Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jesus at work: reflections on workplace drama

So, I’ve been doing a lot of praying about how I can embrace my cross here at work. If I can’t create work that’s up to my standards, thanks to politics and/or egos, and must be content with committee-built blandness, how can I display God’s glory? How can I look on this and say “This is good” as God said, surveying His work? I’m realizing, more and more, that my day job work has less to do with “quality output” and everything to do with being a force for positive good and God’s love to my co-workers.
My attitude—now that much, I’m in “charge” of. That I can control, to the degree I listen to His ongoing word to deny myself. How awesomely easy is it to deny yourself, when your “self” isn’t respected anyway by the corporate machine? So, as I consider this in the light of Scripture, the very things that are driving me nuts here can, if I allow them, drive me to the cross. They’re actually my friends (as James declares), the very things making it easy to see where I need to deny myself and how I can, very practically, pick up my own cross and follow Him.
The nails that pin me to my workday cross are the annoying coworker—can I cover his transgressions and by this show that I am “seeking love” (Prov 12:9)? If I let the everyday, stress-related, obnoxious behavior flow past me, without demanding my rights—isn’t that another denial of self? If I’m insisting on expressing my gifts, by definition, I’m not denying myself—and Jesus tells me to die to self, express HIM, and lose my life in order to find it.
What if I never write a sentence I’m proud of again? What if I never produce something I’d be willing to have my name attached to? What if I never “shine” at my workplace? Daniel 12:3 tells me that “…those who are wise shall shine as brightly as the firmament, and those who bring many to righteousness will shine like the sun, forever and ever” Okay, Lord. Let that be my shining and glory, to bring glory to You.
Several recent workplace issues have brought me to a place of humbling; they’re showing me THIS is why I’m here. Not to write brilliant copy that sells cheap wine, but to help my coworkers get through their stressful days without adding to their load with attitude. To find little ways to be an encourager. To offer to pray when hard times hit their families. To surprise a heavy-laden team member with some ‘non-union’ help—even if that means collating papers (paper cuts!!), schlepping product to the parking lot, organizing files, etc. All stuff ‘beneath my paygrade’—but if Jesus can wash dirty disciple feet, I can certainly do all things to His glory.
Who am I looking to promote in my job, after all? Jesus or me? When I gave my life and heart to Him, I signed up to be His servant and it’s His prerogative to do with my life what He knows is best—what He knows will conform me to the image of His Son. This was the Bible verse on today’s Daily Light (the Anne Graham Lotz devotional) segment.. “ Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.” (emphasis mine) Psalm 25:12
Coincidence? I think not.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fallow ground (a personal reflection)

When I read Isabella Alden's 19th century novels about the "Chautauqua Girls," one in the series absorbs me in a special way. "Ruth Erskine's Crosses" features one of the four young girls whose visits to Chautauqua set in motion lives lived for Christ. Heroine Ruth struggles with the reality of a sanctified life, mostly due to her refusal to heed the gentle, warning voice of the Lord. Now, "Pansy" (Alden's pen name) has a way of digging around in the reader's heart and asking uncomfortable questions that linger long after the book closes. That's probably why about a week ago, as I reading about Ruth's dilemma, I felt the Lord whispering that verse about anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back isn’t worthy of Him. I filed it under “Wuh?” and asked Him to enlighten me. Yesterday, an old Chas Stanley message came to me about how God won’t give you any further direction until you act on the last one He told you—and that “hand to the plow” phrase echoed. I was willing to listen but confused. Was there something I was looking back on, hanging onto and making myself unworthy of Him? I started asking Him to show me what He was talking about…and this morning, He did.

Gently but firmly, the Holy Spirit pointed out what I was looking back on, what I was holding on to that made it awkward (if not impossible) to put my hand fully to the plow—my ultra-fulfilling past as a Christian wife and mother. This past week would have been my 40th wedding anniversary; I still mourn the wrenching death of my marriage and wish I could re-enter that season I always refer to (usually with tears in my eyes) as the happiest time of my life. I know now He’s telling me I must let go of that in order to take hold of His plow and start putting down some serious furrows in my corner of His field. And stop looking back.

I got that “air sucked out of the room” feeling that presages His presence in a very distinct way. Again I heard, “Put your hand to the plow, daughter, and don’t look back…” A slideshow of images started flipping through my mind’s eye and His choice of object lessons was interesting: Lot’s wife, the prophet Samuel, and Dicken’s Miss Havisham.

Mrs. Lot: a wife being mercifully led to a new place of peace and safety who couldn’t help looking back towards her former “beautiful” life. Her longing backwards glance transformed her into a pillar of salt—bitter, immobile, useless except as a warning about the dangers of not moving on, not yearning for a past that’s busily being consumed by God.

