Embarassing Story #482: How I earned the title “Coconutty”

Once upon a time… I was in my young 20’s and a really fervent newish Christian, so there was no alcohol involved in the making of this story, in fact, this happened at church. If this as a party story, or if I had been drinking, it would simply be unfortunate and not quite so telling.

I was at the church with a group of friends. We were trying to open a coconut. I remember that someone went to find a chisel and a hammer. I vaguely remember trying to hold the nut still while someone hammered it. I may have been laughing. Some of my memories of the event remain decidedly hazy, for reasons that will soon be apparent. I do know that the coconut remained stubbornly unopened. No worries here, though. I’d seen plenty of Looney Toons. Wiley and that Ole Roadrunner, they were my favorite. I knew how cartoon characters opened a coconut.

Now I feel that I should insert into the story here the fact that I’d just finished my first year of college as a Biology major (Premed) and had a decent GPA. I was taking a seminary class at the time of this story, I think, and doing well in it. It is fair to say that I do not have a subpar intelligence. This did not stop me from looking to a Coyote who blew himself up several times a week for wisdom on how to handle my current crisis.

What happened next had to have been pure childish instinct, I’d like to hope that there was no forethought involved! I grasped that coconut firmly in my left hand. I drew back my arm. I slammed the coconut into my forehead with as much strength as I could muster. Everything after that is a bit of a blur.

The coconut did not open.

I gave myself a concussion, at least according to a much more practically minded friend, who was a nursing major at the time. I remember ice, and dizziness, and maybe even vomit.

Hence I became known as Coconutty, and forever more purchase coconut in a can.

Early Christologies

So, I was preparing this for a ladies Bible study tomorrow night, but think I might go another direction. Saving as a blog post instead.

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s the question central to this week’s lesson. It’s the question the early church had to answer. It’s the question each of us must answer.

The early church had the writings of the apostles, but there was also a lot of other, non-canonical information floating around. According to our study guide,  what we consider the New Testament wasn’t all written until about 120 years after Christ’s birth. Over the  next 200 years, early church Fathers wrote prolifically, trying to nail down what was and wasn’t to be considered orthodox belief.  It wasn’t until 367 that there was even a list of the books of the New Testament, although it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1546 that this list was stated authoritatively.

There were many writings that were not considered worthy of canon that still give us an interesting look into the mind of some groups of early believers. The infancy Gospels attempt to fill in the blanks of Jesus’ early life. The passion gospels offer differing viewpoints on the life and death of Christ as early believers struggled with the question, “How could God suffer?”  The Gospel of Thomas records sayings not recorded in the canonical gospel. These non-canonical gospels were often the result of early believers struggle to understand that very important question: “Who is Jesus?”

Early believers had a lot to think through regarding the interplay between Christ’s divinity and humanity. To early Hebrew believers, it was a natural assumption that a divine Christ would be both eternal and uncreated. For a second century pagan, neither would be assumed. Their gods were not eternal and were often the result of procreation. A Jew would not see degrees of divinity, whereas a Greek could. Neither the Jews or Pagans ever imagined a God who suffers, and died, making Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

The following information (and the previous paragraph) about early understandings of Christ comes from the book “The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in The Postapostolic Age” by James L Papandrea. I recommend reading the book, as I really can’t do it justice in a blog post.

So, first the misunderstandings:

Angel Adoptionism assumes that a human named Jesus was justified in the eyes of God by His perfect obedience to the law. As a reward, he received the gift of an indwelling angel spirit, called the Christ. This spirit is neither divine nor preexistent. There is a separation between Jesus and the indwelling Christ angel. Neither are truly divine. Those who believed thus were often called Ebionites, or “Poor Ones” as their renunciation of worldly good in an imitation of christlike obedience was a mark of this sect. The most well known example of angel adoptionism in the early church can be found in a document called The Shepherd of Hermas. Angel Adoptionism gives rise to practices of  Judiazers and ascetics.

