Sunday, February 27, 2011

Palaces and Mirrors

Today is just one of those days where the planets are aligned just so and the world is in harmony or whatever you want to call it.

Today was the day that Heavenly Father knocked down a wall. Everything that has been put in my path over the last week, everything I've read, all the things we talked about at church, even the hymns, combined into one big spiritual battering ram.

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity says:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
This part often gets quoted in church, but I find the part that follows even more interesting. Lewis says that God

will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or a goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly…His own boundless power and delight and goodness.
I find this second section even more important than the first because it focuses on what is truly important. The first quote says that God is going to make of us a palace. That sounds like we should go along with the process because we will be made greater because of it.  It feels to me like using the Gospel as some sort of self-help plan, to glorify ourselves, rather than our Father which is in Heaven.

The second section is where I find the true challenge to the Christian soul. Are you willing to have yourself be completely eradicated in the process of perfection? We need to become "a bright stainless mirror" so we can reflect back to God "power and delight and goodness." Are we willing to lose ourselves to become like God?

I find I have two contradictory responses to that challenge. First, is the disbelief that God can make me perfect. Me, for my sins are so special and my flaws so immense that they challenge even the capacity of the Almighty to overcome. My, what pride, masked with a facade of self-loathing.

My other response is to not want to give up who I am, because I like who I am. My husband once told me that sacrifice is giving up something good for something better, before we know what the better is. How could being like God not be better than what I am now? It has to be.

And yet, I am reluctant. I am scared of that surrender. Of what it might cost. Of what might be required of me. But I have to remember that I am not God. And I am not called to be God. I am called to be a mirror of God, so that others can see Him when they look at me. What a relief to not be God. To not have to be in control. To not be required to fix things or save people or have all the answers.

God calls me to love. Love others as Christ would love them. Love others as I would love myself. Through some transitive property that I haven't thought about since ninth grade geometry, that means I have to love myself as Christ loves me, with a full awareness of my imperfections, but with no judgment, merely a call to improve.

Love is the answer. It is always the answer. Love is at the center of all things.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Creativity and Christianity

This post is part of a synchroblog - where a lot of different bloggers write about the same topic.

We are supposed to take the theme of creativity and Christianity as our theme this month. When I read the topic, the first thing that came into my mind was, "What? I'm supposed to be creative? When, in between teaching and grading and dissertating and parenting and wifing -yes, I just verbed wife, I'm being creative - am I supposed to find time for creativity?"

Luckily, the synchroblog moderator posts the topic early, so I've had time to think about this for a while, and I've come to a few different ways of thinking about the role of creativity in the life of a Christian. First, my theology is  informed by a view of God as Creator. When I look around me at the world, I am struck by the wonder and beauty of the created world. The diversity and splendor of creation teach me something about the nature of God. Even understanding the biological and geological processes that are in play, I still see the hand of someone creating something for the sheer beauty of it. Wilderness places are always places where I can feel the hand of God.

Created nature also teaches me something about the nature of God. He has a sense of humor - just look at the platypus. The thousands of different beetles let me know that there are lots of ways that the same job can get done, and helps me fight my natural tendency to insist on my way or the highway. The interconnectedness of redwood trees, with their roots linking into each other, supporting each other, sustaining each other, teaches me about how to support members of my community, and also emphasizes how reliant I am on the support of others for my own survival. All of these lessons affect my praxis on a daily basis, as I strive to become more like the Creator in my own life.

However, for Christians, nature also has a different meaning. We know that "the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam." We are natural, sinners, carnal and sensual. To become like Christ requires us to reject our nature, and create something new. I have always loved Jehovah's words to Jeremiah.

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,
Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
I see myself not only as clay in the potter's hand, but as the potter, with the clay being the stuff of life. I tend to make my life as I see fit to make it, and frequently that creates a marred vessel. My pride and arrogance keep me from being a fit vessel, from being a vessel of the Lord. However, the Lord can make of us a perfect vessel. I reject my nature, a hardened heart and a rebellious spirit, to become malleable as moistened clay in the hand of the Lord, to do His work.

This is where I am creative - in surrendering creative control over my life to the Lord. He is the master artist, and can make of my life more than I can on my own. I may not be an artist or a poet or a playwright, but I am creating a life in the image of Christ, and I cannot think of anything more beautiful.

Other posts in the synchroblog:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I have always been quite taken at the idea of a Heavenly Father. Perhaps overly taken by that idea, in that it defines God in specific attributes that are taken from my personal understanding of fatherhood and parenting that is reliant on a culture that is my own and experiences that are specific, rather than universal.

All that said, however, I am still inspired by the language that Christ uses in addressing God, that of Father. If Christ is to mediate for us with God, then his choosing to address God as Father, not only of Himself but of myself as well, speaks of a relationship of parental nurturing as a prime responsibility of the Creator of the Universe.

Like Schumacher said in a previous post, Christians are home-comers, and he views the Christian as the prodigal son, again with the familial language to describe our situation in relationship to divinity. We are attempting to come home to God, home to recognize that the lowliest position in the Lord's house is better than any position in the world.

What does this say about our relationship to each other? If God is the Father of all of us, then we are all spiritually brothers and sisters. I went home a few weeks ago. It was the first time all of us were together in several years. We spent months talking about what we were going to do when we get together, counting down the time until we all come together again. This is because I love my brothers and sisters. There are six of us all together, and now that we are all adults and past the period of asking impertinent questions of dates and stealing clothes/makeup/albums, we are an incredibly close knit group. If you wrong one of us, you will be facing all of us as we bring you to justice.

I remember a particular situation that demonstrates the love that we have for each other. My younger brother was playing Lord Capulet in his school's production of Romeo and Juliet. One of my best friends had died the night before in a car accident. As I went to see my brother perform in his play, I was overcome by grief. My friend and I had attended this same school, and as they performed in the open quad, memories of my lost friend assailed me. During intermission, I went backstage looking for my brother and couldn't find him. As one of the other actors went to go find him I went back out front of the stage. I looked up, with tears streaming down my face, and saw my brother running down the stairs from the balcony, his cape flowing out behind him, a look of utter concern on his face, as he came to me as quickly as he possibly could. He wanted to succor me in my hour of need, regardless of the play he was involved in.

With relationships like that, it is easy to see why the idea of belonging to a family is an appealing idea religiously. It also explains my commitment to justice for those who are spiritually my brothers and sisters. My calling as a believer in Christ is to treat all people as my brothers and sisters, not just those to whom I am genetically related. Believing in Christ is a call to care for all people on the earth as a sibling, to succor them in their hour of need.

How can we ask someone to be come part of a family of believers, or to trust in a Heavenly Father, when they are always treated like the red-headed stepchild of the family? Social justice is both a fruit of and a prerequisite to true belief.
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