Ambition or Temptation? How to tell the difference

“What is that in your hand?”  God

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”  The Preacher in Ecclesiastes

I’m sure you’ve been there.  You want something to be different in your life.  Maybe it’s a vocational success you’re after, or a new house, a remodel, a spouse, (a remodel of a spouse? nope), a successful and meaningful retirement.  Or you want things to be different in the world because the racism, injustice, human trafficking, environmental destruction, or whatever it is for you, just incenses you so much that you’re “mad as hell and you’re not going to take it any more.”

It seems that all of us, at times, are on the hunt for the “next big thing” in our lives.  I have a friend in his twenties about to move overseas; a friend in his 30′s about to make a major job change; and a friend in his 70′s who’s trying to figure out what to do with the time he has left.  All of them are looking for the next big thing.

This last guy, the older one, taught me a great lesson when we met recently.  I’d seen him a few days earlier and he said, “we need to catch a coffee” and, with a grin on his face, “I’ve found the answer to question of what to do with the rest of my time!!”

We met in my office recently, late in the afternoon, and he walked in with a gleam in his eye.  He’s always been upbeat, as long as I’ve known him, but this was different.  This was a gleam of settledness, contentment, purpose, calling.  “Well” I asked, “what’d you find?”  He pulls a sheet of lined paper out of his pocket and holds it up in front of me.  It’s filled, or nearly so, with names.

“See this?” he says.  “This are the ‘kids’ I’m meeting with.  All of them are in their 20′s and 30′s.  I’m meeting them for coffee, walking the lake with them, having them over to my house.  Whatever it takes.  I’m investing in young kids!”  He’s giddy with joy as he tells me about the newest name on the list; how they met, what they’re doing together.

I’m happy for him, of course, and curious.  He has a contentment and enthusiasm that’s a refreshing contrast to the common “striving” mindset and posture that so many of us have so much of the time.  I ask him how he came to the discover of this calling.

He smiles and says, “I was already doing it! – That’s what’s so funny!”  He goes on to tell me that this new chapter isn’t as much new, as it is going deeper into what he’s already doing, what’s already been bringing joy to him and life to the young adults with whom he meets.  “It was there all the time” he said, and this got me thinking about calling, contentment, and ambition.  Here’s what his story can teach us all:

1.  If we don’t start where we are, we’ll never move successfully.   You know the story from Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation about the weird unemployed uncle who’s living in a trailer?  Fat, unshaven, and with all the emotional intelligence of some “real housewife” on TV, he’s “holding out for a management position.”   He’s waiting for something better is another way of saying it, but whether you’re waiting for something better, or going after something better, the message is the same:

Don’t neglect “what’s in your hand” because according to this story, it’s what’s in your hand today that God will use to direct you to God’s preferred future for your tomorrow.  One of the greatest forms of temptation many of us face, is the mirage like opportunity that’s “out there” somewhere.  It’s existence entices and, like the new wool sweater, we’re sure we’ll be more fulfilled if we can get there.  So we go after it, with gusto, and sometimes with the side affect of neglecting what’s in our hand.

I’m presently working on two books and leading a large church in Seattle, along with needing to prepare for speaking at some upcoming things.  At the time I met with my friend though, I was determined to get a magazine article published.  I’d started writing it, and was researching the query letter when we met and the meeting was like a bucket of ice water, snapping me back to reality:

“Get a grip man!  You already have a life.  Do what’s in your hand now, with a whole heart, and joy.  Quit looking over the fence, because where you go tomorrow is my responsibility, not yours.”

2. There’s a time for tossing projects in the trash

Thank God.  It’s a good word, and I suspect, not just for me.  Discontent, at its worst, is a paralyzing mindset that strips our joy, inviting us to believe the lie that what God’s given us to do today isn’t worth doing, so instead we’d better spend our time creating a different tomorrow.  Goals have value, surely, but they’re dangerous too, and just for this reason;  they can make us neglect today in our pursuit of tomorrow.

I’ve literally thrown the query letter and article in my little virtual trash can on my computer, and taken out the trash.  It was liberating!  I’m back in the groove, focusing on what’s already on my plate:  the church I lead, the writing on which I’m already working, the teaching for which I’m preparing, and the fantastic family with whom I’ll spend a glorious Christmas.

Sometimes we need to toss what we think are ambitions in the trash because they’re not ambitions; they’re temptations and distractions from the present.  What have you let go of lately, or need to let go of,  so that you can focus on what God’s already given you?

 

 

Beauty and Brokenness – Living in the Tension

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I’m happy to offer a repost today of something offered earlier this summer during my sabbatical because it seems so very appropriate during the holidays, when sometimes the tension between beauty and brokenness is so great we’re afraid we’ll snap.  Here are some observations about that tension and living in it.  Enjoy!

We’ve been without internet or phone access for four days, no doubt the longest period in our adult lives to be without updates on the Seahawks, Sounders, and the state of the world.  During this hiatus, we’ve been baptized in stunning beauty, rich fellowship, and simple prayers about the weather, safety, and wisdom for each step of the journey.  These prayers for wisdom, endurance, provision, are very real because one false step on wet stone might become a turned ankle, and then, at best, a major change of plans, and at worst, a night immobilized in the high country, with threats of lightning strikes and nothing more than a rain poncho propped up by poles for shelter.   For these reasons, we pray, and pay attention – step by step.

These prayers, though, are also very provincial.  They’re about our real situation because mostly, this is what we know about when we’re up there, cut off from global news, as well as Facebook, and news from friends and family.  We caught news of a very close friend in the hospital with a serious infection just before our media exile, so we prayed for her and her family throughout, along with a few other situations we know of that are ongoing, but mostly, our journey is a sensual overload: spectacular beauty, and uncharacteristic (for us) suffering (little things like blisters, heat, tired and achy muscles, and the chronic stress of not knowing what’s around the corner that is the lot of we who love to be in control of everything).

High mountain sunrises; rainstorms in the middle of the night; unspeakable joy attending the beauty of summits and the capacity to get there; fellowship with newfound friends who share our love of the mountains; rich conversations; glorious silence; deep sleep.  Yes. This was round one.

We made our way out yesterday in the rain, and the result was a similar assault, in a different direction.  We learned the extent of Ebola’s rapid expansion, and of a black teen about to enter college shot to death in  St. Louis.  Bombing in Iraq?  Ukraine?  Syria?  Fires still burning.  Refugees.  And this morning, just as our west coast friends were going to bed, we awoke to the news of Robin Williams’ suicide.  My God.  Is this the same world?

