The End of a Rope

It’s tempting to think that focusing much on God’s work in our growth and little on our own is simply a means of taking the easy way out. But turning to God and away from our own efforts isn’t a form of saying “I don’t wan’t to change.” It’s a way of saying “I can’t change, try as I might. I need help.” The goal is not to avoid transformation, but to live free of the lie that my own sinful self can bring it about.

It’s 2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” There’s a way to be sorrowful for our sin that simply puts us back on the moral treadmill, always trying to do better. This will kill us. Then there’s Godly sorrow: the sorrow of realizing that our efforts on the treadmill aren’t getting us anywhere. They make us tired, sure, and maybe even better at running (on treadmills) but they don’t change us.

Jesus meets us at the end of our ropes, when we just don’t have it in us to be good anymore. If that sound too good to be true…just keep running. You’ll run out of rope soon enough, and you’d be amazed at what Jesus can do with that.


Flickering Torches and Me

Those who have read for a while know that I’ve walked a fairly broken path for a fairly long time now. Life has been difficult, faith has been perplexing, and joy has been elusive. But lately there’re a lot of exciting things happening around me. To name just a few, there’s grad school, a great new job, an amazing person I’m getting to know…and all the countless things that go along with that. It’s not just that these things are exciting (and they absolutely are), but that they’re also changing me, rearranging my story as it goes.

Which is what’s so unbearable about it all. I have no idea where any of this is going. Could be good-and it seems so-but it could also end really badly. One of the things that the pain of the last few years took from me is the belief that things will generally be ok. They often aren’t. They even usually aren’t. But it’s not just pessimism per se-it’s the awful fear of hoping, hoping for something better, something fulfilling, something that works, and not knowing if you’re really going to get it.

This is what it is to be human-to have no vision outside of what is quite literally right in front of you. I’m struggling with that. I imagine scenarios and contingencies in my head all day, hoping to somehow get ahead of whatever might be coming my way. It’s not even that I’m sure it’s bad (anymore, though I did wrestle with that for quite some time) it’s that I just don’t know. I don’t know how it’s gonna go. And that scares the hell out of me.

So today I found myself in a position to have most of those hopes and fears pushed in on all at once. It went well, but I found myself driving home  wondering about all the possibilities of what might happen. I was freaking out, so I listened to the first song that came up on my music player. (Sidebar: It sucks when your iPod dies, and you have to use your phone. Sucks.) It’s the Indelible Grace version of “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go.” The second verse goes like this:

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

That’s always been my favorite verse, because it speaks of letting go of your own ability to see and manage the future, and trusting God’s instead. Yielding your flickering torch to God’s light. It’s a beautiful thought, but one I struggle with, so this verse alway challenged me.
Today, though, it’s been a relief. Because the simple fact is I can’t see or shape the future-it’s beyond me. Trying to see it has left me fearful and worn out. Today I experienced that call not as a challenge, but as a promise. Not “this is the right way to relate to God,” but “You don’t have to carry that anymore.”
There’s still no promise things will work out. We’re never given that.*  There’s just the relief that comes from not having to carry the weight of a thousand potential futures on my own chest. There’s room to be a creature, who doesn’t know everything, because Jesus will still take care of me. I don’t have to take care of myself.
So for now, I’m laying down my flickering torch. It’s too damn heavy. And Jesus is far too good.


*(Obviously, in some eternal sense, I believe they will. But short-term, things can get and stay really ugly and painful.)

Do You See?

Warning: This video is NOT for kids-watch when they’re out of the room.

“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? …And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

-Luke 7:44, 48

What do you see when you watch this video? Do you see what Jesus sees?


Kudos to this Voice from the Right

Just read this today, and was very impressed. We need more voices like this, from all sides of the aisle.

God Forgive Us

I just watched cried through Glory last night with some friends old and new. It’s a tragic-yet-hopeful portrayal of the first Black regiment that fought for the North in the Civil War. It portrays these men and their white commanders grappling with themselves, each other, racism both internal and external, and the realities of war  in some ways that ring remarkably true. It was surprisingly thoughtful and tasteful, especially for a mainstream Hollywood production. I commend it to you, and below are some no-spoiler thoughts on it.

There were so many things set off inside of me: sadness at the blind stupidity of war, and the awful reality that sometimes (very, very rarely) it is necessary to take up arms against our fellow image-bearers. I found myself torn between my commitment to non-violence, and my belief that slavery was so violent a trespass against humanity as to be a legitimate cause for war. (Note: yeah, I know, I know, “States rights, Northern aggression, blah blah blah.” If your “rights” allow you to enslave or abuse someone else, they’re illegitimate and you have no claim to them, however pretty or Constitutionally sound your argument may be.)

