Thursday, March 24, 2011


The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7.29-31)

From Service to Sentience

One of Lent’s abiding beauties is discovering each season’s character, for no two of them is ever alike. As a relative newcomer—my traditional upbringing didn’t observe Lent—I’ve walked sacred deserts, revealing ones, and one or two bordering on the mystical. Still, none has confronted me with the intellectual rigor of the current one. In part, it results from the 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our church’s adopted Lenten guide. Bonhoeffer’s all-or-nothing map is tough-minded stuff aimed at restoring the disciplines of discipleship by revolutionizing how we perceive following Christ. It’s less about our response to life’s daily challenges than the thinking that molds responses to Christ’s commands. This adds unusual stress on reflexes not often exercised by Lent’s passage. Meanwhile, the standard pursuits—self-denial, contemplation, prayer, consecration, penitence, etc.—are assumed, not replaced. At two weeks into this journey, I find weariness of mind and the toil of reorienting my concept of discipleship from service to sentience are my closest companions. They ask much of me; based on comments at last Tuesday evening’s study group, I’m hardly alone. Throughout the discussion, people said, “This was a rough week.”

It turns out we (i.e., our local faith community) are hardly alone. Comments here, along with posts and comments elsewhere, email exchanges, and conversations with other believers—none of whom, to my knowledge, is digging through Bonhoeffer—express comparable sentiments. Numerous bloggers journaling their travels, sharing personal impressions or daily contemplations, likewise seem to hear a call for heightened awareness of Christ’s presence and lordship in their lives, a sentience that informs their service to God and their neighbors.


Such an endeavor is wearying work, even vexing at times, as we labor to wrap our minds around concepts we thought we understood or overlooked because we don’t understand them as well as we should. At the risk of gross presumption, our present desert seems to be guiding many of us back to basics, asking us first to distill what we know about the mind and nature of Christ and then ground our thoughts and behaviors to reflect them more accurately. This schooling is very close in form to Jesus’s wilderness experience. Matthew 4.1-3 confirms the desert’s 40-day course prepares us for temptations awaiting its end: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. [Then] the tempter came to him.” The desert's cauldron refines our character down to its essentials.

Lent endows us with discipline to overcome future tests. It clears our heads of what we think and are told to believe, leaving us with what faith teaches us to know. It’s the training ground where we identify and confront weaknesses that compromise discipleship in a constantly changing, uncertain world. Year after year, Lent’s message is “Be prepared.” Since only God sees what’s in store for us, individually as disciples and collectively as the Body of Christ, our course of preparation is the Spirit’s domain. In John 16.13, Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” Thus, this season’s widely noted call for keener sentience to Christ’s presence and principles anticipates the coming months. We’re being schooled for future service to God and our neighbors.


Processing Lent’s lessons mounts our sense of urgency. This year, our desert travels seem constantly interrupted by proof of how desperately the world needs authentically disciplined, fully prepared followers of Christ—people who take their duties as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and living beatitudes with the utmost seriousness. If nothing else, the past two weeks have vividly taught us how fragile our existence is. Not even the ground under our feet is stable. Every day finds us leaping headlong from one disaster into another. Preparing for any eventuality leaves no time to for haggling over what we can hang onto and still meet discipleship’s demands. Paul’s urgency for the Corinthians to release any impediments to their preparation speaks to us: “The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” Be sentient. Be prepared. Only God knows what lies ahead.

The Holy Spirit sets our Lenten course, preparing us for what lies beyond the desert.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Faithful Attraction

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5.7)

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5.30-31)

A Merciful Response

The parables of Jesus are designed for easy access, which is why parents and Sunday school teachers are so fond of them. We grow up with the prodigal son, the wise and foolish builders, and the Good Shepherd alongside the tortoise and hare and Red Riding Hood. We need Jesus’s stories when we’re kids, as they’re the best way to establish His basic teaching in young hearts. Unfortunately, though, too many of us outgrow them (or think we do). We store them next to Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales and rarely revisit them when we’re older. But Jesus’s parables aren’t fables or fairy tales. They’re remarkably nuanced studies in human behavior, stories about adults for adults. When we reread them later in life, we’re often amazed by the subtleties we missed as kids.