Yes.  The same world indeed.  What are we to make of the disparity between candle lit meals with wealthy, healthy people at 7000′ in the Alps and refugee camps on the border of Syria, or the shooting death of another teen by police, or the spread of a disease in place where everyone is already living on the edge of death most of the time?

My friend Hans Peter, who died nearly one year ago, said once that the world is both more stunningly beautiful and tragically broken than most people are willing to see.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot during my days of walking step by step through the Alps, partly because the incredible beauty up there comes at a price.  There’s some physical suffering, surely in comparison to normal days spent in the comfort of climate controlled offices and instant access to food, shelter, and entertainment.  The greatest beauties in life are always like that; they come at a cost – vulnerability, honesty, suffering, truth telling, self-denial.  That stuff’s present wherever beauty is seen and tasted.

But this kind of suffering is paltry compared with Ebola, or a dead teenager who, earlier that day was making plans for his freshman year in college.  I have no answers for how the same world has room for Alpenglow, and beheadings, for making love with a faithful spouse who you’ve known for 35 years, and the rape of a child, for the brilliance of a comedian who challenged and blessed us all but who, nonetheless, saw no reason to keep on.

imageAll I can say is that the wisest people are open to all the beauty and all the suffering.  Choose to see only the latter and you become angry, cynical, frightened.  Choose only the former and you become an expert in denial and fantasy – whether that takes the form of  porn or religion matters little, it’s still denial.

Jesus’ heart broke over the fact that people had eyes but didn’t see, had ears but didn’t hear.  He knew, as Simone Weill also knew, that if we open ourselves to the full spectrum of beauty and ugliness, tragedy and glory, laughter and tears, we will, time and again, be brought to the door of intimacy with our creator.  “There’s a time for everything” is the the preacher said it in the book of Ecclesiastes.

For us, it’s time to return to the high country for a few days.  We’ll learn things, be stretched, hungry at times, maybe cold.  We pray, we’ll be safe.  We think we’ll see more beauty, meet more great people.  But, The Lord willing, like Moses, we’ll come down from the mountain again, and when we do, the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering will cause us cry out once again:  “Lord have mercy on us,” for having seen the heights of beauty, we’ll once again be broken by the depths of suffering, and this very polarity is part of what makes me hunger Christ, the one I believe to be the source of justice, hope, and love.

“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror.  Just keep going.  No feeling is final. ”   Rilke

 

 

 

Rhythm: Why You Need it – How you get it.

Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life (and) learn the unforced rhythms of  grace.   Jesus the Christ – Matthew 11

I’m sitting here on my weekly day of Sabbath, staring out the window at fir trees laden with wet, dripping life down onto the soil and melting snow below.  There are candles; a fire in  the woodstove and choral Christmas chorals fill the room.  Warmth.  Good coffee.  Beauty.  Shalom.

I’m thinking, “wouldn’t it be good to sit here bathed in this kind of peace and beauty the rest of my life?” until I remember Jesus words a little bit later, after that bit about the “unforced rhythms of grace”.  Jesus has taken the disciples on a little wilderness therapy outing, up to a high mountain where he  transcended earthly dimensions and his disciples were able to see him in his pure unfiltered glory.

Jesus’ friend Peter likes this location, this revelation of glory, this peace, this mountaintop, enough to blurt out, “It’s good for us to be here Jesus, so just say the word, and will start a building a project.  We’ll make some places for you and your buddies, and then we can just stay up here – because to be blunt, I don’t know if you know this or not Jesus, but we like this peace, this beauty, this joy.    Preferred future:  staying right here!”

The version of the story is that Jesus goes down.  The disciples follow.   Shortly after that there’ll bet he week from hell, where Jesus goes from universal popularity to the whole world’s object of pure hatred scorn.  He’ll be executed.  The disciples will scatter, and wrestle with their doubts, disillusionment, and fallibility.

After that there’ll be a resurrection and things will get better.   Later still, a powerful success.  Then some arrests, and in fighting, and martyrdom, with success and joy mysteriously interwoven into the thick fabric of trials.

Success.  Joy.  Peace.

Failure.  Loss.  Suffering.

The rhythms of unforced grace.

Embrace the reality that a life with Christ will overflow with everything, and by everything I mean there are times we’ll be drunk on joy and other times sorrow and suffering will take our breath away.  We’ll have Sabbaths, if we’re fortunate, and days of laughter and beauty in the forest, or at the beach, and meals with good wine and laughter.

But we can’t stay on that mountaintop because there’s poverty, and homelessness, abuse of power and abuse of spouses.  There are a million children who are refugees, and people of great wealth of have the freedom to travel the world, but are trapped in a prison of upward mobility.  Beheadings.  Injustice.  Racism.  Cancer.  Ebola.

We need to get down off the mountain and into the thickness of this dark world.  It’s not just that we’re called to be there as light, though God knows we are, and it feels more and more like high crime to me when the church becomes a gathering whose sole goal is the emotional and spiritual well being of its congregants.   The reality is that we need to get down off the mountain because nobody is every shaped well by pure sabbath and shalom, not in this life at least.  “The testing of your faith produces endurance” is how James writes it, and Peter says, “even though now, for a little while, you’re beset by various trials…”  and Jesus himself says, “in this world you will have tribulation”.

All this stuff down there below the summit is shaping us for the better, or can at least.  That’s because in the wisdom of the way God has created the world, it’s not just the beauty and rest that brings healing and transformation, but the suffering and loss too.  The enemy of our souls can throw everything at us, but our glorious hope is that no matter the stuff, though we may scars, even the scars will become part of the beauty in our lives.

How do we open ourselves up to both deep beauty and deep suffering?

1.  Actively seek both engagement and withdrawal.  Jesus is a good model for us here, as you’ll find him alone in the wilderness a fair bit, as well as in the thick of things in the city, confronting religious hypocrisy and control, casting out demons, gifting people with forgiveness, healing, restoration, and teaching too.

This rhythm is best sought by paying attention to the way God made the world, with that day of rest each week, and that continual rhythm of sunrise and sunset inviting us to both work and rest.  You need all of it if your going to be fully in God’s story, and continuing your journey of transformation

2. Don’t shy away from the edges.  A favorite book of mine posits that if you’re afraid of great suffering and as a result, build walls around your soul so you don’t see beheadings, don’t give a damn about ongoing racism, poverty, or a million child refugees, you’ll also become numb to great joy on the other side of the spectrum.   The result will be a bland middle, whereby we not only don’t let the news of our city and world affect us, but we also fail to pay attention to the profound beauty of art, music, and creation that could have filled us with the confidence and strength of Christ to continue shining as light in the midst of darkness.

