Mountain Busting with Mustard Seed Faith

Mountains represent impossibilities. Mustard seeds represent faith.

For 2017, I am reflecting on what it means to have mustard seed faith. Jesus declares in Matthew 17:20 that we remove mountains if we have a tiny bit of trust in him. Do I believe this?  Atheist Philippe Petit has helped me form an answer. Here’s how.

“Le Coup”

In 1974, Petit, age 25, took a 55-pound balancing pole and illegally walked, knelt, laid down and contemplated the universe for 45 minutes on a high wire strung across the World Trace Center’s twin towers. He called the project “Le Coup.”

Philippe Petit, Aug. 7, 1974, AP credit

The highwire artist’s book, To Reach the Clouds—My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, is poetic, obsessive, crazy, and specific about an impossible feat. His memoir starts out describing his ego: “Rebel poet? By four-years-old, disdain for my fellow man starts to show: I climb onto everything to distance myself.”

Petit’s parents legally emancipate him on his 17th birthday. He understands. By age 18 he has been expelled from five schools for practicing pickpocketing on his teachers and doing card tricks under his desk. A Paris street performer on a unicycle with impromptu high wire acts is the life for Philippe. He practices and performs, wowing crowds and provoking police.

Mountain Busting Begins with Enchantment and a Toothache

Philippe’s dream of a WTC highwire act begins in 1968 at age 18 with a toothache. While waiting to see a dentist he thumbs through a magazine and reads an article about NYC’s future World Trade Center. The towers will rise 110 stories and “tickle the clouds.” He is enchanted. He draws a line between the two towers. He sneezes to cover up the ripping out of the article. Under his jacket it goes, and he is out the door, without getting the tooth fixed!

Philippe tucks the article in a “Projects” keepsake box and forgets about it for a while. He begins to do more difficult tightrope walks and improvises equipment to  perform illegally on the towers of a Paris cathedral (1971) and the world’s largest steel arch bridge in Australia (1973).

Faith in Tandem with Patience and Urgency

In between these feats, he reads a WTC article and is alarmed, thinking: “What if they [the towers] are completed before I link them for eternity? I must keep an eye on them. Once they are officially opened, it may be impossible to take them by surprise.”

Tired of Paris and encouraged by American girlfriends, Philippe visits NYC, Jan. 6, 1974. He’s too busy to visit the incomplete Twin Towers, until three weeks later. “I force myself to go meet them.” And when he sees them, and touches a wall, looking up:  “I cannot breathe. Cannot move, talk, think. I am dismayed, my dream dissolved. I feel fear. Glued to the railing, I am an invalid. I stare, I look, I glance, I observe, I watch. My scrutiny yields only two monoliths, beyond all scale, and carves deeper into me the word: Impossible…I long to flee but still the colossal magnet controls my destiny.

“Obscene Syllabic Obesity: Im-pos-si-ble!”

Philippe finds one tower exit door ajar and runs up the stairs. “I bump into construction workers as my body language declares, ‘What are you looking at? I’m the owner of these buildings!'” Then, at the top, among the construction, he views the other tower and sees “a word stretched across the gap between rooftops in all its obscene syllabic obesity: Im—pos—si—ble!”

Then, there is a mind change: “…teeth clenched, eyes half closed, in horror, in delight, I manage to whisper

Philippe on Aug. 7, 1974, between his WTC Twin Towers

my first thought (whisper, so the demons won’t hear): ‘I know it’s impossible. But I know I’ll do it!’ At that instant, the towers become ‘my towers.’”

Removing a Mountain Takes Help

Book cover of “To Reach the Clouds” shows Philippe accomplishing his dream. He crosses eight times that day.

What the rest of the story tells you is that Philippe cannot accomplish Le Coup without the support of a handful of imperfect people–some who are friends and others who are strangers. As one reads the book, one realizes all the individuals have their roles and come together in an amazing way. Philippe uses the word “miracle” several times in his book for the unexplainable coincidences.  It’s not difficult to understand that God is right there in the mix with Philippe and his little band,  giving them the desire of their hearts.

Against all odds, at sunrise, Aug. 7, 1974, Philippe Petit performs his WTC high wire act a quarter mile up in the air without a safety net. Of course, the authorities are freaked out and arrest him after he steps back onto the roof. But NYC loves a gutsy guy.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in “The Walk” (Sony, 2015)

His punishment ends up being a free performance in Central Park. WTC officials give him a free life-time pass to visit the towers whenever he desires. Of course he first tells them how he worked around all their security protocols.

Topography Transformation

Sadly we know the towers do not outlive Petit. At age 67, however, the artist is still busy. He has an artist in

Philippe Petit
Philippe Petit

residence space in NYC’s  Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In Petit’s book acknowledgment he quotes the church’s retired Rev. James Parks Morton, his “spiritual father”: “Philippe does not believe in God, but God believes in Philippe.”

