Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Voice of the Dove


When we lived in our old house and I was alone most of the time with three small children, two doves came and sat on our back fence every morning. I heard their cooing as I changed diapers and fixed breakfast and got the wheels turning on the day.
Doves always remind me of God. It was a dove that brought news to Noah that he could leave the ark. After Jesus's baptism, God's Spirit alighted on him in the form of a dove. Christ and the church are compared to two doves devoted in the Song of Solomon. We are told to be wise as serpents... and gentle as doves.
Doves seem to me to be a symbol of the Holy Spirit which promises to come to us, to comfort us. I've always needed a lot of comfort. I'm usually fretting about something. As a young mom, I got to where I looked every morning to see if the doves were there. Every morning, there they were. Those two birds on the back fence comforted me.
We eventually moved from that house to a brand-new neighborhood. We built our home and watched other houses go up one by one. Lots of excitement for my 2, 5, and 8 year old children. I chose the bricks for this place, the carpet, the tile, the tree in the front yard. Bradley and I bought new furniture, the most important being a large dining room table which we placed in the center of the house. We used the front room for home school lessons, the front yard and bike trails for our playground. There was wildlife in this back country, but I didn't see doves. Perhaps the rough-and-tumble of building construction was too loud. I didn't notice their absence. I was busy making schedules and planning menus and reading to my children.
We've lived in the new house thirteen years, fourteen in September. This is no longer the new neighborhood. (I recently discovered it's not even considered the nice neighborhood.) The dust has settled, people have moved and left their homes to renters who don't pay HOA dues. But we're still here.
Our kids are mostly grown now, my baby is 16. The dining room table is as important as I thought it would be, the most important thing in our house. The finish is worn and sticky, but the leaves still work, extending the table into the walkway whenever we have company. We bought new chairs several years ago from an antique mall, sturdy cherry-finished chairs that stood the test of time, courthouse chairs. My grown children tilt back in these chairs and I haven't the heart to remind them to stop. They are telling me their dreams and adventures. Oh well, chairs. Sorry for you, but you are solid, I bet you can take it.
And the doves are back. I hear them in the early morning and late afternoon. I'm still home most of the time. It's harder to get the wheels turning in the morning without little ones needing something every other minute, but I work in the yard and walk the bike trails by myself. The front room is still for lessons, music students trooping through the afternoons and evenings, and for the ferreting out of books.
I don't see the doves; I see the renters' children chasing one another, so innocent; the teenagers who will do things they shouldn't; the parents driving fast to get to the next thing, outrunning failure. I hear reports of break-ins and shootings and the stupid politics of community. Then every morning the sun rises, and I hear a dove say, "I'm here, I'm here. It's not safe, but it's good." And I think, Okay. Okay, God. Thank you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Honesty and Grace

How did we Christians get this idea that we shouldn't share the ugly scary problems that keep us up at night? We stay home alone, terrified, pretending, instead of getting ourselves to the church with our honest broken hearts. And if we do show up and take that risk, people sit silent or minimize the situation or level accusations of sin. Because Christians aren't supposed to have these wicked complex problems, we're supposed to be spiritual giants, able to leap tall crises in a single bound. But Christ-followers are struck down just like others. And where else do I want to be when I am falling, falling, except with people who share my hope of salvation? I don't remember signing up for a club where the rule is, "Pretend it's fine when your world is crumbling." I refuse to be bound by the rules of a club I didn't know I was joining. If my reality is messy and tearful, I may show up that way. Perhaps someone will be brave enough to meet me in the mess, awkward and stumbling and unsure how to respond. It's okay. We don't have to have all the answers. "Figure it out" is terrible theology. Instead, let's be together giving voice to our astonishment, knowing that while we can't leap tall crises in a single bound, we know One who can. Forsake appearances and join me. It's much better on the honest/messy side of the fence.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Compassion

A friend shared this article with me last night. A quote:
There is a way in which you oppose somebody and you define boundaries and limits and you are even willing to lay your life on the line to stop them from doing something.   At the same moment, you don’t close your heart to them.  And what they experience because they are in their minds, is they see you as an enemy.  But their hearts know differently.
This reminds me of the maidservant, Martha, in The Secret Garden. Martha is an older teen who serves a rigidly strict, harsh housekeeper. She befriends Mary Lennox, a sour and neglected child just back from India. Martha quietly opposes the housekeeper's cruelty as much as she can. She encourages Mary to visit and play with the sick boy, Colin, who is kept shut up in a far part of the house. This is strictly forbidden, but Martha knows children need to be children, need fresh air and companionship.

