Saturday, March 31, 2018

Not Seeing is Believing

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
John 20:29

Of the four Gospels' accounts of the Easter story as we know it (accounts detailing Jesus' final hours on earth from His arrest and crucifixion to His burial, resurrection, and ascension), each offer their own unique take and perspective. 

There's Matthew 26:28. Matthew is very detail-oriented, which I commend. I don't want to just hear that Jesus broke bread with the disciples. I want to know what kind of bread, what color the napkins were, and if someone knocked over their goblet while telling a story. Matthew offers some rich detail in his account. His observance and recording is appreciated. In this Gospel, we're blessed with this final promise:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:20

For those of you who don't care about the china pattern or what sandals the disciples were wearing, there's Mark's account. Straightforward and concise, Mark 15-16 offers more of a bulleted list and timeline of the events.  We're told as a footnote that earlier texts and versions of Mark's account are even shorter. It is suggested that the original version only included the first half of chapter 16, making it roughly 25% less than what we have today. 

Luke, a physician by trade, offers another detailed account. If Matthew was observant of people and places, Luke 22-24 provides more detail on the process, the how and why. One of the themes that I've always found interesting is the mild chaos that surrounded Jesus' final hours on earth. I'd like to think if I was about to undergo great suffering and humiliation and untold pain and fear, that at the very least, I would be surrounded by those closest to me, and that they would keep it together. I know this is a lot to ask and so did Jesus, I suspect. When the guards come for him in the garden, one of his disciples decides to go all tough guy and swings a sword, cutting off one of the guards' ears. We're told in all of the accounts that Jesus says, "aww, now look what you've done!," (I'm paraphrasing) but Dr. Luke goes on to tell us what happened next:

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him."
Luke 22:49-51
I can only imagine how this would have been noteworthy to a physician.

In the final Gospel, John 17-20, we have my (as well as many others') favorite account. John is a wordsmith so, as someone who enjoys playing with written text myself, I appreciate his woven tapestry. He was the only one present with Jesus in the garden, overhearing and poignantly capturing His prayer for all ages. It's a fairly detailed accounting in its own right, however, like any author worth his salt, John teases us with a hint that there's even more to be said:

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
John 20:30-31

Now the mention that Jesus performed many other signs that were not recorded by John here is intriguing enough, but the other sandal drops at the end of the next chapter.  Buckle up:

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

John 21:25

[mic drop]

So, as you celebrate this Holy weekend, I hope you are blessed by God's unending and unwavering love and that you find hope and peace in the promises made and fulfilled by Jesus' love and sacrifice for us. Here's to new beginnings, rebirth, 2.0, and new chapters.  Just remember when you write yours, I want details. All of them. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Living with Excess

We just returned from a trip to Florida's Gulf Coast for our spring break. Our go-to spot is in Rosemary Beach, nestled among about 20 different little mini-cities on beautiful 30A. Back in the late 80s when I went on my first spring break that I remember, this area was no more than a fishing village that happened to have yet-undiscovered clear water and sugar white sand. Destin was where people started going and, over the last 30 years, the scene has spread westward away from what is now the hustling tourist trap that Destin proper has become. If you just travel 20 minutes or so to the right, you'll encounter places with names such as "Watercolor," "Alys," "Inlet Beach," and "Rosemary." Here, you'll find a lot of new money, multi-million dollar homes and multi-billion dollar developments, shops with over-priced fare and restaurants boasting a who's who of up and coming chefs.

The real allure for me, though, is the sincerity of the place. A lot of the locals are just that -- locals. Born and bred, if not right there, then close by. They have a vested interest in the area's success. And a tangible pride for how well it's doing. There's a chill vibe that is simply contagious. No one is in a hurry. There are more bikes than cars on the road at any given time. The people are friendly. It seems like a close-knit community, despite the fact that from March-September, a good majority of folks are just there for a week before returning to their real lives.

Although it's steeped in and replete with wealth, a modest Average Joe, middle-incomer can feel at home. Well, that is until you're reminded of your place on the "haves or have not" scale. This happened to me on our second beach day. We had rented beach chairs for our stay that came with two wooden chairs, a small table, and an umbrella, all lovingly set up prior to our arrival each day by a young, tanned, and seemingly higher-than-the-proverbial-kite dude. These set-ups are spaced maybe three feet apart so you have the opportunity to get to know your neighbors, either outright by speaking and being friendly or, as I prefer, indirectly by slyly spying and observing.

On this day, I noticed my neighbors on either side were displaying extravagant, outward signs of their prosperity. To my left, a young couple, early 30s, enjoyed a day at the beach with their two kids, approximate ages three years and five months old, and their nanny, a young girl in the 18-22 years old category. To my right, an older couple, late 40s-early 50s, with the woman carrying an $1,800 Louis Vuitton purse. On the beach.

I took some time from enjoying watching my child play at the beach to study these two case studies on either side. I made up detailed and interesting back stories for both. I imagined the Nanny family was happy to be on vacation after a long winter of being pregnant and then stuck indoors with a toddler and a newborn. I conjured images of Purse sending their youngest off to college in the fall and settling into their new "empty nest" chapter.

But then my thoughts turned dark. I wondered what Nanny's man did for a living, assuming the wife didn't work if she couldn't be bothered with watching her children while on vacation. I wondered how many other $1k+ purses Purse Lady must have and how this one became the "I don't care - I'm just going to the beach" one.

As I sat there acting as judge and jury on these two parties, it occurred to me I was living a life of excess, too, and I didn't like it. Here I was, seemingly getting away from it all, and I was plagued by envy, an abundance of negative thoughts and opinions, and judgement that surpassed Wopner, Judy and God Almighty. "Who am I," I wondered? "Where do I get off?" And "what business is it of mine what anyone else does?"

No one.
You don't.

And then the real judgement began. "Why aren't you in better shape?" "Why aren't you more tan?" "Why did you choose family over career?" "Why is your hair not pulled back in a sleek pony with an Hermes scarf?"

There it was. An almost unbearable amount of self-doubt. It's a wonder I made it down all those stairs with a load like this. But here's the great thing about a day at the beach: your problems, in whatever form they may come, are absolutely dwarfed by the sea. The ocean is known for its many healing properties, the least of which isn't its ability to remind you how small you, and every woe, is. There's a vast body of water out there that connects to every other body of water on this blue marble on which we live and it was all created by an even bigger God. That's reassuring. There's peace in that. A tangible, soothing peace.

And just like that, I felt my cares lifted, my soul unburdened. And I thought, "Nanny, Purse...we're going to have a good day because, ultimately, we're sisters all formed from the same Father. And we're good enough."