Friday, August 13, 2010

Letting Go?

It seems like wherever I look, I'm being told to let go. I've heard it from the pulpit. I've heard it in movie trailers. My best friend just wrote a blog post on the topic. I've read books on the subject, discussed it many times, and am altogether in favor of it.

Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea, and I would do it if I had any idea how.

The problem, you see, is that letting go is too simple for me. Generally, I only do things that require a great deal of work. And if they don't require work, I create ways to make them difficult. This was why my ballroom dance class didn't work out so well. "Just stop thinking," my instructor told me. Obviously, he did not know me very well.

I like to think that I have inherited a great deal of Reppert tenacity. (People who are not members of my family might use the term "stubbornness," but we'll ignore them.) This means that I cling to things--people, ideas, places, words. Letting them go is not something that I do well.

Awhile ago, I came across Psalm 131:2, where David writes, "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." This verse calls to mind a child completely at rest, trusting his mother's arms to hold him.

I am not like that child.

Instead, I'm like a frightened toddler that runs to his mother and clings to her, afraid that she won't hold tight enough and will let him fall.

That's me most of the time. But, if you've had much experience with toddlers, you know that that terrified death-grip doesn't last forever. Once they realize that their mother won't drop them, they relax, their muscles start to unclench, their breathing slows, and they fall asleep. Then they're like the child David wrote about.

I'd like to skip the in-between stage, the one where I'm terrified and holding on for all I'm worth. But it doesn't work that way, at least not for me.

I don't know how to let go, so I'll choose to cling to something better. Then, when I finally relax my grip, I know I won't fall.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day?

I’m not sure if I should be sad or angry when I see Christians bashing Earth Day, purposely wasting plastic bags, or boasting about leaving their lights on.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got my computer going, my cell phone charging, and a couple of lights on right now. My carbon footprint is really fairly large. But I believe that this is something I need to work on, to try to minimize my negative impact on the world God gave us.

In the first chapters of Genesis, God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to care for it. I think that the fact that we’ve stopped caring for the earth is a sign of our fallenness, not our virtue.

I think that a lot of the reason that a lot of Christians are not enthusiastic about Earth Day and about environmental issues in general is that caring for the environment is a “liberal” issue. But I don’t believe it has to be.

If it is right to take care of our environment, what does it matter whose idea it was?

We, as Christians, are hurting our cause when we refuse to acknowledge that we have been wrong and when we purposely choose the opposite side of an issue, simply because we don’t like the people who support it.

Sometimes, we think that people don’t like our message because of their sin, when, often, the reason they don’t like our message is because of our sin.

I don’t have this all figured out, and I’m not trying to pass judgment here. I just want us to stop and think. What would Jesus do on Earth Day?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Come, Thou Fount

As I sit here typing, Sufjan Stevens’ rendition of “Come,, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is playing softly in the background. For some reason, this song seems to tie this day together for me.

A couple of you have heard a few of the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. I won’t reprise them here. In summary, for a little while this was looking like a horrible, no good, very bad day. Then I took a nap and things got better. (I think sometimes naps are a manifestation of grace.)

Anyway, in the class I’m taking at church on Sunday mornings, we’re reading Jim Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful Life (which I recommend, by the way). We’ve been discussing the Sermon on the Mount, and how Jesus isn’t trying to get us to be uptight perfectionists (that hits a little too close to home). Instead, he’s telling us that it’s not so much whether you follow the rules externally but whether your heart is right.

This morning, one of my classmates commented on how hard it is to change your heart. You can go through the motions, he pointed out, but, if you don’t really want to be doing ‘the right thing,’ it doesn’t really do much good. So what’s the point of turning the other cheek or going the second mile if we don’t want to do it?

A couple of my classmates pointed out that often changing our behavior helps to change our hearts—that acting “as if” often helps to make it so. This is true, at least in my life; I’ve found gradual changes in my heart when I make an effort to change my behavior.

But I don’t think just acting will ever force a real change. That’s why we need grace.

One of my favorite quotes (by Teresa of Avila, I believe) goes something like this: “God, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you. But I want to want to love you.”

So often that is true in my life. I often don’t do what I think I should do. I don’t even want to do it. But I want to want to. And, gradually, God changes me.

I’ve finally forgiven a person I’ve been trying to forgive for years. (Well, half trying, anyway. Really, deep down, I was enjoying holding onto that grudge.) It’s not as if the wound they gave me doesn’t still hurt at times or as if I don’t still sometimes feel anger toward them. But I’ve chosen to forgive them, and I’m beginning to really desire good things for them.

But I couldn’t (and can’t) do it on my own; it’s only God’s grace that gives me grace to extend to anyone else.

Earlier today, I wasn’t feeling like giving much grace to anyone—myself included. But, in the midst of that, I remembered whose I am and how much I am loved.

In many ways, “Come, Thou Fount” could be the theme song for my life. (I’m listening to it again now, for something like the 4th time in the last 30 minutes.) The last verse begins with these words:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy grace now, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
This is my prayer tonight.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I’ve always thought that I should like Flannery O’Connor. The only problem is that I have yet to read one of her stories that doesn’t leave me depressed. Being determined to like her, however, I brought her short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, along with me on my trip to Poland and brought very little else by way of reading material.

I began reading while waiting at the airport in Wichita for my plane to Chicago. The story I started with ends with an old man sort of accidentally murdering his granddaughter. Not a good beginning. I made it most of the rest of the way to Poland without reading anything.

On the way back, though, I began to get bored and broke out the book again. This time, I managed to work my way through the rest of the book. I still didn’t find any stories that weren’t depressing. But I did find one that I found compelling.

The story “Revelation” tells of Mrs. Turpin, a self-satisfied, self-righteous woman. When Mrs. Turpin visits the doctor, she is surprised by the presence of a young woman who takes an immediate dislike to her and, seemingly without provocation, attacks her. In what seems to be a prophetic moment, the girl tells her, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”

Mrs. Turpin is shocked. She can’t understand why she, of all people, should deserve such a judgment. She has always lived in a way that she thought was right. In fact, she regularly thanks God that she is not like most of the people around her.

As she rails in anger at God, she has a vision:

She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself …, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right….They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

When O’Connor writes that “even their virtues were being burned away,” I don’t think she’s talking about virtues like kindness, gentleness, and love. I think the “virtues” that are burned away are the things that were never really virtues to begin with. So many of the things that we think are our virtues are really nothing but thin veneers for our pride and selfishness.

Now, it’s kind of popular to complain about the hypocrisy in the church and blame the “Christian” community for being self-righteous, and that seems, to a certain extent, to be what this story is about. I’m all on board with that. Jesus certainly wasn’t a fan of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, from what I can tell.

The only problem is that when I start griping about hypocrisy and self-righteousness, I’m being a bit self-righteous myself. This is a problem that we need to address in the church, but the way we address it is not by complaining about everyone else’s self-righteousness. It is by realizing that we all are living on grace.

I’m not saying this because I want us to all start beating ourselves up. I’m saying this because, until we realize this, we can’t really accept grace.

I’m also not saying that we should stop trying to be virtuous. Instead, we need to realize that any virtue that we actually have is a gift to us. We are just dispensers of God’s grace.

I’m probably not ever going to be one of Flannery O’Connor’s biggest fans, and I probably won’t bring her along as reading material on my next international flight. But she is a brilliant writer, and she does make some valid points, so perhaps I should give her some grace…