Sunday, September 13, 2009

smokers and frauds

I often feel like a fraud. I think it comes from being human. And redeemed. Being both is tricky. It would be much less ambiguous if I was completely perfect or completely screwed up. But as it is, I am neither. Or both, really.

So sometimes, this feeling of being a fraud is valid. Sometimes I am a fraud. I pretend not to be human. Or not to be redeemed.

When I pretend not to be human, I talk about God and myself in a way that impresses church-people. I’m kind of good at it. Actually I’m really good at it. I know the right phrases, what to emphasize, what to leave out—-how to gloss over my humanity while accentuating my perfection. I’ve been trained well in the art of manipulating Christians to get applause and pats on the back. I’ve been doing it my whole life. You might even say I’m addicted to it. I’m addicted to the admiration of Christians.

As a human, I like to smoke. But I’m not a smoker. I learned long ago that smoking would not fit with my strategy of winning the approval of church-people. And since I don’t need competing addictions, I haven’t taken up smoking. Yet, the other day, I smoked a cigarette with a friend—-in front of Christians. Because of my addiction to approval, I agonized over it for a while (although, I have to admit I enjoyed the seeming scandal of it a bit too). Yet it was a step toward freedom.

Freedom looks different for different people. I’m realizing that as my sense of self and worth comes only from being accepted as a child of God, I become more free in my choices because they are based less and less on addiction to anyone else’s opinion and more on a desire to love as Christ loves-–not that our motives can ever be completely pure. So, in pursuing Christ-likeness, making my friend feel welcome and received and helping her to open up by smoking with her was a way of accomplishing that. The sin would have been giving in to my concern over the censure of other Christians.

I was well aware that my choice would not meet the approval of some, yet, I was quite certain that by sharing that moment with her, I was showing grace and hospitality. I am reassured by remembering that Christ himself scandalized the religious of his day by doing things they would have found morally compromising in order to extend grace and love (breaking the Sabbath, partying with sinners).

I've had to change my understanding of the word hypocrite. Instead of conjuring images of those who claim to be Christians, but who smoke, drink, or swear, as I grew up thinking, I now think about those of us who do not give permission for Christians to express their humanity in front of us. I am a hypocrite when I pretend not to be human at all. Then I am the fraud.

I remember when I started going to this church in Portland several years ago, Imago Dei, I thought I might have to take up smoking to get in with the Pastor. He was always hanging out with the smokers on the front steps just before the service—-probably trying to evangelize I thought. Because Christians don’t smoke.

But it was there where I first encountered people who were embracing both their humanity and their redemption. It was there where I first felt that it was safe to be a sinner, and therefore it was safe to admit my need, and therefore it was where I first truly understood the gospel of redemption. I didn’t fit in as a fraud there. There, my addiction was revealed.

So, now, I don’t want to be a fraud. I don’t want to attract frauds. I want to draw those who are open about their humanity by being open about mine. That doesn’t always mean smoking, but it does mean letting go of my need to have the admiration and approval of others—-especially those in the church. If I can be human in front of Christians and redeemed in front of non-Christians, if I can be both in front of anyone, without my addiction to approval, then maybe you won’t want to be a fraud around me, maybe I can be that safe place—where you can be human and where the gospel of redemption can unfold in your life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Long Will You Wait?

If happiness results when life is going our way, then I think abundant life results when life does not go according to our plan. If we receive it. Christ came to give abundant life, and it is better than mere happiness. It is our inheritance.

I’ve been reading through the book of Joshua with my life transformation group. It’s a book about dividing land—the Israelites taking their promised inheritance, being restored after their enslavement and desert wandering. And I have to admit that in parts (long parts) it’s like reading a rich man’s will. Kind of boring. But I came to something in chapter 18 that I’ve been reflecting on. It says, “…there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. So Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?’”

Why were they waiting? God had already given it to them. It seems there were pockets of resistance in the land, keeping them from claiming what was theirs. They would have to drive them out, and that would require intense battles and reliance on the Lord for victory. They had already been fighting for some time. Perhaps they were fearful. Perhaps they decided they were comfortable where they were and would just content themselves with what they had—it was good enough.

I’m thinking of our inheritance as children of God, abundant life. I believe abundant life includes love, grace, rest, freedom, and restoration. This is our inheritance. Our promise. More than being a person of happiness, I want to be a person of grace, a person who loves freely and is at rest in my soul no matter what the circumstances. A person who accepts others without judgment, who embraces brokenness and gives out of the overflow of love and grace given to me. I believe this is true beauty, true strength, and it is the gift God wants to give his children. It is our inheritance. Abundant life.

But recently I hit a pocket of resistance. It’s funny how you can think you’re experiencing rest when really it’s just that everything is going your way. But when it doesn’t, that’s when we have to claim our inheritance. Often I choose to let the resistance have possession of the land –fretting, self-pity, complaining thrive while I live in fear. I settle for good enough because I don’t want to join the fray. But if you look ahead to the book of Judges, it is clear that letting them stay in the land leads to idolatry, addiction.

Problem is, we may even like and enjoy what is in the land. We may be sad to see them go. I read recently that Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. I have said before that rest is a thief because we can’t hold it and keep hold of our other treasures—unforgiveness, discontentment, greed, pride, etc. We have to surrender the things we’re clinging to in order to receive our true inheritance. Abundant life.

What battle has to be fought in order to take hold of the inheritance? What has to be driven out in order to receive? What has to be surrendered in order to hold abundant life? I’m asking God to search my own heart now. The battle belongs to the Lord.



“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9