Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Inadequate (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about inadequacy. I believe everyone struggles with this issue at some or many points in their lives. Why? I can only answer for me.

I have struggled with inadequacy because of my own limitations. I just simply cannot do the task, just cannot seem to get everything in line at the same time. Or perhaps I am truly not wired to work in or to be adept in a particular area. (No matter what program or curriculum I will never be adept or friendly with Trigonometry and Calculus. I cannot run. My knees will not allow this type of exercise.) I cannot change these limitations. This inadequacy is more acceptable to me, and it is far beyond my weak and limited control. I lose very little sleep with this type of inadequacy.

I have felt inadequate because I allowed others to make me feel that way. Yes, I did say allow. I am a people-pleaser. And this status has caused me both grief and elation. But this wiring has caused me to make unnecessary and unflattering comparisons. When you compare you will always be either taller or shorter. You will rarely ever find someone that you are the same height and the comparisons disappear.

I have felt inadequate when I remained in someone’s shadow. Some people just cast long, broad shadows. Eventually we will have to have the courage and the fortitude to walk through or around them. Sadly there are times when I have remained too long in the shadowy regions. This is the part I can control. I make the decision to remain there or move away in some manner. I like being in some shadows. There are a few shadows that protect and strengthen…but there are others that overshadow and diminish. I lose sleep over this one.

I have felt inadequate because I have accepted and adhered to someone else’s standard or definition. I have tried to meet others' expectations only to fail because I missed a detail. But it was the detail that was important to them. I will never get all the details right. And at some point I exchanged their definition for mine in an attempt to please. I allowed (there is that word again) their standard to negate mine. The negation is the problem. I lose a lot of sleep over this one.

I will end this post here for today. Inadequate (Part 3) is almost done.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inadequate

In the midst of the celebration and enthusiasm of a wedding there is a frantic panic. The wine skins have been squeezed and the last drop dribbled—the wine is gone. We do not remotely comprehend the social faux pas this created. This hospitality blunder would forever mar the memories of the wedding day for the couple.

Their preparations were inadequate. Maybe they did not have enough wine from the beginning, or the servants were filling the cups a little too full, or people were just a little too greedy. Or all of the above. Regardless the volume of wine was inadequate.

Blame would have been assigned. When reminiscing, their friends and family would always recall and remind everyone of the fact that during the wedding week they ran out of wine.

Did anyone tell the bride and groom? Is that why Mary approached her son? Is that the reason she came to him and whispered the details of the situation? Mary came to save the celebration and the future memories of this couple. The wine was not Mary’s responsibility—but how did she know? Why did she have this information? Regardless of the answer she came to Jesus. She does not even pose it as a question; she simply told him about the inadequate supply of wine: “The wine is gone.” She approached her son—knowing he would have the solution to the dilemma.

Obviously Mary carried some weight and authority at this wedding. She looked at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Then she walked away and left the problem with Jesus. She did not instruct him about how to fix the inadequacy. She did not tell Jesus how much wine was needed. In utter trust she just walked away.

And as usual Jesus looked around to see what was available for his use. He always used what was common and readily recognized.

What was available? Six stone jars. Not small table top jars. No, these were containers that sat on the floor and held twenty to thirty gallons of water. Ceremonial jars. The Jews were meticulous concerning ceremonial clean-ness. And they washed their hands often, not for health issues, but to be “clean”. And this ceremony required a great deal of water.

Jesus intervened. There was no pomp. No fanfare. No “look at me” mentality. Jesus simply gave the servants instructions.

He used those empty jars to help the young couple avoid the embarrassment and pain of inadequacy.

So the servants filled the jars to the brim. Water splashed over the sides. The spilling water caused the earthen jars to have dark splotches where it ran down their curved sides. The water puddled on the ground. Did even the spillage turn to wine?

Jesus created 120-180 gallons of wine. An adequate amount. And not just any kind of wine. The best. Wine to gladden the hearts of those present at the wedding banquet. Wine was a symbol of the abundance of God’s provision.

Every one of the servants knew what those jars were for—the traditions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Burdens. Expectations. These jars represented one more “rule” to remember. One more boundary to avoid. Soon they would have been full of demands that could never be fully met.

