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.

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Mary Did You…Yeah, She Knew. Do You?

Christmas is often anticlimactic; it’s rarely as intense as the preparation. Even reading Luke 2 can be perfunctory and tedious, especially when there are gifts to be opened, fun to be had. 

I imagine Mary knew a bit about tedious, anticlimactic events. After an arduous journey to Bethlehem, she gives birth, perhaps in a stable because Joseph’s people apparently had no room for his (ahem) pregnant fiancé. That lonely, lowly delivery sits in stark contrast to the angel-from-God-highly-favored-overshadowed-by-the-Holy-Spirit message. Rather vulgar way to begin her tenure as mother to the King of Kings, don’t you think?  

Fortunately, things look up a bit with the star-and-shepherds scene a few verses later, followed by–much later than the children’s church skit allows–the super cool visit from the wise men, gifts in hand. Nice, expensive gifts. 

But barely is the wrapping paper off than the young family gets another angel message: Run. Now. Satan is playing Herod like a fiddle, determined to end the royal toddler’s life. They run. Jesus is spared. Others are not. The collateral damage is devastating: Mothers weeping for their children, refusing to be comforted. Surely, our Mary wept with them. And just as surely Simeon’s words began to take shape for her: “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

For many years, that sword hung on a thread above her head. We regard her as “highly-favored” and “blessed among women,” but Mary’s dread must have been building as her son–because that’s what he was to her, not yet her King or her savior, her son–began to attract crowds of followers and factions of haters. 

And then the day came when the sword dropped. That day, Mary was not visited by angels or comforted by titles or envied by her peers. That day, all the years of teaching, training, praying, and loving must have lost their luster. That was her child, innocent and good, being humiliated and tortured and mocked and murdered. This is favor? Her soul pierced?

This is favor. Our souls pierced. Our hearts revealed as hard and impatient.  Our celebrations exposed as shallow and self-serving. This Christmas, every Christmas, we must remind ourselves that it wasn’t a cradle that delivered us but a cross. 

I’ve heard it said that our Lord borrowed a womb and a tomb…and houses and mules and upper rooms. Nonsense. It’s his world. And he didn’t end up in a manger because the world refused him its best, but because its best was no better. Without his presence, nothing–palace or stable–is good. But glory, honor, and fullness of joy are in his presence. 

What beauty there is exists because he shows up–not in the glitter or in the gold, not in the feast or in the fire, not in the lights or in the laughter, but in the empty places, the dirty places, the dark and hungry and hurting places. He shows up in the loneliness and the lowliness and the longing, when the merry is over and all that’s left is the mess. 

When he shows up, invite him in. He is literally the life of the party. 

And he’s really, really good at cleaning house. 

That’s the word. I’m a witness. 
Merry Christmas.   

 

About Weapons: A Message for Christians

This blog entry is going to be brief. It’s also going to be unapologetically Christian the way porn is unapologetically pornagraphic and Criminal Minds is unapologetically disturbing and SpongeBob SquarePants is unapologetically weird and creepy.

Let me begin at the end: Using tragedy to prop up a social or political agenda is wrong.

When a mass shooting occurs, there may be arguments to be made about gun control or about the sanctity of the second amendment or about any number of peripheral issues, but NOT RIGHT THEN. Not by us.

Right then, we mourn with those who mourn.

Right then, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness.

Right then, we who are armored and armed rely on weapons that are not carnal but that are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.

Right then, we follow the heart of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to those he called “the least of these” and do for them what we’d do for him…

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe all we’ve done is make him the poster child for our favorite cause. Maybe we want to fly him alongside our flag and give him a brief nod in our pledge and display some of his most moving expressions on gilded plaques and hope he’s with our favorite team, but God help us (seriously, help us) if he shows up with a battle plan on a day we weren’t doing much beyond liking a few posts about how we could solve the latest crisis if everyone just thought like a Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Socialist/whatever.

