The Israelites, My Bros & Sises

Deuteronomy 5:23-27

23When you [Israelites] heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me [Moses], all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24and you said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.’

The people feel like they can’t bear to listen or to be near to God’s voice.  They’ve got a healthy respect–even fear–of God, which is sometimes missing from our modern understanding of the Creator of All That Is.  They’re convinced that God’s presence will consume them, burn them up.

Isn’t that what we should desire?

And yet, I feel just like the Israelites–“let me have my little life in my tent at the bottom of the mountain (Deut 5:30), leave me alone to my regular, everyday stuff; don’t upset everything I know now by the all-consuming flames that are part of experiencing you, God.  My reality right now is bearable, I don’t really want to know what would happen if it was all burned up.  I don’t even really want to know what would happen if it all rose from the ashes again.”

They ask Moses to go and listen for them, so that God’s presence and voice isn’t quite so close, so that they themselves don’t have to go through the agony of truth and transformation–someone else can do it for them.

We see and know from Scripture as well as our daily lives that no one else can transform for us–we’ve got to go through the changes ourselves for them to have any real power in our lives.

Shouldn’t we want God to be near?  Shouldn’t we desperately desire for the transforming heat to melt away the extraneous parts of our lives?

The problem is that when the heat comes close, when God starts burning things away in us, it’s uncomfortable.  Any time something hurts, whether it’s stretching us, or poking us, or singeing us, there’s an opportunity for growth.

Though I want to close my eyes and hum real loud and drown out the invitations to grow, the only way to be close to God, to be transformed, to get out of the little, narrow, grey everyday lives we live, is to let the difficulties wash over us, to let  God come close to change us and to pour his strength into us–that’s what Moses let happen to him.

a truth about relationships

I’m speaking broadly here–not specifically about marriage or romance, which is what immediately pops to my mind when i hear (or read) the word “relationship”–just any level of intimacy with another person, or even with some animals, I’d argue, but that’s another discussion.  The truth which dawned on me today, at a totally unremarkable moment, is that though I may wish and hope and even pray for a relationship to be what it once was, once a relationship is changed, it is never the same again.  Now that I’ve written it, it looks like a simple redundancy.  Duh–once something is changed, it is never the same again.

I’ve been mourning changed relationships.  Ones that used to be close, and i’m not sure why they’re not close anymore–phone calls just stopped being answered one month, and then invitations for dinner were demurred, and now the “relationship” is reduced to (probably one-sided) facebook stalking.  Others ruptured somewhat dramatically, over life choices, and for whatever reason, haven’t recovered.  I keep praying and hoping and wishing and plotting for a recovery.  Today I realized that though “recovery” in the medical sense might be possible (because medically, no matter what happens to you, you’re never quite the same again–heart surgery, serious illness, whatever–your body has scars and adjustments), but a restoration isn’t ever possible, at least this side of Glory (right.  “this side of Glory”, whatever that means–also for another post).

A changed, ruptured, cooled relationship can of course come to a new “better” or at least “different” place, but hoping to get back what has been lost is just sentencing oneself to disappointment.

Therefore.  let us hope & pray for restoration in Christ, and hope & pray for recovery and renovation in our hearts & relationships.

“be safe out there”

Has anyone ever said that to you? Someone, probably many people, probably your parents, has expressed their love and care and concern by wishing for you to “be safe out there.”
Isn’t that a common sentiment of mothers to their children? (whether expressed in exactly those words or not) It’s a wish for protection that the proclaimer cannot provide, an acknowledgement of the uncertainty outside the walls of the home, a desire for the hearer to be surrounded by the blessing of safety.
When I recently heard this sentiment expressed by a fellowship breakfast regular (that is to say, the mostly-homeless crew of 10 or 40 who gather for breakfast Monday through Friday at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham) to another attendee, I was stopped cold.
It was the tail end of breakfast service, most people were getting up and leaving, or already had, and this man is one who usually helps to clean up by stacking chairs, wiping down tables and vacuuming.
He said, “Be safe out there” to a woman who held an infant. Some mornings when I’m running with my dog, I see her going to breakfast, pushing her stroller.
Throughout the day, I see a lot of the people with whom I share breakfast, waiting for buses, walking Ninth Street. “Out there” is the street, is downtown. Outside, in cold and heat and rain.
Friends of mine have recently had babies, and visiting them in their homes, I’m accosted with anti-bacterial gels before I cross the threshold. We talk in hushed tones, babies are changed into new outfits several times a day.
The mother and infant I know from breakfast have very different concerns. “Be safe out there” isn’t just “I love you”–which is what a patent might mean when speaking to offspring, or “don’t do anything stupid on your way home” –which is what one college student might mean, talking to another at the end of the night. “Be safe out there” is talking about much bigger, much more basic things here. If we have no sensible reason–because of where we live, how much food is in our cupboards, how easily we can bathe ourselves and our children, our access to electric warmth and coolness–to fear for our mortal safety, but our sister and her baby must face those questions daily, what luxury are we invoking when we wish each other “safety”?