Don’t let yourself settle for the middle – unmoved by  Van Gogh, or Rainier, or human touch – resistant to hard or painful truth and conversations; avoiding solidarity with the suffering of our planet.  The middle ground knows little suffering and little beauty.  The boredom, though, is soul killing.

Better to be on the lookout, always, for the inbreaking of beauty, whether art, music, generosity, creation’s glory, or intimacy.  To go there, though, requires a willingness, too, to come down off the mountain and enter into the thick of suffering, loss, sickness, death, injustice, and hard conversations.

Rainier Rilke puts it this way:

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

All right then – let’s go.

 

All I want for Christmas is: A Vision for Unity

It’s Advent, and that means there are daily reports on the success of our national goal to “shop ’til we drop”.  Black Friday’s off a bit from previous years, and the experts declared over the weekend that it was because more people would be shopping online, on “Black Monday”  That also came and went, with less than expected results, and so now new theories are being spun, about people waiting for “super deals” closer to Christmas.   Whatever.  I no longer care – because as a pastor, I have bigger concerns.

That’s because I live in a different world.  I live in a world where I know more and more people who are coming out of closet: They’re gay, Christian, and wanting to find the grace and acceptance of Christ in their churches.  I live in a world where Black people love Jesus but also feel on the outside of things, not because of Ferguson, but because 400 years is a long time to be sub-humanized, bought and sold, denied the chance to vote, and o so much more, and they’re a bit tired of white people just telling them to “get over it” while the distrust continues.  I live in a world where women who have gifts of teaching and leadership can use them in lots of place, but still not in some churches.  I live in a world where people I know are deeply divided on how the church should respond to all kinds of things, including mental illness, poverty, and gun violence.

In all these matters, the church is divided, but not just divided, deeply fractured, as evidenced by blogs and discussions this past week about Ferguson, World Vision’s challenges earlier this year, and the inflamed language associated with any attempt at a good conversation around the issues of gun violence.

It’s this deeply divided faith world, with its attendant hateful, sarcastic, and derogatory language aimed at the other side, that’s the biggest issue on my plate these days.  This is because I serve in a church that has sought live faithfully for many generations on the basis of this declaration:  In Essentials Unity.  In Non-Essentials Liberty.  In all Things Charity.

Finding unity seems harder and harder these days, because the list of essentials seems to be growing for most people.  Real people of faith need to be for gun control or against it;  For same sex marriage, or against it;  For the police, or for Michael Brown.  And its vital these days that you not just be FOR or AGAINST – but that do so with enough dogma that true faith of those on the other side is called into question.

This is not only rubbish, but really very alarming to me for several reasons:

1.  Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 4:13 says we’ll keep growing “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” which implies (as reinforced here) that we’re not in a state of unity yet.  What’s more, that’s apparently OK, because Paul indicated that in this moment, we see through a glass darkly.  That means we don’t have perfect knowledge yet, so we’ll need to keep at this; keep dialoguing, growing, learning, praying.

2. Our division into self-referential communities kills our testimony because Jesus says that it’s our unity that is the best evidence that our faith and life in Christ is real.   There’s a unity that comes from uniformity of agreement on ALL things, but this is, at best, an ideal to which we aspire, rather than an experience we’ll be able to attain in this fallen world.   But there can be a unity that’s willing to say, “Look.  We don’t know all the answers about every doctrinal or ethical issue that comes from following Christ.  But we do know this much:  Jesus is Lord.  He’s the hope for this shattered world.  He’s the One we’re committed to proclaiming, loving, obeying, and serving.”   Living through this lens, World Vision phone workers wouldn’t have been sworn at and been the objects of cruel hate in the wake of their initial decision last spring.

3. Our self-referential communities allow us to prematurely think we have the moral high ground because, in our smaller worlds of Fox News, or MSNBC, or whatever is the denominational equivalent, we’re in an echo chamber where all our reasoning, assumptions, and conclusions are airtight.   As long we stay inside the echo chamber, we’ll be happy, resting in the delusion that our way is, and always will be, the right way.

How can we approach unity?

1. Get out more – meet people different than you.  (By the way, one of the very best reasons to travel)

Our view of things is all good until we actually meet a person with a different view who, just like us, loves Jesus, prays regularly, and desires nothing more than to be a vessel filled with the life of Christ.

Suddenly, we’ve meet the ones we vilified, and have come to see that we have more in common than we’d ever have guessed.  We see that we’d made a caricature of those whose view is different than ours, and that “the other”, looking at the world through a different lens, differs with us for reasons that (gasp) make sense.  We’re not persuaded, necessarily, to change our view, but having met the other, we find it harder to label them and shoot them.

2. Embrace the humble belief that you’re not yet perfect.

It’s not that we don’t believe in absolute truth.  It’s just that we don’t believe that we’ve yet understood it perfectly, communicated it perfectly, received it perfectly, because our understanding of the world is filtered through the lens of not only the Holy Spirit, but our fallen humanity.

A quick view of history reveals that there have been about a thousand blind spots among Christ followers.  We’ve wrongly predicted the date of Christ’s return at least 500 times, taught that Blacks aren’t human, justified land theft and colonization, barred women from having a voice in the church, taught anti-semitism, persecuted Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Anabaptists, all in Jesus’ name.

I wonder what our blind spots our today?  If you say you don’t have any, then I already know your blind spot, before even meeting you:  It’s pride and self-righteousness.  So let’s relax and enjoy the dialogue, giving each other space to let Christ continue to teach us without doubting the authentic faith of the other who claims Christ as her own.

“Really?  How long should we do that….?”

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith..”   which will take “a little while

 

 

Pursuing Peace – to what end?

I’ve not been writing the past few weeks because a nasty little virus took up residency in my lungs, robbing my sleep, turning the act of preaching into a Herculean effort, and leaving me feeling like a limp rag doll most of the time.

As a result, I’ve had time to think, and the convergence zone of some teaching I’m doing for staff at the church I lead, and my reading has directed me towards pondering both the need for peace in our lives and the purpose of peace.

The need for peace

We live in a world where personal peace is becoming as scarce as clean water.  The evidence is everywhere:  sleep loss, increased chronic disease health crises such as heart issues and diabetes, and unhealthy addiction to drugs and alcohol.  There are a myriad of reasons for our collective erosion of shalom, but analysis of the why can come later, because the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ both offer a clear prescription which, if taken, will move us toward a beautiful sense of peace and well being – not instantly, but surely, inevitably.