I don’t expect everyone, even many of my Christian friends to “get” this. It sounds like a lot of hooey, this spiritual battle stuff. But I believe in things I cannot see. The greatest enemy I ever stood against had no face I could read, no flesh I could tear. And a lot of people who have never heard the name of Christ as anything more than a curse word know exactly what I’m talking about.

So, warriors, let’s not be strong merely in our opinions, our moral outrage, our political preferences. Let’s do as we’ve been instructed: Let us be “strong in The Lord and in his mighty power.”

Oh, and forget about stocking up on shells. This is one gun fight you should bring a knife to. Or a Sword. Preferably one you’ve handled a bit lately.

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.

Miley Cyrus, Joel Osteen, and Jesus

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of either Joel Osteen or Miley Cyrus. I just want you to know that up front. I also want you to know that this blog has taken me a lot longer to write than it probably needed to because I wanted to be careful about what I said and how I said it.

The news may be old, but the nonsense is ongoing.

Let’s start with the Miley Cyrus nonsense. I don’t watch award shows, so, of course, I did not watch the VMAs. I do know that MTV’s latest VMA aggravated some people. (I won’t say shocked; if you’re shocked by something on an MTV awards show, you’re new here–welcome to the planet.) I also know that there were groups like the Parents Television Council who took issue with MTV and Ms. Cyrus for a raunchy performance clearly not suitable for the young teens for whom the show was rated appropriate. I appreciate the PTC’s efforts in holding networks and their stars to agreed-upon rating standards. A good deal of what’s on television today isn’t suitable for a stray dog, much less a developing mind. Since my mind is still developing, I usually avoid anything reminiscent of a strip show.

Yeah, so my reluctant trek into the recent VMA fiasco began when I got wind via social media that there was something post-worthy happening on television. I teach high school English; this could come up in class. Grimly, dutifully, I read commentaries and watched clips. I was prepared for the discussion.

There was no discussion.

When I finally broke down and asked a group of sophomores what they thought about Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance, I discovered they thought very little about it. As in, it barely crossed their minds. Other than admitting amusement at some well-publicized audience responses, they were non-plussed by the act’s baseness. None of them claimed to enjoy the act, but none of them seemed horrified at it, either.

When pressed about their take on things, this was the sum of it: Her outfit was tacky. A giant finger? Gross! Those teddy bears were lame. I can’t believe I used to own a Hannah Montana t-shirt. She should stick to country music. She cannot dance.  And her hair…! Nobody mentioned Lady Gaga’s soft porn performance. (Anybody else think the terms soft and porn don’t really belong together?) Nobody mentioned Cyrus’s twerking companion. And where I had been embarrassed at the freakishly pornographic debacle, my students were responding to it like callused critics. Where I had been saddened at this young woman’s tragic metamorphosis from fresh-faced role model to vampy pop star, my Bible-belt-born-and-bred students were poking fun at her attempt to be sexy, not because it was the wrong thing to attempt but because it wasn’t well executed.

This wasn’t a ratings issue. This was a (hardened) heart issue. And from whom were these adolescents taking their cues? Not the media and not their peers, though they certainly contribute to the problem. No, research shows that children learn from and mimic the behavior of the very people they were intended to. Who is it that shapes a child’s character? To whose conversations are children most frequently exposed? From whom do children learn gaudiness, graciousness, humility, haughtiness? The adults in their lives: parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors…

Which brings me to the Joel Osteen nonsense.

I have a habit of listening to preaching as I get ready for work. On occasion, I’ve listened to Joel Osteen. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or sound combative or emphasize sin. Ever. And while his demeanor is a refreshing break from that of some televangelists, I’ll admit I have criticized his lack of boldness. His messages may not challenge me, but I happen to know his physician-turned-missionary brother’s mother-in-law (four degrees of separation?), so I know a bit about Pastor Osteen’s medical outreaches and applaud his commitment to “the least of these.” In short, while Joel Osteen may not be my cup of tea, I haven’t sighted him dancing around a campfire with the devil.

