Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The worst possible thing that could ever happen...has happened.
All your dreams, dashed!
All your hopes, faded...
You are young.
You are from a less than desirable community.
You are engaged.
You are madly in love with this man.
You are just learning things about the biology of your own body.
You are pregnant.
And the father of this baby? Not the man to whom you're engaged. Not the man to whom your dreams are joined at the hip.
You are going to have a baby and its not his baby.
Everyone's heard this story, this way so many times.
The poor, marginalized, unwed teen, pregnant with someone else's baby.
You've heard that story.
But can you imagine it?
All this weight and pressure on such young shoulders...
The worst possible thing that could ever happen...has happened.
This is the kind of thing that makes melodramatic writers pen words like "her greatest dreams became her worst nightmare."
But that's what happened.
If you were a teenage girl and you had these incredible dreams of love and escape...what worse thing could happen to you?
Pregnant and its not even the fiance's baby.
Put yourself in that dark bedroom on that fretful sleepless night.
He's going to leave. And he's going to do so with complete justification.
You know how guys are afraid of commitment (which is an unfair blanket statement, but gives lazy writers a good fall-back in a storyline) and now he's got an easy out!
There's a dream dashed.
And now you're the scandal of this already unfortunate region, Nazareth.
People are going to point, stare and talk about you behind your back.
The worst possible thing that could ever happen...has happened.
And as you lay there in tearful worry, fear and isolation...alone with you thoughts, suddenly you're alone no more...
A celestial, vaporish being shines in your darkness.
"Do not be afraid, Mary..."
The first words spoken tonight spoken not in desperate fear, telling you not to be afraid.
What paradoxical absurdity!
"Don't be afraid..."
Of your now shattered future?
Of this rising-sun-like apparition standing at the foot of your bed?
I mean, really?
Don't be afraid?
But then a warm piercing blade of peace penetrates your oppressive worry...
"Don't be afraid.."
A deep, clean breath releases into a calm exhaling of those age-inappropriate burdens.
"Breathe, little girl...its going to be okay..."
But wait! You're still pregnant! The worst possible thing that could ever happen...has happened. It STILL has happened.
"Deal with that, Angel-man!" you think...because you're still pregnant and its still not Joseph's kid!
Then the angel continues the ridiculous talk.
"... you have found favor with God."
Yes, this thing that has happened to you...this worst possible thing that could ever happen...is actually God showing you his FAVOR!
The Greek word the angel spoke to Mary: Charis.
Favor in English.
Charis in Greek.
Charis, a word translated many times in the New Testament as grace.
"Mary, God has shown you grace."
What Mary, in her current state, viewed as the worst thing that could ever happen to her...
What at that time in her history seemed to be the thing that robbed her of her dreams and future...
Was actually God showing grace (favor) to her and all creation.
It didn't really rob her of her dreams and future...it was actually the granting of Mary's, along with all creation, dreams and future.
It secured her place in history.
Where are you today?
What has happened that you would describe as the "worst thing that could ever happen?"
That thing, that tragedy, that theft of your dreams...could possibly be your loving, gentle, gracious Daddy showing you his favor, his charis, his grace.
What is the worst pain you've ever known, could be the changing of history for you, as well as all creation.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
That's what I've been convicted to do.
I've been hanging out with Jesus for the last 22 years, and for the last 22 years I've been in ministry.
I say "hanging out with Jesus" not to be irreverent or anything but because there's been times when (actually for almost all that time) I wasn't really about living and patterning my life after Jesus.
I used to be a "Christian" (religiously that was my identifier.)
And I went through times of being a "believer." I thought that was a really admirable thing. I was in and around a bunch churches that were all about faith.
"BELIEVE!!!" They would scream.
And I was "believing" Jesus.
I believed, but I wasn't doing anything with what I believed.
And I was okay with that. I sat on my big, fat, white booty and didn't DO jack!!
Then, there was the time I was a pretender.
I've moved in and out of this phase over the last couple decades.
This was those times when I really got a kick out of my titles.
I liked being called "Reverend."
I liked being called "Pastor."
I liked being called "Brotha Ollie."
(Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Jesus probably threw up a lot during those times as well.)
These were the times when I was just a pretentious, self-serving butt hole!
