying to make) was that they didn't define the nature of Jesus as what it was, but rather, what it was not: "One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means take away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved..."

How else do you really explain something you can't fully understand? Never mind for a moment the actual theological ramifications of this technique, on a political level, this very smart. The way I see it, if you come out and say "Jesus was both divine and human and was like THIS..." you are tiptoeing (if not crossing completely) into heresy. I think if you take time to observe Jesus and his nature as a whole, you might being noting that to be "confusing" and "changing" is against his nature; therefore, to be both God and man he would necessarily have to be so without confusion, change, division, or separation.

With that knowledge swimming around in our brains, we then started to discuss that troublesome question: did Jesus ever get sick? My pastor opened up the floor for perspectives from the class, prefacing the discussion with the comment that there are scholarly arguments for both sides of the question.
One response was that according to scripture, Jesus was hungry and thirsty, so his divinity didn't keep him from suffering those human issues. Why would he also be kept from a sinus infection or cold?
A few brought up that Jesus' body might have been like Adam's was before the fall: perfect. If this is true, and if we view disease and sickness as part of the fall, wouldn't he necessarily be exempted from those effects from sin?
Others brought up his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Those are the sufferings of a human being: broken bones, bloody body, sweat drops like blood. Divine yes, but, as the class title references, with human skin on.

I loved the debate, the back and forth from the different minds represented in the room. You could tell everyone was thinking about the question and the ramifications of the answer, even if they didn't have a seminary degree (which, most of us did not).  I think the bottom line came down to this: if Jesus was human and got sick, he wasn't very divine, was he? Only a weak god gets the sniffles. However, if Jesus was divine and didn't get sick, how can he be the savior who understands our human struggles, hurts, and suffering? He doesn't understand the human condition.

As the arguments, each with merit, continued to be discussed around the room, I realized we weren't actually going to agree on a verdict as a class. Honestly, it felt a little like philosophy class from my college days. "Yes, but is Descartes right in his way of thinking, in his way of understanding what is real?" My philosophy professor would never say!! It drove the whole class nuts, and prompted me to change my minor to philosophy. A minor where there was no right or wrong answer? Sign me up!

I started to wonder why such a simple question couldn't be answered. I think maybe the reason we couldn't agree is because we were approaching the question with our own version of humanity and deity. I think we look at the situation and say, "If I were Jesus, my humanity would look close enough to the worlds to be accepted, but just shy of actually suffering." Or, of course, on the flip side, "If I were Jesus, my divinity would allow me to live a super hero type existence, where the heat, cold, hunger and thirst wouldn't bother me." I'm not saying the question was wrong; I'm thinking that in our human existence, without full understanding of what it means to be both divine and human, we will continue to ascribe our version of humanity and our version of deity on Jesus that pales in comparison to the actual truth.

My thoughts? Did Jesus ever get sick? Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't.
I know he was concerned for us in our fallen state. He prays for us. He struggled with hard decisions and prayed, that if it was possible, for things to be different. He suffered personal loss of family and friends. He suffered spiritual and physical temptation. He suffered spiritual and physical torment.

And really, sickness comes and goes. Even in those first few days, when you feel terrible, you know that it won't last forever. Loss of a loved one, however, kind of sticks with you. Anniversaries and memories hit you, and you realize that however much time passes, the hurt never really goes away. Emotional pain has the tendency to stick with you for a long while and can affect how you process and understand your world. I am comforted in the fact that the pain of loss is something Jesus understood fully.

No, it doesn't clear up the whole, "How can he be divine and human at the SAME TIME?!?" question for me. But it helps me understand a little bit more of his nature and character and I think that is the most important thing.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Different Kind of Tired

This past week was a totally different kind of tired than the kind I wrote about last week. It's been a wake-up-early and party-all-night, hang with friends and eat too much food kind of week. And yes, it was totally worth it. 

It did make returning to work a little bit harder than usually after the weekend I had. I spent a few days with friends visiting from California and spent the rest of the time prepping for this week. Oh, haven't I mentioned? 

My sister and her husband are visiting!! They are finally back in the States after being away for a whole year and I cannot wait to spend time with them. 

And hey, while I'm at it, I'll get to spend some time with my older sister and her family which has grown by one this last month. My nephew was born July 3 and is officially three weeks today! (I tried to call him "three weeks old" early this week and my sister said, "No he isn't!! Not yet! Slow down, man.") 

