God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart… (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
God is so much bigger than our limitations
This morning I walked Scout, eased Rebekah from slumber with a mug of fresh-brewed coffee, then sat down to read the morning paper.
In sitting, some kind of a noise must have escaped me, because Rebekah immediately looked my way and said: “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I replied; “Just a little creaky.”
And then, after thinking about it for a moment, I followed up with: “You know, I really did have a hard time getting moving this morning. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever felt this old in my entire life.”
Rebekah put her section of the paper down and looked at me, appraisingly: “That’s because you’ve never been this old before. This is not only the oldest you’ve ever been, it’s also the youngest you’re ever going to be from this point on.”
AGE may be well be “just a number.” I completely understand this because I know people in their 40′s who seem to be a lot older than me, and I also know folk in their 70′s and 80′s who live with kind of purpose and vigor many people never knew even in their youth. However, the fact remains that I felt legitimately “creaky” earlier today, and I had to give some of my parts a pep-talk to avoid cutting Scout’s walk short and heading back to bed.
NOT WHO I AM ANY MORE: The good news is that it’s Okay. I have discovered (am discovering) that I’m not defined by my physical self anymore. In fact, I think I’ve moved far enough along “the road less travelled by” that my identity as a person is now more spiritual than it is physical. And, by the creaking noises coming from my body this morning it looks like I’ve arrived there just in time!
I certainly plan to do my best to stay in good shape, physically. I want to be a good steward of my body. I really enjoy things like walking, playing games, exploring etc. But nurturing and growing my spiritual life is an investment that transcends any limitation that might come packaged with the inevitable passage of time.
VIBRANCY: Fact is, I feel more vibrant and alive today than I have at any other time in my life. I believe this is because the spiritual component, our relationship with The Living God, is so much more than “optional” or “add-on” or “take-it-or-leave-it.”
We were created for the purpose of a moment-by-moment walk with God. In many respects, faith is more important than breathing.
In other words, when we grow spiritually we are finally connecting with the most critical aspect of what it means to be human.
Therefore, irrespective of the “creakiness” of my physical body, I am only truly alive to the extent that I embrace my identity as a blessed child of God. The body – eventually – decays and dies. The spiritual life is eternal.
“God has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes). And that is a beautiful truth - DEREK
The man replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.” (John 9:25)
Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.” (John 9:39)
Naomi Campbell, experimenting with color
This morning I’m throwing in a lighter post. Not that I’m abandoning the ongoing discussion or ignoring some of the new questions and comments. But, as I pointed out yesterday, this blog is always about what is touching my spirit, and what I’m learning about “Living like we mean it” on a day-to-day basis.
So, when I turned on my computer, this image (above) reached out and grabbed me. It’s classic “Naomi Art” inasmuch as it is a completely free expression. Our daughter is always more interested in the process, in color, and in texture than fussing over details.
It’s not so much that Naomi is against realism in art, it’s more that she sees things differently.
My favorite Naomi sunflower
WRITING and ART: I believe that writing can have the same dynamic. People often ask me, “Where do you get your stories?” or “You had to have made that up! or “I’ve been there (Mt. Sinai, Pyramids, Walmart, wherever…) too but I never had that experience….”
You see there’s an extent to which writing can be impressionistic, or abstract in the same way that painting can. When you look at a painting by Naomi you understand that she actually sees things differently. I believe it can be the same way when I write.
JESUS: Jesus was always suggesting to people that they get their equipment checked. He pointed out numerous times how people didn’t see… didn’t hear… didn’t listen… didn’t perceive…didn’t understand… didn’t remember… didn’t “get it.”
Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? (Mark 8)
That’s one reason I try to spend both quality and quantity time with Jesus each and every day. The Great Teacher fine tunes my senses. Jesus opens the eyes of my heart.
Life is a great story!
SPLASH! So if I want to write with a splash of color like Naomi’s painting, then I have to stay with Jesus. I have to have my senses enhanced by the Spirit. I must remember that the heart of creativity is always the heart of the Creator.
So “No, I don’t make stuff up…” But I am learning to give my creative soul to Jesus, and to see the beauty and the light and the glory of this life-charged life.
Q & A: OKay, as promised, I’m going to respond to a few of the comments/questions/opinions/observations shared in response to my post about sexism this past weekend. I always try to keep these entries between 300 and 1,000 words, so I know I will not begin to cover everything. Hopefully, though, this will be helpful.
First, from my friend Adam: “While not espousing one position or another, I wonder how you would respond to those who point out the various places in scripture, particularly in Paul’s writing, where gender lines are clearly drawn both in ministry and public life?”
