Archive for the ‘the body’ Category

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

My daughters love to be told their birth stories.

l start with, “When your mom and I got to the hospital, my eyes were already dilated to ten.”

I proceed, “I immediately asked for an epidural, at the base of my skull.”

I go on, “When you were born you weighed 11 pounds.” That was my daughter Laurel, who is now on the petite side.

I finish with something like, “You were a good baby, and you loved mashed-up squash.”

Such stories, such memories, these are the things in life that bring us together.

Birds of a familial feather — they  flock together.

The Christmas narrative bears this out. There we see that Jesus is essentially and proverbially communal. Jesus draws people together. The vivid facts of his birth narrative reveal this.

A census caused families — David’s family — to gather, by household, in Bethlehem.

When these related people were together a baby was born, the baby Jesus.

The baby drew angels, who showed up to praise God and announce the baby to some local shepherds, perhaps herding temple sheep.

The shepherds visited the baby Jesus.

We have a convergence. Everyone — in the loop on this — gets together, around Jesus.

Last week I went into the basement of my church following my nose. I smelled Christmas tamales. Sure enough, in the large kitchen below us — spiced tomato sauce, onions, pork, corn dough, corn husks. And people, a bunch of people, talking and cooking. Tamales create community.

The baby Jesus was a delicious little tamale. He drew people, like magic, to himself. The good news, the sign, the cause of great joy — it was Jesus, a divine food, the bread of life, drawing both earthly and heavenly forces together.

Caesar Augustus issued a degree, that the Jews gathered, but God issued a decree and the whole world gathered.

Joseph, Mary, Jesus, angels, shepherds, the members of the house of David all gather at the birth, later Simeon and Anna visit Jesus, then the wise men, then the 12 disciples, then the crowds of followers, then after Jesus death the nations, at Pentecost many different kinds of people, then the church, then all the earth, billions of people.

I grew up with snow. We made snowmen. We started with a small snowball, and rolled it until it took all my brothers to keep it going, and it got so big we couldn’t roll it any more.

Jesus was a snowball becoming a giant snowman. The snowball of Jesus just kept getting bigger and bigger.

Jesus is a rolling-up, he is a shoveling-up, of individuals, into something that gets bigger and bigger and includes more and more diversity the bigger it gets.

What God is doing is uniting people.

God is bringing people together. God is making a people salad. God is making tamales, God is letting down a sheet for all the nations, mixing in a bunch of different people into one meal. God’s great ultimate purpose — it’s oneness.

Ep 1:8-10

With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

God’s grand goal, Jesus’s birth, Christmas, is to create unity, to create a large, universal family. What does this mean for us?

When we are moving with the movement of God, we are moving toward more community, toward connection, toward togetherness with people.

When we come to church, we are entering the divine purpose to make us one. Community is good, it is not to be feared, it heals us from fear, from loneliness, from hurt.

We may think, “I’m hurt. I need to stay away.”

Not so, “I’m hurt, so I need people.”

I need you, and you need me.

But we need each other to be a certain way, to be sensitive, to be safe, to not harm, to not dominate, to not offend, to not judge, to get along.

Romans 12:16-18

Be sensitive to each other’s needs – don’t think yourselves better than others, but make humble people your friends. Don’t be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but try to do what everyone regards as good. If possible, and to the extent that it depends on you, live in peace with all people.

How do we do this? How do we live at peace, stay humble, refuse to do evil to each other?

To do this we must determine in ourselves to treat each person with respect, to be interested in each person, especially to be sensitive to each other when we are wounded or weak.

How?

By listening to each other, by not giving too much advice, by just sitting with each other’s pain.

On Tuesday this week I was a little lonely at work. My staff didn’t come in. Then along came two friends. We sat together up in one of the rooms, and talked, shared difficulties, laughed, and let each other be imperfect, human, raw.

We talked about loss, without giving advice. We were at peace with each other’s not-perfect. We sat with each other’s difficulty, laughed about it, tried to make just a little sense of it.

This is community, this is our togetherness, not to come and act spiritual and perfect but to let our messy hair down, and to be okay with the messy journey.

In efforts to create community around the essential Jesus, we must be careful to be sensitive to each other’s need at the moment.

I’ll be specific. If someone is single, let’s not say stuff about them getting married.

The church is not a collection of married people, or people on their way to get married; it is a collection of everybody, single, married, single again, married again, married but wish they weren’t.

If someone is divorced, let’s not treat them like they are damaged goods. Who hasn’t had broken relationships, who hasn’t had people we loved turn on them?

The church is a collection of people on a journey, not people who have arrived at some traditionally approved or preferred place.

We recently decorated the house for Christmas. Before we started, it looked pretty, during the process, it  became a mess. All the usual decor got piled on the dining room table, all the boxes from the garage on the floor; the cats climbed the tree.

The process got ugly, but when the guests come this week for a Christmas dinner, the house will be perfect — well almost.

Well, not quite.

When my wife and I host groups, we always leave the bathrooms uncleaned. This is so that when the early quests arrive and say, “Can we do anything to help?”  we can include them in the family, and we can say, “Yeah, you can clean the bathrooms, and if you want there is a little laundry.”

On the way to the final Christmas meal, that great Christian celebration that will occur at the end of all time, God allows for mess.

Consider the age factor. That can be messy.

If someone is older, or young, or in the middle, at church, and they are unfinished, undecorated, we yet need to acknowledge them and let’s live out the truth that every age is of value to God and us.

Or consider sexual status, a hot button topic in the church.

If someone is gay, we must not assume that they aren’t seeking, knowing and loving God. They may seek and love God as much or more than we do.

Our job is to be sensitive, to watch our mouths, to not offend and hinder someone’s journey toward God with our judgments.

Christmas is for everyone who will receive it, no matter what they are dealing with; Christ came, he loves us, and when we believe in him, he forgives us and saves us, no matter our issue.

At church, let’s be sensitive to relational status.

If someone is alone, at church, then we must treat them like they are as important as someone who is there with a family. Everyone has family, even if not present.

Every family has value, broken ones, split ones, hurt ones, little ones. And every person has a family, even if they aren’t at church with them.

Our goal as Christians is not to make everyone into the kind of person that makes us feel comfortable, but to learn to be more comfortable with every person.

Let people be what and who they are in their stage of life. They are all in movement, all changing, but it is God’s work to refine them, to improve them, to make them moral, not ours.

We are not saying that everything is okay, that there is no sin, that there is no evil, that we have no morals or standards. We Christians do.

Someone told me recently they had never been taught how to protect themselves from evil at church.

That’s old church, and that’s not good.

Christians need boundaries. I have written this before, I will write it again, “Do not let people abuse you, sexually harass you, discriminate against you or dominate you.”

Those things are evil.

Don’t allow this any kind of abuse at home, work or church. Report abuse. Stand up to bullies. Call out racism and sexism and ageism.

But all that being said, we are still to follow Romans 1:18 and to “If possible, and to the extent that it depends on [us] … live in peace with all people.”

God is working to clean up the house, for Christmas, to create safe, good, moral, appropriate community.

Our primary job is to join God in rolling out His beautiful, growing communal snowball.

Christmas, it’s a togetherness.

The essential Jesus, he is, was and always will be, an essential, safe, sensitive, appropriate togetherness.