Spirit Adoptionism confuses the second and third persons of the Trinity. In this belief,  Jesus the biological son of Joseph, verses the Son of God. He is only a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who became the Christ at baptism. Jesus is not preexistant, nor did he rise from the dead. Believed by a group called the Melchizedekians. Angel and Spirit adoptionism are both refuted in the book of Hebrews. As a primary text, they used an edited version of Matthew called the Gospel of Hebrews or Gospel of the Nazerenes (their version does not include a miraculous birth). Also used apochryphal Acts of the Apostles (Acts of Thomas, Acts of Paul). These were ascetics who paid strict attention to Jewish law.

Docetism or Docetic Gnosticism sees Christ as a phantom who only appeared as a man. Gnostics, in general, see the flesh as evil, so there is no way God would have actually taken on flesh. John contended with Doectists when he said: “This is how we know the Spirit of God, every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God”.(1 John 4 NAB). Some docetists conceded that Jesus had a tangible body that could be touched, but pure docetism would say that Christ was entirely immaterial, incorporeal, and intangible, only a phantom. Their error came in their attempts to reconcile the humanity of Christ with the divinity of Christ. Like I said, as gnostics, they’d already bought into this dualistic worldview that spirit was good and flesh was bad. The word becoming flesh just didn’t compute. How could a good God become “evil”? The non-canonical books of Thomas (the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, and the Book of Thomas the Contender)tended toward this belief, though the Infancy Gospel of Thomas at least portrayed a Jesus that could be bumped into. The Acts of John portrays a Jesus that is sometimes invisible. The Acts of Andrew, The Concept of Our Great Power, The Sophia of Jesus Christ and the Testimony of Truth are all early non-canonical documents that wander into this error.

Docetism in general lead to a spirituality that didn’t concern itself too much with care for this “evil” world. This lead to a Stoic asceticism, and a disregard for humanity.

Hybrid Gnosticism sees Christ as a cosmic mind. It starts with Docetism and syncretizes just enough to day that Christ might have been material or tangible, but He could still not be human. His body is made from some fiery divine substance, not flesh like ours. Some thought the passion an illusion, other developed a form of gnostic adoptionism that the Christ put on the body of Jesus. and that this body was stripped off when He was nailed to the cross. Jesus, in fact, laughs through the crucifixion, as God cannot possibly suffer. Some early non canonical writings by this group include the Apochryphon of James, the Second treatise of Great Seth, the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Phillip, and the Treatise on the Resurrection.

Who is Jesus?

It all comes down to the cross, and what happened there. Remember, the crucifixion is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews. Hence we have the proliferation of “other gospels”, gospels whose writers Paul called accursed.

Who is Jesus?

Pagans attempted to define him by combining His testimony with their philosophies and their understanding of the divine. Some Jews sought to distance themselves from Divinity, as they did at Sinai.

Who is Jesus?

He is the Word made flesh. He is God who put on corruptible flesh, making all flesh incorruptible. He came to earth, born of a human woman. He suffered, and died on a cross. On the third day He rose again. He was and is both fully God and fully human, the second Adam, and the redeemer of mankind. This is the understanding of Christ spoken of by John and Paul. It is the faith early church fathers contended for, putting down various forms of adoptionism and Gnosticism. It is the truth attested to by the majority of  early bishops and theologians.

There were other gospels, other testimonies, of Christ. If we examine them, though, we must view them critically. We must ask: Who wrote this and why? Who used this document and how was it used? Does what this text say about Christ line up with canonical scripture? Often, we will find, that the beliefs embraced by these documents were quickly dispensed with by the apostles as false. There is a reason that 27 books of the New Testament were accepted as canon and many other things were not. While the accepted canon offers differing perspectives on Christ, these perspectives consistently testify of the same truths concerning Him, and other gospels do not.

Living in the Delight of God

Have you ever watched children dance at a wedding? It is no coincidence, I believe, that Jesus’ ministry began and ends with a wedding feast. I think it is the closest picture we can get to what heaven will be like while we still wear the “mortal coil”.

