Jesus was Younger than Me

References from Colossians 1.

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Jesus was my age when He died.

Assuming I live to be 34, I will be older than He got the chance to be. I don’t know why the timing was perfect when He was 33, but in any case, it was right for Him to be fairly obscure until age 30, and then to have a world-shattering ministry for only three years. He was so young when He died–but all our lives depended on it.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

But Jesus was also there at the beginning. He is intimately associated with the creation of the world. I can’t count the years back to the beginning; no one with certainty can. But He was there. He was there before that. He initiated time; He is so ancient I can’t quite fathom it.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Yet Jesus is utterly perfect. The stream of time is constantly breaking you and me apart. We are sick, tired, stressed and broken. We worry, suffer, and struggle and despair. We are in danger of dying from the moment we come into existence. But in His perfection as God, Jesus could offer perfection to us. He offers the benefits of His perfection to us now when He tells us not to fear, but rest in Him; to bring our burdens to Him; to pray. One day, we will know what He has known from the beginning: holy perfection. No sin. No breaking. My God, in His perfection, is eternally younger than me.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

When He resurrected, He proved, among other things, that He didn’t belong to our timeline. He stepped into ours to make Himself be known, to show us immense love, and to make a way for us to get Home. So it is that my God has been younger than me, older than me, and yet utterly timeless.

Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe it. But it’s a good start.

 

The Struggle Against Artistic Pride (or, the brave little artist)

*Deep breath*

When I was first really starting to think about being both creative and a Christian (I think I was 11(?)) these were the kinds of conversations I wanted to have. That’s what this is: a conversation. It is not a conclusion; it’s on the list of things I want to talk about with other creatives who also seek to order their lives after the Bible (albeit uber-flawed) through the grace of the resurrected Christ. Of course, we all realize that it isn’t a conversation until you talk back or carry it on. So there’s that. Prologue finished.

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He was talented musician, but he had stopped sharing his music in church. I don’t know if he still did gigs, performed as local talent, or just reserved his music for time at home, but he had stopped sharing it in worship scenarios. He explained it something like this: “It was becoming too much of a point of pride for me. It wasn’t about worship or God’s glory in the music; it was about me.” So in order to avoid the temptation to take too much pride or think too highly of himself, he stepped away from music performance, specifically in church.

When I first heard the explanation, his choice seemed respectable and even rather noble. I understood it. The Bible has a lot to say about being prideful; none of it good. If you’re seeking to honor God with your life and your gifts, part of the artistic and performative process is a constant reordering of your mind; assessing who is more important—you, or God. That’s no small thing; it’s an unending question. It’s a minute-by-minute sort of question.. And according to scripture, it’s eternally significant.

“Pride comes before a fall” is a well-known Proverb; all artists have met someone (maybe ourselves) whose opinion of themselves is so high that when the inevitable fall comes, it’s going to hurt. A LOT. No matter what you believe, people tend to respect a down-to-earth quality, and kind professionalism. Divas are no fun to work with, no matter how good they are. But then there are less-quoted Proverbs (I paraphrase): “Let someone else praise you, rather than you praising yourself.” Bragging is unattractive. It also makes you look dumb. (There is a difference between bragging and marketing, so sometimes that’s reeeeeealllly subtle. However, humility is a virtue; marketing is not.) Then there’s that slightly scary thing that Jesus said in Matthew 6. Apparently, there were people who did good deeds professionally, hiring a trumpeter to announce that they were giving money to the poor and praying beautiful, public prayers. Jesus said that they weren’t getting a reward in Heaven for it; their reward was what they wanted: public approval. Their work was fully paid for; there would be nothing later.

But we’re SO PRONE to self-worshiping pride. How in the world–?

(Here’s where I need to take another deep breath.)

*BREATHE*

Unlike my musician friend, I don’t think that the right solution is to stop doing art—at least it’s not a completely Biblical solution.

First, it’s impossible to be pride-less; sin-less. That’s the point of the Gospel; we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. To believe that we can escape the sin of pride by NOT doing what God gave us to do amounts to a kind of artistic monasticism. As if we could move into an artless monastery of sorts, take a vow of silence and poverty and still escape the sin that comes from within us. Jesus pointed that out, too. We are defiled by within; not without.

Second, it seems to often be a fear of the struggle itself; fear that we will lose against pride and fail to honor God with our good. But while the sin itself is certainly not good, the struggle is. Our conscience is alive and wriggling; even healthy. What we should fear is to cease struggling against pride. When your heart stops beating, you’re no longer alive. If you stop struggling against pride, you’re giving into it. Humility is dying.