Jesus always lifted the leaden weight of the traditions of men. The confines and burdens of religion are too heavy. God’s law is simple and direct, but the oral traditions are a cumbersome load to bear. And they were/are an inadequate way to approach God. An inadequate means to be clean before God. Instead of producing hope and joy they (the traditions) only seemed to create a sense of failure and despair.

When the servants dipped into that first ceremonial jar, at Jesus’ command, I wonder how much doubt and cynicism was present. Yet when the ladle emerged their amazement must have reverberated with astonishment. Can you hear the gasps? The whispers? And like a ripple in the water the news spread. Current by current.

Did Mary watch as they carried it forward? Did she smile that secret, pleased “mother smile” as they took the sample to the Master of the Banquet? Did the servants’ nostrils flare as they inhaled the rich aroma of the wine water? Did their mouths water? Knowing grins must have exploded as the Master declared the wine incredible. Vintage.

Beyond adequate.

How much better to have full jars of wine—the miracle—than the empty jars of ceremony? Ceremonial, religious rituals can not create joy. The outward ritual could never and will never produce an inward transformation. (Be careful, I know we do not ceremonially wash our hands, but we have other rituals and ceremonies that can be just as empty and religious).

Inadequate preparations. Feeling or being inadequate leads to desperation. It leads to overcompensation. I am well acquainted with both. Often I have assessed the situation and found my preparations to be sorely inadequate. There have been times and situations when I simply did not calculate correctly, times when I gave too much away, and times when I allowed the greediness of others to contribute to my depletion.

Often I have tried to remedy the dilemma myself. I have tried to fix the problem. I have attempted to reverse my blunders and spiritual faux pas (In French this phrase means ‘false step’). But my abilities were inadequate. I was washing my hands when I should have been asking God to wash my heart. I must learn to take my inadequacies to Jesus. I must go to Jesus and confess that the wine is gone. And leave the transformation to him.

Feeling inadequate? Have you run out of wine? Found yourself in the middle of a spiritual faux pas? Are you realizing that all your jars are empty? Remember, Jesus uses what is readily available. Do whatever he says.

Water to wine.

Ceremonial ritual into joy.

Inadequacy to abundance.

Jesus is forever taking our inadequate attempts and filling the lack.

Jesus is forever taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Can you imagine how some people would have (would still) reacted knowing Jesus had used the ceremonial jars to provide wine for the wedding?

I wish I knew what happened to those jars. Did they ever hold water again? And if they did was there a faint scent of dark, rich wine as the water was poured over raised hands?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kaleidoscope

A couple of weekends ago at an afternoon retreat someone asked a question.

What is your view of God?”

The question struck me oddly. The word “view” caused me to be a little off-kilter. The question was fine. Nothing wrong with the retreat leader's choice of words...just happened to be the way I was hearing and interpreting them.

For me, “to view” simply means to observe, to look at. This can be done passively. You do not have to react or participate.

I do not want to passively view God. I do not want to simply look at him. I want to participate with and in him. I want to join John and the other disciples and behold him. To behold involves an inner reaction. Beholding engages your inner posture and interior attitude.

Another leader's answer to this question caught my attention. She explained that her view of God was like a prism. Her perspective was affected by the angle of the facet that was reflecting the light. Turn the prism, and you see another facet—a different color. Same prism. As she described this I thought of a kaleidoscope.

Remember when we were children, and we would buy the cheap kaleidoscopes in the dime stores? They were little cardboard tubes not much bigger than a toilet paper roll, but vividly decorated. I would squint my eye and look through the tiny eye aperture and rotate the cylinder. I loved all the pieces of glass spilling and turning and shifting. They created different images with even the slightest turn.

Perfectly symmetrical, precisely balanced.

The last time I looked through a kaleidoscope was in an eclectic art boutique
several years ago. For a few moments I was a child again; I was fascinated and intrigued.

These kaleidoscopes were not cardboard. They were exquisite. But I pressed my eye close to the small opening anyway, and I rotated the cylinder. Even now I can see the geometrically perfect designs appear. I can see the explosion of color. And I can hear the percussion of sound.

The kaleidoscope allows you to do more than view. You get to participate. You are engaged because you can turn the cylinder as much or as little as you want. Your eyes dilate as the different pieces catch the light and shift the reflections and change the patterns. If you rotate and shift even a millimeter then a new pattern forms.

