Perfection as Compassion

In Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child, he points out the time when Jesus asked us to be perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect. The word translated perfect is actually about being compassionate. Be compassionate, the way the father, the creator whose image we were made in, is compassionate. He gives the example of having been asked by an evangelical, while serving in the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network in New Orleans, what the posture of the Christian community ought to be toward the gay community.

His response was to cite the parable given by Jesus about letting the weeds grow up with the wheat. If we tear out of our community what we perceive to be weeds (note, I said perceive, for even Manning says we cannot know a person’s motive), we will tear out the wheat right along with it. When we presume to stand in God’s judgment seat, rather than his mercy seat, we do great damage. Ironically, after Romans 1, which includes a discourse by Paul against all kinds of sins, including sexual sins, he says we therefore have no right to judge anybody. Why would he say that unless he believed we all fall short of the glory of God just as much as we all have hope in being saved by him?

Possible

I’m reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. There’s a section in here that says so clearly what I used to try to convey so unsuccessfully. I used to frequent what others considered to be the dark corridors of human society; I was part of a community that other Christians I knew wouldn’t go anywhere near. I was really part of that community. I wasn’t there to just share the gospel and then leave. I wasn’t an outsider in their midst. They were my friends, and I was part of their lives as they were part of mine. In the end, I didn’t leave because I fulfilled my mission among them–I never intended to leave at all. I left because my presence there was creating such a severe rift between myself and those who insisted I was wrong to be there that I found myself having to choose between them and my own family.

I find this passage from Brennan Manning to communicate so clearly what I failed to convey to other Christians at that time, that I can’t help but share it here, in this place where I occasionally step out of my shell and reveal a bit of what lies beneath the surface of me.

Brennan writes,

Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion “which is possible to the very last moment.”

God never leaves us, never forsakes us, never gives up hope that we will turn to him and place our trust in his heavenly care. Even when we’re sinning, even when we’re rejecting him, even when we want nothing to do with him, he eagerly awaits our attention like a mother whose baby is just beginning to walk away from her for the first time. Why shouldn’t we, as the baby’s brothers and sisters, dwell with our mother and our sibling in this place? Who knows, maybe if the baby falls, we will be there to pick him or her up and redirect them to the care that awaits them, because of the trust we have earned as people of love and safety. Wouldn’t a parent’s heart rejoice at such love between siblings? Aren’t we all created in God’s image, all descended from the same breath of God as one another, part of the same creation he so lovingly cares for, and doesn’t he ask us to care for it with him?

The Have-Nots

Actually, I have to say one more thing about living Much Like Jesus Led. And again I’m quoting Brennan Manning. It’s been a good season reading his books, including “A Glimpse of Jesus” which I quote below.

In any society, secular or sacred, where the haves don’t share with the have-nots, the Kingdom of Satan reigns. The presence, the Word, and the dream of Jesus Christ are neither real nor operative. They simply do not exist….

The etymology of the word compassion lies in two Latin words, cum and patior, meaning “to suffer with,” to endure with, to struggle with, and to partake of the hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams of our brothers and sisters in the human family. Commitment to Jesus Christ without compassion for his people is a lie. “The life of Jesus suggests that godlikeness means to attain a compassionate life since God’s heart is apparently thought by Jesus to be compassionate,” argues Donald Gray. “To show compassion is to be like God, like Abba. To show compassion is to be like Abba’s son.”

Something to think about is a podcast I heard from Wayne Jacobsen some time back, about the Keeper and the Kept. He stressed the importance of giving in such a way as to not keep the receivers down, while keeping the givers elevated. The kind of giving that perpetuates a feeling of inferiority, of dependence, isn’t what what Jesus had in mind, and isn’t some beautiful design for human living by God.

As I take up my paintbrush and make my life into something beautiful, as I lend paint to others in order to help them do the same, may I ever strive to help them on the path to becoming more, not staying less.

The Risk-Takers

This will probably be my last post in the Much Like the Life Jesus Led series. I didn’t take it where I had intended, because my own life is frustrated right now in this very sense (and has been for a few years now). Brennan Manning writes in “A Glimpse of Jesus,”

The risk-taking disciple, who dares to listen to his feelings rather than to the pontifications of authority or the clamor of the majority, may quickly find that his inner convictions do not resonate with the vox populi. He finds the situation unnerving to himself and disturbing to the palace guard. Though Abraham Maslow might describe him as “unique and idiosyncratic, alive and creative rather than phony,” the nervous disciple finds little solace in the eulogy. He is pretty damned frightened about swimming upstream–his security blanket of respectability has been snatched away….

