Known By God

Words from Kenneth Tanner

The Newest Episode of CGJ+

From Kenneth Tanner

I am in the mind of God from eternity and always on God’s mind.

My mind is in the gutter, fixed on what is passing away.

I am expertly knit by God in the womb of my mother for good works.

The tapestry my life weaves is chaotic and falling apart.

God delights in my existence.

I delight in anything but God.

God is always present, speaking, unveiling, seeking union with me.

I am ever absent, deaf, blind, consumed with detachment.

God bids me come and die.

I strive to stay alive by what brings death.

God desires that I share his imperishable way of existence.

I desire life on my own terms.

God becomes human to share his divine nature with me.

I try to escape my humanity, making deals with the devil for equality with God.

God knows me.

I am unknown to myself.

God wants to banish death from me like straw vanishes in flame.

I stuff myself with death like a scarecrow.

I am crucified with Christ.

I crucify.

I am accepted by God just as I am.

I reject and despise myself.

God loves me by laying down his life.

I love myself, putting my life before anyone.

God forgives me.

I withhold forgiveness.

God loves my enemies.

I wish my enemies harm.

God hands down heaven.

I raise hell.

God sees who I am in the end, in the perfection he in the beginning intends for me.

I see myself in a cracked mirror, broken and irreparable.

God clothes me with his pardon and makes me well.

I adorn myself with shame and depend on my addictions.

I am seated with God in the humanity of Jesus Christ, in the person who is what it means to be human and to be God.

I got up this morning thinking only of myself, only of what I want, mindless of my wife or children, or neighbor.

All of this is true at once, and I fool myself to deny any of it, but the divine affirmations defeat all of my denials in Jesus Christ and that is my whole trust.

I am what God makes of me not what I make of myself.

*Offered in remembrance of the courageous, faithful, and broken priest Thomas McKenzie, with many reminders of the resurrection. May his number increase.

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Taylor’s Tunes

Indigo De Souza - Hold U

Lucy Dacus - Going Going Gone

Samia - As You Are

Psalm 84.12

O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

The praise service had been hitting all the marks - the band was in sync, people had their hands up in the air thanking the Lord, and a few were even dancing in front of their folding chairs. The gymnasium truly transformed into a place of worship and the people couldn’t get enough of it.

The sermon was delivered with a beaming smile, encouraging people to look on the sunny side, celebrate successes, and to praise God in all times and in all places. Coffee was passed around to all the worshippers, and whether or not it was the caffeine, people were jazzed for Jesus.

Following the service, as was customary, the preacher stood by the door and shook hands with the people of God. His smile remained bright and shiny as each family, couple, and individual walked by.

Until one woman stormed past him and everyone else while muttering words under her breath.

The preacher apologized to the couple in front of him for the woman’s behavior and shouted at her as she sped across the parking lot: “Don’t forget to praise God!”

She stopped dead in her tracks, made a quick 180, walked right up to the preacher, and put her index finger into his nose. “I’ve had it up to here with you and all your silly happiness and praise. I can’t stand coming to a church that won’t let me feel what I’m feeling, and I’m never coming back.”

And she never did.

Happiness is such a fickle thing. Happiness comes and goes like the wind and we rarely hold onto it as long as we’d like to. The demands of life always catch up with us and for as much as might want to “keep on the sunny side,” the night will come. 

The psalmist writes, “O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” And the word “happy” is notable because in other translations it is rendered as “blessed.” 

And there’s a big difference between happiness and blessedness.

The differing translations come from the Greek word MAKARIOS which, at times, can mean happy, blessed, contented, and a slew of other things.

And yet, the words we use carry great meaning. For instance, happiness is often seen as a feeling that can change depending on one’s internal or external circumstances. Such happiness ebbs and flows depending on a variety of factors. Happiness, then, is somewhat under our control. That is: we can make ourselves feel happy by engaging in certain activities.

But being blessed has little, if anything to do with our control and agency. We are blessed by others and not by ourselves. In other words, our blessedness is not within our own control but only something offered to us like a gift.

In the church we call it grace.

We are blessed not because of our own machinations or because we have earned it or deserved it. We are blessed because we are swept up in God’s goodness. The acts of God in Christ make us blessed.

Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian of the 20th century, translates being blessed like this: “You lucky bum!” To be blessed by God is nothing more than receiving something that we never should have received in the first place except for the fact that God delights in doing so. 

Jesus doesn’t wait on the arms of the cross until we are happy enough or good enough or repentant enough before he declares forgiveness upon us and all of creation.

