December 20, 2015

A Time to Cleave*

The Father peered outside and watched His Son at work.  A lump formed in his throat as he realized what would happen soon.  Reluctantly, he called out to the young man, requesting that he come back to the house.  He gazed steadily at the youth trotting toward him, as if he was afraid he would disappear if he didn't keep watch.  They had always been together.  How could he let him go….?

“It’s time, Son,” was all he said watching the other’s face light up with expectation.  Surprised, the father asked if his son knew what would happen next. 

“Yes, Dad.  We have to rope the comet, gather up the horses for the horsemen and all the other battle implements and prepare to…

“No!  Not that time.  That will happen the next time.  For now you travel to earth under different accommodations.  Did you forget the original plan?  I can see from your confused look that you have, so let’s go over it one more time.”

The Son really knew the plan, but just wanted to see his Dad laugh one more time before he had to leave.  “Let’s see, I fly down wearing a close fitting suit with tighty-whities over my clothes and a cape flying behind me. I have will have gorgeous hair, blue eyes, six-pack abs and a strong, cleft chin, all of which are highlighted by my suit. I land in Rome, use my X-ray vision and super strength overpower the all the world’s tyrants and save the oppressed people so they can experience truth, justice, and the American way.”  The only indication on his solemn, placid face that he was suppressing laughter was the twinkle in his eyes.

Contorting his face into a Very Stern Look took extreme effort as the Father managed to get out, “No plan of mine will EVER involve wearing tighty-whities over your clothes” before bursting into laughter.  Then they were consumed by spasms of laughter, audible and silent, for many minutes until both ended up on the floor wiping tears from their eyes, though neither of them knew if they were from the laughter or for the separation that was coming all too soon.

The Father continued more soberly, “No, you will become a baby to be born in the same messy way we designed it, not able to control your bladder, completely dependent on your parents for everything.  Your earthly parents are loving, God-fearing people, but they are a poor couple, not even married yet, who live in that tiny town in a small community. Right before you are to be born, I will have that capricious leader we put in charge make everyone in the country go to their birth town so he can get a better estimate of tax money to be raised.  The town is small and will be overflowing with people.  Your parents will not be able to stay with relatives and will even have to make do staying in a barn.  My only birth announcement will come from the angels singing to those shepherds near the town.  The only gifts you will receive will be from some superstitious court magicians who will travel thousands of miles to see you, but will be several years too late for the actual birth.  You will grow up like any baby, becoming stronger and wiser and more capable.  You will astound people with your wisdom, your kindness and compassion, your ability to heal people and your love.  In other words, you will show them exactly how we are so they are less likely to mis-interpret what we have said in the past, though, knowing them, they will manage it anyway.” Sadness descended on his face at the last sentence.

Looking intently at the Father, the son summarized the plan:  “So I will be born a completely ordinary child to a couple of nobodies in the boondocks of Nowhere-ville who have to travel to another speck of a town which will have no room for them in a regular house.  I will be born in a smelly, dung-filled barn and my first bed will be a cow’s feed box, anointed with cow slobber.  You will extravagantly spend the music of the angels to deliver your message to a group of people who’s testimony is considered invalid in a court of law and who can’t even participate in the Jewish ceremony of atonement.  The only way that people will think I am special as a baby will be in the way I was conceived, which will be a constant source of ridicule for both me and my earth family.  And I will not have any special powers that will be appreciated by any except the most desperate, the plebeians, the proletariat.  The people of influence, the powerful, the rich, will either dismiss me, ignore me completely, or try to kill me.  Oh, and dad, you failed to mention that my true mission is to make peace between us and them by paying off the debt of sin they have been and will be generating for tens of thousands of years.”

The Father looked away, not wanting his Son to see the stricken look that passed over his face.  When he could speak, all he could say was, “You know that when you love someone as much as we do, you will do anything to save them from themselves.”

The Helper had joined them and together, they had their last group hug for a while, all of them crying piteously.  An angel, seeing them, slipped off on an errand.  The Father saw him leave and pulled himself together so he could get one last look at His Son.  “Now remember, you will never truly be alone.  The Helper will be with you always, giving you my instructions and helping you execute your mission.  Make sure you take care of yourself.  I will also send earthly people to care for you and to make sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat.  And when they fail you, I will send angels.  There will only be that very, very small insignificant time when we will not be able to even look at you because of your…situation.  You understand, right?”

The boy nodded and kissed His Father and best friend and, with the Helper’s arm around him, left on his mission.  Deep sadness welled up in all three once again, a sadness that broke their hearts, a sadness that would not truly leave them until, once again, in a short time, they would be reunited.  “So this is what earthly people experience so many times in their life” thought each person as the Son left.


This story was inspired not only by the Gospels, but also by so many people, pastors, authors, and friends, who have re-told the Christmas story in modern vernacular.  For many years, I told a version of this to my kids to entertain them as we folded clothes.  Special mention goes to David Plaep, author of “Beholders of the Rising Sun” who has burned a vision of the shepherd’s scene in my memory, along with the idea that God’s first sacrifice for us on the road to redemption was having to be separated from His only Son whom He dearly loves, from whom I borrow heavily.  He is so much better at telling the story than I am.  I highly recommend the book.
*Note:  the verb "to cleave" can mean both "to divide as by a cutting blow" AND, as an intransitive verb, "to adhere closely, loyally and unwaveringly"

December 12, 2015

When will it be safe?

