Friday, December 21, 2007

Open Your Eyes and ...

One more Santa email and then I move on. Here is a meditation from 2005.

Every time I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I get a strange, hopeful feeling that this just might be true. Who knows? The guy in the red suit down at the mall might just be the real thing. All of the sudden, the anxious, excited, hopefully pangs of childhood stir in my belly. Instantly, I remember visiting Santa Claus as a child. Instantly, the past becomes the present.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of Santa…or clowns for that matter. I do remember being shy and a little bit nervous. The kind of excited nervousness one might feel when looking out across the Niagara Falls. Standing that close to such concentrated power is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. That’s how Santa made me feel. Someone with such awesome power was nearby.

During Christmas, Santa visited Gimbels, our local department store. During the rest of the year, other visitors appeared: the Jolly Green Giant, Humpty Dumpty, a variety of clowns and a host of other storybook characters. Each time we came to the store, I would peer at them through the racks. My heart raced, my hands sweated, and I stood awestruck just watching these otherworldly characters.

For a little boy with large imagination, these characters somehow represented the sacred, the holy other. The limitations of our world did not confine them. Their sizes, their colors, their powers and their stories all broke the ordinary conventions of this world. These characters were extra-ordinary.

At some point, the clock struck midnight and the magic of childhood evaporated. The big clowns climbed back in their little cars and drove away. Santa lost his sleigh and became just another sales associate trying to help the malls make more money.

Yet from time to time, I feel the pangs again. From time to time, I begin to see again and sometimes even believe. When I watch movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” I wonder, “Is it possible?” Then like waking up from Dorothy’s Oz, I see these characters all around me—in the faces of my friends.

As I look at my friends, I realize that the characters never really did disappear. They’ve been with me, all along. I just grew accustomed to the magic and lost my sight.

All these larger than life characters, like Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant, exaggerate certain features. Santa has an unlimited supply of gifts for the world. The Jolly Green Giant is jolly, green and a giant. Chesterton used to say, “All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.” Maybe a little exaggerated giving is not so bad. And of course, no one can be too jolly. Can they?

As far as green goes, well, I’m not sure what to say. But my folks did tell me about a man who ate so many carrots his skin turned orange.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have known some pretty exaggerated characters in my life. I once had a friend who was convinced he possessed some of Spiderman’s abilities. And I must admit, he did seem to climb up walls fairly easily.

I had another friend who wanted to possess some mind reading power. He would tell people to think of a card and then promptly present the supposed card. Usually the thought and the card did not match. He may not have been a mind reader, but he did possess an amazing discernment of people and their moral fiber. In college, I studied Astronomy with a guy who looked like he came right off the mountaintop with a shaved head, overalls and big teeth. And yet, he was a know it all: a real one. He really did know it all. His ability to remember facts and details astounded me.

The more I look around, the more I realize these fantastic fairy tale characters are real people. And they’re everywhere I turn. They’re in front of me in the grocery store. They’re beside me on the highway. They’re taking my lunch order.

I’ve come to believe everyone I meet is extra-ordinary. There is no ordinary person. Each person is exceptional, unique, larger than life, and mysterious.

I could spend a lifetime studying one person, any person, and never fully plummet the depths of their mystery. Created in the image of God, human persons reveal aspects of wonder and glory that can be breathtaking. Their power for good, and evil, is overwhelming.

In the common graces of God, each person I encounter is wonder-filled. When I finally begin to see this, I feel the pang again. I realize I’ve been born into a fairy tale world of fascinating characters. There are no ordinary, common unexceptional people. Each person is a treasure, a marvel, a glorious being, a sacred other. In spite of our flaws, I can see through each person to see the hand of our Creator, revealing His glory in all things.

This season I am seeking new eyes to really see the majestic wonder of all the people around me. Open your eyes, you might be surprised at who you might meet.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advent - Santa and the Wonder of Belief

Here's a meditation I wrote 3 years ago about the magic of Christmas. Like Chesterton, I learned to believe in God in the fairy tales of childhood. Here is on attempt to capture that believe in wonder.

Every year cartoons and movies retell the same story: the story of a child or an adult who has lost the wonder of Christmas, “the Christmas spirit.” Every year the tale of innocence and experience is retold through the lens of Santa Claus and a heart that needs only believe.

Christmas is the time when we hope, we wish, we dream it might all really be true. Of course, we know better. And yet deep within us there is a longing for that place called the North Pole. The sophisticated refuse to waste their thoughts or time with such pointless dreaming, ah but the child in all of us longs for the dream to come true.

In our Christmas stories, we express the truths our imagination knows to be true, even when our intellect says otherwise. I believe that our stories embody our deepest beliefs: the beliefs that are fundamental to our whole understanding of the world.

Some parents hoping to protect their children give them presents but refuse to give them the stories of Christmas. But maybe stories are more important than an endless supply of boxed toys that will soon be discarded. Long after the specific toys are forgotten, the stories will be remembered. The stories shape us: they shape the boundaries of our imagination; they shape our understanding of the world—both seen and unseen.

And what do our Christmas stories tell us? What we believe really matters. The magic of Christmas is veiled to the unbeliever. For them it is only commerce—buying and exchanging of presents. But for those who believe, we know the Christmas present reminds us that the greatest treasures cannot be purchased: they can only be received as gifts. The believer offers milk and cookies in gratitude.

After we sit in the glow of our twinkling Christmas trees inside, we might notice the glorious glow of our trees outside: and for that matter our grass and our bushes may look a little brighter. The world around is not as dull and dreary as we had come to believe, but is really an explosive symphony of light.

When we see the Santa strolling through the mall, we reminded of a goodness and a kindness and an unending benevolence just north of all we can see or hear.

We are not alone.

And who knows how often we entertain angels unaware?

In the swirl of Santas, and snowmen, and songs of sleigh rides, we discover something else—a lean to, a broke down barn, a rustic shelter. Inside this stable lies a baby that bears the hopes of all the ages.

Once again, the manger is an embarrassment to the sophisticated. How could the God of the ages come to earth as a poor child? Yet this tragically beautiful tale captures the imagination: a virgin with child, a cold winter night, no place in the inn, a miracle birth, shepherds and angels and wise men. And in the center of the story: the hope of hopes lying helpless on the hay.

This is the myth of myths, the story of all stories. The story of the God who comes to earth as man—not to betray the world, not to oppress or destroy but to love in weakness. To embrace the downtrodden, love the unlovely, heal the broken heart, preach freedom to the captives, the bear the weight of every pain, every fear, every sin, to overcome evil with goodness, and to overcome death with life forevermore.

We fear the story is too good to be true. Because ultimately we fear good stories cannot be true. We’ve seen too much pain, too much loss, too much needless suffering. We’ve lost our innocence to the dark reality of this cruel world. In the midst of this dark world, a light still shines.

Dare we believe? Dare we become childlike again? Dare we believe that our stories were pointing to something real? Dare we believe in someone who created us for a life beyond all we ever could hope or imagine?

This Christmas we might truly discover the Spirit of Christmas. Or rather, he might waken us to the wonder of a love that we have longed for all our lives.

“O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent - Remembering

This week, the rhythm of advent shifts from looking forward and anticipating the return of the Son to looking back and remembering His first coming. Each year the church pauses to remember through stories, songs, plays and pictures. We remember, retell, reconsider, rehearse.

To re-hearse is to "hearse again." That word causes me to stop and think. When I think of rehearsing, I think of practicing my lines for an upcoming performance. So what does this have to do with a hearse?

A hearse refers to a tomb, an encasing, an elaborate framework used in ceremonies commemorating those who have died. So a hearse helps us remember those who died. Hearse comes from the word "harrow," which means to cultivate, break up, tear apart the land.

Each year the farmer re-harrows the land before planting. Each year we re-harrow our lives by remembering the incarnation of God in our midst. We must rehearse or else our minds grow hard, cold, infertile and forgetful.

Our land has forgotten the ancient stories, and I fear our churches have as well. One friend who has served his mother struggling with Alzheimer's disease suggested to me that the prevalence of this disease in our time seems to be a sign of a culture that has forgotten their roots. Failing to re-harrow, we suffer from memory loss.

