amy courts: en route


Light and Shadows

Sunday, July 15 2012: Teaching from Colossians 2:15-17, our pastor spoke on what he calls “God’s shadow activity.” For over 25 years, as a professor and expert in theology, he has tried to make sense of the God we see on the Cross -who abhors wars and violence, taught us to turn the other cheek and sacrifice ourselves in love for even our enemies, and expressed that core truth in the most inconceivable way when He suffered a God-forsaken death by crucifixion – and the God of the Old Testament who seems, at times, to have been a genocidal, ethno-centric maniac who commanded Israel time and again to slaugher hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, infants. Our pastor’s theory – which makes sense to me and finally articulats both the tension I’ve always sensed in the contradiction and a reasonable reconciliation – is that these were God’s “shadow activites.” That just as a shadow acts as a negative contrast to what is real, and in so doing points to reality, so these situations show God not as He is, but as He is not. They show Him bearing their sin as His own, and thereby showing who He really is: the selfless Savior. Rather than denying and rebuking their behavior altogether from the get-go, as His true character does (which we see fully in the person, teachings, and life of Jesus), He becomes one of them (in Christ, but also as “The God of Israel”), takes on their sin as His own (even though He himself knows no sin and abhors the sin), and shows Himself to be quite the opposite of them: utterly selfless in His love for them and for all mankind….so selfless as to take on their sin to show how far He’s willing to go to win them. I can’t explain it as succinctly or adequately, and I know a lot of people will label him (and probably me also) a heretic (again) for even voicing the idea. But it makes sense to me. And it brought back to my mind a lyric I wrote who-knows-how-long-ago, “Love is not the shadow but the light that casts it on less important things.” [For a fuller understanding, listen to the sermon here (it’s worth it).]

Monday, July 16 2012: I took a pretty big risk yesterday, threw myself way out on a limb, and after being personally “sought out” by a talent producer and allowed to skip the cattle call and move straight to “call backs,” I auditioned for one of those televised karaoke contests. And I failed. Miserably. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever sung so off-key, or tried so painfully – and obviously – hard to impress people, or just been NOT myself. I don’t know what I was trying to be, other than hopefully something the judges liked. And it was stupid, because the whole reason I was invited to audition in the first place was because they DID like me already. I put way too much pressure on myself, on the audition, on the opportunity, and I seriously effed it up. They may have even laughed as I left. And so for the rest of the day, I was reliving the horror. Going, “Wow, this is what I do, and yet I can’t actually do it.” Thinking, “This is the story of my recent life: When the time comes, I am utterly incapable of doing what ought to be so basic and natural. I couldn’t have a baby without screwing up so badly that I almost died even though this is what women do. I couldn’t successfully audition for a singing contest when singing is what I do. I felt like a colossal failure. Utterly inadequate.

Today: Yesterday’s crap audition and Sunday’s sermon gelled a bit in my mind. I’ve wanted, for ages, to finish that lyric…to see it bloom into a song. But the rest of the song just wasn’t there. And truthfully, I’ve been in every place other than the Songwriting Place lately. So it slipped to the recesses of my mind. But I took it with me into yesterday’s audition, thinking “maybe this is the love…”. And as I went over and over the whole situation, I was reminded: God, HE is Love, and He doesn’t withhold any good thing. He doesn’t cast shadows over good things in order to tease us. He is the Light, and He shines the light to cast shadows on lesser things, to draw our faces to Him. To reality. To what He actually desires for us, rather than what we want Him to desire for us. He turns us from our shadowy selfish will to His glorious, inconceivable design.

I’ve been reminded over and over and over this year that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9) I’ve been reminded to turn my eyes to Him, to seek Him in the promise that He will be found, and to dream inconceivable things.

I think the dreams I’ve had for myself, though lofty, have been far too stereotypical and, I confess, entirely selfish. I want a massive audience to enjoy and be moved by my songs, so I can sell CDs and make a living doing not only what I love to do, but what I’m meant to do…what I can’t not do.

Every time I’ve “almost” gotten there…or developed some momentum…or had an opportunity that could or should rocket me forward…it’s gone awry, and – as time always tells – in the most beautiful ways. I’ve been given little tastes of That, and then been reminded there are better, sweeter, richer, more eternal things to be done.

There are songs to be written for and with broken people…forgotten people…people here and there and everywhere who actually own my heart even if we’ve never met. People who deserve a voice, even if it’s only mine.

I’ve been reminded that when a shadow falls over the plans I’ve drawn up for myself, it’s not the meanness of God, but His great goodness and love that cast that shadow to draw my eyes to Him.