Rest gives us peace. 

Jesus invites all who are weary to “come unto him”, learn from him, make his priorities our, because his plans for us surely include the reality of finding “rest for our souls”.  Wow!  That’s a hefty promise in age of hyper-connectivity, hypertension, isolation, and a sinking pessimism due to politics, pollution, and terror, and the feeling sometimes that our whole civilization is  just hanging on by a thread.  Still, it’s a promise, so I need to learn how to seek Christ and find real rest in him.  I’ve written about this elsewhere in my posts under the category “coffee with God”. 

Paul ups the ante when he tells us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer… let your requests be made known to God” and this is followed with the spectacular promise that God’s peace will become a sort of wall, protecting our hearts.  I believe this literally means a greater capacity to overcome the stress of daily living, and this will even mean, in most instances, greater physical and emotional strength.

Peace gives us strength

Paul implies as much in Romans 8:11 where we read about the spirit of God, fully operational in a human, gives “life to our mortal bodies”.  Picture Jesus, at rest and asleep in the storm at sea; or Paul cracking jokes at his trial, or singing in prison.  Who does this stuff?  People who are strong because they are at peace.

The relationship between stress and physiological decay is well documented, and the pursuit of peace is a multi-billion dollar industry, with everything from yoga to pharmaceutical companies in the game.  We all want peace and rest because we know that it’s a key to well being.

Strength gives us…. ??

So, peace gives us rest and freedom from anxiety, and freedom from anxiety makes us stronger, but why?  To what end?  This, I believe, is one of the critical junctures where the gospel makes a radical departure from the entire “peace and rest” industry. 

Paul’s exhortation that we “be strong in the Lord” here, and the command to be strong found here, are closely linked with a clear purpose.  We’re not strong so that we can live robust and healthy self-centered lives, as consumers of culture and recipients of God’s blessing.  Instead, we’re always, always, “blessed to be a blessing” as God both promised and called Abraham, and God reiterated to Moses, and Christ charged the disciples, and as the early church demonstrated in so very many ways, including the strength of serving the weakest and most vulnerable, and the strength of martyrdom.

I have known friends, both Christian and Hindu, along with practitioners of Yoga and various forms of meditation, whose goal is vibrant health and peace.  This might sound appealing but make no mistake about it – it misses the point utterly because in the end such singular pursuits of health are nothing more than dressed up narcissism.

Jesus made it clear that he’s writing a story of hope in this dark and broken world, and towards that end he’s building a team of light bearers, those who will go into the darkness exuding hospitality, healing, joy, forgiveness, justice, capacity for restoration, and more.  So when you have your quiet time, or do your exercise routine, or buy that slab of grass fed beef, or expensive wheat not tainted with roundup, it’s all for a purpose.  Christ is calling you to a life poured out – washing feet, serving, and “doing good and sharing”.  Anything less is narcissism. 

This surely isn’t a call to asceticism.  It’s rather, a call to recognize God’s healing us and strengthening us, to the extent God is, for a purpose, and if we receive the healing but don’t engage in our calling of blessing serving, whether in business, or with our neighbors, or on the slopes and rock faces, we’re still missing the point.  That’s because the point is a vast family of people living out of resurrection power, day after day.

Are you strong these day, or even pursuing strength?  Pursue Christ instead, recognizing that he is the source of the strength anyway, and that the strength he gives us is toward a purpose, and that purpose is to be poured out.

Let the adventure begin!

 

The Pig Lady from Iowa: What the church and pastors MUST learn from the 2014 election

Last night’s American election has birthed both elation and despondency, respectively,  among those who care deeply about such things.  I care too, and if I were a political pundit I’d have much to say about hopes and fears for our country in the wake of what happened last night, but I’m not.  I’m a pastor who is increasingly concerned with the consumerist mindset prevailing in American Christianity, and write in hopes that we who lead churches might learn how NOT to lead by considering how politics is done in America.

The sad truth is that, even by their own admission, politicians and the machinery that work so hard to get them elected, had no interest in changing minds during this last election cycle.  Both parties messaged to their core constituency in hopes that their vilification of the ‘other’ would motivate people to get out and vote.

Everyone was, in other words, ‘preaching to the choir’.  This is the way everything’s done these days.  If you have a blog, I’m told the only way you’ll increase readership is to target an audience: minimalists, leftists, pro-lifers, moms, gun owners, environmentalists, whatever.  It works of course, or else people wouldn’t do it.  The same strategy works for politicians and TV news stations:  Fox and MSNBC live and breathe (remember, they’re not just corporations, they’re people), not by inviting civil discourse but by pouring gas on already existing fires.  They’re great at reinforcing what people already believe, and adding more “like minded” to their folds.  How does this strategy work, though, when it comes to changing minds?  It doesn’t. 

What makes my blood boil is when churches adopt this same mindset.  “Who are we going after?”  is the question, and then everything is customized exclusively for that demographic:  Music, lights, teaching content, teaching style, program – it’s all designed to reach a demographic.   The tragedy is that if you’re good at it, it works, and if it works, I think you’ve done more harm than good.

Fine, you’ve built an organization of like minded people.  But let’s not point to such success as evidence of God’s blessing, because its the same strategy used by the pig lady in Iowa and Huffington Post.  Gathering a group of people who think just like you, reinforcing their beliefs, and encouraging them to invite others into their ideological ghetto might work if success is defined by building an organization.  But that’s not the same thing as leading a church.

A core value of the church is that “the dividing wall has been broken down” – between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, males and females.  This community, in other words, will be bound together by shared life in Christ and nothing else – including one’s politic, music style.  I’m convinced that none of us have yet understood the depths of Christ’s radical inclusiveness, and while there are many reasons for this, one of the most common reason is that “leading like politicians” is easier than “leading like Jesus”.  Easier… just not better, and in the end, not real church leadership at all.

The Better Way -

Rather than tailoring our music, message, and ethos to a pre selected demographic, and going after them, Christ offers a better and more challenging way:

1.  Cross social divides rather than reinforce them.  As a preacher and teacher, I want to share truth in a way that moves people.  This requires both a willingness to let the unpersuaded leave, and a commitment to declaring truth in winsome way that’s uniquely contextualized, as Paul did (changing his message depending on his audience so that he might move every single audience towards Christ – see I Corinthians 9:20ff for more of this)

In other words, and this is huge, we don’t exist to reinforce beliefs as much as to challenge them.  That’s utterly different than “building a platform”, though a platform might well be built in the process.  But the size of said ‘platform’ is God’s prerogative not mine, and is never cause for boasting.

