Monday, March 23, 2009
have you ever had a moment in your life that feels so real and powerful, but when you weigh it against all logic and good sense you can't decide whether to discard it altogether or completely change your life?
i had one of those moments about a month ago. in the middle of my desert, the god who knows me sent me to a funny place to experience something a little ridiculous that defies all reason. the skeptic in me arches an inner-eyebrow every time i remember it. but the believer at the core of my self can't get it out of her mind.
i spent my valentine's day in a low income housing project for people who had recently come out of homelessness making cards and cinnamon rolls for the residents. we decorated a room in the complex with red and pink streamers and brought enough breakfast for twenty plus. as the residents slowly came and joined us, we each paired off with one person and tried to show these people the love we believe they deserve.
one man in particular arrived in a motorized wheelchair. the coordinator of the project smiled and nodded knowingly, marking his arrival (or distinction--i'm not quite sure). he was very nicely dressed, though his clothing appeared well-worn. he wore a peculiar white new jersey style hat that made him stand out from the rest.
two of the girls i came with approached him and began to welcome him to our party. as he opened his grinning mouth to speak, i could hear from across the room a pronounced speech impediment causing his words to sound indistinct and mushy. this did not seem to deter him, however. he gladly accepted their company and chatted willingly.
a few minutes pass, and i begin to notice a small crowd of our volunteers gathering around his chair. he smiles and looks at each of them individually, as if telling them something intensely personal about their lives. to be perfectly honest, i am very much annoyed at this. other guests have been abandoned in order to speak to this one man, and i am doing double duty with our guests.
though i am across the room, i suddenly feel an intense gaze upon me. i glance up; i see the man in the dapper hat and motorized chair staring at me intently, wordlessly. my eyes lock with his for a brief moment, and a look that is something like fear or surprise or disgust or discomfort crosses my face. he lifts a single finger and points at me for what feels like an eternity.
i am seriously weirded out.
he turns to one of the girls near him, finger still raised in my direction, and tells her something that i cannot make out from my vantage point. he looks at me one more time, finger shaking feverishly in the air in my direction.
do you know what he told her as he locked his eyes to mine?
"tell her that god has set her apart. tell her that she has the gift of teaching, and that god has chosen her to teach his word for his glory. tell her these things."
what do you even do with something like that? what are you supposed to make of something so mind-numbingly absurd?
how did he know that at the very core of my being, i've known for quite some time that above all else, i am called to teach the word? how did he know that i have always felt closest to god when studying the bible in order to teach it to others? how did he know that my deepest desire is to use that gift in order to help others know christ in a more real, relevant way?
this is why i write. this is why i read. this is why i lead small group after small group and get giddy after any time i get to talk about scripture (in the nerdiest way possible.)
how did he know?
i'm a skeptic through and through. i need proof. i need logic. i need reason. if anyone else were to tell me this story, i would roll my eyes or smile and nod condescendingly.
but, really, how did he know?
lord, i believe. help my unbelief.
Monday, March 9, 2009
i'm just going to be up front with you. i have an very intense interest in--sometimes bordering on moderate obsession with--judaism.
my sophomore year, i signed up for a course called "the bible as literature," only to walk in to class on the first day to discover my professor wearing a yamulke. learning the old testament (or, as he would heatedly say, the hebrew scriptures) from a practicing orthodox jew was one of the most eye opening experiences of my college career, and i think that i really learned more about the bible from this course than from most every sunday school class i had ever been a part of. it was so interesting, and on some level important, to see how other cultures attach different meaning to texts that i have studied my whole life. now, i crave jewish perspective at almost every point of debate.
this semester, i am in a class that is simply called "jewish literature," and it is right up my alley. we started with the tanakh (another word for what we know as the old testament) and have moved into the talmudic writings.
and do you ever just have one of those moments when you study something, or read something, or discover something, and you just feel like you were meant to know whatever it is you now know? i have those sort of moments all the time while reading the talmud. gleaning from the wisdom of these rabbis is humbling and exciting and awe-inspiring. it feels like the surprise that comes when you visit a nursing home with much anxiety only to discover the life-changing wisdom of an elderly man or woman there.
so, i'd like to share and retell some of my favorite passages. because they are beautiful, and true.
the earth is the lord's. said hanina b. papa: whoever enjoys anything in this world without offering a benediction, it is as though he has robbed the holy one, praised be he, and the community of israel [since the community is diminished through the sin of it's constituent individuals].
may it be your will, o lord our god, that we sin not.
[rabbis hamnuna & alexandre are said to have prayed]: sovereign of all worlds, it is revealed and known to you that we would like to act according to your will, but what prevents us? negative passions, and the oppression of worldly powers. may it be your will to save us from the grip of their power.
