This temptation doesn’t mean I’ve sinned yet. Jesus was tempted too.
This temptation is lying to me about myself,...
Tonight my husband crawled into bed with my girls and told them the story of the crucifixion. I came home from the store, and he told me he’d told them. He said London cried. He cried.
I walked to their room and crawled into bed—my turn.
“Dad told you about the cross?” I asked. They nodded.
"I cried," London said. "I cried tears from my eyes… I don’t know if they were sad tears or happy tears."
It’s nine at night as I write this. I’m sitting on my porch under a string of lights listening to melancholy music thinking about London and her cross-colored tears.
I’m thinking of Crime and Punishment (my favorite book) and of Raskolnikov who found Christ at the cross…
"The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
I find it hard to look at the cross straight on…
From one angle, I look and I see God, the Beginning and the End, dying. I see the inky black of sin exploding and dripping and seeping until the whole world, even the Son is blotted out. “Darkness over the whole land…” I see depravity and desolation.
But if I step two feet to one side and tilt my head, I don’t see the sin so much. I see a savior. I see courage. I see an Atlas carrying the world’s sins, sins heavier than the world itself, on His noble, Deliverer shoulders.
Then I drop to my knees and look up and the view changes again. And I see my friend, my brother, suffering, sweating, bleeding, thirsting, gasping. And I love Him, and I wish He’d come down.
Last night I looked into John’s account of Jesus’ death and I saw Jesus as volunteer. Willing. Obedient. Submissive. And I raised my hand, ready to take up my cross, ready to be a Christian, a follower even (especially) unto death.
Sometimes I look at the cross and I just feel guilty. Sometimes I look and feel thankful. Sometimes I’m confused.
Most of the time I feel completely and utterly unworthy.
And when I try to take it all in, to feel everything at once, I end up crying like London, not sure if the tears are happy or sad.
A cross is an intersection, where one thing meets another.
THE cross is THE intersection. Of death and life. Sin and holiness. Light and dark. Love and hate. God and man.
It is explosive and magnetic.
Should you ever find yourself overwhelmed or confused or crying inscrutable tears at the foot of the cross, know you’re just where you ought to be doing just what you should.
Last night I attended a Good Friday service. We read John’s account of the crucifixion together, aloud. As we read the words, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” every soul in the room went silent as every knee suddenly and simultaneously dropped to the floor.
We knelt in thick quiet.
On Palm Sunday my preacher talked about Jesus, Jesus riding on a donkey like a hero, King Jesus parading toward His destiny as the Savior and Deliverer of God’s people.
The crowds that day cried, “Hosanna.” And while Hosanna was proclaimed with joy at the triumphal entry, it is a joyful, hopeful desperation. Because “hosanna” is a hungry word, a dying man’s word, a slave’s word, a word on the tip of parched tongues.
Israel saw in Jesus a Savior and she wailed, “Hosanna!”
Literally: Save. Us. Now.
Palm Sunday is the moment when hopeless, tired, oppressed people catch a glimpse of salvation to come.
Oppression is defined like this: “The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.”
The Jews were certainly oppressed—oppressed by Rome, oppressed by their religious leaders, oppressed by a scheming upper class, and oppressed, most significantly, by the power of sin and death.
Jesus came to set the captives free.
And He did. And He does. And He will.
But today, some of us are still captives. Many of us, even those of us faithful to Christ and freed from the sting of sin, are a people oppressed, a people under the thumb of rulers and powers, principalities and the like—all out to eat us, to use us for parts, to steal what we have and what we might have later, too.
No, we’re not slaves to Rome…
We’re slaves to Capital One. And Apple. Target. Coca-Cola. Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Pharmaceutical companies. Monsanto. Vogue magazine. Facebook…
Just because we call America the “Land of the Free” doesn’t mean we are.
We are a people who can’t eat well even when we want to because good food is expensive and bad food is cheap.
We are a people told at every turn, “You’re too fat.” And told seconds later, “Eat more chicken.” Told “You’re beautiful as you are” by the very companies hawking products to make us more beautiful.
We are a people who can’t climb out from under the mound of debt we accumulated as child-adults, mailed candy-colored cards the minute we broke free of our parents’ supervision.
We are a people who want to be pure but can’t unsee the images forces upon us on billboards, in a magazine on a table at our best friend’s house, on the web page that was supposed to be about the White House but was actually debauchery.
We are a people who can’t make a cup of coffee for fear we’re drinking the sweat of ill-paid, mistreated workers in a faraway land. And who can’t sweeten it without fear of cancer.
We are a people who want to know the truth but don’t know where to find it. No one speaks straight—not Fox News, not CNN, not our schools, not even all our churches.
We are a people who would be happy with our small houses and old cars if we didn’t spend all day watching people on TV complain about their houses and cars, nicer than ours but not nice enough.
We are a people who will never be enough. Never have enough. Never know enough. Never do enough. Never make enough.
