Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Semper Reformanda

During the Protestant Reformation, one of the key phrases volleyed around was the phrase "Semper Reformanda."  The thing that is great about this phrase is, first, that it is in Latin.  If you want to impress someone, say a short phrase in Latin and then explain in detail what it means.  You will either have them enamored or bored to tears within seconds.  During the Reformation, Latin was simply the languge used by scholars to discuss scholarly and usually theological matters.  Luther penned his famous "95 Theses" in Latin.  It was his students who translated it into German and used the newly-invented printing press (thank you Mr. Gutenberg) to disseminate the document to wider audiences.

But the real thing that is great about this phrase is what it actually means:  always reforming.  It is a recognition of the fragility of this movement called the "Reformation", due mainly to the greater issue of mankind's constant tendency to stray away from God and from the truth, like a dog returning to lick up his vomit.  Luther, himself, felt that the Reformation was not "done" -there was more to do, and there was a constant need to be watchful of the direction things were going in.

This is because the Reformers took seriously what the Bible says about man and his inborn corruption.  We will take anything good and screw it up.  We will take it, twist it, turn it into something it was never meant to be, add in our own flavor and spices, and morph it into a brew that suits our appetite for destruction.  We will take a good thing, and we may not only pervert it, but we will exalt it into an ultimate thing, something we look to and depend on in the place of God Himself for our ultimate happiness and security.  And the results are inevitably tragic.  It may be as obvious as bloodshed and anarchy.  Or it may be as subtle, as deceptive, and yet as dominant as the Roman Catholic Magisterium that the Reformers were up against, with its layer upon layer of man-made tradition, and centuries of acceptance, obscuring the Gospel and God's truth.

The trickiest thing of all is that it usually happens slowly, and we deceive ourselves about it in the process.  We don't think we are twisting things or turning them into a "god".  We don't think we are assuming God's place in our lives.  We justify every tiny inch of heart-movement until we find ourselves at the bottom of a hole.  And then, maybe then, maybe if God has been kind to strip it all away and lead us into the desert, like He did with Hosea's wife, we shall look up and wake up.

The call to be "always reforming" is a call to Christ's Church, corporately, to be vigilant and self-aware.  It is a call to "stay awake."  It is not a call to "get with the times" and "change what we are doing" so that people in our current age and culture will be more accepting of what we teach and believe.  Quite the contrary.  It is a call to constantly go back to the Gospel, to constantly evaluate where we are at, in every age and culture, and dump the extra cargo, shovel out the crap, and get back to our First Love, jettisoning anything and everything that gets in the way of that -no matter how benign or moral or religious or good it may appear.

This call to "stay awake" is, I believe, something we are called to as individuals as well.  How does it translate into person life?  I believe it is a call to listen to the pain-points in our lives, to look at the things being stripped from us, and to listen to what God is saying to us through our pain.  How is He calling us back to Him, to our First Love, through the stripping away of those things, whatever they may be?  How is He found, right there with us, weeping with us, being angry at injustice with us, walking with us, right there in our present circumstances?  What things or situations or beliefs are we tenuously holding on to which impede that closeness with Him?  What has to go?  Where am I demanding from Him instead of loving and wanting Him?  What am I depending on for my ultimate hope, happiness, and security in place of Him?  That is, I believe, what it means to be "always reforming."

The thing that is amazing about all of this is that, well, it will inevitably happen to those who are His.  Yes, we are responsible for our decisions.  Yes, we ought to listen closely and make wise decisions.  Yes, from our human perspective we have God's commands and warnings to call us back.  Yes, we should heed this call and listen and wake up!  But, in a great mystery of His sovereign power, He never lets His sheep wander off a cliff.  He may lead them to a place where they do not want to go, to strip them of what is dragging them down, but He will always lead them back.  No one shall snatch His sheep from His hand.

How is the pain and discomfort of life calling you to Him right now?  Semper Reformanda

Friday, January 11, 2013

Oh, To Be Seen

[These are my thoughts for today, even though these words do not reflect what I am seeing with 100% accuracy.  I hope these words mean something to you and draw you closer to Jesus even though I am still working through my grasp of this and how exactly to put it into language.]

Humans are complex creatures, are we not?  We want to be seen.  We desperately want to be known.  We long for, if we are honest with ourselves, total soul-connection where we are seen as we are and known and accepted and loved.  We want to sit at the proverbial table with another, being seen and seeing them, sitting across from each other, meeting as equal souls with no obstacles, not even the "table" between us.  We see it in the affectionate words of a friend of mine toward her husband, "Thank you for seeing the real me, better than anyone else in the whole world."  We want to be child-like, to have that carefree, open partnership where we see and are seen, and we want to have that be good, very good.  No fear, no harm, no rejection.