2.  Communicate the breadth of the gospel’s implications, recognizing that doing so will both invite, bless, challenge, and offend, every demographic – rich, poor, left, right, young, old – everyone.  This is because the trajectory of history points in the direction of creating something wholly new, rather than something which reinforces our pre-existing conditions and convictions.  We’re not in a bunker protecting what we already believe, we’re gathering and sharing life together in an ongoing pursuit of transformation.  That’s, at least, the way it ought to be.

When we do this, some people will leave, because we’ll speak about the environment and it will anger the right.  We’ll speak about protecting life in the womb, and it will anger the left.  We’ll speak about how important the family is as a central source of justice and hope in this world and it will anger the left again.  We’ll speak about the dangers of “shopping as patriotism” and the evils that arise in unfettered capitalism and the right will be mad again.  Whatever.  The gospel isn’t bound by our “pre existing conditions”  and we need to be willing to challenged, and to challenge our communities.  Otherwise, just go into politics.  You’ll find a group of like minded people who will elect you.

3. Recognize how damning the “us/them” language and mindset is.  Yes, the very language that works so successfully in getting people elected, is the same language that is polarizing our nation, and creating subcultures within the broader culture who hate each other.  When the church does this, it just creates more ghettos of fear based, like minded people, alone together in their bunkers, afraid of, and mad at, those on the outside.  Such leadership happens all the time in the church, and I suppose all of us are guilty of it to varying degrees.  But at the least, we need a vision that begins with admitting how wrong this is.

Dear Pastors and Churches:  Don’t play the games that prevail among the talking heads and strategists seeking power and market share.  You’ll miss your calling.  Instead, determine to know nothing and proclaim nothing, other than Christ, and recognize that the true Christ will challenge entrenched views, deconstruct false idols and move everyone towards transformation – even you, dear leader – and I hope, especially you.

 

 

 

When “churches” implode – Three truths to give you hope

Because of it’s high profile, yesterday’s news from the Mars Hill church community in Seattle may create questions an/or pain for Christ followers in both Seattle and beyond.   But churches closing their doors is nothing new.   People who count such things say that about 4000 churches close every year in America and the reasons are wide ranging.

I take hope in knowing from the Bible that organizational failure and church failure are two different things.  The former is product of human error, economies, shifting demographics and at least a dozen other things.  The latter though, failure of the church, is something that doesn’t happen, because after 2000 years, a handful of eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, all of whom were martyred or imprisoned, laid a foundation for a work that’s continued to grow throughout the world.  Organizations will fail.  Christ won’t, and so it’s vital to gain Christ’s perspective on the “Big C” church when stuff like this happens.  Here are three truths to give you hope:

I.  Don’t confuse “church” with “organizations”

Down here in the muck of daily living there are so called “churches”.  I lead a large one in Seattle, but must confess that I’m ambivalent about using the word “Church” to describe the group I lead.  I use it, of course, because it’s the idiomatic way of describing the people who gather on any given Sunday together, many of whom are deeply committed to this particular expression of Christ’s life in our city.  But if we could see with the eyes of Christ, we’d see that the “church” in Seattle is made up all Christ followers, and that there are some who attend weekly, here or there in various organizations, but aren’t really in the game, and others who gather in homes, whose church life is real and deep in spite of the fact that there’s no formal organizational structure.

While I’m speaking about home churches though, please don’t romanticize them, as if to imply that getting rid of organizational structure is somehow the promise land of a deep church life.  Having pastored both a house church in the mountains and a mega-church, I can safely tell you that when a house church is doing what it ought to do, lives will be changed, light will shine from there to the community and new people will come.  Where, in your house, will they sit?  And when babies come along, who will care for them?  And when someone disagrees with a course of action, what steps can be taken to address it?  I’ll save you some time by telling you that each of these problems will require structure, and then a bit more, and still more and presto!  You’re an organization.  Those who dismiss organizational necessities are living in a dream world, and yet it’s vital to also remember that the structure, and even the gathering on any given Sunday, aren’t what constitute the real church.  Jesus spoke of this when he talked about wheat and tares growing in a field together and said that we’re not to sort it all out now, because we’re (thankfully) not Jesus, and so we can leave the sorting to him.

The real church is there, in the midst of your gathering.  Believe it, celebrate it, pray for it to thrive and be the presence of Christ in real ways; and commit to a local expression that takes shape in an organizational structure.  But the structure is the wineskin, not the wine.  Never confuse the two.

II.  Don’t confuse “organization” with “leader”

OK, so we’re aligned with, and part of, an organization, and within that organization there are people who are part of Christ’s grand expression of life called “the church”.  A common problem with organizations is that they either dismiss the necessity of leadership, or they “deify” (not literally, but poetically) their leader.  Both positions are wrong and ultimately unsustainable.

By dismissing the necessity of the leader and the notion of leadership, you are swimming upstream against everything the New Testament has to say about the church.  Paul speaks of the qualifications of leaders, tells Christ followers to both honor and follow their leaders, and warns both leaders and teachers that they will face a stricter judgement because of their role, so that they’d best not seek leadership as a means of self advancement, but as a calling to service.

However, nothing in the New Testament implies that a leader should ever be above accountability, and what’s more, the very nature of our calling as leaders in the church should be to embrace both the accountability of a ruling board not chosen by us, and to continually raise up new leaders so that the work, and the honor, is shared.

Years ago, as our church was growing larger, I saw the danger of both the authority and honor of the ministry being centralized in one person, and so we began living into a vision of raising up new leaders (teaching pastors) and new locations, so that we’d better fulfill our value of passing the leadership torch to the next generation.  You can see this vision here.

The hope, when all this works right, is that the organization is bigger than the leader, so that when the leader is gone, whether due to old age or any other reason, the work remains.

III.  Don’t confuse “leader” with “Jesus”

So now we’re in an organization that contians, but isn’t the whole of the church.  We should also be following human leaders too, but never in an ultimate or absolute sense.  Here’s why:   No human leader is the head of the church.  We leaders might make decisions about the organization (though even there, accountability and mutuality of trust among a plurality of leaders is the best thing, as you see in Acts), but we’re not “running the church”.  That’s Jesus’ job, and I think he’ll do just fine, with or without we “high profile” leaders.

