Monthly Archives: February 2011

Flesh and Feathers

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Once upon a time there was a little bird who lived in a cage. It had a beautiful coat of deep blue feathers, and a lovely voice that danced in your ears. But the wings of this little bird had been clipped.

Each day the little blue bird would sing its song out through the open kitchen window, and dream of flying. For you see, that was what the little bird wanted more than anything else in the world – to fly. The bird ached with every feather to dive through the air and feel the wind carry it across open fields. It longed to be free and laugh a tune against a golden horizon. This made the little bird’s song a sad, melancholic tune.

One day a cricket jumped into the windowsill and greeted the bird.

“Morning, Bird. Why such a sad song?”

“Morning, Cricket,” said the little bird. “My song is sad because I cannot fly.”

“I see,” said the cricket. “Well, have you tried jumping? It sort of feels like flying, if only for a moment. Besides, I do it everyday, and it makes me happy.”

The little bird thought he would give it a go. He tried to jump off his little, wooden perch but hit his head against the top of the cage, and did not feel any better.

The Cricket shrugged his shoulders, having done his bit, and leaped off into the sunshine.

The little bird’s head hurt, and his song became a little more tinted with sadness.

The next day, while the little blue bird was twirping in his cage, the neighbour’s grey cat leaped up into the window, and sat purring in the morning sunlight. She listened for a moment to the sad bird’s song, and then remarked, “Why so sad, little bird? Someone as delicious as you should never be so sad.”

The little bird stared out the window, past the cat and said, “Cat, I long so much to fly. But I cannot because my wings are clipped.”

“Well, little bird, when I’m sad I simply purr and the Master gives me a bowl of milk.”

“But, Cat, I do not think I drink milk, nor would it make me able to fly.”

 “Well,” said the Cat and stretched paws in front of her, “A little bird like you should be happy that I cannot eat you, and stop complaining.” The Cat then turned around and plodded off in search of a juicy field mouse.

The little blue bird was sadder than it had ever been before. It could barely sing at all, and each time it glanced out at the clouds escaping across a blue sky, its heart broke anew.  

The next day was a very rainy, dreary sort of day. The little blue bird’s heart ached so badly it had turned away from the window, and sat silently on its perch.

Suddenly it heard a little tap from behind. It turned around and saw, to its great surprise, another little blue bird had landed on the windowsill, fluffing its feathers to dry them after a rainy flight. It had a same deep blue feathers and the same beak as the little bird in the cage.

“Good morning,” said the bird in the window.

“Hello,” replied our little bird carefully. “I don’t think I have ever met another little blue bird before.”

“Well, most of the blue birds are outside, flying around.”

The caged bird sighed. “Yes, I wish I could fly with them. But my wings are clipped. And neither the cricket nor the cat could help me feel any better.” The bird sighed in his cage.

Its visitor sat in the window, listening to the droplets against the glass, looking sad. “Your wings are clipped, you say?”

“Yes,” whispered the blue bird in the cage.

“So you can’t fly?”

“No.”

“And you really want to fly with the other birds?”

“Yes. Desperately.”

The bird in the window thought for a moment, then hopped off the window sill, across the kitchen table and over to the cage. It opened the door with its beak, flew inside, and closed the cage door behind him.

The little sad bird stared very confused at his flying counterpart.

“What are you doing?”

“I am going to be flightless.”

“What!” exclaimed the sad little bird. “But your wings are just fine. They are not clipped like mine! You can fly! Why would you cage yourself into a flightless life like this one?”

“If you cannot fly away with me,” replied the other bird, and sat on the perch next to its new friend, “I shall choose my flightlessness over your loneliness.”

 

There seems to be a rather strange and dangerous trend immerging in the hearts of a lot of good Christian people. It is the notion that admitting to a need of human strength or support is a sign of a lack of faith in God. There appears to be an unspoken rule present, which manifests itself in the speech of some people, when expressing their pain experiences or needs. You may have heard it before. It is the rule that says: “Admit your need, admit your pain, but only so far. Don’t be desperate. Keep it together, man. And don’t forget to wrap it up with a beautiful testimony that would have been GC approved.” Apparently this notion dictates that if we express our need, we somehow betray our beliefs in an all-powerful Maker.

I have countless example of this! I have sat and listened to so many broken hearts bleed their story, only to notice them suddenly flush with shame, before they hurry to add, “But God has my back” or “But God is good. Can I hear an amen?” Yes. Amen, brother. You sure saved your very good Christian mask there. Good on you.

Now, please do not misunderstand what it is that I am saying. I am not saying for one millisecond that it is not amazingly powerful when people praise the Lord despite their circumstances, and verbalise their hope in that he will come through for them. If anything, I hunger for more of that type of faith in my life, as well as that of other Christians. But occasionally the pressure of (sometimes self-made) expectations, leads us to flee to the imitation of something we do not understand.

I shall elaborate. Yes, it is good and right to believe in a God’s strength and ability to help us in all our problems and worries. It is good to lean on him, depend on him more than any other, wait for his help. He is the best friend we can have. Agreed. But what happens, when our belief in his strength is employed to help us live up to an expectation of human standards, is that we use the first belief as an excuse to discard the second. And one truth about God, used to overrun another, has never been his style, nor his wish.

