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Why in the world am I sorting spinach? you might ask.

Well, because the big bag of spinach we bought from Costco (with all the good intentions in the world of making salads and smoothies galore) has been slowly turning that dreaded dark green which signifies that certain leaves are better suited for compost than for consumption.

And because there are still a bunch of good leaves left, and–I think to myself–perhaps I can still eke out a couple more salads from this bag . . . .

For some, this stage of development is the stage at which they simply throw out the rest of the spinach and get a new bag. And sometimes I do that, too, considering that my time is worth more than it would take to separate the yummy from the yucky, and deciding that composting is not quite so wasteful as throwing the whole mess in the trash. But tonight it seemed worth my while to sort through the bag of spinach looking for the good leaves in and amongst the mush.

And as it is a rather large bag, there is time for thought as well as for action . . .

I take a spinach clump in my hand. The dark green seems to be predominant. No, wait, there’s a nice vibrant and whole leaf still on the bottom. And in pulling that one off, I find a couple smaller ones all bunched together. Ew, this dark green sludge can go in the compost stack, and with it these other leaves that are so covered in the sludge that I doubt they’d last long even if I did save them.

I take another clump. The one on top has a large bit of dark green in its center, but I see that it’s from another leaf that has turned to mush on top of it. The leaf itself may still be good. No, actually, it’s starting to rot, too, right where the sludge was lying on top of it. This leaf won’t last long. Too bad. If I weren’t trying to salvage more than just today’s salad, I’d probably keep it and eat it as it is. But I’m hoping to save some for tomorrow, so this leaf won’t make it.

It occurs to me that much of my life is spent sorting spinach. Pulling things apart to see what is good and what is not; what to keep and what to discard.

I am surrounded by ideas–from books, from tv and movies, from stories people tell and from actions that people take, from conversations and from silences. Not ideas, as in “hey, let’s do this!” but ideas as in opinions, beliefs, themes, and notions. What is good? What is worthless? What is decaying, and what is alive? Like spinach, the ideas are all clumped together and sometimes seem inseparable. And like spinach, sometimes a vital thought comes sandwiched between worthless ones.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach, of course. I’d rather buy it from the store–presorted, prewashed, certified good and ready to digest.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach. When it’s starting to become all gross and slimy, I’d rather just toss it and get a new bag. But tonight, its value as a source of nutrition was worth the trouble of taking the time to sort through.

And it occurs to me that we all choose what is worth sorting.

Here are a few reflections that come to mind in thinking about sorting:

First: It’s hard to sort carefully. And sometimes we don’t want sort carefully, we just take whatever we can get at the moment! We’d never do that with a handful of dark green–and slimy–spinach, but we don’t mind it with a funny movie! I’m not here to disparage our viewing habits, I’m simply reflecting on the fact that I know I have swallowed things I’ve seen or read or heard without really recognizing that they were decaying rather than vibrantly good–and often at the same time as taking the good.

Second: Sometimes we choose not to sort. When we come up against something that is clearly slimy and icky, it is sometimes quite best for us to decide to toss the whole thing and start afresh. (I tend to feel this way about horror flicks. It’s pretty easy for me to decide to toss the whole thing rather than picking through for the one or two leaves I might find there. Might.)

Third: Sometimes we choose to sort and get little from it. We toss and toss and toss and toss, and we are left with nothing. The thing is that there really are some bags that are completely gone. But sometimes it’s just that we don’t want to touch anything that’s not perfectly whole. If it’s even slimy, don’t wash it off; just toss it! That’s not going in my mouth!

Fourth: Sorting often yields surprises. My family and I recently visited the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Fascinating site! Also fascinating to watch the scientists carefully sorting through all of the tiny little pieces they find, painstakingly separating them from their asphalt coverings and reconstructing prehistoric (and not so prehistoric) skeletons. To them it is worth getting down in the black sticky mess if they can come away with a shred more information to add to what they already know about “life back then.”

And it’s no different with us. Where we might be terribly tempted to discount ideas where we see absolutely nothing but slimy green . . . it’s somehow worth our while to do some sorting when someone we know and love is handing us the spinach of life. We can toss out everything they say as untouchable, but we toss them out with it, too.

And this is where Common Grace comes in.

