Cutting Room Floor: Interruption – Frameworks & Filters

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IMG_0715 - Version 2We all operate with certain ways of thinking, certain frameworks about what is Christian or not-Christian, what is good or not-good, what is right and wrong and best.

Everyone has these frameworks. Most of the time, they go unexamined. Usually great suffering brings them to the forefront, or great surprises, or great confrontation. We find ourselves asking questions like “If God is so……” or saying things like “I thought that….” or “It’s wrong to…” It’s at these moments that everyone’s a theologian. Not a great theologian, maybe–we probably aren’t all that consistent and are usually pretty blind to our prejudices–but the ways we think about the world and our place in it rise to the surface.

We have theological frameworks that we operate with. How engaged or disengaged God is in our lives, how holy the church should or shouldn’t be, what we should or shouldn’t expect of non-Christians, how we should structure a country economically. The Should’s reveal our theological frameworks.

And we filter life, too. What we hear and see or don’t hear and see, who we allow to influence us or not influence us. Happenstance and chance filter life for us: where we’re born and what language we speak and what climate we live in. The choices our parents and institutions and others around us make filter life for us.

Between the frameworks we live with and the filters that we’re surrounded by, it can be very, very difficult to get to the nuts and bolts of an issue, to get to universals, or objectivity, when it comes to thinking deeply about theological things. And the reason I mention this is that we are all stuck in the molasses of our circumstances, our prejudices, and our philosophies. Frameworks and filters are real, and part of reflecting theologically on life is to take stock of what we’ve accepted as right that isn’t right. This is something that we have to deal with even as we narrate to ourselves our life events, analyze what’s going on, make meaning of life and enact what we see.

We are texts in a context, and we can’t forget this as we enter into the process of making faith-sense of what’s going on in our lives. And if we remember this, we’ll do an important thing, a “must” when it comes to living a theological life, which is to go outside ourselves for counsel.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

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Cutting Room Floor: Keep Short Accounts

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IMG_0715 - Version 2On Forgiveness:

Justice, for God’s people, means mercy, forgiveness. If justice is a transaction, forgiveness is the opposite of one. It’s writing off a debt. To forgive is the hardest thing, because to forgive means you absorb the costs that you’re forgiving, it means the loss stays on your books, stays in your heart–until, of course, we take up God’s unending offer of peace and healing, and find it. Forgiveness doesn’t zero things out, right? Do we get this? If I say to you, “All is forgiven.” What I’m saying is, “I’m going to bear the costs of what you did, rather than make you pay me back. The costs are real. But you don’t owe me.” We can’t forgive, can’t show mercy, unless we realize that every act of forgiveness is an act of bearing the costs ourselves, of not demanding payback, whether that’s financial payback, or some meager replacement for the emotional and spiritual costs that we bear.

I’m beating this into the ground because, frankly, for me this was incredibly empowering to own. To forgive means that I bear the costs of your sin against me. I take on the costs, not you. To pray either, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” or “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” is to pray dangerously, because it invites God to use our standards and behavior as his own in dealing with us.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Love

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IMG_0715 - Version 2When was the last time we said no to that urge to give voice to something that takes away from another person? Because love does this, more than anything else: it makes other people more human than when we found them.

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference: that what happens to those around us just doesn’t matter. What we say about them just doesn’t matter–who’s going to hear it? What we think about things just doesn’t matter–who’s going to know? What we do with our things just doesn’t matter.

And indifference, at its heart, is the choice to make ourselves more important than anything else, and our opinions, our wants, our needs, our goals, our vision, and our comfort the biggest and brightest things in the constellations of our universe.

But God is anything but indifferent: God is humanizing, because God pays attention to us, and through his attention we are made more human, more real, more persons than we otherwise were. We’re made into children of God because of love.

~ Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: “Let me talk about guilt, here”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Sometimes the most dutiful among us are the most guilty-feeling, no matter what’s going on: We feel like we should be doing more, we feel like we should be better than we are, we feel guilty about something, and until we’re sure of what it is, we’ll let that sense of guilt motivate our behavior in all sorts of ways. The Church, any congregation, is codependent in this, too, unfortunately, because guilty people make good volunteers, so, hey, come work it off.