The church didn't always set aside a time for remembering the birth of Christ. An intentional focus on remembering the birth of Christ came in response to a heresy that suggested Jesus was never really born in human flesh: he was simply a spirit that came to enlighten us. So the church decided to re-harrow, remember, rehearse the ancient tale of God made flesh.

This act of remembering was an act of war against thoughts and ideas fighting to diminish God's action in human history. And the war still rages. The culture continues to forget and diminish and discard the wonder of God, the gift of God, the blessing of God upon us.

The festive trappings that overshadow our season of remembrance can be frustrating. As Frosty, Rudolph and Santa loom larger than the Lord of Glory we may feel shut out from our own party.

I would suggest the response to this mass forgetfulness is not anger but remembering, re-hearsing. Let us revisit the ancient stories. Let us remember the babe in the manger, the shepherds in the field, the angels in the sky. But let us deepen our memory, reaching further back into the story.

Let us revisit the story of creation, the story of the garden. Let us brood deeply upon the flood, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham. Let us pause at the enslavement in Egypt, the wondrous journey to the land of promise, the time of the great judges. Let us reconsider the glory and tragedy in the kingdom of Israel. Let us weep with Jeremiah at the destruction of temple, and dream with Ezekiel at the temple to come.


As we reread, remember, rehearse these stories, we come to realize with the writer of Hebrews that we are part of the story. Their story is our story. The story of the Jesus is our story. The miraculous birth, the announcement in the Temple, the flight to Egypt: these are all part of our story.

We are part of the journey from the mount of Transfiguration to the mount of Golgotha to the mount of Zion. This is our story, our testimony. Let us remember and retell and rehearse our story.

During this time of remembering, I encourage you to pause and rehearse the story of our Savior born in Bethlehem. Let it cut deep in your heart. I trust the Spirit of grace will come and break up our fallow ground, restoring us by "re-storying" us in His grand drama of redemption and recreation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent - Hidden Glory

His memory betrayed the hour at hand. For even as Zerubbabel rallied the returned exiles to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, his memories recalled another temple. The glory of Solomon's temple dulled this present project. Built at the height of Solomon's reign, the temple reflected the hope and glory of a people set apart to worship and proclaim the one true God.

Zerubbabel grew up in the shadow of stories from ancient Israel. His great grandfather, King Josiah, seeking to restore the ancient fervor, renewed the covenant with the Lord and called on the whole nation to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the dark disobedience of his fathers required judgment, and the nation fell captive to Babylon.

Leading a band of exiles back to Jerusalem, the elder Zerubbabel was commissioned to oversee the rebuilding of the temple. This temple was not the product of Israel's great wealth and glory and power as reflected in Solomon's temple. No this temple would be built by a group of broken, humiliated and poverty-stricken people.

Under the direction of their captors, they were sent back to the land to rebuild the ancient ruins. As Zerubbabel looked over the process of rebuilding, his heart grieved - for his memories denied the hope before him. All he could see were the glory days of what once was and would never be again. How can a leader inspire his people when his vision for tomorrow has been extinguished by yesterday?

Haggai comes from the court of the Lord to encourage Zerubbabel.

"Be strong,' says the Lord, 'for I am with you.'" Then under the inspiration of the God's Spirit, Haggai recalls a more ancient memory. "According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remains among you: do not fear!"

The same God who rescued a broken band of slaves in Egypt, now speaks to a broked band of exiles. "For thus sayeth the Lord of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the Lord of hosts."

Something deep inside Zerubbabel awakens to the call of God. As he listens, the hope of glory continues, "The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the Lord of hosts. 'And in this place I will give peace,' says the Lord of hosts."


What Zerubbabel could not see was God's hand acting through Zerubbabel and all the exiles to prepare the way for a temple not made by hands. The glory of the latter temple was great because God was moving to bring all nations to the holy mount Zion.

Today we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Son. We remember the coming of the Savior in the manger. Just as Zerubbabel's temple seemed a dull reflection to Solomon's temple, so the birth of Jesus seemed but a dull reflection to the birth of Solomon, the Golden Son. Today we remember, we celebrate, we rejoice in the birth of Jesus—not the birth of Solomon.

As we prepare our hearts for His coming afresh, may we have eyes to see the glory of the Lord hidden in ancient ruins, broken places and out-of-the-way mangers.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Advent - The Longest Night

In the older Julian calendar, tonight would be the longest night of the year, as the light of day gave way to an engulfing dark expanse. The church responded to this bleak time by celebrating St. Lucy, a young woman martyred for her faith in the 3rd century.

While little is known about Lucy, her name means "light," so Lucy's Day became a way of reminding the church of God's light upon His people in the midst of dark seasons. According to one legend, her eyes were gouged out before her death, yet she could still see.

Today many Norwegians, Swedes and Danes still celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. Some young girls will memorialize Lucy by dressing in white and wearing a crown of candlelight.

When the sun fades from our horizon and twilight gives way to encroaching dark, shadows may seem more real than the fading glories of day. The fear that seemed so weak and foolish just hours ago, now looms large in our imaginations. In spite of our fast-talking, clever minded mockery of darkness, no one can escape the struggles of the human soul.

We learn to manage our schedules, but we cannot manage out the pain of broken relationships. Our intelligence, our wit, our technology cannot save us from disappointments, tragedies, offenses, and misunderstandings. We’ve learned to treat a multitude of sicknesses and physical problems, yet our bodies are not immune to sickness and death.

The Christian faith doesn’t hide from this darkness or deny its existence, but it looks beyond the darkness to a God of light and hope and love. Some people scorn this faith as blindness or pollyanish piety, and they are free to do so.

In the midst of their sneers, we will continue to look into the darkness of a starless night with eyes to see the Uncreated Light of love. Isaiah looked out upon a crumbling kingdom. He saw the impending demise of a once great hope descending rapidly into darkness. Morality was fading and the enemies came crouching: ready to descend upon the prey of God’s forgetful people.

He saw the darkness. Yet he also saw the light. He saw the lion lay down with the lamb. He saw a little child playing in the midst of snakes. He saw men turning weapons of war into tool for planting and harvesting. He saw beyond the horizon of man’s wisdom to a God will reveals a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world that appears to be lost for good.

His words continue to inspire and stir of world of believers…and unbelievers. No matter how deep the darkness. Now matter how loud and how long the scorners scorn. The people of God are called to look beyond the arm of human flesh to the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light.

Trusting in the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we look toward the light of His unchanging love. As we look out in hope, we see His light shining and revealing lights all around us. We see the uncountable multitudes of people like Lucy who quietly trust the Lord in the midst of a world bent on destruction.

And as we behold the unveiling of God’s light in darkness, we walk toward His light, revealing the reconciling power of His love in and through our frail and failing lives.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent and the Justice of God

“Truly God is good to Israel,
To such that are pure in heart.
But as for me,
My step had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
(Psalm 73:1-2)

In his confusion, the psalmist cries out to God. The great high God of Israel seems to turn a blind eye to those who mock his name. The people of God falter while the wicked appear to be exalted.

The psalmist’s anguished question still rings in the hearts of God’s people. From businesses to families to nations, we watch evil people prosper. We see the people who take shortcuts move ahead. And it seems like those who try to walk right often fail.

Then the psalmist beholds the coming judgment, and he realizes that a day of accounting is coming. He rests in the fact that God will make things right.

The Christian Celts anticipated judgment day. In St. Patrick’s Breastplate they pray that they might be clothed “with the power of His descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.” In their manuscripts and crosses, Jesus is sometimes depicted at the “dread judge” coming to hold all men accountable for their evil deeds.

During Advent, we actually look to the coming Judgment Day. We expect a righting of wrongs, a day of rectitude. We may look toward this day, like ancient Israel, as a day when we will be proved right and those who opposed us will be exposed as in the wrong. We may expect this as a time when we will finally be vindicated.

