Sunday, August 24, 2014

The fellowship of fear...

I made the pulled chicken tacos today.

Sometimes, when I eat tacos at home now, I get distracted by how bloody fantastic the flour tortillas are.  It still boggles my mind that I can make them.  As for these tacos, I think I might actually like them more without the bacon.  Seriously, how odd is that??  I am thinking chicken and bacon tacos should be with grilled chicken, as I have had them before.  Maybe.  I don't know.  Even with the crumbled applewood smoked bacon, I had absolutely no problem polishing these off in record time.

Next time, I might try the white cheddar cheese, the way I do with the pulled pork tacos.  I am wondering if the spiciness needs the white cheddar.  I have nine more two-taco jars of pulled chicken to decide.  I even already have enough bacon for another set, so I could keep the bacon, switch the cheese and then see how the flavors combine.  Maybe I should take the two remaining chicken breast in the freezer and grill them up so I could have a proper comparison on the bacon issue.

And, for kicks, I could use the spicy pulled chicken to make a burrito.  I have had rather rash thoughts about making a batch of tortillas and dividing the dough into larger sections for burritos and such.  What do you think ... reduce the sections from 16 to 12?  Or be bold and divide it only into 8?  

Before I went to sleep last night, I also made a dessert from my childhood.  It is one my step-father brought into our family.

Stan's Forgotten Cookies are so interesting to me. The outside is crispy, but once you bit into them, they sort of melt in your mouth in a bit of a chewy fashion.  Of course, he made them with nuts, which is just nuts.   Nuts don't belong in desserts!  However, in this cookie, nuts would be jarring to the texture and experience.  I wanted to double the recipe, since it only makes 24 cookies, but I was not all that confident they would turn out in an edible fashion and did not want to have a potentially large sacrifice of milk chocolate chips.

When I got up at 6:00 AM to take my erythromycin and feed Amos before heading back to sleep, I dutifully checked the cookies.  I checked them by taste-testing one cookie and then having a second just to be sure.  They are just fine.  One more went into my belly after I polished off the pulled chicken tacos at lunch and the rest went into the freezer.

They went into the freezer because it is very easy to eat a half dozen of these cookies without even noticing.  In fact, just now, I thought to myself, Myrtle, you should go test how the cookies are frozen since you do not actually remember them being good frozen.  Four cookies later, I have fully determined that it is indeed true:  Forgotten Cookies freeze well.

Two went over the fence to my neighbor and her son this afternoon.  Quick ... do the math.  How many more temptations are awaiting me in the freezer???

It occurred to me that the longing for the Forgotten Cookies fits with others longings I have had of late, such as Sonic.  Longings for things I used to have in my life.  If I cannot have the memories or the skill sets, what can I have??

Something else I've added to my bucket list is to once more feel the wind in my hair.  When I was younger, I was ... forced ... to go on bicycle tours.  I continued riding through college and a bit beyond.  In college, I would ride by bike over to the local cemetery and do laps through those quiet, dark roads.  Sometimes, folk would criticize my riding there, but it was [stinking hot] Waco, Texas and the cemetery was completely shaded by these rather magnificent old trees.  The cemetery had been re-paved relatively recently before I started college, so riding was like skimming across ice on skates.  There, I could ride faster than anywhere else without fear of hitting something and falling.  Too, I would take rests before some of the oldest graves and talk with the occupants ... well, wonder aloud about their lives.

Sometimes, I went on longer rides, out to West, Texas, home of the kolache.  I have a recipe for those, but am not quite ready to try anything that is bread.  I do love how many folk have written about the West, Texas kolache.  So many of them mention my favorite ones:  sausage.  Who needs fruit or sweet fillings when you can have a bread roll baked around sausage so that the juices from the meat flavor the inner layer of bread?  It is nice to be understood, even if by strangers who've never met you.

Out in West, Texas, the cemetery is bare, exposed.  But it has even older graves and markers that give you pause.  Like this one.

