Of Blogs and Bibles

January 16, 2008

Today I had a grumpy morning with the children. They were just being children – fussing about how much cinnamon and sugar goes on toast, clothing options, etc.

Sometimes we’re all, children and adult, just contrary. Well. To a degree. I guess none of us adults has thrown a complete crying, screaming fit because we couldn’t wear a striped shirt. Then again, probably very few adults have their wardrobe choices curtailed by an unimaginative dress code, either.

But I wasn’t feeling resilient this morning. I hadn’t had my tea. I just wanted to wake up and have normal conversations with everyone. No “discussions.” So, after a few minutes of testy discussions, I took my tea and went to my google reader to see what the blogs were up to. I was so happy, because my favorite blogger had a new post, and she hasn’t been posting much lately. I read it. It was nice. I read a few other posts here and there. Then, my google reader was empty.

I closed the browser and sighed. I said to my blank screen, “can’t you satisfy me?” I actually laughed out loud after I said that. I realized I was using blogs to distract me from how I was feeling. I knew I needed input from somewhere. I intuitively knew that I wanted some satisfaction from words. But I was looking to the wrong words. My little daisy Bible was sitting on the desk next to my monitor. I picked it up and read this week’s lectionary readings.

The Gospel reading is from the first chapter of John. John the Baptist says (v.29), “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Right there I was hooked again. The Bible for me is like a dynamic, strange, endlessly fascinating, illuminating conversation with the most interesting person I’ve ever known. Today, when I read that, my mind went immediately to that oft-repeated phrase – that Jesus somehow takes away sins. I find that thought so interesting and so strange. What does it mean exactly? I know the traditional, orthodox answer, which I hold as a gift from the past. But how can I deepen that understanding, know what it means for real, for me, for my friends? He takes away sin in general? From me? Where does he take it? How? And, what then? And why a Lamb, a reference to sacrifice and dependence, first? He’s a shepherd, too, right?

And then I read the Old Testament reading, which was from Isaiah 49. In verse 4, Isaiah has the Messiah say, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Isn’t that outrageous? The Bible is incredible. It is full of this kind of despair and “FORGET IT!” kind of sentiment. When combined with an equally outrageous trust in God, it is a potent mix.

When I read the Bible, I know I will never be done plunging all of its mysteries. There will always be more for me to see, to learn and be amazed and baffled by in it. Already I feel pulled to spend more time researching and praying over those passages.

No one can rock it like God. No one has so much to say to me that is so encouraging, bizarre and wise. That is His job, to be loving and mysterious. The Bible kicks ass.

That said, let me affirm that I love reading good blogs. They can be a great blessing. Sometimes the rawest, most honest thing I “hear” all day is from a blogger – like this one from Melissa in Ohio. Sometimes the silliness of my fellow Christians just gives me a great laugh.

But nobody rocks it like God. Love you, God.


Pop quiz: How do YOU feel about people?

November 10, 2007

Last night, for the third time in as many weeks, the neighbor’s dog started barking around 1 a.m.  I need a lot of sleep to be a civilized human being – somewhere around eight hours.  Every night.  When I don’t, I feel awful.  I don’t just feel a little sleepy.  I feel like death when I don’t get enough sleep.  So, when my sleep is disrupted, I get very upset.  Maybe I could say I get angry.  That would probably be fair. 

Last Thursday night I was awake from 1 a.m. until about 5 a.m.  because of the neighbor’s barking dog.  I had to call my  morning teaching job and tell them I was not competent to teach English.  I was simply too tired.  Last night, I decided there was no POSSIBLE way that my neighbors could not hear their German Shepherd barking every 3 1/2 minutes.  I also didn’t feel like missing out on teaching – for my students sake, as well as for mine.  So, I got out of bed and knocked on the neighbor’s door.  It was about 1:15 a.m.  They seem like nice enough people during the day.  I don’t know them well, but I’ve spoken with them several times.  Their dog sucks.  They have one of those big German Shepherds, and they just keep it in the backyard.  It is outside all day while they’re at work.  It barks off an on throughout the day.  I’ve never seen them take it for a walk, or even let it in the front yard.  Whatever.  People have different ideas about how to treat dogs.  I just couldn’t believe I was having to lay in bed and listen to someone’s dog drive me insane. 

It was surprising to me that I was willing to stand on their porch and tell them to make their dog be quiet, but this is the kind of thing I’m ready to do when I’m really desperate for sleep.  I didn’t want to call the police, because. . .because.  I live in nice suburbs.  Cops would seem extreme.  I don’t live in the part of LA county where calling the cops is “normal” anymore. 

I know it would freak me out if someone came to my door at 1:15 a.m.  But I also know that if I had a barking dog and someone came to my door in the middle of the night to alert me about said dog, I would apologize.  I would feel bad.  I would not be bitchy about it.  The dog went berserk while I was standing on the front porch waiting for someone to come to the door.  When the wife came to the door, she opened it about 2 inches.  I explained that the dog was keeping me up and that it had happened several times in the past.  I apologized for bothering her.  She said, “Well, there was something back there.”  What?  Give me a break, lady.  Your dog is bored and clamoring for attention.  It barks all day and sometimes all night.   I didn’t say those last things out loud. 

I don’t know if I did the “right” thing or not.  I knew from experience that once that dog starts the nighttime barking, it never stops.  I wish I had said something to them during the day last Friday, but I was hoping that it just wouldn’t happen again. 