As we look toward the coming day of days, we behold a day that came. The great day of woe was realized when the baby born in a manger grew up to be the man who bore the weight of sin and death. Jesus entered into the final judgment. He bore the crushing weight of woe upon himself.

This act of absolute justice strikes to the heart of evil. The cross heals my blinded eyes to see that I am not on the side of the righteous but on the side of the oppressors. While I cried out for justice, my own evil betrayed me as the offender. While I longed for my enemies to be exposed and humiliated and conquered, I was exposed as the one clothed in filthy rags.

Only then can I realize that what appears to be God’s blindness to evil is actually his longsuffering mercy. While some people think the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance, they are mistaken. The story actually reveals a God who is longsuffering, who continues to show mercy to evildoers, who withholds judgment again and again and again. Finally when he does bring judgment, He also brings a hope of restoration and redemption.

In the midst of revealing God’s judgment upon the evil in Israel, Zephaniah pictures a God who restores in gentle, lovingkindess.

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save:
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

As I look to the final unveiling of God’s justice, I no longer look with a fist of anger at those who cheated me, betrayed me, hurt me. Rather, I anticipate the complete unveiling of God’s glory with humility, realizing my own failures, my own tendency to hurt and cheat and betray. During this season of Advent, I look toward the end of all things and cry out with the publican, “Lord have mercy.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Dawn of a New Day

In the dark of night, the sky gives no hints that the sun will rise again. And yet we look with expectancy for another day to come. We remember the reliable regularity of a sun that rises in the sky every day of our lives.

In the earliest moments of dawn, the darkness must give way to the unstoppable light that fills the heavens. Advent comes to the weary pilgrims, crossing the crushing expanse of night. Like the promise of a coming dawn, it reminds those with crushed dreams and broken hearts that the Son has come, is coming and will come again.

I have known darkness that clouds and fills the lungs with smothering despair. And by God’s unspeakable grace, I have seen the light of a day that I thought might never come again. This advent I remember, and I rest in the utter faithfulness of my Creator.

The Dawn of a New Day

In the dark of night, the sky gives no hints that the sun will rise again. And yet we look with expectancy for another day to come. We remember the reliable regularity of a sun that rises in the sky every day of our lives.

In the earliest moments of dawn, the darkness must give way to the unstoppable light that fills the heavens. Advent comes to the weary pilgrims, crossing the crushing expanse of night. Like the promise of a coming dawn, it reminds those with crushed dreams and broken hearts that the Son has come, is coming and will come again.

I have known darkness that clouds and fills the lungs with smothering despair. And by God’s unspeakable grace, I have seen the light of a day that I thought might never come again. This advent I remember, and I rest in the utter faithfulness of my Creator.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Remembering the Future

Remembering the Future
Looking forward with hope is active resistance the experiences of life. The longer we live, the more we experience the pain, discouragement, disappointment and seeming hopeless of life. People disappointment us. We disappointment ourselves. Nothing lives up to the hype.

Isaiah realized that he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among a people of unclean lips. The very people chosen to reveal the goodness and glory of the Creator could not. They were flawed and failed. Their kingdom split and their history is not a story of ever-increasing glory but a story a darker and darker defilement. They fail God. They fail the world.

Isaiah exclaims that the people have “turned away backward.” They’ve become a desolate nation full of corruptors. They abuse one another. They oppress the weak. They forsake the fatherless. In other words, they look a lot like our world today. Looking around at our world of war, we cannot help but see ripples of unfaithfulness and broken relationships.

Nations war against nations. And this war is not limited to one or two or three geographical regions of the world. We are all at war. We war with our neighbors. We war with our friends. Even in the family and the church we see pain and betrayal. The places that should be provide a place for love to flourish sometimes foster the deepest violations of intimacy. It is easy to become bitter, hurt and lose hope that life can really be meaningful and love can truly prevail.

Facing this dark world, Isaiah remembers. By the grace of God, he remembers the faithfulness of God. He remembers the promises of God. He remembers the longsuffering of God. Looking back through the story of Israel’s failures, he also sees another picture. The longsuffering God prevails upon His people again and again.

Our friends may fail us. Our country may fail us. Our lovers may fail us. We have failed us. For if we are truly honest, we have also failed the people around us. Yet this longsuffering God is still at work in our world and our lives.

In the midst of a bleak, yet honest vision of human failure, we need God’s grace to remember rightly. As we remember His longsuffering, we remember that grace has prevailed and will prevail in our lives and our world. Like Isaiah we see beyond the bleak disappointments of life and learn to hope.

As we wait and long for the fullness of love, let us remember the future with Isaiah and behold the longsuffering love of God prevailing in our families, our culture and our world.

Isaiah 2:2-5
2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,

“ Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the LORD.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Dreaming

Advent is a time for dreaming. A time for recovering ancient, long forgotten dreams. A time to expect, anticipate, we rejoice in the day when the wrongs will be righted, the righteous will be vindicated, the weak will be made strong, the justice of God will prevail and be revealed to all people. As we dream of a world made right by love, we might just begin to walk and live in the reality of that love in the ways we speak, act and live toward our fellow humans.

I wrote a little story about advent dreaming, but I thought it was too long to post here. If you want to read it, it's at the following link:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/668203/Going-to-the-House-of-the-Lord-Psalm-122

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Starting the Advent Journey

I invite you to join me this year, as I seek to listen, watch and wait during this upcoming season of Advent. Each year, I set aside time to write reflections during Advent and Lent as way of helping me to remember.

In a world of deadlines and schedules and conflict and struggle, we tend to forget anything older than the latest tidbit of information calling to us from the television, the radio, the street signs and the endless chatter. In a swirl of sights and sounds, truth becomes what I can understand, I can articulate, I can control, I can verify.

In pause of Advent, I am reminded that I do not verify the truth, it verifies me. I do not defend the truth, it defends me. I cannot grasp the truth--for long before I even knew the truth, I was grasped and held in the hands of the One who is and always has been truth.

Advent compels me to look backward and forward at the same time. I look back to a story, the story that sounded long before I walked this planet. And it will continue sounding long after the traces of my footprints have long vanished from this land. This ancient story is a story about the end of this age. The culmination, the grand climax, the glory, the wonder, the hope of the coming of the One through whom all things have been made and all things will reach their fulfillment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Growing Weary in Well Doing

After months of silence, a short meditation.

The preacher warned us that one day we might be challenged to deny our faith
at the end of a gun. My overactive imagination convinced me that the threat
of persecution and imprisonment for Christians was only days or months away.
Could I stand the pressure? Would I deny the Lord when faced with the threat
of torture or death?

Over time, I’ve come to think that there is far greater threat for free and
persecuted Christians alike, then the threat of denial under duress. From
the fiery evangelist to the passionate prayer warrior to the faithful
disciple, believers of all temperaments and callings face the faith dulling,
life sapping threat of growing weary in well doing.

For the weary pilgrim, life becomes a repetition of disappointments and
frustrated longings. There’s nothing new under the sun. Every day is just
another day of the same. G.K. Chesterton once warned, “The world is
certainly not going to perish for lack of wonders, rather for lack of
wonder.”

When we grow weary in well doing, we lose confidence that the Spirit will
provide. We no longer trust and look for another proof of God’s favor in our
lives.

Weariness convinces the sojourner that there must be more. Another sign is
required. Another promise fulfilled. Unable to see the glory, the weary
person demands that God perform again and again and again. Like the
wandering Hebrews crossing the wilderness, each sign is soon forgotten and
another sign must come soon.

The miracle of breathing is not enough. The grace of food to eat is not
enough. The glory of loved one falls short. God must do spectacular things.
Like the Galatians, the weary person is in danger of falling from grace.

Unable to rest of the promise of the Spirit, the weary person begins to
trust in the works of the flesh. The cross is no longer enough. A new
technique is required, another touch is demanded, something beyond the cross
becomes the answer.

Once our focus moves beyond the cross, we begin to notice distinctions in
the body. Why is that person more blessed by God? Or I am closer to God than
those poor folks who only attend church once a week. Much like the
Corinthians, our gospel is no longer a gospel of God’s redeeming grace, but
a gospel of our gifts, our abilities, our vision and our plans.

