Monthly Archives: October 2014

Exercise, Penance and the Mount

Out in the western part of Ireland is a great little town called Westport and some 7 km outside is Croagh Patrick or Patrick’s mountain. The story goes that he climbed to the top and fasted for 40 days. If this is true, there’s every chance it was a brutal experience because, like many mounts, this thing creates its own weather. It can be “partly cloudy” at the bottom and driving rain at the top. The day we climbed it became clouds, drizzle, sheets of rain and then hail, and wind hard enough to knock your balance.
While we were making our way up the path my wife and I were constantly passed by runners. Runners! croaghpatrick descentThey were on their way up or down, all in colorful gear. Then we also saw the people who were making their way slowly, walking sticks in hand and barefoot. Barefoot! It’s a rocky path and whether you’re running it or walking croaghpatrickbarefoot it’s treacherous. There are streams running through the rocks as well as a pretty one alongside the path, so rocks can move or just be slick.
So, why do this? Obviously, some people are challenging their bodies. There’s a local triathlon of sorts in the first weeks of November which includes Croagh Patrick as part of the run, as well as biking and kayaking. Then there’s going after God and so a challenge to one’s soul, one’s whole being trying to demonstrate something to the Almighty… and probably within one’s self. People climb because they have a prayer and they’re expressing the depth of their need to God, begging for him to intervene in an amazing way. People climb to gain a new sense of God’s presence, just getting in touch and clearing away whatever’s clamored on. People climb to do penance for something they’ve done wrong and to let God know the depth of their sorrow for sin.

I climb because I enjoy God. And this mount and his servant, Patrick, are marvels he created and that I want to credit with enjoyment.

I am not seeking perfection but I am seeking maturity. I want to mature in the depth of my enjoyment of God. I want to mature in my responsiveness to his Spirit’s guidance. I want to mature in my understanding of what he’s doing in the world and my part in it. What I want is to be well, not perfect… not in the way most people talk about perfection. I don’t think there’s some form of perfection that’s going to help me get face to face with God or will create purity of heart. Maturity is something that grows over time and over conversation. It grows through observation and participation. It grows as a whole person. It grows, sort of, without working on it, like fruit mature treethat is part of a plant that is in communion with its complete environment.
So, I admire those who clamor to make their bodies stronger or who toil upward to find a meaningful assurance within their spirits, and I pray they find those things. I pray that God uses those activities to reveal himself. I also pray that I may rest in what God has done through Jesus, in what Jesus taught and in the work of Jesus’ Spirit to shape me as he desires in this environment I inhabit.