Because every human is made in God’s image, every human has good leaves mixed in with their decaying ones. In fact, all of us have slimy green beliefs mixed in with our very best ideas about life, the universe, and all things in between. And because we are each made in God’s image, it may just be that our ideas are worth hearing out and sorting through rather than being thrown out at the first sign of sludge. It’s one thing to sort out a horror flick, but what about my neighbor?

I can think of some very personal examples–things I have been sorting through in my own life lately, finding unexpected good leaves and being uncertain about others (will they stand the test of time and eternity?). But rather than giving a lot of backstory for personal sorting, let me choose a more national example.

Islam.

For those of us who have lived our lives by the truths and traditions of Christianity, the thought of welcoming Islam into our schools, communities, and friendships–let alone our country!–is a no-brainer. Islam is not the truth, it’s the dark green decayed sludge. Toss it out! Keep it out! It’s dangerous in more ways than we can count (even without its associations with terrorism). Don’t sort it, toss it!

But I remember a movie I saw the summer of my junior year in high school. It was about a young adult who’d gone to an Islamic country on a mission trip, and had made friends with a Muslim man who, in the movie I watched, immigrates to the United States. The American man does his best to win the Muslim man to Christ, but instead finds that he is learning from this non-Christian’s example how shallow his own Christianity really is. We’d love for the movie to end with the Muslim recognizing his need for Christ and being gloriously saved, but the movie ends instead with the Christian man recognizing his need for Christ and for the lovely zeal he sees in his Muslim friend’s life.

Thinking back to that movie, I see that it forced me to do some sorting. Rather than throwing Islam out, I had to recognize that it had something to teach me. No, not that I should be working harder as a Christian, but that maybe my love for and zeal for God should be strong–though for a different reason, perhaps.

And thinking today of the White Helmets of Syria, the group that goes into danger to save as many lives as they can, I see many vibrantly green leaves to honor: courage & compassion among them. Their motto “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity” comes from the Koran. That isn’t something I can easily toss.

And so I find myself sorting spinach yet again.

 

 

“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.”
~Nelson Rockefeller

I have come back to that quote many times in my life. It’s hopeful. And it’s something that I need to be reminded of.

But today is Good Friday, and even though its name refers to the amazing victory love won on the cross–the greatest good in the world–I cannot escape the fact that today we are celebrating the Day that Love Didn’t Work.

Now, at face value, perhaps, that claim sounds unnecessary and even melodramatic. After all, we know the end of the story. Love wins, right? How can you say that love “didn’t work” when it obviously did?

Because on Good Friday it isn’t obvious.

On Good Friday Love Doesn’t Work.

Love, if it is the most powerful force in the world, is supposed to work. It’s supposed to win. To make the world a better place. To right wrongs, to restore what’s been lost, to bring warmth and light. To bring safety. To draw together. To triumph. To work. To be successful. To come out on top.

But for those of us who choose love over hate, over lust, over violence, over demanding and demeaning, over fear–for anyone who chooses love, Good Friday inevitably comes. A day when love falls short, fails, loses, and leaves you standing holding the bag and paying the price.

A woman’s husband cheats on her. She finds out, he confesses all, she forgives and takes him back. Loves. He cheats again. Love didn’t change a thing.

A brother, a sister, a friend reveals–through words or actions that cut us to the core–how very little we matter to him (or her) when push comes to shove. Of what value is the love that we had poured into that relationship?

Here’s the story that is filling my mind today:
Corrie ten Boom survived grueling years in Nazi prison camps and emerged with a deep desire to help others experience the power of God’s love that had sustained her through some of the worst mankind has ever thrown at its fellowmen. She began to travel and speak of the power of God’s love and forgiveness and to watch other Holocaust survivors slowly recover from the horrors they had experienced. One evening after she spoke a man came up to talk to her. His face was radiant with joy, but she recognized him. He was one of the guards at one of the prison camps. Seeing him brought back memories and intense feelings of shame pouring back into her. Not just memories, but vivid, all-but-relived experiences of standing in line, stripped and exposed before a posse of male guards. He had been one of them. And here he was holding out his hand to shake hers. Here he was with joyful tears in his eyes exclaiming how wonderful God’s forgiveness is. Here he was wanting to shake her hand. And here she was feeling again all of the shame and humiliation and degradation. She couldn’t shake his hand.*

Here is where Good Friday puts us: holding the bag for all of the hurt and injustice and shame and degradation of what has been done to us in return for our love.

