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Posts Tagged ‘Meditations’

This is a follow up to my post from Thursday about an article in Christianity Today.  It’s a very long article about a phenomenon within the Church which Professor Bergler calls “juvenilization”.  I am making the case that this is actually true of our entire culture, secular and sacred.

The more I think about the notion that an entire culture has succumbed to the allure of youth, and trapped itself in immaturity, the more troubled I become. Once upon a time, I thought the cult of youth was just the worship of the body beautiful–lithe, smooth-skinned young flesh–and a corresponding fear of aging and death.  But I fear the truth is far more frightening and insidious.  The more we become a “visual” culture, the more easily we fall into this trap of juvenilization…the hypnotic draw of TV, video, computer, and ‘Droid have sucked us in.  We read less, we react more.  We ponder less, we play more.  We don’t reflect, we just “like” reflexively.

We blame it all on being busy…we don’t have time to read something substantial. Give me the news briefs, please. Give me the short sentences, the pithy paragraphs, the headlines.  Read a book?  Well…maybe on Kindle, where I can keep pausing to play Angry Birds.  But our appetite for sound bites seems to leave us empty of deep thought while forever hungry for more hot air.

This vicious cycle–where did it start?  Bergler claims that within the Church community it was a result of trying to “market” Christianity to youth.  I could spend a lot of time researching and reporting to you what I think is at the root of this cultural phenomenon.

But it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that we work to regain a society of mature people who aren’t afraid of careful reading carefully and reasoning logically, who don’t flinch away from ideas that are unsettling or demanding.  So I want to talk about solutions.

This morning my pastor put a book in my hands.  It was a ‘thank you’ for a very minor job I volunteered to do awhile back.  I’ll tell you the title in a minute.  But in the introduction, these words are quoted:  “As a man thinketh, so is he.”  This is from Proverbs 23:7, and in context simply means that you can’t judge what someone thinks of you by their words–they may be outwardly polite and inwardly cursing you.  The author, Robert P. Morgan, wants to make a case for this verse meaning that what we think defines who we are.  This has led him to write a book about what we put into our minds, in this specific case, verses of Scripture.

Although I think the verse in Proverbs is weak as a foundation, I have no problem with his premise:  “garbage in/garbage out” is a truism.  And there are other Scriptures which say much the same thing, my favorite being from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, chapter 4, verse 8:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,  whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.

So DO we want to be commendable, morally excellent, truthful, honorable, pure?  …Then I suggest that reading, watching, absorbing a steady diet of tripe, gossip, pornography, violence and lies is probably not an effective strategy.   I don’t personally think the majority of Americans want to be trivial, gossipy, thrill-seeking, simplistic and vulgar.  But somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten the idea that we can give lip service to an ideal, then go and do whatever we want, whatever is easy, comfortable, fun, relaxing, low key and unchallenging.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer indicted the Church for doing this to faith.  He called it “cheap grace”…the notion that one can say a prayer of commitment to Jesus, and show up in church on Sundays when convenient, and–no worries, never have to really work at a faithful life, never need to change a habit, strive to do better, seek truth ever again.

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

I think this is a real problem within the Church, because we’ve absorbed the attitude of our culture, to do everything the easiest way possible.  Movements like the “Rebelution” Do Hard Things youth conferences were excitingly counter-culture,and I pray that they have ignited a spark of fire in our youth.  Meanwhile, I fear that most of us in this country enjoy “cheap patriotism”: the sense that we’re entitled, as Americans, to all the rights and privileges that pertain thereto, but owe nothing in return…not so much as the duty to be well informed before we enter a voting booth.  

Of course young people want to do what’s quick and easy…it’s human nature.  That doesn’t make it right, wise or best.  That’s why God gave them parents…to model for them that doing what takes more time, energy and thought is not only better in the long run, it brings even short-term satisfaction, and builds character in ways that no short cut ever can.

That book title?  100 Bible Verses everyone should know by heart.  In the interest of countering creeping juvenility, I’m going to start here and now, with this book.   My hope is that the more I fill my mind with God’s truth, the more that Truth will come out in my conversations with those in my circle of influence, including unsaved friends and neighbors…and a precious granddaughter.  That is certainly incentive to avoid cheap grace and cheap patriotism, too.

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I’ve been struggling with a draft for several days now…on materialism and gift-giving at Christmas and how it has made me uncomfortable since I was about 12…about how I know that gift-giving isn’t my love language, and consequently unless it’s really ideal I’d rather not give anything (or receive anything, for that matter). But it all sounded rather trite, and a little ungrateful, which wasn’t my intention at all.

So rather than subject you to my ranting, I’m suggesting you go and read what Myric has to say on the subject. It’s actually the post I wanted to write, word for word…except he wrote it instead. He’s my hero.

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He just couldn’t stop grinning. He touched her cheek again and tears washed his eyes and made her blurry but still beautiful. Mother. What an amazing gift, to see that face smiling at me. He was fascinated by the subtle changes that passed over it, the eyes, the brows, the mouth moving ever so little but speaking a language he was racing to learn to read. A slight pinching in of her mouth now, narrowing of her eyes as she looked past him…she looks–worried?

“Of course this is our son,” she said to the Pharisee, in a voice straining to stay respectful. “And yes, he was blind from his birth…do you think we’re in any doubt?”

