A Good Memory

I remember.

Not everything. I’m not that good at faces and names. I’m also not as good at rote memory–memorizing lists, passages, or poems–as I once was.

But I remember well places, scenes, roads, words, sensations, textures, experiences, tastes.

I remember far too much.

Eating ice cream at midnight when I was 2. Riding piggyback on my dad’s bike to Kindergarten in Legaspi City when I was 4. Mum making sauerkraut in a bucket in her office. The mango tree behind our house blowing over in the storm and the taste of unripe mangoes with a sprinkle of salt. The words of Filipino Sunday School songs. Getting my arm stuck in the washing machine wringer. Wading and swimming in flood waters in Lupagon. Playing with Gardiner Improsso on the IGBI basketball court. Visiting the Andersons in Tagbalaran. The look on the man’s face that I mistook for my Uncle at the airport in 1972. Where I was when my sister told me Mr Wright died (I had only met him once but he took our family to Disneyland.) The smell of the musty basement at my uncle’s church in Madison, Wisconsin. My first breath of Australian air after stepping off the plane in Sydney. How sausage rolls and strawberry milk really didn’t mix well in Grade 4.

1971-05-01 Burning the Clubouse
When we left the Philippines in 1971, our parents allowed us to have a bonfire with our old ‘clubhouse. I’m third from the left.

 

It might not seem so bad, but that’s only a small fraction of my mind’s inner workings. I also remember almost every unkind word I said, every failure, wrong decision, mistake. The lie I told in 1985. The rules I broke in 1986. The car accident of 1987. The wrong song I sang in church in 1996. The embarrassing joke of 1998. The brain snap of 1999. . . Many times my excellent memory feels like a curse.

It condemns me.

It beats me up. It makes me feel inadequate, foolish and, like Cher, wishing I could turn back time.

But I can’t wind the clock back. I can’t take back those hurtful words, unwrite that nasty letter, or undo that wrong move.

People are kind. They forget—or at least they don’t mention it again. I doubt there would be a handful of folks who would immediately call to mind that failed speech I gave, or that embarrassing joke I told.

People also give me advice on how to deal with my memory problems: “It is what it is.” “Accept it and move on.” “We all make mistakes.” “You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t make the mistakes you made.”

While all these are true, it does nothing to mitigate the feelings of regret, remorse, or sadness over the past.

I find it easy to forgive others. I find it incredibly hard to forgive myself.

Memory is like that.

I recall the words of a song from First Call (Yes, I am a CCM tragic straight outa the 80s!) called God is Greater. Not a hugely memorable song and, despite my outstanding knack of remembering useless stuff, I can’t remember anything except this one line: “And even if your heart condemns you, God is greater . . . than your heart.”

God, the Divine Presence, the ever-loving, always forgiving, Eternal One is greater than anything that might condemn me.

I’m not discounting the reality of the regret I feel when I remember the bad things I have done or the pain I have caused the people that I have trodden on. That is still with me every day and, quite frankly, sucks. Big time.

What I hold on to is that no matter what my perception is, or has been, the reality of God’s love overpowers all.

Sure, I messed up and, if memory serves me correctly, still do.

But my life lies open before me and I can’t let those moments pass in vain. There are lessons I have learned and I need to move forward knowing that every mistake is redeemable, every wrong path can lead to healing, and every trespass is forgiven. Love wins, always.

 

Embracing Imperfection

One of the often-sung hymns in my early life was one entitled, ‘Yield Not to Temptation.’ The driven-in thought pattern which accompanied such singing went something like this:

‘You cannot be a good Christian if you sin.’

You cannot expect other people to want to become Christians if you don’t show you have victory over the world, the flesh and the devil.’ (or, ‘You can sin as much as you want, but don’t you dare let it be known.’)

‘Your number one aim in life is to avoid doing whatever may even appear to be evil so you can maintain a good testimony in the world.’

The words of the song provided the perfect backdrop for such a lifelong drama:

Yield not to temptation
For yielding is sin
Each victory will help you
Some other to win

Sin avoidance was the key to a successful and ‘victorious’ life, and, through this seemingly-successful life, others would be drawn to Christ.Sometimes God chooses to shine forgiveness and love through the broknness and imperfections in our life.*

Yet, the more I understand Jesus, and the more I am exposed to people who are sincere followers of his way, the more I see imperfection as being the cracks through which the love of God can shine–windows through which God’s forgiveness can be seen.

Richard Rohr writes of this ‘losing’ lifestyle thus:

One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealized concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.

Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ “losing” the very redemption of the world—yet we run from it. I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds—much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe.