There aren’t any high profile leaders in Iran, where being a pastor can get you executed, or in North Korea, where it can mean you’ll do hard labor for twenty years.  But in our world of conference speaking and publishing houses, market share and Klout scores, it seems that there are plenty of people eager to find the stage and lights and this place is fraught with danger – especially the danger that we’ll believe our own press releases.

With all the love in my heart I say:  Don’t follow any of us blindly.  None of us!  Listen to us, learn what God gives you from us.  When you see our sins, pray for us and if you have relationship with us or our part of our organization, take steps to help us see it.  How we leaders respond will reveal a lot about our integrity.  But don’t; don’t; make it all about us.   Don’t make it utterly dependent on us for success, especially as the organization grows older.

Why?

Because Christ, not any human leader, is the head of his church, and none of us charged with leadership is doing it flawlessly.  None. Of. Us.    If leaders would acknowledge this, they’d have a little more humility.  If followers would acknowledge this, especially in an environment of grace, it would give leaders a greater measure authenticity and humility.

A “church” began twenty years ago in Seattle and now it appears the wineskin is facing challenges.  But new wine of Christ’s regenerative life is now present, I believe and pray, in thousands of new believers throughout our city because of this work.  Is an organization going through a hard time?  Yes.  And we’ll pray for them.  Is the church in Seattle going to be fine?

Yes.  Because the church isn’t Mars Hill, or Bethany, or Eastside, or City Church, or whatever else is shiny and bright, or small and new, or small and old.  The church is Christ – expressing his life through broken people who gather under the umbrella of various organizations to be embody the hope, joy, healing, and forgiveness that’s found in Christ alone.  And that, dear friends, will continue regardless of what we humans do.   So let’s relax and, as Paul says, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.” 

I welcome your thoughts…

 

 

After Failure – The next steps matter most. What to avoid and what to do.

I’m coming home next week “aware of a million failures”.  There are “church fails” in my city.  “Health Care” fails in Texas.  “Personal Failures” on the list of summits and huts I didn’t reach, chapters I’ve not yet written, spiritual habits I’ve not yet mastered.   My conversations these past weeks have largely been with people who are deeply aware of both their own failings and the failings of others, and who wonder what to do next.  That’s why I wrote this post. 

Failure isn’t really the main problem in this world.  There are remedies for failures, and often clear steps to take so that in the wake of failure our lives can be stronger, richer, more compassionate, and more honest than they every might have been without failing at all.

So failure’s not the biggest problem any of us face.   The critical moments are the steps we take immediately after though?  It’s those steps that will become the main determinants of our future.  So here’s a quick and (I hope) practical guide, offering both critical steps to avoid and critical steps to take, after failure.

Steps to Avoid

Denial -  Rock climbing is nice because a fail is always an obvious failure.  It can be valuable and transformative, but it’s always a failure.  Nobody cheers when you fall.  I wish all of life were that easy because perhaps the biggest problem with respect to many failures is that we remain blissfully and intentionally unaware.  We’ve got a temper problem, or control problem, or abuse problem, but don’t see it, or a drinking problem.  In our own minds though, we’re just social drinkers, and have the guts to tell the truth when nobody else will, or to take control of things, or to put people in their place so that things can get done.

Any failure that remains hidden will be repeated over and over again until it becomes a deep part of our character.  This is the first and primary reason we’re a world of addicts and abusers.  If we could ever move beyond the denial stage,  we’d eventually do the beautiful and hard work of transformation, but until we overcome denial, we can’t overcome anything else.  This applies, of course, to persons and institutions.  A relentless commitment to uncovering reality, or “ground truth” as Susan Scott likes to say, is not the solution to anything – but it’s surely the first step for everything.

Of course, it’s easier to see your failures than mine.  There’s no shortage of critics in this world.  That’s why I love David in the Bible.  His interest was in his own transformation when he prayed that God would search his heart and “reveal any unclean ways”  Try praying that, and the remedy for failure will begin to work immediately!

Blame – Once I’ve embraced the reality of the situation, it’s vital that I own my part.  If it’s marriage, or church, or the corporate world, I’ll be sorely tempted to deflect my responsibility for the problem by blaming “circumstances beyond my control”.    You know the suspects:  spouse, board, pastor, co-worker, boss.

Of course there are circumstances beyond our control, but our response to those circumstances is entirely ours.  We were free to leave and we stayed, or vice versa.  We were free to respond with grace, but we lashed out.  We were free to find comfort in some redemptive way, but we self medicated with drugs, or porn, or drink, or shopping instead.  It happened.  Don’t blame the others.

Shame/Cynicism – For lots of Christ followers these twins are the biggest problems.  Though they’re not exactly the same thing, they both have the effect of taking us out of God’s story.  Embrace shame and you’ll say that your nothing but rubbish, and that God has nothing for you, and can’t/won’t use the likes of you.  Don’t believe it for two seconds.  A quick overview of the Bible shows us that some of the people most deeply involved in God’s story had also:  sold family members as slaves, slept with their daughter-in-law, committed adultery and murdered the husband, had a quick temper and rush to judgement, doubted, had arrogance problems until their catastrophic failure forced confession etc. etc.  O yes.  God can use you.  Whether you stay in the game on go to the bench for a break is God’s prerogative, not yours.  But don’t pre-emptively bench yourself – you may never get back in.

Steps to Take

Embrace – This is really the positive flip side of denial.  “Yes” we say, to ourselves if our failure is private, or to one or ones we’ve hurt if public, “I failed – I own it without excuses.”   You drank too much, or ate too much, or look back at your week and see that you didn’t pursue Christ, or exercise, or engage your neighbors in conversation, or whatever it was that you said you’d do and didn’t.

Own it.  In the Bible this is called confession, and we’re told it’s the key to moving forward, both with relationships, and in our own internal freedom.  I needed to do this again this morning – and pray it will remain a lifestyle for the rest of my days.

Learn – This principle requires more space a sub-point in a blog post, but it’s vital.  If you failed to a reach a goal, maybe it’s too big a goal and you need to adjust, or maybe it was just a bad week and you need to start fresh tomorrow.  If it’s some besetting sin like anger, drinking,  cynicism, or unhealthy sex, you need to discover why you go there; what are the triggers that move you, and how can you avoid them?

How can you build your life differently to favor transformation?  Do you need accountability?  Counseling?  A chat with a friend who’ll walk with you in pursuit of your transformation?  Someone to exercise with?  Find your next step and take it.