Even though things have been pretty quiet over the last week, it's probably going to stay pretty quiet this week too. I have a couple of new posts over on my book blog and am working on a few more. Of course, I might have a totally slow day and write about how my green smoothie exploded all over my white sweater on my way to work the other day. That was ... exciting. 

That's about it for me. Off to finish the coffee and cleaning! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Exhaustion and John Green

This morning I was feeling tired. Not like that is an uncommon thing in my life. I tend to wake up thinking, "Just ten more minutes, mom!" and then realize that I am the Boss of the snooze button. Life is happy for another ten minutes, but then I should probably get up. I mean maybe, right? 

Today was one of those days. The biggest struggle of the day was getting up to make the coffee, and that even felt like a massive chore. I rewarded myself by sitting on the couch to drink the coffee when it was ready. I also watched the newest Vlogbrothers video and it kind of changed my day. 

I was introduced to Vlogbrothers…um, a long time ago. I don't really remember. In 2007, two brothers decided to communicate through video blogs and phone calls only. No texts. No instant messenger (cause you know GChat wasn't a thing then…), just video blogs back and forth every day.  Anyway, I haven't finished them all yet, but I really got into them after Lizzie Bennet Diaries ended and I needed something to fill the void. They do silly and ridiculous things. They are unapologetic about what they believe in and support charities around the world. They have a ton of fans/followers that call themselves Nerdfighters. Long story short, they are pretty good guys. 

All of this brings me to the video I watched this morning. Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait. 
John talks about that exhaustion with/in life that drains you of energy, even to do the things you love. 
And as I listened to John talk about what drives him and what makes him tired, I wanted to reach through the screen or call him up in that horrible airport in Birmingham and say, "Me too, John! Me too." 

I know the cycle that he talks about. You get so tired of doing things (because let's face it: being an adult is not always fun and sometimes it is hard) and so you slow down. You give yourself permission to slack off on little things. And slowly, those little things you build up. Before you know it, as John says, "I didn't just stop doing the things that drained me. I also stopped doing everything else. I stopped functioning completely."  

So why does a video from John Green equal a blog post from me? 
John said it best: This is the thing that, instead of draining me, fills me up.

Blogging is the thing that fills me up and it one of the first things I drop when life starts to be too much. I let the stress of life overwhelm my love of writing. I worry about the reception of blog posts. Maybe I'm not funny enough, maybe I'm too irreverent. I worry about so many others things, and that worry strips me of the joy of creating. 
It will probably be slow going at first, but I hope to get back to a semi-regular posting schedule. And if you start seeing too many posts from me in your newsfeed, call John Green and yell at him. 

(And while you are at it, could you get me an autograph? Thanks.) 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What's in a name?

"How would you like to sign your checks with that name: No Love. No Mercy?"

My pastor's hypothetical question was met with a smattering of laughs Sunday morning, but mine did not join the others. We were reading from Hosea when God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a known prostitute. Hosea does what he is asked and chapter 1 records three births to the family; the language suggests that one of them did not belong to Hosea. Ignoring that fact for just a second, the names that God gives to Hosea for his children are terrible: Jezreel (a city known for punishment and destruction), Lo-ruhamah (no compassion, no mercy; also, not loved), and Lo-ammi (not mine). I know, pretty weird names, right? But names held a little more importance in ancient times than they do today. They could speak about the condition or reaction to your birth (or conception, in Isaac's case) or the family to which you belong. Sometimes family names were passed down to first born sons (remember how John the Baptist was almost called Zechariah?). Other names of course, like Jesus, came from divine revelation.

The Lord gave Hosea specific instructions on what to name his children. It was like he said, "Give them names to show my people how far they have turned from me. I want to make this so clear to them that they can't miss what I'm doing." The whole book of Hosea is a parable fleshed out to show the Israelites that they had turned from God, that things would be hard because of their sin but that God would pursue them for the sake of love and redemption and that He would never give up on them.

Amidst the laughter around me, my heart broke a little. I understand, at least in part, what God was getting at in the story. By chapter three, we see promise of redemption, not only of Gomer but also of her children. God promises to reclaim his people: instead of a land of destruction and harshness, the land will be plentiful; instead of a people who have not been able to find love or compassion, He will show compassion and love toward them; instead of being called "not mine," He will claim them as His people. But it still hurts to have your God given name be "not loved."

