Saturday, July 6, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Cross

As I am sitting here in Panera, an old phrase I used to hear quite often at a church I was a part of came back to me. "You have to go through the cross, not around it." I am not sure of the origins, but I am assuming that Jimmy Seibert either originated or brought it to our congregation. The basic premise was simply this, when you faced a situation, you could either go through the situation or find a work around. Either way you would come out on the other side, but if you went through the situation there would be transformation. If you went around, similar situations would more than likely continue to show themselves, and you would be presented the opportunity, over and over again to go through. So, obviously, the choice was persevere in difficult situations.

I hold that to be a great teaching. However, college-aged James, was a lover of avoiding pain, and found every possible path around myriad problems that presented in my life. I think this led to a long period of disorientation in my life. Even sitting here now it makes me think of the exodus story. The amazing thing about the Israelites was even while lost they still maintained this connection not only to a rich history with God, but also continued to hear the voice of God. It is interesting that when we talk about "back-sliders," "nominal Christians,""old believers," or whatever name we use, we automatically discount any sort of spiritual life. Sure, more than likely most men and women when "running from God," are trying to close a chapter of their life, but for 40 years an unfaithful people still heard from a faithful God.

Which reminds me of the story of Jonah. Poor old Jonah was the quintessential runner, yet his story makes it in both the Christian and Jewish canons, as well as the Qur'an. Jonah had cultivated some sort of relationship with God; God says, "Hey Jonah, go tell your worst enemy that I love them. It should be fun!" Jonah, was like, "Sure Man! Let me go catch a boat," and then whispered under his breath "to the furthest locale away from those nut jobs that I can." We know the rest of the story. God uses wind, waves and a godol dag (dang you Steve Wyrick for the torment you caused on my poor freshman Baptist soul saying Jonah was swallowed by a dag) to get Jonah where he needed to be. Another example of God's faithfulness meeting humanity's unfaithfulness.

God cares for lovable losers.
I think it shows that God cares for the lovable losers of the world. And somehow God brings about the suffering needed to develop lasting character in them, even when they can't seem to face it on their own.

The stories of the exodus and Jonah are close to my heart for obvious reasons. I'm no Job. Outside of my tattoos, the mere thought of pain allows me to display one of my greatest skills...getting the heck out of dodge. I am a runner. Maybe I am no Usain Bolt or Haile Gebrselassie, but I know how to get scarce when need be. I have almost made a career out of it! And that is the thing about these stories...those of us who run can both be challenged and encouraged by them.

Somehow the God that I choose to follow acknowledges that I have this propensity to cave to less than ideal thoughts when I'm scared. Sometimes when the cross lays before me, I break out the calculator to determine the circumference needed to skirt around the issue. And though I know that isn't ideal, I think it makes God smirk a little. I don't think it necessarily "pleases God" to see me run around, but I think that my weakness is what attracts God to me, and vice versa anyway. If I didn't need God in those moments, what would be the point of relationship anyway. It's a living reminder that God is God and I am human.

Now, for those of you who are a bit stronger than me in your faith, your consistency, or whatever measure, you may sit here thinking, "But you need to go through. You need to persevere. You need victory." And I say, "Yes and amen." But truth be told, it has just taken me a while. Yet I somehow choose to believe (maybe Marx's opium?) that this is the trajectory God has me on. Sure, I could have been more faithful here, more trusting there, and could be much further along. I admit that. I am not saying anything contrary to that. But the journey needed for me to learn dependance on God and community, the stories I needed to lead me into eternal faithfulness were learned in dark hours. And I treasure those now.

Even now, there are times where the temptation for me is to go around situations...but I'm learning. Without going into too much detail, I currently find myself in weird circumstances. I am trying to figure out a situation, I am trying to force solutions to said situation, but I keep coming back to this sentiment: "Choose God. Be with God. That situation will diffuse itself." Maybe that brings comfort to some of you. It scares the snot out of me. I don't like trusting in someone I can't see and faithfully hear to provide a solution I could take care of on my own. Really...I don't. But there is a part of me that understands that God is more faithful than I could ever imagine. That God has better plans than I could ever conjecture. And I choose to go through the cross of believing that.

I would hit the brick everyday!
Now, personally I would rather "Hit the Brick" and wait for God at the shuffleboard table there in Roslyn, WA, with my friends Doug and Erika (with an Irish Death in hand!) while I wait, but instead, I sit in Panera, gradually becoming a fan of the Crimson Tide. And somehow that part of the journey, becomes sweeter. Even though I have tried to run from Alabama since the first week I got here, even though at times Alabama feels like the cross I endure, it has become a sweet place for me. It is become a place where running has been blocked. Instead of calculating what it would take to traverse around situations, I have plunged into them. I have learned to trust that God is in the midst of pain and suffering, joy and peace, brokenness and healing.

So, in essence, I am finally growing into revelation given a long time ago. And instead of condemning 19 year old James for not learning those lessons long ago, I just appreciate that I am learning them now while making some life-long friends in the process. Some co-conspirators in what it looks like to follow Jesus in changing circumstances. Learning what it means to go through the cross when culture offers countless pain killers. It really is an interesting time place to learn these lessons. So, I wait. I wait in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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