No better example exists than the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man is brutally mugged on the Jericho Road. A priest and a temple steward—both Jews—see him, cross the street, and keep going. A Samaritan, whom Jews view as racially inferior, finds him, picks him up, tends to his wounds, and sees to his recovery. Jesus tells the story after restating His command to love our neighbors and someone asks, “Who is my neighbor?” For children, the answer is simple: everyone is our neighbor; no one is beneath our care. Yet as adults, we study the Samaritan’s behavior more closely. Luke 10.33-35 says, “When he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

Merely seeing him, without asking why or how the man got beaten, evokes a merciful response. The Samaritan goes to him. He touches him. He pours valuable oil and wine into the man’s wounds and binds them up. He lays the victim—bloodied, bruised, and broken—across his own donkey, unconcerned about contamination or suspicions he’ll raise in Jews and Samaritans alike when he’s seen walking his donkey with a severely injured Jew in his saddle. Nor is he daunted about stirring up controversy when he finds a room, where he sits with the victim overnight to ensure the man’s safety and wellbeing. The following morning, he entrusts the man to the innkeeper, promising to return and pay for his healthcare. There’s a lot more going on in this story than first meets the eye.

One of Them

With so much information packed in a few sentences, we may overlook what’s not there. The Samaritan has no idea who this man is. He could be a random target. He could just as well be a casualty of gang life—a criminal left for dead. We don’t know where or why the Samaritan is traveling, when he’s expected to arrive, and whom he keeps waiting while he delays his trip to stay with the victim. We know nothing of his background, beliefs, experience with Jewish prejudice, or financial means. All we know is he sees someone in need of mercy. He goes to him and cares for him—at great risk, as the extent of his kindness breaks all sorts of taboos. Yet something inside the Samaritan trusts the mercy he gives will be returned. And so it is. His efforts aren’t thwarted by others’ prejudices and fears, which are so commonplace even “holy” people feel no compunction to care for one of their own. That expands the parable’s meaning to include the fifth Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

If Jesus were all sermon and no substance, we could dismiss the Samaritan story as a fable—a wise tale with a high-flown, idealistic moral. From start to finish, however, we watch Him practice what He preaches. Jesus surpasses the Old Testament edict to welcome the oppressed and outcast. He goes looking for them and becomes One of them. Many have romanticized His tendency to gravitate toward society’s margins as intentionally subversive, casting Jesus as the ultimate Rebel with a Cause. While it’s true, Jesus upsets many apple carts—and ends up being executed for it—His purpose runs deeper than crusading for social change. He cares about the people He associates with. Their need for mercy attracts Him and He sees the risks He takes to offer what society withholds from them as legitimately worth the flak and derision He faces in the process. Mercy drives Him to the cross. Over and over, we see a band of naysayers hovering nearby to condemn Jesus for the company He keeps. When He persists, they turn on His disciples. “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they ask. Before they can patch together an answer, Jesus explains, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5.30-31) Jesus doesn’t hang with a tough crowd in order to be seen with them or to look tough. He’s there because the tough crowd needs His care, kindness, and healing. His faithfulness to them constitutes an act of mercy on par with the Samaritan’s.