I can put myself in Corrie’s shoes so easily. If I shake his hand, if I forgive, I am no longer holding him responsible for this debt. I am no longer holding it against him. He is getting off scott free [I always wonder about the original scott that got away free like that. Where in the world did that expression come from?]. And yes, maybe I don’t want to see him in a concentration camp. Maybe I don’t want to see him ruined, but what about this pain and this shame that I am left holding because of what he did to me? Where do I go to get justice for this terrible injustice?

This is what Good Friday is all about. Yes, it’s about God’s amazing love for us and about the price He paid to have our sins forgiven. But we can only truly begin to understand that love when we stand at our own Good Friday holding the bag for all the things that have been done to us, things that can never be undone. When we stand at our own place where love did not work and are asked yet again to choose love. And when we find that we don’t have enough love to cover this pain. This is where Good Friday finds us.

See, we tend to think of how hard it is to forgive our enemies, but the truth of the matter is that forgiveness is hardest when we have been wronged by someone in whom we see great good. We struggle and struggle to reconcile what was done to us with what we know and love about the person who has done it. How could he do ______ when he promised _______? How could she _______ when I know that she truly did love me? Or how could someone who did _______ ever do anything good again?

We look at the cross from our vantage point of wretchedness and marvel that God could love “a wretch like me.” We see that we have nothing inherently lovable by which to commend ourselves to God. Just sinners saved by grace.

We fail to see that God’s vantage point provides a very different view. We are beings created in His image. We are worth loving because He made us and because He is worth loving. And when God sees our sin, He sees His very image doing things that should never be done. He sees all of the good that He planted within us, all the good that He knows we can be. Good that cannot be reconciled with the evil that we have chosen. We began in the Garden of Eden as His friends; and we turned away from Him, rejected Him. We did something completely inconsistent with that un-eradicable image of God that each of us bears. The image of God turned against God Himself.

Here is where we truly begin to see God’s love: when we stand in our own pain, feeling that love has failed. When we stand in the enormity of the injustice we are left holding . . . and realize that God is standing with us.

Because the cross was the ultimate moment of love’s failure.

Mankind’s failure to love as it has been loved.
Love’s failure to draw mankind back to itself through eons of goodness poured out in sun and rain and harvest blessing.
Love’s failure to keep even His own people faithful, to keep them from straying to other gods like unfaithful spouses to extramarital affairs.
Love’s failure to win the hearts of His people by coming to them in person and letting them see Him in all His beautiful and vulnerable goodness.

The cross is the place where the greatest risk fell flat and the greatest injustice was done when the greatest lover of all time was put to death in proof that love is not more powerful than greed, that love is not more powerful than lust, that love is not more powerful than fear, that love is not more powerful than any other motive you can put in that blank.

The love that conquers all was conquered on the cross.

I know. There’s something in us that doesn’t want to stay here and take a good look. There’s something in us that wants to protest that love really did conquer all, that the defeat of the cross was actually a triumph, that Jesus endured the cross because He knew how it was going to end.

All of which is true.

But we know the end of our story as well. We know love wins. Yet standing at the cross it’s impossible to feel that ending.

And that is ok. Because God did not skip to the end. He stood for 3 hours (who knows how eternal those hours felt to someone not bound by time!) and grieved with grief so deep that it darkened the sky. And perhaps the most healing thing that we can do when we come to the place where our love has been wasted or trashed or killed is to stop and look. To take a good look at the cross and at the Father standing there holding the bag for all the injustices that have ever been done.

This is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Good Friday.
This is the Day that Love Didn’t Work
This is the Day that God died

This.

This is love.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–
*for those who want to read the end to Miss ten Boom’s story, it’s found at the end of her amazing book The Hiding Place

My brother’s economics teacher told a story about his brother who had been studying in England and had to go to the emergency room for a relatively minor (though uncomfortable and necessary) complaint. He waited, as expected, for several hours to be seen. Not so different from any American emergency room. However, while he was there waiting, a man came into the emergency room with a badly broken arm. He clearly needed more immediate treatment than the brother did, but he had to wait just as long. First come, first served. It’s all equal. That system, of course, is socialism and not Marxism per se, but the two are very closely related. Both of them use “equality” as their by-word and guiding principle. But equality is not as beautiful a guiding star as it seems to be. In fact, it’s not really a star at all, just a hard, cold meteorite of a fact.

