Monday, February 29, 2016

"Will You Give Me a Drink?"

I realize what my title might imply, so I'm posting a picture of a well right here at the beginning. Not the best picture, and it's from Italy not Jerusalem. Here is another view.

During Lent, I'm following Jesus' life, and today I read His first words to the Samaritan woman at the well which are "Will you give me a drink?" Not "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son," but, basically, "I'm thirsty. I have nothing with which to draw up the water. Will you give me a drink?"

To keep this blog real, I'm going to confess to any dear soul reading that my first thought of what to write next is rather snarky. Snarky -- "critical, cutting, snide, cranky, irritable." I know writing is all about not putting our first thoughts down, but you will have a picture of me that is not true if I edit to make myself look good. So, my unedited words read: "Gosh. Imagine that. Jesus, THE JESUS, God who created the universe, God who can change water into wine, takes the time and effort to ask the woman for a drink of water before accosting her with 'Hey, woman, you'd better believe in Me or else you're going to hell.'"

Jesus did indeed say in conversation with someone else, "For God so loved the world..." It was with Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees, a member of the Jewish ruling counsel. Isn't it interesting that Jesus said it to a person who is the equivalent of our religious leaders? But, even with Nicodemus, Jesus did not start off with those words. Nicodemus initiated the whole conversation acknowledging Jesus as a teacher from God who did miraculous signs, and Jesus willingly stepped into the conversation with Nicodemus just as He did with the Samaritan woman.

This same woman has trudged to the well by herself, and she's taken aback that He's talking with her. He's obviously Jewish; she's obviously Samaritan, and the Jewish people do not associate with "those" Samaritans. Some translations even read: "Jews do not use dishes Samaritans have used."There are no paper cups by the well. Jesus is going to drink from the same container the woman would use.

I don't even drink out of a family member's cup so it takes much trust in God for me to drink out of a common communion cup! Years ago, in a small group of people, I heard Dr. Anthony Campolo tell how a homeless friend offered him a sip of coffee out of the same cup from which the homeless man had been drinking. Campolo drank from the cup. Who is a "Samaritan" to you and me, and would we drink from that person's cup? 

Jesus' answer, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water" is not chiding her. He's leading her thinking away from the lies she has been told about the inferiority of Samaritans, away from any thought of her unworthiness. He is introducing her to God who loves her so much, He is willing to give her living water just for the asking!

When our minds are baffled and boggled, our brains go back to a place of connection, something practical such as "Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?" And, then basically, "Who in the world are you?!"

Jesus takes her to a deeper level. She's worth the conversation just as much as the religious leader Nicodemus was. And, she, the Samaritan woman does ask. Granted, she asks for practical reasons, but she does ask. Jesus then enters into her life, "Go, call your husband and come back."

To which she responds that she has no husband. With no condemnation, Jesus reveals how true she has spoken for she has had five husbands and the man she is now with is not her husband. Just as Jesus did with Nathanael ("I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you" which means He also heard what Nathanael had to say about people from Nazareth), Jesus gently reveals that He knows her life.

The Samaritan woman takes a different tack, perhaps to turn the conversation off of her life (understandable) or maybe she really is still confused and stuck: My people say this; your people say that.

Many pastors treat Jesus' response as if she tried to divert His attention and He brought her up short. BUT, Jesus not only answers her question, He also entrusts her with precious knowledge of what is coming: "Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem" and through His conversation with her, He reveals that true worshippers worship in spirit and truth, not on a certain mountain, nor in a certain city. Might there be wisdom here for us: true worshippers do not worship in our country alone (insert the name of your country), but they worship in spirit and truth.

I can't leave this story without saying to anyone who is feeling worthless today, Jesus loved the true Israelite Nathanael and the Pharisee Nicodemus, but He also loved the Samaritan woman, and it was she whose testimony led people to listen to Jesus -- "And because of his [Jesus'] words many more became believers [beyond the ones that believed due to the Samaritan woman's testimony]."

You are not worthless. You are loved. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Follow the Leader or Simon Says

Did you ever play "Follow the Leader" when you were a child? I did. It was fun to see if I could copy exactly the actions of the child leading. "Follow the Leader" was different from the game "Simon Says." I have a few friends in other countries so let me explain "Simon Says." One person stands in front of the group and calls out an action to be taken. If this leader says, "Simon says," then we must all do the action (e.g. stand on one foot, put our right hand into the air, hop up and down), and we must continue to do the action until the leader calls out: "Simon says, 'Stop standing on one foot' " (or "Simon says to stop doing whatever he or she has told us to do). Woe to the child who does an action or stops an action without the words "Simon says" attached. To obey, "Stand on one foot" or to stop if he or she says, "Stop standing on one foot" will result in being cast out of the group...well, "cast out" is harsh phrasing. It is a game, after all. One has to sit out until there is only one person left playing, and that person wins the game. He or she has obeyed every "Simon says" direction and has not taken action or stopped taking action without the leader's "Simon says" command. 

One game is about following; the other game is about obeying what the leader says, no matter what the leader does. I never thought about the difference in the two games until two situations came into my life. 

