The Death of Mourning – And the Need for its Resurrection

there’s a time to mourn…

There were times, not so long ago, when mourning was the first response to tragedy.  This is appropriate.  When 9.11 happened, there was a global coming together that simply grieved the catastrophic loss, acknowledging, before any rush to response or solution, that the world is not meant to be this way.  Waves of grief and anger over “the way it is” rise up in the human heart when tragedy happens.

Or should, at least.  In Ezekiel 18:32 God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone”  In John 11, Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept tears of grief, because death is an intrusion in our fallen world – a source of profound loss, sorrow, and separation.

These days though, there’s no time for mourning.  The blood wasn’t dry on the floor before this tragedy was politicized.  Islamaphobia.  Homophobia.  Gun Control.  ISIS.  Immigration policy.  NRA.  Ban on assault weapons.  Blame Obama.  Mock Trump, or praise him.   Why mourn, when you can blame, or use the event to justify your worldview?

Here’s an observation friends:  this is  sick

Our rush to judgement is a cultural disease, the natural fruit of our increasing inability to listen, think, and learn a bit before talking.  I was in Austria when Sandy Hook occurred and the first things I read in social media had to do with blaming the NRA, or declaring preemptively that “the gun control liberals will use this to steal our guns”.   Heated rhetoric, even before the children were buried.  An alligator steals a child from a theme park, and before his body has even been found, people are  lecturing the parents about “responsible parenting”.   The biggest mass shooting in American history happens and before there’s a single funeral, Muslims are blamed.  Immigration debates fill the air.  Christians are blamed.  Guns are blamed.  And those blamed respond with a whiplash of defensiveness.

Lost in all of it is the time honored tradition, in nearly every culture in the world, to “mourn first – thoroughly – and then respond”   The cost of this loss will be huge, is already huge – because what’s happened is that all of us are now constantly at war, with each other.  Constantly on the defensive, or to avoid that, on the pre-emptive offense.

Job’s friends may not have assessed Job’s problems accurately, but at least they had the decency to mourn with him a little bit before offering their misguided solutions.  The same was true 15 years ago, when America, even the world, stopped for a week or so, and mourned.  We were all angry.  We were all learning new things about terror and waking up to the realization that our world had changed forever.  But we held our tongues.

The Bible is a rich pool of lament for many reasons, one of which is that it allows the dissonance between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be to ferment in our spirits and souls.  Such fermentation, born of compassion for victims of suffering and loss, strengthens our longings for the beauty of Christ’s reign to break into our world with full force.  It’s only out from those deep longings, ripened in mourning, that the best wisdom of next steps will be born.

Last week was too busy for mourning for me.  I was in meetings overseas from morning to night, and squeezing church work and sermon prep into the little margins.  I barely saw the headlines, and then quickly saw the polarizing comments, coming from everywhere.  Really!  Everywhere.  The weight of what happened didn’t hit me until yesterday, when I had some time to finally digest the event while sitting in the Frankfurt airport waiting to come home.

Today then, is a day of mourning for me – for one thing.  The victims.  Young lives were cut down too soon and while death is always tragic, it’s always the more so when the lives are young, still looking forward to most of their days.

Yes, the church must participate in robust and civil discourse about sexual ethics, gun control, gun rights, immigration, Islam, and more.  Those are different topics for different days.  But not today.  Today I mourn…which begins with empathy, and compassion, which simply means, “to suffer with”.  For God’s sake, and your own, learn compassion before anything else.

Again violence has taken young lives.

Again people woke in the morning not knowing their hours were numbered.   

Again families of victims are faced with an unanticipated hole in their lives, with many parents facing the most difficult grief of all, the death of their own children.  Of all the things that “aren’t supposed to happen”, this is near the top of the list.

 

Let your tears run down like a river day and night

As the beginning of the night watches

Pour out your heart like water

Before the presence of the Lord;

Life up your hands to Him

For the life of your little ones… Lamentations 2

 

 

Threads: Crocheting a Legacy, knot by knot

It’s the day after my youngest daughter’s wedding, a grand yet simple affair that included three wedding dresses, a parade from the church to the park led by wedding guests playing the Star Wars theme, and an open mic, poignant and ripe with the love of relationship nurtured by my daughter and her husband through years of showing up and building community.  They left the church at dusk, on bicycles, after running a gauntlet of sparklers.  With tears and weariness, I thought, “Done.  The weekend can’t get any better.”

The day after blowout parties like these should be a day of silence and rest in my introverted mind.  In our case though, the gathering continued because my mother in law is turning 90 this month.  She’s been living with us for a little less than two years, and  has, besides her daughter (who I married) three other sons, living in Oregon, and one each in Northern and Southern California.  They were all here for the wedding, along with their spouses, and many of the grandchildren too, so it just made sense to throw a big party the day after the wedding.

As a result, we found ourselves gathered in our mountain house on that first Sunday in May for day long festival of eating, drinking, mountain exploration, of celebration of Ruth.  When someone turns 90, I’m afraid that there’s sometimes not much to celebrate, other than the elder’s dogged determination to live on.  The truth of the matter is that the sunset years can be more fog than beauty, more resignation than hope.  The ravages of time and the painful losses people have experienced by that age often leave people vastly diminished, or bitter, or only looking back, offering little more than a sigh for those gathered to honor.