And today…I caught a glimpse.
Today, I turned my face to the Light rather than dwelling on the shadow.
Today the words came.

“Love is Not the Shadow”

dark are the days
i am seeking your face
i am finding you are ever near
branches below
they announce where i go
as i step and stumble around here

and there are times when i feel
hopelessly alone
when i am begging to belong
and to be loved
and to be known

and you say

hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith grows not in what you want, but i need need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things

with each new sunrise
new questions arise
and i strain to hear what you will say
as often as not
you are silent, i’m caught
by the need to trust you anyway

these are the times when i feel hopeless and alone
and i am begging to be heard
and to believe
and to behold…
when you say

hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith is growing not in what i want but need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things

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Was Jesus a Socialist: The Discussion Continues…

A point of clarification I’m allowed to make 30-comments-in, just because I’m the blog owner (and I get to do what I want): While I believe the Christian values of caring for the needy, and the least being treated as the greatest are reflected in socialism, I don’t believe Jesus was an *actual* socialist, or that He would – were He walking among us today – endorse any of the various forms of government. In fact, I believe that since the Devil is currently in charge of the world’s governments (according to Matt. 4:8-10, when the Devil offered Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world [which Jesus turned down, obviously] which implies they were the Devil’s to offer), none will ever earn the endorsement of Christ. I ought to have said that from the start instead of saying “Jesus sanctioned socialism.” I was dumb to have said that…or at very least, not paying attention. But, you live and read comments and learn and amend. Moving along…

—————–

I won’t lie: I’m a little frustrated right now. My brother-in-law, who is a pastor in McCook, NE and blogs on theology, apologetics, culture, and more as part of his church’s ministry, responded in his own blog to my post-election thoughts. But that’s not what’s making me nuts. What’s driving me crazy is the fact that I can’t log in to respond to his blog on his blog.

So I’m left with one option: to move his blog over here and continue the discussion. I certainly don’t mind – but in fact, find immense joy – in the conversation.

I just hate technology sometimes.

Anyway, I’d like to respond point-by-point to his responsive blog entitled “Jesus Institued Socialism?” (which I’ll only quote here in red, to save space, but can be found in full here):

[Quoted from my previous blog: What we see happening in Acts 2 is exactly that: socialism, if not communism, even. The equal distribution and sharing of all wealth, goods, and property among all people so that no one is richer and thus more significant, or poorer and thus less significant.]

First, one will notice that Jesus is not even present.

Really!? Jesus wasn’t present with the early Church!?

Forgive the sarcasm. I think it should be obvious that while Jesus may not have been <i>physically</i> present with the early Church, He was most certainly present in their hearts, at the forefront of their thoughts, His principles, values, and teachings foremost in their consideration of how to “set up shop.” To assert otherwise is just plain silly. His promised Holy Spirit was among them, reminding them of Christ’s Way. So while Jesus may not have explicitly said, “This is how I want you to live in community with one another, by sharing everything,” His daily teachings and the way in which He continually engaged with His twelve closest disciples and hundreds of other followers is certainly reflected in their “share all things; have everything in common” lifestyle. They were, indeed, continuing His work in His Way. Whether sanctioned by explicit word or implied by deed, their way was Christ’s Way.

Second, we must consider that the church, not the government, is the primary subject here. There are distinct roles given to church and distinct roles given to government. What is the right and responsibility of one is not necessarily the right and responsibility of the other.

Indeed, the Church IS the primary subject here. However, while it’s not our government’s responsibility to obey Scripture, it is arguably every American Christian’s right and responsibility to vote for the candidate we believe most fully (though will never completely) reflects our Biblical values and makes Christian priorities National priorities (or abstain from voting if participating violates one’s conscience). This doesn’t mean seeking, electing, or promoting a “Christian” President, but supporting a platform that reflects Christ’s heart for people. (And, inevitably, we will often disagree about who’s platform best reflects Christian values.)


Third, Acts is written as historical narrative. It is not didactic in nature so what we find there is a record of what happened, but not necessarily what should be. A good example of this is the life of the patriarchs described in Genesis. Many were polygamists. We cannot make the leap that just because something is recorded that it therefore has God’s sanction. We must go elsewhere for our doctrine of marriage. In Acts we see that people are doing something (sharing their things), but that in no way makes it normative.

