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Posts Tagged ‘danger’

Taking On July

July is a battlefield. At least it was in my youth. I would wake in the morning only to wonder what was out there. What could be found in the woods today? Is anything hiding in that rock pile? What will be down at the creek? I wonder if the berries are ripe?

A child knows that something it out there. There is always something out there. Every day is something new to explore. Adults go soft, sitting in cushioned chairs in air-conditioned rooms. But a child knows, there is a lot going on. Someone has to find out what it is.

Still, it is a battlefield out there. Crawling under barbed wire. Falling from a tree or onto rocks. Thorns stand between you and the berries. Sunburn, bruising, and blood are all part of the experience. There are poisons everywhere; ivy, oak, and sumac. Coming home with a rash is normal. Bees will sting, so will yellow jackets, and hornets. Ants will bite, so will deerflies, spiders, and snakes.

Leeches and ticks  are looking to suck your blood. Chiggers will cause you some miserable nights. Mosquitoes will nibble on you all summer long. July is a danger zone. It is a war out there. I still have scars from some of those battles. And I would do it all over again.

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Virginia Stem Owens has written an interesting little volume And the Trees Clap Their Hands. The subtitle is Faith, Perception, and the New Physics. These things are discussed but this book reads more like a confession, Stem Owens reveals she is a spy. She is busy ransacking the world for secrets. She stuffs them in her pockets while going about her business undetected. It could have been titled A Handbook about Being a Spy. In this book it is her intention to pull the reader into a spy story.

She has been verified in the last census. The house she lives in, the clothes she wears, the food she eats, the cars she drives do not distinguish her from others. She disguises as an ordinary citizen, making her contribution of children, taxes, and casseroles while all the while she is up to something different. Stem Owens strikes a trail and sticks to it. She spreads her senses wide and pulls them back in to see what she may have snared in the wind. She is on a stake out, waiting in unlikely places “ready to pounce on reality should it choose to reveal itself.” She stalks and ambushes, wrestles and gouges whatever meaning she is able, “You must be ready when it comes flying at you.” Readiness is in contrast to self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is fatal for spies. “To ring bells and go barefoot is self-indulgent, and would only call attention to yourself.”

There is danger in this vocation. The greatest is not to be discovered or even to be tortured. The greatest danger for the spy is to forget the mission. The worst thing that can happen is to forget who you serve or to begin thinking that Babylon is all there is. The danger is real. She knows this because she is surrounded by many who have already defected. She is surrounded by others who have forgotten or even renounced the mission. The danger is real. The spy spends so much time and effort learning the language, adopting the customs, and practicing the habits of this land that gradually she becomes her cover. It is easy to forget what one is about.

She knows her way around. She does not need a map for where she lives, but one is necessary for what she hopes for “It is buried treasure that needs a map.” So she slinks out the gate with map in hand. She is disguised not by her own skills or cunning but by the blindness of those around her. She understands the constant danger. But if she winds up like John the Baptist with her head on a platter, she will not blame Herod or the headsman. They are only issuing the known penalty for those who commit such treason.

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The church is a risky group to spend time with. And a dangerous people to travel with. Not least because of the God we follow. We are wanderers called from the known into the unknown. We are slaves who have escaped by a miracle. We are warriors sent to battle with strange and unlikely weapons. We are exiles singing our songs in a foreign land. We are treasure hunters selling everything to purchase a field. Yes, to travel with this group is more risky and adventurous than any of us might imagine.

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Richard Louv is a journalist who writes about nature. He can be rather convincing about getting outside. He explores the dangers of a sedentary indoor lifestyle. He takes readers into territory they may not think about on their own. Many have read Louv’s books. I suspect many have agreed with what he says about schedules and fresh air and things we take for granted. Yet I suspect many of them have not changed their lifestyles.

Michael Pollan writes about food. He discusses health of both body and the land. He can be rather convincing about eating differently. He explores the dangers of poor eating habits. He takes readers into territory that many do not think about on their own. Many have read Pollan’s books. I suspect many have agreed with much of what he says about food and nutrition. Yet I suspect many of them have not changed their ways with food.

I suspect this type of thing occurs all the time. Agreeing that health is important does not make one take steps to become healthy. Agreeing that practice makes perfect does not make one practice. Agreement does not always result in action. Thinking something is right does not cause us to behave differently. As convincing as Louv’s suggestions about changing lifestyle are, it is possible to love our current lifestyle of convenience more than his suggestions. As convincing as Pollan is about food, it is possible to love processed fatty foods more.

My interest is not really whether we watch television or eat sodium filled foods. I am more interested that many of us read the bible. I suspect many agree with what the bible has to say. I suspect we agree with loving God and loving our neighbor. I suspect many are pulled into the poetry and narratives and teaching we find there. I suspect many agree with the ideas about grace, forgiveness, generosity and sacrifice that are abundant. I suspect we are glad the bible takes us into territory to explore things we would never have thought about on our own. Yet I suspect that many have not changed their ways.

The danger is that we love our current appetites and lifestyle more than we love what God wants to give us. C.S. Lewis, in a sermon preached at Oxford one day, said this, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The danger is that we love these things more than we love God.

The problem is we have already been discipled. Everyone is in the discipleship business and some are very good at it. The democrats, the republicans, Wall Street, and Madison Avenue are all after your allegiance. The fact is, every commercial is an attempt to make you a disciple. Advertisers do not give information about the products they sell; they spend their resources to appeal to our loves. There is no getting around it – the world wants your soul. Our allegiance says a lot about us. We are disciples of what we love. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Discipleship is all about being attentive to and being intentional about what we love.