In the first situation, I listened to a teacher stress obedience without touching on relationship with Jesus. Everything in me wanted to cry out: Oh wait until you are a mom! A child can obey with a horrible heart attitude. In a relationship between a parent and child, one really hopes for obedience; however, obedience does not build a relationship. A child fresh out of the womb can not obey. Yet, obedience does seem to be a favored topic of religious teachers. 

So let me bring up the second situation: On my second day of Lent in my journey with Jesus, I read of Jesus drawing to Himself His first disciples. The words out of His mouth are not, "Obey me!" Rather the words are "Follow me!" 

I wish I had thought of this when I was raising my children. If my child was about to run into the street or do something dangerous, I did want him or her to obey. However, doing something dangerous didn't happen daily. Yet, I used the word "obey" more often than I used the word "follow." Just as in the games mentioned in the first paragraph, obedience can be demanded no matter what the leader is doing while following requires the leader to do the action first. I realize history shows that people will follow and obey a leader straight into horrific actions against himself or his neighbor. Therefore, I'm glad Jesus walks the walk first. In fact, in His angriest moment, His anger falls on those taking advantage of the poor who are trying to obey the Jewish law of sacrifice. 

Jesus Himself says, "Follow me." We can go to weddings. We can talk with a religious intellectual. We can talk with a woman who no one else will befriend. And, in all of these situations we can offer love, kind wisdom, tranquillity, peace, serenity. 

Yesterday and the day before I wrote of a slave mentality. A slave has to obey. A person in relationship longs to follow. I chose today's picture of a time when my granddaughter was quite young because it pictures for me the joy she had in having me follow her, and the joy that I had in following.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Building Bricks or Building Relationships? (Evensong by Kate Southwood)

Have you ever read a book that was depressing yet you knew it had elements of a classic? (No, not all classics are depressing.) I picked up this book in the new book section of the library because of the title Evensong. Evensong services in the churches I visited in the UK are beautiful. They are evening services filled with song of psalms, prayers, and canticles. I was looking for some lighter reading and I thought that this book would fulfill that need.

Alas, I'm in the same camp as reviewers who are conflicted about this book. However, let me start first with the classic elements of the book. Fans of Virginia Woolf and streams of consciousness will appreciate the spirit of Woolf and her style of writing in Southwood's novel. The evensong in Evensong is the song of her life which Maggie sings after a heart attack as she looks at the interplay of her present with her past. The prose is beautiful and may be the main reason I continued reading. When Maggie thinks upon her brother Porter (pages 12-13), Southwood's lyrical prose is so eloquent, I wanted to keep reading even though I already had the feeling that this story was going to be depressing. Indeed the character of Porter carries the main light notes in this story which throbs with the dark notes of Maggie's choices and the choices she feels are forced upon her.

I have not read Woolf since I was much younger, and now I'm wondering if I would find her novels depressing if I were to read them now. Therefore, I'm also wondering if this story would be best suited for a mid-aged reader (or even younger although my guess is that a college-aged student would have to be assigned the novel -- as many classics are -- just as I was assigned to read Woolf in college). The hope in reading the novel at that age would be to come up with better choices in one's own life than Maggie did in hers, and to make amends better than Maggie or perhaps sooner than Maggie does. Maggie's relational issues are as much caused by her as by her husband.

I must add the story carries lots of situations that could stir up emotions in those who have been through challenging childhoods and/or marriages.

I'm rating this at 2 stars. I noticed a comment from one reviewer to another asking whether the reviewer with 2 stars was doing so because of emotions or the writing. It was the feelings brought on by the book. While the book did not cause emotional problems for me, I still found it a sad book in spite of it's fairly happy ending, and my two stars are simply for "I didn't like it." The writing is excellent and I would be fine with it as a book discussion group choice (but I wouldn't be reading it again).

I am placing the book review above on top of a Lenten post I had written two and a half years ago. I must have hit publish but never posted it on any public media. As I scrolled through my blog posts, I thought this review connected with this old post as Maggie's issues are clearly relational. So much of her life she built bricks rather than relationships. Her husband was sure in his knowledge and his being right. Maggie, on the other hand, was going along like the Israelites staying in a situation because she thought she did not have any other choice, and in some ways, Maggie does like her version of "leeks and onions". She has certain benefits to being married to her husband. With this introduction, instead of my usual 💕 (heart and family) section and spiritual formation section, I end with a discussion on building bricks or building relationships (and a great picture at the end of the blog post). It's not a perfect connection because it is about patience but I don't think Maggie's choices were about patience and tranquillity. Her choices felt as dysfunctional as her husband's choices. (Can you tell that I was mad at Maggie a lot?) Maggie does not come through for her daughters and she does not end up treasuring much in her heart until her granddaughter. Thank God for grandchildren!


When in the land of Egypt the Israelites had to increase their brick production numbers, I imagine they tried to run through every piece of knowledge in their brains about making bricks. As a teacher, I endorse knowledge; there's no question about that. However, as I started my Lenten journey through the life of Jesus, I found myself reading and remembering what I've learned or felt in the past about the passages, rather than immersing myself in the story of Christ's life.