Repentance realizes that our sin has cost us relationships. Feeling guilty is just as often wrapped up in our relationships, too. It’s wrapped up in our relationships in two very different ways, although they end in the same place for we guilty-feeling people. In one case, we’re the actor, the agent, the do-er; in the other, victim, the one acted upon.

In the first case, repentance is “feeling guilty’s” opposite, because repentance takes seriously a situation, a behavioral choice, and the relationship it has affected, and seeks to not do it again because the relationship is just so important to us. Feeling guilty lingers, unattached to any particular thing but affecting everything. If we are people who feel guilty all the time, and we know that it’s related to something we ourselves have done, part of my advice would be to be as specific as possible with your feelings; What is it in our past or our present that we have done that could really use the emotional house-cleaning work of repentance? Do our feelings of guilt have to do with some break in our relationship with God? Or are they related to some alienation we feel toward some other person, even toward ourselves?

“Feeling guilt” is often tied, though, to things we ourselves have never done. We are victims, whether evilly victimized by others, or victims of the capriciousness of the world, of an accident or force of nature. And we can deal with the nature thing, usually; it doesn’t leave us feeling guilty, but to be a victim of another person, to be sinned against, is a difficult, terrible thing. Because we recognize that the relationship was broken; but it wasn’t broken by us. People do come to places of forgiveness, discover in the peace of God and security of self an ability to not hold liable the one who hurt them, because the person can’t pay back what their sin cost anyway. And that forgiveness–which is not reconciliation, a thing that may not be called for at all in the situation–is both enough and basically a miracle. But many of us only inch and creep forward toward a place like that. And for those of us who have had another person hurt us, it is often the case that one of the marks of their hurt is the lie that we ourselves are responsible for it. Yet we aren’t; we can’t fix a relationship we ourselves had no part in breaking. And that lingering regret, that lingering disempowerment, can haunt us with guilty feelings for a very long time, until we come to a place where we can reject the lie that we have done anything wrong at all.

Feeling guilty, remember, is nothing like repentance. We probably think of them as similar, you know, “feeling repentful” and “feeling guilty”, but they aren’t. Guilt is a legal declaration; You’ve broken a law. You deserve to be punished. Feeling as if we’re waiting for punishment is a terrible way to live; feeling as if we’re working of a debt we can’t pay is a terrible way to live, particularly when we have been forgiven, when our debt has been written off. Being made to feel guilty for actions that we ourselves have no responsibility for is a work of the devil, and an evil that can bind us so tightly that we forget we’ve been forgiven at all.

So if we are people prone to feeling guilty, or people who always feel guilty, I would suggest that there’s soul work that needs done in our lives, some work that in our inner being that we need to take up. It may be simply that we need repentance’s specificity, and the release that comes of it; it may mean we have a long road to walk toward healing. If we do, let’s walk it with people wiser than us who we can trust.

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Going Deeper: A Shared Language to Change and Challenge Us

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Psalms

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

This past Sunday, our pastor used this Psalm to help us understand something of how the Psalms may work in our lives. There were a few things he said that particularly have me thinking.

One is how the Psalms, though written in particular contexts only sometimes evident have the power to speak deeply to humanity because they speak to human emotions and about human realities that confront us all. Who of us has not had times where we’ve felt unsafe and wanted to find a place of security?

Because of their ability to address universal human conditions, they can function in a corporate way to give us prayers we may pray together, such as parts of the church do with the lectionary, reading, reflecting on and praying the same Psalms across the globe. I’m beginning to consider whether this may be one of the most important ways to be reminded of my solidarity with believing people around the world. No wonder they have often been called the prayer book of the church.

Rich posed the question to us of how we might be formed if we went back to setting to music, singing, and memorizing the Psalms. I think of the power of memorizing Psalm 23 as a child and how this has stayed with me for a lifetime–when I’ve been weary, or scared, faced evil, or death. I think of how God spoke deeply to me from Psalm 46 in a time of fretfulness and anxiety to “be still and know that I am God.” From Psalm 16 I’m reminded that when I wake in the middle of the night (a phenomenon that happens more often these days), even then God counsels and my heart instructs.

The Psalms also challenge us. They surface raw emotions we sometimes avoid. Even when we feel safe, they remind us of those who do not. They confront us with ultimate realities we would often care not to think of. They bid us to praise God whether we feel like it or not.

