I haven’t written for a while. Excuse me while I ramble for a bit.
Each morning (well, most mornings… sometimes afternoons… sometimes I skip it because I’m busy or lazy or in a mood or whatever), I dig into JD Walt’s Seedbed Daily Text. I highly recommend it as a Biblically rich devotional written by a servant of God with a broad intellectual skillset and the heart of a poet.
We’re in the Gospel of Matthew right now, as John the Baptist cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near!” As I process some of my thoughts on his thoughts on God’s thoughts, I’m going to piggyback on some of what he said this morning. I’m just saying that this is mostly me, but he deserves credit (or blame, if you disagree) for the direction and it’s only fair that he get it. If you want to catch up, this particular devo is permalinked here.
Way back in the day (colloquially speaking – it was actually an evening), my youth pastor taught one of many lessons on repentance. This one stuck with me for a number of reasons. First, because it was a time in my life that I was in a weird tension that a lot of Christian teens go through… I had “given my life to Christ,” but had developed excellent compartmentalization skills. I’d given the part of my life that went to church and youth group to Christ, but the part of my life that smoked pot and was committed enough to take the time to download porn on a 28.8k modem and other bad stuff remained firmly separate. The tug of war that ebbs and flows and never seems to quite stop completely was at a high point, and I knew that I needed to “repent.”
I mean, I’d pented at least a few times before, and it obviously hadn’t stuck, so I apparently had to do it again.
Repent is a powerful word. It’s explosive, just in terms of its sound. It gains momentum coming off the lips, pulsing out in a way that leaves an impact. It hangs in the air waiting for a response. Even if you’ve heard it a million times, it sits there, slapping at your conscience, demanding acknowledgement, even it it’s just to turn it away again.
It’s also foreign to our modern language. It’s become the exclusive domain of religiousity, and so, while demanding, its also somewhat amorphous and confusing.
The second reason that his lesson sticks in my memory is that he gave a pithy, one sentence definition of repentance that was easy to grasp. He said that, “Repentance is a 180 degree turn from where you’ve been going,” and had kids demonstrate in an object lesson by walking in a straight line across the room and when he yelled, “Repent!” they’d have to turn around and go back in the other direction. It was a good lesson. It was simple and to the point and something a teenager could understand. And so I repented.
And no matter how many times I did that about-face and turned 180 degrees from where I was going, my course would slowly wander and I’d find myself heading back exactly the way I had been.
Because he was wrong.
And I was wrong when I taught the same thing.
The problem with viewing repentance as a 180 degree turn from the way you were going is that it still focuses on you and the way you were going. It’s like trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror. It’s appealing to a self-absorbed, self-addicted people because it maintains our self direction – even if we’re directing ourselves by not going somewhere. It’s our direction – anchored by our former direction – dependent on our vision and our conscience and our experience. Our new direction is entirely dependent on our old direction. That doesn’t work well.
The whole idea of trying to navigate by going away from something is just profoundly stupid. And that’s kind of what John is saying.
The good news is that the true point of navigation is near. It’s not ephemeral. It’s not abstract. It’s among us now.
Yes, repentance is a firm re-orientation, but it’s not reorienting away from something, it’s changing direction to move towards something. As long as we’re moving towards it, it doesn’t matter what we’re moving away from. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’re inclined to drift towards. It doesn’t matter what we… what we… what we… what I.
It matters what God.
Repentance isn’t about us. It’s about him. It’s about Emmanuel. It’s about God With Us. JD says it better than I can:
To be clear, behaviors will change but that change will come from a far deeper place than mere compliance with the rules. It will come from the deep wells of our transformed dispositions, affections, desires and from the Holy Spirit inspired dreams of the beautiful, good and powerfully loving lives we were created to live. To repent means to realign our entire lives to become the remarkable kind of people Jesus would be if he were you and me. Repentance does not start with a stinging self examination of our shame-filled selves. No, it begins by beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ, inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of our own beloved-ness and exhaling the breathtaking beauty of the now-appearing-all-things-are-possible Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s probably enough for today. I’m not done thinking about it. It feels important.
Because there’s something in me that needs to be pent. It needs to be contained and constrained and confined because it has its way with me in a way I don’t like and I don’t like myself when it does. I’ve pent it. I’ve repented it. I’ve repented it again. The only way it’s going to stay pent-up is if God does it. To stop moving away and move towards. To stop being defined by it and get a new definition.
