(Disclaimer: The following post in no way seeks emotional therapy for the writer. This blog is not intended to function as the shrink’s couch. There is something wrong with the OTHER people described here. Not the writer. And the writer is not confused about it.)
Those who know me very well know I PREFER to be “biblical” – in fact, I am quite conservative about it and prefer to be strictly biblical – about the things I preach and espouse. Bible interpretation and submitting one’s life to Jesus are both done best (I believe) when we seek God’s word first, foremost, and entirely. Though it is a discipline that takes time and perhaps is never really exhausted over the course of a lifetime, the fruit of following the Bible and of letting the Bible interpret the Bible is always more exciting than what you think about it, and the depths that open up are far richer and deeper when viewed through this lens than through the lens offered by farmer Brown, mechanic Mike, or even systematic theology.
Nevertheless, either through limitations of this method or limitations of discipline in those who seek it, sometimes these lesser preferred lenses still manage to illuminate or maybe help open up our imagination. Today’s post is like that for me. And though these opening paragraphs will stand behind everything else I have to say, they have nothing to contribute directly to it. But I want to make clear that I am just speaking from my heart today. And the things said here are not necessarily founded on God’s Word (perhaps in the tradition established by Paul in I Corinthians 7).
Have You Ever Been In Love?
How did you know?
(This is a theme – even a question – often repeated and repeatedly pondered in many a television drama or sitcom over the course of my life. And the answer??? …drum roll please… “You just know.”)
How do you know? What are the signs? Is there a specific set of signs, like a universal check list?
I don’t think so. But there is a flush of feelings, of emotion, that make you want to “be with” that other person. Like the song says (and I am not a fan, btw), “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?”
Is this “love” the REAL THING?
Well, maybe; maybe not. Some marriages start with two sixteen-year-old kids sharing a feeling like this and last well past the seventieth anniversary. Some. Actually, just a few. Statistically speaking, this experience is neither necessary nor sufficient, and by itself surely does not constitute the REAL THING. Yet somehow it nevertheless seems important to those who share it and to nearly every country music song writer and all those legions of fans (soft rock/easy listening too).
I happen to believe it is an important feature of life in God’s creation. It is not the full measure of AGAPE. No. But when God made you, he intended for you to be HUMAN. (Not that you currently are, strictly speaking, fully human, but it is what God intended.) And he made humans sexual ((male and female) not in itself unique to humanity) AND to thus bear God’s image in the world.
It is far too easy, in today’s terms, to objectify the woman (or the man) and thus the sex. These male and female partners were not simply jigsaw puzzle pieces fitted together in erotic ecstacy, though that be a central feature of the creature(s), but they were made ONE.
HEAR O ISRAEL, YHWH God is ONE
And you shall LOVE YHWH God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your strength.
At the risk of being biblical here, I am saying sex is a GIFT from God. But I am saying far more than that phrase suggests in a modern social atmosphere. The idea that sex is a GIFT from God is not meant as a badly needed corrective against post-Victorian prudence (though that is involved), it is to say that God wants to be seen and celebrated by the whole of creation, and that happens in THIS CREATURE when THIS CREATURE becomes ONE in sexual glory.
It’s enough to cause the birds to suddenly appear when you are near!
Isaiah says that at the sight of God amid his creation the mountains bow low, the valleys stand up at attention, the crooked places straighten out, and the rough places become smooth! It’s got all the innuendo of a bad country song, but it’s actually HOLY beyond compare – meaning we have been taking the image of God in vain and we should really repent! Yes! God’s sex is mountain-moving LOVE – full of trust, faith, fidelity, of celebration not just of beauty, but of vulnerability. God’s peace – SHALOM – is had when this harmonious connection is made and the world SEES God.
Let me ask again:
Ever been in love?
Yeah… my love life has been missing something too.
I remember once (actually more than once, but one time I got such clarity, so I will recall that one time in particular) I dated a female for a few months and got really excited about her. The more time I spent with her, the more excited I got. And every step of the way, I revealed a little more of my heart to her and she responded in kind.
Did she smile every time I entered the room?
Yes. She did.
Was that necessary or sufficient?
No. But it was an important cue. I was being celebrated by her practically every minute of the day. I would go to work, and when I got off, she would invite me to eat with her. I found she prepared meals – extensive preparations. We would talk and share dreams and plans. We hosted parties with others too, and joined others often as a couple. A lot of DOTING happened a LOT of the time. And when we were apart, I carried a photo of her, and from time to time I could glance at it and just feel her love for me and wonder what she was cooking up for our next meeting.
This went on for months. I began to think “She is THE ONE” since I dared not share this with another and since it seemed she reciprocated my feelings and since these feelings and celebratory acts just kept growing and deepening with time.
But then one day there was this little click. A glitch. I suddenly didn’t get the smile when I entered the room. Not that it was necessary or sufficient, but in the scheme of things it was like a fly in the ointment. I noticed. I didn’t want to be a namby pamby baby about it, after all, it’s not likely two people will sustain such a rich attitude day-in/day-out for months and years on end without a hitch in the giddy up. But it happened the next day too, and then the next.
I felt the erosion in the happy vibe building. One slight after another. We still went through the motions of the over all picture – I still came to eat, she still prepared a meal, and we still went out with friends who as of yet could not see a problem. But I was feeling it. Suddenly my jokes just weren’t really funny anymore. Suddenly the birds were not appearing when I came near. My feelings had not changed, but it was becoming more clear to me all the time (in this shared vulnerability we had going on) that the gears had become somewhat disengaged.
