Friday, August 21, 2009

Becoming Human

Before I joined the human race,
before pain and failure were embraced,
with a heart too flimsy to feel for you
and an image too pure to let you pollute,
as the riddled chaos of this life arrived,
I swept it under rugs of pride
under doors and in your eyes—
wherever I could find disguise,
just to subsist in blameless bliss,
outside this story’s erratic twists.

Please don’t bleed on my white dress.
Don’t ask me to carry all your mess.
You can take my neat phrases
and try to cover your broken places.
But I can’t afford to suffer with you,
unless you pay me what is due,
because my heart is full of me
wanting you to meet my need.

But as I begin to participate,
I face my pain to taste His Grace,
giving freedom for the task
of holding your hurt and loving your mess
without fear of running dry,
even if our plans should run awry.
Because there’s enough to give away,
in grief or joy or come what may,
since Love came to dwell in this tainted place—
here, among the human race.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Self-Hatred and Sameness

Most of us wouldn’t say we hate ourselves. But, if we’re being honest, we might agree that there are things about ourselves that we hate. There are things about me that I hate. Not just frizzy hair kinds-of-things, but character defects that are deep-seated. But I haven’t really seen my self-hatred as a problem. I figured, there are a lot of things about me that are worthy of hatred—I don’t really hate me, I hate those things about me. But it’s ok because everyone else hates them too—even God. So I can keep on hating them.

But today, as I was reading Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child, the thought occurred to me that if I hate something in me, I will hate it in you. And if I truly want to be a person of grace and mercy and hospitality, there is no room for self-hatred. If I hate me, I hate you. If I judge myself, I judge you. If I condemn myself, I condemn you. If I expect perfection in me, I expect it in you. We are the same.

It made me think about how I have always been uncomfortable when people judge and condemn my ex-husband for his affair. Get angry at the tragedy of it, the injury, the injustice – yes – but condemn him, and I’m not with you. An old friend of ours recently messaged me on facebook about it, perhaps trying to commiserate, but it came across more as accusing and censuring my ex. His attitude bothered me. I didn’t know why at first, but now I realize it is because I know we are the same. My ex-husband was the scapegoat, his fault more visible, but we are the same. I am no better. There is something wrong with all of us deep down. We’re the same. When they condemn him, they condemn me. I am a liar. I am a cheater. I am passive. I am weak-willed. I am an idolater. I am unfaithful. Like him. Like you.

When we don’t accept these things in ourselves, we deny them, enabling us to see ourselves as different, as better—allowing us to judge and condemn others and claim superiority. And it all comes back to self-hatred. If we can accept ourselves fully as God in fact does, our whole self including all the things that are unlovely and worthy of hate, then we can accept others because we see that they are like us. If we can extend ourselves grace and mercy, then we can extend it to others.

So really, my show of condemnation toward others is a show of self-hatred. And all my self-hatred is a condemnation of others. It is the same because we are the same. Henri Nouwen says, “It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation.” Until we recognize our sameness, we will not be people of grace. And ultimately, grace is what transforms us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

True Hospitality

I started today knowing I would have to battle perfectionism.

See, I had a dinner party for 15 neighbors and friends at my apartment tonight—to be in community and connect. Perfectionism tells me that hospitality means making everything Martha-Stewart-perfect. But when I go that route I get all psycho and bitchy about everything being just right—to the point where I forget to love people. I make it more about stuff than people. But lately, I’ve got this new idea about hospitality. And it has nothing to do with place-settings or cakes or centerpieces.

The hospitality industry is marketed on perfectionism. Perfectionism really is just a cover up, a sham. But true hospitality is openness. Hospitality is a way of living where I share openly my true self, my mistakes, my joys, my sorrows—not in a needy way, but in a way that invites people into who I am really, that invites people to share who they are. Hospitality is a show of grace not perfection. I show grace to myself (especially if things don’t go according to plan) and thus I show that grace is available from me to others.

This morning I decided I want to be a person of grace not perfection. I want to be a person of invitation not expectation. So, I started with me—I decided to show myself grace and lower my expectations, to invite myself to enjoy and love others and not worry so much about everything coming together just right. And I did. I loved, I laughed, I ate, I drank. And someone had to sit on a laundry basket because I didn’t have enough chairs. And the cake stuck to the pan. And the food wasn’t ready when everyone arrived. And all the plates didn't match. And I ran out of salad dressing. And it was all perfect.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

book review: the prodigal god

Sometimes, I need to get the gospel flowing through me again. Tim Keller describes a person who is so struck with a fresh apprehension of the gospel that they feel as if they have been “re-converted.” This was my experience when I read Searching for God Knows What by Don Miller two years ago. And a couple of weeks ago, as I read Keller’s The Prodigal God, the same beautiful message accosted me. Like an addict, I so easily return to my elder-son tendencies (Luke 15:11-32)—I am drawn toward religion— to do everything right, but without living in relationship with the Father, without receiving the love and grace He freely offers. Or I live with the condemnation and shame of my younger-son rebellion. I need the gospel.

“…even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.”

As Keller fleshed out the lostness of both the younger son and the elder son in the parable, and revealed the recklessly extravagant love of the father, it shook me with life-changing truth, but more than that, with heart-changing grace of the gospel message. He shows how both of the sons are wrong, and both are loved and invited into relationship.

The picture of the father running to meet his younger son—not waiting for his speech of contrition, or for him to pay the due consequences, not expecting him to earn his way back into the family, but restoring him, and lavishing him with love, grace, and acceptance freely—is one that always astounds me.

“It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, but rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son’s expression of remorse far easier.”

But Keller doesn’t stop with the younger son. He goes on to look at the plight of the elder son and the costliness of the father’s lavishness. Like the elder son, I am often motivated by fear-based moralism rather than out of assurance of the Father’s love. I fall for an easier pseudo-gospel message which, upon closer scrutiny, reveals that much of what we do for God we are really doing for ourselves—because it is to our own advantage (The Principle of the Path… hmm?). But when we understand our need and the price Christ has paid to pursue and rescue us, our self-righteous incentive is transformed into grateful love.

“How can the inner workings of the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger to that of love, joy, and gratitude? Here is how. You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home.”

Keller packs a very short book (only 134 pages) full of gospel truth and grace. The gospel is a sweet fragrance that can permeate the rotten stench of religion and rebellion. We all need to be infused with the true gospel of grace so that it overflows from our lives onto others. The Prodigal God can get you reset to gospel-mode. I hope you read it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who We Are For Now

In our overlapping lives
We loved each other badly
As our fears fed on fears
And yet we healed
And understood
As best we could
Broken and wounded
As we are

Each one we’ve met
As we breathe we affect
We love and bless
And hurt and mess
And break
And disappoint
Broken and wounded
As we are

You’re invited to this place
To join the human race
To suffer and fail
And come off the hill
Where you’re looking down blindly
At us loving badly
Broken and wounded
As you are

Forgive me
I have loved you badly
Forgive me
I will love you badly
Not an excuse
Just the truth
Broken and wounded
As I am