Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On human rights, human flourishing, and Crystal (my divine interruption)

I've been working on two interrelated research projects over break. One, a curriculum development project (that is serving as my internship), and the other, a paper exploring the relationship between the image of God in humanity and the problem of sin. Research for each helpfully contributes to the finished product of both, which is helpful for two reasons. First, I don't have as much time to devote to these projects as I wish I had--story of my life right now--so the "overlap" is welcome. Second, seeing the interconnectedness of so many themes and topics thickens my understanding of Scripture and wets my appetite for the richness therein. For this I am very grateful.

In reading portions of Miller's The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology, I came across this great quote. It comes from the section entitled "That it May Go Well with You": The Commandments and the Common Good. These pages have delightfully offered themselves to my study of understanding a biblical theology of human rights. Here's the quote I want to share:

"While it is not necessary to argue the issue of whether or not rights theories focus excessively upon the individual or to challenge the legitimacy of rights arguments in seeking the common good in its moral dimension, it is important in this context to note that the way in which the Commandments provide a structure and space for the moral life is not in terms of rights but in terms of responsibilities. One may use other terms, such as, ‘duties’ or ‘obligations,’ in this respect, but the term ‘responsibility’ better connotes what takes place in the Decalogue. Several primary spheres of human good—work and rest, family and household, marriage, reputation and truth, the administration of justice, goods and property (economics in a broad sense), life and freedom, and human desire—are areas in which human flourishing, and so the good of the community as a whole, are protected by the assumption of responsibility for the good of the other, for the good of the neighbor. The orientation of the Commandments is always toward the other, whether the other is the God whose proper worship is the ground of all other acts or the other is the neighbor/brother/sister." Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 142.

Did you catch that phrase, human flourishing? There it is again. Huh. It keeps popping up all over the place!

How meaningful to think of "human responsibility" instead of "human rights" (or, to link the two). How important it is to consider the structure of the Commandments for the communication of this mandate. There are so many different thoughts whirling around in my head as I try to unpack some of these biblical themes and how they come to bear on the "modern world" and "contemporary faith."

I continue to mull things over...
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In other "news," something very interesting happened to me yesterday. I met a stranger in the library who turned out to be a divinely positioned agent, inserted into my day to interrupt me with truth about life and about God. It was really rather remarkable. I must tell you the story.

For the past week and a half my "library days" have found me at the same table, in the same chair, with a pile of books and my computer. At about 11am yesterday I noticed that someone else had come downstairs and was walking towards me. She wore a black coat, walked with a limp, and was rather unkempt. "You are the lone studier," she was standing just in front of my table. I smiled, "Yeah, there aren't many others down here, that's for sure." It became obvious that she wasn't going anywhere. I smiled again, "Are you from around here?" She just looked at me, "I was a student here. I graduated in 2003."

It turns out that this mysterious stranger was a Moody Alum. Yes, she even carried a beat up copy of the blue thin-line "alumni bible" that I will receive in a few short months. She left her notebook and Bible on the table as she wandered through the isles of books. She sighed loudly when she sat back down, "This place is so full of wonderful resources. I've missed it. I never took advantage of it when I was here." Again, I just smiled at her. A friend of mine, Drew, had walked up by this time and next thing we know out of Crystal's mouth comes the simplest, most profound little statement (I wish I could remember it word for word but it was something to the effect of...), "Sometimes I would come in here so starved--so hungry--and here are all these wonderful books." She commented on the fact that everything has moved around since 2003 (fair enough, it has been seven years). She was so cute, sitting across from me interrupting my studies every five minutes or so to share a thought or ask a question. She would always apologize for keeping me from my work, shushing herself for approximately five minutes before interrupting me with a new thought. She was leafing through a few different commentaries on Romans :)

I listened to her talk about her time on the mission field. So much pain filled her voice--so much heartache, burnout, loss, and confusion. We shared questions, thoughts about God and life, thoughts about Moody, memories, and people. She kept asking me to keep her in my prayers, that she had made some decisions she wasn't proud of and needed strength and direction from the Lord.

And we prayed. We sat at the table I've been sitting at for so much of break and we prayed. I prayed things for her that I have been praying for myself...cries for stronger faith to believe that God is present in our misgiving and mistrusting; hope that God will sharpen eyes to see and ears to hear Him when His work is simple and his voice is small; tangible guidance for an unknown future--how can we follow, we are so weak in our trusting? I confessed to her after that I am having a hard time trusting God. Even though I know that He moves in ways I cannot see, I am so quick to mistrust. And this is frustrating. Oh to just believe like we want to believe! She was quiet. She just stared off. Then she started talking. She didn't look at me, she just spoke. "Sometimes, as we follow God, our dreams for ourselves really become something great. They become big and wonderful as we pursue them. But I pushed God off to the side. Once He showed me which way to go, I acted as if I didn't need Him anymore. That's a mistake." It was so simple--some might even say "cliche"--but there was some really important truth in her words. I thanked her for saying it. She was quiet for a little while and then said matter-of-fact, "I'm going to go now," and she left. That was it. It was so strange. It was so "perfect," as if it really was the right time to leave, even though it was also abrupt. It was as if she said what she needed to say and that was enough. It was as if I heard what I needed to hear and that was enough.

All day I was perplexed by that interaction. Even more so once I remembered that I had written in my journal the night before and when I read back, I found this simple prayer: "With two months till graduation I recognize how short my time here is. Help me to use it well. Provide friendships--new and old--to encourage, challenge, and teach me. Be close to me in the business, God. Open my ears to hear you and my eyes to see you. Break into my thoughts. Interrupt my days as you see fit--one final burst of growth or douse of humility before I go from here. You know what I need most before I leave..."

And I remember her words at one point in our conversation, "thank you, I don't have very many friends in the world." We were friends for thirty minutes--thirty minutes that really mattered, to both of us.

I guess I call Crystal a divine interruption because there was just something so remarkable, out of the ordinary, and so necessary about our time together. This year I've begun to see how God steps into our lives and gives (or takes away) what we don't know we need. These can be very painful experiences of living with God but they aren't always. There's a huge comfort in knowing that He knows even the way in which we need things, though we might never have thought of it. He can provide what we don't know we need when we don't know we need it. I think that's astounding.

As I struggle to trust God with my "dreams" (my life, really. and lets be honest, what graduating senior isn't in this place)--wondering if they are worth it, questioning how they are possible, believing that He's given them for a reason, and asking how to move forward--I am awed by His simple ways of bringing me to attention (i.e., my new friend Crystal), of calming my heart (reminding me often that 1. my life is not my own 2. i am not alone in life), of providing for my needs (I found a second job today to help pay loans and save for grad. school), and of encouraging my soul (how he enriches my faith in ways that teach me to live the life I have). In all of it He is so patient with us--so deeply committed to relationship. This, too, is astounding.

1 comment:

kinzi said...

Andrea, love this, love your heart for Him, for affirming Crystal's dignity and sisterhood. I pray she will return to those who may have been left behind on her journey diversion.

I feel for you young adults just setting out. The 'Christian' world tells you you must do great things for God, and we forget that the way up, is the way down. He values the small, quiet, unflashy decisions to do great things for Him...but we reject them.

Remember Frodo. We all want to be Aragorn, but it was Frodo who was entrusted with the ring.