Grief, The Door To Freedom

I frequently muse about the role that grief plays in our lives.  Losses are inevitable and even necessary.  If we learn how to grieve and mourn them well, we will come to experience a kind of spiritual freedom only available through letting go.

I'm troubled when I see how often we as believers walk away from the giant resource grief provides us in our journeys to become more mature and more like Christ.  Instead, we avoid grief by attempting to get the world to fit into our mold, or attempting to escape the normal movement of life, or seeking peace and safety at the expense of reality. It is often only through loss, suffering and grief that we have access to the central and massive comfort and freedom that Jesus died to provide us, in the here and now.    

A few months ago, Nancy took our grandsons to Body World, a traveling science display in Denver.  Here in the midst of an exhibit displaying the phenomenal physical marvels of being human, she found that the context screamed of hopelessness--no purpose, no future.  Along with the fascinating display of the human body came a number of banners with quotes that seemed to rob the viewer of reasons to live, such as, "When you die, you just lose consciousness."  In a culture that denies grief and death, it is difficult to hold a biblical view of reality that finds hope in the midst of a broken world and painful circumstances.  Like the display, our culture attempts to soften painful realities with slogans that tout  "hope" rooted in nothing. Perhaps, as the exhibit implies, if we simply define man as a biological entity, we can remove the inevitable sting of loss. So the slogan, "when you die you die" is intended to comfort us in an attempt to respond to the reality one only sees.  And it's designed to eliminate our desperate need for hope.

The Body World display teaches us that without a future vision we must either live in despair or some form of fantasy. The biblical view is quite different.  In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul tells believers, "…we are not to grieve as the world grieves, as those who have no HOPE." And in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says, as believers we are to be ready to give an answer to those who ask, for the HOPE that is in us.  Quite frequently we ignore the scriptures instructing believers to "not lose HOPE!"  Real hope comes when we place our trust in "true truth."  Why do we so often fail to walk in this freedom, which is given to us who believe? Maybe part of the reason is because we fail to make the necessary adjustments in our thinking that will line us up with the truth we claim.

The truth Christ has given us says that although much of what we experience in this upside down world is not part of the original design, God has given us grief as a major resource to deal with the regular rhythms of transition and loss.  Transition, loss, and the grief of dealing with these allow us to offload distortions of reality. We are essentially double minded, and instead of believing the truth, we believe the distortions the world markets to us: a life that makes sense, and personal peace and affluence.  One good thing about the globalization of our world is that we are less likely to live in isolation from the painful reality of this messed up world. Buried in the middle of this is a view of life that is grounded in facing life as it comes and being able to grapple with the "bad news".

I'd like to suggest that we define grief like this: to accurately adjust our views of reality by aligning them with the "truth" of God's creation in it's fallen, messed up, mean state!  Grief in this context may be thought of as a healthy concession to the fallenness of the present world.  Matthew 5:4 says those who mourn will be comforted. It's interesting to me that these two ideas are linked in this manner. Few of us seem to get this connection, that grief/mourning gives us access to comfort/freedom. How often are our expectations of what life should be like derived from our culture instead of the "Word" written and incarnate?  Our culture shapes our expectations as well as our desires.  First world individuals are caught in a consumeristic environment.  In this environment a desire is never illegitimate, it is only unmet! 

Let that sink in for a moment.  What helps shape our desires?  Is it the ‘truth' we believe from Scripture, or are we formed by the strength of the environment in which we are placed? If this second view is allowed to shape our perceptions, then the basis for our HOPE is skewed!

For consumers, fulfillment of desire is the highest good and the final arbiter in making decisions.  In contrast, Scripture champions freedom, contentment and self-control based in values, not endless pursuit of personal desire. God is not a commodity that exists to make us feel better!

Maybe a thorough sensitizing and awareness of our expectations and their origins is the core work of grief.  The first thing we must do in order to move through the grieving process in a life-giving way is to face the truth about our skewed/distorted beliefs of how life should work.  Most of us see the application in "large" issues, like the death of a loved one or loss of the ability to work or a divorce. It's the smaller deceptions that keep us from experiencing the freedom we miss.  Let's examine some of these.

How often are our disappointments in our children or a disagreement with our mate mishandled? Instead of seeing the "matter of fact" of life's movements, we eschew such for the immediate feeling of control and the satisfaction it seems to provide. Even something as trite as a haircut and color that doesn't turn out as you expected can rob us of the capacity to celebrate the life that we have in fact been given. Often our view squeezes out the joy that is available because we are restricted by a pinched perspective that prohibits us from seeing the freedom God has for us.  Our culture teaches us to win, not to grieve.  We want to be right, to fight and to be strong. Grieving the loss of some particular disappointment means that we are called to "let go" and move away from a victim posture. Culture teaches the opposite by telling us to find someone or something to blame.