Weariness will always move our focus from the goodness of God to our selves,
our needs, our abilities. This shift in focus steals our ability to see and
hear. Without eyes to see and ears to hear, our prayers sound more like the
Pharisees demanding a sign and less like the Savior offering thanksgiving
for the Father’s faithfulness.

One way to fight this tug of weariness on our soul is simply through
remembering. We remember the stories of the faith. The Father is faithful.
No boundaries can block his goodness. The border of Babylon did not stop the
power of His rule. Our sin and rejection could not alter His redeeming
power. The silence of death could not quiet His life-giving Word.

We don’t simply remember through thoughts but through actions. We remember
in the family feast, the communion table, the supper of our Lord. We
remember the body broken for us and the blood shed for us. In this meal of
memory, we celebrate His unflinching faithfulness. In our weakness, His
Spirit reminds us that even in our unfaithful weary wandering, His grace can
strengthen us to mount up with wings as eagles.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Word Made Flesh retreat

I'd like to invite you to my next retreat on July 20-21. Each time I prepare for a retreat, I begin to get the sense it is the most important retreat I've done. I think this has to do with timing. At this point in time, a retreat on embodying the word of God in our lives is the most important thing for me. There is a deep stirring in my soul about about the gift and responsibility to be people of the Word.

If we look back through the history of our faith, we see how words continue to have power long after the speaker dies. God speaks the world into being. Moses wrote out the commands of God and the world still finds guidance in those words. David recorded his prayers, and we are still learning to pray from David. Isaiah proclaimed a vision of the world transformed into peace and his words still echo throughout the world thousands of years later. Paul wrote letters to his friends and the church continues to be shaped by those words. The Holy Spirit stirs and inspires His people across time to speak a true word, to proclaim His word and in so doing we change the world.

How can we be the people who speak rightly? How do we embody God's word? How do we follow the guidance of Solomon and James in our tongue? These are the kind of ideas we'll consider as we reflect upon speech through the eyes of the Celtic Christians.

Below is a little more about the retreat I am currently preparing. I invite you to come and spend a weekend with us.

The Word Made Flesh: Becoming witnesses in word and deed.
A retreat meditating upon the power of the word in our life and the lives of the Celtic Christians.
July 20-21

In our fourth Celtic Christianity retreat, we will consider the power of true speech to change the world. Jesus comes as the "Word made flesh" and speaks as one having authority. The Scriptures assure us that the "Word of God" will not return void. Yet our words often seem to fall to the ground. We live in a time and culture where images take precedence over true speech and words seem unreliable.

The ancient Hebrews and the Welsh both considered their language as a gift from God. They realized the power of speech to change the world. The writer of Proverbs reminds us that the power of life and death are in the tongue.

On the weekend of July 20 -21, Brad Getz and I will join with others to meditate upon the gift of speech, the power of words, and the call to tame our tongue. Drawing from the Bible and the fire of the Welsh poets, we'll spend the weekend considering how we ourselves might learn to cultivate a speech that lives beyond our time.

As with all Spring of Light retreats, there will be time for teaching, group interaction, personal reflection and eating. We'll meet at the Living Room (for directions email me). Since we're having at our building, there will be no registration fee.

If you'd like to come, please let me know (doug (a) springoflight.org) and I'll send you more information.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Walking in Many Worlds

Sometimes I dream about moving through different worlds. In one dream, I climb up a tree and as I climb higher the temperatures change, the day gives way to night and somehow I even climb up through a body of water. In another dream, I fly over a mountain and into a world where pinks and purples are the primary colors and the creatures look like dinosaurs.

After a night of traveling through multiple worlds, I awake. And oddly enough, I walk through different worlds.

As I enter the wonder of the day, I am inundated by the world of the new: new technologies, new market developments, new products. Hour by hour someone is tracking the latest, newest thing—from cell phones to software, and yesterday’s latest greatest development is already stale news.

This world is infatuated by progress, by new ideas, by new solutions, by new trends and new inventions. It makes bold pronouncements of mastering the world of the future and harnessing technologies to create a better world with supercomputers that will be smarter than humans ever dreamed. And this brave new world won’t have all the unsightly problems of current human world.

If the truth be told, the human worlds certainly are a bit messy. I see an outer world of human relationships that continually overflow with betrayal, anger, violence and destruction. Each day the newspapers recount the story of Cain and Abel: brother against brother, man against wife, son against father, nation against nation.

Even as I coolly observe the litany of human atrocities, I must acknowledge my own participation. If I saw the tally of pain caused by my own words and actions, I’d be shocked and possibly even horrified.

This ever extending circle of pain moves into the heart and back out again, infecting all people in its path. In it, I discover another world, an inner world of human heartache, loss and disappointment. From powerful CEOs to powerless babies, no one lives on this earth without pain and loss. Degrees and dollar signs and diamond rings often hide hearts filled with fear, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

After moving through multiple worlds in the day, I return home to an ancient world. A world of things unseen: a world of story, of faith, of hope and of love; a world populated by a risen Lord, a host of angels and a communion of saints. This old world lives by a book where the youngest text is almost two thousand years old.

This old world can make some aspects of the new world look a bit suspect. If an idea is only one or two hundred years old, it is still in its infancy. It has yet to survive or impact through generation after generation. How can its value be determined? What might seem shiny and new and important, might not even be remembered in years to come. What might appear as the answer to all our problems might someday come to light as the beginning of all our problems.

This old world tells and retells the same stories. Prays and reprays the same prayers. This old world remembers. In this old world, I walk the same ancient paths again and again and again. In this old world, I eat bread, I drink wine, and I remember the body broken for me, the blood shed for me.

Remembering is not simply about recalling, it is about becoming what was, what is and what is to come. As I remember, the Spirit of God draws me into the communion of love:
He draws me into the story of Jesus who lays down his life for the world; into a communion of Jesus followers’ who also remember and in some way are engrafted together in the same story of sacrifice.

As I remember the story, I realize this is not simply an old world, but a new world. For this old world is always drawing me forward to a kingdom come, a wedding feast, a celebration of God’s love and goodness triumphing over evil and pain and oppression.

The Savior who dies and lives again is the sign, the first fruit of a new creation. By remembering this story again and again and again, I somehow, some way enter into the story, or it enters into me. It becomes a part of me. This old world extends into my inner world. The story works its way into my body: my eyes, my hands, my feet, my heart.

As I step out into the outer world of human striving, an ancient memory is still pulsing in my blood. As I look around, my eyes remember the Savior and I see past the fa├žade of titles and fashions and human bravado. I see a world of people created and loved by the heavenly Father.

In my hands, the memory of Jesus lives. His hands bless the children, heal the hurting and open to the pain of the cross. As the memory enters my hands, I feel the call to carry burdens, to embrace the needy, and to raise the grievance and the pains of the world around me to the Father of all creation.

My feet remember the Savior who walks to Jerusalem and onto to Golgotha. My feet remember and are constrained to walk into the pain, into the path of those who need love, and into the darkness. My feet cannot run away from a world in despair but must run toward it.

And even as I face the aching, dying, bleeding world infatuated by newness and latest, yet continually longing for life. I feel the tug of my heart, remembering the heart broken, pierced and crushed for the hurting. And from the cross, I hear the Savior saying, “Come and die with me.”

In the ancient world of the cross, I discover a Savior who redeems the worlds around me. His life, death and resurrection penetrate the inner world of hearts disfigured by the painful impact of sin. His redeeming power moves into the outer world of human conflict and division, offering hope in a cross-shaped peace that breaks down the barrier of love.

From ancient past to the end of time, His love extends and encompasses a world that thinks time is running out. But time is not running out but running toward the world’s one true lover. He is redeeming every moment, every second.

My sleeping and waking dreams of many worlds run toward this hope of redemption. For as I enter into the world of the cross, I come see all worlds, all things, all creation being brought to fulfillment in Christ alone.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Woman at the Well

Woman at the Well

dougfloyd – 5/2007

Thirsty and hungry he sits, waiting, baking in the billowing heat. Eyes burning from the salty sweat that baptizes his forehead in the noonday sun. As he waits, he watches, drifting in and out of a thin consciousness.