Needs on Both Sides

Our faithfulness as disciples automatically includes a faithful attraction to those who are excluded, oppressed, and prejudged. Waiting for them to come to us—“being there for them”—isn’t an option. Beside the unlikeliness they will seek us out, expecting them to make the first move automatically suggests a sense of superiority on our part. There’s no equal exchange. Mercy makes equality possible by creating needs on both sides of the equation. Our need to offer it becomes as pressing as others’ needs to receive it. As we travel through life, we look for opportunities to be merciful. When we find people who’ve been battered, wounded, and left by the wayside, we ignore the risks, taboos, and customs—even when more “qualified” leaders submit to them—to show them mercy. We go to them and become one of them, not to be seen with them or to gain notoriety as social activists and do-gooders. Mercy drives us. Whether or not we share anything in common with them socially, religiously, or politically, their need for mercy attracts us, because we too have needed, will always need, mercy. And however logical our hesitance may be, something inside reassures us mercy we give will be returned. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Jesus’s attraction to the oppressed and outcast runs deeper than social subversion. They need His mercy and He needs to provide it. (The Journey Project: “RSVP.”)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Renouncing Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5.6)

The word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33.4-5)

Right All the Time

Great-aunt Pearl was a loving, godly woman with one exasperating flaw. She believed she was right all the time—so much so she felt she’d never been wrong. One evening, the family listened as another great-aunt read letters written by her sisters when they were young women. She came on one Pearl sent soon after she married, before she and my great-uncle switched from the denomination they grew up in to a Pentecostal church. “Clyde has a good job and we’re tithing at First Methodist,” the letter said. Pearl stopped the reading. “I didn’t write that letter.” She agreed it was her hand and signature, but insisted she didn’t write it. We asked why. “Because we never tithed anywhere but The Church of God.” We did our best to persuade her tithing to any church is always correct. Yet she was so certain that her current denomination was the right one she preferred looking foolish rather than conceding she once held different beliefs. At first, we laughed. But when she wouldn’t drop the matter—as if someone forged the letter to discredit her faith—we called it a night. The whole thing got too silly to pursue. Now that I look back on it, however, I’m sad twice over. Once, because Pearl’s compulsion to be right all the time severely distorted her idea of what being right was. Second, it saddens me because her denial was flagrantly wrong. She knew like the rest of us that she wrote the letter. In rushing to tout her righteousness, she lied.

If you’ve never met a Pearl or two, live long enough and you will. There’s no shortage of people so convinced they’re always right they’d rather sin than admit they’re wrong. And while I pray none of us fits this bill, I’d venture to say we’ve all fallen into the syndrome a few times (at least). That’s the problem with banking on our own righteousness. Sooner or later, we mess up. We impulsively say or do something undeniably wrong that backs us into a corner. Either we admit our error, and thus confess we’re not as righteous as we let on—which, for the record, would be the right thing to do—or we maintain the righteous façade at all costs. Plan B gets us in a world of trouble, though, because at some point it incites patently wrong behavior, whether its protecting our pride, lying, alienating others, and so on. Believing we’re right all the time is a fool’s game, a gamble we’re unwise to take, given that everyone who plays it always loses. “There is no one righteous, not even one,” Romans 3.11 informs us, echoing dozens of Old Testament texts like Isaiah 64.6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

The Source of Righteousness

Equal doses of reality and humility help rid us of faith in our righteousness. Yet once we’re cured, where does that leave us? Aren’t we called to be righteous? Actually, we’re not. If we think about it for a moment, it makes no sense that God would ask us to do what we’re completely incapable of achieving. With very, very few exceptions, when Scripture mentions righteousness and us in the same breath, great care is taken to qualify the Source of righteousness, making it abundantly clear our righteousness isn’t the subject. “Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ,” Paul explains in Romans 3.22. In chapter 6, he tells us, “Offer every part of yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness.” (v13) Speaking of Jesus, 2 Corinthians 5.21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Philippians 1.11, Paul prays that his readers will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Peter likewise addresses his second letter “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” (2 Peter 1.1)

So our righteousness isn’t important, after all—a good thing, since what of it exists has yet to prove worthy and durable. We’re called to seek God’s righteousness. Matthew 6.33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.” Second Timothy 2.22: “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” And finally, Beatitude No. 4: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5.6) That changes the dynamic, urging us to rethink this righteousness business in a different context, on a larger scale than being right, thinking right, and—everyone’s favorite—“living right.” We have to back up and ask, “What is God’s righteousness and how do we get it?”