“What we don’t know is how this miracle happened. I wish we had been there, I wish we could thank the man of God who touched him…but look at him! He can see. What else matters?” His father, ever calm and reasonable (I know that patient voice), spoke mildly. “In any case, this is a grown man standing here. You are welcome to ask him for details. I’m sure he’ll tell you everything he knows.” he added with a smile of encouragement on his son. Sigh. Who could ever tire of that proud fatherly smile?

“What matters is truth,” snarled another priest. “We know the man who did this, and he is a sinner. If God has indeed been merciful to you, then give Him the glory–no one else.”

He shrugged his shoulders, turning to look at the man in the fine robes. “If he’s a sinner, I don’t know it. Maybe he is, maybe not. All I know is, I was blind…” In spite of himself, he reached out for the beautiful shiny tassels on the priest’s robe. His finger flicked it so it swung a bit, catching light on some of its threads. “…but now I can see,” he murmured. Colors, shapes, what an amazing world I’ve been missing.

Indignantly, the Pharisee slapped his hand away. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

“I’ve told you already…weren’t you listening?” he said quietly. It’s hard to listen sometimes, when there is such a lot to look at… A new thought strikes him–oh! he should have realized. “I’m sorry, shall I tell you again? Perhaps you want to become his disciples?”

The brows drawn brows together, the down-turned mouth told him instinctively that he had said the wrong thing. “You can go and be his disciple if you want! We are disciples of Moses. God Himself spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” Several of the Pharisees sniffed scornfully or snickered behind their hands as they muttered to each other.

He didn’t stop to think of what to say, or whether to be silent. “That is remarkable, don’t you think? You don’t know where he comes from, but he opened my eyes. Who ever heard of anyone opening the eyes of one born blind? God listens to a godly man who does His will..surely this man must be from God, or how could he have healed me?”

“You at least are a sinner, from your birth–that much is clear!” one snapped at him. “How dare you lecture us?” The beautiful arms seized him roughly, and half pushed, half carried him out of the temple court. “Get out of here–you are not welcome in the house of God!”

I never have been welcome here, have I? Blind, deaf, lame…we are excluded from worship, imperfect, unworthy. I had hoped…Lord, is there somewhere I can worship You? Footsteps behind him…hers. He realized he’d long ago learned to know by hearing. He drank in her gentle smile, the lines around her eyes and mouth crinkling when she looked at him. Can I worship You, Lord, by just looking…at everything? Parents, pillars, trees and sky? Paving stones, water in a pool…it’s all so wonderful, such a gift. I want to thank someone…those men were right that I should give You glory. Is that enough?


He looks into his mother’s eyes again, and thinks that, for now, it is enough.

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He’s only half listening as the voices swirl around him. Most conversations are over his head–literally as well as figuratively. “Look at that, would you!” No, he can’t. He never could. So why bother to listen? Sometimes he thinks it would be better to be deaf as well as blind. And some folks evidently think that blindness robs his hearing, too, because they talk about him, standing there as they throw a coin in his bowl.

“Who sinned, Rabbi–this man or his parents–that he was born blind?” Hmm, that’s a good question. Never thought of that one before. Right. As if he has anything but time to think, wonder, curse, pray, despair. So what will this one’s answer be?

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Ha! Him a work of God? What a joker. Just to underscore the laugh he knew was coming, he heard someone spit on the ground. Well, at least it wasn’t in his face. Others had done that.

Ugh! He recoils, opens his mouth to curse aloud at the slimy slop being put on his eyes. Mockery taken to a new level today? Quite a work of God! His arms flail and are pinned as a quiet voice speaks, close to his ear. “Go, wash your eyes in the Pool of Siloam.” That’s all. No explanation, no apology. No name-calling or ridicule. A command. Somehow, it’s not a voice one wants to argue with. He nods once to show he’s heard and will obey, then scoots himself away, trying to hide the trembling in every limb.

The pool…he knows where it is, more or less. He can feel along the wall and reach it without help, if he can just get to his feet without falling. The shaking is worse now, as if night had come down like a cloak of ice. But he can feel the Spring sunshine on his back as he gropes his way into the shadow of the alleyway leading to the pool. It isn’t cold–he left his warm coat at home today. Still his legs are quivering as he shuffles forward, right hand scraping the stones to keep him steady. He’s been sent on a task…how long since anyone asked anything of him? Since even his parents stopped trying to make him feel useful? He barks a short harsh laugh–‘sent’ to the Pool of the Sending! Maybe this is still a joke.

He can hear a murmur of water, as the breeze laps it against the lip of the wall. Crouching, he crawls the rest of the distance, feeling with his hands so as not to fall headlong. He grips the edge with his left hand, and cups water with his right, bringing it to his eyes. The sandy muck loosens and begins to run down his face toward his mouth. He drops to his belly and reaches both hands to the water, frantically washing the mud he can feel and some he can’t.

He’s aware of a shimmer, like the sun when he turns his face to the sky. But it’s shadowed and cool here, and his head is down. What–? Something comes toward him and he flinches reflexively. How–? His heart is pounding now, and his limbs tremble again in earnest. He kneels and tries to draw a deep breath and…

…there is a creature sitting on the stones next to him. Small and slender, pale against the stone, it skitters away. He can’t name it “lizard” because he’s never seen one before. But he just saw this one. Now what’s running down his face out of his eyes is a flood of tears, which blur the scene but don’t obscure it. He flinches again as a hand appears, wiping his eyes–oh. It’s his own hand. He holds it up and stares, and stares and stares. Wiggles each finger. Laughs and cries some more.

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