Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Confusing Blessing with Approval


The Abbess was saved from rambling on in the comments over at Jesus Creed (in these threads) by taking the time to compose her thoughts in Word first. So, they are here for you to read, with a link left over at Scot’s blog….

Many years ago I heard a fascinating sermon on TBN that took them to task.  I will never forget it, even though I have forgotten the name of the brave brother who delivered the message.  The bottom line was this:  do not confuse God’s apparent blessing with his approval of your methods.

Scot, I believe this is the core issue surrounding this difficult circumstance:  There are those who believe that the religious institution that we call church IS the very Body of Christ, rather than that the body of Christ is made up of those who name Christ as Lord.  I think it is an important distinction.

Certainly the God who sent first his Son and then his Spirit to birth the church, who is the master of taking whatever is available and creating amazing masterpieces, can and does (and will continue to) do amazing things through those who will offer themselves up to his will and seek to be obedient servants.  Not an issue.  Cracked pots with light streaming and all….

The issue is with humans (those very cracked Eikons) want to pick and choose and label the work of God in ways that exclude other expressions that God apparently has also inspired and blessed.  It is not an either / or situation.  It is more than a both / and situation.  It is an expression of the amazing diversity that is the reality of the Kingdom of God:  those persons and situations where the rule of God is found.

The way in which this is manifest will be different in different contexts.  It always has been and always will be.  There is, in each manifestation, a bit of that Kingdom-of-God-light streaming out through the cracked pots.  When one pot (or group of pots) tries to exclude other pots, or suggest that they are not letting God’s “true” light shine through their cracks, it is so very sad.  As if God is not capable of blessing any pot offered up to him….

As in other conversations that have been raging through the internet of late, there is a significant difference between criticism and critique.  One seeks to tear down and the other seeks to build up.  It is a matter of intention.

I do love the Church, the Bride of Christ, to which I have actively chosen to belong for the past 44 years.  But I have, in the last 8 years, come to experience something that reminds me of Jacob’s dilemma:  the bait and switch.  After working for seven years to earn Rachel as his wife, he finds that under the veils he has been tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah.  His love for Rachel is so strong that he works another seven years for her.  Yet, even in the midst of this amazing trick, pulled on an infamous trickster, God was neither absent nor thwarted nor tainted in planting the seeds of his love and grace and mercy in their midst.

Many want to say that God planned each piece of this long trail of deception in order to bring Israel into being.  I cordially disagree.  And you are welcome to cordially disagree with me.  When we do this, we offer up critique in order to try to better understand the mystery that is the will of God.  When we choose not to be cordial, we can fall into criticism … cracked Eikons and all.

The Bride is not ours to have and to hold.  We are the Bride of Jesus.  He is the one who makes us holy, by being both the source and the sustainer of our being and our mysterious relationship.  We are to accept his outrageous love and amazing grace and sometimes severe mercy and to connect with and support those parts of his body with whom we find ourselves associated.

There are some, however, who want to put the wedding veil on Leah (or Hagar, before her) as a way to not offend custom.  God, however, does not find himself bound by human customs.  He uses or transcends customs according to his wisdom as means to advance his will.

I have come to believe that what many call the Institutional Church has too often embraced religion at the expense of relationship. Seeing power as something to be grasped and wielded rather than influence to be recognized and spent on behalf of the least of these. When we offer this version of the Bride as part of the Good News, it can sometimes turn out to be a Leah under the veil.  Then we have to work very hard to get to Rachel – that with which we were initially smitten.

Those who toil through are rewarded with partial bliss.  They are finally with Rachel, the beloved … but they find they have continued obligations to Leah, whom they have come to despise.    To take this chapter out of Israel’s history and suggest that is it our Father’s intention for his Son and Bride -- that it bears his stamp of approval – is too much for me.

In the end, all who are married find that the reality is very different from the expectation.  This most intimate of relationships is also the most challenging … and, if given due respect and attention, it is the most rewarding.  When looking at each other through the eyes of love, the reality is not what is seen on the surface, but what has been nurtured over time.