Taste and Appetite

God’s righteousness permeates all God says and does. Psalm 33.4-5 does a splendid job of capturing the basics: “The word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Look at the attributes orbiting God’s righteousness: truth, faithfulness, justice, and unfailing love. God loves these qualities—and they’re typically the ones that get sacrificed when we try to prove how righteous we are. Thus renouncing our righteousness is the first step to finding God’s righteousness. Faith in human righteousness is—or should be—taboo for all believers, right up there with idolatry and hatred. Since God Alone is righteous, righteousness is not a state of being, but one of becoming. Gradual acquisition of God’s nature is what we’re after: growing in truth, gaining strength to stay faithful, practicing justice, and loving all people and creation at all times.

As Christ’s disciples, our happiness is shaped by our hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Jesus’s choice of verbs amounts to more than pulpit poetry. He’s telling us to discipline our taste and appetite to crave righteous thoughts and behaviors. They should become obsessions driving us to seize every opportunity to savor them. But first we must cleanse our palate by renouncing righteousness. Being right all the time is like a steady junk-food diet. It makes us heavy, sick, and tiresome. Once we get its poisons out of our system, we’ll starve for God’s righteousness. If we seek that, Jesus says we’ll be happy and satisfied.

Our righteousness is like junk food; it makes us heavy, sick, and tiresome. That’s why Jesus instructs us to discipline our taste and appetite for God’s righteousness.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The House of Praise

Don’t’ you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)

Note: My delay in getting Saturday’s post up has us running slightly behind. I’m catching up now with the post originally intended for Sunday and we’ll be back on schedule.


The acclaimed 1990 documentary Paris is Burning chronicles the lives of New York City gay youths who come together twice a month for drag balls—fiercely competitive events where contestants vie for the title as the best cross-dresser in one of many fashion categories. The film first garnered interest because “voguing,” the dance craze immortalized in Madonna’s hit, originated at the balls. Yet moviegoers and critics left the picture enthralled by the subculture’s two undergirding pillars: realness and houses. Realness measures authenticity of expression. It inverts the traditional drag dynamic, which affectionately teases the opposite gender’s traits and styles through overstatement, by co-opting fashion to discover and convey inner beauty. Therefore, “being real” in Paris is Burning is about transforming style and affect into self-revelation, not simply deceiving the eye or lampooning gender with costuming. Once the film establishes this subtlety, we understand why realness is the drag-ball community’s lifeblood. Many of the film’s subjects tell of being kicked to the curb after coming out to their families. To be real is to be themselves—and to earn respect from peers who personally relate to how difficult it is to be real.

Their world is structured by houses, loosely affiliated (yet tightly knit) cadres of people whose personal blends of realness share common traits with other house members’ styles and personalities. Each house is named for its founder, the first “parent” whose prominence in this universe entitles him/her to gather “children.” (Again, we see a touching convention explicitly designed to counter family and social rejection.) Each house’s members attach its name to their rechristened drag identities; David Xtravaganza, for instance, fathers The House of Xtravaganza, whose children include Anji, Bianca, Danny, and Venus Xtravaganza. The semi-monthly balls serve as the houses’ regular opportunities to reinforce the drag community’s solidarity as well as “represent.” How each house fares overall in the contests gauges how well it nurtures realness in its members. A strong house will make a strong showing, while a poorly maintained one will soon fall into disgrace.

It’s Got to Be Real

Closed minds would automatically presume drag balls in present-day Harlem and the first-century Church to share nothing in common. In light of today’s readings, however, the parallels are striking. They’re especially overt in Paul’s message: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3.16-17; emphasis added) The Body of Christ, then and now, is a unique subculture consisting of countless geographically dispersed houses that come together as one house founded by Christ, whose members take Christ’s name. We regularly gather in our respective locales to reinforce our solidarity as believers, and we represent our house via demonstrative praise and devotion. Here, too, realness gauges how well we’ve been nurtured, along with how receptive we’ve been the teachings and example of Christ. The authenticity with which we express praise—not necessarily outward, but always sincerely—witnesses our faith. For faith is our medium of discovery and self-realization.