Any "false" view of reality, no matter how small, can and will set us up for useless pain and disappointment.  When we put our hope in a world free of loss and only driven by acquisition, we are committing a form of idolatry.

But there's another kind of grief. The kind laid out in the Gospels.  I call it hopeful grief or good grief.  This kind of grief is based on a view of reality that allows us to adjust to what is rather than what we wish was.

Some Musings On Four Trees

We just put up our “tree” for this season.  It carries more weight this year since we have been without this ritual for the last two holiday seasons.  Our tree was fresh cut – by hand – by friends – for us – from the Colorado forest.  Now I have not reflected at great depth on this, but this tree represents many layers of experience, e.g. history, tradition, celebration, relationships, church, nostalgia…food. Yet, for me a profound aspect of the “Christmas Tree”, or first tree, is what it is supposed to represent.  An evergreen symbolizes stability – something that lasts.  However, my experience is marked by the tree’s removal and disposal every year. Oh well, so much for stability and security. (Funny how difficult it is to get these trees to stand up!)  The point is it poorly represents the secure hope my soul longs for. Nevertheless, it does remind me for a moment.

In trying to return to some “order” and “stability” after 9/11, I am also trying to regain a sense of comfort.  I believe we confuse “answers” for truth.  The result of which is to empty out our souls and live in torment.  (Isaiah 50:11) NASB

The second tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9).  Eve and Adam were beguiled by its offer of “divinity” – to know, to be in control…to secure the future, to be god.  This illusion of control has plagued us ever since, in that we continue to seek peace and calmness through control!  This is an elusive process only popularized by the denial of reality that we are not vulnerable, and that we can eradicate all evil from our experience!

Well…God intervenes in this process, by preventing us from continuing on perpetually in our delusion.  He removes us from access to the third tree. (Gen. 3:22)  This third tree is the Tree of Life, not spoken of often in Scripture, yet it is the very thing we were created to experience – LIFE!   There remains a profound mystery here.  Why do we continue to choose mastery/control (second tree) over mystery/faith (third tree)?  This still puzzles and draws us to the fourth tree: the Easter Tree, the “tree” on which Jesus died.

I suspect that Easter is the holiday of choice for those who believe.

A friend tells of an experience in Europe a few years ago where he wanted to celebrate Easter, and a local national asked him where he was going.  When informed, the local did not know what Easter was, much less why one would engage in celebration.

This tree is filled with paradox and is difficult to understand.  The word paradox literally means, “beyond what is thought”.  Nothing of the cross makes sense unless we move “beyond thought” into paradox.  Here are some of the contradictions:  the God of Love surrenders to violence; power chooses powerlessness; the response to hatred is forgiveness; an ignominious sign of death becomes the symbol of Life Everlasting.

Most of us don’t like paradox because we want to resolve the tension instantly.  This is why we have meetings in which first somebody proposes one side of the issue and then someone else the other.  The tension mounts for a few minutes and then there is a vote called for to get the tension over with.  We vote, 51% win by telling the other 49% where to get off, and the 49% spend the next decade undermining the decision we thought we had made – all because we don’t know how to hold on to the tension.

The cross cannot be understood theoretically.  Paradoxes are not understood so much as lived.  The cross is not just something that happened in the past: it is a way to live in the present as we wait for full access to the third tree, the Tree of Life.  Salvation is more than an event; it’s a way of living in ever greater fidelity to the truth that each of us is sinner and saint, not sinner or saint.  Reconciliation is holding these counterpoints in creative tension while affirming the truth of each.  In every experience of the cross, we affirm that neither part of the contradiction rules out the other.  Together both parts constitute truth/meaning. 

Maybe Richard Rohr’s conclusion in “Everything Belongs”, illustrates just how this fourth tree bears on the “tension” in our lives:   “The price we pay for holding together these opposites, is always some form of crucifixion.  Jesus was crucified between the good thief and the bad thief; hanging between heaven and earth; holding onto both his humanity and His divinity; expelled as the problem by both religion and state.  He rejected none of these, but “reconciled all things in Himself”. (Eph. 2:10)

Somehow, this Christmas season, living beyond what is thought may help us to really LIVE!  Being reconcilers in our own world and holding on to the tension that faith demands, settles our souls in a way nothing of this world – governments, money, power, control, tradition, ritual, success, can ever provide.  In paradox, certainty is always illusive, while mystery becomes almost tangible.  Thank you Jesus for coming and finishing this mystery, this good news that alone sustains us in this marred world.

