It’s (not) All Good


I remember the first time anyone ever directed “it’s all good” at me: year one of teaching, Little Rock School District, a zoo of a junior high class. Really. Taurus the Bull, Leo the Lion, Felix the Cat, Fish, Baby Bop…and, me, a bit of a momma bear.

I loved those kids. I often shut them down, but I rarely wrote them up. Rarely. One day, a girl pushed our very broad envelope, so I handed her a discipline slip. She looked at the slip, looked at me, and with a slow shake of her head quipped, “It’s all good, Ms. V. It’s all good.”

Translation: Despite my momentary sojourn into old-school teacher mode, she wasn’t messed up. We were still good.

I learned a lot from my students that year. The things they were dealing with at home were often far from good, and there was little they could do but roll with the punches. In solidarity with them, I learned to say “it’s all good” even when it wasn’t good at all.

Then there was the day when one of the really good kids had a really bad moment. Felix, who was missing a few front teeth courtesy some nasty brawls, started messing with Tanya, who was kind and quiet and almost prudishly reserved. Before I could intervene, she went off on him, like verbally took him o-u-t. A stunned Felix slumped back in his seat and drawled, “Tanya, I didn’t know you could talk like that. I thought you was good.”

Oh, heck to the no! With an oh-snap that was on point, our class’s holiness-movement model spat back, “If I was so d*** good, I could make you some teeth!”

Judge me: I laughed. Felix laughed. The whole class laughed. Then we apologized to the frustrated teacher on the other side of the ply board wall and went on to cover a good bit of grammar sprinkled with shared-joke giggles. It had started off rocky, but that turned out to be a good day.

Good is one of those words like love and blessed and awesome that people use too liberally to take very seriously. We talk about good people, good jobs, good gravy (why do people struggle with this? gravy is easy; biscuits are hard). We say good luck, good riddance, good grief, and, yes, it’s all good.

And it is all good. Except when it’s not.

Cue Genesis.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:9,16-17)

“You will not certainly die [false]” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil [true].” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis‬ 3: 4-6)

That tree looked good and was good for food, but it wasn’t good for man to eat it any more than it was good for him to be alone. Except that whole not being alone thing came back to bite him–pun intended–that day. Eve’s purpose and position as co-laborer and co-steward were good. But she listened to a good speech, desired what appeared to be a good thing, and made a good case for her husband to taste and see with her. And so he did. That was not good.

Well, if they weren’t supposed to eat that fruit, what on earth–literally–was it good for?

Good question.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil was part of the “very good” creation. Since ugly and yucky weren’t things yet, it carried with it no evidence of its negative consequences. Even the consequences themselves may have been nearly impossible for its potential victims to grasp until it was too late.

Which doesn’t seem fair. Sort of like it’s not fair that ice cream looks and tastes fantastic. There is nothing in that sweet, creamy goodness loaded with delightful surprises and covered in tantalizing toppings that indicates its consequence is ill-fitting clothing. Wouldn’t it be good if stuff that was bad for us tasted bad and the stuff that was good for us–like exercise and honesty and praying for our enemies–was easy?

Actually, no. Part of what makes something good is that we get to choose it. Or not.

Because some of the stuff that’s bad for us does taste, smell, feel bad, and we partake of it anyway.

Because we are not always good at making wise decisions whatever the warning…says every tobacco user, heavy drinker, fast-food lover, thrill seeker everywhere.

Because we are too fickle and subjective to be trusted with assigning value to things based on our flawed perceptions, which can be vastly different from other people’s perceptions. Like, there are ACTUAL PEOPLE who do not like ice cream! What the what?!

Because dominion, aka stewardship, requires decisions that aren’t based on personal, often superficial preferences.

Because God commanded. There’s the answer.

To be his stewards, we have to follow his instructions, heed his commands. Which means there has to be something about which he must instruct or command us that requires we choose his will over our desire.

Just as a toddler has no concept of gravity and its effect on his  body, and teenagers have no concept of physics and its effect on the 3000 lb death machines they try to drift across a wet parking lot, Adam and Eve had no concept of the huge chasm between the good they had and the evil they had not yet encountered. And they had no concept of death.