Receive – Receive forgiveness from Christ, and hopefully from others, if others are involved.   It’s vital to believe we’re forgiven because there’ll be little shadow creature perched on your shoulder telling you that you are your failure, that you’ll never get over it, that your worthless rubbish and “why bother” – all in an attempt to keep you stuck in your patterns failure.  Give that voice the finger please – any finger you want, as long as the result is that you stand in the truth that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Continue – I watched a little kid take an epic fall skiing a couple years ago.  I was heading up on the lift and I saw him lose control, fall, slide 150′ down the hill, scraping his face on ice the whole way, and then screaming as he lay there in pain.  I quickly got off the lift and skied down to see if I could help or call ski patrol.  By the time I got there, he was putting his skis on again and within seconds was off again, bombing down the mountain.

I thought to myself, “Learn from this R.  This is how you fall and fail well.  Whatever else you do, you need to get up and carry on.” 

Please don’t misunderstand this critical last step.  I’m not suggesting that we simply proceed as if nothing’s happened.  Do that and we’ll just fall harder the next time.  There’s a time to leave your job; or your church; or your leadership position, or your abusive relationship.  The steps we’ll need to take in order to be free and really grow often require dramatic changes.

But, and here’s the key, they are changes towards transformation.   Wisdom will be able to identify the steps God has for us.  Leave your position.  Change your church.  File for separation and insist that your spouse get help precisely because you want a loving marriage rather than a shell.  Join a gym.  Find a program that limits your time on social media.  Whatever it is… do it.

“Boots on the Ground – Or Heads in the Clouds” – The biggest challenge Christ followers face

In two weeks I’ll be home, preparing to meet people in the church I lead who I haven’t seen in nearly three months.  Their priceless gift of a sabbatical has blessed me with a rare opportunity for extended time away from church life, American culture, and the day to day responsibilities of my job.  As I result, I’ll return restored spiritually and emotionally, refreshed and stronger physically (up to around 500k in hiking, running mileage now), and challenged.

I’m challenged because these three months have been a concentrated time away from teaching, studying, and writing, three activities I enjoy and look forward to doing again when I return.  As much I enjoy them though, I’ve come to see them as dangerous because America’s about education, and among American cities,  Seattle’s all the more about education, and among Seattle churches,  the church I lead, filled with university students and professors is even all the more about education.   We’re educated.  Highly.

All this education has upsides of course, but this trip has made me aware of the downside.   That’s because I’ve met lots people with  bikerlittle formal education who in spite of their “lack” have poured generosity, service, hospitality, and joy, from their cups to ours, over and over again.  Whether it’s been food, hospitality, the gift of sunglasses at a hut when mine had been stolen, directions offered when uncertain of the way to go, a much needed ride from strangers,  or bus drivers signalling ahead to another bus so that it would for us, so that we’d make our train connection, we’ve seen people with large hearts, who allowed themselves to be inconvenienced in order to care for us.

Remember that story in the Bible about the guy who gets robbed and beaten up?  Jesus uses it to draw a distinction between the educated religious leaders who,  in spite of their eloquent sermons and theological precision, frankly didn’t give a damn about the wounded victim, even though they knew Hebrew.  Then there was the Samaritan.  He’s the one who, for the purposes of this story, is, (are you ready for this?):  Blue Collar.  He never went to college, earns below the median wage, and is having a hard time affording the new mandated health care.  He doesn’t enjoy reading CS Lewis much and doesn’t even know who NT Wright is.  He can’t tell the difference between a Neo-Calvinist, and a Rob Bell devotee because frankly, he’s too tired at the end of the day to read all the blogs and add his own comments.  Besides, he doesn’t really care.

He works.  He comes home and cares for all the things that need to be cared for in life – shopping, cooking, maintenance, friendships.  You’re not even sure where he stands on most issues because in small group he doesn’t say much.  He prays.  He’s not perfect, God knows.  He’s got issues, but he’s working on them.  In the meantime though, until he’s perfect, his greatest joy isn’t found in talking about faith.  It’s found in living it – “boots on the ground” as the saying goes.

When there’s a need in the shelter though, he volunteers.

When there’s a homeless person outside TJ’s he often makes the time to engage in conversation.

When there’s a neighbor in the hosptial, he’s there with meals, and laughter, and maybe even an awkward prayer.

He’s as generous with his limited money as he is with his time.  He doesn’t know where he stands on the issues of homosexuality and gun control, but he’s had dinner with the newly married gay couple on his block, and the NRA guy whose Jeep has a bumper sticker with something about his “cold dead hand”.

Who is this guy? Never went to seminary.  Falls asleep in most Bible studies.  Wakes up immediately when someone needs a helping hand.

The point Jesus is making in Luke 10:36 is that this (along with loving God) is the point of the Christian life.   And in that story, the protagonist is a Samaritan for God’s sake; a compromising half-breed who “anyone with a Bible degree would know is an outsider because his belief system takes him to the wrong mountain, and my pastor, who has a PHD (or is “super funny and edgy”) says that such people are…”    blah blah blah.

Talk on if you must, o educated one.  I’m tired.

Tired of doctrine being more important than living

Tired of words being more important than actions

Tired of writing about life as a substitute for living it.

Tired of Sunday being viewed as the peak experience of faith rather than Monday, or especially, Tuesdays.

Tired of hype and zeal on the surface, and pride and greed at the core

Tired of ministry professionals like me thinking they have all the answers for “the little people”

I don’t know all the ways that I’ve changed as a result of being on sabbatical.  But I know this much:  In the days to come, my criteria for personal health and spiritual maturity will have more to do with how I know and treat my neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those in need around me, than the size of my church, the “impact” of my sermons, or the hits on my website.

I know this because I’ve been pierced by the degree to which I’ve often lived alone, inside my head these past years, as slowly, I confused right thinking, and speaking/writing about right thinking, with spiritual maturity.

I suspect I’m not alone, because look at what Phil Yancey has to say in his upcoming book:

yanceyquoteWe’re good, it seems, at talking about Jesus – who he was, what he taught and stood for, how he died, how he rose, why it matters, and what people should do about it.  I’m just suspicious (and so are lots of other people apparently) that I, maybe even we, have elevated our words as the real proving ground of maturity.  When we do that, huge blind spots will remain and we’ll think we’re fine, when we’re really far from the life Jesus has for us.

It’s a dilemma for me.  This is because words still matter.  We grow in response to revelation and my calling and gifts have to do with teaching God’s revelation so others can respond.  So we all need words in our lives, and I need to study words, teach words, write words.