Samuel: God rebuked Samuel when the old prophet kept weeping over King Saul’s dethroning. “Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem.’” God told me my apron-clad married life had become my Saul. Saul, God's chosen king, was rejected because of his disobedience and Samuel, who had a vested interest in him because he had anointed him, kept clinging to that glorious moment. Because of my ex-husband’s disobedience, my happy Christian lady married-with-kids life is no more. Like Samuel, hanging onto my dead hopes and memories is threatening to destroy my present joy in Him and my future harvest in His field. Trying to return to a place God has departed is dangerous and foolish, just as surely as Saul’s murderous javelins threatened David’s life when the shepherd boy kept trying to sing peace within that disgraced palace. It’s over. Leave already. And shut the door behind you. God’s got something else for you to do.

Charles Dicken’s Miss Havisham: This pathetic character from Great Expectations unexpectedly loomed up, entombed in her wedding finery, cobwebbed and crippled by her reaction to betrayal, unable to do anything but sink deeper into herself and mourn for what could never be and, in actuality, never was. Another vivid object lesson.
So, I’m filing my flask with oil and going to Bethlehem to discover what God has anointed for me. From His birth, Jesus took no thought of His former “happy life” in Heaven, but put His hand to the plow of humility and discomfort, suffering all kinds of indignities and trials in order to bring me to God. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says. I’m asking Him to help me drop what’s in my hand, grab the plow, stop looking back, and work in whatever field He’s laid out for me.  

“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thus far, but no farther

If you really want to start a bench-clearer, gather a Victorian scientist and a Victorian theologian in a room—or wait, what’s this? They’re working together?!? Despite the popular (Hollywood-fueled) understanding of the 19th century, there was a strange rapport between these natural enemies. Chautauqua, the 19th century think tank, Sunday School campground, and cultural watering hole, welcomed free-thinkers of all stamps and promoted lively discussions under the main tent. W.W. Kinsley’s compact-but-chewy 1893 discourse on the uh-duh compatibility of science and religion, Science and Prayer, combines the era’s high-flown, flourishing prose with microscopic research and mind-over-matter theories.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kinsley relies heavily on the ponderous logic of the time—establishing one argument in a chain he’s sure will lead the reader inextricably to the correct conclusion—his, of course. He sets up his case in the first chapter—his five-fold goal: 1) to convince us “that phenomena and the producing forces with their laws or modes of working, brought to light by scientific investigations in the fields of physics and of metaphysics, harmonize perfectly with the Scriptures view of payer, and abound in suggestions of how God can interfere in nature without destroying any force or abrogating a single law.” (see what I mean about the prose? Whew!) 2) that, as a fact, he has thus actually interfered again and again. 3) that it is not only not presumptuous, but most natural and reasonable, for us to expect that he will interfere for us, insignificant though we may seem to be. 4) that he will interfere because we ask him, doing for us what otherwise he would not have done. 5) And, lastly, that he will not in a single instance withhold any real blessing which is asked for in the right spirit, and the bestowal of which lies within the compass of his power.” (pg 10)

And by golly, he does it! His swaggering scholarship is breathtaking, if flawed. It’s clear there’s not the slightest doubt in his mind that any rational, reasonable person will be convinced by his bulletproof responses. A juggernaut of iron-clad arguments accompanies each of his points, culminating with a literary “ta dah!” after each.

It’s the scarcity of his Scriptural references that surprised me most. Waxing eloquent for ages (and pages), Kinsley nestles gingerbread-embellished quotes from contemporary sages and pulls proofs from many disciples of science with magician-like flourishes, but, when it comes to laying out arguments based on Scripture, he oddly falls back on “common sense.” My CLSC reading list teems with authors who do the same in an attempt to pacify leery, “modern” readers. I figure they assume Bible verses immediately nullify their arguments and their books should be banned with other moth-eaten credos to the boneyard of traditional faith.

His main argument--that God isn’t QUITE as omniscient as many credit Him to be and ergo, doesn’t see some of our free will-based decisions coming--must have stirred up a lot of dust in his world. But he sticks to his guns on the basis of rational reasoning, with nary a Bible verse in sight. (Personally, I could think of about twenty verses that countered his argument, but to what end? He went to his grave secure in his belief and many who wrestled with him are no doubt also shaking hands in Heaven now.)  

