Monday, December 13, 2010

A Broken Jar

When I moved to an apartment community in South Austin last February, I knew I was going through a life change. Not only was I moving physically, but also starting this job in which I was to create community among the residents who were my neighbors. I knew it would not be an easy job. My teammate and I were the first ones to attempt this task in that particular community. I was very optimistic as we signed the dotted lines for a two year commitment. In the beginning, every conversation I had with a passing dog-walker was an exciting chance to enjoy this new opportunity.
After 9 months, the manager decided that the job was not a good fit for us. The program that sent us there also decided we were not a good fit. Now that it is over, it is hard not to look back on it as wasted time and a failure. Despite our efforts, objectives were not accomplished. It is easy to blame people and solve the problem in hindsight, yet it does not really matter.
In Mark 13, a woman interrupts Jesus’ meal by anointing him with expensive perfume. The pragmatic on-lookers suggest that what she was doing was wrong. After all, she could have sold that perfume for a high price and given it to the poor. Jesus did not share the opinion of the on-lookers. Jesus basically said “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me...She did what she could.” Despite the perceived insignificance of this woman’s action, this story has made it’s way through 2000 years into my mind and heart.
May be this can be a new way to look at failure. May be our efforts were a broken jar of perfume that provide a brief moment of pleasant scent before fading away. But Jesus smells it’s sweetness and knows that it is symbolic of that which is good in the hearts of humankind. It feels as if everything has returned to square one, but a broken jar exists as a testimony of a heart’s devotion, even after the scent has faded.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Moving: Box or Bag?

As I write this, just about everything I own is in a box or a bag. It will all be transported elsewhere today in the back of my truck. I thankfully saved all of the boxes that I used almost a year ago when I moved to this place. Moving is kind of a strange experience in which I always feel a little nostalgic. I really do not like moving.
Even if you do not move to another city (which I am not), it still changes a lot about one’s day-to-day experiences. I will likely be driving different roads, getting groceries somewhere different, and going to a different gym. It seems like a small change, but it is a big one that requires quite a bit of adjustment. For a while I will have to do things much more consciously, instead of going through my established patterns.
In Mark 13, Jesus warned his disciples that some things would be moving. As they were walking through what was one of the world’s greatest cities of that time, the disciples could not help but be impressed. When they pointed this out to Jesus, he told them it would all change: “Not one stone will be left on another.” He was right, the move did happen. The good news is that Jesus promised it would be okay. Even though they needed to be on guard, they also would be given the spirit to help them in their weakness. 
So may be the message of moving is to remind us what is important. God is everywhere, even when my world is moving around me. Not one of these boxes will remain on another. I will get settled somewhere else, then at some point I will move again. But God is good and he will be there too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Pessimists' Gospel

Every year my family attends the Christmas parade around the town square in Granbury, Texas. The parade is organized by the Granbury council of churches. The entries usually include the high school band, at least three fire trucks, Jeeps and Harley owners, and local churches. The church floats make up the majority of the parade. Every year, the theme is “Jesus, ...” like “Jesus, Light of the World.” This year it was “Jesus, The Prince of Peace.” Pretty much every float is a nativity scene every year. They just differ in how they adorn the trailers and pickup trucks. It feels like you are in a slightly more redneck version of a Norman Rockwell painting.
In Mark 12, Jesus tells a parable that kind of turns our hopeful picture of advent around. He speaks of a man who built a vineyard and hired others to tend to it. When the man sent servants to collect from those working the vineyard, the renters beat and killed his servants. He finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed. At the end of the parable, the listeners knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. They knew that Jesus was describing the way in which these Jewish leaders had persecuted men of God.
When viewed in this light, God sending his son seems to have been both exalting and embarrassing for the human race. It was embarrassing because they just could not right the ship themselves. I can imagine it like an 8 year-old boy helping his dad fix the car. If his dad asked him to hold a screw, he might feel very sad and insecure when he had to tell his dad he could not do it. 
Jesus came and exposed their weaknesses. We rejoice because we know it needed to be done, but I can see how they would be upset and defensive. The light of the world does not just shine on nativity scenes, parades, and church services. Jesus also shines in dark alleys, battlefields, and bedrooms.