But they knew God.

They’d had the opportunity to “taste and see” that He was good. They’d had the chance to choose obedience over personal preference. They’d heard him say, “Everything is good, but not everything is beneficial.” Well, sort of. Actually, Paul said something like that in his first letter to the Corinthians because some of the folks in the early church were channeling the 21st century and were all like “you can’t judge me!” and “I’ve got my rights!” and “screw legalism!” Okay, not in those exact words. And Paul was all like, “No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:23-24), which was as hard to do then as it is now. But it’s good.

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” The Bible.

And

“All that glisters [glitters] is not gold.” Not the Bible. Shakespeare, et al. Merchant of Venice. About, of all things, a beautiful girl and a coffin. If this prince named Morocco wanted Portia, he had to choose the right coffin–gold, silver, or lead–based on their cryptic inscriptions. The message within his choice would determine his fate. He picked the gold one, because, hello, GOLD. And he was sure its promise of “what many men desire” meant he’d get the girl. And the fortune. Especially the fortune. He was wrong.

The message concealed in the golden coffin was this: “All the glisters is not gold–Often you have heard that told. Many a man his life hath sold but my outside to behold. Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold…your answer had not been inscrolled” etc, etc, bye, Felicia–I mean, Morocco.

If Morocco hadn’t been a shallow, self-centered jerk seeking his own “good” rather than what was good for Portia, he would have recognized which inscription led to the prize. But he didn’t have the good sense to choose the plain lead coffin that on the outside read “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” and on the inside offered him the best of the kingdom.

You see, what those kids in my first classroom taught me is that it’s all good even when it’s not. Sometimes it’s ugly and confusing. Sometimes it’s aggravating and exhausting. Sometimes it’s just plain dumb. But if we resist the urge to give in to our restlessness and recklessness, there remains a reward.  For them it was the ability to shake off the small stuff and to laugh when that wasn’t the easiest option.

For all of us the reward is this: If we love God and remain steadfast in his chosen purpose for us, He will do what only He can do. He will cause all the not-so-good things to work together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

Raise your hand if you knew I’d go there…

And here:

“…But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James‬ ‭1:17‬)

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.

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Sorry, not Sorry

You’ve seen it: the snarky post, the blistering meme, the sarcastic tweet followed by the hashtag #sorrynotsorry.

#cutenotcute

Have you ever been really, really hurt by someone who is genuinely contrite and makes all kinds of promises to “never do it again” only to do it again? Sorry. Not sorry.

And you…Ever felt terrible about something you did only to get over it and, oops, mess up once more? Sorry…uh, not sorry.

Let’s face it: Most of us are good at moments of regret or remorse but bad at, ahem, repentance.

I know. I just slung the biblical dung (as in fertilizer, not excrement, though that’s kind of how folks respond to it…) there, didn’t I?

Yeah. We mess up. We see how badly it hurts somebody. We get sad. We apologize. We lay low for awhile.

Maybe while we’re down in the dumps of our guilt, we convince ourselves we couldn’t help messing up, we had a good reason for it, that it wasn’t as bad as what some other person did, or it was all someone else’s fault anyway. We feel better; we feel justified. We’re all ready to move from sorry to not (very) sorry.

Maybe we even take it one step further and blame our victim. If you hadn’t… If you weren’t… Or (the one that frankly makes me want to punch people in the throat #sorrynotsorry) we play the victim: Can’t-you-see-how-bad-I-feel-for-hurting-you?

Um…huh. Maybe when the searing pain stops and the blood is mopped up and the glass of my shattered confidence is picked from my open wounds I’LL HAVE THE STRENGTH TO SYMPATHIZE! For now, not so much. Sorry…

 
This all reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, there was a guy named Judas who became…disappointed in? disgusted with? determined to manipulate? (you pick; I don’t know) a Man who was really a King who was actually the Son of God. Since he knew some religious, law-loving guys who hated the man, Jesus, and since they were some of the most powerful guys in town thanks to an inherited privilege provided to them under a humble leader and slave liberator, Moses, a friend of the God whose son was being pursued by these haters (#irony), he took the money these religious law-lovers bribed him with and ran with those coins jingling-jangling in his pouch and kissed Jesus on his sweaty, tear-stained cheek so the religious law-lovers would know which friend of sinners/Author of the Law/breaker of bondages/Savior of the world to turn over to their “godless, lawless” oppressors (#andtheironykeepscoming) for torture and crucifixion. Sorry–It’s a really sad story.