St Paul well said, ‘[God’s] strength is made perfect in weakness.’ In our imperfection, in our humanity, in our losing, God’s grace–the one perfect constant in our life–is seen for what it truly is: fully unconditional, all-encompassing and imperfection-embracing love.

So I embrace my imperfection. It’s part of who I am as a human being. I will not and cannot be perfect. I cannot keep up a ‘victory’ front, appear to be squeaky-clean, look like Jesus. But I can trust, humbly live my life in my humanness, and believe that, through the imperfections, God’s glory will shine.

____________________

* The irony of this scenario seemed to me to be that one would put on a facade so they would attract others to Jesus. The new convert then would be taight that they too must put on a similar appearance to draw in others into this vicious cycle of hypocrisy and deception. In hindsight, I should have seen how unlike Jesus this really was.

Me and My GPS

HookTurnI am so grateful for the invention of the GPS.

I was even more appreciative of this on a recent visit to Melbourne where everything was unfamiliar and strange (Is this the only city in the world where you have to go to the far left hand lane in order to turn right?)

What I discovered, apart from the most direct route to get anywhere, were a few telling things that I can’t help but relate to life in general.

I love the way my GPS is forgiving.

It doesn’t hassle me when I make a wrong turn. It doesn’t declare in it’s soft, feminine (North American) voice, “You stupid idiot! Why didn’t you follow my commands?” Likewise, it doesn’t stop showing me the way because I made a wrong turn. It quietly, quickly, recalculates  where I’m headed and adjusts directions so I still arrive at my destination.

Life’s like that. God’s like that. No love lost. No refusal or turning the back on me. Just gentle forgiveness… and recalculating so I still get where I need to go. Grace.

But my GPS can still be wrong. At least in my opinion.

We were driving towards Mt. Dandenong and I could very clearly see the summit was to the right of the road on which we were travelling. The GPS, however, didn’t agree with me. Over and again it said (in a patient, peaceful voice), “Turn  left on Wombat Road.” I knew Wombat Road led downhill and away from the summit, so my response (to my wife’s amusement) was simply, “Whatever.” And I let the GPS keep harassing me. Passing Wombat Road, my artificially-intelligent friend recalculated and told me to take the  next left turn to get me to what ‘she’ thought was my destination. Only when I turned right and arrived at the summit of Mt. Dandenong did I realise the GPS was right–as far as its maps showed. While were standing on top of Mt. Dandenong, the township  of Mt. Dandenong was showing on the map as being downhill to the east a few kilometres.

Truth is, I need to be precise when inputting information so I get to the right destination. I also need to make room to get it wrong. Based on the best technology and the latest maps, the turn-by-turn navigation will always be as accurate as I ask it to be. If I tell it to take me to Melbourne Airport, it may direct me across the ocean to Melbourne, Florida. I  need  to state clearly, “Melbourne Airport, Victoria,” or, more specifically, “Rental Car Returns, Melbourne Airport,  Victoria.” (Doing so may prevent the embarrassment of ending up in the parking lane only to have to reverse and cross three lanes to get to the correct entrance. Grrrr…)

I would not have survived  Melbourne without a guide that knew the way around. Sure, we had a few “Drive around the block a few more times” moments, and a GPS can’t tell you the food will be OK at that restaurant it directed you to. But, overall, it was calming  knowing that somebody (OK, I did attach personhood to my GPS) knew the way.

And that, my friends, is also reassuring in my life. Call it “God,” “The Universe,” “The Great Spirit,” or “Cosmic GPS,” but it always good to know that, no matter how many wrong turns and dead ends you encounter, recalculations will be made, forgiveness is not an issue, and you will arrive at your destination safely.

(And to cap this all off nicely, I believe The Universe just sent me a sign because where I typed “destination,” autocorrect changed it to “detonation.” Well,  that is one way to come to an end. . . .)

 

 

 

God of the One More Chance

secondchanceI recently read an interesting little book called Gracenomics which has everything to do with second chances, and third, and fourth . . . Around the same time I was impressed by the group behind the book, People of the Second Chance, whose business is lifting broken people up and enabling them to believe in grace.

More than anything else, I believe people long for forgiveness and a clean slate. Many of Jesus’ stories were grace-focused accounts of radical forgiveness.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, known on the web as Sarcastic Lutheran, speaks about one such parable–the Fig Tree and the Vineyard Owner–in a recent sermon, posted on Patheos:

The fig tree that for whatever reason cannot produce.  I feel like that not infrequently, maybe you do too.  Unable to produce.  Produce writing, or results at your work, or completed job applications. Unable to produce the improvement in the relationship with your mother than you’ve been trying to accomplish.  Maybe we are all fig trees in a way.  Unable to start that exercise program we know we need, unable to make our lives “more spiritual”, unable to keep a clean kitchen.  And sometimes we just give up.

