Thoughts for ending/beginning a year: better than “blackberries”
I talk to many pastors whose people are so consumed in their own individualistic poverties of financial, sexual, marriage, work, identity issues that all they can do is laugh when I invite them to engage the marginalized poor who are stuck to our streets.
I get that. After a decade of experience I continue to stumble awkwardly through marriage and parenting, the bills keep hounding me, and I’m continually fighting and failing at my own pursuits of holiness. And this mess actually makes me the perfect candidate for joining God on the Missio Deo.
The scriptures seem to say that when we are nothing, that’s when we’re in a perfect position to receive everything. Moses was a desolate murderer on the run when he became compelled to turn and look at the blazing shrub.
If you look closely at that story in Exodus chapter 3 you’ll notice an interesting emphasis in verse 3 and 4 on Moses “turning aside” to see God’s presence. (The KJV is actually more accurate here.) God is always inviting us, even as messy criminals, to participate in the Missio Dei. But like Moses, life requires that we humbly turn to see the strange forms of invitation.
God’s love doesn’t make sense. It seldom works in tandem with our moral behavior status. Moses was a murderer. So was Paul. And Joseph was a prisoner on trial for rape when he was called to liberate the poor.
God’s presence doesn’t make sense. A shrub on fire that doesn’t burn up? I’ve actually sensed it most strongly when “wasting time” with drunk and mentally ill people.
Most institutional forms of religion seem to communicate that you join God’s mission once you get closer to the church’s standard of piety and perfection. Be responsible. Stop sinning so that you can go and do God’s work. But my journey is telling me I actually grow up spiritually by doing it wrong rather than doing it right! And this seems to be consistent with the kind of God who chooses to speak through fiery shrubbery.
In Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, he explains, “If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.”
Trusting God’s holiness to emerge out of our imperfections? About as ridiculous as God’s speaking through burning bushes.
Humility or turning aside is hard… counter-cultural… un-American. Just in the last week my own humility has been called into question. I’m learning that I don’t call god forth by better and more pious prayers or more flashy accomplishments. And I’m learning that even when I’m morally clean I don’t bring God to others. God is already there subversively present through every day burning bushes.
Earth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
but only he who sees takes off his shoes.
The rest sit around and
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
We shouldn’t get too embarrassed if you’ve been busted “plucking blackberries.” Afterall, God made them, so they’re not bad. It’s just that the invitation is offering so much more. People are oppressed, lonely, enslaved, and the call for each of us at any given moment is the same as it was for Moses if only we’d follow his lead to turn aside and see.
Ryan Taylor is a Hoosier by birth but now lives in Denver and works with Mile High Ministries. He’s learning how to be incarnational with himself and others. Find more of this thoughts at: www.tallmonasticguy.typepad.com where this post was first published on September 21, 2011.