Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Friends with a deity?

Jesus talking with his friend Mary
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!

I have a problem with this hymn. You see, I don’t understand what it means to be a friend of Jesus.

Most of my friends haven’t saved humanity. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any other friends who are also Creator of the universe, so I have no frame of reference for this friendship. I have a poor understanding of what a friendship with God is supposed to look like.

How does one relate to God and how in the world does He relate to us? Hebrews gives us a small glimpse of how the latter happens. We are told that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). I have read this verse many times and I still don’t understand that Jesus actually sympathizes with my weakness. He lived a very human life. I am not intellectually denying this. I am emotionally denying it. I want to question that He understands my loneliness, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.

Francisco de Zurbaran
In general, I would view a relationship in which one party is bearing all the sins and griefs of the other as a highly unhealthy one. But somehow this is exactly what makes my relationship with God a friendship! If we can trust John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, Jesus showed us his love by laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It was this very sacrifice which made it clear that Jesus views us as friends. Somehow the lopsidedness in this relationship makes it possible.

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?

But what about the other direction? If Jesus is my friend, that means I’m His friend! What could I possibly offer in friendship? We have an idea from James that this probably includes belief and that being credited as righteousness because right after we're told that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness, we are also informed that Abraham was called a friend of God. God wants His friends to believe in Him. Well, that makes sense, I guess. But all through 1 John, we are also told that love means obedience. If I love God, I will obey Him. Here is where things don't look quite like my human friendships. I view obedience as a master/servant relationship, not a friend relationship, but somehow it's part of both?

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.

I am not often despised and forsaken by my friends, but occasionally they are not there for me. It’s not usually their fault; it’s just a fact of life. There are times I feel alone. Yet, I know that God will never leave me, so He's clearly the ultimate friend and yet emotionally, I don't get it. God doesn't give me hugs or send me a glance across the room that lets me know He thinks I'm special. I don't know how to have "normal" conversations with an omniscient God. Perhaps I am looking at externals too much. What is friendship, but knowing each other deeply and loving what we find. Clearly God doesn't have problems with knowing and loving. But how about me? Are my problems with claiming friendship with God a result of my not knowing or not loving enough? Quite possibly.

The one verse that convinces me that this hymn is not crazy in ascribing a friendship label to my relationship with Jesus is John 15:15. These words pierce my heart: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Just typing these words (yes, they’re typed, not copy-pasted) made my heart hurt. I am the friend of Jesus. He does not call me servant, but friend! Whether or not I understand what friendship with a deity means, the fact is I'm friends with the God of the universe (or is it multiverse?)!

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's All in the Mind (...and in the legs and lungs)

Green is the colour of my true love’s curves… Er… What I mean to say is that I have been embracing the slopes of the Los Alamos ski hill. Literally. Well, almost literally. It looks something like this:
Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. Those slopes are deceptive.
Don't be fooled into thinking it's an easy climb!
I get out of my car, cinch on my waist pack, and grab my poles. Both waist pack and poles serve to make me feel more legit than I would otherwise. I set out at a steady clip and approach the first green slope. I pause, look up at the green expanse, and say, “That’s not TOO steep. We’re feeling pretty good today. Let’s go.” The plural subject is not because I am hiking with anyone, but because it feels much more like an epic adventure when there is a full party conquering the mountain. And about one third of the way up, there are multiple voices anyway:
“Just keep swimming walking.”
“Emergency Alert! There is pain, fatigue, and thirst! Abort Mission. Abort Mission.”
“Look. Just get to the little green bush there. You can do it. A few more steps. Then, you can take a break.”
“Made it! Took a few more [gasp] steps. Water break!”
“What are you doing?!?!?! No breaks! That was barely three steps. Up and at ‘em. Hehehe. I tricked you. You thought you were going to get a break. I’ll give you one when you get to that tree up there. No, not the one in five paces, the one up on that ridge.”
“But I can’t make it THAT far!!”
"I repeat. Abort Mission."
And somewhere along the way, I tell Nazi Exercise Voice to shut up and I fold over at the waist, lean on my poles, and gasp for air. It’s a very attractive sight.  They really ought to put me on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Just the other day, I was walking up Wildcat. I thought it was Daisy Mae. I would have preferred Daisy May. Somewhere about a quarter of the way up, I was huffing and puffing to put the big bad wolf to shame and I realized, “This slope isn’t easy!” I was very indignant. And to make matters worse, there was a deer complacently watching me for a good ten minutes as I stumbled my way up the slope. He seemed amused by my slow progress. I, needless to say, was not amused. It was only when I got to the top that I saw the slope was a black diamond (translation: much steeper than a nice and gentle bunny hill). Dear reader, there is a price to confusing a blue diamond (Daisy Mae) with a black diamond (Wildcat): you leave your dignity trailing behind you on the slopes.
I decided to take the jeep trail down. No, it wasn’t that I was a chicken. Well, maybe partially. It had gotten dark by then and the moon wasn’t quite bright enough for me to see my feet, so I figured I would be less likely to roll my ankle and die if I took the jeep trail rather than careening down one of the slopes (That's the way of things, you know. First you roll your ankle, then you lie there in pain, and then you die). As I was walking down the jeep trail in the dark, I realized that the pain wasn’t over. You use different muscles for descending than ascending. My quads were complaining about the volleyball I had played earlier in the week. I told them I had enough of complaining. They continued to grumble.
There is no winning...until you have showered, changed into warm, comfy clothes, and curled up in bed to celebrate another physical feat of exercise. Then, and only then, can we recall the green slopes of Apen or Wildcat or Daisy Mae with fondness.