Friday, June 25, 2010

Tending the Vines

Lately, one of the pleasures my husband and I have shared is tending the melon vines in our garden. We erected a trellis for them to grow on, but they constantly require training to get them to grow on it. Their little tendrils reach out and cling to whatever they find--a piece of straw, a weed, or another part of themselves--but generally not the trellis! So each evening, we go out and gently pull them away from whatever they have seen fit to grasp, and instead wrap their curly feelers around the trellis. We want them to grow upward, but without our guidance, they just seem to go whatever way they choose.

In the same way, I think God works with me, unclenching my hand from the attachments that keep me from growing upward into him and his purpose for me. (Attachments are the compulsive conditions that rob us of our freedom. They can be material items or habits such as overwork, racism, or even spiritual practices that have become obsessions for us). I am grateful for the way his is pruning me, pulling me away from attachments that keep me from clinging to him, and training me to hold on to him instead. I have to let go of the weeds and straw in my life if I am going to cling to God.

Sometimes it's easy for me to let go, because he has prepared me in advance by showing me his better way, but other times I'm not ready to let go of the attachments. Yet even when I resist, God loves me too much to leave me where I am. He may gently apply pressure or he may more forcefully remove my grasp from whatever is keeping me from him, just as I sometimes must break a tendril off my melon vine when it is clinging so tightly to the wrong thing. When such changes are happening in me, I have a hard time seeing God's purpose in it all, but that's when I just need to abide. For while he may have torn me away from something I am attached to, he does not abandon me, but invites me ever more to cling to him.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Going All In

The story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) says a lot about how we often approach the church today. It seems they wanted the form of Christian life without the function, the appearance without the reality, the community without the commitment. Like them, we want to participate, but we want to hold back. We want to give something, but we don't want to give everything. We don't want to be totally committed to Christ. We want Spirit and status, Christ and comfort, God and glory. We want to be sprinkled in his blood, not dunked in discipleship.

Being like Jesus is just too radical for most of us. We are grateful that he went to the cross for us, but we don't easily accept that his sacrifice for us is the example of how we are to sacrifice ourselves for others. I might be willing to put aside my own self-interest for the sake of my closest family and friends, but I'm not too enthusiastic about sacrificing my interests for the person who mistreats me or for a complete stranger.

Whenever I keep silent on issues of justice for appearances sake, I am standing in opposition to Christ. When I claim to be devoted, but put conditions on my generosity, I am not living a life of love for others. When I am committed to self-preservation, I strip Jesus' sacrifice of all its meaning for me. I can't just dip my toe in the Christian life. I'm either all in or all out. I can't have it both ways.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

All God's Creatures

Then the Lord said . . . "But Ninevah has more than 120,000 people living is spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?"             Jonah 4:11

Last year, one of my New Year's resolutions was to be a more socially and environmentally conscious consumer. It's a daunting task, because so much of what we purchase exploits some part of God's creation. One place where I've made progress (if you don't count eating out) is with the purchase of meat products. When I saw the news clips of "downer cows" being prodded along with the blades of forklift trucks at a slaughterhouse in California a couple of years ago, I resolved to purchase fewer meat products and, as much as possible, purchase only products from animals that were allowed to live their lives as God intended.

This past Thursday, I participated in a viewing of the movie "Food, Inc." One of the most profound points presented in the movie was that when animal processing facilities treat the animals inhumanely, they generally treat the workers that way too. I suppose that isn't such a surprise. If you can't look at a cow or pig or chicken as a fellow creature, it's a pretty good chance you won't see people that way either.

God may have given us dominion over the animals, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean that we get the right to treat them inhumanely any more than we have the right to treat the people who work in the processing plants that way. Jesus told us how much God cares for the animals. Matthew 10:29 says, "What is the price of two sparrows--one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it." What must God think about chickens that spend their entire lives in complete darkness, that never get to see the sunlight and cannot run around and scratch like chickens do, because they are shot full of drugs to make them grow faster and out of proportion, and their legs cannot carry their weight.

What God created is good. I am ashamed for my part in destroying my fellow creatures. As a Christian, I cannot turn away from this inhumanity.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spiritual Doldrums

Lately, I feel as though my spiritual engine is stuck in neutral. It reminds me of what happens when I'm traveling and using my GPS and there are no turns or exits or recalculating--just one long stretch of sameness. I have not felt alone or abandoned by God, but neither have I been the recipient of an unexpected revelation as I read scripture or pray or contemplate. Earlier this week, I read a devotional message that talked about looking for the secret joys of God, so I decided to take on the challenge.

With my secret joy radar turned on, I experienced the joy of driving down the road and seeing a yard filled with yellow flowers (others might have called them weeds, but since God made them, I chose to look at them differently). I watched a wren hop all over our patio table, inspecting everything on it. I savored the smell and taste of a freshly-brewed cup of coffee. I was awed by the huge thunderheads in the afternoon sky.

A friend of mine is in Swaziland right now and has set up a blog that allows us to keep up with her. When I logged on yesterday to read her first posts, I noticed a sentence she had written: What a glorious day. It was then that I connected the secret joys I had observed with my spiritual doldrums and realized that this day was truly a glorious day. Every day can be a glorious day--it just requires that I approach it with an attitude of expectancy, and an openness to see what God has already put before me. What a glorious day! What a glorious God!