I’ll begin by borrowing (my wife) Rebekah’s oft-used phrase, “What else does the Bible say?”
Tim Black and Rebekah Maul – shared leadership in a vibrant community of faith!
PROOF-TEXTING: Look hard enough and you can find verses of scripture to back up just about any position we might like to take on just about any issue. It’s called “proof-texting” and there’s almost no limit to its application – often for opposing sides of the same argument!
There are verses to support stoning (women, children, homosexuals etc.), rape, racism, benevolence, intolerance, tolerance, slavery, incest, pacifism, war-mongering, peace, unconditional love, divorce, reconciliation, fidelity, infidelity, human sacrifice, women in leadership, male-only leadership, keeping women silent, allowing women to speak… and so much more.
In other words, the Bible can be manipulated to support just about anything we want to say, good, bad, reasonable or outrageous.
God’s word is a unified witness to life-giving and invitational love
WOMEN: Paul, for example, writes that women should keep silent in church and wait to ask their husbands to explain things to them when they get home (the problem was actually about listening, translating from the Greek, who knew Greek – typically men involved in commerce – and too many questions; rather than the fact that they were women…).
In another epistle, Paul says that women should keep their heads covered when they speak in church. So, which one is it? Speak? Not speak? Speak with heads covered?
It’s important that we have a sense of what’s going on in the entire biblical witness. How is the message of God’s radical love – and God’s challenging call for both justice and righteousness – developed over literally centuries of prophesy, and history, and narrative, and poetry, and sermons, and prayers and more?
What cultural overlays, and religious systems, and social norms, and business ethics have shifted? And what methods of life and modes of communication have grown, and re-calibrated, and evolved, and literally contradicted themselves? What may have potentially changed – even if just a little – between the earliest ancient Jewish texts and the Revelation of John… and then down through two thousand more years of evolving mores, values, and styles of getting God’s essential message across?
Surely no-one in the Southern Baptist Church is going to argue that we should stone children who are disrespectful to their parents? Surely no Catholic Priest still advocates the keeping of slaves? or owning/having more than one wife? or that we should slaughter every inhabitant of a town that is captured in a military action? So why place the weight of powerful institutions behind restrictions on the role of women that are rooted more in historical cultural practices than the content of the Word of God?
THE CONSTANT OF GOD’s FAITHFUL LOVE: What hasn’t changed is the constant thrust of The Greatest Story Ever Told. And that is the story of God’s generous and invitational love, and God’s desire that human beings live life to the fullest expression of what is possible among those created in the very image of God:
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
The thrust of the witness of The Greatest Story Ever Told is God’s constant invitation for us to participate in this “Life-Charged Life.” To the extent that we restrict, exclude, carve out special privileges for some and deny them to others (based on sex, race, income, nationality, etc…), we are at odds with God’s foundational program.
Always inspired and challenged by the Word
ENOUGH FOR TODAY! OKay, so that’s probably enough for today. I may pick up some of the other good observations tomorrow, or later this week – but this blog is a moving target and I can’t say what will yank my chain tomorrow morning!
Regardless, I want all of you to talk seriously with God about these issues, and to be open to the life-charge initiative of God’s transformational love. And ask yourselves this question: “How could it possibly advance the kingdom of God’s love and grace to exclude half the population from leadership (and key decision-making) simply because they are not men?”
There’s a lot to talk about this morning. First, there’s the ongoing conversation vis-a-vis this weekend’s post about sexism in Christianity. Then there’s the fact that today is Memorial Day. So I’m going to write about Memorial Day and we’ll pick up the other conversation possibly tomorrow.
Image from the Arlington National Cemetary website
“I came so [you] can have real and eternal life, more and better life than [you] ever dreamed of.” – Jesus: John 10:10
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN:Rebekah asked our friend Jim Edwards to bring the message at church yesterday. Jim – who attends First Presbyterian with his family – is a Navy chaplain with a lot of experience and wisdom to go with his deep faith. He shared an illustration from the movie Saving Private Ryan that turns out to be the perfect bridge between Memorial Day and the idea of living a life-charged life.
The movie, based on a true account from WW2, picks up private Ryan’s story after his three brothers are all killed in action. Six soldiers are commissioned to find Private Ryan and to bring him safely away from the front lines. Eventually Ryan is saved, but five men die in the effort.
Later, toward the end of his life, Private Ryan visits the grave site in Northern France. He looks at the names of the five soldiers who died so that he could live and he asks his wife the following question (paraphrased). “Am I a good man? Has my life honored the sacrifice of those who died?”
