Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Hezekiah and His Tunnel, Beartraps and Not Being a Loser

hezekiah's tunnelWhen I was in Jerusalem not long ago I made a conscious decision not to go visit Hezekiah’s tunnel. To be honest, he was too obscure for me. I was too busy visiting Jesus. My engineer friends would never have missed his amazing engineering feat: five football fields long, chiseled out of solid rock 2700 years ago. It was dug to provide underground access to the waters of the Gihon Spring, which lay outside the city. The Assyrians were coming! (See 2 Chronicles 32).

I wish I had visited it. I like to get into the dirt of crisis and experience the vestiges of miracle. Hezekiah’s tunnel is a real “thin place.” I also like to witness the spot where some community did something together that proves that people can work together.

I think the tunnel is even more than those things, however. It is such a great metaphor for the story of Hezekiah’s life and of ours. It is a metaphor for digging down and finding what we need — finding the water of life that supplies us and protecting our access to the source as huge forces bear down on us. Hezekiah’s story burrows into the depths of us just like his tunnel burrows into the hard rock under Jerusalem — if our hearts are soft enough to listen, or we apply enough chisel.

Set upon by huge forces

The monster of the Assyrian war machine is bearing down on Judah. The huge forces convince them that they are losers. They’ve got to do something or be consumed. We felt that a bit when we had lunch in Love Park the other day. The huge Comcast Center peered down at us over the nearby buildings. Stacey said it was constructed so that the Death Star could dock on top of it. So we might relate to what the people of Judah felt. In the face of Sennacherib’s attack, the people in Jerusalem had to find a source of water that was beyond their normal sources.

We are set upon by huge forces, too. Most of them are internal as well as external. We have to get to sources of life that are beyond the problems we have. Hezekiah tries to be a great king and he succeeds. But he still gets sick and he still faces monsters. Isaiah tries to get him to trust God completely. He kind of does and he kind of doesn’t. Mostly he does, like most of us. In the middle of his big mess, God touches him and convinces him that He is with him. He is not a loser.

beckWhen I was speaking about all this, I used Beck as the poster child for the internal forces that ail us. In 1994 Beck dashed off a song that has been haunting us ever since. I think you’ll remember the hook, like almost everyone in the meeting did: “Soy un perdedor/I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?” The columnists interpreted the song as a parody of Generation X’s “slacker” culture. But Beck has always denied that, instead saying that the chorus is simply about his lack of skill as a rapper — Whatever. The media dubbed Beck the center of the new so-called “slacker” movement. Beck refuted this characterization of himself, saying, “Slacker my ass. I never had any slack. I was working a $4-an-hour job trying to stay alive. That slacker stuff is for people who have the time to be depressed about everything.” – Chill out.

Part of me feels like a loser

But the fact is, Beck’s picture still became an icon in the church of VH1. And the huge forces continue to tell us we are losers in one way or another: “You are not part of the 1%. You have flabby abs. Your resume is skimpy. You work retail. You came in second place. You think you are entitled. Nobody’s perfect, especially you.”  If they don’t get us to think we are losers, they are making sure we think we’d better never become one: “You can do it if you just believe in yourself and get a good education. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve the American dream.”

There are good reasons that parts of us feel like we are losers. Those are the parts we avoid the most. We dread them. They make us desperate for redemption.  We get obsessed with the person who gave us the message that we are worthless and we either avoid them or avoid the thought of them like the plague. Or we work desperately to try to get the person who gave us the message that we are a loser to reverse the judgment. We get addicted to fleeting moments of approval and we will put up with mountains of denigration and exploitation just to get it. When we get the love, we feel good, when we don’t get it we crash. We walk around with a psychological bear trap on our leg searching for the person with a key to unlock it.

I have often talked to people who are doing this with us, the people of God formed as Circle of Hope. They come from abusive places and get connected to Jesus with the appropriate hope that they are going to be saved. The process begins. They begin to work out their stuff with us, often moving around the congregation finding people they hope will unlock their bear trap and release them from being such a loser. And they find a lot of people who give them the love, along with a lot of people who are an awful lot like the people who put the traps on their legs in the first place.

This process is one of the reasons our family-like atmosphere often feels so messy. It is messy. People are messed up and they need a Savior. We have cells and public meetings devoted to including messed up people. Not everyone likes or even approves of messy churches. That messiness is a reason many Christians keep faith a matter of what they think and not how they love. They prefer the church to be a place to get happy; they like to keep it superficial and not get “real” in some cell group or compassion team or, God help them, therapy.

