The Ape is Dead

he stirreth not, he moveth not. The ape is dead.”

– Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene I

I wonder often about my inability to act out my faith. I have known, since I was a boy, that Jesus died to save me. He lived the life I couldn’t live, and died the death I should have died. My understanding of the significance of this sacrifice is an ongoing part of my Christian journey. In spite of the knowledge in my head and the transformation of my heart, I am lazy. There are days in which I feel an agreement between my actions and God’s directives. Days when I read my bible and pray often and mimic the actions of Jesus in my interactions with students or my wife. But there are also days that lack in beauty or fruitfulness. With Jesus’ actions and purity counted on our behalf, with our hope of eternity secure, why does it matter what the Christian does? How long can we sleep before being counted amongst the dead?

In the line above, Mercutio uses a simple observation to figure out if the ape (Romeo, in this case) is dead. Let’s adapt it, not for the sake of pointing a finger at fellow Christians, but as a way to remind ourselves that Jesus is calling us to life and life to the full:

1. He stirreth not- Picture the dead ape. You can just imagine coming upon it and wondering… is it really dead? The proverbial poke with the stick comes from sermons on Sunday or accountability groups or community. If we are unmoved when we hear the gospel, if we are unwilling to respond to our accountability partners or friends, if we retreat from the company of those we deem “judgmental” instead of helpful… we may need to examine our hearts. In fact, the Holy Spirit has been designed to stir you to be more like Christ… If you continually feel the tug and stay asleep, it’s time to respond.

2. He moveth not- A Christian that continues to learn more about his brokenness and more about God’s great grace should be moved to action. Think about how different a sleeping ape would look in comparison to an ape charging at you from the jungle. One is clearly alive, and active, and in this not-perfect example, terrifying. We know, in truth, if we are moving. We know if God’s overwhelming goodness is calling us daily into action. We know the difference between sleeping and waking.

3. The Ape is Dead- We are terrified of the idea that someone’s faith, especially our own, might be dead. God, after all, is far more powerful than our lazy attitude or our sin. We know this. But then echo some of the warning’s in the Bible… James explains that faith without works is dead. Jesus claims there will be people that thought they knew him, but didn’t. If we feel that someone we know and love isn’t active in their faith, shouldn’t we desire to wake them up? If we ourselves have been lulled to sleep, if our faith has become a cold and dusty thing, shouldn’t we want the same?

This is not a call to legalistic living. It’s a call to a vibrant, life to the full faith. As Anis Mojgani would say, go and “shake off the dust”. And as Aslan would say, “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be talking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

Have a good Monday!

Are You Still Listening?

Pandora asks us this question all the time. Enough songs are played without any response, and the website wonders, “Are you still listening? Are you there? Are you appreciating the music? Are you taking this all in?”

I’ve had that question stuck in my head over the past few weeks. It’s an important one to ask ourselves in a society that demands to be listened to, demands to be heard. It’s an important question to ask when we make new friends or deal with co-workers. Listening, it turns out, is one of the least selfish things we can do every day. Here are my observations of brokenness in school when it comes to “being heard”:

1. Some students walk through the hallways for the entire lunch, because it’s harder to tell you’re alone when it looks like you’re going somewhere.

2. Some students randomly show me the art they’ve been working on, because they haven’t been heard in so long that they’re using drawings to break through, to be seen, noticed.

3. Some students talk to me about Madden or Dragonball Z, because their parents only ever ask them about grades and “important stuff”.

4. Some students have figured out that the only way an adult will listen is if they get into trouble. So they rebel. They flip desks or make inappropriate jokes or fling cuss words like rocks that are too big for them. But at least someone’s paying attention to them.

5. Some students were told, as in Anis Mojgani’s poem, “Speak only when you’re spoken to, but then they’re never spoken to.” And so they’re just waiting, waiting, waiting. Eventually, a search party will be needed to find the voices that have been missing for too long.

So… it’s one thing to point out a problem, but how do we fix this? How do we dynamically change who we are? I’m the worst at this… as a teacher, I have so much to do. I’m supposed to be typing emails or calling parents or grading essays during the time that Jimmy wants to talk about his favorite movie or Susie wants to ask a question about her writing. So how do we make time? More importantly, how do we actually listen to the people around us?

1. Be present. If someone’s talking to you, listen. If you find yourself wanting to share your story or thought or idea so much that it’s drowning out what they’re saying, so much so that you’re mentally hurrying them to finish their point… check yourself.

2. Ask questions. There are people that are quite good at this. It is one thing to say, “How are you?” as you pass by in the hallway. It is another thing to plant your feet and ask if the person is doing well, or to ask what they’ve been doing lately. When you plant your feet, when you ask questions but also make it clear that you’re day won’t continue on until you get a few answers, people like that.

3. Appreciate the music. We listen to Pandora because we love music. A good tune, a good song, good lyrics, whatever. Do you know why God made all these people? Do you know how precious they are? Do you know how each creation is a beautiful song? In Psalm 98:8 it says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” People are far more precious to God than music is to us. Start appreciating the music of other people. Conversations aren’t a burden, they’re an offering, a joy.

4. Remember. Are you taking it all in? We notice when people listen to us, and we especially notice when people don’t. Even the most humble of people feel a sting when they have to remind you again of their name, or their occupation, or their passions. It is not easy to share ourselves, it’s even more difficult when we get burned in the process.

5. Are you still listening? Do you still find yourself listening to others? Or has your world shifted back into yourself. I catch myself a lot of the time. I’ll have whole weeks where I care far more about what I have going on than anyone else. On those days or weeks or months, I find myself slogging back through the mud to get out of the trap I’ve set up. If you find yourself in the same spot, go back. A self-oriented life is like quicksand.

6. I’d do an injustice to “listening” if I didn’t suggest listening to God. This is a hard one. We so often go to God with requests or complaints. It’s hard to orient ourselves into a position of listening. The best ways I’ve found to do this (all of which I struggle to do consistently)… stop your day. Take time to be still. Find quieter places, rooms. Read the Bible (some parts may seem louder than others, but God’s whispers and shouts are both worthy of being heard). Listen to sermons. Remember that He wants to draw near to you.

The next time Pandora asks you, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a student, or a child, or a brother, or a mother, or God…

Are you still listening?

Say yes.

 

Don’t Be the Donkey

There is a wonderful poem by G.K. Chesterton called The Donkey”. It is told from the perspective of the donkey that rides into Jerusalem. While the first three stanzas lament the donkey’s unfortunate appearance and life… the final stanza celebrates his moment in the sun. It reads:

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

I’ve taught this poem before, and my students always enjoy the donkey’s confusion here. He thinks the celebration for Jesus is a celebration for him. The cries of the crowd and the palms? They’re in his honor! Poor guy doesn’t know any better; he’s just a donkey. 

But what about us? How often do we interpret the cheers of the crowd as being for us? How often do we forget about the person beside us, about Jesus and the glory he deserves? I’ve recently had to apply this to my life. I’m trying to get a book published! It’s so exciting and I feel so accomplished, but you know what? God gave me the intelligence and the creativity to write it. He gave me purpose and passion, hope and a life that is filled with ideas and material. He gave me creation, with its many splendors and triumphs. What would I be without God? Apart from him, it’s all meaningless.

So over the next few months, as I try to get published, I’m trying to remember not to be the donkey. I don’t want to confuse the cheers as adding to my glory and fame. I don’t want to confuse recognition or success as something I’ve earned, or worse, something I deserve, I want to remember what I owe Jesus, and what he’s done for me. I don’t want to be the donkey.