Friday, February 21, 2014

On An Orphaned Baby Dragon

As much as I love typing out my random thoughts in this blog, fiction is still my true love. I am now 60,000 words into my current work in progress, a fantasy novel that is threatening to become a scale-tipping tome. In my current revision I'm working in some short stories, old-world fables that may or may not actually be true (in that world). Just for fun, I thought I'd paste one in here, to offer a peek at what goes on in my imagination. You've been warned: here be dragons.

     It was in the days when the Ancients and the dragons were at war. The King had come across a great golden dragon and her young, a half-grown blue male and a tiny female, only a few years old, who glowed with the soft purple of the amethyst. The mother dragon heard the King coming and warned her son, who immediately took flight, but the baby was too young to fly well. Quickly, the mother hid her baby beneath a huge gold wing and turned to face the King of the Ancients, who was armed with a bow and arrows designed to pierce dragon armor. She tried to Speak to him, to tell him she was not an enemy but a Servant of the One as he was, but he would not listen. As she reared up to defend her baby, he shot the bow with the skill of the master, piercing her heart. She fell, and as she did, her wing knocked the baby’s head and she fell too,unconscious, one leg trapped beneath her mother’s dying body. 
     Hours later, the baby awoke in confusion. Her leg hurt terribly, crushed underneath her mother, who by that time had grown cold. She keened in pain and mourning, a terrible, lonely sound that only dragons can make. Her brother had fled, her mother was gone, and she knew she would most likely die there, orphaned and injured in one of those terrible twists of fate that sometimes happen when the servants of the One pursue their own crusades instead of paying attention to His desires and interests. The little dragon did not know much, but she did know that her mother had fought against the evil dragons and did not deserve to die. The keening continued until her throat ached almost as much as her leg. She was so distraught, she didn’t hear the rustling in the nearby undergrowth.
     “Hush, little one. Do not be afraid. If you let me, I will help you.” Despite the gentleness in the voice, the baby was filled with terror when she recognized the language of the Ancients. She choked and looked around in horror, but her vision was blocked by her mother’s wing. Then the wing was lifted, and she looked for the first time into the face of the King’s daughter. Tears filled the girl’s eyes and tracked down her cheeks.
     “Oh little one, I am so sorry. Please let me help you. My father does not know that I followed him on his patrol. I was pretending I was one of his warriors, strong and able to help him if he should need me. But at the first sign of trouble, I hid. I heard your mother try to speak to him, but he was filled with fear at the thought that a dragon had found its way so near to our home. He reacted without listening. I tried to stop him, too, but I was too far away and he still does not know I am here. He is gone now, and I swear I will not hurt you. You do not have to fear.”
     With strong arms and gentle hands, the girl lifted the dead dragon’s body enough to free the baby’s leg. “It is broken badly. I do not have a gift for healing, but I will do what I can,” she promised. As she worked, the baby was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that only grew as the days went by. The King’s daughter hid the little dragon in a clearing miles from the city but came to visit her every day, bringing food and herbs to help with her injured leg. Unfortunately, she had spoken the truth when she said she did not have skill in healing, for the leg developed a twist and the dragon never could walk without a limp. However, with the guidance and encouragement of her friend, she did learn to fly well. Once she had grown strong enough to fly away and make her home wherever she chose, she insisted on staying near her friend. Long after the dragon war ended, their friendship continued as an enduring symbol of the truth that the One an take even the worst of circumstances, the most bitter enemies, and make something beautiful from the pain.

Monday, February 17, 2014

On Being Good

I am a pastor's wife. I am surrounded by good people. In fact, we tend to be so good that we compare our goodness to the goodness of others. We measure our worth in our eyes, in our friends' eyes, and in God's eyes, by a certain set of standards, bad behaviors we should avoid and good behaviors we should be able to check off a list. And if someone should happen to fall below those standards, well, we can talk about ways that they should improve themselves, and avoid them until they can manage to behave better. After all, bad company corrupts good character, right? Or is it that bad character corrupts good company? Either way, if I continue to surround myself with better and better people, I should have an easier time making myself better, too. At least, that's how it ought to work. Isn't it?

There is a fundamental problem with this kind of thinking. On our own, in the very depths of our souls, we are not good. None of us are. We are the broken products of a broken world, destined to fail in our endless drive for perfection. Not a very pretty picture, is it? Generally, it leads to one of two responses: We give up on this perfect ideal and just live to get whatever we can out of this miserable life until we die, or we try to cover up the ugliness and imperfection with a mask of goodness. That is human nature. And honestly, it's never going to do us much good. We need a new nature, a perfect mind, a flawless character.

