Wednesday, March 14, 2007

UFC, dragons and the image of God

"When we place value (the only value) in the overcoming, or transcending, or triumph over these things, (struggles, difficulties, sufferings etc.) we empty them of their positive content and value. When it comes to people then, the victim is valued when they overcome their victimization, the addict is valued when they have triumph over their addiction or when they clean up and the "criminal" has value when they are delivered from their "deviance" and rehabilitated."

i think i hear what you are saying, hineini.

last summer, i was in a meeting where somebody made a statement that all they had had to do was pray and they were healed... that their faith had made them whole.

now, i have no problem with feeling this- i mean, it's even biblical.

however, feeling and articulating are two very different things. one must needs be careful with this kind of testimonial because of the message of hopelessness and failure that this kind of announcement indirectly puts out there for someone who is still struggling with and being overcome by something that is completely out of their control. to put it another way, the victim of an infirmity feels devalued as a person because of his or her inability to somehow slay this dragon and bring back a victory report to the crowd.

a friend of mine, an old 'saint' and one of the most faithful followers of Christ i know, had been struggling with major kidney failure and had been doing and receiving from others a heckuvalot of prayer- but was losing the battle. to make this glib 'mind over matter' kind of statement in his presence was to suggest that his faith was somehow not strong enough to overcome this physical ailment. what was intended to be a shout of victory for the encouragement of the masses within their own circumstance probably just rang out as hollow hopelessness for my friend. try to tell someone who has been praying against something for years to no resolution that 'God has no favorite children' and then listen to their side. there is this pervasive 'well why not ME then?' question begging for an answer- although my friend would never say this, i believe i might if i were in his place.

even beyond this, contrast western prosperity theology and all this 'child of the king' talk with war, hunger, starvation, disease, homelessness and natural disaster in any of the three or four worlds and see how well the rhetoric holds up to real life. i remember being rather stuck for an answer when a new friend of mine in sri lanka asked me point blank the first time we met:

"what do i tell the people of my village who have lost everything- family, friends, home, livelihood- to Tsunami? who is this God that i am to share with them?"
(rev david gunasari)

d'uh... good question.

journeys down 'alleyways of strife' have and always will be things of beauty... but not the comfortable, renaissance, dayglo psychadelic or off-in-a-field-somewhere-with-the-archbishop-of-canterbury kind of beauty... the kind of wild, action-painter beauty of jackson pollock paintings, bearing upon them the scars of the creative battle itself; the beauty of jacob's walk after his all-night UFC bout with an angel of God; the beauty of my friend rev david's angry resolve to hold tightly to his faith in an invisible God- the only thing in his life that wasn't destroyed by the disaster that destroyed his village and killed many of his family and friends.

there are very few things as inspiring to me as seeing the faith of one who is fighting an ongoing battle with something and refuses to relent on either the battle or the faith that brings greater strength to contend.

i find great inspiration in the white-knuckling of faith in the face of all manner of opposition. job's refusal to accept the advice of his wife to just 'curse God and die' makes him already victorious- but not in the manner of the 'colonial triumphalism' described above, which seems to be a 'fought the good fight, ran the good race' kinda thing.

in my view, job's 'victory' is an ongoing one of day to day conviction and plain perseverence- not in naivete but in hard-nosed faithfulness. rather than being the opiate of the people, faith for people like job and my friend is adrenaline, enabling them the supernatural strength to somehow do things that they really shouldn't be able to do.

but i don't think that any of this is what hineini is saying.
what i take from hineini's comment above is a challenge...

i am being challenged to find inspiration in the life lived in desperation, struggle and strain; the life lived to ultimate 'failure' in these Victory in Jesus terms; the life lived to bear testimony to the love and lifebreath of God simply because it is a human life, and being such bears the truth, the dignity and the opportunity to enlighten that is the very image of God.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

TGWU (baggage handlers' union)

some good questions:
1)why is unencumbered good again? (hineini)

wow- well posed. i think that hineini's question above is really strongly related to societyVS' one below:

2) Outlive a painful experience, interesting. Like as in 'forget about it' or 'deal with it'? (societyVS)

both of these questions have been going round and round in my head the last couple days for reasons that have nothing to do with blogging, and the more i think about them, the more i wonder if, in fact, unencumbered is necessarily a good thing. i mean, it probably depends on what we mean by unencumbered.

here's what set me off. last night a mom showed up at our small wednesday night prayer group and shared some desperate pain with everyone there (it was a small meeting compared to some- only about 10 people) concerning her angry young daughter's journey into extreme sports self destructive decision making.

at this gathering was a guy who had been absent from our fellowship for about 8 months. having been admitted to the hospital for day surgery back in july, he had contracted an infection which had brought about excruciating pain that had to be treated eventually with morphine which triggered his cocaine addiction and caused him to basically fall off the edge of the world, spiralling downward for literally months. he was completely unreachable and, at times, even untraceable until the disease finally remitted and he came to at one of the local rescue missions where he now lives, having sold everything he owned for drugs.

