Tilting at Windmills

It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight’s sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.
~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

They brought it on themselves we say as if it matters. Of course it’s often true – regarding others, regarding me. But the very statement reveals a blindness of the heart that replaces compassion with blame and shame. They brought it on themselves.

Who hasn’t? Who among us doesn’t contribute to a significant portion of our own suffering? Am I less in need of compassion because I’ve been the root of my own troubles? Am I somehow more worthy of God’s unmerited favor if some wrong has been done to me rather than by me?

We have a reputation, we who call ourselves Christian people, religious people, spiritual people. We’ve garnered our fame in much the same vein as Don Quixote. So certain of our truth, our headlines and sermons and personal encounters are too often filled with an almost fervid insanity as we go about tilting at windmills.

We, who have knighted ourselves in our own faith, justify wars of weapons and words waged upon those whose convictions and vices vary from our own. Cultural wars, denominational wars, political recriminations, all carried out, so we claim, in service of our King.

If this were, in fact, true –  then the King is sending some very mixed messages.

It serves a certain purpose to vilify those with whom we fundamentally, or sometimes even superficially differ. It proffers both provocation and justification.

Sometimes in light of a personal attack or an attack on my belief system or an attack on someone I love – sometimes I respond by turning the other cheek. Without guile or defensiveness I wish only for light and peace and grace for the other.

Sometimes. Sometimes I remain in a state of grace. Sometimes not.

How can we, who are the benefactors of God’s irresistible grace which binds our wandering hearts to Him, offer anything other than The Good News, grace without merit in return? How is it possible that we can be supplicants of God’s unmerited favor one moment and turn His words into a weapons the next?

When the suffering run from us rather than to us, perhaps it’s because we’ve forgotten our calling to live compassionate lives that succor rather than scourge the wounded.

Santa God is Coming to Town

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
~ John Coots/Haven Gillespie

Every year people talk about the need to Put Christ back into Christmas. Sometimes this is in response to materialism and sometimes it’s a reaction to the substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ. Christmas is the day that we’ve chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth. It’s also a day filled with cherished memories of Santa Claus and special treats and gift giving.
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And Xmas isn’t a secular conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated in our alphabet as an X. The word Xmas (Christ-Mass) has been used by Christians, not against Christians, for hundreds of years. Christmas is a celebration of Truth and traditions.
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I grew up loving Jesus and Santa Claus. We lived in such a small town that Santa Claus literally came to my front door on Christmas Eve to ask what gifts I wanted. This happened every year until I was in first grade when Sherry Miller told me the man on my porch in a red suit was her Dad. I quit believing in Santa when I was seven. I never quit believing in Jesus.
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But somewhere along the line, I melded together God, Who I knew was real but hadn’t seen, with Santa, who I knew wasn’t real but had seen. I unconsciously carried this concept of Santa God into adulthood.
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I pictured Santa God watching to see if I were being naughty or nice. I kept trying to be good for goodness sake and I was, mostly. But when I failed, my failures led to shame. Failing to be good as an adult meant something more serious than no gifts, it meant no grace. None to get. None to give.
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I’d missed the message from the very start. I’d overlooked the incomprehensible gift of grace required of God for there to be a baby in a manger.
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Christmas seems to be the one day we do think about Him and talk about Him. The challenge is thinking about Him just as much in January. The challenge is to share His message of Love and Grace the other 364 days.
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The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough Christ in my Christmas. The problem is that there isn’t enough Christ in me.

A Sunday Song – Better Than a Hallelujah

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

~ Sarah Hart/Chapin Hartford  – Amy Grant

I changed my Sunday Song today after reading Unconflicted by my friend Chaz @ One direction – forward. I hope you’ll read it. I’m just going to share a short excerpt:

I have experienced far too many people who claim loudly and clearly to represent Jesus Christ yet their conduct bears little resemblance to what I read of him in the Bible.  I do my best to say this without judgment.  I simply don’t see the connection between what I have come to understand of Jesus and the words, actions, and attitudes of many of his label-wearing ‘representatives’.

Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

~

Time to Fry Some Fish

Jesus is not only unafraid of what ails us; He has every intention of healing it. He does this by entering the place of our greatest shame and making it His home. He fights us tooth and nail to get to the very thing we most want to hide – our anguished, silent aloneness, our terrible fear of the darkness within us. Then, once He arrives at the deepest part of our darkness and shame, He unpacks His bags and sets up His tent. He makes a fire and fries some fish. He feeds us and talks to us. In the place of our deepest wounding, He give us words. ~ Victoria Brooks

In the dark early morning hours, every day of the week you can watch reruns of Tales from the Darkside. It’s kind of a cheesy version of The Twilight Zone. The predictable element in each episode of each series was the plot twist at the end. You’re probably familiar with the musical intro from The Twilight Zone. Tales from the Darkside started out with pictures of lovely scenery, interrupted by the foreboding voice of the narrator:

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a Darkside.

It’s a bit of old-fashioned horror. We’re  much more sophisticated than we were in 1959 and 1983 when these programs premiered. They don’t scare us anymore. We’ve all seen reality that’s much more frightening than fantasy.

While we may not be afraid of what’s on TV, there’s still a darkside that scares us. Long before the closing credits roll, He arrives at the deepest part of our darkness and shame, He unpacks His bags and sets up His tent.

And now comes the plot twist: no condemnation, no shame, no guilt. Instead, He feeds us and talks to us. In the place of our deepest wounding, He give us words.

I don’t know what’s on your menu, but here in my heart, it’s time to fry some fish.

Good Little Soldiers

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.  ~ Brennan Manning

As the daughter of an ex-Marine and School Superintendent, I learned the life of perfected performance at an early age. I got good grades, I was always polite and I knew how to conduct myself in every social situation. I knew that, as the Superintendent’s daughter, my behavior reflected on my Dad.

A year or so before he died, Dad apologized for being so tough on my sister and me, saying: I didn’t know anything about being a father, I just wanted to raise good little soldiers. I think I always understood that on some level. He was a good father and I never doubted his love. His approval, however, was conditional and continued to be a major behavior modifier for me, from childhood into my adult life.

In time, I transferred a significant portion of that same perfected behavior and desire for approval from my earthly father to my heavenly One. I did good deeds, I was always polite and I knew how to conduct myself in every religious situation.

I thought I could fulfill my responsibility to community and to God by continuing to be a good little soldier. I concealed my wounds out of fear and shame. As Brennan says, in doing that, not only could my inner darkness not be illuminated (even to myself) but I was a very weak light for others.

Those that God has used most profoundly in my life, haven’t been the perfect Christian soldiers. They’ve been the ones who’ve crawled to the stream, so thirsty that they shamelessly gulped water with trembling hands. They are the broken healers who share their struggles; who’ve found grace and who grant grace as a healing gift. I pray to be more and more like them.