patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, November 25, 2011

what's up with that?

In the assignment I just handed back from a course in writing from faith, several students lamented that they often failed, as one of them put it, “to love others more than myself.” Why do so many of us think that loving others more than ourselves is what God has called us to do in the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 TNIV)?

I have written a whole book on this sort of misreading of so many believers—even of those who, as I am, are thoroughly convinced that salvation is in no way dependent upon behavior. Still, every time I reencounter such thinking—in others, in myself—it unsettles me anew. Why do we have this urge to outdo what God expects of us by burdening ourselves with holy acts we can’t possibly achieve? Why can we not accept Jesus’ assurance that his burden is easy and his yoke light? Why don’t we concentrate on the one work God does expect of us: to believe in the One God Sent—that is, not merely to believe in Jesus (or to believe on him, whatever that’s supposed to mean) but to believe simply believe him when he says such things?

I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray “just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 TNIV). The disciples they’re wanting to emulate, mind you, are the followers of John the Baptist, an Extreme Holiness devotee if there ever was one. John’s disciples likely lived in the wilderness just as John did, dining on grasshoppers when they weren’t fasting and praying night and day.

“Shouldn’t this be harder?” Jesus’ disciples seem to be asking. And John’s disciples themselves wonder the same thing in Matthew 9:14, where they comment that, while they themselves “fast often,” Jesus’ disciples never do.

“What’s up with that?” they ask Jesus.

He answers that his disciples will fast when he’s no longer with them, but then he says something else:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.”
He emphasizes this aphorism with another:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
There’s going to be a new way of going about the business of faith, in other words. Sacrificing and fasting and burdening ourselves and others with impossible rules was the old way. The new way is a wholly different experience. Easy. Light. Delightful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

even in our least loving moments

Today at breakfast I recounted a story a colleague told me the other day when I ran into her at Panera, where we both go to grade papers. We had gotten to talking about the ways our teaching experiences have grown us spiritually, and my colleague told me about how a former student of hers had failed her class twice as a result of absences and lack of motivation. Against her judgment or inclination, my colleague had been pressured into allowing the student to retake her class a third time. At graduation, the student thanked all the professors who had made similar concessions and singled out specifically my colleague for, as the student said, “believing in me.”

“I have never felt so humiliated,” my colleague told me. I could remember many such instances in my own career, when I had struggled to like and even totally written off a student who later returned to thank me for my teaching. My colleague resolved from that moment never to give up on a student again.

“That’s just like what Ron said that time about the goats and the sheep,” my husband Kris commented.

Apparently, some fifteen years ago, our friend Ron had filled in for our regular pastor and preached about the passage where Jesus recounts how, at the last judgment, he will damn the goats who saw him hungry, thirsty, lonely, and imprisoned and did nothing about it and commend and welcome home the sheep who did. (Kris has an astonishingly explicit memory for things people talked about long in the past. It’s like being married to a tape recorder.)

In any case, Ron had been impressed with the sameness of the goats’ and the sheep’s response: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison…?” both groups wonder (Matthew 25:44 TNIV). And neither group has any memory of helping or not helping those in need—evidence, according to Ron, that the loving acts believers do may not be the ones they expressly set out to do so much as the ones God does through them unawares. My colleague, according to my husband, had believed in that student without even knowing it.

It’s a comforting thought: that God recoups what we mess up. That, even in our least loving moments, God might be using us to carry out some worthy task of love.