That’s why we so much want–need–to believe that grace is real and God is outrageously and generously good.

Yet, somehow it remains very human for us to think that we cannot be the beneficiaries of such extravagant love. Bolz-Weber concludes:

I feel like the vineyard owner and the tree all at once.  Like I’m my own defendant, judge and jury at the same time.  And I’d love nothing more than to stand here and say that this only happens once in awhile but the fact is it happens all the time. Impatience with myself and others.  Which is why eventually this little parable really broke my heart. Because once I realized that I felt like the tree and the vineyard owner at the same time, both the one who does not produce and the one who harshly judges the lack of production..well when I realized that it felt amazing to make the next jump – which is to realize that God is the one in our lives who steps in with a big sledgehammer of grace and advocates for us saying “one more year”

Another year.  Another month.  Another week.  Another day.  This is what God comes to us offering like an endless deferment of your student loan

One more year, people of God.  One more year to do what needs to be done.  One more year to believe you really are the beloved child of God God has claimed you to be.  One more year to trust in God more than money.  One more year to forgive others.  One more year to forgive yourself.  One more year to put your mistakes behind you or better yet see them as the fertilizer God puts around you so that you can produce fruit.  One more year to be fed at the table of God’s grace.  One more year to be enchanted by the story of Jesus.  One more year to help someone else.  One more year to feel loved.  One more year.   This is the God we see in Jesus Christ.  A God who tells our inner judge-y vineyard owner to back off because you are a beloved child of God who God has named and claimed and forgiven and loved as God’s very own so that you can bear fruit.  So to all of you God again says…one more year.  Amen.

One more year . . . one more chance . . . every day is new and the mercies extended are never-ending.

All is Grace

I finished reading Brennan Manning‘s book, All is Grace, a while back and have been meaning to write about it but, for once, I am lost for the right words to convey how much I was moved by Manning’s story.

All is Grace is autobiography at its best–not simply a story but one that draws the reader into the author’s life and, more importantly, the joys and sorrows and lessons learned. Black Coffee Reflections blog writes of this book as being “A true testimony of a man who desired to be devoted to God but was insistent on sabotaging himself and the will of God at every turn. Brennan seems to know two things in his life: Despite his talents, he is his own worst enemy, and two, he knows he must cling to the grace of God to get him through – hence the title, All Is Grace.”

What I most appreciated about this book–in fact in all of Brennan Manning’s books–is his honesty and vulnerability. He has no problem divulging the dirtiest of secrets or the deepest of sins. And he has plenty to reveal. . . . but then, don’t we all–if we are honest with ourselves?

Brennan does this in such a way as not to paint any masterpiece of his erring ways, but to paint a glorious picture of God’s great love and all-forgiving grace. One cannot read this book and not see the grace and generosity of God.

I recall only a few times when I have been struck with such a powerful image of grace and both relate to books I have read and how they spoke into my life at precisely the right moment. The first was Why Grace Changes Everything by Chuck Smith. Here I began to understand grace as coming to me not because of my ability or effort, but simply as a gift as I rest in the goodness of God. The second was In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado where the overwhelming love of God and unrelenting graciousness was first revealed to me.

Manning’s book takes God’s grace one step further. While Smith and Lucado both wrote beautifully about grace, Manning experiences this truth in a immensely significant way and shares his struggles, his failures, and his pain to show us that God’s grace is real and far stronger and greater than anything we can throw up against it.

God took one of the lowest points in Brennan’s life to teach him a lesson about the magnitude of his grace and forgiveness. Brennan’s mother had passed away and, partly because of his memories of her and his life at home and partly because of where he was at this point in his life, he turned to the bottle. He was so drunk he totally missed his mother’s funeral.

One of the questions I’ve often asked myself is, What makes a man drown himself in drink to the point that he passes out and misses his own mother’s funeral? It has seemed like a huge question to me. but eventually I realised: It is not the question. There is another question behind it. a more seminal one that forms and informs all my others. Not long ago, I came across a small yellowed piece of paper in my stack of writings. It has the letterhead “Willie Juan Ministries” with a scratch below it from my own hand, a single line, a question: “What is the telltale sign of a trusting heart?”