There is not one experience of being The Bride that fits all.  Christ has been known to come where two or three are gathered and do amazing things in their midst.  He has also been known, through the ages, for being in the midst of many other expressions of his Bride.

Do not confuse the presence and blessing of Christ with his stamp of approval on the methods at work in that manifestation of his Bride.

Marriage is truly a mystery.  The marriage of Christ and the Church is no less a mystery.

The Good News in Jesus transcends culture and transforms culture and indwells culture.  Please don’t make judgments concerning the many marvelous and miraculous ways that Christ does this.  See him in the big churches, within the deep and beautiful traditions of the Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant expressions of devotion.  See him in the movement that transformed culture among the Celtic faithful.  See him in the millions of underground clusters of believers who live the dream in the midst of a nightmare.  See him in the hearts and dreams of those who resonate with missional or neo-monastic or unorthodox spaces and expressions of devotion.  Open your eyes and ears and you will see the Spirit at work in the most unlikely of places.

Please, answer the call of the Spirit to join in The Dance around you.

Rejoice and give thanks for the love that never gives up and that pursues cracked pots.  Be grateful that the Spirit pours out that love according to the strength of the pot to contain it – some fast and overflowing, others gently and measured.

But never, ever believe that splashing mud on or hurling insults at or ridiculing the appearance of Christ’s precious Bride is ever a method that bears the Father’s stamp of approval.  Watch, however, for what happens when these things occur.
·       He will pick up his towel and basin with which to wash off the mud – reaching out to cleanse both the muddy boot and the soiled garment … if we, like Peter, will submit to being cleansed.
·       He will give his incomprehensible peace to heal and guard the hearts and minds of those who have been injured with words used poorly … while looking into the hearts and minds of the heartless and thoughtless and asking the hard question:  Do you love me?  If we, like Peter will submit to being restored.
·       He will take the downcast face in his hands and look deeply into the shamed eyes and, his own eyes sparkling with tears of both love and grief, and say, “You are absolutely exquisite!” – while challenging the perceptions to be transcended:  Do not call unclean what I have called clean.  If we, like Peter, will believe that Christ is not concerned with outward appearances.

Critique, if you must.  But be sure to have the Spirit remove the plank from your eyes before you presume to remove the speck from the eyes of a brother or sister.  What hurts one member of the Body should be felt by all the members of the Body.

Oh, and one more thing.

Please, please, do RELAX a bit and have a sense of humor about it, won’t you?  It’s a dance, for heaven’s sake…we all look a smidge ridiculous now and then next to our glorious Bridegroom!


Paddy O. said...

Sometimes I wonder if the tendency to critique often comes out of an insecurity--in not knowing how to respond to a challenge.

This is an assault on our faith, so we crouch in a defensive position and like a cornered bull we lash out.

And with it, challenges like this remind us how little we know, but we see a need for response right away! and make up for our ignorance with our vehemence.

I sometimes wonder if this is why there's a gift of tongues, not just for the worship, but also for all the other elements. It let's loose the steam until we can better recognize and discern the Spirit's words in the situation. At that point we can enter into prophecy.

I'm thinking of the example of Jesus here who took up challenges and so, so often swatted apparently difficulties, or supposed heresies, or whatever with his quick wit and perfectly tuned words. There were situations that called for a "Get behind me, Satan!" but these were not alienating, but rather even in these Jesus called Peter and others always into continued fruitful relationship.

The idea of a passionate interest in the fullness of truth combined with an awareness of our own sin and humility is something I really see taught in those desert monastics of the early centuries.

Time in the desert, I suppose, sharpens one's hope and one's grace.

AbiSomeone said...

Agreed, Patrick! How many issues would become non-issues if we had more confidence in God's love and ability to bring his will into being ... and less confidence in our own ability.

The drive to create in humility, as acknowledged sub-creators under God (thank you, Tolkien, for this image!), engages our passion within a proper restraint.

...and it frequently does take a desert experience to get that.

Linda said...