Can I speak of an art form as a calling? I think I can. If God gifted you, and wrote your name in His book as one who has accepted grace, then He doesn’t expect too much that you now “ work” or create for Him rather than just yourself. Perhaps we could say you were always “called”; you were born with your gift and the desire to work your tail feathers off to perfect it. By all means work for your food and living, but ultimately, you create for Him. These are not separate things. But this calling carries with it the vulnerability for great pride. Don’t believe me? Ask someone to critique/edit a work of yours and give suggestions. Is your heart suddenly and protectively aflame? We long to be congratulated and told our work is excellent. Many artists are people who at least at some point in their work would gladly do it for free. Our pay is easily laughter, delight and praise of others. Like Babette noted in Babette’s Feast, the most fulfilling thing is really just doing it. But if you’re like me, you’re always surprised at how unsatisfying that is. At some point, the focused discussion and critique of others became what my pride coveted. But when you get it…it feels like leaving the restaurant right after the appetizers. There must be something more.

And this is what I’ve been trying to get to…more deep breaths…

Yet ultimately, it is also pride, I think, to NOT create because we are afraid. We are afraid it will not be good enough. Our pride helps us make all kinds of excuses: family, work, daily responsibilities, not being good enough. But really, you know it’s a choice. It’s pride. We can’t win against pride. In a fight, we’ll always lose. We like to be right, a genius, the master. Yet like every other form of pride, there is one antitdote: our good God. If He called us, He will also give us strength to do it and not fail or faint in the fight against pride.

To summarize and conclude (I’m breathing more normally, now): 

If we fear pride itself and so do not create, then we’re still trusting ourselves, as if you and I could simply sidestep sin. We cannot be artistic celibates; are we then not guilty of both pride and—much like the servant who didn’t invest his one talent, but buried it–failing to use what we’ve been given? We are called to war and work, so we take our Commander’s hand, pick up our pens, our paints, our tools of the trade, and war and work for Christ with our art. That will look like all kinds of things: stories, pictures, music, mosaics, poems, fashion, gardening… Maybe it’s not overtly salvific or evangelistic, but it takes you to places Jesus intends for you to find souls and make Him famous.

Be an artist.

The Art of Loving People

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. ~Vincent van Gogh

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Photo by Magda Ehlers

I am a task-oriented introvert. This is a terrible combination.

Task-oriented: give me a job and I’ll do it. I might have a hard time stopping, actually. I occasionally get so involved in a task that I forget to eat. Introvert: I gain energy from being alone. People exhaust me; social situations cause various levels of anxiety.

This combination means I love doing a task…and find it very easy to forget about people entirely. This combination once found this teacher leading the charge on a field trip only to turn around to discover that she had out-charged her students in her sheer zeal to get there. My one-track task-oriented mind completely forgot about the long line of geese I was leading in my excitement about getting to the pond.

But it is absurd to think that I am an utter slave to these natural arrangements of my mind. This the glory of practical theology and the kindness of the Comforter whom Jesus sent after His ascension. He must have been teaching me to love people long before I knew He was; but I do remember when He first made me aware of the work He was doing. He made it clear to me that people, themselves, are the joy that I was neglecting rather than the work. I could excuse myself by reasoning that the work I do is for people, but that reasoning also gives me the excuse to mow them over if they get in the way of the job. That’s hardly love.

I love crafting emails, designing posters, creating projects, making things. I get a great deal of satisfaction from the completed task; an end result that you can hold in your hand. But people are never done; you don’t have anything to show for your work, so it doesn’t feel like anything is being accomplished.

If your goal is their gratitude, you seldom get it, and when you do, you know that wasn’t what you were after. It’s curiously…unsatisfying.

When you say one thing, they hear something else.

They will ask much of you, and it might feel like they are asking something quite unreasonable, either because they know more than you, or because they know much less.

According to the way Jesus taught, my job is to love them, no matter who them happens to be. My job is to see them as better than myself no matter age, size, experience, etc. When I don’t, my impatience outstrips my kindness. I leave the people behind for the sake of getting to the pond.

This is hard. No…this is impossible for me. This is impossible unless Someone teaches me what love looks like. Sometimes, this means putting down the very thing I thought I was doing for them in order to be with them. Sometimes, in theatre anyway, that means sacrificing a step toward excellence for the sake of the person who made a mistake, was trying to help, isn’t ready for correction, wants control…whatever. Whatever my response, if it isn’t motivated by love for the person, then I’m really loving my satisfaction in a well-done job more.