This brings me to my pop quiz:  How do YOU feel about people?

I’ll tell you how I feel about people.  I laid in bed last night, after the dog was quietly ensconced in their house and I stewed.  I know this is not mature, and I wish I hadn’t, but I did.  I thought to myself, “People suck.”  People do dumb crap all the time – stuff like this and worse stuff.  All of us can think of plenty of examples, I’m sure.  By about 2 a.m. I was thinking thoughts along the lines of , “We’re all just a bunch of selfish, self-righteous creeps, basically.”  I had several stellar examples of immature, selfish, obnoxious, disruptive people in mind as the leaders of my personal pack of people who suck.  As I lay there, fuming, I had a horrible realization.

I’m a misanthrope.

You might think to yourself, well, Megan, that is unfortunate that you think people suck, and it is not a very nice way to go through life, and you sound like an immature cow, but that is your prerogative.  Go ahead and think like that.

Here is the problem with that.  Even if I was OK with the fact that I am sometimes a huge misanthrope – Jesus is not.  I have signed up to follow Him, and to work in His kingdom, and to play by His rules.  His most basic rule is to love my neighbor.  Ha, ha, Jesus.  Even if my neighbor has a barking dog that keeps me up when you KNOW I NEED MY SLEEP JESUS? 

I’ve looked in the gospels, and I can’t find the caveat that gets me out of loving people.  I know this is the most basic, boring, repeated sermon in Christendom: Jesus means love, and he means for us to love.  I know love doesn’t mean getting walked all over, or not fighting for what is right, or not telling the truth to people.  But it does mean after you’ve told the truth to a neighbor about a barking dog and they’ve put it inside, you should be able to go to bed, no matter how they treated you, and not stew and fume about how people suck.  Ahem.

I like to tell myself that I have learned a lot about how to love people because Jesus has changed my heart so much over the past ten years.   And that is true.  But all it takes is some lost sleep to take me right back to a place where my thinking is all twisted up.

So here is my prayer for my exhausted, cranky self today: Lord, help me to think about people the way you think about them.  Help me to consciously change the way that I think about my neighbors and people in general.  Change my heart, God.  For your son’s sake, for the world’s sake, for pity’s sake, change my heart. 

Oh yeah, and please let my neighbors put that dang dog inside every night. Amen.

I thank you Lord, that I am like other people.

October 28, 2007

Earlier this week I was reading Luke 18:9-14 and thinking about the point of Jesus’ story about the tax collector and the Pharisee. Whenever Pharisees crop up in the Bible, I try to listen hard to what Jesus is telling my self-righteous religious self.*

In the story, the tax-collector, the guy working for the Roman occupying forces, is the one who knows who he is. Because of this, he can admit to God that he is a sinner, and he is therefore able to beg God for forgiveness. The Pharisee, Mr. Religious pants, does not know himself. This makes him think that he is not like other people. I notice this in myself. I find myself having interior conversations that are dangerously close to how this Pharisee talks out loud.

I like the way Luke describes those of us who think like this. We are called those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Ouch. This hits pretty close to home. There are many times when I find myself saying, “I can’t BELIEVE so-and-so did THAT! I would NEVER do THAT.” Sometimes, the thought itself is actually quite true. That is not where the lie is.

The lie is that there is a dirty satisfaction in thinking like this. I feel righteous when I say things like this to myself. The thing that I would “never do” becomes a foundation, a base for me to stand on and tell myself that I am not like other people. The Pharisee in us looks out at “theives, rogues, adulterers,” mean people, fibbing politicians, fair-weather friends and whoever else and sees sinners. This inner Pharisee sees the sins of others with perfect clarity, and can see that what “those people” do is against God’s will. But eyes that can only see the sins of others have a hard time looking inward.

Jesus, in his great mercy and goodness, wants to set the Pharisee free. He gives him and me (and you!) a way out of this pattern of pretending, of false self-satisfaction. He gives us an example of how to be before God. Like a rotten old tax-collector. Jesus gives us permission to bring our whole selves to the Father and confess that we suck, out loud, that we make rotten decisions in life and then live them out. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” is what our model cries out. That is not a sentence that we utter in shame and in self-disgust. It is a sentence we can utter in freedom and out of hope that God prefers our honesty over our self-righteous bullshit.

I’ve had a rough week over here in the burbs. Ex-wife stuff has been keeping me up at nights and my work has been taking me away from time with the kids and my husband. I am sick to death of not being in ministry, of not having a bigger circle of concern. The tiny-ness of my circle makes me crazy. The day-to-day stress of being a step-family has led me to have some fantastically dark thoughts about others and about myself. This scripture is my comfort this week.

I can come to the Father without shame or self-disgust and tell Him the truth about my thoughts and my life. I can say, God, I thank you that I am like other people – with my sin and dark thoughts. And I thank you, God, that you treat me like you treat other people – with ridiculous amounts of mercy and forgiveness.

Because what does Jesus tell the people “who trusted in themselves” about the tax collector? The tax collector “went home justified.” And then, just to drive the point home, he says, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

——- — —– ——- —-

*In my old Bible study, we were going to have T-shirts made that said, “Pharisaic Bitches From Hell.” We realized that as much as we wanted to be good and follow Jesus, we kept acting like Pharisees at least half of the time. The “from hell” part wasn’t maybe the best theology, but we thought it was funny. Actually, I still think it’s funny. But I also still laugh when someone farts.