Friday. Good.

I’ve always wondered about the connection between Easter and chocolate. Let me not even get started on the man-size bunny that supplies eggs. Where I live now, in Australia, the spring theme of Easter at the beginning of autumn just adds to the strangeness. At the same time, it’s good to break out of the seasonality of the Christian calendar. The commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is relevant in all seasons, everywhere.

Whatever you make of it, this single execution some 2000 years ago is still news. Controversial, life-changing news for tens of millions. The danger for people like me who grew up in church and have heard the Easter story countless times is to let it wash over us a bit. Crucifixion is a horrible way to die, by anyone’s standards, and to become de-sensitised to it is to risk missing the enormity of what Jesus did.

Maybe to guard against that I have heard a fair few preachers deliver gory crucifixion sermons over the course of my life, doing in words what Mel Gibson did in pictures in his film The Passion of The Christ; it took me years to bring myself to watch it as my own imagination had already supplied plenty of footage, but I was glad when I eventually did.

My lent preparation for this weekend of commemoration, my phase of not complaining, really came out of a desire to get to an authentic gratitude, acceptance and humility before God. Not because I’m superspiritual (a casual browse of this blog will tell you that) but because that’s what God deserves.

Recognising a power greater than myself is not alien. My life, and yours, is full of authority figures, ranging from parents through teachers to bosses. I didn’t prostrate myself before any of these, but it is right and apt that I should do so before God. All the more so when the events of Easter remind me that He actually entered history and let himself be judged and killed by the very people he had created.

This morning in church we had a dramatic reading of the arrest and trial of Jesus. As usual in many churches, we in the congregation were the crowd who had to shout out at various times, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ It’s always powerful, and uncomfortable, to hear ourselves implicated in his death. A few days earlier, a crowd had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as a king. Now a different, or perhaps not so different, crowd were baying for his blood. Perhaps they felt he had betrayed them, sold them short, not given them what they wanted – a great political leader to overthrow the occupying Romans. Sometimes I might still feel something like that. I didn’t get what I wanted or hoped for. And so I reject him. I am disappointed that he hasn’t taken the world by storm, stopped evil dead in its tracks instead of relying on people, weak and flawed as we are, to let him work through us.

But then I remember that Sunday’s coming. And that though the crowd had the power to put him to death, it could not keep him dead.  And if we believe, we are also implicated in this resurrection. Rising from death.  The ultimate victory. The fresh start. New life. He had to die so that he could rise. So that we could rise. That surely makes this Friday the start of something good.

Happy Easter

 

 

Day 25. Speech Impediment

A little over 3 weeks ago I started a Lent discipline. The challenge, or opportunity, depending on your personality, was to live an uncomplaining life from now until Good Friday. (It would probably be a good thing to continue with after that, but let’s not get carried away). So far, it has been humbling hearing all my unspoken complaints massing restlessly in my mind. I’ve had to do something with them all, so I have been telling God about them. God responds mostly of late with silence, which simply means he’s handballed it back to me. So then I have to really listen to it myself. Try to figure out what’s actually bugging me. And then either come up with a solution or get help. Yes, that means going back to God again. Contentment is becoming the simpler option, not because I don’t want God’s help (how foolish would that be?) but because it’s not worth all that time and emotion, and also, mysteriously, life is more peaceful when I just let go of my need to find fault.

This week again I noticed that  a lot of my complaints relate to my children, who are all busy with their own transitions, just like the rest of us. When they don’t behave the way I want them to, they earn The Speech, usually introduced by the phrase, “You know what? I am not putting up with/If you could just, for once….” and on and on and so forth. Until maybe a week ago I was quite satisfied that this aspect of my parenting didn’t need sorting. But since then, I have been hearing the speeches in my mind, kindly playlisted by God. As it says in Isaiah 55, his ways are not our ways. And even if his ways turn out better than anything I could come up with myself, the process is rarely straightforward. Or painless.

