Let me fret not myself because of my evil doing, let me turn every idea into a prayer, every fear into a thanksgiving, every plan into a living sacrifice. As water flows downward and as mountains jut upwards, may my sins wash away as my mind is renewed up to the Hills from whence comes my Help. May the darkness I see in myself and others be illuminated in the city on a hill High lamp that beckons us to our Heavenly city, our new home, our new affection, our hopeful lives, free of despair. Pull us out of our ditches and let us walk confidently on the Highway of Holiness.
A mom? A nurse? A chef? A nerd? A homeowner? “I am____” answers what you hope people perceive about you. After all,it’s America and We love our unique interests and identities. The ways we self-identify can lead us to new friendships and strengthen old ones. “You too?” is the ultimate joy in human friendship. But what happens when we drift and change and life causes us to drift and change away from our “I ams”? When you were a runner and you tear your ACL and you can’t work out for a year? When you were a healthy grandpa and then you’re in chemo every other week and don’t have time or energy to be around those you love? What happens when you just lose interest in the hobby you really thought you’d do forever? What happens when you feel like even your personality has changed because your circumstances have changed you?
Job lost his whole family except his wife. All of his “I ams” were lost in a day. Completely. His identity as Father, Wealthy Man, Feast-Thrower, were all tossed aside. And he was left lamenting. But would we say that Job was left without an identity?
We spend so much of our lives wondering who we really are. I think the crux of so much of the Christian faith attempts to answer this. And I think Jesus did in his seed parable.
“Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
But death? What does that look like? Are we the literal hollow men with no core who walk around void of “I ams” because ultimately we throw our “I ams” to the wind like chaff so we can die and find “life”? What if you really love fashion and you’re good at aesthetics? Is your time spent scouting stores and internet stores a waste? How can you thrive in the moment-by-moment “I ams” that engulf you? What if you are that gym rat nut and absolutely embrace your “I am” as a fit person? This is the tension I don’t quite understand. How do all of the small identities we create intersect with the Kingdom? I know one answer is Love. Are you a clanging gong or are you being you best I am in Love? And the Job question is, what questions will you ask if it’s all gone in a day? What will you ask about God when it’s all lost? Will you see the death as a way to life or will you rage?
And more importantly for me, how am I placing people in “I ams” that perhaps aren’t for them? Do I see people as the sum of the identity they are curating or am I open to their changes, dramatic or subtle? You may love coffee this year and the next have to give it up for your GERD and I can’t be upset that a tiny part of your interest was altered. I need to let others drift in their “I ams” and check in with what they are becoming. I need to never assume.
At three, my niece Eden had a tiger birthday cake because tigers captured her imagination at that age and she completely enjoyed her hand-sized plastic tiger toy. This summer I saw some photos of tigers and showed them to her, “Eden, I know how much you love tigers.” She replied, “Well, not as much as I used to.”
Maybe next month, tigers will mean absolutely nothing to Eden and I need to be listening to understand the new Eden that’s coming along and not assume tigers will be her favorite forever. I’m glad she can change and communicate it to me so I can care for her better.
In all our becomings we have the gifts of language and love to allow growth and changes in each other. What relationship in this moment most frustrates you? Perhaps this person is by nature frustrating and perhaps they’re not the person you think they are and it will take a lot of studying on your part to understand the person you thought you understood.
We can all be grateful that God didn’t stop molding His Moses and His David and His Peter. He knows one’s beginning and their end and perhaps we should tap into his vision for people before we get stuck in our myopic views. God died for people. Maybe we can die to talking so much and start studying and listening. Jesus was the most self-actualized and self-fulfilled human to ever live and he saw what was in mankind. We can’t begin scratch the surface but I wanna try this year and like Jesus will probably weep and probably despair. It’s often not too pretty. But like a dead, dark seed in the ground, the dirty moments hidden from view lead to the giant harvests that can take a lifetime or more to occur. Jesus ends his seed-parable sermon like this:
Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!”
So, to recap, do you want Kingdom Greatness? It will look something like this:
Fall down into dirty ground —>lay in dirty ground cold for a season —> die in dirty ground—-> new identity and fruitful entity emerge maybe years and years later.
Thank you, BSF, for helping me delve into Ancient Israelite geography. This place, Ramah, kept coming up in my brain and I have been waiting for God to reveal why. And this poem came to me to show me all places can be places of redemption. No place is hopeless. According to Wikipedia, “Ramah was a city in ancient Israel in the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin, whose names means “height”. It has been identified with modern Er-Ram, about 8 km north of Jerusalem.”