[may i never] pronounce what is unclean to be clean, or what is clean, unclean.
the school of yannai said: when is person wakes from sleep he should say: be praised, o lord, who revives the dead.
do not cause us to be dependent on the gifts of mortals, and may our livelihood not depend on creatures of flesh and blood...may our portion be in the study of your torah.
a favorite saying often repeated by rava was: the goal of wisdom is penitence and good deeds, so that a person should not study bible and talmud and then be disrespectful to his father and mother.
praised be he who is patient with those who act against his will.
mishnah 9:5 says, "a person is obligated to praise god for evil as well as for good. thus it is writte, 'and you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.' with all your heart refers to both impulses, the good and the evil one; with all your soul means even if he takes your soul [your life]; with all your might means with all your possessions. another explanation for with all your might: no matter what treatment he [measures] out to you."
the rabbis tell a story of a fox who swims into a river and notices all the fish fleeing from nets purposed to catch them. the fox, seeing their dilemma, says to them, "fish, come join me on the land. the nets can not catch you there!" the fish reject his counsel, saying, "you are not clever--you are a fool! though our natural habitat is dangerous, to be out of the water onto the land is death." thus, it is the same for those who continue to study the torah even when they experience persectution and their lives are threatened--for though continuing to study the torah is dangerous, to not study the torah is death.
said rabbi tanhum:...if a person who recites the shema each morning and evening should not recite it one evening, it will seem to him as though he never recited it.
[rabbi hillel said], "if i am not for myself, then who will be? and if i am only for myself, then who am i? if not now, when?"
the rabbis tell the story of a man who was intent on angering hillel, a jewish elder known for his patience. the man approaches hillel with a question, and asks hillel to teach him the entire torah while he stands on one foot. hillel responds, "that which is hateful to you, do not do to others. the rest is commentary; go now and study."
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
i wish i had what i needed
to be on my own
'cause i feel so defeated;
and i'm feeling alone
yeah, who am i? just a kid who knows he's needy.
i've been thinking a lot about grace lately.
maybe that statement isn't entirely true--if i were to be perfectly transparent with you (and one of my greatest hopes is that i can always be transparent), i would tell you that i've been avoiding thinking about god at all lately. as i explained it to one of my best friends the other day, god and i haven't exactly been on the best of terms.
that's pretty darn humbling to admit, much less out loud. let me tell you.
it's incredibly humbling to go from a place where you feel like you've conquered ridiculous mountains in jesus' name and proved victorious in the hardest of situations to just feeling like a defeated little girl whose desires are way out of whack.
which leads me back to today, and back to grace (because, in the end, i guess everything leads back to grace).
one year ago today, lauren lewis passed away in a car accident. today has been a significant, different day. one that i never could have prepared for, no matter how much i analyzed it or thought about it or worried about it or planned for it or even panicked about it. overall, it was a pretty quiet day. a beautiful, quiet day.
for months, i grieved beautifully. i was desparate and clinging to the feet of jesus. the pain and suffering of losing her only magnified my view of who god is, what jesus' sacrifice meant in my life, and the authentic impact love can make. subconciously or secretly, i considered myself an expert on authentic christian grief.
and then, a new season of grief entered with the winter cold, and i didn't know what to do with it or myself. i was just so tired. i was tired of fighting. i was tired of being broken. i was tired of being desperate. i was tired of always handling things well. i was and am tired. very, very tired.
so, i checked out.
and i have learned a lot through this.
i have truly learned that i am a broken, screwed up human being who has nothing to offer apart from christ. and i'm not just saying that marginally, or because it is what we as christians have learned to say. i really, really mean it--authentically, transparently, and in a lot of ways, it's a ridiculously embarrassing statement to make.
but, oddly enough, i have learned something that is even bigger and weirder than that. i have seen god following after me in really strange ways. giving me scripture and music that meets me where i am, whether or not i accept it. giving me friendships that i in no way deserve (trust me). even giving me back memories of lauren that i had thought i had lost and walking with me even when i didn't (and don't) realize it.
and i just look at my life, and ask myself, is this what grace looks like?
because this grace is scandalous, and it doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and it fails at every cost-benefit analysis it could ever be subjected to. it's a silly, foolish concept.
but it remains, like the oceans or humidity in southeast texas or my mom's desire to know exactly what is going on in my life. it sticks around and is at times annoying in its persistence.
and though i try to tune it out, it says something to me like
i love you
i'm not leaving you
i'm not disappointed in you
i'm here to help
even if you don't trust me anymore
even if you don't have faith in me anymore
i still have faith in you
and so i'll stay here
and keep loving you
even if you don't love me back
and this is definitely not the message i would expect to hear. i don't really know what to make of this sort of message; this sort of grace.
and i wish i could end this contemplation with all of the ends tied up, but that is very rarely how i experience my life. i'm not neat and i'm not tidy. i'm so far from perfect it's profoundly embarrassing.
but grace accepts me anyway? that's just bizarre.
let me know that you're near me
let me know your touch
let me know that you love me.
let that be enough.