Many great art forms have traditions in long training. Years go into making a great chef, an excellent painter, a hypnotic dancer, an exacting architect. Each of these artists will tell you that their work is never “done”; every performance of their art is training for the next; every rehearsal further exploration and preparation. You never arrive. To be an artist is to be extravagantly patient.

To love people is to be lavishly persistent.

Perhaps this is why Vincent van Gogh considered loving people to be an art.

Freak Out Thou Not: Take 2

This is a reblog from November 13, 2016. I find it needful to say these things again.

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I once sat in a room with an assorted group of pastors, their wives, missionaries and church members. It was informal, for the moment, and the conversation, as it so often does, turned to current events. And one after another, everyone in the room took turns expressing their frustration and as far as I could tell, their fear. They shook their heads hopelessly and used words like, “scary,” and “I’m afraid that…” And I won’t kid you—looking around at the pedigree in the room, I felt like they must have been right. I wanted to say something like, “But what about verses like, “Be not afraid”?” I went to Awana and VBS; I learned my verses pretty well. But no one else was saying it, but I was the youngest person in the room and so I felt like I shouldn’t. The absence of those words felt palpably hopeless and empty. And I’m quite sure that a gathering of Believers in Jesus shouldn’t feel that way. After fifteen minutes of this, one of the pastors gently spoke. He offered God’s promises of security in Him and of His control over the world and its events. And my heart breathed in the promises and settled its feathers.

In the last year, I have several times found myself in conversations with friends who don’t share my faith. And the conversations, as they so often do, would turn to current events. And one after another, everyone would take turns expressing their frustrations and as far as I could tell, their fear. They would shake their heads hopelessly and use words like “scary,” and “I’m afraid.” And I would want so much to say that my God had promised peace to those who believe, but they didn’t want my Jesus and found no comfort in Him.

In both cases, it seemed like speaking fears aloud somehow brought comfort. If we were all politicians and law-makers, maybe our conversations would be practical. If decisions of any kind need to be made, I suppose the expression of concerns would be wise and useful. But otherwise, we’re just sort of spreading the fear around like mud on the clean floor. It is time to stop making messes. It doesn’t matter what the topic is–it public restrooms, equality of any kind, or closer to home, your job and your family–if you call the God of the Bible your Father, then you can claim not only peace, but joy. So why don’t we?

If social media was a room where all my friends of all beliefs gathered, it would an awfully sorry party. All the videos and memes and some of the the articles may be good, but they’re not great. They don’t substitute for those who know joy and peace truly expressing it, and expressing it in person and in voice and in belief. As a former professor of mine put it once while commenting on world events: “Freak out thou not.”

So as fellow Believers, when we get together to pray, our conversations about the state of the nation should be as faith-filled as the prayers that follow. When we talk about what we hear on the news, perhaps we should talk about our Father’s power instead of encouraging each other to worry. Speaking the truth of our Father gives us the ability to be compassionate with those who are different from us; and believe me, you’ll need it. When we worry aloud about our families and friends, our children growing up in this world, and the complications of daily life, we only prove that our God is not particularly powerful. We are frankly declaring that He is impotent. When we listen to our own voices and our own words instead of speaking His, we prove that we prefer our own. And I don’t know about you, but there is nothing particularly potent about mine.

Someday, we will not have to work so hard to infuse Heaven into our lives. We will have the Word Himself visibly present; we won’t just be quoting He who is present but whom we cannot see. Here, we have to learn and relearn and relearn again; There, we will wonder why we didn’t “get it”. I trust Him that He completes me now and I will better understand that There.

Regardless of the broken place we call our temporary home, we are taken care of. Our Father hasn’t forgotten us.

Freak out thou not.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

~Psalm 103

Deer Season Blessing

I have always lived in places rural and just a little bit wild. I like it that way. But these places are also where it’s assumed that you and a deer or two will have an unfortunate meeting at dusk somewhere, likely when your phone isn’t charged at the end of a long day. My family had just such a meeting late one Sunday when I was ten; for months afterward, my parents remedied my panic at driving in the dark and meeting yet another by Mom sitting in the back seat while I hid my face in her lap.

As an eventual driver myself, I’ve had run-ins with fawns, full grown deer, a bear, a few dogs, and multiple rodents. I’ve been well-trained; you can’t swerve for a rodent at the risk of you, the car, and anyone else in it (though evasive maneuvers are accepted in case of large mammals and skunks.) But now is the season where my fellow citizens thin the deer herds, and in honor of their woodsy sagas which feed their families and keep the rest of us a little bit safer, a deer season blessing:

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O, you who thin the wild herds

And keep my car from harm:

May you be blessed with close encounters

On these chilly Autumn morns’.