I cannot remember when I wrote it or what might have prompted the question. Yet it is there, evidence of a ragamuffin’s lifelong wondering. Here is my answer, the answer that is. as Thomas Merton wrote, “the ‘Yes’ which brings Christ into the world.”

The trusting heart gives a second chance.

I know that’s true because of an experience I had on a November day in 2003. My mother had been dead and gone for close to ten years. As I was praying about other things, her face flashed across the window of my mind. It was not a worn face like that of an old mother or grandmother, but a child’s face. I saw my mother as a little six-year-old girl kneeling on the windowsill of the orphanage in Montreal. Her nose was pressed against the glass; she was begging God to send her a mommy and daddy who would whisk her away and love her without condition. As I looked, I believe I finally saw my mother; she was a ragamuffin too. And all my resentment and anger fell away. The little girl turned and walked toward me. As she drew closer, the years flew by and she stood before me an aged woman. She said, “You know, I messed up a lot when you were a kid. But you turned out okay.” Then my old mother did something she’d never done before in her life, never once. She kissed me on the lips and on both cheeks. At that moment I knew that the hurt between my mother and me was real and did matter, but that it was okay. The trusting heart gives a second chance; it is forgiven and, in turn, forgives.

Grace doesn’t stop with forgiveness by God, but works its way through the heart of the forgiven one until he or she, overwhelmed by God’s love, then becomes a channel; of that generous grace in forgiving others. Grace, then, becomes a life. Broknenness becomes a path to understanding love. Pain becomes an avenue to trusting. Vulnerability leads us to see how much we are loved by God.

And then we realise, as Brennan Manning does, that

All

Is

Grace.

Meanderings & Musings

I came across a powerful website The Forgiveness Project which shares with the world a better way to live by forgiving past wrongs and hurts, and restoring both the victim and the perpetrator (where possible) to a life of wholeness and freedom. In its many pages, this site tells the stories of so many people (some are pictured on the left) from all walks of life and all parts of our world who have experienced the power of forgiveness as a healing force in their lives. These people have found that there is freedom in forgiving another, even when you find that you can never forget what has taken place. Visit The Forgiveness Project with an expectation that you will be inspired by those whose lives you encounter there.

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My friend, John van de Laar fi South Africa, shares around the parable of the workers in the vineyard in his post Beyond Meritocracy on his Sacredise site. I was reading this parable Sunday afternoon since it is part of the Lectionary readings for the day, and once again marvelled at the grace of our loving God. Here’s some of what John wrote:
‘. . . [I]t’s difficult to read this parable and not hear the call to relinquish our own sense of victimhood and competitiveness. The workers who had started early and got paid the agreed amount, were upset because the vineyard owner did not change their agreement to give them more than they “deserved”. They got their hopes up when they saw what happened with the latecomers, but in doing so, they made all sorts of competitive assumptions that they shouldn’t have. In the end, it was their own competitiveness and lack of gratitude that got them upset, not the owner’s generosity. What a difference it would make in our world if we could learn to celebrate the good fortune of others, to appreciate what we have, and to stop casting ourselves as victims who have been “cheated” by “undeserving” others. If we can make this shift in our hearts and minds, we may just discover that the generosity of God, and of those who follow Christ’s teaching, spurs us on the greater creativity and “achievement” as we seek to become more generous ourselves.’ (Read more here)

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This from MINEmergent:

In Praise of the Semicolon
Never put a period, or colon or even a comma where God put a semicolon.

Unlike the settled-
before-its-time
period

or the colon’s
invitation to see all
possibilities

or the exclamation point’s
screaming, insistent
finality

or even the lighthearted
comma with its
sabbath pause

the outrageous
semicolon holds
us in the middle
without yielding to one
thing or the other.

It’s so easy to get lost
along the way where
there is so much
pushing and pulling.

God I believe;
Help my unbelief.
Amen; Life.

Terry L. Chapman

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Here’s an article you may find of interest from G magazine: How to Talk to a Climate Change Sceptic. While the majority of climate scientists (97%) have reached a consensus on the factuality of climate change, politicians, radio personalities, and many in the general population still have their doubts. Click on the link to read the full article.

Forgiveness

We hold each other’s lives
in our hands
What fragility and responsibility
Earthen vessels formed
form loving hands
So easily crushed
by clumsy words and actions
and only forgiveness can reassemble the parts
according to the Maker’s instructions

Lord of all life
grant us forgiveness
for our judgmental thoughts
and wrong attitudes
for the poverty of our actions
and the words
with which we
wound

Liz Babbs in The Celtic Heart: Reflections for Life’s Journey (as quoted in MinEmergent 27 March, 2011)