Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

what does health look like?

During these past few weeks when I've been reading and teaching through the minor prophets, I've been profoundly struck by the importance of humility, brokenness, and gratitude in our relationship with God. The repeating revelation of this truth has, during this same period, been coupled with a growing question regarding beauty.

As I was riding home on the bus today from the Mariner's baseball game, the diversity of people was perhaps best represented by two single individuals sitting close to each other. One woman had an inflated earth globe, sort of like a beach ball, sitting in her lap. She was reading a book about living in the world after oil runs out. Her short hair, full lashes, careful make up, artsy earrings, and chic yoga pants all contributed to her aura of health and beauty.

Sitting across from her was a large man wearing multiple layers of unwashed clothing, a snow cap covering his head, and unshaven, uneven whiskers covering his face. His eyes, when they were opened, looked tired. He was leaning on a cane, even when sitting down. Getting off the bus at the same stop as yoga girl, his movements were labored, and he walked with a limp. By the time he exited the bus, she was far down the road, the whole world in her hands.

Of course, one can't know very much at all by making these simple assessments, and any conclusions drawn would be unfair to both individuals. Still, I was more aware today of the possibility of beauty in this broken man, and more aware of the possibility of tragedy in this young woman. Again, to speculate such would be wrong. But just easily, one could be way off by attaching stereotypical meanings to these two: She's using her gifts to change the world. He's burnt out on something, and now paying the price. Maybe. But it's just as possible that this man, in his brokenness and poverty is living more heroically than the woman. We just don't know unless we peer behind the curtain and get to know the real person. The snapshot assessments of beauty are wholly inadequate if beauty has to do with the soul.

Perhaps the same thing is true of churches. The snapshots can look good or bad...but mean little. In fact, Jesus more than hints around that our conventional wisdom snapshots would lead us to believe that we're healthy when we're really sick. And too, we'll miss true health when it's staring us in the face because it's criteria is so remarkably different than what we would presume.

Sometimes, as a person, a pastor, and a leader of a church, I feel like Yoga Chick: well educated, healthy, working hard for the best interests of the world, or at least the world I'm carrying in my hands. Other times I feel like the man with the cane: broken, dependent, but persevering, showing up, getting on with it in spite of myself. I'm wondering in all of this; where's the real beauty, and where's the cosmetic show?


At 6/5/09 07:17, Anonymous Ken said...

My favorite Scripture passage has been Isaiah 40 for more decades than I care to admit. It ends with the famous, "They shall mount up with wings of eagles..." I long ago heard a message at Peninsula Bible Church on that passage outlining what it meant to the teacher. "Wait upon the Lord and He will give you strength." Great, what kind of strength? "Mount up with wings of eagles"... Sometimes we get to soar with amazing power and excitement in the joys of life. "Run and not be weary"... Other times we simply have a deep well of energy allowing us to keep going and going. "Walk and not faint"... The most incredible strength usually comes when we are able to simply continue when all is against us, we're broken and exhausted. Constantly swimming up stream against the current. One foot in front of the other is all we've got. But that is still enough, because our dependence is on God for our needs.

Who knows when looking at the man and woman where they stand with God. But perhaps they are simply at different times of life and/or circumstance, drawing different strength as God wills for their occasion.

At 6/5/09 08:45, Anonymous Graham C. said...

Ken, I never thought of Isaiah 40 that way. That's a great word, thanks.

At 6/5/09 08:51, Blogger Kevin said...

Your situation reminds me of the mystery of the Kingdom of God: that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears but do not perceive the truth. This is also why I've found parables to be both greatly uplifting and deeply frustrating, in the same moment. However much I might want, I can't expect to stand back, be objective and still be able to comprehend the trajectory of the Kingdom. Only be stepping closer and thus diminishing the range and breadth of my sight can I truly see, only in intimacy can the truth of the Kingdom be fully known. I also find it striking that Christ seemed to gravitate towards those that were more like the unhealthy looking man, as if there were more beauty and life and divine mystery in a seed about to fall to the ground and die than in a flower, fully grown and bound to wither.

On another note, I wonder just how dedicated to reducing our carbon-footprint we would be if we could no longer afford our fancy hybrid-electric cars, how devoted to organic farming we would be if the best we could do was the dollar menu at McDonald's, how beautiful we would think ourselves if we were stripped of our affluence. The very things that we have set as the benchmark of health in western society often come at the cost of world health, for even to live simply by our standards is to live a life of decadence. One cannot expect to live with part their body dead or dying, for such a condition would surely pollute the whole. Even so, we seem to believe that we can let part of the body of worldwide humanity die and not be touched by the blight of our actions. This is deeply troubling...


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