The fact is that all men were created equal. No one has to make them equal, they already are.

But equality does not create value. And the funny thing about love (this just hit me) is that it raises the loved one from the original starting point of equality to the higher plane. When you are loved, you know that you are noticed, that you are more than just another pebble among all the other identical pebbles. By loving someone, you inherently affirm that someone’s uniqueness. Loving someone raises that someone from a position of equality to a position of worth.

Equality is what we have already; value and honor, love–those are the stars to navigate by.

So here we have the real difference between capitalism and Marxism/socialism: capitalism does one thing and does it well while Marxism/socialism try to do more than one thing and do both very badly.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which individuals are free to make their own choices. It is only an economic system. It does not try to control the choices that those people make. If it did, it wouldn’t be a free-market system. It always works like it is supposed to–whether the free choices are based on selfishness and greed or on love and honoring others. By “working” I mean that it allows individuals to make their own choices and those choices produce results in a natural way–wise use of wealth begets more wealth. Greedy use of wealth begets more wealth, but only for a time. In fact, when you hear people talking about “the failure of capitalism” they are really talking about the moral failures of individuals and groups that have led to great losses. Capitalism did not fail. As an economic system it worked just fine and did just what it was supposed to do. The people working the capitalism left out the moral ingredients necessary to produce long-lasting success. In an accident you can’t blame the perfectly functioning car for the choices of the drunk driver.

Marxism and socialism are more than economic systems. They are attempts to ensure that people will make the right choices. These systems begin from the position that humans by nature will be greedy and will exploit inequalities for their own gain; therefore these systems try to eliminate human greed and vice by eliminating inequality. To do so, they attempt to control all individual choices–for the greater good. Because no one can legislate love, they fail miserably at righting the evils they claim capitalism allows (which it does because it’s only an economic system, after all). Because inequality makes everyone ride in the boat at the same time, they fail miserably at maintaining the greater good.

You can’t eliminate the individual and still maintain the greater good. Neither can you eliminate economics for the greater good. Owning and managing one’s own stuff is part of living and being able to do good. Those with more stuff have great potential to use that stuff to help other people–just ask the hospitals that each year write off thousands of dollars’ worth of services for those who cannot pay for the care they so desperately need. That benevolent action has nothing to do with equality. It has everything to do with value, with the value they place on helping others.

[Anyone care to poke a hole or two in my boat? 😉 ]

[Joyous Thirst goes political 😉 ]

On a teaching blog I read every week, a commenter left this comment on a post about the purpose of learning (“Why Do I Have to Learn This?“):

“Whereas the rules of capitalism said that if there were ten people on a riverbank and one boat moored nearby, they had to fight until one of them got the boat, the rules of Marxism said they all had to get into the boat at once, even if it sunk.” (kvennarad)

First, I had to laugh at the truth of the statement–capitalism does allow fighting for the boat while Marxism insists that everyone must sink together, since sinking is the only fair choice. Perhaps staying on the bank is another option, but theoretically no one wants to stay on the bank and everyone wants to get in the boat and so we must all get in the boat at the same time because taking turns presupposes an inequality. And above all things there must be equality.

My second thought was “wait, there’s a third option.” This is actually a false dilemma. There is something better than equality to be gained and to be practiced, and this something is “value” or “honor.”

Let me state it a bit more simply: it is possible for 10 people to not fight over the boat but to use to boat to help one another get to the other side. This helping one another is something that Marxism rules as improbable and therefore rules it out completely. This helping one another is something that is completely outside the domain of capitalism. I mean, capitalism does not and cannot dictate the morals of those that use its system. It’s only an economic system, after all! It can be practiced with disregard for others or it can be practiced with the principle of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or better yet: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

See, if the people on the bank with the boat treat each other with honor, then they begin to think “how can we all get across the river without sinking the boat . . . and in the most effective, least time-consuming way?”

And if they treat each other with value, they begin to evaluate their own and each other’s strengths (who here knows how to manage a boat?), weaknesses (does anyone get seasick?), and needs (you’re a doctor on your way to deliver a baby? we need to get you across right away!). They also evaluate their assets (the boat) and liabilities (the river, the stormy night, and the limited capacity of the boat).

This allows them to use the capitalistic system of inequality in a way that benefits everyone. And yes, it is a system of inequality because, as kvennarad pointed out, complete equality either gets us nowhere or kills us all.

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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