Just skimming around, searching for a new book and I discovered this interview with Elizabeth Scalia, who wrote Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Your Life. She made a fascinating point about how Facebook and Twitter can lead to labeling and un-loving. The following is from an interview with Tony Rossi and Ms. Scalia:
Elizabeth noted, “Kierkegaard said, ‘The minute you label me, you negate me.’…And I came to a decision through prayer, saying, ‘God, I want to love again.’ I don’t want to have all of this kneejerk disgust towards others who I don’t even know. Terry Pratchett wrote a book called ‘Carpe Jugulum.’ In it, one of the characters…says, ‘Sin is when you treat another person like a thing.’ It’s true, and we do that continually on social media…Everybody is breaking up into smaller and smaller cliques and making their mindset very exclusive, to the point where if you disagree with one point of it, you’re out. It’s got this strange effect of making this vast communication tool into something really small…We miss sight of the person in front of us. When we do that, we miss sight of Christ because – and this is St. Benedict – we are meant to find the Christ in each other. If we’re immediately discarding their personhood, there’s no way we can find Him.”
Part of the reason for that is our distorted modern definition of love. “Love is the constant turning and saying yes to something that is outside of yourself,” Elizabeth said. “That is really difficult, particularly for us today because we are turned inward and we’re celebrating ourselves, we’re fascinated by ourselves. When you’re doing that, you have a distorted sense of love because it’s all polluted by that inward self worship. And that takes us right back to Eden. That was the serpent’s thing: eat and you can be as gods. And we’re still there. All these millennia later, we’re still there.”
I don’t pretend to be a creative writer, but a friend once told me, “the battle for the soul is fought in metaphor.” Here is my clumsy attempt to process two of the last seven days.
In the dimmed lights of the pre-op room, the rising volume of my husband’s snoring, still uncompelling despite the huge heart swell of love one feels in such moments. Jangled.
Flashing through the memories of the past two days…
The sudden jolt of a smoothly moving week abruptly changing direction.
Tuesday night…The rush to the ER with my husband groaning from severe abdominal cramps.
An astonishingly quick diagnosis by CT-scan of “partial small bowel obstruction.”
The surgeon outlining the plan. “This usually resolves on its own, but we’re going to keep you overnight and probably through tomorrow.”
My husband phoning his PA then the OR to cancel Wednesday’s surgery, the first time ever in 21 years he’s done that.
Wednesday. The worst day. The only change from worse to miserable. Pouring the contents of my dear husband’s stomach from the plastic pink basin into the handicapped toilet.
Tension clenching my body, offering my feeble attempts to assuage the misery.
An NG tube starting to look like a good thing.
That evening, the surgeon pronouncing the updated plan. “If he does not miraculously improve overnight, I’m going to take him in tomorrow and have a look around.” (His tightened jaw revealed more concern than the seemingly casual statement.)
Warmth rising from heated concrete as I headed toward my car, the gentle glow of the sun-setting sky.
One of my husband’s partners driving by, pulling over, asking me what’s going on.
Narrating the last 48 hours to the kind-eyed hand surgeon. Thoughts of the terrifying unknown zoomed randomly around in my mind like the beam of a laser pointer handled by a 3-year-old.
I moved on toward my car, settled in the driver’s seat, flung my head back and let the tears rush. My mind went to the scary. A prayer formed. “Bring me back and keep me sane.”
After cycling that process several times, somewhat calmed, I started the car toward home.
A short way down the side road of the complex, I saw them. The tall skinny sunflowers, like a group of lanky yellow-haired schoolgirls, spreading their faces in broad freckled smiles, beckoning me to rest in their friendly glow.
Approaching, I saw their sweet companions, open-armed cornstalks gesturing grace, leafy greens bowing in praise. Round purple flowers and merry fat plants joined in an early summer country dance, thankful and full and flowing.
Then I saw the sign — The Sacred Garden.
What no eye has seen; nor ear heard, nor heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him — I Cor. 2:9
“She laughs with no fear of the future.”
“Strength and dignity are her clothing;
She laughs at the days to come.” Prov. 31:25
This morning at approximately 6 o’clock, I stumbled sleepy-eyed into the kitchen, where I discovered, fortunately not by stepping in it, a small puddle of water spreading from our refrigerator.
I did not laugh. Not at all funny. The last time we had an event that involved water and this appliance, I ended up like one of those cartoon characters with my finger trying to stop a spray of water shooting from behind the built-in.
I believe my response was something like, “Oh, great!” highly titered with sarcasm.
Since the water was not spraying and only expanding if I measured carefully, which I did not, I decided to go on with coffee and letting the dog out and sitting down to today’s reading.
“Strength and dignity are her clothing;
She laughs at the days to come.”
The NLT says,
“She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.”
Whoa, now what about that? What if, when we see refrigerator puddles or unexpected bills, we laughed? What if, when the dreaded diagnosis or the harsh email arrives, we laughed? What if, when we think about the job interview or lack thereof, we laughed? What if, when we think about the days to come, or just the day to come, we laughed? Not the cynical laugh of a mocking, sarcastic woman: “Oh, great!”; nor the naïve laugh of the giggly schoolgirl, “Oh, I won’t worry about that;” nor the troubling laugh of the insane movie character, “Mwahahaha!” (to quote my children☺).
