shame on you, and me

"...Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such a woman should be stoned. But what do you say?'"

"...But Jesus stooped down and
wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.' And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst."

"When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, 'Woman, where are those
accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'"

Right in the middle of the book of John, the writer tells us this story.

Now on the surface we find all the familiar elements of a story we know well. A woman has been caught in adultery; the people of the town are prepared to stone her to death and the Scribes and Pharisees are putting the squeeze on Jesus to see if he'll screw up.

And as we know, Jesus' words, in the end, save her life by bringing to light the fact that no one is perfect. And the story paints a brilliant picture. It does.

But there must be more going on here.

You know it's interesting. Someone once told me that the best way to understand a story is to put yourself in each one of the character's shoes. And so our basic analysis begins- We're in the crowd; we're a teacher of the law and we're pointing fingers- And bam! We realize the finger must point right back at ourselves as well.

Lesson learned. So we empathize with those guys.

But what about this woman? I mean, what must she be thinking? She's just been dragged from the scene of the crime, her life is in the hands of these law keepers, and while we don't know the exact details of the story, what we don't hear is that the woman was running, fleeing for her life, or desperately trying to defend her actions. No. We don't hear any of that.

We don't find in the text any evidence that the woman was trying to explain and say, 'look I'm sorry' or 'listen, I don't deserve this. You've gotta give me a chance.'

No. There's nothing.

Maybe there's nothing because she thinks she deserves death.

Maybe she's a lot like us.

You know, as children we're taught to manage and make sense of our feelings. In response to anger we were told to "talk it out". When sad or lonely, conventional wisdom encourages us to "think a happy thought". And if ever we make a mistake, we're reminded that "we all make mistakes" and told that regret may be replaced with a simple lesson learned.

They're clever little anecdotes for complex matters. And in the moment, they seem to satisfy the need.

But I have friends, now grown up, whose feelings are not rectified or resolved so easily. The people I know still inwardly struggle to make sense of their feelings- even despite the cute rhymes and riddles offered them in their childhood. I know so many people who believe in God, but cannot accept the fact that He would love them. Their struggle takes form in the rationale:

"God could never forgive me for... that thing!" or "I've done way too much now to ever begin to undo it, or to ever be good again."

I think we all, at different times in our lives, deal with the problem, "If I can't forgive myself, certainly God himself will never forgive me."

Often times the source of such perplexities comes from the most private corners of our lives, places we've kept secret or hidden for fear that if anyone knew- well they'd definitely disown or disapprove of us. And so, in fear of being found out, we bury this stuff deep inside us.

Because we were taught to manage our feelings- But no one ever told us how to handle our shame.

hame is that ostracised emotion, so shameful that it goes almost completely unmentioned. So embarrassed are we that we even feel shame for our shame. And so the silent cycle is perpetuated further within us.

Shame arrives when anger, regret, disappointment, and loneliness mingle together- when self worth is diminished to self-contempt. Shame says that no one will understand, that there are no excuses, and we have failed on the most personal of levels. For not only have we disappointed others- but but we disappoint even ourselves. And if our own standards have not been met- well, then certainly we fall short of God's.

Shame's lies penetrate further. We isolate ourselves. Shame sends us running into ourselves and away from the rest of humanity. It's self-preservation gone wrong. Because when we're isolated and ostracised within our minds- when we internalize shame- we become consumed with our failures. The thing we've done owns us and seemingly defines us. And our worth is minimized to the measurement of our shortcomings.

And we come to believe it.

We believe all sorts of things we shouldn't- about ourselves, about God. Things that simply aren't true. So we over-emphasize our failures and de-emphasize the God who already knows us and still loves us.

We listen but can't really hear when Paul in the book of Romans explains that Christ died for us while we were still imperfect. It's like the writer is saying, 'Listen, God knows you forward and back, all you've done and all you will do. He knows you, what you're capable of- And He's made it right. He's forgiven all of that.

od never seems to be looking for perfect people, or even good people. God is looking for people who know they've got an ailment and believe the doctor can fix it. God has already taken into account our worst behavior and amens have been made. He loves us.

Can you love yourself?

You see, the beauty in sharing our shame with one another is not that we may have a look at each other's wounds, compare them, remove the scabs and become blood brothers- But that we might finally release ourselves from the self-imposed prisons we live within.