LIVE LIKE WE MEAN IT: Of course it’s a question we can all ask on a day like Memorial Day. “”Does my life honor the cost of those who gave everything to secure my freedom?”
Or, thinking about faith, “How could I do anything other than live with passion and purpose in response to what Jesus has done for me?”
Living like we mean it is the least we can do. It can also be the most we can do. Regardless, it is the best that we can do.
Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. – John 10
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! (John 3:16-17)
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Live the truth of the Gospel of love!
SEXISM: This week I’ve been thinking about the progress our culture had made over the past few decades regarding justice, and in particular the role of women both inside and outside of the home.
In many ways there is a lot to cheer about. But at the same time I’m concerned because I still see so much chauvinism and inequality in places that hold the affections and guide the lives of people who really should know better.
First, I don’t believe the “glass ceiling” has been shattered or removed so much as adjusted – maybe raised a little in a few places.
Then, disturbingly, there’s an active moving backward in much of fundamentalist religion that isn’t content to simply devalue women at church; it reaches to the core of society via adherents’ influence in families, businesses, civic organizations and politics.
STORY: One reason this is on my mind is a story I’ve been working on this week. It’s about a woman called to ministry in her mid-40′s. She told me about an abusive church environment (she and her husband eventually left) that imposed subservience on women rather than inviting discipleship. Her experience laid the groundwork for a distorted image of God that was negative, restrictive, and chauvinistic.
Eventually she learned the truth about love and grace and was able to hear God’s call to ministry. One of her key motivations now is to serve Jesus in such a way that people are introduced to the God who is invitational and permission giving rather than the image presented in the trappings of chauvinism, condemnation, and fear.
Unfortunately, many churches still nurture an ethos that both marginalizes women and encourages men to stake out an authority (read “domination”) both at church and at home that is anything but equal or Christ-like.
LANGUAGE: As a writer, I pay attention to language. Recently I’ve been shocked to note what seems like a widespread reversion to the sexist phrasings of yesteryear. I hear it on television (commercials and shows), on the radio, in conversation, and especially in religion. Gender-exclusive language does exactly that – it excludes women. And exclusive language is so easy to avoid that there’s really no excuse for anyone to use it after all these years – unless they really do intend to make a point about women.
Here’s one example. I clicked on the website of one of the largest churches in town, and this is just a small sample of what you get under, “What we believe.”
The Bible… was written by MEN who were divinely inspired. It is God’s revelation of Himself to MAN…
The Holy Spirit… He enables MEN to understand God’s truth…
Mankind… MAN was created by the special act of God… In the beginningMAN was innocent… By his free choice, MAN sinned against God… By his nature MAN is sinful… Only the grace of God can bring MAN back into a relationship with God.
The words we listen to and the phrases we speak help to structure the way that we think; the way we think affects the content of our consciousness; the architecture of our consciousness/cognition plays out in the way that we formulate ideas…and believe… and act… and impact the world… and raise our children….
CULTURE: In these kinds of religious institutions a mindset has evolved (it’s the product of decades and in some cases centuries) that has somehow engrafted the values, priorities, prejudices, and closed-mindedness of a historically male-centric culture onto to the values and priorities of God. It has made the small-mindedness of just a few people interchangeable with the character of God.
Yet the Bible is full of examples of God using women to lead God’s people, from the judge Deborah to many of the key players in the early church (including Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia, Phoebe and Philip’s daughters…).
And the biblical narrative is the ongoing story of God demonstrating to human beings that God’s way – eventually Christ’s New and Living Way – invites everyone (slave and free, Greek and Jew, male and female) into a full expression of Kingdom life (in which gender has absolutely nothing to do with the way we experience grace and love and redemption and more)….
And the radical thrust of the ministry of Jesus was always to overturn the artificial barriers we like to create between ourselves – all of the “isms.”
GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THIS: God has always surprised men and women by moving outside and beyond the restrictions and the limitations we chose to impose in order to protect our preferred order of things.
To proclaim Christ with one hand and to willfully restrict the role of women with the other is an epic contradiction! Yet such chauvinism is a central practice in both this nation’s largest protestant denomination (the Southern Baptist Church) and the world’s dominant Christian faith (Roman Catholic) – as well as many other denominations.
God is so much bigger than our limitations
THE RADICAL GOSPEL! If the church is going to position itself in this 21st Century as the conduit for the Gospel, speaking life-charged truth into this broken world, then it has got to move beyond these worn-out positions of exclusion and bigotry. God is so much more creative and life-affirming than a name used to prop up such small, intellectually stunted and culturally rooted inventions as, “We’re men, so we should be in charge.”