The risk-takers who listen to the Spirit speaking through “the intelligence of their emotions” are ready to chance something, fully aware that the history of Christian spirituality is not consistently one of obedient conformity, however much some savants choose to view it that way…. Their dream, insofar as it comes from the passionate uncertainty of the Spirit, is contagious for some and delusional for the vociferous, lockstepping majority. The Scriptures testify that the innovator invites trouble…. Heads shake, hallowed traditions are invoked, nonhistorical orthodoxy is extolled, and the guilt-tripping begins….

Soon the risk-takers find that they are traveling in bad company. The historical Jesus was no outlaw, and nothing in the gospel lends support to the notion that he was a maverick harboring a grudge against the world, the law, or the authorities. Still… Jesus listened to another voice, sought his spiritual direction elsewhere, and seemed unafraid of what people might say about him or what people might do to him.

For the last few years I’ve enjoyed relative safety in the tight cocoon of risk-less Christianity. The company I’ve kept has been nearly 100% Christian. The parties and other social events I’ve gone to have been nearly 100% Christian-sponsored and Christian-filled.

And it’s been bothering me.

I miss getting the same criticism as Jesus did for the company I keep. I miss sitting in my old friend Sanie’s living room and talking to a room full of gay teens and young adults about my experiences with the Spirit of God. I can still see their engaged faces, listening to me as I spoke from my heart about a God who does not hate them after all. The criticism I received from others in the church hurt, but Jesus didn’t tell us to take up our miniature golden crosses on fine chains around our necks and follow him. That’s not the cross, but merely a symbolic reminder of it. Yet, it’s far easier to heft only the imitation, which is so weightless and pain-free we put it on and largely forget we’re even wearing it.

In today’s reading of “Reflections for Ragamuffins,” Brennan Manning says, “Compassion, the ability to suffer with the hurt of another, is an essential Christian quality.” I miss taking time to sit with hurting people and listen to them, offering little to no advice other than specific ways I’ve found helpful for drawing near to Jesus.

I miss the words of a dear friend who was once something of a father figure to me, when he said,

You are a pioneer and a radical.

I’m not a pioneer or a radical anymore.

For years I struggled with conflicting desires to be a mother and to be something greater, more world-impacting. I couldn’t reconcile the two images of life I had in my head, the two dreams that competed for priority. Now that I’ve stepped out of danger for so long, and had time to evaluate my life past and present, and re-imagine my future, I’ve come to realize they aren’t conflicting dreams. I’m not just a parent who raises good people, to hopefully raise other good people, and so on. I’m a woman of God who is raising a new generation of Jesus-followers, and as such I’m not just here for them, but we’re here for us and others. They’re integrated ideas. Integrated dreams.

And it’s kinda perfect that I recently began listening to the Mosaic Podcast series by Erwin McManus and his co-pilot Hank Fortener. McManus just wrote a book called “The Artisan Soul,” which is all about being purposeful in what kind of life we’re living, because as created beings by a creative God, we’re not only artwork, but also artists ourselves.

I’ve had on my nightstand a quote I picked up in a book several months ago. I didn’t quote the author of the book, I simply typed this:

Be poets. Make something of these words I’ve spoken to you. Make a life, epic and poetic. And make it beautiful. Make it a work of art.
–Jesus

That’s what I want. I want to be the artisan of my life, together with the Artisan of my life. It’s a little oxymoronic, and I think I like it better because it is.

It’s funny, I had in mind a fairly organized, regularly-updated blog series about the life of Jesus and how to live much like he did. It surely didn’t turn out that way. Then again, I never have been able to successfully keep my resurrected savior all wrapped up neat and tidy within my limited capacity. For that I’m truly thankful.

The Abba Experience

Today I am reading in the book of Micah, in The Message translation of the Bible.

But for right now, they’re ganged up against you,
many godless peoples, saying,
“Kick her when she’s down! Violate her!
We want to see Zion gravel in the dirt.”
These blasphemers have no idea
what God is thinking and doing in this.
They don’t know that this is the making of God’s people,
that they are wheat being threshed, gold being refined.
(Micah 4:11-12, MSG)

Eugene Peterson writes in a commentary about this passage that judgment is painful, yet purposeful. There’s something to show for it when it’s over. “After the pain,” he writes, “you’re able to cradle new life in your arms.”

This passage also reminds me of Jesus’ experience at the cross. The people who were ganged up against Jesus had no idea what God was thinking and doing either. They didn’t know his suffering was the making of a people, opening the way to their refinement.