Jesus doesn’t hide behind the stone in the tomb until we get our lives sorted out, or right all of the wrongs, or exhibit perfect mortality before he returns to us resurrected.

Our happiness, whatever it might be, is fleeting and fragile. But our blessedness is sure and forever because it comes to us from the only One who can offer it in the first place.

Ours is the kingdom! What a bunch of lucky bums we are!

And because I believe music often does a better job at expressing the faith than mere words alone, here are some tunes that can help us come to grips with what it means to be blessed by God:

Indigo De Souza is an indie rock darling from North Carolina. Her recent single “Hold U” imagines a love( romantic, platonic, divine, communal) that can sustain us even in the darkest moments of pain/isolation. Enjoy the ear wormy guitar riff and be sure to stick around for the anthemic “woo” in the latter third of the track.

Lucy Dacus is simply one of my favorite singer-songwriters. Her songs exude with nostalgic angst and love with beautiful harmonic arrangements. “Going Going Gone” is a deceptively simple return to teenage love while coming to grips with reality in the past and present. 

Samia is a new artist, for me, but her debut album last year garnered a lot of attention. She just announced a new EP and the opening track “As You Are” is otherworldly. It’s both beautiful and fragile with a solid drum beat, indie pop vocals, and scraps of voicemails from Samia’s partner and parents all pointed toward the confounding nature of unconditional love. 

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While We Were Yet Dogs - Jason Micheli

Just the other day, I was at Starbucks, answering emails and chugging coffee to whatever single Norah Jones recently released. Because I’m an idiot, I was still wearing my clergy collar, which is basically like wearing a sandwich board sign that says “Open for Business.”

Sure enough I hadn’t been sitting there for a minute when this woman comes up to me and sits down across from me— she doesn’t ask; she just sits down. Sure, she looked anxious and desperate and poor, but talk about pushy and rude. She didn’t even ask. And then she says to me: “Father, can I ask you something?” 

I was tired and feeling frayed and just needing not to be needed so I was little brusque with her. I said to her: “Look, not now. I’ve got a ton of people on my To Do List and they’re all more important than a b!@#$ like you.”

No, of course I didn’t say that to her. Don’t be ridiculous. I’d never say something like that to a stranger. And neither would you. I mean, we only talk that way to the people we love. Not in a million years would I talk that way to a stranger in need.

So how come Jesus does?

“It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs.”

Just watch the preachers do their seminary best to protect God this coming Sunday in dealing with the lectionary Gospel text. 

Read it again. 

Jesus doesn’t just call her a dirty word. At first he ignores her completely, like she’s worse than a dog, like she’s not even there.  And then, after the disciples try to get rid of her, Jesus basically says there’s nothing I can do for SOMEONE LIKE YOU. 

I don’t have any spare miracles for SOMEONE LIKE YOU.

For SOMEONE LIKE YOU I’m all tapped out. 

And when she doesn’t go away, Jesus calls her a dog.

The bread (of life) is meant for the children (of God). For the righteous. For believers. For the right kind of people like me.  It’s not meant for DOGS LIKE YOU, Jesus, the incarnate love of God, says to her.

And you can be sure that in Greek to her ears “dog” sounded exactly like “witch” with a capital B.

Just like in 1 Samuel 17.43 when Goliath taunts David with that word.

Just like in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus preaches that you “never give holy things to dogs nor pearls to swine.”

Now, like a pig, Jesus refuses to give anything holy to this woman and then calls her a dog.

Don’t you just love passages like this!

I do.

It’s because of passages like this one that you know the Jesus story is true. It has to be true. It’s too messed up not to be true. Think about it— if the Gospels were just made up fictions, then this passage today would never have made it into the Bible. 

Just imagine how that conversation would’ve gone. 

Just imagine the pitch among the writers:

Hey, I’ve got this new idea for the story— whole new angle. I was thinking we do a change of scenery, put the hero in Gentile territory, have him rub elbows with the undesirable type.  And then we have this woman come to him looking for his help. Just like the woman with the hemorrhage in the first part of the script. But I was thinking…what if we go the other way with it? You remember how we had that first woman grab at the hem of his garment for her miracle? And how he looks around for who touched him so he can reward her faith- because that’s how compassionate he is. So this time I thought we could change it up. Have him ignore the woman completely. Pretend like she’s not even there. 

But get this: we don’t stop there. I was thinking that after she refuses to go away- because she’s just so wretched and pathetic and everything- we can have him call her a b@!$%. 

Yeah, a b@#$%. Isn’t that a grabber? Keep the audience guessing. He’s unpredictable. Is he going to respond with the love and mercy tack, or will he turn a cold shoulder and throw down an f-bomb?