About two weeks later, shortly after one of the big parties we had planned was over with, I spoke to her bluntly about it. It felt like I was nit picking because my complaint was that she didn’t smile when I came around, and I feared that just saying that would make me out to be a jerk. But I forced the issue, and though she resisted my inquiry at first, it soon came out that she was having second thoughts about me. And after that was established, it became clear that in fact she really didn’t like my nasally laugh (or something like that).
It took about fifteen minutes of this conversation, and though I felt enormous grief welling up inside of me, I could also see that our shared celebration was over. I was mature enough to call it like it was, and we ended our little “relationship” just like that. Civil, but over. And I walked out only seeing her maybe three or four more times ever.
Wow! Glad we didn’t get married!!! Just imagine coming to that realization five years, 2.6 kids, a mortgage, and 3 credit cards later.
No. Wait. Most of you don’t have to imagine it. You are surviving it.
Was I really being nit picky?
I don’t think so.
I think I was getting real.
I still don’t know what clicked for her. I really doubt it was my nasally laugh (not actually my thing), but somehow or other she decided I didn’t fit her dream. Maybe I didn’t have a good enough career. Maybe my ideas about Jesus were just a bit too extreme for her. Maybe she was just that flaky, and it took several months for that to surface. I don’t know. All I know is that the thrill was gone, and despite her willingness to rock along as if we were still celebrating each other when in fact we were not, that now I had the information I needed to make conscious decisions about our continued involvement with each other.
At the risk of being biblical (again), this is what I see in Jesus’s statement to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:44, “…you gave me no water for my feet…”.
There is a lot going on in that passage, but this one statement amid all the others captures and includes the same dramatic plot twist I describe in my own love life. Simon was not LOVING Jesus when he invited Jesus to his party; he was tolerating him (and there is a difference).
Yes, Jesus was included in the party, but he was treated as a second-class prophet/messiah. Simon, a leader among God’s people, allowed Jesus to come in and party with him and his other honored guests, and that has all the ear-marks of a right relationship to the disinterested eye. But if Jesus really represents God in this party, then he is the ONE above all others who should be honored here. Yet, Jesus points out that he didn’t even get the customary foot-washing afforded other guests. (Effectively, Simon didn’t smile when Jesus came in the room. And God noticed.)
As I said, there is a lot more going on in that passage – way more than I have space to explore here. But we should not miss the fact that this tramp comes in and celebrates Jesus in Simon’s place for all she is worth (which ain’t much!). And Jesus points her out to Simon. As if she needed pointed out! But where Simon sees a tramp, Jesus claims she is a WOMAN. And this casts new light on Simon’s inner thoughts about Jesus too where he thought “If this man were a prophet…” (v. 39). Simon isn’t loving Jesus; he tolerates him, but he doesn’t love him. And if he had, he would have washed Jesus’s feet! And if he REALLY knew who Jesus REALLY was, he would have washed Jesus’s feet with his tears AND set a place at the table for the WOMAN too.
I AM UNWANTED AT CHURCH
I have been knowing this for a few years now.
I have been calling it out for what it is too. But think about it again a moment.
Church. It’s a helluva place to be unwanted.
I am tolerated there, but not wanted. I don’t FEEL the LOVE.
The congregation where I have membership puts on an excellent song service every Sunday. I don’t believe any (except possibly one) of the musicians are paid staff, but they bring a professional performance every time! AND EVERY SUNDAY, the band leader makes a poetic effort to welcome worshippers to our flock.
The preaching is well done too. Our preacher is not exactly a rock star preacher, but he is a preacher teacher! And he is very skilled at his craft, very biblically sound, and frequently amazing. And he does an excellent job of extending the message of welcome, of love, of grace and forgiveness.
And the church’s mission statement is painted on the wall high above the great hall in massive bold letters which read: LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS. And the walls are covered in notifications of dozens of ministry opportunities this church is involved with all over town and around the world, and the boasts of all the missions we support financially and otherwise. All of these things have the earmarks of the LOVE somehow denied me.
The congregation is made up almost entirely of white, middle-class and professional people. The parking lot is full of Cadillacs, Lexus, Corvette, Hummer, Lincoln, and other fine and luxury automobiles. But nary a homeless person in sight. And I am shunned for pointing this stuff out.
One of our ministers operates a coffee shop which sends most of its profits to a homeless ministry across town, and it’s hard to speak against this. After all, what is wrong with sending profits from coffee to a homeless ministry across town? Isn’t that a good thing? Saying anything against it feels… well… nit picky.
And I agree it is. In fact, I am not against it at all. I can easily imagine that is the thin extra layer of LOVE in God’s creation alright.
But what if it’s a front? What if it’s a diversionary tactic? What if under the surface of this supposed kindness, the real function is to keep homeless people across town and out of our assembly? Where is the HOSPITALITY in that? What if it’s pretty good at performing this function? Is it even mere tolerance then???
And if I ain’t FEELING the LOVE, and if the homeless are subtly diverted away so that they don’t get the opportunity to be LOVEd, then how do you think Jesus feels?
And this is a truly prophetic question, because when God sent Hosea to marry a whore and LOVE her, Hosea suddenly got a FEEL for what it’s like to be God in this relationship. And those with the ears to hear and the eyes to see it can find the true conviction in it.
Unwanted in church?
Yeah. A helluva place to be unwanted.