Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What lasts

I wonder if my biggest trouble in seeing God in the poor is because I have a hard time seeing God.

And I wonder if I have a hard time seeing God because I am confused about what he looks like, about who he is.

I have these unspoken, unconscious, deeply felt senses of what is preferable, of what signifies blessing, of who is good.

If someone dresses in a certain way, carries themselves in a certain manner, uses a certain kind of vocabulary, smells a certain way-- there's a hidden, unconcious or barely conscious and never admitted telegraphing that goes on-- "I like that..." "They are good..." "They are well-off..." "They are ...impressive... "

I have this deep sense that those who have certain particulars-- a style, a type of church, a bearing, a giftedness, even a cleanliness and order-- that these people are some how God's blessed ones, God's favorites.

I have this other barely voicable prejudice that God is not so much with those who I feel less comfortable with or less impressed by-- sometimes it is those who have less education, perhaps less social standing, less commonality with me, maybe those who don't go to the churches I think are right on, maybe those who are desperate and in need.

I have realized how much I have a picture of what I think a blessed person looks like--but these pictures are not so much based on the truth of the Bible--on the goodness and graciousness of God-- they are based on my prejudices, on my background, on what the media and my personal history tell me is desirable, comfortable, and good.

James says... "let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low."...

It seems to me when he says this, he's telling us that there is nothing about being rich that signifies blessing and there's nothing about being poor that signifies distance from God.

This is easy to say. But it is a big deal. We live with constant bombardments of messages that say wealth and privilege and the comforts and help they confer on our lives signify our value, our worth. A very rich person is impressive to us. A beautiful person is impressive. A well-educated, well-dressed person seems blessed. A wealthy church seems blessed.

But any simple understanding of the basic message of the Bible reveals that this is not how God sees things. This is simply not truth. And if I don't know truth, then how can I see the one who is Truth?

If I want to see God, I have to examine my eye-sight. I have been using the distorted lenses of my culture and this world's value system for so long, I imagine that is the only way to see.

There are a few remedies I can think of, and every single one of them requires the Grace of our merciful, humble King if they are to be effectual.
-- Be honest about about what I value, prefer and desire. Tell the truth about myself. And by grace, repent.
-- Steep myself in the Bible, in worship and prayer. Seek to know Truth.
--Begin walking with, looking at, and making friends with those whom I once imagined were not the blessed ones. Seek to know Truth with them.
--Unplug in intentional ways from this culture's incessant messages about what is good, beautiful and blessed.

As I think of this-- it looks like Lent... which gives me hope. Maybe I have been in a long, messy, up and down season of Lent for the last six years. If so, Easter lasts longer and cannot be that far away.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Children's Book

For the past six years, I've spend most of my reading time in picture books.

My son who loves all action, and regularly asks me to tell him a story that includes him, his best friend Stevie, and light sabers... is content with almost anything I read him. I would say it soothes both of us, and brings us into rest. Maybe we've found our niche, he and I, in the rythyms of my voice, the turn of pages. I suspect that much of the time all this book reading is nothing but any easy conduit for a connection we often feel challenging and difficult. But sometimes for me, and I'm sure for him, there's a magic in these picture books that is as true and beautiful as any poet I could chose to read.

Today we read The King in the Garden, by Leon Garfield and Michael Bragg, a retelling of the story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness from the point of view of a little girl who found him in her garden. He had been eating her flowers and gulping water from her fish pond.

"I hate you!" cried Abigail, seizing the king by his hair and pulling with all her might. "Go away back to your home!"

Up came the thirsty king's head, gulping and dripping at the end of Abigail's arm.

"Home?" he mumbled, in a voice that was as rough and ugly as the rest of him. "What's that?"

He turned and stared with huge shadowy eyes that were like rooms with the candles blown out. Where was the king? Was he really inside all this dark?"

I have wanted to write and meditate on seeing God in the poor. I find I have little to say and much brokenness. Maybe it's truer to say I have simply much brokenness and guilt and the confusion that comes with trying to cover those things up.

But I loved that description of the king. The candles blown out. Don't we all see a lot of ill and broken people who have become so unmoored that a self, much less a home, are almost beyond desiring.

And this little girl was able to see the broken, homeless king and minister to him, until he could see himself and remember.

"A king may leave his kingdom, even for seven long years, and nobody need notice that he isn't there; but if God leaves a man, even for a single minute, all the world sees that he's become less than a beast!"

.... "Why are you laughing?" asked Abigail, rubbing her ear. "And why are your eyes shining as if candles have been lighted in them?"

"Because God has come back to me," answered Nebuchadnezzar, "and the darkness has gone."