Thirty miles there.
Chow down and a number of kolaches that will remain secret.
Visit with echoes of the past.
Thirty miles home.

Later, I "rode" my roller blades more than my bike.  On them, too, I found that ... freedom ... of racing away from the rest of the world with the wind blowing back my hair.  Clearly, I should not attempt to use rollerblades, but I have wondered if I could ride a bike for a few minutes, a few minutes on a very, very, very flat road.  I gave away my Miyata bike when I was still in Alexandria.  I did not live in a place save enough to ride the local streets and I knew my time of traveling places to ride had ended.

Portable pump.
Car rack.
Emergency repair kit.
Water bottles.

It was like giving away pieces of my secret self, the self that both hated to ride and loved the escape.

On the Texas Hill Country tours, when I was a youth, my parents would go off on their own and I would be left with a map and different tour options for the day (save for the year I convinced a girl from school to join me).  Following map directions is not my fortitude, nor is hooking up with fellow riders.  I was the lone biker, who practically walked up hills, missed more way stations (country stores where you could get lunch) than she found, pedaled in fear and frustration, and whose only peace came from zooming down hill, the wind blowing through her hair.

The same little girl who liked to push the merry-go-round as hard as she could so that she could leap on the spinning circle, and lean back, safe, because the wind was blowing in her hair and no one could catch her.

I don't know how I could manage a way to experience such a thing again, but I would like to do so.  Not a merry-go-round. Not rollerblades.  Maybe not even a bike.  But somehow...

In reading Michael Card's commentary on Mark, I start over at the beginning each time I sit down to read it.  In part, I do so in the hopes of remembering some of what I am reading.  In part, because I am still so mind-boggled by what I am reading.

Today, I spent a good deal of time thinking about chapters 8 and 9, which are seemingly linked (since there were no chapters in the original texts) and thinking about the themes Michael Card is highlighting and the bookends that keep cropping up.

Chapter 8 opens with the feeding of the 4,000, another miracle gone unnoticed, but one with a different outcome.  I think some might say that it is two sides of the coin of Jesus, but this idea of bookends, connecting everything from one end to the other, intrigues me.

As before (Mk 6:39), the crowd is interacted to sit. There is no mention of the green grass of Galilee. As before, the miracle is vitally undetectable in terms of Mark's language.  Jesus pronounces a blessing, breaks the loaves and passes them to the disciples.  He does the same with a few small fish.  There is no hint of amazement.  The thousands simply eat and are satisfied.  You begin to wonder if Mark's purpose is to underwhelm.  Are we left to be overwhelmed by the lack of spiritual perception on the part of the Twelve?

Again in parallel form to the earlier story, the leftover pieces are gathered.  All that is different is the Greek word for "basket."  Here, as in Matthew 15:37, the word used is spyris, a man-sized hamper or basket. It is the word used  of the basket in which Paul was lowered in Act 9:25.  There are seven extremely large baskets of leftovers when initially there were only seven small loaves of bread.  The miracle is clearly one of abundance.  These are the significant distinctions that need to be woven into our understanding of the flow of Jesus' ministry.  (emphasis mine)

The miracle is followed by another scene where bread is the issue.  The disciples have forgotten to take bread and have only a single loaf with them in the boat.  Jesus says to them, in verses 17-18, "Why are you discussing that you do no have any bread?  Do you not yet understand or comprehend?  Is your heart hardened?  Do you have eyes and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear?  And do you not remember?"

He warns them of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod, but He finishes by making them tell him how many baskets of bread were left over at each feeding.  And then He asks, "Don't you understand yet?"

What is it that the disciples don't understand?  They have witnessed Jesus' power to provide both perfect and abundant provision. It is pointless for them to argue about forgetting to bring bread along for the voyage.  But they still seem blind to Jesus' true identity and power.  They are either oblivious or afraid.