so he didn't know this mom or her daughter at all, having been seriously 'out of the loop' per se. he sat quietly listening, drinking in the whole story. when he spoke, however, it wasn't to recount his own experiences or personal regrets, providing glib testimonial to the fact that hope was not completely out of reach because any one can change blah blah blah. he instead shared his duaghter's story which, for all intents and purposes, was very similar to the story just shared.

suddenly the conversation was between two people who knew what they were talking about. the rest of the group bore witness to it all, but listened in silence. the true healing that took place there (obviously in small measure, considering the tragic tales being exchanged) was in the basic sharing of common pain.

unencumbered? hmm. i'm not sure that one completely unencumbered would have been much use at that meeting. it was an enactment of God's mercy and grace that, on this particular evening and in spite of the bad weather and the multiple bus transfers that were needed to be worked through in order for my friend to come to the prayer group, he was there as the one completely empathically understanding set of ears in the room. reminds me a lot of the kind of environment that societyVS describes in some of his earlier comments. the writer of acts concurs, as does the apostle paul in what he extols the baby church to become in 2 cor 1.1-11 (which had been my chosen devotional text for the evening, having no idea what was about to happen.)

so if living unencumbered means somehow glibly denying that this or that abuse happened again and again and no one seemed to be listening, or winking at the moral failure of one in a position of authority, or otherwise just running from reality because it hurts then what's the point? but if, when we speak of living unencumbered, we mean somehow outliving (surviving) truths that would enslave or negatively redefine us- and using the freedom that follows to inform our journey as we walk alongside of others in community and support, then i'm in.

That there- thats not me
I go where I please
I walk through walls
I float down the liffey
Im not here
This isnt happening
Im not here
Im not here

In a little while Ill be gone
The moments already passed
Yeah its gone
And Im not here
This isnt happening
Im not here
Im not here

Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
Im not here
This isnt happening
Im not here
Im not here

(thom yorke, circa 2000)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

uninformed and unaffected

"I can say for a fact 'the truth sets me free' - in the sense that I see clearly my faults and human weaknesses - and I go through the valley of death/pain - just to get to the point where I accept that truth and then deal with it honestly and sincerely" (societyVS)

so here's the thing. i'm out for breakfast with this guy and he's talking to me about this bible study that he is beginning to attend. the group is studying the book of romans and he is just really loving the time that is being spent in the scriptures and how much he's learning from it all.

after listening for a bit, i ask
'what part of romans do you like the most?'

i know, i know... dumb question. it's a totally heavy book which doesn't really fit into 'like/dislike' thinking. it's full of really strong counsel on how to live life as a follower of Christ.

anyway, he begins to quote romans 12 really really fast...

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

what makes this all rather tough for me is that there are many aspects of the life being lived that directly contradict this memorized and recited moral soundbyte. we have spoken of so many things, but all i can think of is that once again these scriptural words are being quoted from one whose life continues to exist uninformed and even unaffected by them.

honesty and truth must go together. it's not the loving of truth that bears the fruit of freedom, it's the living of it.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007


"Nothing wrong with the truth
when the truth can set us free"

hmmm. what if that truth doesn't set us free? what if that truth actually imprisons us in a causality cage where we are sentenced to live in a box with the consequences of our actions/decisions?

how's that truth feel? is that freedom?

a friend of mine is living there now... and yet would argue that he is experiencing the first actual freedom he's had in years. there's something amazingly liberating about no longer having to check over your shoulder; no longer having to run from the facts that may yet overtake you; no longer having to remember the lies you've told to cover up the lies you've told.

mark twain had something to say about the virtue inherent in that of kind of truth.

i don't think that it is truth that is hard to work with in the classic adage (taken from a larger passage on cause, effect, integrity and identity in john 8.31-40 that is a crucial read) alluded to by societyVS...

it's this whole elusive notion of freedom.
words from the cell- YOU decide what freedom means:

I have not felt this "alive" for a very long time.
If my wife and closest friends were asked how I am doing
(and by the way, theyre reading this)
I would bet the farm that theyd say
"Torchie has really changed for the better. He went MIA but he has now been found. We have him back again!"
I am enjoying the freedom Jesus meant for me to have over [addictions, indiscretions] and the damning accusations that are associated with these. My freedom is a by-product of the rich satisfaction that comes from knowing and loving God. My knowledge of and love for God has been significantly influenced by a daily diet of Scripture and prayer as well as the encouragement and counsel of my wife and trusted friends.
Listen Everyone:


i rose above these sterile sheets
a cold sweat left behind
a departure from a living death
delivered just in time
the plot had thickened to the point
where there was little hope to see
the antagonist had raised his fist
no option was open to me

but for a deus ex machina
a god in the machine
an unexpected reversal comes about
like awakening from a bad dream
with the swing of the playwright's pen
life returns to me again
now the show can have a happy ending
by faith, for freedom's haste, the seasons change

it's never too late to whirl around
move the other way
i have seen mornings robbed of light
nights as bright as day
the future is changeable- the past is set
finally i understand
hardest to grasp is that circumstance
is successfully countermand

by deus ex machina
God in the machine
an unexpected reversal comes about
like awakening from a bad dream
with the swing of the playwright's pen
life returns to me again
now the show can have a happy ending
by faith, for freedom's haste, the seasons change

by faith, for freedom's haste, the seasons change

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