Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

I was a pawnbroker for a while. It was a career choice that I honestly do not regret one bit, even as I moved further away from the ethicalness of that particular industry. The job provided me with amazing benefits, I was compensated fairly for my work, and I got to help people every day (albeit in a limited manner).

The job also gave me a lot of stories about folks. I’ve had times when people came into the pawn shop with tears literally streaming down their faces, trying to pay the light bill – or buy formula for their baby. There was an opportunity to help meet a lot of needs for folks. That’s one of the reasons I stuck with it for as long as I did. However, you also become a bit jaded.

I’m reminded of a particular time when these two young (and not unattractive) ladies came into the shop. They were looking at our selection of James Avery jewelry (faith-inspired silver and gold jewelry which is popular in Texas). One of the ladies picked out a ring, but wanted to sell another piece of jewelry to pay for it.

Now, that is not normally an issue. But to sell something to a pawn shop, you have to provide identification so that if it comes up as stolen, the police know who last had it in their possession. When I informed the young lady that I needed her state identification or driver’s license, she responded: “You see, ummm, I’m a prostitute, and I have warrants out for my arrest, and I don’t want the cops getting my information.”

The poor girl was probably only eighteen or nineteen years old, and she was already selling her body on the streets of San Antonio, Texas. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the police already had her address – it was already on their system via the Texas State Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead, her friend (also a prostitute) gave me her identification to use, and so we completed the process and they walked out with a James Avery silver ring.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of a hooker buying a piece of jewelry inspired by Christianity. But looking back, I’m a bit more thoughtful about the encounter. She bought a silver ring with a heart on it, inspired by God’s everlasting love for humanity. There are so many things I wish I had done differently with that encounter. So many things I wish I had thought instead of the self-righteousness that was in my head.

In the Scriptures, Jesus has an encounter with a woman caught up in adultery. The religious teachers and Pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus stops them saying, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The men all begin to leave, until it is only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked her if anyone had condemned her. She replied to Jesus, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)

I think that day, in that pawn shop in San Antonio, that prostitute knew more about the grace of God than I did. At least, in her heart of hearts. I missed a chance to evidence that love with flesh and blood. In my head, I was condemning her, even though I was not without sin myself. Looking back, I can see that even though she was in a bad place in her life, she had hope in something greater.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I remember the first time I was introduced to Christian Pacifism. It made literally, no sense to me whatsoever. As an eighteen year old kid (saying that as a twenty-six year old kid), the thought of Christian Pacifism was anathema. The very idea made me sick to my stomach. Pacifism wasn’t Christian in my eyes, it stood in direct contrast to everything I had been taught to believe by my culture.

My parents didn’t raise someone who was so easily turned away from differing viewpoints, however. The more the idea of pacifism disgusted me, the greater I wanted to delve into it and see why someone would commit to such lunacy. It also required me to confront head-on passages of Scripture that not only went against my worldview, but against the very god I believed in.

Having a crisis of faith is never fun. People don’t do this for kicks and giggles. The very bedrock of your faith is shaken to its core, because it was built on something that you’re not sure will withstand the test of time. Jesus gives a parable about this in the Scriptures. Everyone who builds the foundation of their faith upon the teachings and actions of Jesus will be able to withstand all the winds and rains and storms that may come. But those who do not build their faith upon the example of Jesus, will be like a man who builds his house on sand, and the first storm that comes will knock it down. And great will be its fall. (Matthew 7 & Luke 6)

The more I dug into Scripture, and the more I read the words of Jesus, the more my foundation began to crumble. My faith, my house, was built on sand. And the fall was great indeed. I became confronted with the very same question that plagued C.S. Lewis during his own crisis of faith. Either Jesus was a madman, or he was the Son of God.

Fortunately beneath my sand, was a bit of bedrock. That happens sometimes. My house fell, but I was able to clear away the sand, and begin building anew. It took some time, but I knew the foundation was firm (although I do still find granules here and there). My neighbors and friends and family laughed at me. I probably felt a bit like Noah, my faith being mocked. Yet I knew that somehow everything would be alright, because my new faith was built upon a Gospel that was solid. A Gospel of Love.

There have been some bumps along the way. Faith journeys are never easy. And there have been storms, Lord have there been storms. I’ve had hurricane winds blow against my heart and soul, and there have been times when it was all I could do to not give in. But our God is a mighty fortress, and happy are those who put their trust in Him.

The journey isn’t over yet. I still have a long road ahead of me. I’m still learning this path of love and peace, trying to show mercy and grace. (It’s been eight years since I started on this road, and you’d be surprised how little you actually learn in that time). A little something that helps me along in this regard is a quote by Stanley Hauerwas: “I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch. I’m a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I’ve got. And I hate the language of pacifism because it’s too passive. But by avowing it, I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what is true. But that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all.”

