Daily Bread

Life is full of distractions and I’ve had more than my fair share recently, what with Christmas and various projects. To be honest, most of the time I enjoy the distractions, although, on this occasion, I’ve layered one distraction on another, leaving an over-active mind that has begun to interfere with my sleep. Not good. In the midst of all this noise it is all too easy to loose sight of what is important.

The psalmist, in psalm 16, finds his refuge in God, his only source of good. He rejects that path of others who appear holy and doing well for themselves, but who find their good outside of God. All the psalmist can do is hope that they learn their mistake – even if it is by the hard way of sorrow.

It reminded me of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I have said these words many times, but never really taken them in. After all, if I need bread, I go to the Supermarket. While I have a job, I easily have the money for bread. Even if I lost my job, the State promises to step in – at least to a point. Granted, some fall between the cracks, but that is someone else’s experience, not mine. I find I have no need to ask for bread. Which is precisely the problem.

My refuge, my source of good, seems to be out of alignment. I look to the Supermarket. I look to my bank balance. I look to the State and the economic system of the world. Which is all a bit foolish really, given the not-so-long-ago financial crisis. It is in my very comfort and security that I have made a mis-step. My refuge needs to be in God – even for my bread. Even though I know, as the apostle Paul testifies, this may mean that at times I need to do without. Yet, in spite of this, we know that God has our best interests at heart, which is more than can be said for the supermarket or my bank.

Not all distractions are bad. Some are expressions of who God made me to be, yet they are still distractions. Sometimes, it is helpful to be reminded of where our refuge should be and to, perhaps for the first time, pray: give us this day our bread.

 

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Two Ways

I have realised that if I am to reshape my imagination around the Kingdom, then I must change the story in which I am embedded. Unfortunately, this has proved less simple than it sounds. My last attempt proved a step too far and I am going to need to take much smaller steps. Fortunately, such a path has been trodden before and has often been recommended in the church – which is to meditate on the psalms. With such an obvious path forward, it is amazing that it has taken me so long to find it. Perhaps the less said about that the better. So, to begin with psalm 1.

For such a small psalm, there is a lot packed in it. It lays out the path of the two ways. The way of those who do right and othose who do wrong. It has proved a remarkably apt place to start, with that wonderful line “In Yahweh’s teaching he ruminates day and night”. I like the idea of ruminating. Chewing over, digesting and then chewing over again. It is not the usual way to translate hagah, but it caries that sense, so I am sticking with it. This, after all, is what I am doing – ruminating on Yahweh’s teaching.

I have found the psalm challenge me too. When describing the righteous man it says all that he does prospers. What would Jesus have made of that when he hung on the cross? Actually, though I initially wondered at the psalm’s naivety, I ended up respecting its truth. It does not say that the righteous won’t go through times of trouble or suffering, just that they will prosper in them. Jesus certainly suffered and it was certainly an odd looking success, but it was the reason he came and he in it he did prosper. It was then that I was able to look back at my past and I could concur. In all that I have done I have prospered. For sure, there have been times when it did not feel like it. There have been times when I have felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails. But looking back, those have been significant points in my life. I have, in spite of all, prospered. Like a tree transplanted from the desert to be by channels of water, my leaves have not withered. I am secure and know that fruit will come in its season. The wrongdoer, by contrast, is like chaff blown away by the wind – to perish.


Psalm 1

Happy is the man who
does not walk in the council of wrongdoers,
Nor in the way of sinners does he stand,
Nor in the seat of scoffers does he sit,
But, in the instruction of Yahweh, his delight.
In its teaching he ruminates day and night,
Like a tree transplanted upon channels of water,
That yields fruit in its season
and leaves that do not wither.
All that he does prospers.

Not so the wrongdoers.
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wrongdoers will not stand at the judgement,
Nor sinners at the assembly of those who do right.
For Yahweh knows the way of those who do right,
But the wrongdoer will perish.

God With Us

Faith arises from what we find imaginable. What sociologist call our social imaginary. If I am to ground myself in the Kingdom of God, then I need to ground myself in the imaginary of the first Christians. Something that is proving harder than I expected.

As a Christian, my central story is that of the Gospels, as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Yet, this story is itself grounded in another, that of the Jews: The story of Exodus and redemption from slavery. It was a story of hope. What God had done before, their prophets had declared, he would do again. A great and terrible day was coming when God would dwell amongst his people, setting all things right. That day was to be soon. It is from within this that the Gospel’s story is heard: God had come, but it was not quite as they thought it would be.

