From the Basement

October 6, 2010

An Exhortation to Love (inspired by Glee & Joan Osborne)

I’ve been listening to the song “One of Us,” released by Joan Osborne in 1995, most recently covered by the cast of Glee, all day long.

Something in this song is provoking my spirit. I can sing this song in total worship, in the full knowledge that Jesus was one of us, convicted by the hard questions the song addresses (“If God had a face, what would it look like and would you want to see?”). Joan Osborne, the writer and singer, was obviously influenced by her Catholic upbringing, even though she has since left it and now professes Buddhist influences. And tonight, the cast of Glee, characters openly Christian, Jewish, agnostic, and atheist alike, closed the episode asking the titular question – “What if God was one of us?” – even as the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, said, “My point of view is that God is everybody’s collective goodness.” (Fabulous recap of the episode and Murphy’s quote  here – http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/watch_with_kristin/b204027_glee-dux_praise_cheesus_ryan_murphy.html)

As I wrote yesterday, the book I’m reading right now is Angela Thomas’s Do You Know Who I Am? – a question that every woman (everyone) addresses to God. As I was journaling and praying today, the immediate response was God saying, “Do you know who I AM?” (a response Thomas also chronicles in the book, incidentally – good to know God’s consistent in this! *chuckle).

A lot of lessons are coalescing right now – my reading in Piper’s Future Grace, which rests on the foundation that unbelief is the root of all sin and that the ability to walk in “future grace” comes from having faith in God’s promises, in knowing His character and trusting Him. This last weekend at Think, we were challenged to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and especially all our minds – not to let the means of loving supercede the Greatest Commandment, which is to love God, but to examine and study and learn of the character and nature of God, that we may not boast in our own abilities but in the great grace and love and awesome glory of His son, Jesus Christ.

This song – “One of Us” – it could be a prayer for this generation. It makes me think – we are so close. While religion will (most) always be used by those in power for destructive purposes (the Crusades, discrimination, slavery, etc.), the heart of the people… the heart I see in my peers, in this generation… is a desperate cry for love and acceptance. As depraved as we are – as depraved as any generation has been, for there is nothing new under the sun – there is a very public desperation for acceptance.

The call for acceptance and tolerance – cries at an all-time media high this week because of the tragic suicides of teenagers due to bullying, largely over their sexuality – are piercing. Church, do you hear these cries? Our culture is not desperate for your anti-sin propaganda; they are desperate for a transformative, powerful love – the kind of love that will wrap a gay teenage boy up in its arms and offer him a life he never dreamed of. Not only unconditional acceptance, but unconditional love. Grace unceasing. Peace that surpasses understanding. Purpose. And the promise of life hereafter with the One who holds you in His arms every day.

Glee creator Ryan Murphy said that tolerance is at the heart of the show – an attitude which, while commendable, is startling in its tepid insufficiency. It is not enough to tolerate, and I think that regardless of religious creed (or lack thereof), we all know it.

“Tolerance” was not something Jesus Christ practiced. He didn’t “tolerate” prostitutes and tax collectors. And He didn’t just accept them in the crowd as He taught. He ate with them. He loved on them. To the thief who hung on the cross beside Him, Jesus said, “You will be with me in paradise.” And this was a thief whose only “work” was to acknowledge Christ as the Son of God.

That’s love. That’s grace. Don’t give me your cock and bull good works propaganda. I don’t want it. Any work not founded in faith and any work not done in love is dead, and I don’t give a damn how good your motivations are. What message is there but the Cross, where people did nothing and Christ did everything? Tullian Tchividjian gave a fabulous message last Friday on how the church somehow feels a need to caution its congregants about grace, as if it’s this wild thing that could be let loose to great destruction if we let it – Lord forgive us that we would temper and dilute the power of Your grace! (Now I want to go find my notes on his talk, which was entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”)

In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Yes, discussions about doctrine and theology and transgression and the necessity of faith in action are critical to the maturing of believers… but people do not come to Christianity because of its rules. And might I add, they do not come to Christianity. They come to Jesus Christ, the giver of all good gifts, our savior, whose love for us is beyond human description.

People come because they know they are not enough.

They come because they know there is something greater.

They come because they realize that that something greater is the love of Jesus Christ, the son of God, our Redeemer.

Church, people do not need to hear the rules or how much of a sin [______ – homosexuality, adultery, take your pick] is – have the last few millennia shown you that that approach does not work? This is not a game where people come because of us. They come… they only ever come… because of Jesus Christ, who offers an unconditional love which makes words like “tolerance” seem pale and cheap.

The verse bears repeating… “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As humans, we fail in loving each other. I fail so much, every day. But in God and His son Jesus Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can love… and the beautiful thing is that His love is so glorious that even a hint reflected in this life makes me want to go running into His arms.

What if God was one of us? … what if God was reflected in us, strangers on a bus trying to make our way home…

July 10, 2010

Acts 17 & Women

I’ve been traveling lately, hence the lack of consistency in posting. I’m currently hunkered down in the backyard of my boyfriend’s parents; I’m visiting them and am enjoying a cup of coffee and some quiet reading time on this most beautiful morning.

I was reading Acts 17 today, and the main thing that struck me was the mention of women. The chapter isn’t long – 34 verses – but there are three separate mentions of women, all within the context of coming to believe in Christ.

verse 4: “And some of them were persuaded, and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.”

verse 12: “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”

verse 34: “However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

In the first two instances, it is emphasized that these are prominent women among the Greeks. The third instance is particularly interesting to me – this is after Paul preaches to the philosophers of the Areopagus. It says some men joined, but it lists Damaris among the men, even though she’s marked as a woman. She is included – overall – in the group of men.

I haven’t done an in-depth study on this chapter, but I’ve been searching online and have yet to find an article or commentary that deals comprehensively with these three references. The book of Acts on the whole makes frequent mention of women, but three mentions of prominent, in one instance probably educated, women coming to Christ – wow. This is huge.

I’ve been searching for commentaries on this chapter, but have yet to find one that explicitly discusses the references to women. I did, however, find one website detailing the notes of John Wesley, an 18th-century theologian, and his comments were too priceless not to share. Of verse 4, he says:

Of the principal women, not a few — … In the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.

Well then.

I don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent, but Wesley’s comments – however antiquated – are reminiscent of a practice I’ve been thinking more and more about: that is, allowing our understanding of culture to infiltrate our spiritual understanding of gender. Arguments about the “cultural lens” or an innate “bias” don’t hold up here, because to follow Christ is to alter our entire worldview. Wealth is one of the best examples I can think of – scripture runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. We think very little of hearing that message on Sunday morning, yet we are content to let our understandings of gender fly under the radar as non-essential, secondary issues. And what damage this has done. I’ve been in too many churches that longed for the good old days (my words there), where “men were men and women were women.” Think 1950s Cleaver family.

When it comes to gender roles, I think the church is far too reliant on cultural tradition. And then it’s surprised when women rise up against that tradition, not recognizing its complicity in cultivating that discontent.

But that’s another post.

In the meantime, I am thankful that scripture documents the conversion of faithful women and men, exhorting us in our faith even today.

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