Rule of Grace – Chapter 2

Our new life begins in baptism, where we are made children of God and heirs of the Rule of our Abba.  This great and holy calling comes with a real danger to see that God’s covenant was with us, but did Jesus not say as the elder repeats week after week in the Eucharist, “This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you and for the crowd for the forgiveness of sins.”  Or did Paul not say, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Were not all sinners?  Yes, as Paul had just affirmed in his letter to the Romans.  Salvation is not for the few, but for the whole earth.

And this is not dependent on us, for as God says seven times in the covenant with the whole earth after the flood, this covenant is made with all flesh, all creation, but it is dependent on God.

We humans have often become tribal in our survival thinking, our flesh thinking, that we roll back God’s calling and covenant to be about us.  This sin was what brought the temple down and has led to sin time and time again.  Indeed privation of good is how philosophers often describe evil.  When we take God’s covenant and make it personal only we are on the road away from the New Jerusalem and we have tossed Christ’s yoke from our necks.

It often shows up in the simplest of errors, greeting only our fellow Christians, our friends, in the marketplace.  Soon we are protecting ourselves from the very people we are called into new life for!

The followers of Jesus are to be a house of prayer for all the nations.  We are a royal priesthood.  And what does a priesthood do except represent God to the world and present the world to God!

We did not earn our belonging to God.  We came home like the prodigal son; perhaps we expect to become servants again, but to be returned to our true created status seems to good to even dream.  Did we earn it?  No, if anything we have earned our condemnation, if we are to follow Paul’s logic.  But this only makes sense if we understand the whole and holy good love that we have walked away from.

If God is the God of the so much of our theology, the angry score-keeping sacrifice-needing god of the pagan systems of sacrifice that has often replaced YHWH, especially in the deserts, then we would be brave to escape.  We would be heroic to flee from such a god to the worship of self and pleasure.  But oh, this misses the gospel by a mile or more!

We can only be said to have offended God if God is good.  We have to know our true blessing to understand the offense.  We have to return to ourselves to understand how far we have fallen from our true nature.  This is what the “depravity of man” theology can totally miss.  We were not created in sin.  We were created in goodness, in blessedness, in order to be the blessing of God in the world.  If we are to return to ourselves, we must see how we have become a blessing only to our self in our pursuit of pleasure, comfort, personal happiness.  The tragedy is that in being a blessing only to ourselves, we have become a curse to ourselves.

This seems heavy handed in the world of self-worship. But it is simple.  We were created for a purpose, to love God and care for creation including each other.  We were meant to bear the image of a creative Creator in love to others.  When we turn that to our self alone, we are like hunting doges kept in apartments, destructive creatures who are deeply unhappy.  We destroy things seeking the true nature of our purpose.

O, unhappy fate, to be a Vizsla in a city apartment!  We eat couches and chairs, dig up the furniture, and terrorize the cat looking for one moment of deep satisfaction.  We make do with the small walks in the park of worship on Sunday when we are meant to run, to stalk, and pursue through the great hunting lands of Hungary!

Let us admit that a deeper purpose is calling us.  In our pursuit let us turn our search outward to the welcome and service of others.  Let us worship the good God, creator and Abba, YHWH who is always beyond our grasp but who welcomes us home in open arms; and let us study God’s ways in the Scriptures and in our deepest selves, in tradition, the apostle’s teachings and in fellowship.  Let us look outward to our world, that God loves and Christ died for.

In practice, take a person, any person on the street, that you can see, and practice seeing them as God’s child, beloved.  Can you see God’s delight in them?

Begin your day the same way, remembering who you are.  Come to your self daily as a child of God among God’s children.  Sit up straight, breathe deeply, and delight in our Abba who delights in you.  This is the right beginning to set us on the way of salvation.

Do not be discouraged when you realize how far you have wandered from your calling, God is waiting for your return.  The road may be short or long, but God will put a ring on your finger and sandals on your feet.  He will put you again under the mantle of Christ your savior.  Breathe deep and start walking.

Gratitude and the Way: Roadwork

Whitby Summer 2014 by DPR+

Whitby Summer 2014 by DPR+

Ingrate.  Everything I have is given by someone else.  Everything I have is borrowed.  Everything I have belongs to God.  There is this simple truth in my life that I stumble over sometimes and end up in tears of gratitude.

I am an ingrate.  I am ungrateful most of the time, not because I think I earned anything or have some great accomplishments, but because I just don’t pay attention enough.

My life is carried by others.  I can’t weave sheets or make a shirt or build a road. I don’t even keep my own calendar.  I am so deeply connected to all these amazing human beings who do these incredible things.  Could I do any of them? Yes, maybe.  But could I do them and still do what I do well?  Not a chance.

My life is this wondrous dance with a few million people, most of whom are invisible to me.  We live in webs of relationship.

Even the sparrow is not removed from me.  Her health is mine.  She makes her home beside the altar because she is as much a part of the will and love of God as I am.

I carry around this truth in my pocket and run my hands over it sometimes in wonder.  I was watching the workmen on Front cutting the asphalt for another dig into the underbelly of our small metropolis, and awe overtook me.  These sons of God, these bored and distracted fathers and brothers were waking up and focussing to do something that makes me marvel.

These men were taking care of the rest of us with their care around power and gas, water and road.  They were priests to the mysteries that lie under our feet.

What of the dental assistant or the nurse, the veterinarian, the police officer, the woman in labor?  The world is full of the children of God working together at this wondrous creation.  We bend like fields of wheat under the wind of God.  We bow to one another in acts so small as to escape notice, but in the whole we make the world.