He watches as Abraham’s servant walks up to the well and asks a young lady for a drink. Soon they leave together, and a marriage between Izaak and Rachel begins unfolding. There’s something about wells and love.

Tamar comes every day when the blistering heat of the noonday sun is at its peak. This miserable heat is better company than the constant cackling of the village women who curse her as she passes by. So she walks alone in the heat of the day while other rest in the shade. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t need them. She doesn’t need anybody. She comes to the well to find water, but who knows what else she might?

Interrupting her musings, he looks up and asks, “Can you give me a drink?”

“What? A Jew asks a woman of Samaria for a drink?” Tamar is well aware of the cultural and religious taboos this stranger has just violated. He talked to a woman. Some rabbis suggest that if a man talks to a woman for over twenty minutes, you must assume they’ve been intimate. Plus a Samaritan woman at that!

Jews despised the Samaritans. She remembers as a child watching a Jewish family pass through her town. She waved. They scowled and turned away as though she were some kind of wild animal.

“What does he really want, she wonders mischievously.”

“If you had recognized who is asking you for water, you would have asked him for living water instead,” He says climbing to his feet.

“Wow he must think he is really special!”

Looking around for his things, she queries, “You don’t have a pot or anything to even hold the water. This well is deep, so I am not sure how you even begin to offer me living water. Do you have some well around here I don’t know about? Are you somehow better then Jacob, our Father? He drank water from this well. His sons drank from this well. And now we enjoy the gift of his well.”

“This well can satisfy your thirst for just a moment. And then you’re thirsty again. The water I offer keeps satisfying. It springs up inside a man as streams of living water flowing on and on and on.”

Not sure if he’s flirting with her, she blurts out, “That sounds like my kind of water. If it’s as good as you say, I’m ready to drink.”

“Then go get your husband, and come here.”

“I don’t have a husband.”

“That’s right. You’ve actually had five husbands and the one you’re with today is not even your husband.”

The game was over. His words cut to the heart.

Instantly, Tamar traveled back in her mind to a large family gathering. It was a cool fall night and all her relatives had gathered in harvest celebration. Music fell on her ears like rain from the sky. The world was a celebration.

Intoxicated by this night of dancing and singing and eating, she fell into the arms of young man. Before she knew what she was doing, she had given away her only possession. In the middle of their escapade, they were caught, exposed in front of the entire village.

She publicly shamed the family. Responding in the only way he knew, her father cried out and grieved as though a child had died. The crisp fall air turned stale and a sick, pit-in-your-stomach gloom swallowed all festivity.

Tamar died that night. She died to family and friends. She left her home and never saw her family again. Learning to survive on her own, she did what a woman had to do. Men came and went. Each one with promises of a better life. Each one more vile than the last.

Worthless and used up, she grew hard to the world. Nothing or no one had come close to penetrating her fortress of indifference in years. A chance meeting with a strange Jew, and the fortress walls began to tremble. His words pierced her soul like javelins.

Grappling to recuperate, she says, “You must be a prophet.”

She wonders, “Could he be the prophet that Moses spoke of?” If so, maybe he can finally affirm our worship.”

Not only was Tamar a marginalized woman. She came from a marginalized people. They were outsiders. Cursed by the Israelites even though they held to the law and worshipped at the Holy Mt of Gerizim.

She asks, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."

Looking directly into her eyes, Jesus proclaims, “Woman, listen to me and believe. The time is at hand to worship the Father in heaven directly. No more will it be this mountain or that mountain. From now, the true children of God will worship the Father in spirit and truth. He is drawing all men to himself and the hour is at hand for the true worshippers of God to wake from their sleep.”

Jarred by his direct response she replies, “If only the Prophet were here. He would tell everything we need to know.”

“I who speak to you Am He.”

His words echoed through every fiber of her body from her head down to her toes. Suddenly she realized she was running. Running madly into the village as though she were racing for her life. She was crying.

Crying for the first time in fifteen years. Her cold, hard, calloused heart suddenly ached again. She could feel something. She was alive. Like the teenager that died so many years ago, she was alive again.

Alive! Alive! She shouted, she cried, she laughed. Surely the people will think I am insane but who cares because I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him, the One is here, He told me everything, everything about my life.

“Come and see. Come and see. He is here!”

When she opened eyes, she realized that she was surrounded by a crowd. They swayed on her every word. When she paused, everyone started talking at the same time, asking, “What happened to you? You look completely different?” “Where is He?” “Can we meet him?”

Everyone shouting and pushing to get near her. Excitement, like that fall night so many years ago, danced in the air. All she could say, all she could do, all she could sing out was, “Come and see! Come and see.”

Then she began running back to the well.

A bustling panoply of people flocked to the well with a singing, dancing little girl leading the pack. “Come and see!” “Come and see!”

The disciples who had finally returned with food for Jesus, looked up from the well in shock and surprise. Jesus was explaining to them about another food and another harvest when they saw it with their own eyes.

He smiled as the little girl returned. She had finally come home to her father’s house and she was bringing her friends to the feast. They all laughed and cried and rejoiced at the words and wonders of Jesus. These outsiders to the faith; these marginalized people found the prophet of God who welcomed them into the Father’s house. As He talked and stayed with them, they realized that this is not just a prophet, they were feasting with the Savior of the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Loving Freely

Loving Freely
dougfloyd
5/7/2007

I quit trying to be great. Once I had aspirations of making a name for myself, becoming a famous person. Now I just want to learn to be a person. I dreamed of speaking before thousands of people frozen under the spell of my voice. I was going to change the world. Now I realize: I cannot even change myself.

I am not even free to love as He loved.

As Jesus gathers with his disciples for a final meal, he looks around the room and sees people who will not be faithful, who will not love him to the end, who will abandon him in the hour of his greatest need.

He sees Judas and knows that in just a few moments, Judas will leave to meet with conspirators seeking to kill Jesus. And there’s Philip, Andrew and the others. When the hour of reckoning comes, they’ll abandon him, escaping into the night.

His three closest friends Peter, James and John will fail him. The one time he asks for prayer, they’ll fall asleep, leaving him alone in his greatest trial.

These three has shared a rare intimacy with Jesus. He took these three up the mountain and revealed glories beyond imagination. They saw him in a light no other living human would see, and they still failed him.

Peter wasn’t always Peter. He was Simon. Jesus named him “Peter,” the rock. This headstrong man was to play a special foundational role in Jesus’ purposes. Bursting ahead of pack in his passionate way, Peter experienced the power of Jesus in amazing, unique ways like walking on the water.

Yet Jesus knows that his darkest hour, Peter will deny him. Jesus said, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in Heaven.” Peter not only denies him before men, he curses anyone suggested otherwise.

So as Jesus prepares to spend a final evening with his disciples, he sees a group of strangers. He is alone. These men will not be faithful. These men will betray, deny, abandon him. “Having love his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Resting in the love of his Father alone, Jesus kneels down before each man. Humbling himself before them, he washes their feet. His life will soon be quenched. He pours that same life into these men.

He speaks words of comfort, encouragement, instruction. His love has no constraints. He freely embraces his betrayer. He freely serves and loves all those who will disappoint him, forget him and leave him.

As he demonstrates this free gift of love, he exhorts, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is not fickle, changing based on circumstances. It is a wellspring that never stops flowing. This love flows freely and continuously between the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus comes to earth, revealing the express image of the Father. He reveals a love that is never restrained. Beaten, mocked, humiliated, spat upon, lied about, cursed and crucified: he continues loving: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

In his complete freedom to love, Jesus reveals what the Father looks like. He also reveals what humans were created to look like. Created in the image of God, humans were made for love. As I gaze upon a love that is freely flow, I realize that most of my dreams of grandeur cannot compare with the highest calling of simply becoming a human being, becoming free to love.

But I fear we are not free to love. We are nice instead.

We live in a nice country with nice people who drive nice cars, and live in nice houses. Take away the nice house, the nice car, the nice food, the nice family, and will we still be nice?