Praise intended to impress or deceive amounts to costuming. It’s readily detectable and serves no purpose. It’s got to be real. And how can we tell if praise is real? We just know, because the Holy Spirit, Which dwells in Christ’s house, The House of Praise, ratifies true praise. While there are no empirical standards to verify or measure genuine praise, we’re inexplicably able to discern between true praise and pretense of praise. True praise moves us with its honesty. It exults in God’s grace and goodness. It reveals our innermost feelings and desires. Pretentious praise goes through the motions without stirring our emotions. It may look and sound pretty, but it’s obviously not real. What’s missing is receptiveness to God’s Spirit as the binding Force that unites us in praise.

Good Ground

At a glance, today’s selection from the Gospels (Mark 3.31-4.9) appears odd. Overlapping chapters is unusual to begin with, and the two passages don’t seem to fit together. The portion from chapter 3 recounts one of the more awkward moments in Jesus’s ministry. He’s responding to rumors that say He’s possessed, that His teaching and miracles aren’t really from God. Just prior to today’s passage, He says, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (v25) Then His family shows up. Apparently, they’ve also heard these rumors and have come to see if Jesus has gone over the edge. When Jesus hears they're looking for Him, He asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (v33) He answers His own question in verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Next, we turn to chapter 4 and read the parable of the farmer, who scatters seed with mixed results. Some seed gets dropped and birds eat it up. Some falls on rocky ground and doesn’t root deeply enough to withstand the sun’s heat. Some falls among briars, which choke it before it yields grain. But some falls on good ground and produces a handsome crop. Although Jesus explains the parable to the disciples in private, today’s Gospel ends with His final statement to the crowd: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v9) How curious—until we marry the Gospel with Paul’s text (and take blatant hints in today’s Psalms, particularly 150, which closes with “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”). We must become “good ground,” receptive to God’s Spirit, if we intend to belong to Christ. We’ve got to be real in all we do—our principles, practices, prayer, and praise. Realness makes us family. Realness brings honor to The House of Praise. It unites us in purpose lest our house become divided against itself and crumble. May God’s Spirit give us ears to hear truth in Christ's words so we can bring truth to our praise.

Praise—if not outwardly expressed, always offered sincerely—witnesses our faith. It’s got to be real. And realness brings honor to The House of Praise.

Gentle Restraint

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5.5)

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the laps of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7.9)


We don’t use the word “meek” very often these days—not in a flattering sense, that is. We don’t praise people by saying, “She’s such a meek person” or, “I wish I could be meek like him.” Somehow, the adjective picked up negative connotations as our culture grew increasingly enamored with pop psychology’s push for self-esteem and assertiveness. We take “meek” to mean sheepish, shy, passive, and too timid to make waves. We stereotype meek people as pushovers, wallflowers, conformists, and yes-men/women, i.e., not the sort of person society respects or we want to be. Thus, when we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” we’re apt to think, “How kind of God to include the meek people. It wouldn’t be fair to leave them out.” The condescension doesn’t faze us. And the most cynical of us might even remark, “It’s a good thing God’s giving them the earth. Lord knows if they had to get it for themselves, they’d be out of luck.” Clearly, I’m exaggerating—but not by much. Meekness is not something we aspire to or reward.

Yet Jesus tells us to be meek. He not only promises we’ll inherit the earth, but says we are (present tense) “blessed.” A closer translation of the original word would be “happy” or “fulfilled.” So we wonder if Jesus is using reverse logic here. Is He talking down to us, like we’re naïve children, making big promises to put us on our best behavior? No. Why should He? He just as well could warn us not to expect happiness and validation if we aren’t meek. But Jesus promises them to the meek. And since these objectives drive our self-actualization mindset, perhaps we should consider what meekness really is, because it has nothing to do with sheepishness, passivity, or conformity. Although it may appear as such, meekness is the opposite. It takes uncommon courage, backbone, and self-discipline to be meek.