And then there’s Ruth. She’s one of those exceptions that both brings me deep joy and gives me hope.   The celebration of her life was a perfectly appropriate extension and affirmation of the life of celebration she pursues almost every day.  The chair where she fills her days IMG_1124looks out to the front of our house where she can watch it snow or, this time of year, enjoy the birds and squirrels as they vie for food.  She’s always sitting there when I’m returning from work, or an outdoor adventure, or a walk with neighbors, and almost all of the time, she has crochet needles in her hands, and yarn at her feet.  She smiles, waves maybe, and gets on with her craft…stitch by stitch.

I’ve been married 37 years, and this stitching of hers was a habit long before I entered her world.  She makes things.  And what becomes of those miles of yarn, stitched one knot at time so faithfully these past decades?  The answer to that question formed the basis of our celebration.  My wife and her brothers collected photos from family members, friends, and children in our church who’ve been the recipients of a coveted “Ruth” blanket.  I received one as a welcome to the family years ago.  My kids each have one.  Dozens of new babies in the various churches I’ve led have one.  Neighbors.  More distant relatives.  Blankets ranging from Seahawks logos, to Bears, to a WSU Cougar, are scattered across the country, and so pictures began pouring in.  By the end there more than 60.

My daughter Kristi crafted the submissions into a book, which became the centerpiece gift for this woman who I view with the same sense of awe at times as I view the mystics.  I hold this view because of her capacity to be fully present, attentive to the moment and task at hand, in spite of the chaos that life sometimes tosses as us.

Her world has risen and fallen, known death and life, wealth and poverty, health and sickness,  joy and profound sorrow.  The larger world too, has offered up a full dose, just in her lifetime, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, financial scandals, near impeachment of a president, terror, wildfires, earthquakes, and floods.  On the surface of things, it’s a whirlwind of change, chaotic.  At times upheaval might have been the norm more than stability.  Like all of us, I suppose Ruth might have fodder for complaint, or withdrawal into fear.  I know that when my own little world is threatened, I’m sometimes overwhelmed and anxious – and my problems are petty in the grand scheme.

In this world of upheaval, both personal and global, she doesn’t complain.  She crochets.  There’s always another stitch, and then another, and then another.  Life’s not stable, nor is it lacking its share of pain and loss.  But instead of fear, or the paralysis of anxiety, this woman does what gives her joy, faithfully, as hours turns into days, turn into years, turn in blankets – and blessings – and joy.  And it’s that quiet, generous, stable, uncomplaining joy that we were privileged to celebrate that sunny Sunday in the mountains.

My words might preach, if only sometimes.  Her life preaches.  I know people who can quote chapter and verse, but who are so filled with fear, petty judgements, and bitterness, that they give me reasons not to believe.  But this one, sitting quietly, and doing the next thing in spite of everything else that’s happening in the world, and letting a string of faithful moments become a gift to someone, this one, makes me want to live faithfully as a person of service and hope.

She smiles.  She blows on her candles, and gets a bit of help finishing the job.  She receives as graciously as she gives.  And in all of it she reminds me of something I heard recently:  “the way we inhabit our spaces – this constitutes our calling”.

Thank you Ruth, for inhabiting so very well.  We not only love and honor you, but we want you to know that you bless us – and not bless us only, though that would be enough.  You teach us.  And to the extent we learn the peace of quiet service, our lives will be the richer for it.

Into the fog of discipleship…step by step

It’s Friday.  That’s meant ski day for 90% of the past four months.  I hit the web to see what’s opened, what’s groomed, what’s happening.  Dismay:  four different ski areas within 2 miles of my house – ALL CLOSED!!

All right then.  It will be a day to put on the touring skis, which means attaching friction creating skins to the base of the skis and freeing the heel so that you can ski up the mountain.  At the top you’ll peel the skins off, lock down the heel, and in a few minutes ski down what it just took you and hour to go up.  Some might call it hard work.  I call it discipleship – learning to follow Jesus step by step.  Here’s why:  

There’s a calling

I cast my gaze to the ridge, the goal, some 1300plus feet above,  It’s too far.  Too steep.  Too much.  There’s an immediate visceral reaction, dwelling up a dozen or more excuses why this “isn’t a good day” for this.  It’s cloudy – there’s no view to bring me joy.  It might rain.  I slept poorly last night.  The snow’s thick, mushy.  Not spoken, but the real reasons:  it’s stinking hard work to walk uphill in slushy snow with skis on.  

So why go?  Here’s the crazy thing.  I go because as John Muir said,
“the mountains are calling and I MUST go” - good weather or poor; tired or bursting with eagerness; it matters not, because the mountains themselves really are actually calling.  I want to be in them, up them, challenged and transformed by their terrain; ravished and refreshed by their beauty.  “I must go”

That’s discipleship too.  We see, in the distance, a different life: freed from addiction, or fear, or shame.  Or maybe we see a different world because Jesus and the prophets pointed to a world of peace, reconciliation, and the end of human trafficking and disease, to name just a few things.  We see it out there in the distance, and we want to go there, be there – and with Christ alive in us, it seems we must take the journey! 