It was hard to see a man be sent unarmed into battle so he could carry a flag, as if the flag was worth more than his life. I live in an age when blind flag-waving has been used to keep us from asking our leaders questions, and from valuing our lives, the lives of our soldiers, and the lives of our “enemies” nearly as highly as we should. “All hail the Flag, and all else be damned” is not a motto I can live by. It was hard to see a flag presented as being more valuable than a life. Yet, part of me cheered when my favorite actor’s character later picked up the flag off a fallen soldier and carried it, unarmed, into battle.

All of this to say, Glory made me think and challenged some long-held convictions. For all of that, the scene that troubled me the most was this one:

Prior to this in the film, there are some moving discussion of racism and justice, and some honest portrayals of the struggles these men had in coming to grips with their new, separate-but-equal status as Union soldiers. Still, it all hits home in this scene. There’s a moment, when his shirt comes off and we see all the scars that a thousand beatings have brought, that the awful reality of what American slavery was is brought home. Worse, the ongoing realities of racism and oppression today have their roots in this ugliest piece of our history.

I really couldn’t shake the horror of it throughout the rest of the film. “God forgive us,” I kept thinking. “God forgive us for what we’ve done.”

And make no mistake-we’ve done it. Our society, and the institutions that benefit us, were built through these means. None of us were alive then, sure, but we’ve benefited from it. Worse still, most of us have benefited from it while belittling it. Slavery is comfortably far in the past, and we have afforded ourselves the luxury of forgetting about it. The Civil Rights movement is already happily archived in brief footnotes in most of our minds, as if it were all some unfortunate necessity that we have all, thankfully, moved on from.

Yet still I live in a world made comfortable for me at the cost of immense pain to others. The institutions that have provided me with safety, economic security, and upward mobility were built on the backs of slaves. They were built on the backs of little girls in the ’50s who couldn’t go to school without men with machine guns standing around them. They are built on the backs of little boys who are expected to be criminals, and live their entire lives under the presumption of guilt. They were built on fire hoses and dogs being turned loose on men and women who wanted to vote. They are built on Presidents who once voted in, are accused of not being a true citizen because of how their last name sounds and how their skin looks, in the absence of any evidence to suggest illegitimacy.

They are perpetuated on the continued refusal on the part of the majority-of which I am a part-to acknowledge, consider, and feel what it is to be black in this country. What it has been, what it is, and what it will be. They are perpetuated by the “achieved-equality myth,” which suggests that since some good pieces of Civil Rights legislation have been passed, everything is equal, and any minority who doesn’t do well simply should’ve tried harder. “Like us.” Us, whose prosperity has been paid for by the suffering of others.

The most troubling thing about this clip for me was that the whipping happens at the hands of the “enlightened” white man in the movie. He is more liberal than his white peers, and treats his men much better than anyone else does. He cares about them, promotes several of them, and is concerned about their best interests.

And he whips one of them. When the chips are down, when he is unsure of himself, he brutally mistreats one of them rather than sit with his own discomfort with his leadership. He can’t be questioned, he won’t be questioned, and he won’t ask questions. He will have his way, and he will use force to get it. He is uncomfortable in his position, but he chooses to propitiate that discomfort by forcing it onto another. And he can, because his victim is black.

So here I am, an “enlightened, liberal” white man. I talk about white male heterosexual religious economic privilege. I try to listen to and learn from and those who are less privileged in one or all of those categories than I am. I try to be conscious of the deference given me due to my skin, my sex, and my orientation, and subvert it. But still it’s there. Still, in several ways I can identify and in so many more I’ll never be able to, I benefit from getting to go to the front of the line at the expense of other people. “Other people” being anyone who isn’t a straight white Christian dude from a middle class background.

And it’s not just passive reception of preference given to me. It’s the jokes I used to laugh at. Worse, it’s the jokes I used to stay silent about. It’s the way I used to dismiss charges of racism out of hand, because I was so sure everyone had the same access and opportunities I did. It’s the way I somehow always found room for charges of “reverse racism,” which would be laughable to me now if I weren’t so embarrassed for it. It’s the way I’ve pretended I got where I am, and what I have, through my own hard work, as if I and my family going back a hundred years in this country haven’t been aided by the oppression of others.

It’s the way that then and now, people have been abused so I could be comfortable. It’s the way that then and now, I can feel better at the expense of others.

All my life I have benefited from that whipping. God forgive us. God forgive me.

The Linds has a Blog

So my friend Lindsey has a blog. You should go check it out for her reflections on life, faith, and flow charts. Here ’tis!

Great New Blog

A good friend of mine has started a new blog concerned with grassroots social justice activism here. The name is “Fairness Works” and here is what it’s about: Helping “seat-of-the-pants” peacemakers see they are not alone.

I commend it to you.