Demonstrating Power

Many updated Bible translations replace “meek” with “gentle,” which reverses the negative spin while still underestimating praeis, the Greek word in Matthew 5.5’s transcription. There, it’s a cognate sharing the same root as many Greek and Latin words that mean “more or stronger than.” (The Toyota Prius is a modern cognate, coined to suggest its hybrid engine improves on traditional fossil-fuel motors.) Linguists from HELPS Word-studies—The Moody Bible Institute’s online language seminar—dissect praeis thusly:

This difficult-to-translate root (pra-) means more than “meek.” Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s strength under His (sic) control—i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness. [The English term “meek” often lacks this blend—i.e. of gentleness (reserve) and strength.]

Therefore, the meek whom Jesus describes—and calls us to be—demonstrate power through self-restraint. They’re gentle by choice, not nature. They let go many of the earthly assets at their disposal to influence situations and win arguments. They exercise "God’s strength under God’s control without undue harshness." For the meek believer, not alienating others by asserting authority or personal views is far more important than vindicating oneself or winning points.

Aggression of any kind is anathema because it verifies a lack of strength and power. It’s the lowest form of weakness—true spinelessness and bankruptcy of self-esteem. That’s why the Religious Right’s overheated rhetoric about “taking the world for Christ” and “declaring war on sin” rings so hollow. It merits no response, let alone any derision. The meek, not the aggressive, inherit the earth. Pushing an agenda—right or left, regardless of the ideals behind one’s motives—cancels all claims to meekness’s inheritance. And this principle holds for every arena in life: personal, religious, social, professional, and political. In 1 Peter 2.13, 15 and 16 we read, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority… For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” Meekness, then, is the demonstration of power by submission to others in service to God. We may disagree with our leaders and those around us. We may not like where our world, country, and communities are headed. But we don’t sink to confronting them on their terms. That brings our meekness into question and sets tongues wagging. Gentle restraint is our show of strength. We have nothing to lose. By opting for meekness, we remain happy, knowing we will inherit the earth.

Anger Issues

On the personal front, meekness reaps consistent, immediate rewards by defusing anger issues. It’s the only sure-fire method of anger management. And therein lies our key to happiness. Anger begets misery because it’s born in misery. What makes us mad? Frustration, resentment, and other symptoms of deficient meekness. We get angry because we’re ignored, disrespected, powerless, used, and abused. Yet meekness makes us stronger than any of them. Even if people and situations that enrage us persist for life, they’re only temporary. Our inheritance is eternal. We are heirs to the earth. Christ assures us we will come into our own. Thus, we conduct ourselves as dignified heirs of staggering wealth—meekly, with reserved gentility. Discipleship carries with it its own strain of noblesse oblige; as nobles, we bow and oblige rather than succumbing to provocation.

Our happiness and fulfillment are predicated on meekness, which makes anger an unreasonable option. In other words, those attempting to provoke us to anger ask too much. “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the laps of fools,” Ecclesiastes 7.9 tells us. Meekness is our best defense against provocation, even when answering challenges would seem to serve our best interests. In those instances, we bridle our tempers, remembering we are first and foremost Christ’s disciples—“slaves to God,” as Peter puts it. Lent removes us from the clamor of daily life so we can find clarity to renew our vows of discipleship and strengthen our commitment. May our desert journey lead us to meekness and may we find the courage to embrace it as our way of life.

Meekness is not weakness in any form. It demonstrates power without undue harshness, which demands uncommon courage, backbone, and self-discipline.

Postscript: “Easy to Be Hard”

Walt and I recently saw the national tour of the Broadway revival of Hair and, once again (as always), this number choked me up. How many times do we allow our passions to lead us astray? We forsake meekness to take hard positions on social or religious issues and, in the process, alienate those around us. Jennifer Warnes performs “Easy to Be Hard” on “The Smothers Brothers Show” in the late 1960s.