Seminary studies are back in full swing. And for me that means I am focused on my Special Study course work, which is coming forth in a blog, The Table Together. I invite you to follow along.
We all have images of God. At times we struggle with reconciling God’s transcendence with God’s immanence. He is both and, not either or. I grew up with very strict and narrow images of God. Some of my images of God filtered through what I thought was or was not God’s blessing upon our nation, others, or myself. Part of our discovery of knowing God comes as we discover our false images of God. Throughout the semester we have different readings and at times I am confronted with a false image of God that limits who God is and my attempts to keep God in the box of my creation. These are often subtle — in fact they would appear quite “christian” but they are false. (Yes I am intentionally ending the thought for now).
I am realizing more and more that when faced with holding “tension” — the both and we want to swing the pendulum to one or the other–to either or. In addition to our weekly reading and online discussion we are reading The Shack (William Young) and The River Within (Jeff Imbach). Many people have the read The Shack, several weeks ago I was talking with someone who was quite uncomfortable with one of the characters for God — God was too personal, it was irreverent. For this person God’s immanence was taking central place with God’s transcendence stepping into the background. This was something that was uncomfortable and just didn’t feel right. Why is that so? (By the way we need to remember this book is a novel).
I have been thinking about my friend’s response and I have realized something that perhaps you have already realized: Jesus set aside his transcendence to be present with us. Absolutely everything. The advent makes this time of lent an invitation to see the deep measure of God’s love and commitment to covenant with us.
During our Images of God class at F2F Melanie Weidner, an artist and spiritual director living in Portland, OR, came and spent an hour with our class. It was one of the highlights of our 7 days of study (yes there were many highlights). check out Melanie’s work and her website (pretty cool) at http://www.listenforjoy.com.
I returned yesterday from eight days in Oregon attending F2F (face to face) for my seminary studies at George Fox Seminary. It was so good to spend these learning days with my MAML mates. We gather two times a year for seven days of study over eight days. Since our first meeting in late August 2007 we have developed a learning community that goes beyond education to support, friendship and care. We are a diverse lot spanning an age range of 24 to 56; comprised of six women and 13 men we represent a colorful spectrum of denominations — Nazarene, Baptist (SB), Evangelical (ECNA), Friends (Quaker), Foursquare, Church of God (pentecostal), Lutheran, Presbyterian, Vineyard, non-denominational (including church plants), and Covenant (me). The churches we are involved in range in size from XLLL to XS. We live in Alaska, Washington, California, Texas, Ohio, Montana, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, and yes Oregon.
In our time together as a cohort we have heard from our professors again and again how “deep” and thought provoking our discussions are on-line. Yesterday and today we are finding our way back to our families and those we hold so close to us when we are gone. And we are tired and reflecting on what we have heard and learned from our times of pressing through. We need these next few days to absorb.
Why do I need time to absorb? Because I have about 30 pages of notes to review and assimmulate from Christian History and Theology from the Reformation through Liberation and Liberal theology (which takes us into the 20 th century). Because I am learning more about our images of God — not that we worship another god, but because we often substitute or have incomplete (and yes, sometimes false) images of God. And because we live in a culture that is constantly changing– even if we do not see it, it is. In our Culture and System Change class with Joseph Myers (author of The Search to Belong and Organic Community) we looked at agrarian and technomadic.
My time with my cohort, Dr. Daniel Brunner, Dr. Carole Spencer, Joseph Myers (and Dr. MaryKate Morse & Darla Samuelson) and new friends in the 08 cohort (hi Elizabeth!) reminds me again why I love being a student at George Fox Seminary. I’ll share some snapshots in the coming days.
Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and women get derailed! The “tomorrow” written of in my previous post has been waiting for a week and a half. That’s what sinus infections and colds can do to you — it’s hard to think–let alone type (at least that’s the excuse I’ll use). But really the time is a gift, because forgiveness is not always something that is neatly tied up. It is isn’t tying up loose ends and then pretending nothing happened. Extending forgiveness means attending to loose ends that refuse to be tied up the first time.
Such is the case with second chances.
