Monday, March 23, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 1

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If- Rudyard Kipling (stanzas 1 and 2)

I don't have a lot to offer during this time of global uncertainty, but I do feel compelled to write. Possibly, this will be some sort of solid substance to steady a weary soul. These are revised offerings that come directly from the "Songs of Ascent"

Here is an effort to encourage my brothers and sisters who are currently in "The Mitigation".

These writings were originally inspired by an amazing book by Eugene H. Peterson, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society". I have been through this book a number of times now and have to place it among the most inspirational devotional commentaries I have ever read.

Of course, you have to give ALL of the credit to the Scripture- the Psalms of Ascent (Ps.120-134), especially in the translation of The Message. They are God-breathed and powerful. If you ever feel betrayed, or lonely, or worn out in your spiritual walk- these passages are like adrenaline, vitamins, and new vigor.

So I will take some time to reflect on these great pages of soul stirring food over this time of 'mitigation'.

Chapter 1 of Peterson's book begins with a question, straight out of Jeremiah 12:5. "If you're worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?"

Exasperation, feeling defeated and overwhelmed, experiencing doubt and thinking about quitting is a place that I have known and experienced in very tangible ways.

Especially in a time where there is an unseen virus and an unknown future.

For me to get there is rather surprising. If you knew me, especially in my youth, you would see me as an atomic fireball with an ability to 'see it and seize it'. Winning was natural, overcoming obstacles a joy, and my attitude was beyond positive. It had a dark side to it- I would fight to win by any means, and it didn't matter who I hurt or how tangled the manipulation scheme became.

But I now know that life will wear on and wear out anyone. And left to my own strength and devices, it doesn't take long to find myself in pits of my poor choices, spiraling downhill in defeat and destruction.

I had a bad week last week... this sudden stoppage of my rituals and routine was like a car wreck. I had been running at 222 MPH for a long time.... too long.... and my car was not in good shape!

It is in these moments where you find out what is of real substance in your life and what is idealistic vapor fumes.

The phrase 'essential services' left me in my proper place.... and now I am doing my duty by shutting down and shutting in!

I have learned a lot about winning from years of athletics, where winning has been more the experience. I am not a good loser ( I have often quoted Coach Bryant: "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser' ) So when I find myself laying in a mud packed ground of depression and loss, it can get the best of me for a time.

It is a fragile state to be in......

It feels good to lay there for a while. I mean, I have an excuse: "Look what injustice I have received, look at this crummy world system, I TRIED MY BEST!" And  I lay there, caked in mud and blood, close my eyes, and hope that it will all magically go away.

But it never does.

I then put on Rocky music and get up for a few good swings and then dramatically throw myself down, hoping to draw someone to my attention. But no human comes in those times; or, if they do, they only enable or condemn.

So what can I do? What can WE do?

Conventional wisdom would say DO NOT LOOK UP TO THE DESTINATION OR YOU MAY GIVE UP BECAUSE IT IS SO FAR OUT OF REACH. But we can't help but do that. I look up at the top of the mountain and realize how far deep in the swamp I have sunk. But to say "Don't look at the ideal standard or prize" is unrealistic and promotes mediocrity.

I think we also tend to try and reason WHY we failed. But this doesn't necessarily help. There is no program or strategy to keep me getting up. If I add it up as A+B= C,  I might think I can do it on my own or I will have convenient excuses as to why I am just laying in the muck.

What I have found most helpful is to stop worrying about the outcome.... whether it will be judged a win or a loss. I am simply asked to do 2 things-

(1) Get up and (2) Don't give up.

There is a familiar quote: It matters not if we try and fail AND try and fail again. What matters is if we try and fail and fail to try again.

 And I will never do even one of those things unless I realize that I am powerless to do either on my own.

Peterson explains the problem in chapter 1. THE WORLD IS NO FRIEND TO GRACE. To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to understand that this is a walk that is hostile to the environment around you. You are hostile to it and it is hostile to you.

An adopted son of the King is an enemy to a culture where Isaiah writes that 'fools are called noble and scoundrels are said to be honorable'. I have quoted G.K. Beale a number of times- "Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange."

Now, I need to make a HUGE distinction here. The winning edge is not just getting up and not giving up (my definition of discipleship). The winning edge is to get up and walk in a spirit of compassion, hope, love, humility, joy, gentleness, peace, etc. as a follower of the one true King.

You have to know the 'Myth of Sisyphis' written by Camus to understand why the distinction matters.

The heart of existentialism is a rugged rebellion- a massive middle finger to the 'gods' or authority for the lot that these rebels find themselves in.  Sisyphis found himself in that existence as he rolled that rock up the hill over and over and over. In this rebel's heart he found a mysterious sense of winning! Camus writes:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

This is an imposter! We must show a different type of the warrior spirit!

If we look at the general scope of the American climate, we have to agree that this is a very prevalent mood. For far too many people, the 'American spirit' is a godless tenacity to keep plodding on with no real hope in sight.

Sadly, The American church isn't much better right now... Atheistic rugged individualism actually accomplishes more than a believer like me who has passively given up the charge and remains on the ground with his eyes closed.

Our snot blowing, blubbering 'woe is me' stagnation looks weak and frail when compared to these tough existential fighters. But they too are throwing haymakers at windmills.

SO how do we do this? Where does the power come from to get up and dream again?

It starts with a realization that this is a process of decades and not days.

Peterson explains: "The biggest disservice of our rapid paced society is the illusion that meaningful treasures can be attained in microwave moments."

So these writings in this current crisis is a goal and it is a help for a journey that hopefully, will continue on AFTER Covid-19 has long left the headlines... and it is a hope for the journey- as perilous as it may seem.

The Goal:
I am marching uphill to the Holy Mountain of Zion with a song in my heart and joy in my spirit because I am loved by the King of the Universe. All I need to care for is this day's walk. May I be found obedient today. I start my day with a gospel help: "I am crucified with Christ" and I will end the day with a gospel hope: "There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus."

Here is how Paul said it in Philippians 3:7– 4:1

[7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
[12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
[17] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. [18] For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. [19] Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. [20] But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 

[4: 1] Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (ESV)

Tomorrow, we will be reading in the Psalms... (120-134) - . These Psalms have longed been used by pilgrims who were climbing up toward Jerusalem, climbing up the temple mount, climbing up Mt Zion.

I am re-evaluating, re-imagining, re-committing, re-invigorating my calling to climb.... please join me! Our culture needs to see a lot of light right now.... not our light... but the true light!

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