Notice what he says at the end of verse 7 [of Philippians 2]: "all of you share in God’s grace with me." Paul’s god is generous. Paul’s god gives grace. Paul’s god gives peace. His god gives this grace and peace in such a way that others can share in it. This god provides a spirit to give you wisdom, strength and courage and perseverance to actually make sense of your suffering. Paul’s god is generous.He goes on to describe trinitarian theology (the idea that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are different and the same at the same time) as an active, fluid, never static interaction between three forms of the Divine in which they give and receive to and from each other in an intricate dance of community. They have always been like this, even before humans were created, actually before time itself. He then says that we were created to join in the dance. To both serve and receive from God. To take things that are offered to us by other people and to offer what other people need to them. To be in community.
Have you ever had something great happen to a friend of yours and they were celebrating and it was an amazing thing that happened and you were supposed to jump up and down and cheer and send them a card and email: “Thinking of you! Wonderful!” . . . and yet the truth is, deep in your bones you didn’t really want to celebrate. You actually had a little bit of a “erngh” towards this things that had happened to them. Anybody ever have this feeling? And you feel terrible about it. (The rest of you are liars.) :-) And you feel, for a split second, you feel terrible . . . I would argue that sometimes what we struggle with is “Is God generous?” or “Is there scarcity in the universe?” . . . It all stems from a deeply held suspicion we have that the universe is not generous. That because they have gotten good, that somehow means that I am going to be deprived. But Paul’s god is generous.
During my morning devotional today (i.e. while I took a shit and read The Spirituality of Imperfection), I read this passage:
Thus, when we join groups, we usually do so on the basis of shared strengths. Those who enjoy competing in sports seek out other sports enthusiasts, professors are most comfortable with other academics, coin and stamp collectors, automobile buffs, art appreciators . . . all look for and socialize with those whose interests and skills make possible shared enthusiasms.Do you sense a theme here? The state we are supposed to be in is a state of community. Rob Bell explains that this is why 13-year-old girls talk on the telephone. Even the alcoholics admit this and many of them don't believe in Jesus or the Holy Spirit and think that it's highly possible that God is that doorknob over there. And everyone agrees that real community - satisfying community - is only formed through being vulnerable to one another.
But Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve-Step groups are founded on a different truth: Human beings connect with each other most healingly, most healthily, not on the basis of common strengths, but in the very reality of their shared weaknesses. Among those who accept their imperfection there seems to be a special sense of likeness or oneness in the very mutual flawedness - in "torn-to-pieces-hood" somehow shared.
. . .
This sense of shared weakness creates what is truly community. Participants in such a setting learn to appreciate rather than resent the strengths in others because they know that, at bottom, they are the same - flawed and imperfect. Those who do not share weakness find in others' strengths a threat. But those who recognize shared weakness see in others' strengths a hope: the hope that your strengths might also support me. With shared weakness as our common bond, we can rejoice in another persons' strengths rather than be threatened by them.
I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it? If all we ever showed one another was our shinysmooth face, nothing could stick to us. Have you ever tried to glue two shinysmooth things together? The glue just peels right off. You have to rough them up a little so the glue has something to hold on to.
But Tabitha pointed out to me today that it could be possible that the reason why I feel like I have a history of people pulling away from me when they get too close is because this idea of vulnerability is a church thing. That most people of my generation haven't experienced that kind of vulnerability, that kind of community of shared weaknesses. Instead of being taught that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and so all receive God's love equally, they are taught to always put their best face forward. So, when I feel crestfallen or competitive or conflicted and it shows on my face because I really have no control over that after a lifetime of transparency, they don't know what to do with me and it might just be easier to back away than to figure out what's going on.
I think this is similar to what my mom said when she framed it this way: "You grew up surrounded by people who . . . have values. But between our 60 and your 30 years the world shifted."
And that's true. The friends of my parents, across the board, are good people. Over 90% of them are still married. They have integrity and a sense of responsibility for one another. They don't drink too much to escape and they don't gossip. They enjoy their lives and struggle with sorrow and laugh when they can. They make mistakes. They are vulnerable to one another.
I'm starting to get a fleeting sense that some of the friends I'm making might be these people. The problem is, I never know which ones they are until after I've been vulnerable to them and I learn whether or not they're backing away. And as some back away, I reach out and try to engage new folks that emerge. I'm in the process of doing that right now, just in case. So, when my pastor, Nanette, asked me to read this poem, I cried in relief that she knew me so well.
"Eastering" by Barbara PescanSomewhere along the way my group stopped trusting each other. Because I had been vulnerable with them, I think they stopped trusting that I wouldn't overreact and then I stopped trusting that they would include me. When the friend I had dated for about two months of our 9 month friendship asked me to give him some space so he could court someone else at school, the rest of them started having to choose between us and, for the most part, they are choosing him. It breaks my heart just a little but I'm pretty used to this particular ache by now. It creaks a little every time it rains. There's still a chance we can pull out of this death spiral and I hope we do. I like these people. I was starting to love them. Regardless, I think I'll hold on to a few and I assume we'll all look back on this year of our lives with fondness. I hope we'll be able to call upon one another professionally once we get out there and start changing the world. Until this sorts itself out, though, I'll live in resignation. And hope. Trying to receive this unbearable gift of another chance that Paul's generous god keeps giving me.
Why this sadness toward spring?
Half smiles at the first yellow flowers,
Tears pooling for no reason with each rain and sunset?
Each year this green show
blows wide winter's covering and lets us see
the swell and push of beginning again.
Am I meant to rise too?
To push away what leans against the door of my pinched heart?
Compassion for myself
is a slow growing crop,
however carefully tended
it yields an unreliable harvest.
ask more of me than I can give
this hurts more
than the pains of my body
than the old world full of sorrows
this offering of love
this unbearable gift of another chance.