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#25 – “Don’t be humble—you’re not that great.”

Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel

Golda Meir was one of the 24 signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. She served in numerous posts in the Israeli government before she became Prime Minister in 1969. With her accomplishments in mind, I keep wondering if she was referring to others and herself in this quote or just to others. After all, she was pretty “great” in the grand scheme of things. And according to her, you have to be great to earn the right to be humble. Ha!

Meir’s quirky quote reminds me of something I once heard: “Jesus was the most humble Man on earth, but He was the least modest.” It took me a minute to grasp it then, and it still does:

  • Jesus was raised by two poor parents without expectation of a jeweled crown or a fancy robe or the finest food.
  • Jesus chose to hang out with the “lowlifes” of His day: He walked and talked and ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners of all stripes. He wanted to.
  • Jesus willingly took on a criminal’s death.

So He was humble. But He wasn’t modest. How? From a young age, Jesus knew who He was: the King of Kings, the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Anointed, the One. When Jesus asked Peter who He was, Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Christ showed no modesty. He didn’t coyly reply, “Oh Peter! How silly! I’m just little old Jesus.” He referred back to the Source—His Dad—who also happens to be the Creator of the world.

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#24 – “Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; [...]

John Updike, author

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fail. Let us not mock God with metaphor [...] let us walk through the door.”

A post of questions.

The first big one: Is the Resurrection true (Jesus bodily died, Jesus bodily rose), or is it just a nice, tidy parable? And does it matter which one you believe?

Why does Updike believe that viewing the Resurrection as metaphor is a mockery of God? If Jesus’ Resurrection was just an analogy for the power of God, does it necessarily deny the power of God?

If Jesus did rise bodily from the ashes of death, then it’s a miracle, right? And how do you feel about miracles?

The whole concept of God taking on human shape, and all the liturgy and ritual around that, had simply never made any sense to me. That was because, I realized one wonderful day, it was so simple. For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied. That’s all. God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love. ” – Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinsky

So, just say Jesus did take on human shape and was born of a woman the way babies are born. Just say He lived like men live, was tempted like humans are tempted, felt the same feelings that all people feel — then wouldn’t He have to die like we all die? And if He rose, wouldn’t it have to have been in His body because He was a man

Updike encourages us to walk through the door. More questions await us there.

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#23 – “The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, [...]

G.K. Chesterton

and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence [. . .] When I heard that I was in the wrong place [. . .] my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. I knew now [. . .] why I could feel homesick at home.”

Chesterton gets right to it: If I am indeed in the right place — if the world “as is” is where I am meant to be — then how does that make me feel? Do I feel at ease? Do I feel like I belong? Do I feel optimistic about the future?

Or.

Do I have a strange, can’t-put-your-thumb-on-it sense that I am in the wrong place? That either something went amiss a long time ago, or I was actually meant for somewhere else?

These questions are only the beginning. The rest — the creeds, the doctrines, the words, the rites, the passages, the theology — is the whole other story.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we began
And know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot

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#22 – “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Proverbs 25:2

When I was new to reading the Bible as a young adult, I read this verse and ate it up: God doesn’t show us all His cards; we need to work a bit to figure out His moves. It’s our glory to do so. We should relish the opportunity.

One of the most impactful books I’ve ever read about Christian history and sociology is For the Glory of God by Rodney Stark, a professor at Baylor UniversityIn it, he asserts that universities are a Christian invention (established to train priests and monks). Even though higher education has changed radically since the 13th century, this claim is hard to argue (look at the histories and mottos of the Western world’s most prestigious universities for proof). But Stark says something more surprising, something that sounds — to me — controversial:

Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comphrehension. In contrast with the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done.”

Was science really developed by Christians? If so, are science and Christianity as incompatible as we’ve been led to believe? (I am humbly asking this as a former English major. I have absolutely no scientific skill or inclination. But Stark is very convincing in his argument if you want to dig deeper.)

Regardless of the answer to the above questions, Proverbs 25:2 is still one of my favorite Bible verses. Why? It honors the rigors of learning, searching, asking, growing:

If it is God’s glory to make us work a bit to understand where He’s coming from,
it is our equal glory to be part of such a life-changing search.

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#21 – “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a harder battle.”

Plato

A lot has been said about kindness recently. There’s the viral commencement speech on kindness by George Saunders, a post by Steve Wiens on being kind to those who work behind counters, and a pumpkin spice latte trend that is paying kindness forward.

There are a lot of good reasons to be kind (the Golden Rule leading the pack). But I like Plato’s reasoning, too. Many times I’ve heard, “You shouldn’t judge others because you don’t know where they’ve been, what challenges they’ve had, who they’ve lost, how they tick, why they are.” Which essentially means: “You don’t know what battle they’re fighting.”

So, as we were taught — and as we instinctively know is right and good — we should be kind. But if that’s just too much to take in every situation, I think there’s a place for the advice of Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), too:

If you can’t be kind, at least be vague.”

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#20 – “I know now, Lord, why You utter no answer. You are Yourself the answer. Before Your face questions die away.”

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Post #19 was on doubt, which — when we experience it —  is a strange sort of “proof” that we have faith enough to question.

C.S. Lewis acknowledges we don’t always hear answers to our questions. We may wonder why John isn’t healing, why Marie is stuck in a bad cycle, why Louie can’t find a job, et cetera, et cetera. Where are we supposed to go when we hear no answer?

You are Yourself the answer. Before Your face questions die away.”

Above my desk are two paintings. One is of the Prodigal Son coming home, begging his father for forgiveness. The other is a profile of Jesus, battered, with thorns on his head, shrouded in pain. I never realized until this very moment the power of these images side by side. The father embraces his wayward son: “Come home, my Prodigal.” Jesus embraces His holy calling: “I am the answer, my Prodigal.”

I disagree with Lewis that our questions die away. In this life, we’ll always have questions. But we are blessed to have a Face to look to when we ask them.

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#19 – “My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

A man with a child possessed by an impure spirit asks Jesus if He can heal the boy. Jesus answers, “If I can?” The father immediately realizes Jesus is the real deal and exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Doubt mixed with belief, anticipation mingled with guarded hope. The father pronounced perhaps the most genuinely human line in the whole of the Bible.

Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, had one of those storied lives you wouldn’t be surprised to find in one of his novels. He found early success as a writer. He was set to be executed for his politics but instead did four years of hard labor in Siberia. He had epilepsy and had to beg when he fell to his gambling addiction. He wrote, traveled, had affairs, lost a child, and believed and disbelieved again and again.

He said that his hosanna (his praise, his hallelujah) came not from his faith, but from the burning questions about his faith. So, when a person doubts  — the father, Dosteovsky, me, you — doesn’t it demonstrate there’s a faith in place to question? And isn’t that a great start?

We both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.”  – Emily Dickinson