Rich concluded with talking about how often we read the Psalms. I often read through the Bible in a year, and so read the Psalms in the course of this. But some read them monthly or even more often. It strikes me that this might be what it takes to have a Psalm-saturated life. And that might not be such a bad thing.

–Bob Trube (also posted at bobonbooks.com)

Going Deeper: The Present of Owning Who We Are

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Christ after his Resurrection, with the ostentatio vulnerum, showing his wounds, Austria, c. 1500

Christ after his Resurrection, with the ostentatio vulnerum, showing his wounds, Austria, c. 1500

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:1-6 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking all week about Pastor Rich’s first sermon on returning from his sabbatical. Much of this focused around how he learned during his sabbatical to begin to own and live with some of the qualities about himself with which he has always wrestled: his restlessness and discontent.

The realization for him was that these were not going to change in three months, or maybe a lifetime. Rather, we need to grasp that part of the process of become fully human in the ways our Lord would intend is to neither deny or try to change who we are but to own that before God and with ourselves. We join the psalmist in acknowledging that who we are has always been known to God and is part of our fearfulness and wonderfulness.

The “present” in this realization really is the present. Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” To live in the moment, not by ourselves but to own who we are and live with ourselves is a gift. It comes from the God who is graciously present with us — who sees us through and through and yet chooses to be “God with us”. If God can handle who I am and set his love upon me, then I am free to see myself for who I am and own that. I can sit quietly with myself.

I appreciated Rich’s candor about the qualities of self he struggles with and is learning to own. I appreciated his concluding challenge that we are too often absent to ourselves and God.

What I think Rich did is describe each of our life journeys toward wholeness. We might put different words in place of restless and discontent. For me it can be self-righteousness and compulsive diligence. Forty years of walking with Jesus hasn’t eradicated them. But knowing that Jesus knows these things, and chooses to walk with me means I can even laugh about these things, and accept the warnings of my wife when they are getting out of hand in my life.

I also wonder if there is something more. Henri Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer suggests that when we face our own woundedness and own these wounds and how we suffer from them, and offer them to God, they don’t go away, but become the source of bringing healing to others. They become sacred wounds, analogous to the wounds in the hands and feet of Jesus.

Rich, you gave us an example of that this Sunday in sharing your own sabbatical journey, and with that the wounds of restlessness and discontent. Sharing how you’ve come to own these, and live in the presence of God with these extends hope that Christ can meet each of us in this way. That is a profound gift to us all.

–Bob Trube (also posted on bobonbooks.com)

Cutting Room Floor: Expertise

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IMG_0715 - Version 2There is no way to become an expert at following Christ without also being an expert at living your own life. There’s no way to expertly follow Christ without expertly living your own life.

We can be an expert at all sorts of thing while being more or less absent from huge areas of our lives. We can be a terrible father or mother or spouse, but great at our jobs. We can be excellent parents, but terrible spouses, wonderful neighbors, but ineffectual employees, good students, but bad friends. We can be really good at those areas our subculture rewards–whether it’s work, or school, or church, or whatever–and, in the end, be only good at those things, and little else. We become one-dimensional people, and all those others who are part of our lives outside that one area of expertise suffers for it, and we suffer for it.

But God doesn’t reward us for specializing the way those who flock around our specialties reward us. God doesn’t cheer us on for being excellent parents and terrible employees, excellent friends and terrible spouses. We’re meant to specialize in everything–or nothing at all.

Actually, the language of specialization doesn’t really fit, here. What we’re really talking about, I think, is integrity.

What I mean is this; you can’t specialize when it comes to following Christ. You can’t. You can’t neglect your mouth by focusing on your eyes; you can’t neglect your body by focusing on your soul, you can’t neglect your eyes by focusing on your hands. That which we’ve neglected will find a way to destroy our success. And this is because God doesn’t want our sense of touch to be holy, or taste to be holy, or sight or hearing or smell; God wants us to live caught up in his holiness, aware and thankful for it, and reflecting it in the littlest ways we’re able.

We’re faced with two options. We can throw up our hands because of the pressure, tune out and give up, because it’s just too much. Or we can give into the rewarding work of practice. I’ve been thinking of practicing…

~Post written by Rich Hagopian