RAMAH, Christmas POEM 2018
Ramah: city of tears, town of remorse, village of lament
A jealous wife, Hannah, lived in Ramah,
Conceived in Ramah, birthed Samuel in Ramah,
Her son she surrendered sacrificially,
And he returned, year after year to rest in Ramah.
So why must this place of rest becomes the place of another test?
Is God just, is he fair, does he love, does he care?
A voice is heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping: The children, the children are no more!
But the child, the better Samuel escaped.
Mothers’ hearts are torn in Ramah, Mary’s heart is pierced at Golgotha,
And the Mothers’ tears are answered with blood,
Dripping down hands and feet of the priest,
Who returns home to a better Ramah,
A perfect throne, a perfect seat, a perfect rest.
The new year is coming up and a lot of us will want 2019 to look different. We all want to change. But maybe we are thinking about change in the upside down way and the real change is to see it like Jesus saw it: that life change happens when we start praying like God wants us to pray. This brings me to a year-long lesson I’ve been learning, the story of two beggars whose lives were absolutely changed by encounters through praying. The first beggar is a man Jesus invented, a symbolic tax collector who is compared to the Pharisee. And the second beggar was a real guy, a blind guy with a loud voice.
This summer I started asking myself, “How do you get there, to the tax collector status? To the justified place? How do you pray from the bottom of your soul, “God be merciful to me a sinner?”
Jesus wanted us to aspire to be this tax collector guy so apparently I am supposed to want to be like him!
First, you have to know you have nothing. You have no gifts, no abilities, no stuff, no financial security, to good deeds that will get you what you want. You have to come to God knowing who you are: a nobody. The Pharisee says what he’s not.
The tax collector says what he is: a sinner.
Come to God knowing you’re a sinner.
The Phariseeisn’t an extortioner, unjust, adulteress. Oh please! We know in the heart we are all of those things! We know how Jesus is playing on our storytelling ways and sets up for us to see the grossness of pride. Pride is our ultimate sin. So tell God, “Hey, I’m a prideful sinner.” You’ll end up actually getting what you want. What you want is more of Jesus and he just wants your honesty.
The second beggar also gets what he wants. And he’s real and really said to Jesus, “Have mercy, son of David, on me, a sinner!”
The blind beggar begs the question,
“How desperate are you for Jesus?”
The blind man out-yells the stigma of being blind, of being a beggar, of people telling him to shut up! Maybe he didn’t stop yelling because he couldn’t see the haters, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And when Jesus asks him what he wants, he knows. He’s doubtless. His faith makes him well.
Come to Jesus knowing who you are (a sinner), and knowing what you want (sight). He’s listening.
Jesus, I don’t know if I have amnesia but it’s like I’ve just met you. Your life and love is just being revealed to me at last. Your friendship and kinship is just starting to awaken me. When Hebrews has told me all these years to “look to Jesus,” I didn’t know I could actually, like the blind man, look to you. I didn’t know I could actually see your face, I didn’t know I could know you. So well. Better.
…That You could make LOVING the adventure, that you could heal me of past bitterness, and even among these rocks—all my rocky sins— there are sprouts of green growth. I have seen your faithfulness, Son of David, root of Jesse, Bright morning star, Lamb of God, Son of man, daughter of Mary, Risen One. I want you, I long for you in a dry and thirsty land. As you’ve taught me this month, you’re found in others. So, I want to find others so I can find you! I want you! Don’t hold back, please, Son of David, have mercy on me. I am on a Jericho road tired of the beggar’s life, wanting to finally see the Jesus in others. Could you restore my sight? Oh how dark it is, how scornful the shame of begging.
From Luke 18:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
…As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
My soft body to the Greenway sidewalk And let my legs and arms rest, parallel to all the damp leaves, in the dark, And I heard the trees, arguing with the rain fall And then, they gave in. Like I did, and just let the rain rain
And be grateful for this moment Of interrupted stillness, of pattern, of music, Of darkness.
And my own eyes, brimming with my tears, And the creek under the bridge, Brimming with her tears, Softly told me that I was where I was supposed to be, in darkness, Surrendered, supine on a sidewalk, Listening, feeling, resting, waiting,