Ever the same. Ever changing.


What is my view of God?

My view of God is seen through the small aperture of my reality.

My kaleidoscope view of God is seen through a cardboard tube that can only
contain so much. It is limited. Finite. And there are times when my mirrors are
dusty and askew. But...

Just when I think I have moved the tube in every possible way--

Just when I think I have seen every pattern--

I rotate my kaleidoscope closer to the light and the pattern changes yet again.

And for a brief moment I behold just a fraction of Him.

Just a fraction, but it is enough.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Anemia

Mark 5: 24-34; 6:56

For a dozen years she had bled. She had witnessed her life blood pass out of her body; her attempts to stop or slow its flow had been futile. She had been helpless to replace or replenish.

Well intentioned friends and neighbors had offered every remedy and every suggestion regardless of how absurd. And she had tried them all. Every single one. She had followed every single prescription and recommendation of the physicians. She had lost track of how many doctors she had approached and visited. Each one had promised to fix the problem. Each one, for a hefty fee, assured her that his answer would relieve her of this bleeding of herself.

But they had been over-confident and misguided about their abilities and capabilities. She believed some had just simply lied. Lied because they thought she wouldn't live to tell anyone that their so-called cures had not worked. Now, no doctor would see her—her money was gone.

Monetarily she had spent all that she had—money and time wasted on remedies and treatments that failed. The fact that they did not work was disheartening, but more horrible was that her condition had worsened. Her body was depleted. As her health had declined, her spirit had dehydrated.

Sound familiar?

How many of us have been where this woman was? Bleeding for twelve years. Twelve years of dealing with the same daily pain and tedious routine. Her physical ailment was destroying every aspect of her life. She thought her suffering was just too insignificant for someone to take notice. And she felt weak and powerless.

Our bleeding may not be physical. We may not be depleted of iron and the actual life blood of our bodies...but still we bleed. And often we cannot arrest the flow. We can not plug the leak.

Therefore, many of our relationships are anemic. Pale and leaden. Pallid and infirm.

Our weak prayers seem barren and brittle. They do not move past our raised arms or they evaporate like steam—fevered and passionate-- and then simply gone.

Our daily reading is like inhaling dust. The words are arid and tasteless. And the worship doesn't penetrate; it is just rote noise.

Our tolerance levels are depleted. Our pain thresholds are reduced.

Well meaning and good intentioned people offer solicited and unsolicited advice and suggestions. We pay professionals to medicate our anemia. And like The Bleeding Woman of Mark, we often find that we are in a desperate, dangerous state.

And desperate people resort to extreme measures.

They become bold. In a boldness birthed from being at rock bottom, the woman decided she could wait no longer. Garnering her last bit of her strength and gathering her last shred of hope, she went to find Jesus. Something compelled her. She was pulled by an invisible tether.

She took a risk. She gambled.

One last chance. One final possibility.

She was determined just to touch his clothes. If she could just touch the hem of his garments, if her fingertips could just brush the edge of his cloak—something would change.

When I have been bleeding too long—there is something in the deepest part of me that knows that if I will just attempt to touch the hem of Jesus' garment then something will shift.

I do not have to have an epiphany; I do not have to have an experience.

I do not believe touching the hem of his garment is degrading, because there are times and seasons when all we can do is crawl. And hems brush the floor. Sometimes all we can do is reach into the empty spaces between all the other flailing arms and touch his garment.

This is a simple profoundness. Just attempt to touch him in whatever way you can manage. He will make himself accessible. Our suffering will not be too insignificant for him to notice. He knows how long we have been bleeding. He knows what has caused our anemia. Jesus is not misguided about his abilities and capabilities. He will not lie. Only he can provide what we need. He is what we need.

But be forewarned.

Jesus will ask, “Who touched my clothes?”

He will ask this question of us. And we must answer. We will fall at his feet and pour out the whole truth. And he will listen. Then he will look us squarely in the eye and declare that the mustard seed risk of our faith, transformed by his unlimited compassion and power, has freed us from our suffering.

Are you bleeding? Are you anemic?

No money required. No epiphanies.

I see the hem of his garment. It has left a trail in the tasteless dust.

Be bold. Take the risk.

Crawl if you have to.