Three years ago, I was inspired by one national debate and a blogger to write an essay called, "Is It Safe Yet?"  Today I am re-writing it to exclude political leanings because I have so much inspiration from so many sources, it has become clear that the pursuit of safety transcends political boundaries.  I made some other changes, deleting some thoughts that I now realize are irrelevant, adding another thought and tightening up other paragraphs.  This essay is not saying that making reasonable efforts to be safe is bad.  Locking up criminals after they have committed a crime, requiring machinery to be safe, enforcing traffic laws, protecting people from thieves and swindlers, and some measures of gun control are wise and necessary measures.  What I am talking about is pursuing safety as the primary objective of our country. 

A fatal flaw in the philosophy of the pursuit of safety is that no law, no political party, no weapon can make us truly safe because the sin in each of us will cause us to always want what is truly bad for us. Given a choice most of us would date the bad boy or girl, smoke a pack or two of cigarettes a day, drive our car after knocking back a few drinks, sit in totally inactivity for long periods of time to watch inane programs while our brain turns to oatmeal, eat foods chock full of saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup and always unplug an electrical device by pulling on the cord while taking a bath. These are the choices we make when we have been "freed" from self-control and reason.  Furthermore, sin convinces us to wallow in our hurts and grievances, encouraging us to withhold forgiveness until it turns to bitterness and hatred, qualities which make us unsafe towards others.  You can take the person out of danger but you can't take danger out of the person*

An unintended consequence of our desire for safety is that the desire to live in a perfectly safe environment erodes our compassion.  If we are all perfectly safe, then we have no understanding of suffering and cannot offer comfort to those who are suffering because, after all, it must be their fault.  And if something bad happens to me it must be someone else's fault.  Oops, there goes forgiveness out the door also.  So we become a nation of finger-pointing, blame-shifters when trouble comes to us and hard-hearted judges when trouble comes to other people rather than being a nation of people who forgive and are forgiven and who provide comfort and aid to those who are bullied, incapacitated, helpless and/or hopeless. 

ASIDE:  Remember, I wrote the above paragraph three years ago.  Is ANY of this bringing up thoughts on our political narrative at all?  Does this resemble what we have become as a country? 

And yet another consequence that I didn't discuss initially is that, in the interest of our safety, we would take stances that effectively assume someone's guilt until proven innocence, which is happening as people want to pass laws of all kinds to prevent things from happening.  George W. Bush attacked Iraq on the pretense that they 'might' attack us with weapons of mass destruction before any evidence was presented nationally to back him up.  Muslims are locked up in Guantanamo Bay as potential terrorists or accomplices of terrorists without the benefit of a Constitutional-based trial (i.e., where the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt).  Those advocating for tougher gun control laws or even an end to the 2nd amendment are effectively saying that we need to assume people will use guns for evil rather than hunting or using it to protect themselves against lunatics with guns, who seem to have a knack for getting them both legally and illegally.  Police seem to assume that black men are out to kill them because there have been so many incidences where police officers have used guns as their first line of defense, shooting to kill and black men believe that police are out to kill them because police are shooting to kill them seemingly as a reflex.  Some Americans advocate tougher immigration policies for certain groups of people or shutting down immigration altogether to prevent potential rapists, thieves, murderers and terrorists from entering the country.  Once again, prevention is impossible and there are times I wonder if we are turning people into paranoid crackpots with all the fear-mongering promoted by our politicians and the media and in our pursuit of this insane level of safety. 

As a Christian, this safety-driven philosophy also flies in the face of the gospel, which is a story of the intense suffering of one man who was executed on the cross for crimes he didn't commit.  Philippians 2:5-11 lists all of the things Jesus suffered so that we, the guilty, sin-festering slobs, could be redeemed from the death penalty we truly deserved:  He suffered to be separated from the Father and Holy Spirit; he suffered to become a helpless baby who grew to be a poor man in a small village; he suffered to become a servant, he suffered a brutal, undeserved death.  John 18:5 says that Jesus knocked down a contingent of soldiers coming to arrest him with mere words.  And yet, he submitted to their arrest, their illegal trial, torture and guilty verdict rather than walking away.  Why?  What was his motivation?  Romans 5:8 says "...God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  God continues to pour out his love for us daily and Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and love others like he has loved us, i.e., whether they deserve it or not.  His plans for his children might include suffering for His sake or suffering for the sins of others.  In other words, Christians should be the ones pursuing an anti-safety philosophy, encouraging each other to give up the rights we feel we deserve and serve the God who so richly deserves all of our love and respect.  I know that this sounds like absolute foolishness, but I would rather be a fool for Christ than a fool worshipping at the alter of unattainable safety, always unsatisfied until I become an abject coward.

And yet, I confess that I still have fears lurking and trying to control me--fears that my kids will die unnatural deaths, that the economy will collapse, that we are only a few generations away from a tyrannical leader who can take control because Americans have been chipping away at the Constitution over the course of time in the pursuit of safety.  And yet, there are so many Bible verses encouraging us to stop being afraid and to be of good courage.  Romans 5:3-5 says "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  And this gives me the power to turn away from my fears and to serve God wherever He leads me and encourage my kids and others to do the same because I know that he will either provide his protection in this life or take me/my kids/my fellow Christians to be with him forever, a place of complete, perfect safety.

Below is an afterward I wrote three years ago, but it is even more true today than it was then. 
I would like to add one more thing to this  as an afterward.  God has been making me eat these words and leave my safety/comfort zone in so many ways.  There are times when it has been very hard and frustrating and humbling.  And yet, looking back, I consider myself blessed for the experiences He has given me, the people who I have the privilege to call friends and the awe in how God works so gently and yet so persistently to open my eyes to see His vision of heaven and earth, His vision of me and those around me.  Alleluliah!

* inspired by a Baby Blues cartoon