I don't like "labels." Labels limit us. Labels say, "this is who I am." Labels draw a line in the sand and say, "I'm with you, but only up to this point." (Does that make sense?)
But I labeled myself in these ways.
Labeled as a "Christian" I was just all about my religion.
Labeled as a "believer" I was just about my beliefs and opinions.
Labeled as a "pretender" (this is a.k.a.ed as being labeled as a "minister.") I was just about, well...being a butt hole.
I don't want those labels anymore...I don't want anything to limit me in my love for my Daddy or my loved for people.
But if I use a label now, that label is primarily "follower/lover." (I think these two words, when speaking of Jesus, are synonymous. Jesus was a lover and if we follow him and do what he did...we'll be loving. So, follower is lover in the way I see it.)
So my new label is Christ follower/lover. (And I'm pretty sure we're staying here for a while...)
With all these labels, I've approached a collection of books, writings, prophecies, rants and letters (commonly called the Bible) in different ways.
As a "Christian" I saw it as one big book and I wanted to read it so I could learn about my religion. I took the parts of this book I believed, the parts that I thought facilitated my religion and read those parts. I thought all of the bible was about being a Christian.
As a "believer" I saw this book as something I was supposed to believe. Again, I took the parts I believed, the parts that made my "faith" stronger and read these parts. I thought it was all just about making me a believer.
As a "pretender" I saw this book as something I was supposed to tell, preach or SHOVE down the throats of others. I didn't use these words to apply to MY LIFE, I used these words to apply to YOUR LIFE! I used the parts I agreed with to help me be, you guessed it, a butt hole.
With all my different labels, I used traditional, bible school taught methods of "bible study."
I studied topically. I would pick a topic and try to find everything the bible said about that topic.
Not bad...but often confusing.
I studied exhaustively by book. I would pick a book, letter, etc. and study through that section of scripture.
Not bad...but again, often confusing.
Either type of bible study would always take me to this lost place of forgetting the context of what I was reading and studying.
I would read some letter Paul wrote to people a few decades after Jesus died and apply it to today, without even considering Jesus in the equation.
Or I'd read some part of the ancient legal books and apply it to a current situation forgetting Jesus.
So this is where I am today. Right now.
This is where I am and if you're not feeling where I am...well, that's not for me to decide in your life. (Surprise! I'm not your Holy Spirit!)
I've been in a process of starting over for the last few years and its brought me to this place in studying the bible:
Start with Jesus. Not with his "words" as much as his LIFE.
I've learned from spending time in other countries and seeing translations of languages...what a WORD means to one culture isn't always the same as what the same word means to another culture. (For instance, the movie "Wild Hogs" when translated to Ukrainian, then back to English, became "Crazy Boars.")
And what words meant to society in one generation are very different from the meaning in another generation (i.e. being "gay" in the 1890s and being "gay" in the 1990s are slightly different).
So before I get too deep in the words Jesus spoke, I want to look at how he lived. How he acted. Who he hung out with, who made him angry, who made him comfortable.
I want to learn about how Jesus lived his life first, before I let Ollie's brain, in America in 2009, interpret his words.
Then through the lens of how Jesus lived his life...what words did he say?
I want to study Jesus words, taking into account how he lived. How he loved. Who he ate dinner with and who he chased out of a building.
Then, after studying Jesus' life and actions, after studying HIS words, I want to study the rest.
See, in my understanding, this compilation of books we call the bible is all about HIM. Why not learn him first?
The legal books at the start of the Old Testament show how much we'd have to do meet his standards. They remind us how inadequate we are without him. But when read through the lens of knowing how Jesus lived and the words he spoke, these books show me how much he loves. These books remind me not to show others judgment, but grace and mercy, because I'm as messed up as them.
The prophecy books are all about Jesus coming...reminding me my Daddy loves me so much, that Jesus was going to come to earth to fix my brokeness.
All the letters in the New Testament are about Jesus and living the life of love he lived.
I used to think "keeping things in context" was about just knowing the logistics of what I was reading. Who was being spoken to.
Where they were geographically.
How screwed up they were emotionally and spiritually.
But I'm beginning to think that is only a portion of understanding the context.
Maybe understanding the context is more about remembering who its all about...how he lived and what he said.