The author of Hebrews, in chapter 10, is ruminating on the cross. One thing he writes is,

But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness of sin and guilt.
(Hebrews 10:2-3, MSG)

They certainly didn’t know when they were scorning Jesus that God was about all that business.

In the March 18 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, he writes: “The greatest gift I have ever received from Jesus Christ has been the Abba experience.” (Abba is a Hebrew word for Dad. Father is a bit too formal, Daddy a bit too immature, for the well-rounded, mature connotation of the “dad” we have in God.) Jesus gave us that gift at the cross. We don’t have to reject the possibility of an open, loving relationship with God because of our baggage. He’s claimed them already. He’s carrying them. It’s not a license to sin further, which is discussed by other Biblical authors, but it is a way to allow ourselves to live loved by God and love him and others as a result of that living loved.

Not only is our guilt removed, but our awareness of it can be removed, too, if we let it, opening the way for intimate relationship.

So, friends, we can now–without hesitation–walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
(Hebrews 10:19-21, MSG)

That ties right into what I read in Micah today, about judgment refining us. Not only does judgment in our lives refine us, such as when the Israelites were unfaithful so long and hard and ended up in long-term exile, but the judgment that Jesus endured in our place has the power to refine us if we choose to enter into the relationship with God that has been opened up to us through that sacrifice.

Noah Stepro said recently in a sermon called “Giving Up: Expectations,”

We can’t know the father, you can’t follow Jesus, you can’t experience the Spirit through logic, hard work, or moral behavior. You can only know God through a renewal, or a rebirth, of your spirit. And we’re called to be a community of renewal. That’s our vision. That we’re joining God in the renewal of all things. And that’s really hard to do if we’re old and decrepit and dying inside, and we’re living off the faith of last week, or a year ago, or our childhood…. We’re called to be present with the Lord today.

I’m certain I’ll gain no popularity for saying it, but there is great renewal to be had through judgments as discussed above. It’s through trials I’ve been refined. When I was radically steeped in my own pride a few years ago, God humbled me. I honestly believe there was some judgment taking place in my life at that time. The judgment of some of God’s people at that time, I admit, only hurt me and propelled me further into my rebellion and pride. Yet, the perfect, gracious judgment of God brought with it a radical reformation of my character. And none of that would be possible were it not for the judgment Christ received on our behalf at the cross, opening the way for open, loving communion with our creator.

I’m certain my ramblings are a bit cyclic today. But that’s okay. The Bible is cyclic, too. I’m just glad I have my Abba to hold my hand and twirl me in this dance called life.

Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.

Much Like the Life Jesus Led

I’m reading through Brennan Manning’s book, Reflections for Ragamuffins. It has an entry for every day of the year. Today’s entry says that Jesus is not like the great thinkers of his day, “speaking with detachment about the Supreme Being.”

He’s the God with spit on his face.

And he tells us not to weep for him, but to join him. He tells us that the life he led is the Christian life he has planned for us to live.

Manning goes on to say that the scandalous cross of Christ comes into our lives through “mental anguish, physical suffering, and wounds of the spirit that will not close,” within which we pray that God will help us stand against the realms of the flesh, the devil and the world.

That got me to thinking about the life Jesus lived, and about the word “world.”

I’m thinking of doing a series of posts about the life that Jesus lived, because I’m certain I’ve not fully embraced that life for myself nearly enough. And as Manning says in this entry, “It is hard to be a Christian, but it is too dull to be anything else.”

If I do create this series of posts, I also want to talk about Jesus being hated by the world, and telling us his followers would be, too. Who was Jesus hated by? The “world” is something I’ve often been told is the embodiment of the values and means of secular systems–greed, lust, pride, selfish ambition and more. To be hated by the world would be to be hated by people who are all about those things, right? I’ve always heard that the world’s people are those who aren’t followers of God. But the people who hated and scorned Jesus, ultimately had him sentenced to death, and harassed his followers just as he said they would, were the religious leaders of the day. Paul himself admitted that when he was part of the faction that was trying to squelch Jesus and his Way, he thought he was on Team God.

I’m not certain I’m bold enough to start writing again. This blog has been quiet for years now. I’ve written many posts in the past three years, only to delete them rather than publish them. Maybe this is enough for now. Maybe it’s not, and I’ll do the series. For today, it’s enough.

If there’s anybody out there, thanks for reading. What do you think about these things? (Not whether or not not I write more, but about the things I’ve written here today.)