 

May your coffee keep you cozy

And your blaze-orange keep you well.

May all your tags be used,

Whilst you have signal for your cell.

 

 

 

 

The Rest Test

 

It’s most definitely Fall. Mums and pumpkins everywhere, leaves changing, chilly mornings that may or may not turn into warm days and my personal favorite: apple orchards are having their seasonal bonanza. Anyone who has babies or small children are trotting off to have pictures taken in the orchards whilst wearing their best earth tones, and in a certain county in Indiana, everyone is bracing for Bridge Fest.

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This is the season of abundance and ending. You can smell it in the air as soon as you step outside. I suspect I only notice it because it is so short; it’s barely a season. It’s more of a transition. But this is when you hustle the last of the produce out of the garden. Now is when you shake the sunflower heads free of their seeds and build bonfires of dry stalks and roots. Now is when you look at all you’ve gathered and wonder if you’ll really eat it all…and you will. This is also when it gets colder, and those days of snow and ice would mean difficulty for anyone who didn’t prepare. It is still the season of ending.

I don’t much like referring to life experiences in terms of “seasons”; I suppose I object because it’s never quite that clear-cut when it comes to people. It’s not as clear as that one-day transition from warm and growing to dry, crackling and the wet smell of leaves. Even so, it’s more accurate than most descriptions. Just like a season, the way life is right now will inevitably change; unlike a season, no one knows when that will be.

But all of it counts.

In the trial of either abundance or the trial of evident need, we are intended to trust God. If we fail at either, then some other god has proved to be incontinent. YHWH cares for us; He has said so. This is true in the trial of need or fear. So submission to His work gives up our treasured anxiety and stress, or our protected quiet. He has all and is all; our rest is in this God.

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. 

In God, whose word I praise–in God I trust and am not afraid. 

Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll–are they not in your record? 

Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me. 

Ps. 56: 3, 8-9

How to Make a Notebook Addict Happy

If you know someone who wants notebooks (doodling/writing/combo/whatever) it’s probably pretty important to understand what kind of equipment they use best. In fact, I would suggest that this is…vital. The wrong kind of notebook can lend a distinct sort of “stuck-ness” to a doodler/writer/combo-er/whatever. So, some tips for helping the notebook addict in your life.

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  1. Take him/her to a place where they sell a variety of notebooks and let them free-range. It’s a bit like letting a squirrel loose on a nut farm. Tell him/her to choose one and go find yourself a cozy corner with coffee and a book. In about twenty minutes, if you haven’t seen them, you’ll likely find them writing busily and sniffing their new notebook…because they can’t help it. It’s THAT exciting.
  2. Learn what kind of paper tickles his/her gizzard. Lined paper? Graph? Blank? Textured? It makes a difference.
  3. Know their cover. Hard? Floppy? Paper? Leather? Moleskin? Tip: Sometimes aroma is everything…
  4. When and how do they use this notebook? This knowledge will help you choose what size notebook. Do they have a bag that they usually stuff it in? Will the notebook you are currently considering fit inside said bag? Or do they usually carry it in a pocket? A purse?
  5. How should this notebook fasten? Long leather thongs are nice for multiple fastening options. If they break, you can just tie them off again. Snaps are nice, too, but with long use they get bendy in the important snug parts and stop working. If there is no fastener…well, it ought to be a pretty big notebook to account for edge/corner squashing.
  6. Know their writing utensil preferences. Unless they are a pencil person, they likely have either a brand of pen that is vital to their happiness or a size nib that is equally so. Fine tip? Brush tip? Multiple colors? Ball-point? Calligraphy?

People who like notebooks can tend towards notebook sobbery, and if their notebook needs aren’t met, they won’t be able to bring themselves to use it. If he/she has a spiral-bound notebook when he/she prefers a wrap-around leather one…it’s rather hopeless. (Once long ago, some well-meaning soul gave me a spiral-bound, lined paper, hard-cover notebook with chubby, unclothed cherub/fairies fluttering glittery wings (that shed glitter) on the cover. There was NO WAY I would be caught dead within 20 feet of that abomination to notebooks. YEARS later, I took it to school to my “free” table hoping that it might meet the needs of some young writer/doodler/combo-er/whatever. It did. Happy ending.)

So here’s what I would like: In the comments on this blog or if you prefer, elsewhere, tell us all what your notebook needs/preferences are.

Happy writing. Doodling. Combo-ing. Whatever.

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