First, that Acts is written in historical narrative does not negate its usefulness as a model for the current day Church. In this instance, I believe the early Church is a model for the Church today and forever. Why? Because they lived, breathed, ate, and drank the life and teachings of Christ. Having been born of His death, resurrection, and ascension, and being the only examples we have of people who knew Christ in person as close friend, Savior, and God, it seems obvious by extention that their fellowship without His physical presence would model the fellowship they shared with Him. Theirs are the nearest hearts to (and thus, I’d say, the most reflective of) Christ’s heart for His established Church, all people worldwide, and future of His Kingdom that we can see modeled in action. They were living and setting up shop in the wake of the single most defining moment in the history of the God-human relationship. No doubt they did everything with deliberation in light of all Christ did and taught, explicitly and implicitly.

Second, I find the example of the patriarchs and their polygamy ill-fitting to the context, since polygamy was expressly condemned numerous times throughout the Mosaic Law (most notably in the Ten Commandments). We find no such condemnation – implicit or otherwise – of the Way of the early Church. His endorsement of their Way, though not explicit, I believe is inferred simply by their doing it.

Third, while its record in Acts doesn’t make the sharing of all things normative, the more-than 2,000 commands in Scripture to care for the orphan and widow, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and otherwise treat the least as the greatest certainly support their communistic fellowship as “standard behavior” for Christians. Certainly Christ’s explicit warning in Matthew 25:31-46 in which He describes exactly how He will separate the sheep from the goats – i.e. by whether or not we have fed the hungry, quenched the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and welcomed the stranger – serves as ample evidence that this is the Kingdom Way: to give selflessly from every possible reserve, whether financial, time, or goods.


Should Christians be gracious? Yes. Compassionate? Yes. But here is the catch: grace cannot be mandated. For grace to be grace it cannot be a requirement. If it is required (such as a wage) it is justice, not grace. The church can therefore encourage its members to live out these virtues, but not even the church can put it into ecclesiastical law.

While I agree that giving and service to the church ought to be a matter of graciousness and selflessness – the deliberate decision of a cheerful giver (which God loves) – the mandate to care for the fatherless and the widow is, again, not optional. I don’t know how to make this more clear than to italicize and embold: True Christ-followers will be known, defined, and separated based on how they actively respond to the greatest commandment to Love the Lord their God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. (Matt. 23:37-39, 1 John 2:3) Christ’s example, His teaching, and the teaching of His nearest discipes make abundantly and irrefutably clear that ours is a family, a nation, marked by love made evident in service, that the world may come to know the glory and salvation of Christ. We will be known (and judged, eternally) by our love and how its expressed in our selflessness (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16).

This is born out a few chapters later in chapter 5 when Ananias and Sapphira sell their goods and give it to the church (as we saw in ch 2). Their problem was that they lied. Peter makes it quite clear (v4) that they had no obligation to give it to the church. It was their money to do with as they pleased.

The difference here is that we’re not talking about tithing to the church or selling their stuff to give to the church.

We’re talking about the Biblical mandate, seen both explicitly and implictly throughout the entirety of Scripture and laid out in detail by Christ Himself, to care and provide for those in need, both physically and spiritually. This is not a matter of finances, but of how the true Gospel is spread and disciples are made.

If not even the church, as God’s ordained institution for effecting his will on earth, can make such demands on people, how can we legitimately make the leap to the government doing it?

Here we part ways. I believe God has commanded His people to care for and plead on behalf of the poor, impoverished, and desperately-in-need. And I believe my vote for Obama, whose policies reflect the Christian values and obligation to care for the least of these, is as justified by Scripture (I’d even argue more justified) as the votes of so many Believers who voted for McCain “on behalf of the unborn.”



This is Not a Revolutionary Idea

I’ve believed for a long time the Christ-difference is in how He turned everything upside down.

Jesus taught the folly of pride and the glory of humility, the concepts of the least being greatest, the last being first, the most powerful being the empowerer. He is the King whose Kingship is marked by service, the Savior who takes the place of the one who thinks he doesn’t need saving. Perfection willingly taking on imperfection, He is the living, breathing demonstration of authentic love, power, and glory being utterly and unconditionally self-sacrificial.

His Way is the quintessential opposite of human nature. And in all He did and taught, Jesus turned things upside-down, backward.

But it has occurred to me – and this is not a revolutionary idea – that Jesus’ Way is not upside down or backward; we are. All along, His way was the intended way.

And all along, from Adam to me, He has set about the business of putting us right-side-up.

Perhaps that’s why we’re all so dizzy.

"Jesus Washing Peter's Feet" (by Ford Maddox Brown)