Here in this land of plenty, we are daily convinced there is never ever enough. We call it ambition and the pursuit of happiness, but it is oppression.
Because if there were ever enough, if for one moment we were all content, profits would stop growing and stock prices would drop and the rich people who get rich on the backs of discontented consumer cattle would be bothered.
We are a people, friends, who should cry “Hosanna!”
Because we need saving.
It seems proper to write a post like this before Easter, before the resurrection, before the whole of hope breaks loose.
But, of course I’m writing it after Easter, too, and I can’t completely make sense of that.
I think many of us need to break free today, to be reminded that Christ has broken the shackles of sin and death, to walk away from the burden of our guilt and shame, to know that salvation has come, that freedom is free.
Some of us feel oppressed by the natural consequences of our bad choices, ankle weights slowing our run to a jog when we long to sprint. We need to keep running, to pray for strength, and to make better choices, to remember that every good choice makes the run tomorrow easier.
Others of us cannot avoid the burdens we bear, heaped upon as they are by the forces of evil, reminders that the kingdom of Heaven has not fully and finally broken through.
Some of us, especially the poor and the weak, will continue to suffer under the weight of a fallen humanity.
What I suspect is this: Most of us reading this post are both oppressed and oppressors. We suffer under systematic violence, misogyny, hatred, idolatry and greed. And at the same time, we feed the system.
We keep buying cheap coffee and cheap clothes and cheap tomatoes, oppressing workers all over the world. And we do it partially because so many among us can’t make enough money to support a family and buy fair trade.
We pay for pornography, oppressing women and (yes) children, abused in an industry unconcerned with the health and well-being of its victims. And as we make slaves of them, we become enslaved ourselves.
We buy seventy inch television screens to replace our fifty inch ones and stack our rejects in landfills, 175 million tons of it each year. We oppress the land and future generations in our slavery to advertisers and professional football and our own greedy thirst for spectacular entertainment.
We starve ourselves to measure up to some arbitrary definition of beauty, a definition the beauty industry intentionally changes to discourage contentment and fuel sales, and at the same time, we enroll our daughters in beauty pageants, parading them before a panel to be judged on an appearance they cannot change.
When I look at the children of Israel on Palm Sunday, I see a people aware of their oppression, a people desperate to be saved from a life they cannot bear.
But when I look at us, a people equally burdened (although in different ways), I too often see a crowd drugged into apathy by the momentary satisfaction of a house in the suburbs, a new car, a closet full of clothes, and a yearly vacation to Disney World.
You guys. It’s bad out here—the kind of bad that makes you want to kick and scream.
Scream “Hosanna!” Yell it at the top of your lungs. Yell it in the grocery store. Yell it at the nursing home and in hospital halls and in your child’s elementary pick-up lane. Yell, “Hosanna” because you cannot save yourself and you cannot save the world.
But, people of God, Body of Christ, don’t just yell Hosanna. Be Hosanna.
Step up and step in and save the world. Be the light and the love Christ called us to be.
Fight for the poor and the weak. Fight for our children. Fight for the people in actual, literal slavery right now today.
Fight for freedom by spending only what you have on only what you need. Fight for freedom by turning off your radio and turning off your TV. Fight for freedom by feeding the hungry and feeding them well. Fight for freedom by refusing to crash diet or phototshop your wrinkles in family pictures.
Support a community garden.
Buy used clothes or fair trade clothes. Or just buy a lot less clothes.
Adopt a child through Compassion or World Vision. Teach your child that other people matter just as much as she does.
Give more money. To your church. To your friends who need it. To charities and missionaries and Bible translation committees and whoever else can find a good way to spend it.
Get rid of your stuff. You don’t need it; it’s just weighing you down, tying you to this world in which you do not belong.
On Palm Sunday, the children of God cried “Hosanna” and laid palm branches and cloaks at the feet of their Deliverer. Hopeful, expectant.
Today we echo their hope-filled cries of desperation. And we answer them with kingdom lives, our whole selves offered in the fight for freedom, our whole hearts confident the One who brings rescue has come and is coming.
The other day Eve and I were hanging out at the house. She played with Barbies and her new plastic penguins. I folded laundry and wrote a post.
After a little while she came into my office and, as is her custom, climbed into my lap in the most awkward way imaginable—her hands in my hair, her elbow in my eye, her feet entangled in the computer power cord, almost knocking the laptop and my coffee to the ground.
Then, settled, she sat in my lap, her huge five year old self blocking any chance I might have at the keyboard.
She held my face between her hands and lifted her (stinky) feet to my shoulders. [She’s quite flexible.]
We sat this way for thirty seconds.
Did I mention Eve’s an extrovert and her love language is touch?
Did I mention I’m an introvert and fundamentally bothered by invasion of my space?
In an act of motherly love (and extrication), I kissed Eve’s forehead, told her I loved her, and lifted her off my lap and onto the floor.
I said, “Go play.”