The righteous choose to walk awake into fields of harvest with gratitude, to honor the world by choosing to bless rather than curse, to attend to our holy work, whatever it is, bowing to God in simple acts of love at the shovel or the pick, the needle or the push of the body against the infant.

We are creators like our abba Creator choosing to build up or destroy.  Oh, my brothers and sisters, we have to choose.  We have to wake up to the ties that hold us, or we will strangle the weaker among us, we will suffocate the helpless, we will struggle against the web or go slack, and both increase the work of those around us.

Care of life, care of the little interactions, moving with grace among the creation, this makes us human.  We can begin in such small ways, like the men at the corner waking up to attention, doing their job with care and focus.  Going the extra mile comes easy when we choose the first one as an act of humanity rather than slavery.

We begin with the choice.  Paul addresses slaves and urges them to choose their life, which we have used and misused as owners of slaves.  But if we read this as the slaves, we are addressed as human beings.  We choose, and so we take on our dominion of the first corner of creation given into our care, our selves.  We choose and then the owner becomes a partner in life, and the hierarchy we both hold and resent disappears.

It becomes a prop for an old play left over after the crowd leaves.  A relic is all that remains of the old world and its acting.  The reality of the Rule has come and left the old play abandoned for the farce it was.  We are not slaves or owners, we are human beings bowing to each other.

Wake up, O leaders and servants, we all wash each others feet as we live well into our lives, and our feet are washed by our savior in so many different colored hands.  The Rule of God has come, and God is the only one to stand above as the first Creator, the ongoing Weaver who runs the loom of creation through our lives like a breath over our fields of harvest, and we bow or break.

Your life and mine are one.  The Spirit, that breath of God, makes us one as we awake to the real world of life and salvation, to our heritage as Creator’s children, Jesus followers, healers and forgiveness bearers.  The world waits for us to realize that the men at the corner are our brothers, the world is in our care, and we are bound to love.

How Not to Get Blindsided

In seventh grade, I came into Junior High Football as the fastest kid in my class, or at least that is how I remember it.  My ninth grade brother, who was post-growthspurt, was waiting for me.  On my second or third day, I got a hand-off up the middle and was just breaking the line when the sky appeared and pain erupted from my chest and chin.  My brother had let me get loose enough to not see him coming and blindsided me.  

Getting blindsided is one of those experiences that can either make you better or bitter.  I was both, but that was a long time ago.  Now as a leader I have been thinking a lot about the kind of community that I want to build and what kind of leader I have to become in order to build it.  

After just writing about the dangers of the father knows best kind of leadership, it may seem ironic to think that a leader can and should determine the kind of community they are forming, but that is what stewardship means.  As a Christian, the kind of community that I want to create is one that does naturally what Jesus said that we should do: love, be compassionate, forgive, offer mercy, bring peace, and tell the truth.  

A natural leader affects the systems they are in without necessarily thinking about it very much.  You have seen the eight or nine year old who just changes the way the kids around them act.  That kind of leadership is a gifted form of what we all have: influence.  Influence is real power.  It is not necessarily the power to change a single event, but rather it allows over time the changes to whole chains of events, if it is allowed to work without manipulation.

Influence may or may not come naturally to you, but you can grow in your influence as you grow as a human being.  Following Jesus, you have to attend to the log in your own eye, rather than the splinter in your neighbors.  You have to go into your closet and pray.  This work that turns inward in terms of discipline and law and outward in terms of gentleness and peace, think repentance within and mercy without, this work allows us to actually follow Jesus and to grow the kingdom.  It brings wholeness and peace that begins to look a lot like our Lord.  It makes for integrity.

Integrity is a subtle thing to notice in someone, but it allows your gravitational weight in systems to grow exponentially.  People notice when people are consistent and humble and still honest and strong.  People begin to give what you say more weight and what you do more influence.  

So, what does influence have to do with not getting blindsided? In leadership people are always going to be angry and reactive to change.  Most leaders cause change simply because as we try to move the world closer to the Rule of God that movement is change from the previous status quo.  Since we can rest assured in a world post-Eden that the we are not in God’s Rule completely yet, we should be leading change somewhere.  Even good people resist change.  Even saints are held down by gravity and back by inertia.  So as systems change and pull on people around you, someone somewhere is getting pulled, and if they resist, then something will give, and there will be a reaction.  

I never suspected that my brother would hit me.  I just didn’t.  I should have.  He was on defense, and he had been hitting me for years for fun.  If I had more influence and more integrity, someone would have warned me, maybe even my brother himself. 

In leadership, influence allows us to move the system through something more like God’s way of being in the world.  We can cause change through goodness, calling, love, forgiveness, healing, influence.  We don’t have to resort to violence in our relationships.  This more subtle change allows people to join in and respond without build up of reactive energy, but it also allows time to deal with build up constructively, chasing down those who are left out or hurt by the changes. 

The work also should give us clear enough vision to not be blinded to real dangers by ego, pride, or false reality.  We can hear God’s warnings in the subtle movement of the Spirit, but also in the words and warnings of others.  Because we are not led by our blind pride, we can move with others and see more clearly what they need.  

Leaders change systems.  They influence others, hopefully towards love and peace with gentleness and mercy.  As I grow, I am seeking ways to call more clearly for the leaders around me to own their own weight in the system, trusting that influence is more powerful than either inertia or reaction.  I am also more able to admit that I don’t know where the next hit is coming from and to ask for help from others, especially when I feel vulnerable.  

Finally, I have to say that I do believe that if you lead, you will get hit.  Systems don’t like change.  The crowd prefers Barabbas because though he represents violence and danger, they know violence and danger keep things the way they are.  In football I learned to take hits because I had a larger goal.  That is still true.  I have to turn my cheek if I want to see the kingdom.