Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Simplicity of Closeness

The years that we have spent living and working in the inner city have taught many lessons, both spiritually and worldly. One of the most profound lessons we have learned is probably the one that is the most intellectually obvious and oxymoronic…. grace is hard. Grace is the cornerstone of our faith, and yet it is one of the things that we seem to rebel against as contrary to our faith.

Most of the people that we are around are not what most people would call “successes.” They are the segment of our society that most people look down on, fear, or pity. They are not the part of the population that most people want to emulate or admire. They struggle to pay bills (if they pay them), live in run down houses and apartments (if they have a place to live), have beat down cars (if they have one), they use questionable language (if you can understand it), and look like they have been through the mix (which they have). These are not usually the people that your average most people would want to be like. In fact, most people look at my neighbors and see folks that just don’t try hard enough. They just don’t try hard enough to make it, to make good decisions, to do what it takes. The reality of the matter is that people in the city do try. They try to do things in the only way they know how, which is usually based upon their life experiences. Sometimes it works out, however many times it just ends up in frustrating failure.

As we walk out our faith, we try hard. We try hard to do the right thing. We try hard to be obedient to God. We try hard to be “good Christians.” By trying hard, we sometimes fail to grasp the simple concept of grace and end up living lives full of frustrating spiritual failure. We try to have a relationship with God the only way we know how… based on our experiences. The problem with this is that Grace is completely foreign to our human existence. We cannot try hard enough to make ourselves right with God. We cannot be good enough to be intimate with Jesus. We cannot be Christians on our own effort. We must simple accept the fact that by believing, adhering, and trusting in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are able to be one with the Most High God. We cannot “do” or “try” enough, we must simply believe.

The apostle Paul talks about this in the letter to the Galatian church. First he calls the "supid Galatians" because they have allowed themselves to be drawn from grace into legalism based on external actions. Then he goes on to tell them that if the go on trying to achieve rightness with God by their own actions they will actually alienate themselves from God. That's freakin' hilarious. The harder one tries to get right with God on their own terms, the farther they actually distance themselves from the intimate touch of the divine. How radical of a concept..... what would happen if we actually lived in it? No more "doing the right thing" to "be right with God"..... we simply are with him through the merit of Christ, not our own. No more fighting through ourselves to get close to God, we simply allow ourselves to be open to His Spirit within us that yearns for us to let go of our own feeble attempts to be enough. We can never be enough. We aren't supposed to. That kicks ass.

What a simple and freeing thing grace is. It is hard because we just wont let it be easy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fire in the Hole

Fire. Brings life, brings death. One of my favorite portions of scripture states that "the Lord is an all consuming fire." All consuming. I suppose that this implies that there is nothing left.... no charred bones, no blackened teeth, no leftover fillings or tarnished adornments. All consuming. Why in the hell does this appeal to me? Is it because I think so very little of myself that I wish not to be? I don't think so. I'm pretty screwed up and there's plenty of things that I don't really like about myself, but I am pretty secure in the fact that I am created in the "imagio deo." I like that... it gives grace to the fraility of or own feeble existence. So then, do I find nothing worth keeping in who I am? No.... I have God given gifts and talents that are very much worthwhile and intended to be used to glorify God and bless His creation. Why then do I like the fire that consumes all of me..... all of everything.
The fire of God,the presence of God that brings life and death, is the essence of who and what God is. He is consuming to a point where he leaves nothing of us that is not inherently "of Him" left. It is not so much that He consumes everything, but He consumes everything that is not Him. Fire does not consume itself, only that which is not fire. In like manner, the divine Life inside of us through the Holy Spirit survives the flame of God. The spark of new life through the Incarnation fuels the consumption of all within us that is not Christlike. In turn, as the flesh or worldly aspects of the human life are burnt up, the divine fire burns stronger and with more intensity. This allows us to be more fully human in so much as we are free to be human through the power of the Divine. The consumption of the "us" that is not the intended "us" brings us to a point of liberty to not be held by the shackles of or struggles.... i.e. sin.

The struggle for me, and with us all is to embrace the fire instead of running from it. God's fire, His presence brings us life... warmth through the cold nights of this world. This is the draw. We desire life in the inmost core of our being. We seek it, we strive for it, but we often want it on our terms. God's life is not to be found on our terms. His life consumes. While we are drawn to this at one level, on another lever we are repulsed by it. We do not want to die..... we don't want even a little part of us to die. We resist this even though we recieve greater overall life through part of us dying. We want life with no death, fire with no consumption. This is an impossibility that leads us down a path of discontentment and dissatisfaction.

We can find no peace until we embrace the fire for all that it is. Life and death.