mulling it over

I’m mulling over this quote from Connecting by Larry Crabb.

Sin is any effort to make life work without absolute dependence on God.

Thoughts?

Peterson on Freedom

I was on the verge of returning this book from a shelf in my room to its regular resting place in the living room, when I started skimming one of the early chapters and again my heart said yes, yes, yes! Here are some of my favorite quotes from a man who has easily become one of my top 5 favorite authors.

We are born into a world that shows everywhere the signs of some great primordial catastrophe. There are vast beauties and breathtaking virtues in this present age, but nothing pristine. The sign of our birth is a scar. The world into which we are born is dangerous. The parents to whom we are born are flawed. The governments under which we are reared are corrupt. Are we free to live? Or are we only allowed a meager energy and a compromised space to cope?

Sin is the fact of separation from God’s presence and purposes, experienced variously as restriction, limitation, inadequacy and weakness. Every interruption of the will or impulse or desire interferes with freedom. And the interruptions are endless. Life lived under these conditions cannot be called free, even though there will always be unforced and spontaneous moments that preserve a sense of the possibilities of freedom. Sensitive and thoughtful persons are often acutely aware of enslavement. Paul’s explosive “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) is archetypal.

The rescue is not from the world, and not from limitations or boundaries, but from sin, that which separates us from God and his purposed creation and destined redemption. And the rescue is God’s work. Nothing else will do for a beginning. If there is no rescue from sin, there is no point in talking about freedom at all.

Remembering the Joseph story, we realize that no pit or prison is inaccessible to the freeing, delivering, rescuing power of God, and that freedom, once established even in one person, extends itself into political and social relationships and cultural movements.

We never develop the freedoms of maturity and wholeness and strength on our own, but always through the shared life of others in the faith.

Fear is a normal response to the chaos around us, the threat of being overcome by hostile forces or of being ineffective or hurt or thwarted or fated to poor and mean and scrubby lives…

It takes a certain bold courage to receive freedom. The free life is a strenuous life. Living in freedom is demanding and sometimes painful. If security is our highest priority, we will not want to live free.

Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light

not abandoned

My blog appears abandoned.

Almost.

But my mind has not ceased to twist and turn thoughts over and over; has not stopped questioning the things I’ve always believed and reaching for the truth amidst my fears.

The pursuit of truth is worth the trouble. I hope I never stop chasing it, and I hope that the more I find of it, the less fear I will harbor in my heart. I’ve been thinking about this: that the truth might be difficult, but it is always good. Believers in the truth need never be afraid to seek it, and its Source, whether in our hearts, in other people, or in the wider world. The truth cuts, but it also heals. As I seek truth, I experience a feeling of freedom: because I believe there is something solid beneath my feet; something that I can’t fully see, but that gets larger and larger the more I walk on it and explore it.

The truth is like clear air in a brisk wind by the sea. It heartens and invigorates me. I want to know it better, and for it to know me better, reaching even to the deepest parts of my heart.

excuses

We are a culture of people who make excuses.

I am no exception. Given the opportunity, I can come up with a hundred reasons why I have not exercised all week, or why I have not worked on my book all day. I rationalize fear, laziness, lack of effort to communicate, and a neglect of showing love to others. I make these excuses internally to myself, and verbally to others, almost continuously.

Here it comes: I’m going to quote Eugene Peterson again.

Because of the ambiguities of the world we live in and the defects in our own wills, we will not do any of this [walking in the truth; making good choices] perfectly and without fault. But that isn’t the point. The way is plain – walk in it. Keeping the rules and obeying the commands is only common sense. People who are forever breaking the rules, trying other roads, attempting to create their own system of values and truth from scratch, spend most of their time calling up someone to get them out of trouble and help repair damage, and then ask the silly question, ‘What went wrong?’ As H. H. Farmer said, ‘If you go against the grain of the universe you get splinters.'”

This prompted my introspection and illuminated the daily excuses I make for not walking perfectly with my God, and for not perfectly loving my neighbors.

Peterson’s phrases about “keeping the rules” and “obeying the commands” appear to dance dangerously near legalistic thought, but they do not. He is not a legalistic Christian, and the rest of his book exemplifies a belief in grace and mercy, freedom and love.

He simply refuses to make excuses. There is no excuse for sin. That statement should never be mated with a pointing finger, but instead with a humble heart. There is no excuse for sin – no excuse for my sin.

When I make excuses for my lack of motivation, my lack of love, or my propensity for speaking unkind words, I am removing any chance to grow. Without admittance, without repentance, there can be no moving forward. Those weaknesses will remain with me, and I will make excuses for them again. And again.

The person who makes excuses for hypocrites and rationalizes the excesses of the wicked, who loses a sense of opposition to sin, who obscures the difference between faith and denial, grace and selfishness – that is the person to be wary of. For if there is not that much difference between the way of faith and the ways of the world, there is not much use in making any effort to stick to [Christianity].

I’ve been that person.