You see— that would never happen! You know the Gospel is true because if it were just made up, this story, along with the cross, would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. It never would’ve made it in the Bible. There’s no better explanation: Jesus really treated this woman like she wasn’t even there, not worth his time, and then called her a dog. 

So if he really did do it, then why? 

How do we explain Jesus acting in a way that doesn’t sound like Jesus?

It’s true that Jesus is truly, fully God, but it’s also true, as the creed says, that Jesus was fully, truly, 100% human.

So perhaps that’s the explanation. Maybe this Canaanite woman caught Jesus with his compassion down. He’s human. It happens to all of us. And it’s understandable given the week he’s had. Just before this, he was rejected by his family and his hometown friends in Nazareth. That’s rough. And right after that John the Baptist gets murdered. And everywhere he’s gone lately crowds chase him more interested in miracles than messiahs. So maybe this Canaanite woman catches Jesus in a bad mood, with a little compassion fatigue. Sue him. He’s human.

Except the way Jesus draws a line between us and them, the way he dismisses her desperation and then drops a dirty word on her- it sounds human alright. All too human.  As in, it sounds like something someone who is less than fully human would do.

So how do we explain it?

You could say, as some have, that Jesus isn’t really being the mean, insensitive, offensive, manstrating jerk wad he seems to be here in this passage. No, you could say, this is Jesus testing her.  He’s testing her to see how long she’ll kneel at his feet, to see how long she’ll call him ‘Lord,’ to see how long she’ll beg and plead for his mercy.

He’s just testing her faith. You could say (and many have). But if that’s the case, then Jesus doesn’t just call her a dog. He treats her like one too and he’s even more of jerk than he seemed initially.  

WWJD? 

Humiliate her in order to test her? 

Somehow I don’t think so.

Of course, if you could just blame it on her. 

Blame the victim.

You could suggest that she deserves the treatment Jesus gives her, that she has it coming to her for the rude and offensive way she first treats Jesus. After all, she comes to him- alone- a Gentile woman to a Jewish rabbi, violating his holiness codes and asking him to do the same for her. Just expecting him to take on sin. For her. So she gets what she has coming to her for bursting in on his closed doors; alone, approaching a man who’s not her husband, breaching the ethnic and religious and gender barriers between them and then rudely expecting him to do the same. If he’s rude to her, then you could argue that she deserves it for treating him so offensively first.  And it’s true that her approaching him violates social convention. It’s true: she not only asks for healing, she asks him to transgress the religious law that defines him. 

All true.

But that doesn’t explain why NOW of all times Jesus acts so out of character. It doesn’t explain why NOW and not before he’s suddenly sensitive about breaking the Jewish law for mercy’s sake.

So, no, I don’t buy it.

Jesus ignores her.

Tells her there’s nothing I can do for SOMEONE LIKE YOU.

And then he calls her a dog.

A contemporary take on this text is to say that this is an instance of Jesus maturing, coming to an awareness that maybe his mission was to the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. That without this fortuitous run-in with a persistent Canaanite woman Jesus might have kept on believing he was a circumscribed Messiah only. That she helps Jesus enlarge his vision and his heart.

I guess, maybe. But that doesn’t really get around the insult here. Jews didn’t even keep dogs as pets that’s how harsh this is. Dogs were unclean, scavenging in the streets, eating trash, and sleeping in filth. And in Jesus’ day, ‘dog’ was a racist, derogatory term for Canaanites, unwashed unbelievers who just happened to be Israel’s original and oldest enemy. Even if she helped him change his mind that doesn’t explain away his mouth.

What’s a word like that doing in Jesus’ mouth?

How do we explain Jesus acting in a way that doesn’t sound like Jesus at all but sounds a lot more like us instead?

 Of course, that’s it.

This is Jesus acting just like us.

To understand this passage, to understand Jesus acting the way he does, you have to go back to the scene right before it where Jesus has a throw down with the scribes and the Pharisees who’ve just arrived from Jerusalem to check him out.

Rather than attacking Jesus directly, they go after the company Jesus keeps. They take one look at the losers Jesus has assembled around him—low class fishermen, bottom feeding tax collectors and worse— and they ask Jesus the loaded question:

Why would a rabbi’s disciples ignore scripture? Why would they eat with unclean hands (and unclean people)?

Their pointing out how Jesus’ disciples were the wrong kind of people was but a way of pointing out how they were the right kind of people. Good people. Law-abiding people. Convention-respecting, morality-keeping,  Bible-believing people.