Enter Jesus. God in flesh, born perfect, lived perfect, died to destroy our imperfection, raised to life to offer us His life, His nature, His mind, and His character. The exchange cost Him everything, and it costs us, too. We have to be willing to take it, to admit that we are not enough, will never be enough, and that we need Him to save us. Once the exchange is made, God never sees us the same way again. We are forgiven, clothed in Christ, free from condemnation, free to live the way He designed us to live in the first place. And in a novel, that would be the ending to the story. Everything would be "happily ever after" from that point on. So, why doesn't reality look that? Why are so many of us who have made that exchange still living like it never happened? We do, don't we? We thank God for His blessings, His salvation, His promise of eternal life, and just keep living by human nature, either focused on getting everything we can out of life, or finding that old mask of goodness and trying it back on. We don't even notice that it's filthy. We look out from the mask and wonder what's wrong with other people. Why can't they get their lives figured out? Why do they make things so difficult for us? And come to think about it, when we were promised all this joy and freedom, why are we still so miserable?

Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3) To paraphrase: "What are you thinking? You know the truth of what Jesus did for you. So let me ask you, were you saved because of something you did, or because you trusted in what God did? Are you an idiot? Are you really trying to cover up God's work in your life with your own stupid mask?"

We don't have to wear a mask. God has given us His Spirit, which is everything we need to live the good life He wants us to live. The Bible says repeatedly that the only reason we want to do good is because of His life in us. Only His grace equips us to do good. Philippians 2:12-13 says specifically that we should obey God's commandments and work to live like people who have been saved, because it is God who gives us both the desire and the ability to do good. So even when we live like we are supposed to, it is because of the work of God within us. We still live in a broken world. We still fail. But the grace of God that covers our failures also gives us the ability to live in victory. This is the good news that I live my life to proclaim. My ugly old mask never fit very well, anyway.

Monday, February 3, 2014

On Hate

Last night's Superbowl left me feeling disappointed and disturbed for many reasons, and this morning I've been mulling those reasons over. I had high hopes for the match-up between the Seahawks and the Broncos. If you know me at all you know I don't like the Broncos at all but they had played well all season and I saw no reason to suspect that they simply wouldn't show up to play in the big game. So that was disappointing. In America we've come to expect awesome, mind-blowing commercials in the Superbowl, and although most of the ones I saw last night left me feeling confused, my mind was definitely intact. We've also come to expect lame half-time shows, and I think Bruno Mars impressed everyone. So it was definitely a night that, in many ways, did not fulfill my expectations. But what upset me the most was the behavior, both online and in person, of many Americans.

We had a small party at our house with good food and good friends, people who I spend a lot of time with, and who I enjoy spending time with. And yet, several times I felt compelled to defend our nation, the entertainment, the teams, and even the commercials in the face of vicious, hateful comments from my friends. I have no doubt that I was guilty of some unfiltered comments as well. The spewing of hate has continued this morning on Facebook and Twitter, and I'm thinking it won't end anytime soon. Last night it was made painfully clear to me that in America we have fostered a culture of hate. Witty, sarcastic comments are applauded as being clever, and it's not a long leap from being sarcastic to being spiteful, and then it's another short hop from spiteful to hateful and just plain mean. I have often participated in it, and now I'm feeling really uncomfortable about it.

Why do we hate people who are different? We live in a large nation with millions of people from diverse countries, cultures, backgrounds, and belief. America's diversity is one of its defining characteristics. It's what makes Americans uniquely Americans. Honestly, it's one of the things I love about this nation. I'm not saying I agree with all of it, but I can appreciate it. I live by a very strong moral code and a worldview that espouses the idea of absolute truth. I disagree with many people about many topics, and yeah, there are people, organizations, political entities, and sports teams that I don't like, but spewing hate and condemnation isn't going to do anyone any good.

I've been thinking a lot about grace lately. I even tried posting about it, but it's such a huge concept that I simply can't boil it down into a few words for a blog post. I am convicted by the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, "I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." I can be so critical of others, but if I'm claiming to follow Jesus, I can't ignore these words. My husband (and pastor) has frequently pointed out the idea from John 3:17 that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. We are simply too good at condemning ourselves through our words, our social media rants, and our behavior toward our friends, our enemies, and people we don't even know. We are surrounded by proof that hate, depravity, selfishness, arrogance, and more ugly things dwell at the heart of the human condition. We all fail frequently, publicly, and privately. And yet, God in His grace can and will forgive us and set us free from all of that if we ask Him. It's telling to me that the best picture of grace I saw last night was not from my group of Christian friends but on the show Sherlock (I would elaborate but I despise spoilers). My message to my Christian friends? We need to be more aware of what we're doing, and of the image of Christ that we are displaying to the world. And to my non-Christian friends: I'm sorry. I fail. I'm not perfect, I've never claimed to be, but my God is, and He is the only reason there is any good in me.

I consciously seek to live a life that honors Christ by upholding a certain standard of behavior, but I am aware every day of my need for His intervention in order to be able to live that life. Left to myself, I would be a mean, angry, horrible person. I am often tempted by all sorts of things, and by the power of the Holy Spirit's work in my life I can usually resist those temptations, but I often fail. And if I fail, how can I condemn others for failing, too? It's not right and it's not fair. Can we admit we've been wrong, and let God fix this in us?

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." 1 John 4:5-9