Matthew 18:23-35 is the section of scripture that my Bible refers to as The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It starts out, “For the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” I think we need to pay attention in this comparison to “who” initiates contact — isn’t it the same with God? He initiates, He originates. The language and description fits with these ancient times, so of course the hearers would have been listening and nodding their heads. But this king is different — he responded when asked for mercy. Verse 26: “So the slave fell on his knees before him saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And our of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” We often skim over this part. But it’s worth noting that the lord in this story heard the plea of his slave, listened to him and took the next step — released him (forgave him) of the debt the slave owed to him. It may or may not have been a significant amount to the lord, but it was a significant debt to the slave. It was a huge debt, beyond the life of the slave to repay. Forgiven, wiped clean, a clean slate, a fresh start — all were granted with a few words. It would be like taking a deep breath and letting it out without any burdens attached. What would you and I do with such a second chance? What comes to mind?
Many of us know this story and so we move ahead (but I hope you will spend some time reading through it slowly, there is much here). The now forgiven slave, on his way out sees a fellow slave (someone just like him) who owes him money. Was this slave also on his way to see the king? We don’t know. The now forgiven slave jumps at the chance to put some money — to have his own money — into his pocket. He is rightly deserving isn’t he? According to the custom and law of the land this now forgiven slave has a right to be paid back. He is within his rights. Except. Except he was given an undeserved second chance. On one hand his status has not changed — he is still a slave. On the other hand his status has changed, greatly (yes I’m putting an emphasis on greatly). But rather than mirror what the king had done for him, this slave wants amends, pay back for what is owed him.
Come on now, think about it… it would seem that offering a second chance would be easy … most of the time it probably is, but not always, even when we have been freshly and undeservedly forgiven. We can’t be too quick to assume that the just forgiven slave was a jerk to begin with. The second slave in this story did not approach the just forgiven slave and ask for forgiveness. Is that what “ticked off” the just forgiven slave? Was he thinking or expecting that the slave that owed the just forgiven slave would ask for mercy just as he had done before the king? Maybe he was. I know there have been times when that’s what I thought should happen because that’s the way things should be. I think I’m beginning to understand this parable just a bit more.
Over the past month or so I have been realizing my need to extend second chances. I have had to revisit places of hurt and confusion. I do not pretend that it is easy. The one I need to extend a “second chance” to may not get it (if you know what I mean, may not realize they need to change or ask me for forgiveness because they hurt me. Now do you get it?) The tendency is to peel away the top layer and think I’m done. But sometimes situations reveal more work is needed. In the past week or so I have realized in God’s grace and mercy that I was not extending a second chance to someone that needed a second chance.
Forgiveness is an odd thing and it is something we can heed. Unforgiveness binds –both the one that has created the offense and the one that has been wronged. Forgiveness is odd, because forgiveness releases. It can be a process. Humanly speaking we can forgive (psychologists attest to the whole being wellness that results), but the work of healing forgiveness that seeks the wholeness of the other. We are unbound and released — both the forgiver and the one being forgiven.
It means laying aside revenge. Revenge is something we hold onto because we have our hands around what it is we want to avenge. When we let go of revenge (something the now forgiven slave could not do) we can then take the next step in forgiveness.
We can genuinely come to a place of actually longing for the welfare of the person (or persons) who committed the injury. Forgiveness desires wholeness. It is not just sweeping the offense under the rug and pretend it never existed. That is pretending and pretending does not bring wholeness. In fact what is under the rug will be swept out. As Roberta Bondi reminds us in To Pray and To Love in many cases such as addiction or abuse using the virtue of discernment (and the accompaniment of wise counselors too) we can recognize and refuse to cooperate in behavior that destroys and prevents the wholeness of the other person or ourselves. “Wanting the others well-being is not necessarily wanting what he or she wants. It is wanting another to be able to live in the love God created us for” (page 114). That includes both you and me.
I realized I did not truly want the wholeness of the other because I was refusing to extend a second chance. Honestly, I was being like the just forgiven slave who did not want to extend mercy to the one who owed me. During the span of these past days I have ask God to be with me in seeing my past hurt from a different perspective, seeing the one I needed to forgive from a different viewpoint, and I have thought about what it is and what encompasses wanting the wholeness of the other.
True authencity arises when we forgive one another. Forgiveness paves the way for community. And I am discovering God’s shalom — God’s peace as I forgive. May the love of Christ draw us so that we might live in God’s love.
Forgiveness is hard and at times difficult work. I know we often have occasion to say we’re sorry and in those times we usually mean “I didn’t mean what I said” or “I didn’t mean to do that.” In those moments we realize that we have said or done something that impacts another person. Usually these occurrences are quickly resolved through the give and take of conversation and understanding.