I swear four year olds are innately drunken revelers. They start in the place that it takes me about a bottle of wine to get to. They dance without care to what anyone thinks, sometimes to the rhythm of a song no one can hear, and man, they got the moves!

They aren’t officious. They don’t care who sees their underwear. They’ll dance with anybody. They’ll dance simply for the joy of dancing, not to prove anything, but simply moved by the music. Where adults require Bacchian hedonism, children take innocent delight.

And this thought brings me back to C.S. Lewis’ Need-Loves, Gift-Loves, and Adoration. The Pharisee in me makes my religion all about my sacrifice, “Look at poor me, weighed down by joyless duty, look at what I put up with, see my great love for God in all that I do.”

But the music of heaven is another air altogether. The lay begins with a mighty “It is finished”. The work, the work which I was ever powerless to do, was done, even before stars sang at the dawn of creation. All that is left to do is to respond to the music, to dance.

There is still duty in this life, but it is done in the knowledge that all is vanity, that we will soon die, and that at our best we should “eat our bread with joy and drink our wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted our works”. It is duty of a lily of the valley, trusting that the next morning dew will come, and bedecked by God. I doubt lilies take themselves very seriously. The know how quickly they will fade.

No, the duties of this life are to be  done in the merry heart of one preparing for a wedding. There is a certain solemnity is getting children to the feast without soiling their clothes, but it is a joyful solemnity. So we, though sometimes weary Pilgrims in the sloughs, must come to the One who sends dew to the flowers. He will give us white garments, if we will simply come.

But, he is even more merciful than that! Though He seats us with Him on His throne in heavenly realms, He also formed our blood and guts and neurological pathways. He knows us innately. We are His workmanship, created in Love to show forth His glory. Though we are vain little creatures, He gives us  tasks, tasks that He has specifically empowered us to do, not that it all relies on us, but as a Father allowing  a child to have a turn with the screwdriver.

And how awe inspiring is this: That Christ would limit Himself to a body, His Church. That He would allow us to be His hands and feet and voice to the world. If that doesn’t make us feel our childish inadequacy, I don’t know what will.

And so, like children, we come. We come to the wedding feast and we dance, because our only power is in the song and it moves us. Because we know we have no great thing to give, but our bodies as a living sacrifice to the song.

CS Lewis and Love

Maybe it was a spate of insomnia, or a niece’s upcoming wedding, or aching nostalgia for friends loved and lost, but a well worn copy of C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” has found its way into my hands once again. I remember reading it in my early 20’s with a friend that I have not seen now for many years, and how Lewis’ ideas made our minds spark and our hearts yearn. But we were young and untried.

The first time I read the book, I think I may have skipped the first chapters and last chapters and jumped right into the loves of Affection (storge), Romance (Eros), and Friendship (Phillia). In brief, Storge is what we feel for the familiar and homely things. It is the love of mothers for their children, or a man for his dog. It depends not on the merit of the thing loved but the fact that it is a constant in our life. Romance (eros) is Romantic love that soars on the heights of idealization of the Beloved, and dips to valleys of despair in the next breath. Eros has two lovers facing eachother, caught in eachother’s gaze. Friendship, on the other hand, has two or more walking shoulder to shoulder, intent on common questions and interests, growing in appreciation for the other only with time. Friendship faces outward, with a brother or sister in arms, one who has the same concerns in life as we, one with whom we leave the herd and cry “what, you too?”

The first time I read this book, I so wanted to be married. I imagined meeting someone who I would want to be friends with forever, falling in love, and growing old and familiar together. This is all good and does happen in marriage. I should have read the first and last chapters, though, for these are only natural loves, and can become petty tyrants and a woeful disappointment in and of themselves without the working of a final type of love.

But first, the introductory chapters. Lewis begins his book by differentiating between Appreciation, Need-Love and Gift-Love. Appreciation is the disinterested love we have for what we esteem worthy. It is Appreciation, when sanctified, that grows to become Adoration of God.