Apparently, I missed that video. But I heard about it when–yep, you guessed it–a link to an article startlingly titled “Joel Osteen Rebukes Apostles Paul, Peter and John” began popping up in social media. You gotta be kidding me.

I read the article. It was, in fact, a joke. Not a joke as in funny, ha-ha but joke as in poorly written and completely misleading. Here’s the first paragraph of the article as it appears in the original:

According to Joel Osteen – Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston,Texas, these first century apostles are wrong and outdated and he has come out boldly to infer indirectly that Apostles Paul, Peter, and John whom wrote much of the New Testament were wrong and need to be corrected.

I didn’t need to read any further to know this was a waste of time. The minute I saw a dash paired with a comma to set off an appositive, boldly juxtaposed with infer indirectly (which is a contradiction, a redundancy, and a usage error), and all this followed by the use of whom in the subject position, among other grammatical and rhetorical atrocities, I was satisfied Osteen wasn’t an apostate. But I forged on for the sake of truth.

The thing only got worse, but I won’t belabor that. You can read the piece–no, I won’t be linking it–and draw your own conclusions. I will say that several paragraphs in was this admission: “While he [Osteen] did not come right out and say Apostle [sic] Paul, Peter, and John were wrong in so many words, his inference is clear to any who pay attention to what he’s saying.” Um, no, his inference is not clear. What is clear is the intentionally inflammatory implication made by a tacky title.

Still, I had to wonder what drove this guy’s vehement outcry against Osteen, so I kept digging (for “digging” read “Googling”). It turns out the badly-written blog was a response to an interview Osteen did with Larry King about seven or eight years ago, and the blogger was not Osteen’s only resulting critic. One well-known minister was so angered at how Osteen conducted that interview, he actually said he wished he could have “gone through that TV set and punched him out!” This rant, which was aired, went on for several painful minutes, often to the glee of the offended minister’s audience, er, congregation.

Wow. I needed to watch that Larry King interview. So I did. Then I watched it again. And again. And again. And all I could hear was Joel Osteen sounding a lot like Joel Osteen always sounds: some polite responding, some light gospel, some refusal to be drawn in. Nothing new and certainly nothing overtly heretical.

Maybe the smiling pastor didn’t handle King’s questions the way I, the angry ministers, or those sharing negative posts about him would. Maybe some of us would be firmer in our convictions, harder hitting when it came to sin and its eternal consequences. Or maybe we’d fall apart like a one-egg pudding. And maybe it doesn’t matter because we’re never going to be interviewed by Larry King anyway. One thing is certain, if I were important enough to sit in that hot seat, I’d make some people mad, I’d disappoint some people, I’d find my remarks twisted and spun.

Maybe I’d be treated to a blistering blog or an on-air diatribe. Maybe someone would want to punch me out, which is fine, I guess. I can take a hit; I’ve been punched before. As in, before I joined the Body of Christ. Not sure punching each other out is listed in the Great Commission, though. I’d better reread that.

You know, this Cyrus/Osteen/pick-apart/punch-out nonsense is starting to remind me of something.

I remember a story about another woman being thrown at the feet of the WWJD crowd. Her partner(s) in crime had been given a pass, also. But there was this man–this patient, humble man–who refused to take part in the trash talking or stone throwing. He just knelt there in the dust of her desperation and wrote a story about love conquering condemnation. It made an eternal difference to her.

And I remember one night that same man was tried by a court of his most contentious critics. He was hated for being way too nice to sinners (see above), for breaking some really dumb rules, and for ticking important religious people off.  Though found guilty, he remained innocent, he remained patient, he remained humble beneath the cross of his condemnation. Love won. It made an eternal difference to me.

This incredible man said some things I’ll never forget, things about eyeballs and specks and planks, things about being unified, and this thing:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Yeah, so…

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.