I’ve been trying to work out why, for example, I so hate having to repeat the same instruction to a child who will, I know, ignore it and then blame me for the outcome. Because it’s frustrating. It’s demoralising. It’s tedious. And it will happen again tomorrow. I realise I wish that they cared as much about whatever the issue is as I do, but the truth is that they don’t. Because they’re kids. In fact they may never care as much as I do. They may be starting out on a lifetime of chaos and poor dietary choices for all I know. But I will try to stop making speeches. Because I don’t enjoy listening to them, and because they haven’t worked. I think I’ll try instead to work with them on the non-negotiables without resorting to lists of misdemeanours stretching back into their infancy. Let’s see how that goes.

It’s not just the kids, either. (Yes, I’ve got a bit of work to do).  Someone very wise told me only yesterday that those differences between couples that make the early part of a relationship so exciting provide “lots of material to work through later” when those differences start to grate. I thought that was a beautifully positive spin on one of the hardest parts of life, learning to live with the tiny niggles that can drive people mad about each other.

So I’m shutting down even more as the days pass, abandoning yet another form of complaining, but starting to consider how to deal with the things that irritate, rather than just talk about them. Learning to pick up my mat and walk.

Onward.

Zeal

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6 v 9)

I don’t think about zeal much, to be honest. It’s a strange word, one you might only come across in an exercise like this one, or playing scrabble. It’s also because when I do think about it, I imagine thrusting pamphlets at strangers, knocking on doors, or preaching on street corners. I imagine selling or giving away all my stuff to live with those who have nothing. And all I do is imagine, because that’s not my life. And I feel inadequate. So I then stop thinking about it. But here it is, the last word in my alphabet series. I must relate zeal to my unremarkable life.

As an adolescent, I carefully avoided all the qualities that even hinted at zeal, to construct a persona that was a bit disengaged, distant and faintly disparaging. I think I did this for at least two reasons. First, I thought it wasn’t cool to get too excited about anything, and second, I was afraid of failing.

Zeal energises; its opposite, apathy, drains. Apathy walks when zeal runs, hangs back where zeal gets stuck in. Zeal promotes and encourages what apathy ridicules or dismisses. Zeal gets up and makes things happen; apathy lies on the sofa eating chips. Zeal is enthusiasm, commitment, energy.  Apathy is… You can probably fill in your own words by now. You see where I’m going.

But there is enormous power in bursting a bubble. Collapsing an idea or plan with a few well-chosen words can make you seem stronger, more worldly-wise. More grownup. It also makes your target appear childish, diminished and foolish and camouflages your own performance anxiety. What a great weapon for the insecure.

I still indulge in apathy at times. Old habits are hard to break.

On holiday I once picked up a book by Dale Carnegie, of How To Make Friends And Influence People fame (famous in my house at least after my Dad got it in the 80s as a gift and was highly offended). The book was about enthusiasm. I read it from cover to cover during one of those first-night-on-holiday insomnia attacks. What interested me most was that the word itself means full of God. Being enthusiastic, he says, is about being full of God. Maybe that’s why it seems a bit other-worldly at times to get all fired-up. Maybe that’s why, when people speak of bringing someone ‘back down to earth’, they’re actually just puncturing their zeal.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Rom 12 v 11)

Zeal is enthusiasm and energy with a focus. It needs a subject, a cause, an ideal. And the focus of my zeal should be clear by now. I may not be standing on street corners but in my own way my zeal is represented in this blog, which aims to try to describe and introduce God – father, son and holy spirit – to whoever is interested to meet Him.

Zeal does not come easily to me. I still tend to climb back on the couch. I still spend whole days, even weeks, there. I battle against what I naturally incline to do (very little, usually) and what I really want to do as the self I want to respect and become. I can get discouraged after a couch day, or week, but zeal reminds me that every moment on my feet, every word written, is a seed planted.