Now, it had always struck me as odd that the Virgin Birth, such a small part of the New Testament, became such an integral part of the early Church. As I pondered this, I realised its importance lay in what it had become shorthand for. God was not only dwelling amongst us, but had become one of us. The Apostles Paul and John do not mention the Virgin Birth, but they make much the same point. Paul expresses it powerfully when he says that Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

The Gospels not only tell of how God dwelt amongst us in the flesh, but how the Spirit would follow. Unfortunately, at this point my deliberations became unstuck. The problem that confronted me was that the disciples were already healing before the Spirit was given, so, why am I doing so little, now that the Spirit has come? Attempting to imagine myself into the first world setting exposed a gap with my world that was so vast that it caused a disconnect that I found quite depressing.

This exercise was supposed to draw me into the imaginary of the Kingdom, if anything, it has done the opposite. I cannot help but compare my life with what it should be and I found almost no common point. I am living in a very different imaginable world. I need a better approach. I took what I thought was the quickest route, but the ascent has proved too steep. I need to find a gentler slope, one more suited to beginners.

Aberration

It is strange how much difference a few weeks can make. Not so long ago I set out to be intentional about making the Kingdom my experience and not just my theology. Yet, habits die hard, and it was exploring more theory – as if I didn’t already have enough theory to last a lifetime! It was short-lived, however, as a few days later I was hit by the norovirus bug, which in turn triggered a relapse of my glandular fever, and my world rapidly closed around me. My reality shrunk to the moment I was in and the hope that it would eventually pass. What of the Kingdom now? It certainly wasn’t the wholeness promised.

I have to confess to being confused by sickness. Jesus healed as evidence of the Kingdom, as did his disciples after him. Healing still occurs today, but less than I’m led to expect. It is all rather confusing. And I was confused by being ill. In Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians he too describes being ill. It surprised me how encouraging that felt. If even Paul, with all the healing he performed, could be ill, then maybe my experience was not so unaccountable. At least, I did not need to look for a deeper explanation, like lack of faith or some other failing on my part. We too can fall ill. Apparently, even while we remain citizens of a Kingdom that knows only wholeness. However I might see myself in relation to the Kingdom, in practice, I sit across worlds. I may be a citizen of the Kingdom, yet, I remain a part of a created order that is broken, itself sick, and still awaiting its renewal. My body will age and decay. I may get sick. Perhaps, I have no right to expect immunity.

Yet, we are still called to pray ‘your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’. While we remain both in and not of the earth, we are, in part, subject to both. The world has always had the ability to crucify us. Yet, we are not called to give in and await some future deliverance. We are called to bring the realities of heaven to earth now. I may have been sick, but it is not where I belong. I belong to a kingdom that does not know sickness, and I can look towards its realities on earth. I may not see it in all its fullness, but I look to seeing more. The early church showed us what was possible – and I don’t believe that was supposed to be the high mark. However, I’ll worry about where our limits lie when I have at least reached the foothills. Until then, I won’t read too much into my illness. It will pass. It is a momentary aberration.

Deconstructed

I have never woken up wondering if the world was still there. It is just an assumption I make every morning that does its work in the background, letting me get on with life without having to worry. Yet, not all our assumptions are benign, they can be little more than thinly veiled prejudices. It can therefore be helpful to see our world from outside, from different perspectives, perspectives with different assumptions and so highlighting our own. John D. Caputo, in one of his books, uses the illustration of Charles Sheldon’s novel, written over a hundred years ago. In the novel a tramp collapses in church. This so surprises and stirs the congregation, that they ask themselves, if they have really been followers Jesus after all. So, during their everyday lives they begin asking themselves the question: ‘What would Jesus do?’ and the town changes. Sometimes, another story has to come along to help us see things differently, to deconstruct our assumptions and enable us to be more intentional in how we are to live.

Over the last few months I have unexpectedly found that my picture of the kingdom has come into much sharper focus, a focus that has also shed an uncomfortable light onto my own life. I just don’t believe this is what life in the Kingdom is supposed to look like. Or at least, I have not yet met anyone insane enough to think Jesus life would have looked much like mine, which isn’t much of a commendation for someone who has been following Jesus for over forty years.

It is at this point that the two stories merge. Sheldon used the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ to help deconstruct assumptions. It makes a great bumper sticker, but I am less sure of that particular question. Jesus did what he saw the Father doing and, unless we do the same, the question becomes a stick to beat ourselves with when we fail to meet and impossible standard. I have to confess, that I find seeing what the Father is doing a little challenging. It is easier to model my life on those around me, only I am not called to base my life on the constructs of the twenty-first century. I am called to be a follower of Christ: to live, not just in the shadow of the Kingdom, but as its Citizen. It is a daunting challenge, and one that leaves me wondering if I can meet it. I am not even sure if I know the way.

Which brings me back to this blog. One of my experiences with blogging, especially in my initial ‘A Journey Shared’ blog, is the way that it encourages intentionality – not to mention a source of prayer, as I ponder what to say in my next post! I believe this is what I need now, and so I am relaunching ‘A Journey Shared’, even if in a new clothes. No longer seeking a view of the destination, but to keep me on track and pressing on towards it – even if, like Frodo Baggins, I do not know the way.