Saved from What?

Driving on the highways of Texas and New Mexico, the neon crosses and stark billboards would loom in the distance for miles before you could read them: “Jesus Saves.”

Or in the street, at a park, or at a public event, a stranger with a handful of tracts might ask, “Are you saved?”

For most of my life, and especially in my years away from the church, my internal reply has been “saved from WHAT?”  From burning in hell, which is what the people asking seemed to be asking about?  I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in hell, or at least in a hell that was a place, with fire, and maybe a devil in a red suit.  Those seemed like bogeyman stories to me. They seemed like things TV preachers warned about, or (on the more cultured end of the spectrum) things Dante wrote about. I’ve never been scared of hell. Concerns about the afterlife are not why I’m a Christian.

So as an adult, even as I have grown to love Jesus and know him more and more, the idea that he was saving me has always seemed a bit abstract.  I have problems, yes, but am I in danger that he must rescue me?  I sin, no doubt, but somehow I’ve never been afraid of ending up in hell; I believed it when Jesus said that he loved me and redeemed me.  

But in truth, there are many, daily times I need saving, times I long for rescue from something. I long for rescue from my own bad moods. From my pessimism. From my incessant judgment of myself and, consequently, of others. From racing thoughts. From persistent, needling worry. From that “stuck” feeling I get– stuck in a situation, or with a person, or with a problem. Stuck with my same old self doing the same old patterns. Times when it seems nothing I do will make a difference. Overwhelmed, I long for rescue.

That’s how Jesus saves me. He swoops in to be with me when I’m really not fit to be with. He lifts me out of my own head. He lets me glimpse here and there how God sees things, restoring some perspective. He accompanies me through the bad moments until I’m unstuck.

I have no doubt that Jesus also saves me in the afterlife. Through Jesus we will have eternal life. But we also have life NOW through Jesus as he saves us NOW from the hells we make for ourselves. It is as Psalm 23 says: “He restores my soul.” And it is also as that same Psalm says: he restores it “all the days of my life”, not just after it has ended.

 

 

Photo credit:

By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Fairest, Beautiful

The first hymn I ever loved was “Fairest Lord Jesus,” in our hymnal as “Beautiful Savior” (ELW 838).

Having not been raised in the church, then coming home from summer camp wanting to find out everything I could about God, I listened to the Christian radio station in Houston. Mixed in there with a lot of very bad theology and political discourse was a lot of great 1980s “Contemporary Christian” music—some of it terrific, some truly awful—covering the whole range of 80s sounds from synthesizers, to fake rock and roll, to the truly grandiose. One day, cutting through all that noise like a laser, I heard this simple hymn. It was performed a capella, without instruments, starting with a single voice and then layering on part after part in a way that made my ears tingle. It was like musical glitter, sparkling and lovely.

I knew about Jesus the baby, Jesus the mighty, Jesus the mysterious, Jesus the dead-then-alive. To that point, my attraction to Jesus had been to the idea of Jesus.  It was about his teachings, his importance, the necessity of Jesus.

keplers_supernovaBut THIS was a different Jesus. Jesus the beautiful. Jesus in the meadows and woodlands; Jesus in a shining sky.  Beautiful Jesus. The Fairest.  The song, and the Jesus in the song, cut right through my brain, through all that thinking and reasoning I had been doing, and got into my musical heart. Thinking about Jesus was good, but through this song I started to feel Jesus.

Beautiful Savior, delight us with your starlight and moonlight. Shine on the meadows and woodlands, and on us.  Drizzle your beauty all over us like musical glitter. Let your love enter our brains, our ears and our hearts. Amen.

Photo by NASA/ESA/JHU/R.Sankrit & W.Blair [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Narratives of discernment

Because I’m a writing scholar, I see everywhere the writing of narratives. Of course I mean the literal writing of narratives, as when I tell a story here, in words. But I also see everywhere how we write and revise the narratives of our lives, of identities, of our memberships and intentions.

This idea isn’t mine, nor is it new. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And these days, I’m seeing how it’s especially true when it comes to discernment. Discernment is a storytelling activity. Everywhere people are discerning God’s call to them, those people are writing a narrative. It’s a narrative of what will happen going forward, and a narrative of what was meant to happen, looking backward. I’m especially interested in the backward part– a story made entirely by revising.

As any writer can tell you, revising takes bravery. What if my story hasn’t meant what I thought it did? What if my steps weren’t leading where I thought they would? And what, then, if I am not who I thought I was? To make a new story out of one’s life is not only to make a new story, it is also to let an old one go. eraser-316446__340

Jesus– the Jesus who, having been not only fully God but also fully human, knows what things are like for us– must have known this too. What stories did he have to revise along his way? What did he have to let go of?

These are my discerning thoughts at the beginning of an especially discerning Lent. And this old-but-good post from Amy Butler reads the temptation of Jesus as a discernment narrative (wrapping it in one of her own). She writes:

“Vocational discernment totally unmoors us.  It turns us around, sets us off course, rattles our comfortable cages.  Thinking about what we’re called to do and who we’re called to be in the large picture of God’s work in the world does have the potential to call us to greatness…and it has the potential to destroy us.”

Like I said, revising takes bravery.