Monday, December 31, 2012

A simple resolution for the New Year

I recently left a conversation with someone who said she was resolving in the New Year to lose weight.  In the same breath she told me that this was the tenth New Year she’s made the resolution.  She’s made good on all of them, but somewhere in between each one she has grown, as she said it, “less resolved”. 

We all understand what “less resolved” is all about.  It comes about when we place our best intentions against all the other priorities of life.  Something has to give, and usually it’s the latest good idea. 

But would it look any different if instead of resolving to a thing, we resolved to a person? That is, if this New Year’s instead of making a resolution to do something, we resolved instead to follow someone.  To create a new loyalty.  To start a new conversation with someone whose words might redirect our lives into a new and healthy pattern?

Could we resolve to follow Jesus? 

To do so would put us on the path toward trusting him.  You won’t follow someone you don’t trust.  So what if we said tomorrow we are going to start trusting Jesus more?  Accepting that what he says might really be the better way to live. 

Think of the Beatitudes, Jesus opening words in the Sermon on the Mount:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.  So many of these ways of life are counterintuitive.  We couldn’t imagine doing them on our own accord.  We need to trust someone that they are actually the right thing to do.

C.S. Lewis in his great essay On Obstinacy in Belief gets to the heart of this when he writes:

In Christianity such faith is demanded of us; but there are situations in which we demand it of others. There are times when we can do all that a fellow creature needs if only he will trust us. In getting a dog out of a trap, in extracting a thorn from a child’s finger, in teaching a boy to swim or rescuing one who can’t, in getting a frightened beginner over a nasty place on a mountain, the one fatal obstacle may be their distrust. We are asking them to trust us in the teeth of their senses, their imagination, and their intelligence. We ask them to believe that what is painful will relieve their pain and that what looks dangerous is their only safety. We ask them to accept apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther back into the trap is the way to get it out—that hurting the finger very much more will stop the finger hurting—that holding on to the only support within reach is not the way to avoid sinking—that to go higher and on to a more exposed ledge is the way not to fall. To support all these incredibilia we can rely only on the other party’s confidence in us—a confidence certainly not based on demonstration, admittedly shot through with emotion, and perhaps, if we are strangers, resting on nothing but such assurance as the look of our face and the tone of our voice can supply, or even, for the dog, on our smell.

While there may be a lot of Jesus we don’t understand, there is much more of Jesus that we want to trust.  Instinctively we know that his way is the way, his truth is the truth, his life is the life.  Yet some of the things he asks of us seem to go against what, in the short term, is against our interest.  The only thing left to do is trust.

So let’s make it simple this year.  Let our resolutions be not do anything, but to trust someone.  Trust him for how to live and find the blessedness he’s always had for us. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Miracle and Mystery

I can’t seem to get through an Advent season without sneaking over to my set of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and letting the great Reformed theologian assist me in reflecting upon the great thing God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  In all that our world does to siphon away any miracle and mystery this story has for us, Barth remains the voice of dialectical sanity: “The man Jesus of Nazareth is not the true Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  On the contrary, because He is the true Son of God and because this is an inconceivable mystery intended to be acknowledged as such, therefore He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  And because He is thus conceived and born, He has to be recognized and acknowledged as the One He is and in the mystery in which He is the One He is.  The mystery does not rest upon the miracle.  The miracle rests upon the mystery.  The miracle bears witness to the mystery, and the mystery is attested by the miracle.”

Miracle and mystery. 

“Behold!” was what the angel said to the shepherds.  It’s King James’ language, and it says so much.  Behold the miracle and the mystery.  Don’t try to explain it.  Don’t try to simplify it.  Don’t try to reduce it to a pithy poem.  Just “behold”.  It is both miracle and mystery.  It requires no additional commentary. Just fall on your knees and behold. And in your beholding maybe the Holy Spirit will have his way with you as he did with the Virgin.  Maybe out if it you will conceive something, or someone, too.