2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God,who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
I did something I never thought I'd ever do--I tossed "my trophy." Non-coincidentally, the text above from 2 Corinthians was the Daily Office text the day after I tossed it. I had to burst out laughing when I read it.
I've felt uncomfortable--VERY uncomfortable--for several months now--that I felt unable to have the ability to reciprocate what has been done for me this last year and a half.
One of the most wonderful things that has come into my life in the past few years has been this wonderful reality that springs from my connections via blogging and Facebook. I have used a significant portion of my vacation time meeting up and visiting with "Facebook friends I know, but never met." Some of the folks I have met through this route have worshiped with me at Trinity-Kirksville, and met up with various folks in my parish community. It has been a wonderful opening and sharing part of my life. I have often stayed in these people's homes.
But then I come home to MY home, and this depressing reality sets in.
I would be mortified to let them into MY house.
Now, I do want to assure you it's not anything like "Hoarders," but the clutter is enough that it stops me from wanting to open my heart and my home in the way other people's hearts and homes have been opened to me. I've had a desire to change that for several months now. But it felt so blasted uncomfortable to talk about, that I felt I had no one to talk about it to, except God. Over time, it morphed into being able to talk about it to my spiritual director, and a small trusted handful of others in my circle.
But the first thing I had to come to grips with was, "Why am I so blasted uncomfortable about this?"
It took some old, old, forgotten memories to be unearthed. Most of them had to do with growing up in an alcoholic family. One of the things we learn in that situation is to work very very hard at creating this veneer that we are just like all the other families. Part of that involves closing off the home. I was taught at a very early age that I was not to just "show up with friends," because we had to make concerted efforts to hide all the "evidence." Sometimes the "evidence" was all the empty beer bottles in the house and the trash. Sometimes the "evidence" was the alcoholic. As a result, I was taught to lie and cover to keep people out of the house--even to those I loved the most.
All my adult life, I've been sorta "funny" about my house, even though there has been nothing of any great consequence to hide. Now, part of that is because I am, despite my gregarious, friendly external nature, a very VERY private person. I tend to use my gregarious side as a smokescreen to hide the very private side. I do need some degree of my home being a sanctuary and a cloister. It's how I recharge. But the warm, loving, and giving side of me has always felt "constricted" in my ability to share my home even in the most minor of ways.
Another thing that has kept me feeling very private about these things is that I really do have some sort of "home decor autism." It felt too intrusive to hand power over to many of my female friends to help me decorate it, if I made changes. Too many women, I'm afraid, would seize the opportunity to create an interior THEY want, with MY money. It took a long time for me to figure out, literally, who I could trust to help with this, to understand MY needs. What I envision for myself is a rather lean, mean, almost Spartan decor--but with warmth and light that allows people to use their own spiritual imaginations in my home. Simple, but with light and life.
So where does this "trophy" come in?
The trophy in the photo above was given to me when I graduated from medical school. Several of my friends put it together, and there are several things on it that illustrate some funny stories from my life. My favorite is the little truck on it, running over a cow (Yes, I did once hit a cow with my truck.) I've always found room for that trophy despite the fact it is about five feet tall!
But where I think I'm going with my house, there's just no room for the trophy any more.
I thought about all the little details on that trophy. That's another place where I tend to hoard rather than share. One of my favorite things to do for other people is remember the fun and obscure details of their lives, and show my love by showing love for the details. I have the ability to remember an obscure story they've told me, and do silly things like buy a card or present later on that calls that story to memory. I've come to learn it's part of how others grow to love me! Yet I hardly ever share similar stories of MY life. I make excuses that it's not "interesting" or "important." My stories sometimes feel "inferior" because my life is a rather solitary one. My stories seem too "me focused" around people who have children and grandchildren. I say to myself, "Oh, they don't want to hear them."
But it's another place where I've been great at SHOWING love but not RECEIVING love. Again, this growing part of me senses the "constriction" from the imbalance of it. There are just so many stories from my life I've never bothered to tell.
But I've come to realize my "trophy" has become an albatross, as have many things in my house. Surrounding myself with things of little value but high sentiment have insulated me from LETTING me be loved despite my ability to love being in pretty good shape.
So, as I start to re-configure what I want my house to be--a reflection of the best parts of me, rather than a fortress that people are forced to peer over the walls and then having me feel all intrusive that they are peering over a wall of MY making, a lot of stuff is going in the dumpster.
Most of it has been rather easy except for the time factor. Some of it is hard. The trophy was so hard, I realized its disposal had to be "ceremonial."
So I took it out in the yard, and I took pictures of all the things on it. Then I stood out in my yard and said, "Almighty God, thank you for the first 31 years of my life that this trophy represents and for friends who recall the silly wonderful things in it. I don't think I'll need a trophy for the next 31 years because I am learning, through my relationship with you, that I am YOUR trophy, and that's trophy enough for me. I commend this, and all the parts of my life that go with it, to your keeping. I ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen."
Then I made the sign of the cross on the trophy, and on me, and then I hurled it in the dumpster.
I cried pretty hard after that.
But the next day, I saw the Daily Office reading at the top of this post, and laughed. There's nothing new under the sun!
Paul is telling the church in Corinth that they don't need external forms of commendation, that they are competent, smart, loving people in the body of Christ. They don't need trophies. God is calling us to be in RELATION with each other just as we are called to be in relation with God. It's not about being "good" to get brownie points from God as much as it is cultivating the habits that make us in good relations with one another.
How many times are we engaged in the ministry of the condemnation of our own lives rather than the ministry of commendation of God? How many times do we achieve and over-achieve to create trophies to hide our feelings of self-condemnation? How many times do we disallow others to commend us for being a part of the Body of Christ? How many times do we self-condemn what God commends in us?
When we focus on the law, the only outcome is we will realize we fall short. When we focus on our hearts, we discover the possibilities are endless, and that we are all God's trophies. Oddly enough, it starts by letting others treat us as if we are God's trophies. Doing that requires tossing the trophies of our egos.
In short, we are called to commend, not condemn--not just others, but ourselves. Only in that do we create holy spaces in which we are free to live and move and have our being (to borrow from the petition often used in Morning Prayer.) It has the possibility of transforming our homes as well as our lives!