From the early chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, I recalled how encouraging it was to read that Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature." Oh, I know He's fully human and fully God, yet it was lovely to see that He chose to grow as a human would grow.

Add in the early chapters of Mark and John, and I remember learning that Jesus fulfilled Jewish law in having two or more witnesses to his claim. I may not remember fully, but I believe it was the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the I AM, the witness of the Holy Spirit. Later His miracles and works will testify to His claims.

Jesus also faced temptation, and my brain lets me down a bit. I recall the three temptations matching up to something. At the moment, I'm seeing that Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights. I feel like I should be making something of that 40 days and 40 nights, but my emphasis on getting the knowledge is beginning to feel more like the mentality of a slave -- learn the information so that I can pass the test of the Egyptian slave masters. Where is the joy, the tranquillity, the peace that God created us to have during times of Shabbat, during times of ceasing, during times of margin as in this season of Lent?

Interestingly, as I stumbled about trying to fit these thoughts down into some kind of coherent post, I momentarily gave up and picked up a devotional I have started reading this year (Hearing God Through the Year based on Dallas Willard's book and compiled by Jan Johnson). This is the Wednesday passage:

"When we do not understand the experience of biblical characters in terms of our own experience, we may stop reading the Bible. Or we take it in regular doses, choking it down like medicine, because someone told us that it would be good for us -- through we really do not find it to be so.

"The open secret of many 'Bible-believing' churches is that only a small percentage of their members study the Bible with the degree of interest, intelligence or joy that they bring to reading their favorite newspaper or magazine. Based upon considerable experience, I believe this is primarily because they do not know and are not taught how to understand the experience of biblical characters in terms of their own experience" (41).

I actually did enjoy what I read, but it was not relational. I was not making space for a relationship with Jesus. More or less, I was thinking like a teacher: how could this be taught...not me.

When I relaxed and brought all these thoughts before the Lord, what stood out to me was Jesus' mother Mary. Jesus astonished Mary and Joseph -- He confused them; He baffled them -- when He stayed behind in Jerusalem and they thought He was lost. Jesus knew what He was doing, but they did not. And, Mary "treasured all these things in her heart."

As a first step, to "treasure all these things" in my heart when I'm astonished, confused, or baffled with God or with others seems like a tranquil, loving, freeing practice. Times will come when action needs to be taken, but just as margin and active space makes a logo or picture stand out more, so too a margin of love blesses both a time of waiting and patience and a time of questions and discussion.

I did look for an image of bricks. This is much better, don't you think? And, the open pathway highlights the beauty of the community cottages. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Rethinking Lent as Margin and Space

Give something up for a full forty days. With freedom in Christ, don't fast. Lent as "do something good." Back to Lent movement among Protestants. Fast Monday through Saturday and never on Sunday (Little Easters). I have tried them all.

However, inspired by a Holy Spirit desire to follow Jesus' life, not just his death; and a friend's blog November Press post "Active Space"; and Priscilla Shirer's study Breathe, I am rethinking Lent as Margin and Space.

Thankfully, this blog site makes it easy for me to have margins and space in my writing. It's not quite so easy in daily life. I've already wanted to fill up my Lent space by joining an online group who are SLOWING DOWN for Lent (good one!) and follow Pope Francis's idea to fast from indifference, to name just two. No matter what your leanings are denominationally, these are practices worth following, and I hope I will slow down and fast from indifference during my days of Lent, but I also hope those practices will continue in my life beyond forty days.

In her book Breathe (based on a presentation she gave at a women's conference), Shirer uses her research of Genesis 1 to show that God was not tired out and done creating on the seventh day of creation. He was creating; He was creating tranquility, serenity, and peace. He gifted the Israelites with shabbat -- "to cease" -- in order to teach them how to put away a slave mentality. Slaves live fearfully, with a worldview of scarcity, with little joy, creativity, or margin in their days. 

I so appreciate what my friend Avo writes in "Active Space."

"In design, negative space (basically parts of a work where nothing is happening), when used well is called active space. Active because it contributes in a positive and an indispensable way to the overall work. Think of the space in-between letters or words or lines of type. How would your reading experience be without them? Sometimes it’s the space around a logo, the large white space around a single line of copy, that activates the logo or adds the communicative impact to a sentence and contributes to the results for which the designed piece was intended."
The margin and space I am creating during this time of Lent is adding and enhancing the times of my life that are filled. One of those areas I'll be creating freedom in is social media. It's not because I don't love my friends and family. I still like the idea of Sundays being "Little Easter" -- a time when we celebrate -- so I'll check in to celebrate with or pray for those with whom I communicate through the gift of technology. But, giving up that little bit (okay, sometimes a great deal) of time will give me the freedom to create -- either in creating sentences on paper or in creating opportunities for serenity. It will give me time for relationships: with my well and alive Jesus, with others that God brings into my life during this time. 

If you want to join in and compare notes, I'll be writing along the way. I know how many good opportunities there are and how many much better blogs there are to read so my feelings aren't hurt if you never read another post this season. Nonetheless, I hope I have encouraged you this day to experience some breathing room in the active space of the margins of your life in order to break free of a slave mentality. Shalom.