A common response to this comment has often been that it is God’s will for us to praise him through any circumstances, and not to put our trust in the strength or ability of mortal man. These statements are correct in themselves, but they also only tell half the story. (If left at that, we are selling God’s love for us short.) For we have, as we often ingeniously do, created a standard in our community of believers, and then stamped the “Will of God” all over it. We have, in fact, created an unwritten rule that gives people the opportunity of ‘access to righteousness’ if they adhere to it. If they smile bravely, say “God works in mysterious ways” enough times, or “Praise God” as an incessant punctuation mark, they will somehow holify (yes I know that is not a word) their pain, and make it acceptable to the Most High. As if dealing with things bravely on your own earns you brownie points and a pat on the back from your Heavenly Father. As if our pain purifies us in some way and if we bear it silently, continuing to flawlessly site every dogma in the book, we become his children. What a devilish lie. If anything, we should learn from history that whether the problem be temptation, suffering, loss, death or fear, doing it on our own weakens us immensely. How funny it is, then, how many of us feel weak and pathetic unless fighting our battles deprived of company and human aid.

Now I find that funny. It appears very strange to me that a Creator, whose Son, representative and Defender, made in his image and reflective of his character, would be called a Man of Sorrows, and then expect a more light-hearted, sweep-it-under-the-carpet faith from his sinful children. It appears strange to me that the God of the Israelites would encourage such a community-focused faith, constantly drawing on the power that togetherness can offer to people of faith, and then ask us to lean only on him and not on our brothers and sisters around us. And it seems very odd that his manifestation of love on Earth should find place mainly in the form of relationships, and then for him to discourage any true or deeper practice of it. And it seems off that the Poet Warrior, King David, a man referred to as one “after God’s own heart”, should be allowed to write most psalms about confusion and desperation, and then ask our hearts to sing him only joy-ride ditties.

 

Honestly? By creating this sort of expectation of a “lone rider” faith in Christian communities, we are spinning into being a faith-culture which is superficial, unbiblical and ineffective in healing or reaching the broken hearted. If we could dare, when speaking about our own pain, to be honest in our feelings and not cheapen our trust in God with small catch-phrases and empty one-liners, we might actually help other people see that our Saviour is someone for them; approachable and full of compassion. (Exodus 34:6)

Again, this does not make the original act of praising God under all circumstances wrong, but the imitation of trust in him is not a glorification of his name, nor is using our faith with him as a cop-out to not relate to other people, and hide our true self in and fog of pride and fear of intimacy, and shame. We must not mistake our loneliness for bravery. It is, on the contrary, quite cowardly. We must not mistake our loneliness for bravery. It is, on the contrary, quite cowardly. We must not mistake our loneliness for bravery.

More than anything, my experiences with this God have taught me that he wants a real relationship. He wants to be able to talk straight, cut to the chase, lay it all on the table. He skips the ice-breakers and jumps directly to the heartbreakers. And being him, very little will surprise him. Trust me. Anything we hurl at him has already been considered. And what he hurls back is asking some of us to shed that skin called pride and dare to be loved by others.

 

In any a real relationship, whether it be with God or man, we should not need to fix ourselves before we go to someone to “get fixed”. And, I mean, think about it for a second! It sounds completely absurd that we would want to “pretty things up” for him. Or is it really for him that we are doing it at all? Perhaps it is for ourselves, or perhaps it is something we do for others. Maybe we are so terrified of sounding faithless to other people around us, that we need to wear this fearless warrior’s mask. I’m sure there are many good (and foolish) reasons for our actions. But none of them are so sturdy that Jesus does not ache to show us the true meaning of trust, dependency and need of others.

We need to get one thing straight. God is all-powerful, all-mighty and wonderful, but he also created us this way – in need of each other. We actually NEED other people. Now, I know this thought sounds awfully daunting to those of us who had hoped to go through life being blatantly independent and heroically unshakeable. But, just like with truth, man cannot live on bread alone. I don’t think we can live on human support alone, because nobody can fill the need of love and the gap that Jesus can. But, just like we still need to eat bread, as well as the word of God, we also still need close relation with humans, as we need it with the Lord. Don’t like it? Bring it up with your Designer.

It is to be said that this need is not a result of the Fall, or the corruption from sin, but apart of our wiring, and should therefore not be treated as an undesirable trait. Think about Adam. He was not alone, but he was lonely. Why? Because there was no other creation that matched him, that was like him, so to speak. And so God answered the need by giving him Eve; flesh of his flesh and bones of his bones. (Genesis 2:23)

Think about it. This is actually the core of our salvation as well. God could have let the gap between Heaven and Earth remain, staying in his nature, in his place, in his timelessness, and expect us to feel that would be enough. But it was not, and our Father knew that we would feel alone and far away from the glory we fell from. In the same way he sent Eve to Adam, he sent himself to us. He who was wrapped in glory was wrapped in flesh, saying “God is with you”; flesh of our flesh, bones of our bones. He understood that, for now, our wings are clipped and we are flightless. We are trapped in sin and death and flesh. No cat or cricket or other creature could understand our need. So he decided that he would rather be caged with us, in a flightless existence, then fly without us. (Hebrew 14:14-16)

How could we not think that a God who goes to all that length, would not want us to understand and live according to the “in flesh” principle! He came to our level because we need our Comforter and our help to understand us. We need to know that the ones we lean on knows what cold feels like, and how fever burns on your forehead, and the ravaging cruelty of death, and depths of men’s hate. How else would we be comforted!

Wake up, and realize that Jesus offered us a way to relate to each other. He teaches us to reach out to others who know our pain, who feel our flesh and the thorns that we find lodged in them, and depend on and lean on their love. This is SO far from a compromise of our full dependency on Jesus; this is a fulfilment of his love working in a broken human race.

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