We're all carrying around stuff. And shame can be so heavy.

Maybe you need to finally forgive yourself.

Maybe you need to listen again, "Where are they? Has noone condemned you? ... Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin any more."

A Wonderful Absurdity

Isn't it strange?

Some of the deepest wounds we endure in our lives come at the hands of those we love, and who love us most. Contrary to the notion that there might be two categories of relationships: those that help, and those that hurt, experience teaches us that intimacy inevitably invites injury.

Could this be true?

We act surprised to find the heinous crimes in the news not to be perpetrated by some evil, lurking stranger from the street, but by a father, the closest friend, or a trusted family confidant. We hear stories told of unfaithfulness, of a father's neglect, of broken vows and broken lives. Betrayal on such deeply personal levels defies belief. How can we make sense of it? We talk to friends; beside themselves that he would ever do such a thing to her. How did this ever happen? We use words like tragic, senseless, and terrible.

A friend I know well, enduring the preliminary stages of divorce, spoke to me over the phone of the awful pain of a broken relationship; the reality that his best friend, his wife, was pulling away from him- and he from her. His voice quickened as he told me he'd been seeing what he called "signs" everywhere. He'd be driving on the highway, walking, reading, watching TV and something from somewhere would speak to his deep desire for reconciliation. On this particular day he'd driven to his office in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, unable to lay still. And turning on the computer, his reading eyes were met by the words, "The great tragedy of life is not that things are broken, but that things are not put back together."

Read that again.

You see, I have this feeling that deep down within us, deeper than our anger, deeper than our need to be proved right or be told we're we're not responsible for what's happened; deeper than our need to settle the score, we all seek reconciliation. We're all hoping for someway to somehow just make it better. And I think it goes beyond wishing it never happened- It's simply the desperate need to put things back together; to somehow, no matter the cost, make things right again.

And we share it. We carry the desire together because the potential to hurt, to move from friend to foe, exists in each of us. Recognizing the imperfection frees us from the synicism born when we pretend or expect our best friend, parent, or soul-mate to be incapable of such transgression. Perfect imperfection frees us to love and to accept love.

I mean, how much strength lies in the intimacy found between individuals? The power to break, but even more beautiful the power to mend as well.

If we're serious about the Cross, then we must be willing to admit, accept, and make amends with the wrongs done to and by us. Because, if we're honest, we do, and will continue to, hurt and pain the people closest to us- even those we love.

Love can handle it, but can you?

Can you hang on long enough to realize that your propensity to break is not greater than love's intention to mend? Can you plunge down to the painfully dark depths of your life- where you've pushed people away- forgive, and find that profound Love is found in continually forgiving, foregoing judgement, retribution, or retaliatory action- over and over, and over again.

It is the grace shown in Love that makes it the greatest; the wonderful absurdity that cannot be outdone or undone by any misdoing, ever.

writing on the wall

The other day I got a forwarded email with the explicit warning that God was being thrown out of America. The writer(s) spoke of movements bent on removing the Ten Commandments from courthouses, the words "in God we trust" from our money, and the phrase "(one nation) under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Have you heard this stuff?

And then, I was watching a news program as a well-known host warned that Christmas was under attack. He sighted recent examples where the phrase "Merry Christmas" was being swapped for "Happy Holidays" and historic Christmas symbols were being removed to make room for more inclusive decorations. And the entire segment was supposed to be a sort of rallying cry for the faithful, to what he called a war, being waged on the sacred by the secular.

And so people everywhere have begun this crazed effort to try to protect God. In some places, groups have organized prayer meetings on the grounds of the state courthouses- calling on God to intervene so that He might not be removed from our nation’s life.

ou know there's this story in the book of Acts where the people of Athens- a supposedly wise and learned people- are meeting in a place called Areopagus; a place where they discuss the latest ideas and listen to the newest philosophy. And Paul comes on the scene with this completely new way of understanding the Divine. And so there's this amazing moment where he says, 'Look, I know you are a religious people. I see objects of worship all over.' And he says, 'I even found an altar with the inscription: To an Unknown God.'

And he says, 'Don't you see, you are even ignorant of the very thing you worship?'

And so he goes on to tell the Athenians about this God who made everyone and everything- But does not live in temples built by hands. And he says that this same God is 'not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.'

