(Yet Again) Five Minute Monday: Touch

Along the Way Graphic Template

Gentle Reader,

I was so on top of things last week. Back to a regular posting schedule. Back to a regular life schedule. Except for the headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt pretty good.

As The Beatles sing, “I shoulda known better.”

My beloved youths shared their germs with me again, and I’m on day three of being stuck in my bed with a nasty cold. All I’ve done is sleep, drink orange juice, and watch movies. Try to read, by my eyes swim and I can’t focus.

Go.

I’ve never regained feeling along the left side of the scar that bisects my abdomen. Too many nerves sliced up. Between the white line and my belly button is a field of nothingness. Except that it itches, practically all the time. But when I scratch the itch, I can’t feel the scratching.

Don’t ask me to explain this.

Skin is an amazing thing. So many different shades and textures. Senses the slightest movement of air. Responds to the tiniest pinprick. Blushing cheeks. Freckles bursting across shoulders in the summer sun.

Our church culture is not touchy-feely. The world around us has given way to the oversexualization of every person and interaction, and, rather than being a people who redeem and restore, we succumb to paranoia. “Noli mi tangere,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene in the garden that day (John 20:17); we take up “touch me not” as our mantra. So our hands never feel a squeeze in a moment of celebration. Our backs never feel encircling arms during times of grief.

Our bodies are not evil. We can give and receive appropriate, healthy, loving touch. In fact, this giving and receiving should be a natural, normal marker of our communities.

We embrace.

Stop.

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Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

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(Again a) Five Minute Monday: Lack

Gentle Reader,

There is a light at the end of the tunnel of busyness.

Maybe it’s a freight train…

Kate says: lack.

Go.

I lack the ability to see myself as others see me.

Yes, of course, we all deal with that. We’re all surprised by the compliments (and criticisms) that seem to come out of left field. But me, I’m far less taken aback by the criticism. Maybe it’s because, left to my own devices, I’m a real pessimist. Maybe it’s because we women are incessantly told that we don’t measure up to an ever-changing standard. Maybe it’s because I spend far too little time immersed in the healing, loving presence of God, something that I suspect is an issue for many, if not most of us. (I might relate hardcore to Martha and her need to get the chores done).

All I know for sure is that, when I’m complimented, I have no idea how to respond.

It’s not false modesty. It’s not fishing for more compliments.

It’s, “Huh. He really likes me. She said something nice. Why?”

Brain can’t make it compute.

A reminder for me: What I say truly matters. Can really make a difference. Because there have to be others like me out there who’ve latched onto the rough words rather than the smooth. There have to be others who, while not engaged in active self-hate, see themselves as…lacking. And in that sense of lacking, then lack the ability to see the good that others do, the good that God placed there.

Lord, I know that I can’t control my tongue. Any bridling comes straight from Your hands. So Father, please, come reign over my words. The words I speak to others. The words I speak to myself. The words I speak to You. Let my lips be ones that drip with the honey of kindness, gentleness, grace and truth.

Stop.

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Brother Come Close, Sister Draw Near

Gentle Reader,

You would not know it upon a glance
But there’s buzzing in my head

A tingle, shiver, crawls up my spine
And I’m filled with darkest dread

Strive to keep my face serene
Arranged along calmest lines

But know when I respond to you
That I’m really not always “fine”

There’s walking wounded all around
And me, I know that crowd

Not too proud to tell you this
Tho ’tis done with head that’s bowed

Yes, I believe in the healing touch
Of God who reigns on high

But His work in us, it is not done,
Without a struggle or a sigh

Groping about on this earth,
Half-blinded, struggling to see

What to do in the midst of fear
That’s wailing like a banshee

His voice is quiet, speaking peace
I must lean close and listen

That I might choose the better path
And in holiness be christen

There are many other roads
To the right and to the left

Roads I’d frankly rather walk
Than this, with all its theft

But they lead not to God above
As Christian learned in olden tale

And so step on, is what I must
Tho the Devil does assail

Do it afraid, that is my choice
None other can I make

Do it despite, that is the call
Even when my heart does ache

Christ promised trouble in this world
And He spoke not single lie

But He also promised, sure and true
To be near when all does go awry

And so tho I may not be fine
Engaged in unseen war each day

From my God I will not turn
From my Savior ne’er will stray

Thus all that I ask of you
Who read these simple lines

Is that you might come to notice
The strain and struggle’s signs

For I need you, as you need me
We journey through together

Not just on sunny mountaintops
But in the stormy weather

So take my hand, and I’ll take yours
We’ll press along, holding fast

I’ll see you, and you’ll see me
The masks we wear, off cast

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.

– Romans 12:10a (CSB)

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