She said, “But I want to be with you.”
I said, “You are with me.”
She said, “No, I want to be WITH you. I want to FEEL you.”
"God With Us"—it must have meant something much different to the apostles and to Mary and to Lazarus. For them, Jesus Emmanuel meant a conversation over figs watching the sun set behind Jerusalem. It meant washing one another’s feet and rubbing shoulders in a crowd.
I forget sometimes that people actually held Jesus’ hands. I forget they helped Him into a boat. I forget they carried His cross and rubbed His skin with spices.
"God with us" looks different today.
Often I find myself trying to climb into a lap I can’t reach.
Because I want to be WITH God. I want to FEEL Him.
Before Jesus died He talked to His apostles, trying to prepare them for His absence. He said:
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.”
I find it interesting that when Jesus leaves, He doesn’t say, “remember that I was with you and that’ll be enough.” He doesn’t say, “Even though I’ll be in Heaven, I’ll still be with you but in a different way.” No, He offers two points of hope: 1. He says He’s coming back. And 2. He says He’ll ask the Father for another advocate (an advocate like Himself), the Spirit.
For us, Christians living post-incarnation, “God with us” is the Spirit.
And it’s not just sitting beside us on the couch in the body of a single man who comes and goes. The Spirit is inside us, permanently, perseveringly present.
Do you want to be WITH God? Do you want to FEEL God? Consider the gift of the Spirit…
I don’t know every way the Spirit of God works. I know the Spirit works through the Word. I know the Spirit works in prayer. I know the Spirit tills the soil of my heart, fertilizing virtues until they bloom into fruit.
I know when I feel alone I can crawl into bed with the Living Word and feel held.
And I suspect there’s more…
For me though, the Spirit most powerfully presents Himself in the lives of the saints. When I need God, when I need to FEEL God, I seek out His people, people full to spilling of Spirit.
I sit in their living rooms or beside them in a truck or across a table at Chick-fil-a and I experience the very presence of God.
I look into God’s eyes—blue, brown, and hazel. I see God’s smile—sometimes crooked, sometimes straight, so often beaming. I touch God’s hands—giant, wrinkled and tan or small and ivory with glitter-painted finger nails.
Sometimes I take walks with God. Sometimes I laugh with God. And occasionally I climb up into His lap and let Him stroke my hair.
Because sometimes it’s not enough to know God’s close.
Sometimes we need to FEEL Him.
I know something about writing. I studied writing for six years. I taught college writing for four. I’ve written (by my calculations) more than 2 million words.
I am an advocate for writing. Through it God has shaped me, challenged me, led me, and healed me.
When I’m worried about a friend in a failing marriage, when I’m concerned about a destructive voice I’m hearing, concerned I might start listening, when I’m scared or nervous, anxious, tired, mad, or overwhelmed—I write.
I write the things I’m feeling, all of them. I dump them on the page. I spread them out like Scrabble tiles, pushing them apart, trying to see. I read and re-read them, listening, trying to understand myself and my/your/our problems. I look at the sentences one by one—not in the mound but alone—brushed of the dust of problem proximity.
And as I read the words I wrote but often didn’t know I felt, I come to understand my self, my situation, and my context.
Next, I pray. I read. Perhaps I have a conversation or two with wise people.
And I return to the writing. To talk myself down. To give advice. To offer perspective. To tell myself a story.
I pour God’s wisdom into my hungry heart.
In writing, I see my life from a thousand feet and place this experience or this new question within the narrative of a full, God-led life.
By the time I close my laptop or wrap the rubber band around my notebook, I’m already healing.
Joyce Carol Oates says of writing about her husband’s death, “The act of writing is an act of attempted comprehension.”
Studies consistently show that people who write—in a diary, on a blog, in a memoir or poem—have a much higher ability to contextualize their experiences and recover from trauma.
I imagine that’s what made King David so resilient.
Writing’s not just for the hurting though. It’s an avenue for praise, a help in focused prayer, an opportunity for testimony.
Writing is a way we understand and share the love of God.
At this point it’s likely you’re thinking, “That sounds great Jennifer, but I’m not a writer.”
I understand. But I promise, you could be.
This summer I’m offering a workshop designed to help women find everyday healing, hope and help in the act of writing.
This is NOT a workshop for writers. It’s an opportunity for women who might be interested in writing as a spiritual discipline, an opportunity to be shaped into the image of Christ through the act of journaling, blogging, or writing poetry.
Over the course of this half day experience I’ll help you…
I’ll talk. You’ll talk. We’ll all write. And, by the grace of God, we’ll change the way we see and live.
If you think you might be interested in a workshop like this contact me via Facebook or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll keep the fee low (under 60 bucks) and (depending on interest) try to plan a location close to you. Right now I’m considering Nashville, TN, Huntsville, AL, and/or Austin, TX.
I’ll post more details as summer nears.
I pray God uses this opportunity to bless you richly!