The housekeeper finally breaks down after "losing control" over the household, because she fears the wrath of the absentee father. (He has his own issues.) Martha finds her overwrought and sobbing, sits with her and comforts her-- comforts this woman who has given her so much grief, scolded and even rapped her on the head.  First, Martha opposes her with heartfelt compassion, like water flowing past a stone, then makes it easy for her to return to grace.

Me, I want to do this.

As the article says, I must first let go of self-righteousness, the lies I tell myself that I know better than to behave the way that other person is behaving. I'M not like that. Haha. This is me forgetting where I came from, forgetting that I come from a place of sin.  I may know better now, but it's because of learning and light, and there's a good chance whatever that other person is doing is something I had to learn not to do because it's very hard to not do it.
A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb. (Betty Smith)
I don't want to choose the forgetting way. If I have climbed uphill until I've gotten to right action and proper behavior, if by God's grace I have good habits, in rising above it I want to never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in my heart for those behind me.

But what if I've never struggled in that way? What if my bootstraps didn't need pulling? What if, from a child, I was given guidance in good habits, and nothing occurred to derail my learning?  What if my disposition and circumstances are such that, as Jane Eyre says, "It is so easy to be careful"?

There's a scripture for that. It's in Romans, that good letter Paul wrote to remind us we are saved by grace, that no one should boast, that no one should choose the forgetting way.  After a long list of ugly attitudes and behaviors, Paul writes:


Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
  Regardless of personal experience, this applies to us all.  It's there in Romans.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
You, me, and the cherry tree. None good. None means none.  And as for right action and proper behavior, anyone who bets on that better get every single thing right. Every. Single. Thing. It's all or nothing with the law:
For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 
And see what he did there? He said making sure you read your Bible isn't enough. Being in church isn't enough. You have to actually act righteously ever moment of every day. And that is impossible for us, even those of us who find it easy to be careful.  Because, well, pride. Pride is a sin.  We do well, and then we get puffed up, and then, boom. In fact, we prop up our good behavior with the sin of pride ("I know better than to do that!") rather than asking God to uphold us with his free spirit. (Psalm 51:12).

By we I mean me, of course.

I get SO MAD. Fighting mad. Because I've learned the things. My goodness, other person, CATCH UP.

I've learned a few things, but I haven't learned a great many other things. I need to catch up, too! But gosh, all this running and striving... the writer of Hebrews says rest. Depart not from God. Resist being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (I think pride is the most deceitful sin there is.)  Let us labor to enter into that rest. It is indeed a labor, because pride is deceitful and tells me I have arrived. Oh no, lying heart. You have not arrived until you rest in Christ. It is only through Him that everything is covered.

I find I oppose myself as this person in front of me opposes himself. I feed my lust as he does. Do I like my opinions a little too much? Do I preen myself in the sunlight of my own behavior? It is possible for a person to disdain selfies while indulging many snapshots of her own 'righteous' attitudes and behavior. God knows the heart.

Yuck. The heart can be so horrid. But I need to examine it to find compassion for those who create suffering, who oppose themselves. There is only One righteous, and I'm not Him.

The most amazing thing about Jesus is that He is perfect and also perfectly compassionate. HOW DOES HE DO THAT? Wow wow wow. I get one thing right, and I'm all over the place admonishing people to catch up.  He gets everything right, and still treats wrong with lovingkindness. His yoke is easy. Amazing.

All that to say-- it's hard for a Pharisee to turn over a new leaf. But all things are possible with God.