I wonder if we have any idea what it means to love freely. It is natural to hold our hurts closer than our love. I think we love the idea of love, but the act of love costs too much. It requires our life.

Paul suggests that where the Spirit of God is there is freedom. He suggests that Christ comes to frees us from the bondage to sin. Those in bondage are not free. While we speak of freedom and salvation and redemption, I wonder, are we really free to love?

I think about Jesus loving the disciples, loving the thief on the cross, and forgiving those who crucified him. In his act of unrestrained love, I am most amazed by the love expressed to Peter. As he looks down from the cross, he confesses that they don’t realize what they are doing.

The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and the gaping crowds never shared the same quiet intimacy that Peter shared. They never walked on the water; they never climbed the mountain to behold a vision of transfiguration. They never saw what Peter saw, heard what Peter heard, and lived what Peter lived.

Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ. And in a moment of terror, he denied that same Christ before all men. The breach of a friend wounds far deeper breach than the arrow of an enemy.

The Gospel writers brand Judas as an enemy from the beginning. So we are not surprised when he betrays Jesus. But Peter, he was an intimate friend. He knew the secrets of love. And he denied that love.

In Jesus’ darkest hour, Peter abandoned him.

We may find the courage to love our enemies, but can we love the friends and family who misunderstand us, disappoint us, and even abandon us?

Jesus loves freely for he knows a love that will not stop. He knows a love that continues even into death. He knows a love stronger than death. In his final moments, he tells the disciples that they can know that same love. In fact, he is preparing the way through the cross for them to enjoy a place in that love.

The wondrous promise of our faith is not about mansions and crowns and golden roads. The wondrous promise that Jesus offers is the love of the Father that will never be quenched. We are loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved.

Nothing will stop this love. No angels, no demons, no hardship, no suffering. Not even death. We rest completely secure in His love. If we ever but catch a glimpse of the wondrous security of this love, we may discover a way of loving freely. We may actually forgive the hurts and failures and spears of friend and foe alike.

We may actually love like Jesus loved and lay down our lives for one another.

And then? Then world will know...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Responding to the Killings at Va Tech

Yesterday I received an email from a co-worker who is also an alumnus of Virginia Tech. The email told the stories of one of the families who lost daughter in the on-campus killings earlier this week. Since I don’t usually watch the news, I had only read a few headlines about this painful event. Her email put a human face on this story. By humanizing this story, I could enter into the grieving at the loss of lives. Below are a few thoughts that came to mind as I reflected. I would hope that we would not simply observe the pain of those grieving families but may we also weep with those who weep.

There are pains so deep, so crushing, so horrible that our thoughts cannot contain them. We think if we can just explain them, define them, categorize them, or even spiritualize them, we will somehow gain power over them.

But we won’t.

Evil is real. The dark terror of evil cannot be contained by our minds, our media, or even our government policies. In a world of enlightened ideas and unlimited progress, the reality of evil continues to strike. And if we’re honest, we know that evil strikes through even our own hearts.

What do we do when a horrid evil is unleashed before our eyes? How do we respond? If we were still human, we would respond by grieving, moaning, and crying out in agony and despair. But we’ve forgotten how to mourn. We’re too sophisticated for lamentation.

Instead, we watch the news. We collect information, analyze it, dissect it, and reduce the horror of evil to some manageable bit of data that is stored with all the other bits of data that crowd our mechanized brains. God have mercy on us and teach us to weep with those who weep.

Facing the sudden tragic loss of lives, we are mystified. Questions cloud the heart and mind: Why? Why the suffering? Why the obscene evil? But there are some questions we simply cannot ask. The book of Job reveals the futility of asking, “Why must we suffer?”

Sure we can theorize and theologize and spiritualize, but all our wrangling brings us no closer to real answers that feed the human soul. Instead of asking “why suffering” and “why evil,” our souls long to ask another question, “Where are you God?”

Where is the absent God in our despairing heart of darkness?
Despised and rejected.
Stricken and afflicted.
Wounded and bruised.
Hanging on a cross.

He is bleeding and dying and entering into the deepest depths of human pain and suffering. Though we fall under the weight of suffering, we cannot fall lower than the “Man of Sorrows.”

He embraces us in our suffering. He enters into our mourning. He teaches us to pray rightly, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

For just a few moments, let go of the need to know; the need to answer why; the need make sense of tragedy. Let go and follow the pattern of Jesus who truly weeps with those who weep and suffers with those who suffer.

Jesus can teach us to mourn, to grieve, to ache at the pain within us and around us. He can restore our humanness. He can free us from the tyranny of information without love and restore us to loving bond with brokenhearted. He can teach us let go of our need for quick empty, solutions to evil and pain. He can teach us to cry and grieve and wait upon a comfort that can only come from the Spirit of God.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah (Psalm 88)

My eyes flow and do not cease,
Without interruption,
Till the LORD from heaven
Looks down and sees. (Lamentations 3:49-50)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Celtic Christianity

For the last several years, I've been leading retreats on Celtic Christianity, focusing primarily on the written texts that survive from the fifth to eighth centuries as well as a little later stuff. We cannot fully see inside their world, and we're always in danger of substituting our own perceptions for reality (of course that is a danger with all history), there is still value in exploring these ancients poems, prayers, liturgies and more.

In 2005, I started working on a book exploring St. Patrick's Breastplate. I wrote drafts of the first two chapters, but then my health took a turn for the worse, and I stopped writing. Recently, I decided to pick up the book and start writing again. In order to help jump start myself, I've decided to post chapters on scribd. So if anyone is interested, here are links to Chapter One and Chapter Two.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rhythm

Rhythm

I feel the strain of Coltrane’s Sun Ship
clashing, rattling hacking at
my thoughts, my bones, my soul.
Dissonant energies tug through
myriadic movements
that grate my focus
to fleeting distractions
of blurred activities.
Nonstop sloth.
Gasping, choking spitting,
I jump and jerk forward,
one step closer to nowhere.

Falling I sleep, exhausted from nothingness.

In the 2 am stillness, I hear a bird
allure the coming day.
This pied piper welcomes
the hope of light with heaven’s secrets.
Morning melodies
call me forth
from a tomb
(a womb)
to new rhythms.
Step by step by step.
Breath by breath by breath.
Shalom encircling me.
Arising,
I begin learning
the true slowness of
one thought, one word, one act.

dougfloyd
4/7/07

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Meeting Jesus on the Road to Die

Paul met Jesus. Crossing a plain in the fiery sun, he fell under the piercing reality of heavenly light. He encountered Jesus in ways that time and space cannot contain, and Paul’s word could never fully explain.

Paul met Jesus.

He communed with Lord of all creation in the crushing blows of affliction. Beaten, stoned, left for dead, this broken man despaired of life, assuming his body had been given over to death.

Paul met Jesus in the cruel betrayal of trusted friends. The loved ones that he had invested his life into abandoned, rejected and turned their backs on this weak fool. As a humiliated captive paraded before a jeering world, Paul lived the words, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.”

Paul met Jesus—not simply in third heaven visions of rapturous glory but in the embodied communion of suffering. As he fell forward into a lived death, Paul discovered another, deeper, richer communion. Beneath the pain of the cross, Paul met Jesus in the living comfort of God’s ever-consoling Spirit.

There is a life discovered only in death.

In the midst of affliction and comfort, Paul met Jesus in the prayers of God’s people. Even as Paul entered into a communion of love with the Savior, he discovered another communion as well: the sweet and mysterious communion with the frailty of God’s people. For the Spirit of Communion bound Paul with God and with God’s people.

In his journey to far country, Paul discovered a mystery the Savior prayed for his disciples before leaving. were called out of darkness and into light. They were called to be the friends of God.

The friending of God and God’s people is revealed in the weakness of suffering, of betrayal, of loneliness, of the cross. For we truly must love one another as Christ loved us. In his gracious love, the Spirit of God leads us to the place of the skull.