Which brings us back to the question my pastor posed to us that morning: how would you like to sign your name "no love"?

I couldn't laugh at his joke because we do this to ourselves.  We name ourselves "not loved" and insist on living life with that weight, even though redemption has been offered to us. We focus on our (perceived) deficiencies and short comings, keeping a running tally of our failures next to our coffee pot so we are sure to see them every day. We add addendum to our new name: not loved because I'm fat, not loved because I'm skinny, not loved because I'm depressed, not loved because I'm stupid.
I think it's interesting that Lo-ruhamah had no qualifiers. There wasn't anything she did to deserve the name. So when her redemption comes, she is called "loved" with no qualifications. Not because of anything she has done or left undone, she is called "loved" by God because that was His goal all along. 

One of the last points Pastor Tim made on Sunday was that God does not love us because of who we are or what we do; he loves us because of who He is and in spite of what we do. From the very beginning, even as early as Genesis 3, redemption has been His game. We get hints and promises of a Messiah almost before the fruit has a chance to turn brown. Even with the stories in the Old Testament of the Israelites turning away from God, there is still promise of redemption. Isaiah 42 has prophecy about the coming Messiah with astonishing detail. Every time I see it, I am amazed. This isn't just a way to fix a plot hole or a temporary story arc. This is THE PLAN from the beginning.

I suffer from self-naming the same way that you do. I pull my failures out of the past, dust them off and give them a place of prominence in my present. I see my deficiencies in the mirror every day and examine them closely before leaving the house, keeping them in the forefront of my mind as I go about my day.

And you know what?

It's exhausting.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Lo-ruhamah and her redemption. I've gone back to Hosea and read the passage again, looking for a key to understanding God's love, redemption, and plan in the story. Maybe it's there if I look hard enough. Maybe looking is part of understanding. Maybe just believing that we are worth more than our names, more than our actions, worth something just because is the first step to really understanding.

Try it on, just for today. Call yourself "loved" and remind yourself that you are more than your imperfections. Not because you are perfect or better than anyone else, but because God says you are loved and because He made you for more.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Tired Faith & Dusty Offerings

There have been at least two times in my life (in recent history) when I knowingly used my gifts when I didn't want to. Both times, I ended up being surprised and amazed by the grace I was rewarded with.
It shouldn't surprise me any more, but it does.

Recently I was asked to sign a song for a good friend of mine. Of course I said yes, but when I first listened to the song I had more misgivings than this song had repeats. And boy, did it have a lot.
The list was long: it wasn't the style I usually signed, the words were so modern, the repeats, etc. I put off looking at it until it was far too late and I spent a week practically kicking and screaming, complaining to anyone who would listen, but begrudgingly learning this song.

I ended up learning all the signs and by Saturday I felt rather confident that things would go well. I mean, as confident as I could be given the amount of time I had left to study (zero) and number of days until the performance (um, again, zero). I ran through it a couple of times before bed and then decided it would have to be enough. I sent at least five alarms, got ready for bed early (for me, of course) and tried to sleep.

I was jolted awake sometime around 3 AM to the shouts and arguments of my downstairs neighbors. I tried to will myself back to sleep, knowing that if I got up to do anything, I would be unable to even think about sleeping. I couldn't tell you how long the noise went on but when my alarm went off at 6 a.m., I was sure I could afford a few more moments of sleep. However, the 4 other alarms I set didn't go off and I found myself waking up 15 minutes before I needed to leave. Things were just not going my way.

I aggressively ignored some of the speed limit signs on my way to church. I prayed that the cops would either all be asleep or at church already and that the people in front of me weren't going to my church. It wasn't just that I had overslept; I was late heading to my first practice and first performance of the song I really wish I hadn't agreed to sign.

Thankfully, I got to church with enough time to run through the song 1.5 times with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, most of the coffee I had hastily made that morning was still in my travel mug. I gulped furiously. As I gulped, our keyboardist prayed for us before the service started. His prayer quieted me and reminded my heart that this thing we were doing was simply enhancing the vocalist's gift. I needed to hear that.

