I was a prisoner on the ship
And forced to stay below
While through the night the battle raged
With bursting rockets' glow
And when the morning came at last
I rose and went to see
Who had won and who had lost
And who was made more free
Across the bay I strained to view
The land where I'd been born
And from the fort the banner waved
Though blackened, shredded, torn
Yet turning round I saw again
From each embattled mast
Those colors same in different form
Proud to the very last
Then suddenly the deck did heave
There rose a sickening swell
Lifting the bodies of all the slain
The bitter truth to tell
Red was the blood upon their hands
And white the pallor of death
Blue the depths that swallowed whole
Their bravest and their best,
Their bravest and their best.
The wave washed by, and in its place
I saw a mountain there
Upon it was a table laid
With earth's abundant fare
And seated round from every race
Were those who had withstood
And bowed no knee nor gave salute
To king or national god
And to their host their voices raised
Their anthem ceasing never
"Power and justice and freedom alone
Belong to our Savior forever"
Red is the blood he shed for them
And white each righteous deed
Blue the heavens from which they shine
The truly brave and freed.
A conversation the other day left me uneasy, wondering if I'm being too stubborn or unyielding, and hindering community life not so differently from the new "uncompromising" Tea Party politicians who are making our government more dysfunctional than ever. If no one compromises, how can anything get done?
Thinking about it, though, I was reminded that Jesus also was a bit uncompromising, and seemed to teach his followers to act likewise. Yet he obviously bore little resemblance to the Tea Party politicians. One of the biggest differences I see is that those politicians (like all politicians and their supporters) work to gain political power to implement their "uncompromising" ideas, and use that power to oppose the efforts of others who disagree with them. Jesus wasn't like that. In the discussions about the current problems in our government, the focus is usually on the unwillingness to compromise, or the strong convictions that our own views are the correct ones. But I think the bigger problem is the addition of political power. Being uncompromising or having strong convictions does not hinder others if that person remains poor and weak. It doesn't stop things from getting done. And it doesn't punish those who disagree with us; if anyone gets punished in a disagreement, it's the weak one.
If we're going to be uncompromising and weak, then it's ourselves that we're putting at risk. That's why it's so important that we're standing for the truth, that we're standing with God, because if we're not than we're the ones who are going to suffer.
Even if we don't have political power, though, or the support of many people, our immovability may cause us to not personally help in certain community efforts. Which is usually seen as a detriment to unity and a weakening of the group's ability to accomplish things. But that's only considered harmful if the only power we have on our side is the power of united people, i.e. political power. That is weakened whenever people drop out. But if the group is seeking God's way and hoping to experience and participate in God's power, then a reduction in numbers is no hindrance. God's power is more than enough. And, conversely, if a person is taking a stand for the truth and relying on God's power, it doesn't matter if many people are against him or will not help him. Because it's not by human power but by God's power that the real good gets done.
"For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Lk 9.26)
It seems odd, but it is sometimes very hard not to be ashamed about speaking Jesus' words to people. In the face of real suffering the promises sometimes seem so unreal (and unrealizable) that they can easily sound ridiculous, or even cruel.
I'm struggling not to be shamed into silence.
Today gay marriage is the top news story. The president yesterday said he supported it, the first time a president has said so. And North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly to add a constitutional amendment banning it in their state.
The arguments for equal civil rights make sense to most people, it's just the "marriage" part that many object to. And this objection usually has something to do with religion. What seems to be overlooked, however, is that if we really believe what the bible (and Jesus) taught about marriage, then the whole fight over gay marriage becomes irrelevant.
When asked about divorce, Jesus said this about marriage: "They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Thus marriage is God's doing. We human beings can't make "one flesh" from two. No matter what the president or lawmakers or judges (or bishops) decide, the nature or marriage and the reality of marriage between any two people is not changed. The civil rights and social obligations may change; those are the creations of our society and we can do with them as we please. But marriage is God's creation, each and every time. Only God gets to decide who is married, who is made one flesh.
It's not our decision to make. Lawmakers cannot stop God from uniting two people in marriage, and activists can't insist on the "marriage" of two people God has not united. The best we can do is try to truthfully discern God's work, what God has done among us. And rejoice in it.
In a conversation with Heather this past weekend (while we were out in the cabin celebrating our anniversary) the topic of "hearing God" came up. That's been something of greater interest to me recently, a part of "the prophetic aspect of faith." It's also been an area of deep struggle and confusion for me this past month, since the miscarriage. Because I certainly didn't see that coming. I actually thought God was telling me we wouldn't lose the baby. Being so wrong about that hit me very hard.
The obvious response to that kind of experience is to just accept that we can only "hear God" very imperfectly, if at all. And learn to live with that.
But I've found myself unable to let go of the desire for a more prophetic hearing, despite the pain and confusion, almost to the point of feeling that I can't let it go. And not quite knowing why, either. Talking with Heather, though, I think I realized that there may be an important reason, beyond some fearful grasping for certitude or presumptuous claim to know more than any human being can know. I don't think it's just a desire, but actually a need. Because the less we follow the well-worn paths of life, and stay within the boundaries set by other people, the more we need to hear the guidance that God is giving us. The further out of the boat we are, the more we need to feel Jesus hand grasping ours. When the people around us are not showing us the way forward (but rather yelling for us to turn back) then we need to hear God's voice clearly.
So if I can't learn to live without it, what do I need to do? I guess I need to focus more on discernment. Clearly I have not heard God well enough lately. I remember thinking before that one unique aspect of God's way of speaking is that he doesn't have to speak only by one means, or one mouth. God can get through to us by speaking from many different sides, through people and circumstances and prayer, on and on. It's easy to fool ourselves with voices in our own heads. God's voice is much deeper, and much more interwoven through all of reality. I need to pay more attention to that and be more discerning. I really need to.