May 19, 2013

The Accuser and the Advocate

From the original language of the Hebrew Bible, we get the "name" satan.  It is a word that means accuser or adversary.  Today, on Pentecost Sunday, as we close the Easter season, we are introduced to the Advocate.  It's the original legal smack-down:  The Accuser vs The Advocate.

From Perry Mason to L.A. Law to Law and Order, television has taught us how this legal business works, even if we've never actually sat in a trial.  Enter the defendant, or, if you prefer, the accused.  She stands before the judge.  She faces her accuser.

The accuser claims to have been wronged by the accused.  Sometimes the accuser is the state, a representation of the idea that we citizens collectively stand behind the idea of right adherence to the law.  The accusation is that the accused has violated the just law.  And often, she has.  And we have.

We can say that our adversary, the Accuser, is out to get us.  But what if we're guilty?  What if what I've been accused of is exactly what I've done?

We live in a culture, in the 21st century, in the developed Western world, that says in nearly every imaginable way, It's all good.  I'm okay; you're okay.  We elevate personal freedom as the highest possible good.  We ratify every choice in the name of individual liberty -- or the preservation of national liberty.  We're entitled, and we raise entitlement to the status of right.  The problem is, we know it's wrong.

I know it, because I feel guilty.  I have food to spare while others starve.  I take long showers while others don't have clean water to drink.  I want a smartphone while others want their governments to stop shooting at them.

We try to live post-guilt, but guilt is not a bad thing.  It's the sign of a well-formed conscience.  I'm guilty.  I'm guilty of lots of things.  It's not just the social/cultural sin of being a rich white girl.  It's in the ways I'm petty.  It's when I gossip.  It's the countless times I don't show up or show up mean.  It's the inescapable truth that I don't live up to the potential I'm given to be a God-image-bearer.  If I stand accused, it's because I'm guilty.

The Accuser is right.

So I need an Advocate.  Standing on my own, I stand condemned.  But notice that Jesus identifies the Advocate with the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17).  That means that the Advocate isn't given in order to excuse or cover up my guilt.  The Advocate will reveal what's true, and that includes my guilt.

But that's not all.

There is more that is true of me.  It's not just that, along with my weakness and, yes, sin, there is good.  There is.  But there is an even truer truth.  I am beloved of God just as I am.

The Advocate stands behind me, before the judge.  All too often, I am the judge.  I can be my own worst adversary, ready to condemn myself in my guilt.  The Advocate pleads my case.  The Advocate sees my potential to reform.  The Advocate knows, even when I'm not so sure myself, that I'm worth saving.

May 4, 2013

Give Us This Day

I am among the slim majority of American adults who do not use a smartphone.  My phone looks, roughly, like this.  I'm told it's indestructible, and I'm not going to get another phone until this one is unusable, so it may be a while.  The real question is, Why do I care?

I don't need a smartphone.  I don't.  I'm home a lot of the time, and there's internet access here.  I actually like not being accessible by e-mail when I'm out.  My phone can call and text, and that's plenty.

But there's this part of me that really wants a smartphone.

That part sounds like this:  Everybody else has one, she whines.  I could have my calendar when I'm out, she reasons.  It would be fun, she imagines.  It's not fair, she protests.

My teenage son got a smartphone today.  No data plan, just wi fi.  And I have phone envy.

I've been thinking a lot lately about these two, competing parts of me, these two seats of want.  I want to be like everybody else, and I want to be different.  I want what I want, and I want to sit with the discipline of doing without.  I want to indulge and I want to fast.

It's Id vs. Ego.

It's not a tug-of-war I can win.  Either way, I'm trying to have what I want.  It's a zero-sum game.  Either way, I lose.

If my Id gets what she wants, the satisfaction is fleeting and shallow.  Newness never lasts.  Glitter fades.  If Ego wins, the satisfaction is brittle, dry, a little sour.  Good for you.

I have begun to wonder what the other choice, the third choice, might be.  I used to think I didn't know what I wanted.  I thought the question was, What do I want?  Now I think that's wrong.  I want lots of things, and they cancel each other out and they don't amount to much anyway.  No, there must be a different question.

It's too pithy to say, What does God want for me? even though that's a very important question.  Maybe it strikes me as lacking because it begs another question, Who is the "me"?  Who am I?

Because I'm both the girl who wants a smartphone to play with and the woman who wants a break from technology.  I'm the woman who sees the practicality of having the internet in her pocket and the girl who wants to be free of the responsibility of being available all the time.

I keep imagining that if I could hold it all in tension, something new would emerge, the "me" underneath.  I suspect that the problem is not that that woman doesn't know what she wants.  The fact is, she has what she wants.  The woman under, or maybe within, has every single thing she has ever wanted right now.  Her sense of completeness precludes any questions about having or not having.

"Give us this day our daily bread..."  I, at least, typically take those words to mean, give us enough for this day, just what we need for now.  And I suspect they are meant to mean that.  But I read once that they might also refer to the feast we're meant to share in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Give us this day...  Not simply what we need to survive, but the grandest feast there is.  If I believe that the Kingdom is here and now, I can join in the feast today.  I don't have to wait.  There's nothing more to wait for.  It's all here now.  Nothing to want.  Just dig in.