It is 6:45 in the morning and I am singing in my car. Downtown Orlando looks clean and quiet, the sky is blue and pink, the air chilly. I have my windows down, blasting Billy Joels' "Big Shot". Billy Joel is like family, I've grown up under his melancholy and wit. When I was a little girl my father would take me into work with him, we would blast the radio and sing at the top of our lungs- those mornings the city looked angelic, pink and blue tinged sky scrapers. I thought heaven was Manhatten and the choir was Queen.
I park on one of the side streets for Lake Eola, our large, man made lake in the middle of downtown. A few months ago the fountain broke and some of the downtown socialities have been trying to raise money to get it fixed, but everyone has more important things to do. The water is smooth like glass, uninterrupted except for the metal structure of the fountain which has now been reduced to a vogue art piece.
For some reason there is a large, red Chinese pagoda beside the lake. I have no idea why. But I dig it.
Tom, my friend and pastor, is sitting on a bench inside the pagoda, looking like a norseman but shivering, which I am not sure they ever did.
We are meeting together for prayer and scripture reading. When I told my best friend Jenn that I was going at seven in the morning, she laughed at me. Understandable, if I had not woken up at 5:30, I'd probably still be snuggling in bed.
A few others filter in and Rubymel opens us up in prayer. Rubymel is one of the prettiest girls I've ever met; petite, with honey carmel hair, creamy deep tan skin and a huge smile. She has a dozen or two sisters that are all equally gorgeous and I have never met their father but I bet he has premature white hair and a few shotguns. Poor guy.
Rubymel speaks about sanctification- about letting go of the things that hinder us spiritually. We read a few verses and on the matter, and she ends with Malachi 3:3.
::He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver::
"There was a woman in the church," Rubymel says, "and she didn't understand this verse, so she went to an actual silver smith. She didn't say anything, just watched him. He took the silver and put it on an iron, then held it over an exact point of the fire. When she asked him about that, he said that the silver had to be over the hottest point of the fire, so that any impurities in the silver would be burned away completely. Then she asked him when he knew it was done. He told her it was done when he could see his reflection in the silver."
Rubymel said a bit more after that but my mind flew away. I don't think alot of people want to look like God. I think they want other people to think that they want to look like God. They want to say in church and prayer that they want to look like God, but nobody really wants to change how they live. And when I say other people, most of the time I mean 'me'.
The purification process is painful, slow and grinding. There is so much dirt we have accumulated through the years, so many things to be burned away. But it seems all of life is the avoidance of pain- the avoidance of difficult conversations or choosing the better over the easier. No wonder Christ terrifies me. No wonder Christians who never understand the severity of the gospel drown in cheap grace and boredom. And those that do understand that Christianity demands everything, can walk away. At any time we can climb out of the furnace, tell God that we are no longer interested in doing business with him, and be on our way.
But the knowledge that haunts me is this: even If I choose to not be purified by Christ, I will be burned by something. Climbing out of Christ's fire just means going into someone elses. I can take the poker from God and give it to my job; boyfriend; church or fashion. We are going to worship something or someone. We are going to allow situations and people to change us, meld us to something better; worse; different. There is no avoidance of suffering- we can numb ourselves through drugs and lust, church service and alchohol, shopping, we can try to bury ourselves in someone elses heart- and in all these things we are melted and burned and changed.
I am jilted back into reality by the group breaking up to discuss what we are learning. Tom turns to me and I am immediately zoned in. Somewhere in proverbs it says something about wisdom from a wise man being a gift, and I feel gifted by Tom's words.
He begins to tell me how encouraged he is by reading the Gregory Boyd book 'The Myth of a Christian Religion'. In the book, Boyd discusses the story of the widow who gave two coins for the tithe, and how Christ commended her for it. The widow gave out of her poverty- against common sense, whereas the religious elders gave out of extreme wealth, probably not even noticing the amount of feeling the sting. Tom goes on to say that from this story and Christ's joyous reaction to it, that perhaps the only worship or offering that Christ truly accepts is one that costs us something.
It's easy for me to be a Christian when it is already convenient to my presupposed plans. My Christianity consists of reading books- but what do I do out of my poverty? Bonhoeffer wrote something in 'The Cost of Discipleship" that made my head spin, 'those who believe, obey.' Yeah, we get that part. If you believe the ideas of Christianity, then it would be logical for you to obey them. But then he goes on to say 'those who obey, believe.'
Well. That's interesting- but it makes sense. Christianity is not something that can just be thought about- it must be acted out, and in the very action of serving, reading, meditating, praying, it would make sense for the spirit (if there is one) to grow larger by those praxis and for faith to appear.
Football: you can plan and think and plot all day, but how do you know you love the game if you don't actually do it?
I don't want to be smudged silver, I don't want to be a reaction to what other people have done. And that means sitting in the fire. Lately, the fire has been burning away the idea that Christianity can be reduced to abstraction, kept in the realm of moral ambiguity that never has to produce obedience or action. I have little faith in people's words these days- mine or others. Logical or impassioned speeches no longer elicit the hope in me they once did. I am starting to look at how people live their lives, instead of the repetitive conversations they have- and it is a startling experience. I am starting to look at the way I live my life- and that is a startling experience.
Words from Oswald Chambers that have made themselves at home in the forefront of my mind:
"If, as I recall what God remembers about me, I find he is not what He used to be to me, let it produce shame and humiliation, because that shame will bring the godly sorrow that works repentance."
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.