A Great Thing in Ireland

So, I’ve been over in Ireland as a Visiting Reader in the National Library. Some said I should share pictures. This is a picture of what I’ve been doing… reading. WP_20141021_001I’m reading about Brehon Law.
This is a very, very cool thing about Ireland that almost got swallowed by the sand drifts of millennia. From ages before Christianity, and probably even the Gaels, showed up in Ireland a community based form of care was designed. Most likely, diviners, priests or Shaman-like peoples, who may have become the Druids we read about, lead the way for these people to create a means of establishing and maintaining community. Truly, these folks were poets and judges and priests, who eventually fell into specialties. There are many things that are significant about it, but what strikes me first is that it really did seek to deal with human beings as human beings first. It wasn’t about control but it was about order. It didn’t create a hierarchy, but it did recognize position and power. It didn’t require obeisance to an ideal but it made one pay attention to the worth of one’s neighbor. Over time these things changed, as human beings keep looking for the loophole, option, angle and start making use of those.
There’s an old story about this and Patrick, like St. Patrick. Patrick1The trouble is it isn’t old enough to make it fact (for most people), but it is old enough to make you consider that something may have happened that included Patrick, the real Patrick and those with him who told the island about Jesus. The story goes that he, with a small group, attempted to codify the laws of community he found and knew in Ireland. He amended them to align with Scripture (which would have been the reason the attempt at codifying was made), but he didn’t need to do a lot of that, because what he discovered was that it worked. This form of law and community care worked for human beings… and that fit with the message of Jesus as Patrick understood it.
This set of laws recognized the worth of women, giving them a level of rights and presence that wasn’t found elsewhere. It laid out innumerable ways for somebody to get satisfaction for being done wrong by somebody else in the community without resorting to violence or revenge. It made the welcome of strangers a legal requirement, but more than that it made it a moral imperative. After Patrick’s time it carried the idea that this is to recognize Jesus in each person in need, but prior to that it was simply because they were in need. There were rules of hospitality that were part of these laws, certifying expectations for those for whom one worked or who had higher status socially. But the ordinary householder of any rank was, essentially, expected to assist the stranger who needed a place to stay, by providing a place, protection, decent food and even entertainment without question. It’s been suggested that maybe welcome was to work a spell disarming magical or religious powers the stranger might be bringing against the community, but that’s speculation. Regardless, what the Irish did with this was far beyond superstitious protection. They treated the individual with dignity.
And that is what you find throughout the Brehon Law, a remarkable expression of the dignity of the individual and the importance of harmony in the community. The Christian missionary coming into this system of care would have had a tough time doing much more than saying, “Ah, yeah, that’s it…”, except when they had the chance to say, “But again, in the same direction, there’s more.”
The Norman invasion, the Tudor domination, the Roman church’s desire to create theological consistency, slammed down hard on this form of community care, essentially burying it until, quite literally, about 150 years ago, when it was uncovered and a massive movement began to translate and explore it. Its worth has begun to work back into the history of the world.Candle 1 And, like some ancient candle dug out of the bog and lighted again, its warmth, illumination and presence is a pleasure to consider.
Got some more to think on this…


As Nothing

He became as nothing… and then human… that’s always catches me in Philippians 2. He humbles himself and humbles himself and then humbles himself again. Imagine a stream that pours out of a mountain side and then reduces and reduces and reduces, as it flows downward. We sometimes forget that the power of God must moderate to a form where we can take it in. In a way, Jesus had to become less than us, in order for us to be able to receive what he offers.
It’s the way life works. Change always comes through sacrifice. Always and only…
It’s as we let go of our place, our privilege, our requirements that we begin to see, to hear, to learn and to grow. Jesus reduced all he might have clung to as personally defining in order for us to grasp that he actually knew us. He understands. His friends had to recognize him as the construction worker, former refugee, family man of the village, mutual citizen in an occupied country and even a gossiped about “bastard” for them to be able to hear that what he had to say was important in their own lives. He didn’t show up with positional authority. Truth became his authority because it was truth that everyone felt within themselves. It echoed inside them.Jesus1
His humility called into existence freedom, so his friends might enter their own humility. They could let go of their requirements for recognition of any sort, so they could become fully human with him in conversation. They could drink from the stream and find life.
Our reception of grace doesn’t come by identifying with Jesus, but with accepting that there is death in our souls that we cannot overcome by our own power or wit. It comes by accepting that death is truly death and that it was what God came to cleanse out of us, so that we can live again, now and actually and always.
When we discover that God is not going to defend himself, but will become less than us in order for us to find life, we discover the true character of God. Like the parent who becomes the servant, kneeling, addressing the wound, cleaning it out… no matter how bad or disgusting it is…, and setting it so that healing and wholeness can return, our Creator comes to us.
It’s all about our response to his sacrifice… and whether we’ll let him clean our wounds.