This is not a cruel joke, but a mystery of love that frees us from an exclusive self love that can never know the sweet bonds of communion. In weakness and death, we can finally embody the reality of a love that cannot die, that cannot be quenched, that cannot fail. We discover a love the Savior calls “everlasting life.”

In both agony and ecstasy, we are bound to the Lord by the Spirit, and yet not to the Lord alone but to the Lord’s people.

Each of us are graced to know Judas and Peter. The fellowship of God, the Holy Spirit, ministers to us the wounds of the cross through Judas and Peter. And yet one, in the mystery of love, will become the friend who sticks closer than a brother. The betrayer will become the lover.

The mystery of this gospel is that it is not carved in stone. It is not forged in immoveable forms that cannot change. Rather, it is stamped on the weakness of the human heart. The same heart that is fickle, untrustworthy, deceitful, and selfish. And onto this weak form is stamped the beauty of a love that will survive death and burn eternal.

As we stumble toward Golgotha, let us embrace those who have forsaken us. Some like Judas will run away. But others like Peter will become the rock upon which a communion that cannot be shaken will be formed.

Let us know the bonds of communion in suffering and comfort, in joy and sorrow, in betrayal and love. May the Spirit of Communion fulfill the great and wondrous prayer that we all might be one even as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Going Home

In some ways, the Lenten pilgrimage is a like a journey home. We walk toward the place where our end meets our beginning, where love answers love. But how do we go home?

I cannot go back home. Yes, I may travel back to the house of our childhood, but it is no longer home. Home exists not simply in space but in time as well. Echoes of home resound through my memories: a birthday party on a boat, the birth of my baby brother, a candlelight Christmas Eve in hushed wonder. But these are simply hauntings now, signs of what once was. They blow through my soul like wind across my face.

Since I cannot go back, I must go forward home. Sometimes I rush headlong. Other times I hesitantly tread like crossing slick stones over a flooded creek. In each step, the Father guides towards the place of the cross: the path of that great and wondrous homecoming.

From time to time, I catch glimpses, sightings of land, of home. In the breaking of bread, the sharing of suffering, the sweetness of celebration. As I walk, I listen to my traveling companion, the poet Rod Jellema. His words awake the longing ache of my heart. May they pierce you as well.

Travel Advisory
By Rod Jellema

Remind yourself, when you wake to a strangeness
of foreign lights through blowing trees
out the window of yet another hotel,
that home is only where you pretend you’re from.
What’s familiar sends you packing,
watching for “some lost place called home.”
You’re from wherever you go.

Don’t admit what you’re looking for.
If you say to a baker in Bremen, to a barmaid
in Provence, “Back home we think of you here
as having deeper lives,” they’ll shrug you wrong
and won’t respond. And then you’ll know:
they’re strangers too. Broken and wrinkled
stones and skin, brush strokes and chords,
old streets and saints you’ve read about,
flute-notes in the laughter of foreign children,
the nip of a local market cheese—
there’s a life we almost knew once.
Watch. Just let it in.

The return ticket will take you only
to the town where you packed to get on the plane.
It never missed you. You’ll notice
alien goods in your kitchen, wind in a wall,
losses in the middle drawer of your desk.
Even there, that dim outlandish civitas dei
you’re a citizen of never was a place.
Remember not to feel too much at home.

“Travel Advisory” from A Slender Grace by Rod Jellema.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Promise of Death

Jesus calls us out into the wilderness, so that we can finally…die. He frees us from the cruel slavery of neverending existence by inviting us into the delightful freedom of life everlasting.

Yet we struggle and fight and grasp to survive in a world that is dead. This world trudges on and on in endless cycles of lifeless living. We live like the ancients whose creed still echoes in our world: "what has been, is, and will be again." We simply tread round and round a gristmill of movement without change.

Think of the horror of living day after day after day with no hope of change. The loneliness that chokes the soul growing day after day. The bitterness of disappointment increasing moment by moment. The pain of betrayal, the loss of innocence, the web of envy, the fire of lust, the sting of regret entwining our souls breath by breath.

Imagine lying in a bed wracked with pain from cancer slowing eating through the body. One day the doctor comes and delivers the bad news: "All our tests indicate that you are never going to get well—and you're never going to die." Day after day after endless day of pain twisting and turning through the body.

The world we cling do kills the soul and the body stumbles forward in numbed chaos. Jesus came so that we could finally…die.

Before Jesus came, the world couldn't die. Everything kept turning in circles. Everything and everyone cannot escape the endless circle. Reincarnation is the inability to die. Endlessly reappearing in one form or another. No memory. No power to change. No mercy. No redemption. Just endless circles.

C.S. Lewis paints this terror of not being able to die in "The Great Divorce." The condemned cannot die. Thus they cannot change. They simply grow firmer and stronger and more resolved in their illnesses, handicaps, bitternesses, self deceptions. Harder and harder and harder. Moving farther and father apart.

Jesus comes so that man might finally die. For unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The cross brings death--an end to our world. As we travel through lent, we embrace the hope of the cross, the hope of change.

At first, the cross seems like a destructive intrusion, an unwanted invasion of our comfort zone. The comfort of our lifeless world may come to an end. But then the resurrection welcomes us to a new heavens and a new earth. St. Paul reminds us that we will face tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Rom 8:35). We will know the struggles of loss and weakness and hardship. We will be delivered to death for Jesus' sake. And the life of Jesus will be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11).

And in His life, we will discover a love that does not waver, does not weaken, does not fade regardless. In His life, we will rest in a love that encircles us with life everlasting, leading forward to new worlds and new heavens we never imagined.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Call of Lent

Something, someone is stirring. A voice is calling. In the deep of the night, we awake, feeling the voice inside of us. Gently, yet incessantly pressing, provoking, speaking. “Come away with me.” In the fullness of time, the Spirit calls and we can only follow.

We call this time “Lent.” By naming a time, we give it shape, we give it focus, we create space. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggests, “Time creates space.” We name our moments. The moments of my current waking hours, I call “today.” I awake today and join my voice with the voices of millions of Christians who have lived before me. We call this day, “Lent.”

Lent is a time for remembering. We remember the early church. During this time, new believers were trained in the faith and prepared for baptism and entrance in the church, the community of the God’s people. Even as we remember these early Christians, we remember Jesus entering the wilderness at the prompting of the Spirit.

Preparing for his ministry of life, he faces the power of death for forty days in the heat of the wilderness winds. The devil tempts him to give up. To lose hope. To take the easy way out. To forget the plans of the Father. Jesus resists him, emerging from the test in the power of the Spirit.

As we remember Jesus, we also remember another wilderness journey. When the time came to leave the cruel slavery of Egypt, the children of Israel followed the Spirit’s voice calling them through the wilderness and to the new world.

We remember and re-enact these wilderness travels: the stories swirling through our hearts and the heat burning in our soul. Inside these stories, live other stories. For the wilderness reveals a host of travelers in search of a new world. We meet David running from Saul, Elijah running from Jezebel, and Abraham running to Izaak.

We meet Job in the depths of an anguish that brings him to the end of his world. From this lonely peak of a dying world, he cries out to the Creator of all things. We meet Noah, who crosses the wilderness in an ark: for his desert is an ocean of destruction.

As we look around us at all these travelers, we suddenly realize everyone is traveling up a mountain. Towards the top of the mountain, we see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. On this mount of transfigured reality, we hear Jesus speaking of a new world: a new heavens and a new earth.

Soon our hearts burn for this world, this renewed Eden. Our hearts remember the burning that has always been there. For believers and non-believers alike burn for this new world, this Eden. We may use different words and we may not even express the longing of the soul, but deep inside burns a longing for a better place. A world free from violence, hatred, cruelty, pain.

Many people have tried to imagine this world. It does seem easy if we try. But soon our dreams turn to nightmares. For even as we long and burn and ache for this new world, we come to realize, we must come to realize: we are responsible for destroying this old world. How can we ever keep from destroying a new world?

Our words and our actions and our thoughts often hurt instead of heal. We long for something beautiful, but we can easily make something ugly like broken hearts, broken vows, broken bodies. The wilderness not only reveals our longings, it reveals our evil. This evil cannot enter the new world.