So that’s my prayer for me this morning. It’s my prayer for you. That we be defined not by our failing, but by our calling – by the one who succeeded on our behalf. That we be defined not by what we don’t want to be, but by what we were made to be, and the one who made us. That we be moving towards the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Every so often there is a thing or a thought or something hilarious that makes me wonder if I might be a terrible person. I mean, the things I find funny are probably proof enough that I’m less than entirely sanctified. In case you haven’t noticed the sea of pink we’re floating in right now (or you’re reading this in the archives… HI FUTURE PERSON!!), October is breast cancer awareness month. Here’s where the terrible person part comes in: Is there really anyone left that isn’t aware of breast cancer? I know that I’m too cynical sometimes, but it seems like by now there’s not anyone left that would be like, “Breast cancer? What’s that? Is that a kind of candy? It sounds delicious!”
We know breast cancer is terrible. For the vast majority of people, we either know someone that has had breast cancer or know someone that has been affected by it. I think the awareness ship has sailed. Call it Support Month, or Fundraising Month, or More Important Than Other Kinds of Cancer Month, but let’s not fuzz this – we do not need an Awareness Month for breast cancer. To be perfectly honest I’ve got a little bit of bitterness when I see the pink ribbon everywhere. The reason is that October is “awareness month” for a host of other things that no one talks about – things that awareness really does need to be raised for. The pink ribbon has wound through my life, but nearer to my heart is the pink and blue. When I’m talking about the questionable nature of pink awareness ribbons, I mean that if you see a pink ribbon, you know what it’s for. That means it’s done its job. Time to move on. Are you aware of the pink and blue? You don’t see them around much. A number of issues fall under their purview, but for October they symbolise pregnancy and infant loss. Are you aware of that? Do you actually know the number of people in your life who have had their hearts hammered by a miscarriage? Do you know the extent of the damage it does to relationships? Do you know how it can cause a woman to mistrust or hate her own body? Are you aware that it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL?
Today, October 15th, as I’m writing this, is the specific day held out for remembering those children whose lives were far too short, many of them never seeing the light of day or having the opportunity to breathe air before passing on. I’m aware that in the eyes of many people, they weren’t really people, or not even considered “life” to lose their lives. Most often, I just have to ragequit conversations with them, because nothing I say is going to make them understand that a miscarriage is more than just a loss of hope, or a shift in plans, but losing a child who was part of our life for way, way too short a time. Six times we’ve had early miscarriages, my wife and I. One of those times I got to hold my… I don’t even know how to date it… 7 weeks from conception daughter in my hands and look into her eyes and touch her tiny, tiny fingers. When I see people posting or saying or picketing to say that she didn’t matter, it makes me want to throw things at them. Or throw them at things. But this was never intended to be a pro-life-centric post, so I’m going to take a deep breath and move on.
I don’t want to belittle the pain of those who have lost children to SIDS or post-birth complications, but I’m not going to be talking about them. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’ve never experienced that, and as much as it pisses me off when people spout off about things they don’t understand, I don’t want to be hypocritical. The second is that it seems from the outside that people in general have a better understanding of the grief of that loss. It’s real to them. They don’t really understand the fullness of the impact of it, but neither do I, and there’s a lot of posts today from people that do and I’ll leave it to them to explain it. It’s loud.
Miscarriage is quiet.
There is often shame associated with it. Self doubt and recrimination follow along. It strikes at the core of a person’s self-esteem. The inability to form and/or carry a child to term strikes at the core of gender identity and personhood. That’s one of the many reasons that people don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the things that shame us. We shove them into dark corners to fester, then pull them out late at night and pick at them, alone. In the midst of this, we feel like maybe we shouldn’t feel that way. We don’t talk to people about it for fear that they’ll judge our feelings as much as the circumstances. Like it shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.
With miscarriage, we’re afraid they won’t understand. They’ll offer pointless platitudes like “you’re still young,” or “at least you weren’t that far along,” as if that’s a great big wondrous silver lining and we’ll go “yeah, I never considered that. I shouldn’t be sad about what I went through because it could have been worse. At least I don’t have breast cancer.”
The fact is that people don’t understand. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there. It’s hard to see that the silence of the many, many women – couples – that have miscarried, isn’t because it’s too small to mention, but because it’s far too big. We don’t talk about it. We suffer alone, and our suffering is made worse by the feeling that we are alone in it. I look across my facebook feed today, though, and I’m not alone. I see that the things my wife has shared from her experience are giving voice to many women that feel the same but don’t have the words to express. I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of her strength, while I watch her still carrying the pain, sometimes walking along the edge of breaking from the loss of JJ, Anastasios, Sayuri, Aliento, Tacey, and Nima. It’s a big deal. We don’t just grieve the loss of a future, we grieve the loss of people – children that were part of both of us.
Be aware of that.