In a deeper sense, they are deaf to the urgency of the moment.  Jesus warns them of the danger of creeping stubbornness and disbelief, of the effect it can have, blinding and deafening them.  This seems to be a preparation for the ultimate revelation that he is the bread of perfect and abundant provision.  That costly realization, though it is closing in on them fast, seems a world away. (emphasis mine).

The verse that popped into my head from the recesses of my past life as the good little evangelical who had hoards of verses stored in her brain is:  "I have come so that you might have life and have it abundantly."  And something about Jesus saying that He is the bread of life.  I Googled the phrases.  Both verses are in John, which is a significance that cropped up in these two chapters.

You see, Michael Card points out the Pharisees tactics have shifted from trying to catch Jesus breaking the Sabbath to demanding signs.  Jesus sighs deeply at the request and states that this generation will see no signs.  Michael Card notes that in the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke signs are demanded by those who refuse to believe.  But in the Gospel of John signs have a more positive connotation, being something given by God.

When I read that, I realized that might be why Lutherans have such an emphasis on the gifts of Christ.     I think that because Luther teaches in the Large Catechism when discussing the Lord's Prayer that we know we can forgive others because of the signs and seals given to us.  Signs and seals being the Sacraments.  The gifts of Christ.

But what struck me about the phrase the perfect and abundant provision of Jesus is that what one might perceive as abundance, such as wealth or even health, does not really have much to do with the abundant life Jesus came to bring.  By that I mean, is not the abundance bread (of Christ)? The abundance being the fullness of receiving the gift of a life in Christ, a life by and with and through and beneath the cross?

Next comes the healing of the blind man, only it is a healing in two parts.  First, Jesus spits in the man's eyes, and they are still out of focus.  Then, Jesus places His hands on the man's eyes and the healing is complete.

There are two points made about this that I like:  the spiritual focus Christ brings and the bookend device Mark oft employs.

Mark, as he will continue to du to the very end of his Gospel, leaves us hanging.  As with Jesus' parables, we are left with the story, in sovereign freedom to engage or not.  The "aha" moment is waiting for those who will listen and hear and look and see.  For the moment, maybe we see the spiritual world out of focus.  Jesus promises us the hope of clear spiritual perception.

This is a variation of Mark's bookend device.  The bookends are the two unique healings:  one of a deaf man, the other of someone who is blind.  Between the bookends is an extended exposé of the failure of the disciples to hear or see.  Until this moment, they have seen Jesus as shapeless and out of focus.  That is all about to radically change. (emphasis mine)

The verse that popped into my mind from those murky recesses is something about Paul, I believe, saying that now we see in a mirror dimly, but later we will see clearly.  Perhaps I am reading the commentary wrong, but I took the end of the first paragraph to mean that even those who have Christ in their lives can experience confusion, can struggle to see and to hear clearly.  But, one day, all will be revealed.

By unique healings, Michael Card means that these are ones that did not come about solely by the spoken word.  In both instances, Jesus made physical contact with the broken, the wounded.  To me, this only emphasizes the importance of the Lord's Supper.  By this I mean, in the Lord's Supper, Christians are physically connected to Jesus, taking in His very body and very blood.  There is a healing in the Lord's Supper that is different from other healings, specifically than the healing that can come from hearing the Living Word.  And so, for those with deep and great wounds, the gift of the physical presence of Jesus is paramount for survival, if not healing on this side of the vale of tears, i.e., the need for the Lord's Supper is more profound.

At the end of chapter 8, Michael Card card sees both an end and a beginning.  He sees the end point of the first part of Mark driving toward who Jesus is.  He sees the beginning as the point when the disciples begin to hear and to see more clearly.

The fateful word "Messiah" has been spoken for the first time in Mark's Gospel.  Admist a swirl of misunderstandings concerning the "anointed one," Jesus sets out to undeceive the Twelve.  At the time, "Messiah" represented a wide range of hopes and dreams in Israel.  To some he would be a glorious king who, with Jerusalem as his throne, would reestablish the theocratic nation of Israel.  to many he would be a militaristic Messiah who would come and kill the Roman oppressor.  What these differing dreams all held in common was the notion of glory, victory and divine power.  Above all, the Messiah would  never submit, surrender or suffer.