People get out of their traps

So these dear people I am talking about who are walking around with their bear traps getting loosened and re-clamped, loosened and re-clamped — they go through their process and some of them get to the end of it. They come to know they are OK in Christ. And then some of them move on from the church. And some of us feel bad about this. We feel bad because they went through all their stuff, found out they are not a loser, then they seem to judge us for having made them feel all these difficult things and they leave us feeling like we are losers.  Very few people respond this way, but some do. We’re so competitive for souls that that we often believe, “Soy un perdedor” if our statistics look too bad in comparison to our ambitions. People get healed, get launched into a better adulthood, and we end up feeling like losers because they moved on. That’s ironic.

Hezekiah is not a typical American success story, nor is the kingdom of Judah. Neither end up world dominators. Hezekiah gets sick and must be healed. He invests all the country’s money in a scheme that does not work out. He is a rebel without a lot of power to back up his rebellion. His chief prophet seems to think he is kind of a loser. Other kings think he is a pipsqueak who can be used as a pawn. But God is moved by his prayer. With God, he is not a loser.

I rejoice in that. I can be a Hezekiah at the end of my rope, forced to rely on God and to see what God does. I know that can seem like a less-than-perfect approach to being a Jesus follower, but it seems realistic — and it is in the Bible. I hope you will burrow wherever you need to burrow with me until you get convinced that even when the circumstances and the powers that control them tell you that you are a loser, that’s just a lie. Listen to your prophets, dare what you need to dare, get yourself in trouble trying to lead or serve in the best way you can so you can be convinced that you are not a loser. Try to let a different hook burrow into your heart other than the already-present, “I’m a loser, baby.” How about, “I am not a loser. I am God’s child.

Stop the Repression

Sometimes it looks like the only “safe place” we can understand is the self-protected heart-space we keep free of outside influence.

Sometimes we extend the idea of “having good boundaries” so far we can no longer get out of ourselves and express the love of Jesus.

Meanwhile, God has violated the boundaries of space and time to come to us in Jesus. Today in the liturgical calendar, he is in the heart of Jerusalem teaching us how to live. Nevertheless, self-protection, self-discovery and self-protection seem reasonable to us. But those reasons rarely lead to strength, tenderness or faithfulness, just more self-ness. Stop the repression!

Your poor child

barbed-wireA woman who was abused as a child finally felt like she needed to cut off her mother. She was an evil woman who would rather destroy her daughter than admit her husband had abused her.* For years the daughter “set appropriate boundaries” and “took care of herself.” These are such basic recommendations from psychotherapists that they have become cliches.

She applied their teaching and definitely experienced more peace and less anxiety as a result of keeping her mother at a distance. But she did not become more gentle or experience much joy. She was supposedly loving herself, but the way she did it cost her the thrill of giving herself to another. To maintain her new defense system she had to continuously reaffirm the necessity of protecting herself. She was like North Korea, expending costly efforts to maintain big weapons while the heart of her country starved. Hardening her heart to her mother’s horrible life did transform her from a passive, frightened pawn. But the hardness also moved her toward being an angry, tough woman who, ironically, was willing to destroy her love rather than let down her defenses – a lot like her mother.

Our abusers have no qualms about remaking us in their image. Evil has no reticence about expressing itself through us. Jesus wants to stop their repression. Love requires we lose the ways we have been saving ourselves in the face of what threatens us and find our true selves in relationship with our Savior. Then we might even gain the strength to undo the evil done to us.

Love feels so risky to the abused

Our network talked a lot about this risky love last week, here and there. We are trying to figure out how to love and it hurts sometimes. We are especially afraid of abusers and evil people who don’t mind telling us we are fools to follow Jesus, who ignore us, or who aggressively impose their Christ-less ways as if they were moral, even while they tell us to not be so aggressive. We are tempted to be passive in order to not be a nuisance or to cut them off contemptuously, or become like them in other ways.

When I see Jesus in the center of Jerusalem today, teaching in the Temple courts in full view of people who are plotting to kill him, people who can’t see the peace he would bring to them, I take heart and keep learning the lessons of love. His objective is obviously to bless people, not just make sure he is not abused. He refuses to live in fear. He is not so dominated he maintains some semblance of peace instead of being his true self. To love is to be more committed to the other person than we are to the relationship, to be more concerned about their soul than with whatever comfort not rocking the relational boat might bring to us.

We need to honor the dignity and admit the depravity of the ones we love in order to truly love them. We cannot love if we distance ourselves or overlook the damage of another’s sin; neither can we love if we fail to move into another’s world to offer a taste of life. Like Oscar Romero, we might have to sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of helping another experience their own longings and need for grace. The risk to love like Jesus is worth it. We need to stop the repression dominating us and stop the repression of others to experience the freedom and fullness of self-giving love.

Yesterday was Oscar Romero’s martyr’s day. Let me leave you with a quote from him, since he inspires me to risk love like the Lord’s, even though I have been abused, even though I am afraid, even though others might be evil and I might prefer evil in some ways, too.

 romero    I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.
      The church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in the holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity’s common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength (Last Homily).

* freely adapted from The Wounded Heart