Read Full Post »

What does it mean to have faith in God?

The Shema Yisrael (usually shortened to Shema) states, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is found in Deuteronomy, and forms the basis of most Jewish prayer services. It is a continual reminder to the Jewish people of the Divine kingship of YHWH. It is both a statement, and a prayer. The statement, continually professes their belief in the Lordship of God. When said as a prayer however, it is a cry for belief in times when one is not quite up to the task of believing.

Throughout Jewish tradition, it isn’t quite so important to get all the answers right, as it is to wrestle with the tradition itself. This is an important part of Jewish education. Learning the Torah and being able to recite it verbatim, is quite useful to the education of Jewish children, because once they know the Torah, they can then begin to dissect and examine it as a whole. Once they understand the Torah, they can question it. And to question, means they have begun the journey of faith.

This ties back all the way to the Patriarch of the Jewish people, Jacob. On his way back to Canaan, Jacob encounters an angel, an emissary of the Almighty. There, they wrestle, and Jacob refuses to let go unless he receives a blessing from the angel. The angel blesses Jacob, and changes his name to Israel, meaning “He who struggles with God”. Jacob and his progeny forevermore have been characterized by this struggle, and God has blessed them for it. The core of the Jewish faith, the core of Israel, is wrestling with God.

Ironically, even though Christianity began as a sub-culture of Judaism in first century Palestine, Christianity has taken an altogether different approach to faith. Most Christians do not find value in the struggle, rather Christians are instead encouraged to put aside doubts, and place their faith in God. This strikes me as being rather simplistic. I am not sure that I understand how one is supposed to place their faith in God, if they haven’t wrestled with God enough to be sure that He indeed is God. Why should I follow His precepts if I do not believe them to be intrinsically valuable? I cannot find them to be intrinsically valuable if I do not first wrestle with them. Thus placing faith in God without confronting Him with my doubts.

Truth be told, if God truly was uncomfortable with my doubts, I’m not sure He would be worthy of much praise as a deity. But a god who can handle any doubts I throw his way, and a god who is totally cool with wrestling with me throughout all of my trials and tribulations – that is a God. That is God, who is totally and completely so powerful and beyond compare, that He encourages us to confront Him head-on. He challenges us to engage with Him, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Belief is passive. I can claim my belief night and day, and shout it to the rooftops. I can do my good deeds, night and day, and proclaim them for all the world to see. But faith is done in secret. It requires strenuous activity that is best done when others are not around. Faith requires that we be completely vulnerable to the thought that our lives are not our own, that we may indeed need to be changed or molded by the Truth. Sometimes, faith in God necessitates a renunciation of previously held beliefs – no matter how strongly we believed them. Sometimes, faith in God requires wrestling with anything and everything we thought we knew, just to get a taste of what is real.

Belief is passive. Faith is knocking down the door and saying, “Oh no you bastard, I want what you’ve got, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” Faith is wrestling with God – and winning.

Read Full Post »

A Prayer for Good Friday

Lord Christ, have mercy upon us your servants. Give us grace this day to walk in love and peace to the glory of your Name. Keep us ever mindful of your most holy Passion, that we too may be faithful witnesses, and die to self this day.

Holy Mary, God-bearer, mother of our Lord: as we remember the passion of your most blessed Son, keep us ever mindful in your prayers this day. Intercede for us to your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ; that we may have the strength and fortitude to resist temptation and live this day without sin through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Read Full Post »

The life of a Christian is a cycle. Every day we must strive to live in accordance with the ways and teachings of Jesus, the Christ. This is something that I am sure we each find extremely trying and difficult. Yet we proceed ever onwards, trusting that the Lord would see us through each day.

In the Scriptures, Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God, that we may withstand the advances of the enemy. That when those dark spiritual forces come against us, we may fend them off. But there is more to being a Christian than fending off your heart and mind against evil thoughts and spirits. The Christian is called to be an active force in the world in which he or she lives. Though we be but travelers in it.

In the Greek Scriptures, we are taught that we are to advance the Kingdom of God. This is singularly the most frequent theme to be found in the New Testament. The idea of this spiritual utopia. It is not a place to be visited nor a goal to be reached. It is a frame of mind. The Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come, for they did not understand. The Kingdom of God is neither here nor there. The Kingdom of God, Christ taught, is within us. It is among us.

The Kingdom of God is how Christians ought to live their lives. When we live active lives that speak to our faith, we are advancing the Kingdom of God. For it is only advanced by involving others in it. We live the Kingdom of God by how we treat other people. It is advanced in how we care for the poor and the sick, the widowed and the orphaned, the imprisoned and the downcast. It is impossible to advance the Kingdom when living a solitary pious life, for you are cut off from community. As prominent Christian sociologist and author Tony Campolo puts it, ‘The Kingdom of God is a party’.

Read Full Post »