Now at that time, this must have been the most revolutionary, crazy and absolutely brilliant idea. To a people who have all their lives served these distant, angry gods, erected temples for them to live in, and built statues of them to worship- comes a God who Paul tells them is "not like gold or silver or stone- an image made by design or skill."

And it must have blown their minds as they’re told that this God is the same God who gives everyone breathe, life, and creates everything for a specific time.

And Paul tells the people of Athens that God did all this so that they’d, "seek Him, perhaps reach out for Him, and find Him, though He is not far away from us."

It's like Paul is saying, 'Look, forget about the statues, the temples, and all the locating devices; this same God is everywhere and in everything. Just look around you.'

David, in the book of Psalms says it this way, “The Heavens declare the Glory of God and the earth shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”

ou see, we don't place God in our lives by having an embroidered quotation of the Lord's Prayer above our kitchen table. And we don't evict God from our schools simply by removing his name for the Pledge- these are just signs of religiosity.

Religious references and symbols are not God. And God doesn’t need them.

We worship a God far more personal, far more real than renderings. We worship a God who lives in the hearts of men- not in or on the walls we build.

illusions of convenience

Everyday on his drive home from work a man would pass by a block of dumpsters where a group of children rummage and scavenge for scraps of food. At first it was a real shock. His heart would race and his eyes widen, looking on their bony frames and dirty faces. But in time, the man grew tired of the emotional roller coaster, seeing them everyday after work. He was upset at the fact that he didn’t have any good ideas at solving the problem. He just didn’t understand why they had to be out there everyday, right in plain sight. In a couple of weeks, the man's sadness for the children became more of an anger- So he had no difficulty in deciding it best to simply take the I-80 home to avoid the whole mess altogether. Besides, the man found the slightly longer drive home relaxing. It was helpful to have that time to himself to wind down after a hard day at the office.

People love to talk about how the world is “shrinking”. We boast about technology and how it’s expanded our reach out into the furthest corners of the globe. We talk about the limitless possibilities of real-time exchanges where money and commodities are traded with the click of a button. It’s so convenient. So beneficial. We dial up satellite images from the quiet of the living room and can watch firsthand accounts of war, natural disasters, or rumors and predictions of those to come.

It’s flawless technology. And it’s at our service.

With such systems in place it becomes nearly impossible for any place or people, no matter how far off or remote, to remain completely isolated. After all, our reach is worldwide- it’s global.

And with it, people, corporations, countries, economies, and technologies have become connected in ways we’d never have imagined a decade ago- making it exceedingly rare for an economic issue or crisis to apply only to local concerns.

It’s true. The world is shrinking. So while we may geographically live in one particular place, we are simultaneously- know it or not- participating on a much larger stage, far beyond what we see.

Still, despite all the excitement, our worlds remain deeply divided.

Of course it’s not that we must be divided, but rather we choose to be. Calamity and crisis are not out of our reach, but merely out of our perceived personal interest. It’s not that we can’t do anything. It’s just more convenient to not do anything. So we are continually in the process of grooming our focus to include only what's pleasing in our line of sight.

It's an extremely privilidged position.

I watched a documentary the other night called A Closer Walk about the AIDS crisis in Africa. And every time I see one of these- with the images of suffering, of pain, of absolute isolation and global disregard; every time I hear how simple the problem solving methods that are working are- I have this uncontrollable urge to mobilize. To pull together some courage, some money, some people, some stuff, and…

Have you had one of these moments?
The question we’re all asking-if only for the moment’s emotional lifespan- is, “What can I do?”

But aren’t we already doing something? Aren’t we already participants-like it or not- affected and affecting things far beyond ourselves? Physicality is less requisite. Our participation is now inherent.

After all, distance and isolation are just illusions. There is no divide between them and us. There are only backs turned away and looks in the other direction.

The most unsettling difference between the have's and have not's today is not access to technology or infrastructure- but our ability to turn a blind eye- to look away and ignore- and their inability to see anything but the reality in front of them.

We’re all players. We’re all responsible to something. One way or another, a look either way is still a look.

But now, if you and I realize that our participation, at this point, is implicit- if we, all of us, admit and see that we are already involved; if we all assume some responsibility, some part in what’s happening weather we like it or not- The question inevitably changes from
"what can I do?" to "what am I doing?"