And yet, paradoxically, we have a deep problem with being "seen", don't we?  Being "seen" has not been such a good experience, if we have walked very long on this earth.  And for some of us the experience has been a total cataclysmic disaster.  Being vulnerable, all the way down, has become the occasion of immense pain and tragedy, of abuse and rejection, and of neglect and abandonment.

As a result, in all of us to some degree something happens... something bad, very bad. We close up.  The pain of unmet longing is too deep.  A sorrow unto death, and it may have happened so long ago we don't even remember when it happened, or maybe we were too young to even process it.  And that longing for that closeness, that partnership, that inter-dependence and true connection, is now seen as the enemy, as weakness itself.  That level of trust, something that deep, is now seen as a vice.  So we bury that pain and that longing with it, deep in a trench at the bottom of the ocean of our souls.

But something terrible happens as a result, something deceptive and cruel.  When we bury that pain and longing, we bury ourselves -because that longing is us, and it is something God built into us.  Why is this so terrible?  When we are buried we lose our ability to see.  We aren't even aware of how buried we are, how encased in our little coffin we are -safe yet held for dead.  In the process of burying the self we, over time, forget that we are there.  We become only conscious of our masks, the layers of persona we lay on top of who we really are down there. 

And that is what most people know of us -the helpful, funny, people-pleasing self; or the self-deprecating, "low self-esteem" self; or the highly sexualized attention-seeking self; or the "I'm gonna be someone's hero" self.  The list goes on, and the cruelest part is that we reach the point of total unawareness of it -self deception at it's finest- or we come to like it, to prefer it.  And since the taste for being seen is so veiled, that longing is so hidden away, it is easy to convince ourselves that living on the soul's periphery is okay and even preferrable.

What I find so interesting about this is that all of these ways we deal with the buried-self, all of these personae, are all performance-based, all about control and controlling outcomes, all perfectionistic in their own way.  Every single one of them.  We run on a treadmill to get something, to chase after some counterfeit, denying our desire for something that is, by nature, not something earned, not something based on performance.  In fact, inserting performance only destroys it.  It destroys it with others, and it destroys it with God.

See, in the very beginning we had closeness... with each other and with God.  We walked "naked" amongst each other, and we had no self-consciousness of being that vulnerable.  We walked in the Garden with God.  It was there, and it was good.  But our first encounter with closeness being bad came as a result of one thing, one fatal choice.  For it was right after man's fall into sin that being seen became a bad thing.  Suddenly, we hid in the bushes when God called for us.  Suddenly, we covered ourselves with fig leaves so that the other person would not "see" us.  Enter control, perfecting how others see us and how we see ourselves, standing as the proverbial guardians of that door between us and the other.

And like a sickness that is both born within us and passed down from generation, we continue to hide and control and bury ourselves, wrecking the potential of ever being truly "seen".  We destroy the very thing we want, the very thing God built us for.  Now, is that really a guardian or jail-keeper?

I see this as being why God chose to rescue us in the way that He did.  He did not give us a ladder to climb up to reach Him.  He did not give us a set of instructions to follow.  He came down to us, for one cannot pull himself out all alone.  He needs another, Another from outside of him.  And so Immanuel, God with us, came down and destroyed all the obstacles between us, nailing it to the cross -the record of all the ways we close off God and try to be our own gods, living in our isolation and self-sufficiency.  And He did it willingly, as the only way we could be restored to fellowship with Him.  It is purely by grace, not by our works.  Inserting our works would only destroy it, and every time we do... it does.  It kills that connection and robs the Gospel of it's power.

With Him, with One who sees all of our real flaws and sins and all the ways we want to self-sufficiently keep Him out, with the One who still sees all of that and chooses to come close to us and die for us, we have the opening of something new.  We have the opening of real closeness, opened to us now to experience in part, with the promise of it in full in the age to come.  We have the promise and the reality of what we were made for, living and growing in us like a seed as we knit together with each other and with Him more deeply as that day approaches.

To be seen.... that is our great hope and joy, our greatest and deepest desire as humans.  Today, we are seen by Him as clean, as pure -not because we are pure but because of the purifying blood of Jesus, because of grace -not our works.  And when the day of His return comes, we will live in the full experience of that communion, our Blessed Hope.  To see and be seen will be the fulfillment, the over-flowing, of everything our soul longs for.