I think if I don't start over, there won't be any change in my life and how I live.
I think if I don't start over I'll know words but won't know life.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a religious Christian.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a lazy believer.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a pretentious butt hole.
And I don't want to be a butt hole.
The absence of hate does not equal love...
Friday, December 4, 2009
She embodies so much of what we're here for...
See nobody wanted Dempsey...she was toothless, discarded, homeless...
In fact, her name is Dempsey, because that's the name of the transient old hotel in downtown Macon, Georgia where she was found.
Dempsey comes to our offices with Dan, one of our board members who cleans the building.
Dan loves the homeless, hurting, forgotten, discarded...the marginalized.
Dan loves community and is famous for saying "doing life together."
Dan has a great financial and business mind and could be anywhere doing anything. But he chooses to reach out to people whom other people don't want to reach out to...but he's not trying "convert" people...he's trying to love them.
Dan adopted Dempsey.
Dempsey loves love.
She would like to have someone give her something to eat...and rub her ears...
Her eyes are sad and deep...they speak of abuse and learning to survive. They speak of loneliness...and the incredible joy of not being lonely anymore.
She just now, as she so often does, came into my office.
I was busy, working on my computer (as Prince said in "Raspberry Beret", "I was busy doing something close to nothing...") Something that would probably have very little affect on history or eternity.
Dempsey saw my empty lap and hand on the computer's mouse.
Dempsey had a better idea...she obviously felt that my lap would be a good for her to rest her jawls...and my hand could serve a better purpose...rubbing her ears...
Dempsey loves love.
She lifted my hand with her nose, nuzzled her chin onto my thigh and perfectly positioned her ear under my hand...
I said (in baby-talk), "Aww...Demps...I love you..."
She looked at me with those eyes and said without saying, thanks.
I see Dempsey as the LP mascot, because she's who we really want to love...the used up, washed up, coulda been, shoulda been, has been, dropped, put out, pushed aside, shooed...
If you feel like a Dempsey...there's love for you.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sun beats down.
Sweat profusely pours...and I'm not even "trying to tan."
I'm just hot. Oppressively sticky, hot.
Splashing. Giggling. Screaming.
"Polo!" In reply to "Marco?"
And footstep, footstep, footstep: "CANON BALL!!!"
How much fun is that...
But I'm just hot. Oppressively sticky, hot.
The shimmering reflection brushes my eye, brighter than the sun. And more inviting as well.
Why would I sit in heat, despising my own skins dryness?
Why do I insist on suffering when everyone else is having fun?
Why am I suffering?
Because I will not quit! I will NOT give in!!
Fools! Hair all funky and wet shorts awkwardly adhering to skin...they look like fools!
Fools having fun...
But I will not give in.
I get the droplets anyway- and it does feel good-
Remnants of a dive, hurtling through the humid air to find themselves on my otherwise unwet shirt.
Yes. It does feel good.
I bet the fools feel good too.
But if one more person yells at me...I swear, I'm going to--
And there's one more...
Not a taunting, but an invitation--stupid, old adage, "the water's fine!"
But I, I will NOT give in!!
As I begin to stand and remove my shirt, the sun makes contact with more skin.
Partial discomfort coupled with partial, gentle prodding.
And my entry? The steps?
No, that'd just give me the chance to chicken out...
Instead I walk the other way...to a place that lends itself to a slightly greater commitment...a point of no return.
Stepping up, I feel the rough, sandpaper-like surface on the bottom of my feet. But it provides stability, not discomfort.
I hear my motions: swish, swish, swish.
First up, then down, and--ker-plunk!
As soon as I'm down on the board's edge, I'm back up again--flying to fall.
And it's over now...dry is history.
Control is no longer my possession...and suddenly...its okay.
I gave up.
And it feels good...
Bubbles, thousands of bubbles.
A push from the bottom and I'm on the surface.
Oxygen refills my lungs and I say, "ahhh..."
Now the oppression of my body's weight is lost.
Awkward movements of the land are now graceful and well, fluid.
Maybe an underwater flip and a hand stand (just to impress the ladies).
In the embrace of hydrogen and oxygen, floating on my back and squinting up at the now friendly sun, I have a revelation:
Surrender feels good.
I give up.