musings of a saint and sinner

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bondage to sin/Freedom to live

I used to think I could obliterate the bad things I could do to this world, and just make a positive impact. And while I still believe that to an extent I can limit the bad and do some good, I have come to realize that I will harm this world, like it or not. It's not an excuse for escapism, but sometimes it makes me feel that way.

My car's exhaust fumes are damaging the environment. Collectively, mine and those around me may lead to a catastrophic world for my great, great, great grandchildren.

My theology may come out a bit messed up (as a human, am I really going to get it all right?). As a result, some people might go astray. I can try to get the main things right, but still, I will say some things wrong.

And as a woman, I face the greatest sense of responsibility to my future children. I will carry them each in my womb, my body for 9 months. I approach this with a sense of terror. What if I eat or drink something that harms them? What if I take a medicine that harms them? What if scientific research comes out 20 years after their birth and it shows me that something I did while pregnant caused them harm...that it was my fault? They will be connected to me for life...utterly dependent on me in a way that makes me quite uncomfortable. It is beautiful, but it is also terrifying.

And when our children are born, my husband and I will mess them up, in one way or another. I used to blame my parents so much for every mistake they made. Now I am feeling a bit more charitable towards them. After all, could they really help making some mistakes? None of us know a single person who escaped being somewhat messed up by his or her parents. Not one. If they tell you they escaped this, they are lying. They may have been parented better or worse, but there is still something broken that clings to them. I hate that that is true. I want to be a perfect parent, but I know that I cannot be.

Emmanuel Levinas writes, "There is a fear for all that my existing--despite its intentional and conscious innocence--can accompish violence and murder." Not just what I do or don't do. My existing. That's a pretty terrifying thought. It says that I am capable of the most evil things that have ever been done. I hasten to run away from realizing that if a human has done it, I could do it. And even worse, there is the realization that I can't help adding to the sin and brokenness in this world. My complicity in evil is terrifying. I want to believe that I am good.

I am left with nothing. I am as dead. I can do nothing to make myself good or righteous. I can do nothing to deserve a better eternity than this life. I am bound and cannot free myself. "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?" (Romans 7:24, NLT).

I obviously cannot solve my own problem. I cannot solve the world's problems. A blind woman cannot lead the blind. Is there anything to be done that I may be rescued, that my world may be rescued? If anything is to happen, it cannot come from me or my fellow sinners. All we do is make things worse.

And then Jesus Christ steps in and interrupts our world. He is perfect God and perfect Man. He can fix things, because for once here is a human being who is not part of the problem. Here is a human being who never sinned. Here is a human being truly willing to love His neighbor...and to lay down His life for us. Our penalty for doing nothing to make this world better was death...and He took it for us. Death for us is now not a terrifying prospect, but rather the gateway to life. He let us kill Him so we could see that finally we do not welcome the good, but actively seek to undo it. He walked into the midst of our evil and took the full brunt of it. Because He walked through it and came back to life, we can see that He is the Master of it. And He will walk through it for each of us. He declares that our relationship with God is restored. We used to spend our energy justifying how wonderful we were and how much we deserved God's favor (if a God even existed). Now, we have been freed to love our neighbor, to stop worrying about ourselves so much.

And yet, the old condemnation still steals in. We are still mortals. We still mess up this world. We still worry that our personal tally sheets (good deeds vs. bad) will come up unbalanced. We still have to be reminded that God is for us, despite the fact that our tally sheet will be unbalanced. We need to hear the Word that gives us confidence to venture into this world and try, knowing that though we will fail, we are forgiven. We are freed. We are loved.

There is an old, old image from John Bunyan's classic, Pilgrim's Progress, that I think still applies. When Christian comes to the cross on the hill, he is carrying a monumentally heavy backpack full of his sins and failures. They weigh him down and make him a hunchback. But at the cross, his backpack is falls off. He is given a bright white robe and suddenly he can walk freely and lightly along the path of life.

This is a great image describing the moment God brought us to the cross and saved each of us. We were freed from our sins. But I also think that very often later we freed sinners try to put things back into our backpacks. We start thinking our salvation depends on us... or that Jesus's death for us only applies to past sins and not the present or future...and so we try to carry the weight of our own sins. This will do nothing other than make us hunchbacks, staring into our own navel all over again. We need to be reminded that Jesus has taken our backpack away, enabling us to look our neighbor in the eye and love him or her. We will fail--of course--but when we do we can know that Jesus is carrying the backpack for us so that we can go back and look our neighbor in the eye again. We need to be reminded of this...and I hope this post has done that for you.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

bumper sticker hippie

Yesterday, I was almost bashed in by a car bearing the bumper stickers, "Veterans for Peace," "John Kerry," and other liberal pithy-isms. The white-haired hippie inside the car dashed into the bank parking lot rapidly and then--with great exasperation--honked his horn wildly at me as if I were to blame for pulling out of my parking space slowly and entering his path. I wonder if he intuitively knew I voted for Bush...or was he just driven to violence over the fact that there was no peace in the world?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

just a student again?

The past 15 months have really changed my life. I am struggling with how to articulate this to friends. I am coming back the same person...and yet not the same person. Then again, maybe I am underestimating the fact that they have experienced the same sort of thing (especially those of them that have been away on internships too).

In the past 15 months...
...I have worked as a chaplain on a mental health floor
...I have had to deal with the fall-out from a vicious, violent crime in the community I served
...I have been present when a woman died in her hospital bed
...I have conducted over a half-dozen funerals
...I have preached countless sermons and taught countless classes
...I have faced the growing seriousness of my father's illnesss, wondering at times if he would die soon
...I have started a new ministry of spritual gifts discovery at a congregation
...I have started a young adult Bible study...and seen people really grow through it
...I have gotten married to a man I can't believe I didn't realize sooner was so perfect for me
..I have been known to some people ONLY as married (i.e., they haven't known me at all as a single person)
...I have become firmly convinced that I'm called to be a pastor
...I have had a standing ovation at my internship reception

So...that now makes me a married woman in ministry...pretty crazy...Prrety different from when I was here last, struggling to find my wings...Wondering if I could truly be either of those things. Will people expect me to be the same? Will I fall into the rut of doubting myself because they expect it? I hope not.

The thing that sustains me though is my peers...these people who have gone through the wringer too...the many hoops to jump through...the battle. Some of them are a bit battle weary. Some are doing great. But all in all, we can encourage each other.

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