But in Mark 8:31, Jesus begins the painful process of redefining and undeceiving the disciples.  The Son of Man, Jesus tells them, will suffer, be rejected and finally be killed.  With the emotional shock of those words, the disciples all stop listening.  It is too much for them to process.  As often as he will repeat himself concerning his suffering and death, they do not really hear the words "and rise after three days" (Mk 8:31).

The private details for the disciples were greater than that Jesus then taught the ever-present crowds.  This was the first of three times Jesus will talk about what it means to follow Him.

His cross will lead to their crosses.  The loss of his life will lead to their lives being offered up for him and the gospel.  He is going to turn the world upside down in ways we still struggle to understand.  We will save our lives by losing them.  The surpassing value of a single soul Jesus places above the worth of the whole world.

Michael Card stresses that the transfiguration came after Peter's confession of faith.  It was not proof of who Jesus was, but the first steps in the opening of the eyes and ears of His disciples.  Truth, Michael Card emphasizes, can only be grasped by faith.    

[Holy cow!  Did I just read that?]

Michael Card shows the connection between the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9 with the Greek word uses to begin chapter 9 being kai, which is translated "and" or "but."  A joining word.  But more than the Greek word is how Jesus' ministry continues to unfold across the two chapters.

See, that is at the heart of my caddywhompus.  The whole commentary thus far has been about Jesus' ministry and what He was setting out to teach his disciples so that that ministry might continue.  The Gospel is not about how I'm supposed to live my life!  Jesus was not telling me how to be "godly" or "holy."

The interesting bit I learned about the transfiguration pales, for me, in comparison to the fellowship I realized I share with the disciples:  Fear.  I mean, I didn't know that Moses and Elijah's appearance represent the Law and the Prophets, represent all those who have suffered because of their obedience to the Father, and represented the two categories of citizens of the kingdom of God: those who die and those who will be taken up before they die.  That ... that is really interesting to me in that it makes their appearance at that time and in that place make sense.  But I find myself thinking more about the disciples response:  Fear.

I never noticed just how many times Jesus lamented their lack of understanding, meaning not just lamenting the lack of understanding amongst the crowds and the scribes and Pharisees but also amongst the disciples themselves. I never noticed just how many times Jesus talks about seeing and hearing, about eyes and ears.  How fitting that is, to me, since my beloved Psalter is chock full of verses about how we need to have the Word in our ears and in our mouths, on our lips and on our tongues.

I also never noticed just how fearful the disciples were.

Seriously, I chuckled when I read that Peter asked, "Rabbi, is it good for us to be here?"  They are so afraid that as the glory of Christ is being revealed to them they are questioning if Jesus should be doing that.  Oh, my!  I would have been rather worried about lightning strikes at that very moment ... very certainly would have taken a giant step away from Peter.

So very often, at least in the first nine chapters of the Gospel of Mark, the authority and power and magnitude of who Jesus is overwhelms the disciples.  They are afraid of what they see and hear.  It is difficult for them to take in and, to a certain extent, disbelief is easier than belief.

In Mark chapter 9 is one of the two verses I had been ending my blog posts with, the cry of the father to Jesus, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!"  I stopped doing that because I don't know if I believe.  I truly don't.  And I don't want to write a lie, to pray a lie.  But the second half ... oh, yes!  Jesus help my unbelief!

But before I type what I found in the commentary on that verse, I want to add Michael Card's observation that after the confession by faith and the revelation of Jesus on the mountain, the disciples begin to ask better questions of Jesus, ones that are more fitting to folk about to take up the mantle of Jesus' ministry.  It is not that their fear has suddenly fallen away, but faith is at work in them.  Some questions they ask.  Others are left unspoken because of fear.  But they are learning and growing in faith.