But that isn’t the sad part. This is.

Sometime between betraying Jesus to the chief priests and elders and Jesus breathing his last breath for a few days, Judas had an epiphany: He was “seized with remorse [some versions read ‘he repented’] and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.'” The religious guys basically said “not our problem” so our money-lover-turned-betrayer-turned-sick-with-regret Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver at their feet and threw himself into his despair (Matthew 27:3-5).

And I cry every time I read about it. Because I want it to have a happy ending, but it doesn’t. Some stories just don’t. Even stories where you see people “repentant” and attempting to undo their actions. It’s not because some actions are permanent. That’s a given. An abused child will never be un-abused.There are no do-overs for childhoods colored by turmoil and trauma. A rape can’t be taken back. An alcohol-related crash won’t rewind, the victims won’t suddenly live again if the drunk has enough remorse. Adultery leaves a permanent mark on the heart of a spouse. A bit of delicious gossip is a bitter gall in the mouth of the exposed.

And Jesus wasn’t going to be pulled off that cross and restored to his mother, his apostles, his people just because Judas felt bad that he helped put him up there. (#weallhelped #blogforanotherday)

No, that’s not the issue. It’s not the permanence of our actions but the impermanence of our remorse that destroys  our lives and the lives of others. The wronged child, the rape victim, the surviving loved ones, the wounded spouse, the slandered neighbor cannot be “fixed,” but they can be healed, restored, renewed even as those who harmed them can be. It is not magic. It is hard work. And the results are nothing short of miraculous.

So Judas felt bad. Really, really bad. And he confessed. And he returned the money. And isn’t that what he was/we are supposed to do? Isn’t that what repentance looks like?

#sorrynotquite


Yes, Judas was remorseful. The Greek word for how remorseful is metamellomai, which means “to regret” and is the first step toward true repentance. True repentance is indicated by the Greek word metanoia, which means “a change in one’s way of life” as a result of remorse. Judas changed his mind, but he did not endure his sin (another of those icky, biblical terms) long enough to change his life.

 
Judas’s remorse, his sorrow couldn’t save him any more than it could save his victim because it is “Godly sorrow [that] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret; worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  And once convicted (gah! I just keep throwing those holy roller words around, don’t I?) of our wrongdoing, we are to “produce [there’s that hard work I was talking about] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

 

In other words, there are two kinds of “sorry”: the temporary, emotionally-charged kind full of if-onlys and I-wishes and oh-woe-is-mes and the permanent, life-altering, never-again, how-can-I-resolve-this kind ready to take its licks and keep on ticking. One beats its breast in private penance; the other bares its breast in true repentance.

 
Here’s what Judas missed out on, the thing that makes his story such a tragic one: “…This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance (metanoia) for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”  (Luke‬ ‭24:46-47).

 
Judas let regret destroy what repentance could have redeemed. Not the ending I hoped for. Please don’t let it be yours.

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.

Boycott Black…THANKSGIVING?!

Many bloggers have already weighed in on this, so much so that my two cents worth may be mere ripples in a cheap mall fountain. In fact, when I got Matt Walsh’s blog in my inbox recently, I nearly aborted this post because he said a lot of what I wanted to say, what I’d already been ranting about, and said it better. Then I thought, nah, not everyone reads his blog* and I want my few and faithful readers to know what side I’m on and why.

