Saturday, February 28, 2009

Learning to Follow

I recently re-read Matthew 26:31-75, in which Peter goes from promising Jesus that he would never leave him to swearing never to have known him. What struck me this time reading the passage was that early in the evening Peter really was ready to die for Jesus—he attacked the servant of the high priest, even while an armed mob was standing by. I’m not sure I’d realized before that Peter’s desertion was not necessarily from a fear of death; he proved that by his desire to fight. Peter’s abandonment of Jesus seems to spring from another cause.

To me it seems that Peter didn’t really mind death; he just wanted to die on his own terms. He was willing to go down fighting, to go out in a blaze of glory defending his Lord.

He was ready to die for Jesus, but he was not willing to lay down his life for Jesus. An active death, one where he would get to make a big show of his loyalty and feel like he was making some kind of statement, appealed to Peter. Simply following and, in all likelihood, dying the same kind of death as Jesus didn’t seem so appealing.

I’m afraid that no situation I’ve ever been in can really compare with the one Peter found himself in here, but I think I do share a few of his characteristics. I’d much rather serve God (and, by extension, others) in my own way, using my own strengths, than follow on his terms.

Over the years, I’ve really thought of some great ways God could use me. But that is never the way he does it. He tends to put me in situations where I have pretty much no idea what I’m doing. (For example, teaching middle school math and science. I think that this is proof that God has a sense of humor.) This does not seem logical to me; to me it would make much more sense to put me in situations where I could use my multitude of talents (please note irony), rather than situations in which I make a fool of myself on a regular basis. But it is in these situations that God chooses to use me. And I think he does that on purpose. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I believe that it is when I am weakest that God is working most powerfully through me.

Not that I’m usually particularly good at recognizing that this is what’s happening. I tend to whine and want to abandon ship; I usually don’t recognize that this is the kind of sacrifice Christ asks of me.

John reports that, after his resurrection, Jesus told Peter, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Then Jesus tells Peter, yet again, “Follow me” (John 21:18-19). Jesus is letting Peter know that he has been given another chance, and the fact that Peter is now willing to follow on these terms shows how much he has been changed.

I'm hoping that someday I will be a bit more like Peter, but for now I'm still trying to learn how to lay down my life day by day and to let Him lead me even to places where I don't want to go.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Something Human

I realized recently that, although I love to write and it's frequently the best way for me to think through things, I've been doing very little of it lately. The times in my life when I've written the most consistently have been the times when I've known I have to show my work to others on some sort of regular basis (in creative writing classes, for example). So I decided to start a blog. (I also write on our blog at work,, but the subject matter of this will be a bit different.)

You may be wondering what, exactly, the title of my blog means. It comes from the poem "Home Burial" by Robert Frost (which is, by the way, a beautiful, heartbreaking poem and which you can read online). The poem tells the story of a couple that has lost their child. The husband is begging his wife to share her pain with him. "Let me into your grief," he asks. "Tell me about it if it's something human."

The poem is, to some degree at least, about human isolation and our failure to communicate with each other, to let others join us in our experience of the human condition. The human condition is something I think rather a lot about (it's sort of the subject matter of a lot of my graduate work), which means I'll probably be writing a lot about it on here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living. / God's command is enough and your faith in him to sustain you." This is what I'm trying to do, to come out into the tempest of living--to learn how to be human.

One last note-- someone else started a blog with this name, once upon a time. They only wrote one post, and it was in 2006, so I don't feel too bad stealing the name, but please note the hyphen in the url. Otherwise, you'll go to their blog, not mine. And that would be very sad.