I like the thought that God has more faith in us than we have in him and in ourselves. And I am encouraged to believe if Philippe could do what he did with the object of his faith being his own abilities, I certainly can remove some mountains with the object of my faith being Jesus who said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

I have much to learn about mustard seed faith, but this is my takeaway from Philippe:

<><Faith begins with an idea bigger than oneself. It begins with an attraction one might not fully understand.

<><Faith works with both patience and urgency.

<><Faith, although a gift, often requires preparation, perspiration, and perseverance.

<><Faith overcomes discouragement; the timetable of mountain busting is controlled by the one who created time and is not limited by it.

The challenge of mustard seed faith is to spy the mountain, accept it, and then work in tandem with the author and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2). After that, watch the topography transform.

Want More of Petit?

For more on Philipe Petit try his memoir and other books. Online, you can find numerous You Tube clips and a TED talk by him. I enjoyed the Academy award-winning documentary film, Man on Wire (2008), by UK director James Marsh and the biographical drama The Walk (2015), directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit. The Caldecott award-winning picture book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers (2003), by writer/artist Mordicai Gerstein, began my interest in Petit. A beloved three-year-old and I read it often and then line up tiles and pretend we are high wire artists.

 

 

Repentance and Refreshment

I sure appreciate readers of “There’s a Blog in My Eye,” because you regularly  have enough faith to read my blog even though you haven’t a clue what the topic will be. Thank-you. Here’s a secret: a few days before Friday’s deadline, I must muster a little faith too. Many Mondays I’m blog topic clueless and have to ask myself, “What is hitting the eye, over and over again?” This past week the whammies came—about five in a row on the out-of-fashion topic of REPENTANCE. Please read on, because the flip side of repentance is REFRESHMENT. Who doesn’t like that?

The Problem

Dr. Mateen Elass, head and shoulder short of middle aged man, round face, cropped, thick hair, and green eyes, smiling with mouth closed.
Dr. Mateen Elass

I was at a spiritual retreat last Saturday with a wise theologian, Mateen Elass. He spoke on what it means to be created in God’s image. Dr. Elass had a q. and a., and I popped out the question, “Where does repentance fit into the creation and redemption story? I mean, how do I incorporate repentance in my life as well as in my community? It’s difficult, because we live in a culture where that word ‘repentance’ seems almost obsolete.”

Dr. Elass quoted Jesus’s words in Mark 9:29: “This kind does not come out without prayer and fasting.” I was teary-eyed. He was succinct and right.

Distraught man kneels in mud and asks for forgiveness from those around him.
Repentance and forgiveness in the 1986 movie The Mission.

A Child’s Story

Children's book cover shows a cartoonish white rooster leaning against a tree next to a red barn in the mountains with evergreen trees in background. Rumor Rooster by Jessica Johnson are printed on cover. Rumor wears brown cowboy boots.
Both this art and the above one of Rumor Rooster’s skeleton are use with permission from Jessica Johnson.

Following the retreat I drove to Golden, Colorado, for the Rocky Mountain Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual conference. Among highlights, I had dinner with writer/artist Jessica Johnson. Jessica gave me her cute children’s book: Rumor Rooster. Rumor lives up to his name, spreading lies about the barnyard kitty. Then, Rumor doesn’t feel well, and Wise Woodpecker nails the problem: “Maybe you opened your mouth just a little too much, Rumor! What hurts is not your nose, not your toes, not your bones, but your heart.”

Rumor Rooster is a great little parable about confessing wrong,  turning away from it, and making right. Although Jessica doesn’t use the word repentance, the story was a neon light for me.

Pastor Tim’s Message

Arriving home from the writer’s conference late Sunday my husband told me I missed a great message at church.

“What was Pastor Tim’s topic?” I asked.

“Repentance,” my BFF said.

Hmmmm.

Monday, I listened to Dr. Timothy McConnell’s message online.

Dr. Timothy McConnell has a friendly, open smile at camera. He has black hair parted on side, dark eyes, is caucasian. He wears a dark blue jacket and light blue open button shirt. Blurry green folliage is behind him.
Dr. Timothy McConnell

In a nutshell, he, with Apostle Peter, teaches that repentance brings refreshment. Tim advises the first step is to be truthful with Jesus. Then, leave behind what trips you up. Repentance means turning around in the other direction. Tim said:

“Jesus doesn’t need perfect; he needs penitent; he doesn’t need powerful; he needs prayerful….Peter learned Jesus doesn’t need force; he needs faith.”

Pastor Tim pointed out that Peter knew the agitated Jerusalem crowd he preached to on Pentecost could experience what he had received. Fearlessly, Peter told them:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19, NIV).

Time for a Little Refreshment

There have been other neon signs this week about repentance, but I thought you might find value in the ones mentioned. Have you ever thought that personal repentance can lead to refreshment? I had never put those two words together, but they fit.