We could only laugh in the way Proverbs describes as women clothed in strength and dignity, women who laugh because we remember and hope. We remember: “the wonderful miracles of the Lord,” and “his awe-inspiring deeds” (Ps. 145)(which do not always include refrigerator water evaporating nor sadly, tumors mysteriously disappearing). We hope for the future because we know of a day coming – when Jesus will complete the work he has begun. In that day, doubts will never assail us; our capacity to rest in God’s love will be perfect; and community will flourish day after day in unbroken praise of our Creator. (Revelation 21-22). Yes, we know that until that day, we will be assaulted by the trials and travails of the fallen world, but because of the wild reality of the resurrection of Christ, anything can happen. Anything.
Dear Lord, Sovereign God of the universe,
Help us to be women who find our strength not in our own power but in your strength made perfect in our weakness. Forgive us for trying to run the world on our own terms, for forgetting to look for you in all circumstances. Help us to have photographic memories of your mercy and grace. And in each day, let us be confident and creative, looking at each moment as a gift from you and an opportunity to know your love more deeply.
In the glorious name of the One who saves us from all fear and fretting. Amen
“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.”
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.” Heb. 4:15
The sturdy and worn black Bible this morning opened to a woman wired with anxiety, wrought up by responsibilities not hers to carry alone.
First, it spoke the words about Jesus, a high priest who not only knows her weaknesses, but feels deep compassion with her. (How reassuring that good news was to this poor woman!).
And then, it made the woman wonder – was Jesus ever tempted by anxiety? Tempted to take on too much responsibility for the world’s happiness? She thought about the temptation in the wilderness. She thought about his life as God in flesh. Yes, it is possible, she supposed. And then she remembered – the Bible would not proclaim this so confidently if it weren’t true.
Already, the body unwinding, settling into the hope.
Then, the Word unfolded one of its strange Psalms, the ones a little perplexing for us to understand.
The woman reacted…
Yes, I need to take refuge in God. For what do I need to take refuge?
Anxiety. Does anxiety seem like a pursuer that might like a lion tear my soul apart? Yup. That’s exactly how it feels.
The Word asked, “Then, is it possible, given the entirety of my history and message, that you can rest in this hope too?”
Oh, man. “Rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.” Yes, that is how sin operates on the soul. That is how giving into the temptation to believe that it’s all up to me will leave me.
May that woman and all women and any men who feel deep anxiety know that the good news of the gospel is true for all of us today. He knows our hearts. He knows how easily we fall into the trap of thinking we’re all there is. And he knows the wired and weary soul that desperately needs his rest.
Thanks be to God!
When we buy into the belief that we can somehow prevent God from working, we end up like Sysiphus, eternally trying to push back the weight of guilt and shame.
“I’m afraid that because I was disobedient, God’s plan was thwarted.”
“I just don’t want to take the wrong job and prevent God from working in my life.”
“If we don’t take action when we have an opportunity, we hinder God’s work.”
“If we allow the Spirit to work in us, God can do great things.”
Having been one of the many Christians weighed down by the false theology that undergirds statements like these, I get pretty riled up when I hear the non-gospel taught. For here we are, freed from bondage to self, yet hunched over like Sisyphus trying to push up that huge hunk of guilt and blame that I’m pretty sure – that’s just an expression – I’m absolutely sure – Jesus already died for.
The gospel of grace exposes the problem with such statements. Though they may appear “Christian,” when defaced, they turn out to be only humanism in disguise. In the scenarios described above, we humans take our place at the center of the world, preventing or hindering, by our own actions, God’s redeeming work in and through us. In this line of thinking, redemption depends on our obedience (not Jesus’), on our doing the right thing (not Jesus’ finished work on the Cross). Whether we make a bad decision after seeking God’s will or rebel outright, according to this pseudo-gospel, we have the power to derail God’s plan.
Think about this. Can our failures or our sin truly prevent God from working His will of redemption? Let’s just take a quick read of some Bible heroes who went pretty miserably astray.
How about Sarai, who, in a fit of lost faith in God’s promise, demanded that her husband Abram sleep with her servant Hagar to produce the awaited heir? Painful consequences, yes. God’s plan of redemption through Abraham and Sarah derailed? No. (Read this great story in Genesis 16).
David: What about that whole Bathsheba and Uriah incident? David had a good soldier killed and married the guy’s wife. Catastrophic fallout for his family, yes. But if you think this disastrous move miscarried God’s plan for Jesus’ birth, well, check out those tedious genealogies sometime. (Read this amazing account in 2 Samuel 11, and to see how David’s heart was redeemed, read Psalm 51).
Or, there’s Peter. He denied Jesus three times. Did his cowardice stall the spread of the gospel? I would argue no. Days after Peter’s denial, in a typical gospel reversal, Jesus offers his impetuous disciple three chances to affirm his love, and each time calls him to “feed his sheep.” Peter did just that, preaching a fiery sermon on the day of Pentecost and courageously continuing to proclaim the gospel until the day he was crucified upside down for doing so.(Read this beautiful story in .
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. Our sin, our selfishness, our foolishness, can and does harm us and others. It grieves God. But what we must always remember is that God is sovereign, and our power NEVER trumps his. His glory will reign, in our lives and in the cosmos, which he has redeemed and will one day perfect. Take heart, and bow before the One whose redemption plan you cannot foil.
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).