Full of Ourselves

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“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

{Philippians 2.5-11, NRSV}

We have begun our annual religious diet, giving up chocolate, carbonated drinks and meat— not to be closer to Jesus but to our high school weight, to fit into clothing that we refuse to return to the store, to take better physical care of ourselves.  We want our bodies to be a number; it is a kind of scorecard, a rating system, a place holder— small, medium, large, extra- large— but Jesus is not a fitness trainer.  Looking at our waistband instead of his hands, we turn over our plate.

We have given up television or social media—not to spend more time with God but to catch up on sleep, to squeeze in more work or to create distance between us and Trump’s tweets, this barrage of policies, finger- pointing, dodging questions, blame-shifting, baiting and switching the subject from Russia to “Ooh.  Look!  What’s that?”, political commandeering, wall- building, healthcare repealing and replacing, Muslim banning, immigrant- deporting, hate crime rising and a marathon run of lies.  We turn over our phones because we cannot stomach it all.

Because the White House is currently the location for a reality television show and he is concerned about the numbers: electoral college votes, crowd sizes and the ratings on Celebrity Apprentice.  But, who else is still counting and what does it all add up to anyway?

Christ is empty.  And he will be laid bare.  The crowd voted to crucify him.  The majority wins.  The big I’s have it though God came as a little you.

I don’t care how we attempt to square it; there are no more little white lies.  No, this current administration has given up truth.  While this practice began long before Lent, their refusal to call “a spade a spade,” to reconsider comments, to retract statements, to offer or accept correction is a lesson in pride.  And I, for one, am sick of the look of it.

So confident that they are right and everyone else is wrong.  So invested in the rule of their reality that they are willing to lose integrity.  So far removed that I am uncertain of who would pull us back from the edge of this daily cliff hanger.  Because pride comes before a fall (Proverb 16.18).

No amount of water will wash our hands of this.

And while the government is an easy target; I would be remised if I did not point out the bull’s eye on our own backs.  For he is not the only one who is full of himself.  I fear that he is a mirror, a reflection which looks uncomfortably familiar.  Because it is too easy to say, “I don’t recognize him or this is not what I voted for” than to say, “I have seen this behavior before—not just in history but in my house.”

Pride is not just for American presidents or overzealous patriots but regular folks like you and me.  It is the American way— to be self- absorbed, self- satisfied, full of ourselves.  And we will need to turn over more than our plates or our phones to be emptied of this arrogance and conceit.  It is a part of the American myth that we are superior, that there are first and third world countries, that there are minority and majority peoples.

Unlike Christ, we are not equal with God but many of us will find it difficult to empty ourselves.  Instead, we will empty our refrigerator, our closet, our phone contacts.  Though Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils (and) it is humility that makes men angels,” we will struggle to take ourselves down a peg or two, to stop striving to be at the top of the hill, the top of the heap, to top of the crab barrel.  We will keep clawing because this point touches us too closely.

James Baldwin wrote in 1959, “Someone once said to me that the people in general cannot bear very much reality.  He meant by this that they prefer the fantasy to a truthful recreation of their experience.”  Not to worry, my meditation is nearing its end.  But, could it be that we cannot bear too much of Jesus?  Or, that we don’t have much room for Jesus?

We did not expect him to take up so much space.  We move over and Jesus nudges us.  We slide down and Jesus’ leg still bumps ours.  We talk to Jesus on Sunday and he still has more to say to us.

Because we are called to be filled to overflowing with his living water.   But, if we are honest, we would rather be full of ourselves.  Or, worse still, we have confused ourselves with him.  It is a mistaken identity.

Because emptying is spilling our guts, pouring our hearts out, crying our eyes out, handing over our hubris, exchanging our ego for Imago Dei, hiding behind his cross and not our social ladders.

Lent is a time when we “clean up real nice.”  We get our spiritual act together to put on a good show.  Easter is around the corner and the pews will be filled.  We want to look good in front of company.  Slimmer and well- rested, our forty- day challenge is over.  We will return to our plates and phones, our appetite in that moment will determine what we are full of.

_______________

* I shared this meditation with the Baptist Women in Ministry leadership team this afternoon.  We are meeting in Cullman, Alabama at the Sacred Heart Monastery.

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