Archive for October, 2002
Both those readings make my skin crawl a little—Paul with his comfortable hierarchies and Luke with his tough message to try, try, and try again to enter the kingdom even though you’ll likely as not fail.
Like I said they both upset me. I don’t believe anyone has a fixed station in life they have to put up with. And I don’t believe God closes the door on anyone who asks entry.
But, truth be told, my discomfort comes in part because both those positions—however much I protest—hold a disturbing attraction for me. If the world were static and the place we were born to were fixed I wouldn’t have to bother my head about justice, about fair pay, about women’s ordination, about gay adoption. I could let it all be. But we’ve seen the world change, witnessed it, and what we know that Paul never could have grasped is that the whole order of things is up for grabs—we decide it even as it decides us.
Same with God the doorkeeper. Part of me would be very happy knowing that God has standards—high standards too—it’s the part of me that would look down on any club that would have me as a member. They say the angels fell over that. That when God let them in on the plan to take flesh and become human they couldn’t bear the thought, couldn’t stand to see God so embarrassed, couldn’t stomach God turning the natural order so far upside down. Better to reign in hell than rub shoulders with animals on two legs. … I guess I want standards too. I guess I find it hard to believe that I don’t have to try and try and likely fail. I guess I’d rather fail than lay down the burden and let myself be loved. Because I guess it does come down to love and loving and being loved.
Isn’t it sad? All the running we do, all the hiding, all the reaching after emptiness—when we could be resting in the great wide open arms of love.
October 30th, 2002
Signs are funny things, rarely straightforward, often misread. Road signs we can manage: once you’ve learned the code you’ve only yourself to blame if you get them wrong. “Well, officer, I thought that meant I had to go over 30 miles an hour.” But try reading the human signs in a relationship and you know how much comes down to interpretation and how much space there is for getting it wrong.
Jesus seems to reckon that reading the spiritual signs of the kingdom is as easy as reading the natural signs of the weather. “Red sky at night: shepherd’s delight,” we say. But when was the last time that was right? … Maybe he’s got it spot on: maybe the signs of the times are exactly as fallible as our weather forecasting.
But I don’t believe so … there’s a middle way, and it’s a way you discover and develop on retreat. What is our prayer but a web of signs? We read the signs of words in scripture, we interpret the signs of our lives, we fashion a house of signs in our imagination and walk there with Jesus, talk to him, bear his touch. The weaving of that web is an experience of God, or at least it might be, it could be, but don’t we find ourselves always pulled in different directions, with different interpretations fighting for our hearts? “God loves me” on one hand and “I am worthless” on the other. Peace and light and life versus turmoil, darkness, misery. Which verdict are we to believe? The signs of our life can be read in two very different ways and sometimes—especially on retreat—we struggle to sort them out. But ultimately the key to all signs, the touchstone of discernment, is this: God is a God of peace and light and life. Of goodness and blessing, of hope and ease. A God of love. And we are made in God’s image and likeness. Signs.
October 25th, 2002
This promise is immense. All the food you can eat—and not just to fill you but to fascinate you with flavours; wine to intoxicate and delight and lift the heart; oh, and the utter defeat of death and ruin’s rout; the end of pain and decay; the passing of shame, of fear, of loss. And all this … for all. For friend and foe; for lover and orphan; for those we have lost and those we have never found. Ancient and modern. Far and wide. The party couldn’t be complete without them, without every soul of every nation and every age. And they’re coming. Walking, running, dancing. Coming. And in among them—as surely as already there to greet them and welcome them home—the one they have known and loved, each in their way—their God, our God, God in as many shapes as souls have stories. This is the bash of the century, any century, all centuries; the party to end all parties.
But when? … And where?
Here and now—or sometime, someplace, very like it. The invitation comes to ordinary people doing ordinary things. Hard at their ordinary work or daydreaming down the road or watching videos with ice-cream melting in the bowl. In twos and threes, look at them, creating, talking, speaking. Around a table passing time, passing salt. Laughing, listening, crying, sighing—breathing our best. Crossing the road, or opening the door, or sitting like this in a circle, one with another, waiting for a final guest to make the meal complete.
He is here already. Always. Now. Taking the place we leave for him in plate and cup, in lips and heart. Familiar and fascinating and easily overlooked. Guest and host and gift.
He is here. He is most truly here.
October 13th, 2002
This afternoon the director of this place asked me for a few moments of my time. Now maybe this is just me but my first thought was “what have I done wrong?” Not, as it turned out, “please could you get me out of this double-booking Rob?” But “you’re not keeping up to standards”. Isn’t that strange? I hate to parade my pathology before you but I was amazed at myself and amazed at how much I remain a creature of the Law. Because that’s what Paul is coming in so hard and heavy against the Galatians about. They have abandoned the good news of salvation for another set of standards they can’t help but fail to meet. Because if the gospel is to be good news for us it has to lift the burden off our shoulders and not lay it on heavier than ever.
The good news is that, whatever we might be tempted to think, the standards are gone, the Law is dead. If we are in Christ we cannot be condemned—even by ourselves…
So how does Jesus answer people like me—and like the lawyer—who are eager to justify themselves? He tells a story to confuse us: a story in which all the standards are dropped. The baddies are the poor buggers who have made a living out of the Law, out of being law-abiding themselves and policing others lives as well. And the hero is someone who, by the law’s standard doesn’t stand a chance—is ruled out of court before he starts. The Samaritan stands for all of us who fail to live the Law, fail to live lives of honour and holiness, fail to be good citizens, good fathers, mothers, children, priests. The Samaritan is Hitler, is Saddam Hussein, is George Bush or Tony Blair, is you and is me. It’s all about the company we like to keep. And it’s our choice—will we keep company with outlaws and crazies, will we claim kinship with the dirty, the damaged, and the depraved—or do we know our place too well, savour our goodness too much, do cling to our hope of doing better next time.
Wouldn’t it feel better to give up, to stop justifying our existence, wouldn’t it really be good news if we could take pity on ourselves and all the other poor failures too?
October 7th, 2002