As Pastors Mateen and Tim advised, I will do some penitent prayer and fasting. Perhaps you will commit to doing so too–to the best of your ability. Then, together, we will experience times of refreshing, and that will be very good.

<><   <><   <><   <><

Jessica Johnson’s website: www.jessicapublishing.com

Dr. Mateen Elass’s website:   https://mateenelass.wordpress.com/about/

Click and then scroll to the minute number 44 for Dr. Timothy McConnell’s September 18, 2016, sermon: http://www.first-pres.org/index.cfm/PageID/1123/index.html

Finally, enjoy two songs about repentance and refreshment: “Clean” from Natalie Grant at:

 https://youtu.be/ulf4PXuNV3w

And, “How Can It Be” from Lauren Daigle:

Nate Mirza: The Completeness of God’s Forgiveness

Nate Mirza, staff member with International Student Ministry, has done a Bible study on “The Completeness of God’s Forgiveness.” With his permission, his 24 scripture word pictures on God’s forgiveness are listed below. I think you will appreciate God’s action verbs. Following Nate’s list is a video of the Revelation song by Philips, Craig and Dean. To each of you, a blessed Good Friday and Happy Easter, as together we rejoice in being under complete forgiveness because of Jesus.

Here is a headshot of Nate Mizra. He looks very happy, smiling, a man with wrinkles around his eyes, bald on top but grey hair above ears. He also sports a grey beard and mustache. He is wearing a blue suit jacket, black tie and white shirt.
Nate Mizra

Nate Mirza: “The forgiveness of sins is central to the good news of Jesus Christ. It is unique compared to other religions in that the cross and the resurrection of Christ provide a complete treatment for sin, and therefore the receiver of this treatment can have assurance of sins forgiven. In every other religious system, there is no full assurance because one never knows if enough has been done to earn forgiveness….

In the good news of Jesus, man can never do enough to pay for his sins. Not only was Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins complete and sufficient, his ongoing ministry as our eternal high priest is also complete and sufficient:

… because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them….Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:23-27, NIV).

Since God made such a great sacrifice of his own sinless Son, in order to forgive our sins that we may come into a right relationship with him, he lets us know how important our salvation is to him. He uses a variety of word pictures [in the Bible] to describe how he has dealt with our sins. So far I have found 24. They include our sins being:

1.  Atoned for – “With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7 NIV, and 1 John 2:2, Ex. 30:10, Lev. 5:6-18, Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17);

2.  Blotted out – “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25);

3.  Cleansed – “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” (Jeremiah 33:8; and Psalm 51:2, Ezk.36:33, Zech.13:1, Eph. 5:25, 26, Heb.10:22, 2 Peter 1:9);

4.  Covered – “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  (Psalm 32:1;  and Psalm 85:2, Romans 4:7);

5.  Forgiven – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1, 5; and Acts 2:38; 3:19, Ephesians 1:7);

6.  Forgotten – “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34);

7.  Hurled into the depths of the sea – “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19);

Here is a close up of a dogwood branch with two blossoms, both white with four petals each and their centers a burst of mini green buds. The petals are tinged with a little purple.8.  Made white like snow or wool “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”‘ (Isaiah 1:18);

9.  Not counted – “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:2, and Job 14:16);

10.  Paid for – “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  (Isaiah 40:2);

11.  Pardoned – “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7, and Jeremiah 33:8, Luke 6:37);

12.  Passed over –    “…whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” (Romans 3:25);

13. Purged – And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.”  (Isaiah 6:7, (NKJV);

14.  Purified – “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3, and Isaiah 1:18, Num. 8:21, Acts 15:9, 1 Peter 1:22-23, 1 John 1:7);

15.  Put behind his back – “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”  (Isaiah 38:17);

16.  Removed – “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12);

17.  Set free – “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that The dogwood branch is bursting with many white blossoms, four petals each, with green centers of mini buds. Tinged on each white petal is a little bit of purple.those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15);

18.  Sprinkled – “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, and 9:13-14);

19.  Swept away – I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”  (Isaiah 44:22);

20.  Taken away – “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.’”  (2 Samuel 12:13-14,  and Isaiah 6:7, Zechariah 3:4, 1 John 2:1-2 (NLT);

21.  Trodden under foot – “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins under foot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19);

22.  Washed – “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:2, and 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 10:22, Revelation 7:14);

23.  Wiped out – “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19);

24.  God’s face hidden from them – “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Psalm 51:9, NIV).

A Filipino once told the late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, that she had a word from the Lord for him. He couldn’t be bothered, but she kept badgering him. To get rid of her he asked her to ask the Lord to reveal a particular sin in his life. Later, she came back.

“Did you ask the Lord?” he inquired.

“Oh yes,” she said.

“Oh no!” he replied. “What sin was it? “

She answered, “God said he didn’t remember.”