As to Mark 9:24, Michael Card writes:

As contradictory as these words might seem, the pressure of the life-and-death situation brings into focus deep truths.  In the tangle of the human heart we sometimes do believe and disbelieve in the same moment.  That is, until something or someone appears to help us with our unbelief.   (emphasis mine)

The external Word, for me, is what helps with my unbelief.

I know it.
I long for it.
And I fear asking for it.

Perhaps the most caddywhompus moment of both chapters is the whole bit on it being better to hack off limbs and pluck out eyes than to sin with those body parts.  I mean, if I start lopping off my sinful parts, my body would be gone ... and lifeless.  Those verses, the idea of them, frighten me.  I read them as Law that I must somehow follow.  Follow or else.  And my repeated, utter failure at controlling my body, at staving off sin, terrifies me.

But Michael Card looks at the whole of what Jesus is saying, not the parts.  [Pun intended.]  He uses the word "hyperbolic" to describe Jesus' language here.  Language that is over the top.

They are unforgettable images:  cutting off the hand or foot, gouging out the eye.  The painful alternative?  Being thrown into hell.  It would seem a reasonable thing to do to keep yourself from sin.  No price is too great to pay to avoid that unimaginable place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched."

This is an image from the final verse of the book of Isaiah.  In some manuscripts, Jesus repeats the phrase three times (Mk 9:44, 46, 48).  His tone is dark, filled with passion.  He alternates his gaze between the child in his arms and the "little ones" who are his disciples.  There is no language to express the colossal cost of sin.  He will perfectly pay that price in a matter of weeks.  It is a seed that must be planted in their hearts while there is still time.  (emphasis mine)

From this I thought ... Uhm, Myrtle, Jesus has already done the hacking off and the gouging out.  He's done this in His own body!  That hyperbolic language was not an instruction so that I can avoid eternal death, but an attempt at expressing the ineffable:  the cost of sin.

Michael Card ends the chapter pointing out that only the Gospel of Mark contains the words "salted with fire."  He reminds the reader to think again about Mark's audience, those who are still haunted by the great fire that tore through Roman.  Those, too, who were about to face great persecution.

To be salted with fire is sacrificial language.  Every follower of Jesus is to be a sacrifice for God.  Though it might seem otherwise, this assault, this testing is good.  We cannot afford to lose it.  The fire defines who we are in the world.

Baptized with fire.
Tested with fire.
Refined by fire.

So many interesting and intriguing and overwhelming thoughts, yet I remain captured by the idea that  I share something with Jesus' disciples: fear.  Really, fear and confusion.

I have deeply savored the connectedness of the Gospel of Mark as presented in this commentary.  The emphasis, thus far, is on Jesus—Jesus now soon to be Christ Crucified.  I am presented with Jesus' ministry, His compassion and dedication, His struggles and perseverance.  I am presented with the reality that the good we oft cling to, such as healings and rescues, is not the best of Jesus.  I see folk walking, eating, and sleeping beside Jesus still confused and often fearful ... even after they have gone out and taught and wrought miracles in their first foray into Jesus' ministry.  And I am gobsmacked by what I am not seeing, by the utter dearth of life application for today's believer.

Even though I have to keep re-reading what I have already covered to remember those connections, to keep hold of the larger picture, the story I longed to learn is all here.  Laid out in Myrtle Speak.

Myrtle Speak which includes the same ... stuff ... that I see in the Book of Concord.  Christians struggle with doubt and confusion.  The anguished or anxious soul is not the outlier.  It is to be expected.  It is what the Gospel is for ... comfort and consolation.  Verbs, not nouns.  Performative words, not adjectival or even metaphorical language.

The anguished or anxious soul is to be expected ... and welcomed.

Not shunned.
Not condemned.
Not showered with law.

The Gospel is for the weak and wounded, the weary and terrified ... and those who find within themselves a war between belief and unbelief.

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