In lieu of Bible verses, Kinsley unleashes beautifully penned, Tennyson-like flights of fancy—a sort of literary smoke-and-mirrors, perhaps. Speaking of atoms, for example, he writes: “Over the nature of their being, as well as over the cradle of their birth, there has been thrown a veil of mystery through whose closely woven meshes there comes no ray of revealing light to the anxiously peering eyes of science, and whose hiding folds no hand on earth has power to lift, except the reverent hand of faith.” (p 30) These “angel-winged expectancies” presage the point where his lively imagination steps back. After such verbal flourishes and in the face of truly impenetrable mysteries, he usually cries “uncle” and retreats, heeding the voice of God who instructs “thus far, but no farther…”.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kinsley glories in the century itself, despite its trademark cynicism bred from its passion for all things scientific. He celebrates: “A reaction from this paralyzing skepticism has already set in. A faith fervent as that felt before science had birth, seems destined again to prevail, and to be the outcome of this very spirit of inquiry…Reappearing this time as the ripe result of this nineteenth century’s tireless and fearless research into time’s deepest mysteries, I cannot see how ever again it can lose its hold on the hearts of men.” (pg 111)

Wouldn’t he be surprised?

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Game of Thrones

What I knew about the Crusades was limited to Robin Hood movies, Ridley Scott’s rip-roaring Kingdom of Heaven, and a few black-and-white films (notably, Cecil B. DeMille’s historically off-base The Crusades, starring the luminescent Loretta Young). My Hollywood glasses quite effectively obscured actual facts and I’m not the only one suffering from Crusades confusion.

According to author Rodney Stark, there’s been a smear campaign in place for centuries that assigns total blame to the European Crusaders and excuses the beleaguered and besmirched Muslims on the ground of self-defense. This Euro-bashing view has gained wide acceptance, especially recently, as Western Civilization retreats from anything resembling criticism towards the Eastern religions in general and especially Muslims in particular. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades examines infrequently cited yet indisputable historical facts to expose a fresh (and undoubtedly unpopular) perspective, detailing ways pre-Crusade Muslims (led by jihadist, land-grabbing rulers) invaded Europe (seriously, who knew?) and set in motion a deadly rotation of retaliation and revenge.  

I stumbled into this blazing controversy, all unawares, simply looking for a 21st Century perspective on the Crusades. I’d just finished reading the Chautauqua-listed, compulsively fascinating 19th century novel In His Name by Edward Everett Hale. This page-turner was set in medieval Europe, in the days of the final Crusade (see last post here). Hale’s novel focused on those left behind in France; Stark’s book jumps the channel, leaves fiction behind, and takes us to “bridle-high blood” Jerusalem and surrounding holy lands. Although the pace of this book drags at times, hindered by having to pick our way through heaps of corpses and complicated battle plans, the professorial author neatly bundles hundreds of years into simple, non-academic segments.

Stark makes a compellingly solid, if non-PC, case for the Crusades to be more about a heartfelt response to infidels in Jerusalem/Holy Land than a landgrab by disinherited younger sons. Using reams of historic documents (including property transfers, birth records, ship lading invoices, etc), Stark traces the makeup of the Crusades crews—and they were largely nobility (many, many of them intertwined family units) who sold off inherited land, property, and the family jewels and sewed crosses on their tunics for the dubious glory of swathing through Muslim hordes and more than likely, dying in the process. Amazing. Egged on by barefoot prophets and Papal promises of reduced Purgatory time, armor-encrusted royals by the thousands boarded ships and sailed to glory in the Holy Lands. They were joined by indulgence-seeking rabble—these rarely made it to Palestine’s shores, dying of disease, drowning or picked off by Muslim bandits along the way. The ever-intriguing Knights Templar come in for some particular notice—good and bad—as does the famous warrior-king Saladin (turns out he's not exactly the gentleman portrayed in popular fiction).  
As is often the case in these heroic times, superstars emerge. While Hale celebrated mostly fictitious protagonists, Stark turns a lowkey spotlight on bruisers like Norman Crusader Prince Bohemond, named for his massive physique. When Bohemond, with his wickedly strategic mind and audaciousness, strides from dusty history to vibrant life, somehow, you can’t help dashing over to Google and seeing if anyone snapped a selfie with him. Sadly, we’ll have to be content with literary portraits, although today's cartoonists have discovered him (see hilarious cartoon below). Medieval contemporary Anna Konmene, fourteen-year-old Byzantine princess and historian, penned this about him: “For by his nostrils nature had given free passage for the high spirit which bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible.” Can a Game of Thrones-style epic starring Chris Hemsworth be far behind?

Atrocities abound in this centuries-long conflict—on both sides—and facts support that no one was innocent and everyone was guilty and the whole thing was truly horrible and a gigantic waste of life.

So, I ask myself—what if I lived then and heard that the places where my precious Lord Jesus walked were overrun with those making it their special task to deface and defile (in some pretty horrendous ways) everything that Christianity held sacred? Would I unload my heritage and leave my homeland to defend these sacred sites? Or would I, by God’s grace, be able to recognize that the more important defense was to keep my heart—and the Name of Christ—from being defiled by hate and bloodletting?

"For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' just as it is written." Romans 2:24