Need and Gift Love  are best seen in the relationship between a mother and an infant. The infant has no power in an of itself and is entirely dependent upon its mother. The Love that a mother gives at this stage is for the benefit of the infant alone. This is also seen best in the prophecy of marriage as Christ and the church.

Now, I’m not talking about a “Christian marriage” here where two pious people try their best by God’s grace to raise pious children. That is a different creature. I am talking about Hosea. I’m talking about the real picture of marriage. The one where the bride is completely underserving of affection and the bridegroom must bear patiently with her in her weakness, in her wanderings, taking the brunt of churlish treatment and ingratitude, constantly bringing her back from her adulteries, into his tender care. This is the picture of Christ and the church.

Thinking of it that way, I’ve always esteemed need love to be base and childish, and appreciation and gift love to be the Christian ideal. I was mistaken. You see, we can only come to God as “Jolly Beggars”, we are weak things of dust, really, only children, and we come not of our own merit, but of our great need. He meets us, as Father, as the Longsuffering Bridegroom.

So many times I’ve heard the exhortation to look to the Giver and not the Gift. And yet, what better way to know God who we cannot see then through his working in our lives and on our behalf.  The balance, I believe, can be found in a quote from early in the book on finding God in nature: “Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go in there in order to be overwhelmed and nine times out of ten, nothing will happen”. While looking to the stuff of earth will only give us the briefest intimation of Him, as much as we would seek His face, He is revealed in simple sacraments and the stuff of earth.

The subject of Need Love and Gift Love and Appreciation comes up again at the end of the book, when Lewis speaks of Charity. The other loves serve as schoolmasters to bring us to this final, Christian, sort of love. It is only through agape that phillia, storge and eros can find their proper places. It is through human love that we begin to understand divine love.

And here I must insert another fantastic quote, as Lewis warns against an overspiritual renunciation of human loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken…the only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inheret in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him, throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. {the issue of inordinacy is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for man}”

The question of inordinacy is one of whom we will put first. We are to be like the Cavalier, leaving his Beloved with the words “I could not love you dear, so much, had I not loved honour more”. It is only from the basis of our devotion and our need of God, that our love of man may thrive.

When we come to Christ, he creates in us a supernatural need love for Himself and a need love for eachother. “All of the activities (sins only excepted) of the natural loves can in a favoured hour become works of the glad and shameless and grateful Need-love or the selfless, unofficious Gift-love, which are both Charity. Nothing is too trivial or too animal to be thus transformed. A game, a joke, a drink together, an idle chat, a walk, the act of Venus–all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own”. Thus in our very instincts, appetites and recreations, Love has prepared for Himself “a body”.” God alone can turn our natural love into Charity. As we share in His death, so also may we be raised with Him, in Love.

 

Feet to the Mountains, Splash in the Streams

The drafts are piling up again. A months worth of blog posts that I start and either never finish or decide not to publish. One is a meditation on Mother’s Day and Pentecost. Another about Isaiah 58, and rebuilding ancient ruins and restoring broken dreams. Another about how I am done writing  for a while. Another about the need for foster parents. Another about how the words are all spilled and now is the time to “chop wood and carry water”. Another about being “All In”.

The common thread: it’s time to do the thing, regardless of what anyone thinks. Personally, I’m done doing everything else but the thing. I am tired of trying to measure up to anyone else’s convictions. I am tired of hiding, of pretending, of writing voiceless protagonists carried away by circumstances beyond their control. I am tired of measuring my obedience to Christ by a handful of verses in Titus and Timothy without taking into account the mighty women of the Old and New Testament.

Ain’t nobody got time for all that. There’s been no room for slave women  since the crucifixion, and no time for timidity since Pentecost.  The Kingdom must advance.

What is the thing? It looks a little different for everyone, in how it plays out. But it is the work Christ began and commanded and empowered the church to carry out. It is the only thing that matters, the place of joy in God and bringing Him glory. It is walking in step with the Spirit, and in the heart of the Father, for our families, community, nation and world.