And yet, I need and want to make room in my life for actually putting those words into practice with real neighbors, and co-workers, and friends, and family.   How does it all fit together?

That’s the question I bring home with me, but this much I know – if something’s gotta’ give, it won’t be the living of it any more – that’s become a higher priority.  Pray that I’ll live it.   New adventures await, as I learn to be a Samaritan… who’s in?

 

Contradictions – Embracing both the beauty and tragedy of our world

“…the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him…” – C.S. Lewis: Weight of Glory”

IMG_6531“blessed are they that mourn” – Jesus the Christ

Jesus speaks this bit about people having eyes but not seeing, and having ears but not hearing.  At first glance, he seems to just be talking about why people have a hard time understanding his parables, but I’m convinced that there’s more to it than that.  I’m convinced that most of us want to avoid either the painful realities of living in a fallen world, or the spectacular joy if the beauty God’s created, or both.  We’re living in a grey middle, feeling neither much joy nor pain.  This is wrong.

The rhythm of our recent 40 day trek in the Alps was a sort of up and down that became both literal and metaphorical.  Literally, we’d hike up out of river valleys.  The high country above tree line often had everything that’s life giving to me:  stunning 360 degree views, challenging hiking and bouldering, peaks that speak of strength and beauty and, metaphorically, eternality.    I usually didn’t want to go back down.

On the metaphorical end, the elevation lifted our spirits as much as our bodies.   It was up there, utterly disconnected from the news, that the reality of God’s love, power, and beauty were, as Romans 1 says, “clearly seen”.   Moments up there helped me become more “rooted and grounded” in God’s love, and this had profound affects, as I would find little addictions and destructive attractions that had slowly and subtly taken root down in the midst of daily living simply falling away.  Up there, I can’t imagine fear, or greed, or lust.

Then we’d go down to the river valleys, where we’d have either TV, or internet, or both, in our rooms.  I remember early in the trip turning the TV on and watching a bit of news in German, seeing some sort of riot scene with smoke, a rock throwing standoff with the military, and the presence of some sort of tank.  Crimea?  Ukraine?  Syria?  Nope:  Ferguson, Missouri.

It started there, but didn’t stop.  All summer.  Beheadings.  Political posturing in DC.  Israel and Hamas.  Human trafficking.  Environmental destruction, and our ongoing refusal to even find consensus that humans might be to blame, a constant eroding of civil rights, corruption in halls of government power, which fuels corruption in industry, and the rise of Isis, with it’s unconscionable acts of violence.

The juxtaposition is nearly unbearable, and so, many choose not to bear it all choosing one of two routes:

Embrace the beauty and deny the suffering.  We can turn off all  the media, and shrink our world, so that our concerns don’t extend beyond our personal boundaries of making a living, finding a little intimacy, hanging out with a few friends, and seeking out beauty to enjoy.  It’s an appealing path at a level, but reminds me of the last scene before intermission in the musical “Cabaret” where people are singing and dancing on stage, living in utter denial of what’s going on outside their walls.  Just when they appear to be having the time of their lives, a giant swastika flag unfurls, covering the entire back wall of the stage, while the sound of goose stepping solidiers and the voice of mad man increase in volume, inevitably drowning out the good times.

Hiding doesn’t make evil go away.  What’s more, whether we like it or not, we have been given much (time, health, clean water, access to news about the world’s woes, a savings account) are the one’s of whom much is required.  In other words, stepping into the muck and mire of injustice, poverty, human trafficking, war, and escalating violence, isn’t an option, it’s a mandate.

The fact that evil’s a deluge, an ocean, an avalanche, simply means that each of us, and our churches, must find our own particular ways to respond.  None of us can do everything, but all of us must do something, and those who want to live in isolation will miss the mark, because sitting in our nice houses watching TV while the world goes up in flames is hardly the life to which we’re called.

The other option though, comes from those who only embrace the suffering and deny the beauty.  They’re fixated on the NY Times and rail against Republicans being pawns in the hands of corporations; or they’re watching Fox News and railing against Obama because he’s slow to pull the trigger.  They have causes.  They have plans.  They’re mobilizing, protesting, and angry.

In their anger though, they don’t look very much like Jesus, and most people don’t want to be like those protestors who go down in flames with their fists raised in the air, because the reality is that there’s more to life than just human suffering – there’s a universe of beauty too.

Sophie Scholl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer both showed us a way forward:

1. Open your eyes to oceans of suffering around you and take steps to address it.   Stand in solidarity with some who are suffering.  Raise your voice for the cause of the day.  If you remain silent regarding the issue that’s rising up and becoming a fire in your soul, for fear of the relational cost, or political cost, or business cost, you become part of the problem.  You’re silence makes you complicit.

2. Recognize that you can’t address everything.  You won’t be trying to get more organic foods to market, and address 21st century slavery issues, and address environmental destruction, and work on peace initiatives in the middle east, and fix the isolation of senior citizens, and the mental health crisis, and the reality that kids are living with a nature deficit because they no longer play outside in parks, and go to Africa to help contain the Ebola virus.

Don’t trow up your hands then, and say it’s hopeless.  For God’s sake, and the sake of your own calling – take your step.  Do something.

3. Enjoy the gifts God has given you and rejoice in them.  Give thanks for them, and worship.  More than once I’ve enjoyed tears of joy because of the beauty of particular space time moments when I find myself in a place of perfect peace and shalom on our trip.  Healthy, enjoying my wife’s companionship, the recipient of a rare of gift of time to restore, and all of it in the midst of mountains I love, whose beauty never ever ceases to diminish.  These places seem to ravish me, over and over again.  All I can do is give thanks to God, recognizing that the gifts are but a foretaste of the world God wants all humanity to enjoy.

4.  Stay rooted and grounded in Christ.  The balance between IMG_6668mourning and rejoicing, between enjoying beauty and standing in solidarity with ugliness, between the pursuit of justice and the creation of a fine meal or a day of powder can be a tough balancing act.  In fact, I’d say, it’s impossible.

One of the things I love about the promise of union with Christ, though, is that with Christ’s spirit as a source of conviction and an animating force, there’ll be balance.  Bonhoeffer and Sophie were able to marvel out the clouds and the sunrise, even as the stood fast against the tyranny of oppression.

Here’s Sophie Scholl on the day of her execution:

”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause,” Sophie said. ”Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” she continued, ”but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

I pray I’ll live with that same enjoyment of beauty, creation, and fellowship, while being bold to stand in solidarity with the injustices of our world.  May God empower each of us to go there.

 

Moving towards wholeness and hope – step by step