The Line of No Defense

When I share my thoughts on atonement there are times when people are just nodding at me.  “Yeah, yeah… get it, Kohler.”  But, I’m not always sure that they do.  I think they like what I’m saying, and they get the movement as making sense, but I’m not sure it hits inside.  I’m not sure because they seem surprised at the implications on how God responds to our suffering.
The sense that God doesn’t respond to our outcries, when we go seeking comfort and find the feeling of a closed door, relates directly to our understanding of atonement.  The “at-one-ment” is the answer. God doesn’t defend himself.  This is the message, the image and reality of Jesus.  There is no act or word of defense.  This is the cross.
Rage doesn’t frighten God.  We are not out of line to get in God’s face and scream our obscenity laden frustration with our circumstance or life.  It also impacts God.  The reason for our rage, our horror, anger, overwhelming fear and sense of isolation or worthlessness – what has done this to us and brought us to this place – goes directly to the heart of God.  We turn and lash out and he doesn’t respond by giving us reasons, apology, explanation or defense.  He receives the lashing.
God hates what damages us. suffering He hates what separates us from what is life-giving, from him and other people.  God hates the evil in which we live and God loves us.  So, God reduces himself to a place where we can deliver it all.  God gets small enough that we can beat him up, vent out all the death that’s developed in our souls.
God doesn’t explain why the 7-year old gets taken out by the drive-by shooting, because we already know.  We know that the reason she was killed was because she was standing on her front porch when some thoughtless guy with an automatic weapon was pulling a trigger.  We know why evil happens.  We hate the results of the evil, the shredding of our souls from the loss of the future.  God doesn’t explain.  God hates and is shredded by the same thing.  And God allows himself to receive all the fury we bring… even to death on a cross.
The person who seeks “reasons” is playing into a depth of evil while trying to defend God.  The couple who comes for counseling, telling me that God allowed their child to die so that they would be sensitized to those who have also lost children are surprised by my response.  “Why would you follow a God like that?” I ask.  “What a hateful, spiteful, mean hearted God.”  People try to defend God, seeking to keep God good, while God doesn’t defend himself and yet still defines good.
What I find is people seeking an answer to timing… why now?  When they can’t express the pain in the death of the future they are now living, they want a reason.  It’s okay to want the reason.  It’s okay to be outraged over unfairness.  It’s okay to pour out the death that’s eating into our souls.  It’s okay.  God is outraged as well.
So, he became as nothing… and then became human… so he could demonstrate how at one with us he is.suffering1
The real issue is our response to his sacrifice.

Not Forsaken – Part Two

The consequence of sin is death.  It is the result, the wage, what we receive.  This is not only some eternal death.  It is immediate death.  Death of something within us dies.  insensitiveA part of our being no longer works, but, as a friend of mine said, aches for life, still.
When we sin a part of our soul dies and begins to kill the surrounding parts.  We become increasingly numb, cold, dead to the atrocities in our world, even dead to the sensitivities that would make us wince at our own poor choices.
So, it wasn’t appeasement or paying the devil or paying back God through sacrifice.  It was living out the consequences.  The nature of Jesus’ work on the cross was killing death.  Jesus didn’t “become sin” on our behalf in the sense of receiving dark, evil.  He was killed by our choices and our actions.
On the cross Jesus received the full consequence of our sin, the death created by every living being was placed on him so that we would not share in the consequence.  Life can begin again within us.  We can become true human beings back in touch with our Creator.  When we receive the love offered to us by God, life starts a new and it permeates our souls all of the dead spots begin to get sensitized again.  This is the forgiveness Jesus brings.  Forgiveness is the choice not to punish.  That’s all.  It’s not forgetting or pretending something didn’t happen.  The guilt, that is the truth of our choice, remains but the consequence called for by that truth is removed.  new lifeWe are set free.
Death is separation from life – all that God brings.  When Jesus was on the cross he was reciting Psalms to himself, reminding himself of the truth of God’s victory.  Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 are the poems of which we hear portions when Jesus is dying on the cross.  He was reciting to himself prayers of anguish and destruction that each end with the promise of victory.  He wasn’t forsaken.  He wasn’t telling God he was abandoned.  He was expressing the truth of death and God’s ability to work beyond death, to reclaim life.
Some people will think that’s not enough.  Some people deeply desire punishment, rather than to recognize the true depth and consequence of their own separation from life and to accept the offered love that renews their souls.  They hear Jesus’ word forsaken and that allows them to be “so bad” that God can’t touch them.  If Jesus could be “forsaken” then there is a point where God has to turn his back on people… like me, they think.  But Jesus was never forsaken.  He never knew sin.  He never was out of touch with God, never separated… but still human.