In helplessness we look back up the mount to Jesus speaking. We hear the faint whisper of a love that is revealed and realized fully in the cross. The cross leads from the end of one world to the beginning of another. The cross opens the door for a new heavens and a new earth.

So awake my friends. The time of Lent is before us. The wilderness beckons. The cross looms. And beyond the cross? A new heavens and a new earth. Come with me and let us travel to the Promised Land.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Recognizing People

Restless and fidgeting, my thoughts drifted away to the Disney movie I was missing as my body prepared for another long sermon. The pastor stood to welcome our visiting evangelist. He proudly exclaimed that we were honored to have such a man speaking at our church and preceded to list off a wide range of accomplishments. Even then, I resisted the praise and silently wondered, “Why is every evangelist that comes to our church the greatest one that has ever come?”

Sometimes I find it difficult to recognize people.

I recognize faces. Sometimes I even remember names. But recognizing the person poses a challenge. Douglas Knight suggests that an essential part of our human calling requires us to give recognition and honor to one another.

Created in the image of God, we enter and leave this world dependent on other people to care for us and sustain us. These fragile states reveal our true condition, our true nature. Even when we feel strongest and most self-reliant, we really never become independent. Humans need other humans to survive.

Or as the Lord says in Genesis, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

In our fragile condition, we desperately need to be recognized, to be acknowledged, to be confirmed, to be validated. In spite of our personal flaws, we still need to be received. John Eldridge compares the delight of heaven to the delight we feel when we walk into a room and someone jumps up with excitement to welcome us. We put welcome mats outside our front door, and we would do well to keep welcome mats inside our hearts.

Each person we encounter, whether they acknowledge it or not, needs to be welcomed. Jesus welcomes marginal people from shifty tax-collectors to the scorned Samaritans to morally questionable women. Jesus intentionally honors the dis-honored. He doesn’t deny their flaws. In fact, he challenges their sinful actions, but he also speaks value and worth to the heart.

Each of us, like the Samaritan woman, encounters Jesus at our weakest point. He meets us in our desperate need for forgiveness and acceptance, for redemption. When we read the words of Scriptures about God’s love for us, or when other people speak those same healing words of love and affirmation, we feel welcomed, we feel valued, we feel recognized.

Yet this same treasure that heals and renews us is sometimes difficult to give back out. I realize that I want to pick and chose the people I recognize. If someone is selfish or prideful or too busy magnifying himself, I want to deny him recognition. I want to refuse him value. I withdraw the welcome mat and immediately resist him.

But grace compels us to love. Those who hype their own accomplishments (whether they’re a visiting evangelist or a proud co-worker) may be the people in the greatest need of a good welcoming. They may be the very ones who struggle at the margins (even while they put up a good front). St. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, and yet he needed redemption. When he encountered the love of God in Christ, he abandoned everything to pursue the lover of his soul.

I rejoice that Christ has welcomed me to the marriage feast: in spite of my endless flaws. Expressing my deep gratitude for his welcoming and redeeming Spirit, compels me to go and welcome others.

And so I pray, “Lord grant me grace to recognize and honor all the people around me as humans created in your image. May my words and actions reveal the welcoming and restoring love of Calvary.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Graven Images

Epiphany 2007

January 9, 2007
I’m still holding out. My antiqued nativity figures still light up the end of my driveway. I didn’t actually finish making them and setting them out until the week of Christmas, so I hate to take them down right away.

Last year my sister mentioned buying a plastic yard nativity and antiquing it. That sounded like a good idea, so I (and my sister-in-law) collected Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the Wise Men, a camel, a sheep, a donkey and a cow.

In early December, I unpacked my nativity and began painting. The process included applying a primer coat of paint, then applying a copper coat and finally adding a dark antique stain that I would rub off with paper towels. This project gave me opportunity to do something with my hands instead of sitting at a keyboard or reading a book.

As I painted, I reflected on the stories and waited for inspiration. I’ve heard monks often pray and meditate while kneading bread, and this seemed like a perfect exercise for reflection while I worked.

But nothing came to me.

I painted, I stained, and I photographed my progress, but somehow the deep insights seemed hidden away. The only thing that came to mind was how the cow reminded me of the golden calf in Exodus. Surely, there must be some other great insight I could gain from this effort. A graven image on display for Christmas doesn’t seem inspirational.

Night after night, I reflected and the graven image idea returned again and again.

Gradually I began to consider what is a graven image? What is an idol? It is a form, a representation and image of the real, but it lacks one vital thing: breath, pneuma, spirit. It’s void of life.

God forbid the ancient Hebrews from creating graven images, and Jeremiah warns that “every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them” (Jeremiah 10:14). Without breath, without spirit, these images are simply forms—not persons.

God is person, and a person cannot be contained in a spiritless image. So when God chose to create an image of Himself, he breathed into it. Created in the image and likeness of God, humans are persons—not graven images. We are vital, living, changing and reproducing beings. When Adam gives birth to Seth the scriptures say, “he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.”

Just as God creates humans in His own image and likeness, humans create other humans in their image and likeness. A graven image cannot reproduce. It has no vital life. It has no animating spirit. It is frozen in time.

Each year we revisit the stories of Mary and Joseph through plays, nativities, and Scripture readings. Each year we join them in the journey to Bethlehem. Over time, it may be easy to forget that these were real people with real challenges. They may have lived in a different time and different culture, but they still faced the basic struggles of being human. In other words, they weren’t so very different from us.

And yet, they were caught up into a grand drama that occupies our imagination year after year after year. Our nativities can serve as reminders, signposts or snapshots of a moment in time. But Joseph, Mary and Jesus are not suspended in that moment. They lived, and as they lived they faced all the struggles of living in spite of the miraculous tale.

We face the danger of reducing the Biblical characters to graven images, to mere representations, to 2 dimensional figures in a morality play trying to teach us a lesson. We face the danger of forgetting these are stories about real people. When we do so, they seem to tower above us as some mythical cast of characters who lived divinely inspired lives in spite of their faults.

Yet, in reality, they were humans: real people with real struggles unaware of being caught up in the divine drama. And I suspect, most of us, most of the time live our lives unaware that we are caught up in a divine drama.

Just as God breathed into Adam, he breathed into us. That breath, that pneuma, that animating spirit is a vital, reproducing life bestowed on us by God. We are real persons created in the image and likeness of God. We are not graven images.

Jesus came as the perfect, complete image bearer. Jesus came to restore the image of God in us corrupted by sin. Jesus breathes upon His disciples and tells them, “Receive the Spirit.” He restores the vital, animating life of God within His people.

I fear sometimes that we may not always treat one another as real, vital persons created in the image and likeness of God. Instead, we might at times reduce one another to graven images, to mere representations. So we get angry when someone doesn’t act the way we expect, the way our “image of them” suggests they should act.

We may expect them to perform just as the image in our mind suggests they should perform, but they are not that image. They are real people—separate from us with a unique mind and body and spirit. And it is possible, and in fact probable that they will not always see the world as we do. Just as Paul and Barnabas did not always see eye to eye—neither will we.

As we learn to appreciate the people in our lives, we must give them grace to be the people God created them to be. We must trust that the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead, the same Spirit who groans and works within us, is working in them. They are not created in our image but in the image of God.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the revealing of God to the world in the person of Jesus. I would hope we might also celebrate the image of God in the people of God around us. I would hope that we might remember that each of us have been created in the image and likeness of God.

We are not graven images. We are corrupted images. The nativity tells the story of Jesus coming as the perfect image. The cross tells the story of Jesus restoring and redeeming our corrupted images. The resurrection tells the story of Jesus breathing into His images His animating Spirit.

My nativity sits on the hill as a reminder of the difference between graven images and images of God. I am reminded afresh to acknowledge the persons in my life: my family, my friends, the clerk at the store, the officer giving me a speeding ticket, the waitress forgetting to refill my drink. These are not graven images, they are vital, glorious, wondrous images of God—some living in the reality of that redeeming love and others waiting to be embraced and told of that redeeming love.