Here’s what side I’m on: Shopping sales on sacred days is stupid. Thanksgiving may not qualify as a holy day, but thankfulness certainly ought to be sacred, as opposed to the cheap game we’ve turned it into by thanking God for parking spots, for discounts on the latest technology, for our favorite food. It’s disturbing that much of what people are showing gratitude for is based on some sliding scale of specialness: “I’m thankful for my home because many are homeless. I’m thankful for my well-stocked pantry because many are starving.” Yes, we ought to be genuinely thankful for our provisions but not because they compare favorably to the provisions of those who didn’t happen to win the born-privileged-in-a-first-world-country lottery. Comparative gratitude is just veiled bragging.

Sort of like this: I’m thankful that I ended up in a profession that allows me to have the week of Thanksgiving off. And while I don’t get paid for those days, I’m thankful that my contract is such that I can enjoy the break without fearing financial ruin. But I’m even more thankful for those who chose the medical and public safety professions. Emergencies don’t take holidays, so those folks can’t always celebrate with their families. I salute them. And gas station attendants. I’m thankful there are a few bright spots providing fuel and coffee to those who must be on the road to assist the rest of us.

But I am not in the least bit thankful that some retailers will be open on Thanksgiving day, and I don’t give a rip how deep the discounts will be.

Here’s why: We already suck** at family time, at setting aside even an hour to just sit and talk to one another without distractions. When I poll my high school students about how many have family meals sans technology, the response is depressing. Fewer than one-third of my bedroom-community, Bible-belt sophomores eat a TV/cell phone free meal with their families once a week. Thanksgiving is a family-oriented holiday. Shopping on Thanksgiving is no more a family activity than the Hunger Games is a harmless contest. Stay home and talk to your kids, parents, crazy aunts and uncles. Play a game. Take a walk. Try some face time that doesn’t require a smart phone.

Here’s another why: We already have enough stuff, hence our shallow list of things for which we are thankful. I’m not saying never make another purchase; I’m just pleading with you to not make it on Thanksgiving. It’ll keep. And it will likely still be on sale, especially if enough of us don’t show up on Thanksgiving. Basic economics, people…We drive the market. It’s time we took the back the controls.

And then there’s this: Because some knuckleheads think it’s a good idea to start Black Friday on Thanksgiving, the people who work for them will miss time with their families (and this it the part that ticked me off the most) to wait on people who have the luxury of having the day off with theirs. Granted, not all of the shoppers will be middle class professionals, but I bet someone could make a pretty distinct have/have not pie chart out of customer/employee stats.

I pointed that out to some acquaintances when the “Open Thanksgiving Day” announcements started hitting the newsfeed, and I was stunned at the responses: “So, they’ll probably get time and a half. I bet they could use the money” and “If they don’t like it, they can just quit, work somewhere else.” Um, no. I was a single mother for several years when my three children were young. I had not yet completed my degree, I was receiving no child support, my car was good for only short trips. My employment options were limited, so–because social services programs don’t pay for everything (or end poverty) and because I knew that I alone was responsible for my children and my choices–I took various low-paying jobs with few benefits to keep the electric bill paid and the kids in second-hand shoes. I could not have afforded to walk off those jobs: If I had been scheduled by my employer on a Thanksgiving, I’d have had to find a relative to keep my three small children so I could spend the “holiday” waiting on people who were getting discounts on things their children didn’t need at any price. I would not have been grateful for the time and a half. I would have been…sad.

I know exactly what it feels like to be treated like a scullery maid by someone who could not give a flip about my forlorn little family as long as she gets “an amazingly good deal, y’all!” and still has time to enjoy a latte and designer pie with her little darlings…or Folgers and leftovers…or whatever. And I know exactly what it feels like to have to work for whatever whenever so a corporation can provide bonuses to its already far-above-the-national-average executives who fly their families to resorts for the holidays.

I’m thankful I am not–and never will be–one of those jerks. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my friends and my family. I challenge you to do the same.

James 1: 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 

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* For the record, almost everyone reads Matt Walsh’s blog. And if my audience starts reading it, I’ll have a lot less to write about.

**A lot of you recoil at this word because you associate it with a very narrow, very inappropriate connotation. But it existed long before that vulgar usage (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, don’t ask me to explain it) and has maintained several meanings during and since. Bottom line: It fits here.

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