Wednesday, November 4, 2015

snapshots of trust

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Snapshot number one: 

Last week I was in Vancouver for a series of lectures at Regent College and St. Mark's College. After a few days of talks, meetings, and a chance to see good friends, I was back on a plane headed for home. Before we took off, the pilot announced that we would be flying through a weather system so the ride might get a bit bumpy. He assured us that it was not unsafe, and he had been back and forth across the country a number of times in the past 48 hours, and there didn't seem to be any way to avoid a bit of turbulence. He told us to be prepared for the seat belt sign to be on for a good portion of the trip.

Well, the seat belt sign did light up a bit during that flight, and there were some bumps and sudden dips along the way. I also heard the engines whining and then slowing down, which seemed a bit odd. I usually take my cue from the cabin crew, so since they appeared unconcerned about the uneven engine noise, I did not concern myself about it either. Near the end of the trip, the pilot's voice came over the speakers again. "What can I say? I knew it was coming, but I didn't think it would last that long. I changed altitude six times to try to make things a bit smoother, but it didn't seem to make much difference. However, we are through the worst of it and should arrive at our destination half an hour early. Thanks for flying with us." I was so impressed with the pilot's demeanour, especially the way he informed us about the situation and reassured us that everything was going to be okay, despite what it might feel like.

As we exited the plane, the pilot was standing outside the cockpit and I just had to say something: "Thank you! It was a great flight!" He was taken aback by my enthusiastic greeting and positive appraisal of the trip. He looked at me, puzzled, then asked, "It wasn't too bumpy for you?" I replied, "Not at all! It was great!" What I was trying to convey was that I found him to be a trustworthy person, that I had confidence in his abilities as a pilot, and that because of his calm and honest communication, he had dispelled any fears I might have had. He did not promise there would be no turbulence, but he did say he would get us to our destination safely, and I trusted him to accomplish that. It reminded me of these words written by Frederick Buechner: "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us."

Though things got bumpy and passengers were sometimes difficult and impatient, none of that really mattered much. Just because someone spilled tea on me didn't mean that the pilot had lost control. These things just happen sometimes. What mattered was that the pilot was going to get us where we needed to go. My trust was in him, not in a perfect flight or perfect passengers.

Snapshot number two:

In Genesis 28, we find a story in which Jacob is fleeing from his brother, Esau, who was threatening to kill him for stealing his blessing. Jacob is on the run (his mother having pointed him in the direction of relatives), not sure what lies ahead or how things will turn out. He goes to sleep and has a dream about a ladder which reaches from heaven to earth. Messengers of God are ascending and descending the ladder, and at the top of the ladder stands the Lord who speaks words of promise and blessing, assuring Jacob that one day he will come back to this land he is fleeing. Jacob awakens and says, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Eternal One is in this place - and I didn't even know it!" He renames the place (which is called Luz) to be known as Bethel which means "house of God." Then he makes a vow, stating that if God does what he has promised, taking care of him and bringing him back to his father's house, then the Eternal One will be his God, and of everything God gives him, he will give one-tenth back to God.

Trust is not passive. Sometimes we think of doing a "trust fall" and deduce that trust is all about going limp and letting someone else do all the work. In my experience, I have found that trust is hard work, more like climbing a ladder. It means letting go of one thing while reaching for something else. It means always moving on, taking the next step, and never giving up.

In this story of Jacob, I see five aspects of the hard work of trust:

1. Seeing God. Many times we cannot see God in our situations, especially if we are in times of uncertainty or peril. Unless we see God in those moments, we will not be able to trust him. The hard work of trust starts with searching for God in places where we feel abandoned or alone.

2. Renaming our situation. Once Jacob saw God, everything changed. He no longer thought of the place where he was camping as a random city on the journey, but as the dwelling place of God. Seeing God meant that he spoke differently about his situation. The hard work of trust asks us to rename our situation in the light of God's presence with us. Instead of identifying something as a place of uncertainty, depression, or fear, we can confidently say that it is a place where God is with us. It is the house of God.

3. Commitment to act and follow-through. After renaming his situation to reflect his confidence in God, Jacob acted. He set up a memorial stone so that he would not forget the encounter with God nor the promises God made. He made a vow to be faithful to God, made plans for the future, and then continued on his journey. The hard work of trust requires that we take action which includes making plans and following through on them.

4. Working toward reconciliation and completion. Assured that God would bring him back to his father's land and fulfill promises of blessing, Jacob endured twenty long years of working for a crooked relative, trusting that God was present in it all. And when it was finally time to return to his father's land, he humbly approached his brother, Esau, and they were reconciled. The hard work of trust means that we never lose sight of what God has called us to, and we actively work toward its completion. It also means that we are always involved in the work of reconciliation because this is what our reconciling God does.

5. Having open hands. Part of Jacob's trusting action was a determination to hold everything he received from God in open hands. In other words, he wanted to cultivate generosity instead of ownership. Jacob wasn't always successful at this, but his acknowledgment that the blessings he received were ultimately from God, and his vow to offer one-tenth of everything back to God, were a way of demonstrating that God was his provider. The hard work of trust means that we receive with open hands and give with open hands.

Trust may be hard work, but it is also powerful. It is not passivity or "I give up" thinking. Parker Palmer writes: "Who does not know that you can throw the best methods and the latest equipment, and a lot of money at people who do not trust each other and still get miserable results? Who does not know that people who trust each other and work well together can do exceptional work with less than adequate resources?" When we trust the Creator of the universe, we bind ourselves to God. When we develop trusting relationships, we bind ourselves to others. As a result, we are stronger, bigger, smarter, wiser, more creative, more resourceful, and more capable than we could ever be alone. The hard work of trust is the hard work of building community,

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
(Proverbs 3, The Message)