And Jesus responds with a scripture smack-down of his own, saying that it’s not obeying the rules that makes you holy.

It’s not believing the Bible that makes you holy. It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles you, Jesus says. It’s what comes out of the mouth. And whether or not what comes out of your mouth is the truth about what’s in your heart.

That’s what makes you holy, Jesus says. Pretty straightforward, right?

Except the disciples don’t get it. They think Jesus is just telling a parable, turning the tables on the Pharisees to show how they’ve got it all backwards; it’s Jesus’ disciples who are the right kind of people and the Pharisees who are the wrong kind. The disciples don’t get that Jesus’ whole point is that putting people into ‘kinds of people’ in order to justify ourselves is exactly the problem. The scene starts with the scribes asserting their superiority and the scene ends with the disciples assuming their superiority.

Turn the page. What does Jesus do next? To drive his point home?

He takes the disciples on a field trip across the tracks. Into Canaanite territory, a place populated by people so unclean the disciples are guaranteed to feel holier than thou. And there this woman approaches them, asking for mercy.

She’s a Canaanite. She’s an enemy.

She’s unclean. She’s an unbeliever.

She’s all kinds the wrong kind of person.

But on her mouth, coming out of her mouth, is this confession: “Son of David.”

Which is another title for Messiah. Which according to Jesus should tell you a bit about what’s in her heart. But the disciples don’t even notice. The’ve already forgotten about what Jesus said about the mouth and the heart. So what does Jesus do?

He acts out what’s in their hearts. 

He ignores her because that’s what’s in their hearts. He tells her there’s nothing I can do for SOMEONE LIKE YOU because that’s what’s in their hearts.  And because that’s what’s in their hearts, he calls her a dog.

What comes out of his mouth is what’s in their hearts:

I’m better than you. I’m superior to you. I’m holier than you.

Speaking of hearts-

That word on Jesus’ mouth is so distractingly shocking to us, we almost miss that she doesn’t even push back on it. She owns it. And then she doubles down on her request for mercy: “Yeah, Jesus, I am a dog. I am a witch with a capital B. I am worthless. I am a loser. I am undeserving. I am a sinner. I am the wrong kind of person in all kinds of ways, but- hey- have mercy on me…” (New Revised Jason Version).

She embodies what Jesus says in Luke’s more white-bread Gospel, when Jesus says: “Who is justified before God? The religious person who prays thank you, God, I am not like that sinner, or the person prays Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

You see-

That’s what Jesus points out by play-acting, what he wants the disciples to see, what he wants us to see when he praises her ‘great faith.’

She doesn’t put up any pretense. She doesn’t try to justify herself over and against any one else. She doesn’t pretend that her heart’s so pure or her life is so put together that she doesn’t even need Jesus all that much.

No, she says: “Yeah, I am about the worst thing you could call me. Have mercy on me.”

After the scribes and the Pharisees have not gotten it and thought that it’s their fidelity to scripture that justifies them. And after the disciples have not gotten it and just flipped the categories and thought that it’s their association with Jesus that makes them superior. And after Jesus so plainly says that what makes us holy is whether or not what comes out of our mouth is the truth about what’s in our heart. She tells the truth about her pock-marked heart and she boldly owns up to her need.

And Jesus calls that “great faith.”

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Hardy’s Lifehack - Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

I catch a lot of crap from the CGJ team about my desire to not just make theological practical but also accessible. In my humble opinion, if theology is not available to the church in such a way that those in the pews know what we - the clergy, or professional Christians - are talking about. This is one of the reasons Jason and I committed to not using “stained-glass language” on the podcast.

In the same breath, theology is the language we apply to a Creator who surpasses understanding. Theology is our attempt to make sense of the things that make no sense. Think of the Trinity. I’ve rarely been in a conversation about the Trinity that did not result in a drawing or diagram that mirrored an impossible math equation. And yet that is how God has chosen to reveal Godself to us. That is how the divine has appeared in our midst.

The slippery slope I find myself in when I get too practical is that I lose sight of the main thing - the main thing being God’s revelation and salvific work in Jesus Christ. I lose sight of Jesus when the application or practical side of theological work becomes the main thing, at the expense of the One through whom all of creation came into being.

Keep the main thing the main thing. Keep God’s revelation and salvific work in Jesus Christ the main thing in the coming months when we are tempted by stewardship campaigns, church social gatherings, or whatever else you’ve got on your calendar in the coming months. There are many organizations that are not the church who do those things so much better than we do, but what they lack is a focus on the saving work of Jesus Christ and his promised return.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. - John 1:1-3

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