I'm always nervous when I sign. Always. Even if it is a song I choose and like, I get nervous. But here I was, exhausted, under-caffeinated, wishing I was somewhere else. This was more than just normal nerves. 

I signed twice on Sunday, first service and second service. In between services, I talked with friends. I've written about these friends before, the ones who ask "How are you?" and "Are you safe?" and "Do you need anything?" and expect an honest and real answer. The ones who can see the tears in my eyes before I really know they are there. They could see I was exhausted on all levels and made sure to ask me about it. I started waking up. Not just in the way you do when the coffee kicks in, but in that way you do when your soul has been run down for so long that you think you are alone in the universe and you finally start seeing a way out.

It wasn't until I started signing in the second service that it all really hit me. I was signing about tired faith and a vast feeling of hopelessness and I didn't realize I was signing about me until that moment. I might have been asked to sign the song to help spread the message of God's love and grace to the congregation, but in that moment, the message of the song was for me.

I wasn't on my best form. It was the first song I've signed in ages, probably since Easter. My gift that morning was a halfhearted dusty offering. But in all of that, I left church that morning with a tear in my eye and the echoes of hope in my heart.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Get Involved in Someone's Mess

It's become a tradition in my family, and one that I have continued as I work out my own traditions, to attend the Maundy Thursday service at my church. I didn't even know what Maundy Thursday was about until we started attending my church almost 10 years ago. Now I can't imagine missing it.
It's pretty much the same service every year. We keep it simple: mostly hymns, organ prelude, reduced praise team, no drums. The lights are kept low and all of the distractions in the lobby are cleared out. We don't have greeters at the door and you are asked to enter the sanctuary speaking only to the Lord in prayer. Our pastors pitch in and take different parts of the service: one or two read scripture at different points, one (or more) give a devotional on the scripture, our Senior pastor leads communion.
We have a foot washing at this service. It is to mirror what happened after the Passover meal that the disciples shared with Jesus. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a job usually reserved for a gentile servant. Apparently, washing feet was something so degrading that they couldn't even ask one Jewish servant to wash another Jew's feet. It wasn't just the dirt, but the humiliating nature of humbling yourself before another person that made this task to distasteful.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

I've heard the story before. Jesus humbled himself, taking on the place of a servant and washed his disciples feet. It's an example to us to live humble lives, just as he did. The weight of the Lord of the Universe getting down on his knees and washing feet was huge. It was the picture of sacrifice. But tonight I saw something different. When Jesus started washing feet, the disciples were talking amongst themselves about the political organization of Jesus' new kingdom. They were trying to figure out who would be at the right and left hand of the King, who would hold what positions, probably how great it was going to be to see Rome cower in fear. They lived in a time when there was a first and a last and even to religious leaders of the day, that order was very important. Surely the new kingdom that Jesus would bring would have such an order to it as well. 
Instead of reprimanding them, Jesus grabs a towel and starts washing their feet. I imagine it got pretty quiet, the bickering dying down as people stopped to watch their Master washing feet.
In that one simple act, Jesus set the traditional religious and political roles of the day on their head: he made all twelve men equal. 
He didn't wash Peter's feet and then say, "Wash the feet of the brother next to you." He did all the dirty work, quieting the voices calling out to be noticed and recognized. He humbled himself before each man. By making the disciples equals, not based on their political or economic station, but by their importance to him, Jesus calls them to participate in each other's lives. The bigger picture here is that they had been served but now it was their job to go and serve others. If Jesus got down to wash the dirty feet, maybe we also need to be washing feet of the people around us? Maybe we also need to get involved in other people's messy lives?

Maybe I've heard it before. Maybe I've been blind to it. But all of a sudden, washing feet was about more than just me. Holy Week is a time for introspection and prayer. We remember the joys and struggles of the last week of Jesus' life on earth. We are thankful for the sacrifice that was made for us…and then it kind of ends. I hesitate to say this, but I think we've been making Holy Week all about us. And if you haven't, I'm pretty sure I have been.