 

Tolerate Pain for Growth

“In the world you have trouble But, take courage I have conquered the world.”  Jesus (John 16:33)
 

"Pain plunges like a sword through creation. Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable and never idle."   (Underhill)
 
We truly live in a pain-phobic culture. How can we embrace the true reality of suffering in ways that are spiritually and psychologically healthy?

Harry Schamburg says: “we can’t prevent the problems of sexual addiction in the church if we don’t change our message from ‘how to feel better now’ to the unpopular biblical theme that ‘the sufferings we now experience are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ Paul (Romans 8:18)

I believe that there is a great deal of poor thinking about suffering and the role of pain in life.  

“Suffering never saved anybody. Not your suffering. Not mine. Not even Jesus’s suffering saves in and of itself.  Rather, it is the way suffering is faced that makes the difference between whether pain, sorrow, difficulty, deprivation, and/or challenge become part of our souls stretching or shrinking!” (R Morris)

Being a counselor, I have listened to many stories of suffering where; one family is sideswiped by the unexpected birth of a child with a catastrophic handicap, drawing them closer together in mutual support. Their hearts are stretched: “It’s changed our expectations about what’s important in life,” the father says. Another couple greets an infant with a lesser handicap with a resistant bitterness: “It’s like our lives were suppose to end up in southern California and we got hijacked to the Arctic Circle!” The couple separates, their marriage relationship too strained to continue.

It’s not our place to judge, we do not know the mystery of their hearts. But we cannot help observing the different outcomes. Those who survive and grow more resilient in times of suffering somehow find inner resources of acceptance, endurance and patience to deal with their trials. Simple acceptance of their limitations leads to quiet thankfulness where they see life as a series of challenges to be faced. Suffering was something to be dealt with, lived through, learned from, and redeemed.

On the other hand, victims see life as a tale of repeated, undeserved woe where chronic complaint is justified.

One stance shrinks our soul while the other surly expands it.  Christians often speak loosely about “redemptive suffering.” I am becoming convinced that there is no such thing in the Christian message. This is not a mere debate over words. I do not believe that suffering itself contains some hidden divine spark. There is nothing in the Gospels to support that Jesus ever deliberately sought suffering, indeed, he seems to do everything possible to relieve it. Christ shows us the way to suffer redemptively.

Making this distinction between Christ’s redemptive way of meeting suffering and suffering itself is a crucial one for psychological health and spiritual formation toward wholeness.

“There is an ancient, dark, masochistic undercurrent in some spirituality that sees some sort of spiritual power in pain itself.” (R Morris)

Beliefs throughout history have tied this belief to getting the attention of the gods’. (See I Kings 18:28). Whatever such ideology encourages in behavior, “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” is not about self-inflicted pain. We share in Christ’s sufferings when we participate in his way of meeting suffering and it’s sources, as we pursue, with him, the incarnation of the dream of the Kingdom.

How did Christ do this? And why is this part of the Christian journey so confusing? In Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus “endured the cross”… How?  “For the joy set before him”…. Because he was rooted in goodness deeper than the suffering, so even in the midst of suffering he was deeply anchored in the goodness of God.  I believe this was Jesus’ secret of facing life in this wild, wonderful, and terribly difficult world… and ours to follow!  Grounded in such goodness we can face any adversity, drawing on the Grace of a world larger than the suffering.
 
                                      By His Grace, HUD   

To Be Fully Mature - Fully Alive


“…Here’s what I want you to do…  Get out there and walk -– better yet, run! –- on the road God called you to travel.  I don’t want you strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.  And mark, that you do this with humility and  discipline -- until we are all moving rhythmically and easily with each other  -- efficient and graceful in response to God’s son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

         No prolonged infancies among us, please.  God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ – who’s very breath and life flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

PAUL – The Message

         How good is your Memory?  Last time I wrote in “Inside CAI”, I was arguing that that the church as a whole does not deal with doubt or confusion very well.  And, I believe that this is a necessary process in our lives if we are going to grow up – be able to experience the raw-ness of life, and truly enjoy the freedom, I believe Christ died to provide, - by being fully mature and fully alive. 

         At that time, I argued that we are masterfully designed to grow, and there is never a lack of development needed in our lives.  However, we somehow seek a status that will not foster such growth.  So, even though we move through various developmental phases, we seem to return to the “proven and comfortable” where we have a sense of control, rather than face and walk into an unpredictable future where only God stands, and where He bids us come. 