We sometimes try to make discipleship a cognitive exercise. We convince ourselves that enough knowledge will help us become who we ought to be. However, we are simply not a sum of what we know. We are not driven by information; we are driven by what we treasure. We like to tell ourselves we love the right things. We like to think we are immune to becoming disciples of the world. Perhaps we should check our closets and garages for evidence. We cannot avoid the idea we are driven by treasure. Acknowledging this is but the first step of beginning to change our lives and not just our ideas. Because to be a disciple of Jesus is to learn to love the right things.

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Here is an excerpt from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now. Thank you for checking it out and double thanks for passing it along to a friend. I hope it is more pleasure than it is torture…

http://www.fieldnotesfromhereandnow.com/is-anything-safe-around-here/

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One July day a fire started in Rome.  The Emperor accused the Christians and punished them by using Christians as living torches to light the nighttime games at the Circus Maximus.  This is the story that we enter when we read I Timothy.  We are introduced to a dangerous world where we are in danger of losing everything.  I Timothy encourages you to not allow anyone to deny your role in this story.

One April day a baby boy was born.  When his grandfather first saw him he remarked “that boy looks like Johnny Yuma… he is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.”  I did not choose to enter the world like this; it is just the way it happened.  I wish that I, or any one, could tell you all the good things that I have done and all the mistakes I have made since then and you would respond by doing the good things, avoiding the bad things, and life would be good.  But we all know that life gets more complicated than that.

Lucy Pevensie stepped into a wardrobe one rainy day during a game of hide and seek with her brothers and sister and became an important part of a great adventure.  Yet another day a girl named Alice went into a rabbit hole after a white rabbit with a waist coat and pocket watch and experienced an adventure she never imagined.  Another day Sam asks Frodo, “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”  We would do well to be asking ourselves that question.

I mention these stories because the characters were not looking for an adventure, they just found themselves in one.  I propose that life is like this.  We all find ourselves in a story that is not of our choosing.  We do not go out seeking such cosmic drama.  We do not know how we get tangled into the story that carries meaning for eternity.  We just find ourselves in it.

My story has never taken me to a place where I had to battle the White Witch or a Jabberwocky.  The emperor has never threatened to light me on fire so that his audience would have light for night-time entertainment.  Yet, I propose that it is still a very dangerous story.  The world wants you.  It will lure you.  It will not stop until it has your soul.  There is a story in II Timothy about a guy named Demas.  He has already been introduced in the letters we know as Colossians and Philemon.  In II Timothy, Paul shares the unfortunate news that “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me.”

We are here on the border of what is holy and what is not.  This isn’t an easy place.  This world is enemy occupied territory.  This world wants your soul.  Demas “loved this world.”  What does this love look like?  What luxuries and excesses does the world offer to lure us?  We might wish that the text were clear about this, but it does not give details.  It just leaves readers to wrestle with the implications.  One thing the text does tell is that even while in the company of apostles and evangelists one chooses the world over the good news.  The voices of this world keep trying to convince us to believe its version of the story.  How will we respond?  Would we have been a reflection of God in front of the emperor?  Are we a reflection of God on our street and in our zip code?

This is the story you have fallen into.  You are part of an adventure that is not of your own choosing.  Wardrobes, rabbitholes, and zip codes are all places where we find stories that are demanding, daring, and dangerous.  The story we are now living has eternal implications.  Do not let anyone deny you your role in the story.

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Greater than Danger

I have been reading Psalm 23 and cannot help but notice the confidence that the gifts of God are greater than the dangers of life.  We enter this psalm with the name of the Lord.  The phrase following the initial naming of the Lord sets the tone for the remainder of the psalm “I shall not want.”  The Lord is the satisfaction of all needs.  Nothing else is necessary.  The psalm suggests that this is not only a spiritual satisfaction.  With the later reference to cup and table comes the implication that the Lord is the satisfaction for all needs.

The psalm then proceeds to talk about God.  “He” makes, leads, restores, and guides.  Then in the center of the psalm we find a more direct address with the strong pronoun “Thou.”  Perhaps this part of the psalm is more immediate or is stated with more emotion.  The psalmist speaks directly to this “Thou” while walking through a deep dark valley and while in the presence of enemies.  The psalmist does not fear impending danger because of the presence of this “Thou.”

Another interesting observation in the psalm is the pronoun ”I.”  This is no self-centered “I”, but one full of gratitude and thanksgiving.  One that acknowledges that the presence and actions of this “Thou” are enough.  This “I” is trusting that life, no matter how dangerous, no matter how evil, is in the hands of this “Thou.”

The psalm knows about threatening situations.  The psalm knows that evil is real.  That danger exists.  But it also knows that the Lord is greater than the threat.  The presence of the Lord is enough.  No matter the situation.  It does not mean that there are no deep dark valleys.  It does not mean that there is no evil.  It does not mean that there are no enemies.  It does mean that He might prepare a table for you right in the presence of your enemies.  The presence of the Lord is enough even in (perhaps specifically in) situations where danger is the greatest.

As in the beginning, the psalm ends with the name of the Lord.  This may be noteworthy and suggest that life is lived in the presence of the One with this name.  The One who walks the deep dark valley with me also leads me beside quiet waters. The Lord is with us.  The psalm knows that danger is real, but it also knows that the Lord is greater than danger.

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