We are given one life. Just one. At the end of it, the only opinion that will matter is the one of the GodMan who said “whatsoever you have done for the least of these, my brethren…”  He who pointed out fields white for the harvest and commanded his followers to go out into all the world has promised the power to carry out the task.

Right now, there is a huge need for foster and adoptive families in our community. Beyond that, we must remedy the circumstances bringing families  to that point. There is a need to bring the gospel into the darkness of addiction, the hopelessness of poverty, physical and mental affliction, and to pierce the veil of illiteracy and ignorance.

I remember when He first called me. I know where He brought me from, and it ain’t pretty. The good news of Christ met me in many of the areas I listed above. That alone should compel me to extravagant worship, untiring labor, faithful dominion, and ceaseless praise.  He has proven His sustaining power again and again.

God  has proven Himself mighty on my behalf and I want to be where He is, doing what He does. This is the place of joy, the place of the Shepherd’s leading.

So today, obedience to that call looks like caring for my family and continuing to get the house ready for an adoption home study.  In a couple of weeks it will look like finalizing lesson plans for our church’s literacy program. Next fall, it might include an online class or two, because I’ve pretty much maxed out what I can do with the tools I already have, and some of my  Samaria and End of the Earth dreams require a bit more learning.

What about you? What is your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria? What mountains has Christ called you to? When is the last time you played in the streams?  What joy unspeakable, full of glory, waits over that next rise? He is joy unspeakable, full of glory,  and He has called us to come and to follow Him!

 

 

Hovering. Haven’t run a fever in a few days, but still coughing.
Preparing. In just a couple weeks, we race to catch the moving train that is fostering to adopt. (’cause there’s this kid, and as long as there is a kid…)
Listmaking. So much to catch up on after being sick. Much to prepare for Story Club and for next month’s home study.
Reveling. In the chaos. In the ALIVENESS, the ABUNDANCE, of it all.
Not overwhelmed. Yet.
Sufficient for today is it’s own trouble. Today the laundry. Today I plan and make checklists in an old journal. Today the grocery shopping. Today I dream big dreams and sing this song:

 

Early Morning Whispers

“Lord, I give you all my plans and my purposes, all my desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my time, my all, utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, work out thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever”
Betty Scott Stam, martyr, missionary to China

I found this quote in one of my old journals in the wee hours of this morning. I’ve journaled on and off for about 20 years, mostly in times of decision or uncertainty. Many of my journals are half filled, then discarded until the next crisis. Every once and I while I pull an old journal down from the shelf and reread it.

The one with the missionary quote was from spring/summer of 2004. A little after that Easter service where I first encountered my future husband. It is full of cringe worthy angst. Is he interested? Am I fooling myself? What if I am deluding myself, and God’s will for my life is to serve him as a single missionary in some remote part of the world? Who am I to presume to know the will of God?

A journal from the summer/fall of 2005 recounts the fretfulness of waiting and pleading for that first positive pregnancy test after being told that might not be a possibility for us. (But God! Didn’t you promise? Am I fooling myself? Who am I to presume to know your will?). Another journal from summer of 2007 questioning the wisdom of leaving my full time job to pursue becoming a therapeutic foster parent.

No matter what my worry, the answers remain consistent.
1) Be still and know that I am God. Know Me, seek My kingdom, and I will take care of the rest.
2) My sheep hear My voice.
3) Rest in Me. The Beloved of the Lord rests between His shoulders, He quiets them with His love.
4)You are Mine. You are My servant and stand or fall to Me alone. Wait for Me. Have I ever failed?
5) Stop fretting! Sing, Trust God, and dwell in the land. (It is so funny to see these exact words written in journals 15 years apart)

I think the most repeated word in all of those journals is TRUST, though REST follows closely at its heels. WAIT and BE STILL show up every few pages.

In the spring of 2017, there are questions. Some relate to old dreams, others to new opportunities. The answers remain the same. So, here I am again, learning to WAIT and BE STILL when I want to run. Learning to REST when I want to fret. Still learning to TRUST the One who never fail.