And examination can make room for change.

Because being a Christian means having a look- even when it’s inconvenient. Being a Christian means taking time for another person and realizing at last that the Muslim is my brother, the Criminal, the Jew, the African, the Hindu, the porno store employee. Being a Christian requires an aptitude to confront the dumpsters on the way home. And maybe not immediately fix things, but at least to engage them.

We are all human. We are all connected- far beyond what we see and where we might physically find ourselves. We all intimately experience this life in entirety. And we’re all sons of the same Father.

Maybe you and I need to begin here.

The illusions are everywhere. Are you willing to put your social and economic system on the chopping block to confront and tear down the illusory walls? Are you willing?

This is our work. It is our responsibility; the answer to the question we all ask in those moments. Afterall, the illusion is ours- created in our name, put in place to protect our lifestyle.

A lifestyle worth remaking.

the upside down man


Each time I see the Upside-Down Man
Standing in the water,
I look at him and start to laugh,
Although I shouldn't oughtter.
For maybe in another world
Another time
Another town,
Maybe HE is right side up
And I am upside down.

-shel silverstein

A study came out recently noting that the overwhelming majority of victimized families who witness the guilty being put to death, do not experience a sense of relief or closure.

In other words- The idea that exacting punishment on the person would somehow make them (those seeking justice) feel better, is false.

There remains reserved some sort of cosmic inequity between what happens on earth and what should have happened. And the most curious thing is that this divide usually includes not only whats happened, but how we've responded to it- in effort to make things right.

Although we wish we could- We find we cannot undo whats been done. We can only conclude that we live in an upside down world- and chase the reflection of a God who came to reconcile all things, all actions, and all people- and finally make them right again.

The cycle repeats itself over and over. Something goes wrong, and we respond- as best we can.

It's as though we have little choice in these matters, little hope of truly making things right again. There is an immeasurable regret that things were ever put in motion. We say we wish it had never ever happened in the first place. And we fight, all our lives, to move beyond what's transpired.

Each man must decide for himself what kind of a world he lives in- And what kind of a God he serves. For there is an undeniable divide between our justice and the terms by which God works and operates.

We must decide. Either it is we who are in need of righting, or it is God. One of us is upside-down.

In many ways it seems we worship an upside-down God. A God who turns over all our expectations, all our understanding, and flips on end the systems we've established to make sense of one another and our world. Upside-down is the God who tells us to love our enemies; the God who champions the poor and forgotten; the audacity to overcome evil with good; to derive power from forgiveness and grace, rather than mere punishment; and most upside-down of all- a God who becomes one of us and dies that we might live.

It's convenient to think of Him as upside down- and live in the illusion- so that we might not have to change.

For indeed, it is we who are the upside-down ones.

Even amidst all our supposed intelligence, we deliver retribution as a sensible reprcussion because we think it brings healing to hurt; we say forgiving means forgetting, although we'll never really let go of what's been done to us; we love conditionally because we've learned we have to be unconditionally guarded and skeptical of the motives of anyone who loves us simply out of love; we measure success by our standard of living and measure ourselves by our accomplishemnts; likewise we elevate the athlete and the actor to our society's highest position- we place them as role models for our children, as ideal examples to be emulated- because we idolize their lifestyle.

Although we're taught about these falacies from our youth, we blindly go on to embrace them. Somehow, despite knowing the truth, we end up, all of us, chasing after the wind in an endless, winless race for money, for fame, and for praise. We spend our energy on repaying the wounds done to us, on holding onto old anger, and we exhaust ourselves on self-elevation and self-worship in a failing effort to escape ourselves, and discover something greater than us- All of which ironically leads us further from ourselves, from God, and further from righting our upside-down world.

I think the best starting point, if we're to take part in God's inevitable mission to flip things over, is to simply see things as they are. For if one cannot see his own inverted nature, how can he ever take part in righting himself and the world around him? One must come to recognize that our ways are not God's; that we have this pronness toward a flawed and failing system of justice and rectification.

It matters less which side you decide to be upside down, and more important that you learn to recogize the impossible difference between a world reconciled to itself, and a world reconciled to God. The impending implosion of world and people left to their own devices, and the absolute hope of a world made again in God's terms.

And at last concede that maybe HE is right side up and we are upside-down.