And I’ve done it in the name of grace. In the name of empathy, of lowering the bar to meet the common denominator.

It’s a tricky issue, because there is so much grace. And God is full of mercy, empathy, and tender love for every person who is wallowing in destructive thoughts and behaviors. He doesn’t look at me as a judge, and I should never look at my neighbor as a judge.

Yet as one who confesses Christ and has received spiritual rebirth, I am held to a higher standard. Not a law. An expectation. Like when your mom thinks you are the bee’s knees and expects you to paint masterpieces and write beautiful music and poetry, not so that she can be mad at you if you don’t live up to her expectations but because she knows you and she believes in you.

When I got in trouble growing up, my mom didn’t want to hear my excuses about why I’d hit my brother. There was no good reason, in her opinion, for me to hit someone. And she was right.

In the same way, God doesn’t want to hear my excuses. There are no good reasons for a critical spirit, for nurturing pride in my heart, or for laziness. It’s better if I learn not to excuse myself, which ultimately pushes Him away and prevents His renovating work. It’s better if I run to Him and confess, knowing that I am not a convict before a judge, but a daughter before a loving parent.

grace

I don’t think I understand grace.

I talk about it. I sing about it. It makes me happy to think about it.

But I don’t understand how it works. No sooner do I say that I accept it, from God or from someone else, than I don my “law spectacles” and look at myself, or other people, or the world, through lenses of judgment. My shoulders sag beneath the condemnation, knowing that I’ve messed up; that I will mess up again. I say that I have received grace, but I slog through life carrying burdens that I don’t need to carry.

When will I understand this? When will I soak it up, internalize it: live and breathe grace instead of judgment?

The thing is, life is difficult. I carry around the burden of being stuck in a human body, and I do still carry a propensity to sin. To mess up. It isn’t as if grace negates the concept of good and bad. God still says what is right and what is wrong, and my conscience still reminds me of those things. And that is needful.

But grace is recognizing the shortcomings – acknowledging them, repenting of them instead of ignoring them – but seeing beyond them. Not getting caught up in them. Seeing the potential in other people; in myself. Receiving unmerited favor and extending it to the people around me.

Romans 8 says that all creation groans as in the pains of childbirth, yearning for redemption. Sometimes I barely feel that yearning, but other times I am in tune with it. I see it all around me, and feel it inside me. The world is beautiful, but it is imperfect. There is pain and agony here because of sin. If I am still, if I am quiet, I will hear its cry for mercy. Grace.

dissatisfaction with the world

This reminds me of a quote from Pride and Prejudice: “The more I see of the world the more I am dissatisfied with it.” But he says it in the context of faith, and expresses something I’ve thought of – except he says it more succinctly and with more beauty than I would. I think I’m going to like this book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson. I heard the man speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing back in April, and was so impressed by his eloquent humility that I have been wanting to read one of his books ever since.

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.

And this:

The world, in fact is not as it had been represented to us. Things are not right as they are, and they are not getting any better.

We have been told the lie ever since we can remember: human beings are basically nice and good. Everyone is born equal and innocent and self-sufficient. The world is a pleasant, harmless place. We are born free. If we are in chains now, it is someone’s fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.

Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie…Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behavior and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of religionists who “heal the wounds of this people lightly,” from the lies of moralists who pretend to promote me to the office of captain of my fate, from the lies of pastors who “get rid of God’s commands so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions!” (Mk. 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.

I’ll write more later after I process what I am reading. Since I am tempted to type out the entire chapter on my blog, I think I can guess that I’m going to like this book. Truth + beautiful, artistic prose = good mental and spiritual food.

the final countdown

In four minutes I’ll be 28.

Goodbye, 27. You’ve been challenging, sweet, and memorable.

Hello, 28. I hope you are as much of all three.

As the years pass, I am less excited about the new numbers. They seem to loom ahead for months before each birthday, staring at me with accusation in their eyes.

“Have you done enough?” they ask. “Are you where you want to be at this age? Have you accomplished what you thought you would by now?”

Be quiet, silly numbers. Most of my old measurements of achievement are defunct now. My life dreams are essentially the same, but they have morphed into deeper, less easily defined goals. Adulthood is not, as I used to imagine, a cut-and-dried series of attainments and rites of passage.

I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I’ve discovered that the most fulfilling things in my life are not tangible, expensive, or self-glorifying.

And as I get older, I crave wisdom. If I never become a published author, marry and raise a family, or travel to all seven continents, it won’t be the end of the world. Those things are only experiences. The actual experiences are less important than the effect they have. What matters is my maturity.

I can let God use my experiences to shape me. I can maintain a humble attitude and learn from them. I can grow wiser.

Or I can choose to respond selfishly to my experiences. I can cross my arms and stamp my foot at God. I can enjoy the good times and ignore the bad and remain an adolescent in understanding.

I want to grow wiser. I want to learn from everything I experience, difficult or pleasant. I want to know my God well and dearly and to be unafraid to say so.