Easter is a topsy-turvey time. Everything is back-to-front. Suffering brings salvation, death brings life; the established order of things is turned on its head. Yet we spend so much of our time and energy trying to make things work in a world where we believe that death is stronger than life and that despair is greater than hope. Read more
The title of this post is a line that I’ve had floating around in my head for a couple of weeks. It feels like it wants to be the punchline to a poem, but that sounds like too much hard work at the moment. Read more
I’m beginning to come round to the idea that there’s no such thing as a shallow person. I think that we all have depth; we all have significant, meaningful needs. What we think of as a ‘shallow person’ is just someone who hasn’t realised just how deep their identity goes, and tries to meet profound needs with shallow, disposable things. Comfort Eating, Retail Therapy and Binge Watching all work, but not for long. Read more
The Second Listening Book is now available from Amazon, and I thought that I should mention this in the blog. It’s another collection of short stories and parables, ripe for misunderstanding. Being misunderstood is an occupational hazard for me. I’ve preached at least one sermon where my sophisticated and intelligent delivery (i.e. being too clever for my own good) was taken to mean that I was saying the exact opposite of what I was really trying to say, with hilarious consequences. Read more
A friend of mine once told me about a small group of young people from his church that had gone and done some praiseworthy good deed. Local television sent a news crew to ask what had motivated them to do such a noble thing. Most of the group gave safe answers, but one girl talked about how her actions were an expression of her faith in Christ. I’ll let you guess which was the one piece of footage that they didn’t use when they ran the story. Read more
I don’t want them. My spirits are not lifted to see them; my heart is hard and cold. The visitor at the door is an intruder, wanting to take from me.
So what do I do? What I want to do is communicate to them, in a non-verbal way, that they are not welcome. A scowl. Closed body posture. An irritated tone. All these say “Go Away!” without me actually having to speak the words out loud. It’s not a sin that way, right?
And why not? I am busy. I am in the middle of something, and there’s a fifty percent chance it could be something quite important. I don’t have much time in the day. I don’t have much of myself to spread around. Besides, I’m an introvert. All the blessings that being an introvert bring come at a price to somebody else, and really, I think that they should consider themselves honoured to pay that price.
Weary and unbending, I want them to go away.
But that is not an option. I can’t do that. I know this. I have a Bible. I know all the things that Paul says about loving one another and bearing each other’s burdens and all that, but those aren’t the words that break me. What does it is that wonderful, horrible story in Matthew 14 where Jesus withdraws to grieve over the death of John the Baptist. He just wants a moment to himself. A moment to be with his Father and his thoughts. You understand that, surely. I understand it. I live it.
But the stupid, selfish crowd can’t see beyond their ugly sense of entitlement and their greed and they follow him. They won’t leave him alone, not even for a second. Like everyone, they want a piece of him. They want to be made whole, but their stupid, selfish vision won’t allow them to see what it costs Jesus. They can’t see beyond themselves. Self-centred. Self-focused. Stupid, selfish crowd.
But then…Jesus gets off the boat and sees them. What happens to the God-man? What stirs in his soul? Anger? Pain? Bitterness? No. I’ll tell you what it says.
“…he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.”
Give me a pair of scissors and I will cut that verse from my Bible and yours. I would expunge all record of that moment of compassion from history. Do you not see? Do you not understand? Those words will not leave me alone. I cannot sleep. I cannot get peace. He had compassion while I was angry. He breaks the power of darkness while I send away. So, now you understand why I cannot allow the same thing that drove the crowd to drive me. Now you know why I cannot send them away.
So I submit myself to the discipline of smiling. When they come, I will smile. I may not feel compassion, but I can smile. I may not heal their sickness, but I can smile. I can deny the anger, the resentment and the bile that stirs in my soul and I can smile. I know enough to know that this is how it begins. The smile is the start. I know that one day, if I live this discipline enough, I will look up and see the face at my door and the smile will already be there before I even have to think about it. And I know that another day will come, a day when I will see the face at my door and I will feel like smiling, no matter what urgent task consumes me. I will become my smile.
I can hear the voice now. Liar! No Integrity! No Authenticity! By smiling when you resent you are denying the truth.
And I know where that voice comes from. I know well, and I rebuke it. He is the liar. His is the call to no authenticity and no integrity.
Listen. John says it best – “How marvelous is the love that the Father extends to us. Just look at it – we are called children of God. And that is what we really are.”
And that is what we really are! So, if that is who I really am, then which action is the one that lacks integrity? The smile or the frown? If who I really am is a child of God, then it’s the anger and the resentment that doesn’t belong. It’s that which is at odds with who I really am. The feelings are the lie. The smile is the truth breaking through. The smile is just me being who God has made me. The rest of me just hasn’t quite caught up yet.
So, If you appear at my door and I do not seem pleased to see you, do tell me. I am trying to follow the discipline of smiling.