COMMON DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES
I. Chaos
II. ‘Stable’
III. Puzzlement
IV. Connection

I. CHAOS - is characterized by Autonomy –  Independence.
PRODUCT:   A sense of being “self-sufficient. 

II. ‘STABLE’ – is characterized by External – Institutional.
PRODUCT:  A sense of being “in Control”.

III. PUZZLEMENT – is characterized by Questions/Confusion Doubt.
PRODUCT:  A sense that somehow “There is More”.

IV. CONNECTION – is characterized by community exposure. 
PRODUCT:  Experience of true freedom and joy.


These are certainly not linear, yet the first three stages are a necessary launching pad for the forth stage.  Two ideas are necessary here:

1.)    The fourth stage is where “whole” life truly takes place and where, I believe, we are designed to live.

2.)   We are often deceived into thinking that the first three stages are all that life really offers.  Let me explain…

          Real community or “connection”, (stage 4) depends on maturity for its existence.  Last night at church I heard a sermon on “change”.  It was seen as an optimist might see, yet I believe “change” or transformation is a move, usually ‘away’ from something:  i.e.  We ‘change’ to remove some form of discomfort  (it matters not what) – and we use the first three stages of development as our sole options-/resources, to grapple with said irritant (discomfort).  By switching back and forth in our stance in order to defend or self-sooth, all three stages are necessary in/for our development.  Yet, in order to grow, one must face his/her shame, through exposure, in order for true ‘community’ to work…so that can true growth can take place.     Unfortunately, few in a population get to this stage.

DOUBT

The place where post moderns begin –

easy to get stuck here – by never asking a/the ‘truth’ question –

therefore, no tether to work toward or from –

no need to face being finite -

Life forms an open bottom box: Put something in – return later –there’s nothing there…  I’m… lost/loose.  There’s no possible growth here.

“TRUE” Community demands that a person can be exposed!  This forces us to push away from a learned ‘default’ behavior/option of switching back and forth through self-protective choices…all of which bring short term relief, yet prevent the access to true transformation.  This exposure, I believe, is what we are designed for, and of which our deepest longings nudge us toward.    (read: “Eternity in Their Hearts” - Eccle. 3:11).

The Rareness of experiencing “True Community”, prompts questions:

        l)   Are we blinded so as not to move toward this?

        2)  Are we somehow programmed to capitulate (default) to the lowest  

        comfortable denominator?

        3)  Is joy so elusive that the arduous-ness of the task defeats us   

        before we even begin?  (so that we turn back).

        4)  Is our fear of true freedom so strong that facing it becomes

                  unthinkable?

         5)  Does exposure feel so ‘out of control’ that its demands stop the

                  process of growth?

         6)  Are we, as natural risk takers, (church planters are high in this :o),

        still so drawn to the illusion of control, that we move toward

        reflected light rather than the SON?

ANSWER THIS:

DO YOU WANT TO WALK IN LIFE “FULLY MATURE – FULLY ALIVE”? 

Paul says we will only do this through humility and discipline.  “My assumption is that you learned Christ, that you paid careful attention, and have been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus…so, we do not have the excuse of ignorance…”  

Here’s to Growing!

By His Grace,  Hud

Spacious

Spacious

As I sit to write this I am aware that many do not believe that Jesus has anything to do with this season, much less that he is God and Lord over all.  Being PC can be unnerving when there is precious little room for anything more than opinions, which after all are only yours and certainly not to be brought into question.

So Merry Christ-mas to you. 

My fervent prayer for this coming year is that your life will be “spacious.”

Tolerate Pain for Growth

Tolerate Pain for Growth

“In the world you have trouble But, take courage I have conquered the world.”  Jesus (john 16:33)

”Pain plunges like a sword through creation. Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable and never idle.” (Underhill)

We truly live in a pain-phobic culture. How can we embrace the true reality of suffering in ways that are spiritually and psychologically healthy?

Harry Schamburg says: “we can’t prevent the problems of sexual addiction in the church if we don’t change our message from ‘how to feel better now’ to the unpopular biblical theme that ‘the sufferings we now experience are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ Paul (Romans 8:18)

Thoughts About The “Gospel” We Teach!

Thoughts About The “Gospel” We Teach!

     “The devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shape.” -William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 As I have mused about this question that we are focusing on, I believe that it will aid the reader if they know what meaning I am assuming with certain terms, (really only one, the ‘Gospel’). After looking and reading some variety of sources and then checking all 99 references in the NASB 1995 (New Testament only), my definition of the gospel is this, Jesus. Now what I mean by this is, I believe, that the relational aspect of this message/truth is bound up essentially in the call to relate (if you will) directly with/to the Christ. How this takes place is as unique as each individual person.