I am not talking about forgiveness in those situations. I am talking about forgiving when we have a right to not forgive. We have been wounded, we have been hurt, something has taken place that affects who we are as people, as individuals, as ones made in God’s image. Sometimes, not always this comes through someone in a position of influence or power — more than you have. And by the choices or decisions rendered you know it. The need for forgiveness reveals that it is personal.
But it isn’t always easy to detect that we need to forgive or even that something has happened to alter the inner landscape. I think we often feel that what has happened to us is something that we deserve or that we have caused or something that we have left undone. Sometimes we realize that it is not an individual that we have to forgive but a culmination of somethings and someones. Perhaps even unrelated, perhaps not, but the cumulative effect feels like a weight you cannot lift.
We do not want to forgive because we do not know how to forgive and stand up for ourselves at the same time. And I mean standing up for ourselves because we are created in the image of God and we are persons of worth. Is it possible to forgive and yet to stand? Or to put it another way — can I forgive those that have wounded and hurt me, hindered me, perhaps without even knowing it, perhaps because they didn’t know any better and not be a jerk about it?
Why does it matter?
It matters because it matters to Christ. Because when I pay attention to what I pray I realize that forgiveness received is contingent on forgiveness extended. That is why it is hard. I have to let go of something. Here’s why…
Matthew records Jesus’ instructions on how to pray in Matthew 6:12, 14-15. It seems to be right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 12: “And forgive us our debts (other translations put it — our trespasses, our sins) as we forgive our debtors (those that trespass against us, those that sin against us). The section continues with Jesus saying, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I am grateful that He did not put a timetable on it. I think God knows that for us forgiveness can be a process. But Christ does not cut us any slack either. Forgiveness is not cheap. Jesus also tells us that when we are praying and we realize that our brother (or our sister) has something against us that we are to go to that one and be reconciled.
I am realizing that our (my) failure to forgive affects God’s shalom in my life. God as creator knows how we are made and how we function. When unforgiveness is present and given room in my life (because I refuse to acknowledge its presence) it affects me.
I’ll continue tomorrow… Shalom.
As we reflect upon Advent I realize anew the clash between expectation and reputation. The Jewish people relied upon the Torah, prophets (I’m including the “historical” books), and wisdom books. Their expectation of a renewed and restored kingdom was seen through the eyes of David and Solomon. I wonder even today if we do not put certain expectations upon our Advent and Christmas celebrations that do not match the reality of the first Christmas. Amid the festive performances, the gift giving, to our rightful yearning for peace on earth do we miss the connection between expectation and reputation?
Perhaps Mary and Joseph were the first ones required to lay aside preconceived expectations as they laid aside their reputations. The Word informs us that Joseph was a righteous man. His position and standing in the community was at risk if he were to wed Mary. If he “divorces” Mary quietly he would “save his reputation.” If he agrees to marry then he is legally becoming the father — assuming responsibility and giving the child a name. And he loses his place or position in the community because he has tied himself to Mary and to her illegimate child.
Mary, of course was at great risk. Her life was literally on the line. Even with marriage the people in their community knew who she was. Reputations have a way of sticking. Think about Marion Jones (she was on Good Morning America today)… she went to jail over lying about her steriod use, she had to return the Olympic gold medals she won. Mention her name and the associations begin. She is trying to rebuilt her reputation. I bet we could come up with a list of 10 people very quickly that would fit the same description. What is our response to these people? Our response gives us insight into the Mary and Joseph.
But perhaps we need to also realize someone else that lost their reputation in the bold act of salvation and restoration… God did. Scot McKnight writes in The Jesus Creed that “God ‘loses his reputation’ when he chooses for his Son to be born to parents with bad reputations…God chooses to reveal himself most dramatically in the reputation-losing death of his very Son on the cross.” (p. 81)
What Joseph and Mary live out is something we all will face if we are going to embrace and follow … in our obedience to follow Christ we find our identity, not the identity of what someone else wants, but our true identity. John Stott defines it this way: “When the Christian loses himself, he finds himself, he discovers his true identity.” (quoting again from The Jesus Creed, p. 80 & please recognize the use of gender is a reference to both men and women).
Our reputation is what others think about us.
Our identity is based upon who we are before God.
Mary put it this way:
For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.