Washing feet tonight felt different. I walked back tonight with a fair bit of anxiety. The hall is dimly lit with people everywhere, and I am just not sure where I'm sitting. In years past, I would pick a person before going back so that it would be easier. I didn't this year. I spent the short walk to the fellowship hall mulling over the call to involve ourselves in other people's messy lives.   When I got to the back, my choice was easy. There was a young woman, probably only a few years younger than me, who I knew from the church and a Bible study we used to attend. She was sitting alone and so I asked her if I could wash her feet. I knew some of her story, but only what she had sparingly shared. Her family also served in the church; sometimes it is hard to speak honestly about family (even if it is just your biased perception of things) members who publicly serve and are known in the church. I knelt down and prayed for her as I cupped water to dribble over her feet. I prayed for her heart. I prayed for her struggles. I prayed that she would feel loved.

Life is messy. There isn't anyway around that. Sometimes in my mess, I hardly feel equipped to deal with my stuff. I use that as an excuse to not serve others. But then I think about the disciples--not a one of them were trained for ministry when they met Jesus. Some of them had really great jobs, some just had jobs. He called them out of their former life and taught them something new. We don't have be amazing preachers or teachers to further God's kingdom. Sometimes, we just need to help wipe the dust from someone's feet, pray for them and get involved in their mess.

"But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lower rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant." 
Luke 23:26-27

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All Is Calm

Last year I had the incredible honor of writing for a Christian website called Audacious. I mentioned on this blog that I had written a few posts and linked you over to the website. Due to funding, the site no longer exists. I've been struggling with that all year, I think. I was so excited to have a place to write and improve as a writer. When it went away, I felt kind of tricked. Like Lucy with the football. Have this great opportunity to expand and-- oh wait, just kidding. I stopped writing shortly after the website came down. I wrote a little for my book reviews but not much. Things kind of stopped. 

As I drove home tonight, I had a pretty intense conversation with God. I shared some fears and insecurities and then listened for an answer. I'm so high stress right now (finals week at university, Christmas, emergencies/alerts at university, general job stress, holiday shoppers…) that I know I don't take enough time to listen. 
I happen to have a copy of a post I wrote for Audacious last December open on my desktop. As I re-read it I realized it is still true for me. As I have been reminded over the years, sometimes a good lesson takes awhile to learn and for it to really sink in, you need to hear it again. And again. 
I needed to hear it again. Maybe you do too. 

Christmas caroling around the community with my church family has become one of my most cherished Christmas traditions. I love listening to and singing Christmas music all year round. One of the many perks of living alone is that there is no one to complain when I start the Christmas music in July. But really, nothing quite beats walking around in the freezing cold, in hats and scarves and gloves, singing "Joy to the World." Nothing. 
However, over the years, my work schedule has gotten so busy that I am usually unable to make it to our Christmas caroling night. This year a close friend begged me to come. Begged. Thanks to a sympathetic supervisor and a slow day at work, I was able to arrange some things so I could finally attend. Easy peasy.
Ha. Life never is, is it? 
Even though I was so excited that I was finally able to participate in the one event I have missed over the years, I left work late, leaving what felt like 100 things unfinished. I texted my friend before I left work. "Do not leave without me. I will cry if you do."  I drove as fast as the speed limit would let me, still getting to the church almost 10 minutes late. Almost as soon as I stepped foot in the church, we were off to our first stop. 
It wasn't until we were on our second or third song that I realized I wasn't enjoying myself. I had been stressing out and running high on adrenaline for the last couple of hours. I was finally able to spend time with my church family and all I felt was stress. I could feel the frustration building up inside my heart. I was stressing about work things. Had I remembered to tell my supervisor…? I was stressing about the cold and the snow. I was stressing about…well, pretty much everything.
And then I heard it. Those beautiful words of the hymn:
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. 
One second, I was singing. And the next? Well, the next I stood there with tears falling down my face. All is calm? Hardly. Heavenly peace? Where can I get some of that? Oh Lord,  I prayed,  I am so far from calm at this moment. So far from the peace that you promise. Please calm my heart. Grant me peace.
And as we sang the rest of that song, it felt like I was hearing for the very first time that Jesus came to bring us peace and grace. That in our fear and trembling, the angels were bringing good news of a Savior. That this thing we celebrate every December 25th, Jesus putting skin on and stepping into our world, isn't just for children. 
It's for me. 
Even on the stressful, messy days? Yes. Even then. And guess what? It's for you too! 
Even on your messy days?Yes. Even then. Especially then.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 
LUKE 2:9-11

(Originally published December 8, 2013 for Audacious)