That’s part of what calling means.  And when that voice from higher up the mountain is calling, I pray you’ll go.  There’ll be reasons not to, always, as Jesus warned us.   Too busy.  Too tired.  Too tied down.  Too preoccupied with the trinkets acquired by wealth.  Your favorite team’s playing today.  Theres’s always a reason to stay home, but if you listen carefully enough, you hear the voice of calling, and if hear it…don’t hesitate:  go!

There’s a disillusionment – 

It doesn’t take long to feel the effort of the journey.  There’s something in me that want’s to call it quits about 500 meters in and 100 meters up because breathing is labored, legs are feeling heavy, and sweat is leaking out my skin as a means of cooling me, so that when I stop I’m not cool – I’m cold.  “Is it worth it?”  “I could be at home reading.”  “It makes sense that I’m the only one here.  Who does this?” “I could turn around now and nobody would be the wiser.”

And so it goes, in our brains, sometime after we’ve begun our pursuit of Christ too.  This is because self-denial, though life giving over the long haul, is wearying in the moment.  There are disciplines to discipleship, enough so that the words have the same root, and that root includes the reality of some suffering.

We all suffer.  But who suffers willingly?  Disciples, apparently, because Jesus said that unless we’re willing to deny ourselves, we can’t be disciples.  

If we’re going to deny ourselves, then, we need some compelling vision that will allow us to transcend the gravities which pull us down into self indulgence.  The vision for my little ski adventure is the thought that at the end of it there will have been both encounters with beauty and a strengthening of heart – both gifts, yes – but earned with the currency of suffering.  Imagine that.

For the disciple, the self-denial and suffering produces strength of heart too, but in a different way.  We become people whose lives are increasingly characterized by joy, patience, hope, peace, and generosity.  We could quit the journey and indulge ourselves, or press on and enjoy this kind of beauty and transformation.  That why vision matters so much.  Without a reminder of what’s being produced in me, I simply won’t proceed.  It’s the vision of transformation that keeps me going.

There’s a mindfulness – 

Moving up steep snow on skis is an acquired skill, and the steeper the snow, the steeper the learning curve.  As the initial gradual slope steepens, I’ve no longer any time to think about how painful it is, or whether I want to quit or continue.  At its steepest the journey requires total focus:  “slide ski upward – shift all body weight to directly above the binding, so as to mitigate risk of sliding backwards – fight the intuitive notion to lean into the mountain, committing to stay upright instead.  Repeat”  

My favorite hobbies have historically been skiing, rock climbing and fishing because these three disciplines require a total focus, and the total focus has a marvelous way of silencing the chatter of the mind.  Such silence is life giving, wisdom imparting, and maturing.

We don’t do it well, if we’re honest.  We’re easily distracted by our phones, our tunes, and our screens.  And if that isn’t bad enough, when all three are absent, our mind has tricky ways of creating its own chatter, and the price is costly as seen in this excellent book.

Jesus hits on this when he tells us to “take no thought for tomorrow.”  It’s his way of inviting us to be fully present.  Here.  Now.  A wise woman named Elisabeth Elliot once said it this way:  “When you are overwhelmed and your mind it talking too much, you need to calm down and simply do the next thing.”  Indeed.  It’s not just a question of getting stuff done, it’s a question of growing wise because wisdom is, at the core, related to our capacity to be “all there” wherever we are, and this is a skill that’s disappearing.  I’m not on my cell phone when I need to focus on putting all my body weight above my ski on a 32 degree slope.  I’m all in.  I’m invited, indeed called, to be “all in” most of the time:  conversations made up of real listening and presence, reading, prayer, sharing a meal with friends.  We’re at our best and look most like Jesus when we’re doing one thing at a time.

There’s joy – 

Step by step (hence the name of this blog) I ascend upward.  Step by step in real life means another diaper, another meal, another encouraging word to a co-worker, or a confession, or a moment of hospitality with a neighbor.  Like ski touring, no single step seems significant, but every single step matters.  This is because our lives aren’t, in reality, highlight reels of profound moments, but a ten thousand regular steps followed by a summit moment.

When I arrive at the top on this Friday, there’s nothing to see.

Fog’s set in, and everything is white other than trees right in front of me.  Still, I know it’s been worth it.  And there’ll be a different skill set, and a different joy on the way down.

Sometimes, too, your best efforts to follow Jesus won’t result in a highlight reel moment.  And then you’ll move on.  It’s fine.  You know you’ve taken the steps, followed the call, done the right thing.  That’s discipleship and the more you do it, the more you know you’ll do it again tomorrow, because there’ll be another calling, and you’ll say yes because its become who you are!

O Lord of the mountains and valleys.  

Grant that we might first have ears to hear your call – in the cry of child, a neighbor, a refugee.  Give us grace, I pray, not only to hear, but go, and endurance to continue when we feel like quitting.  Thank you for the gift and discipline of mindful presence, and the circumstances that help us develop it.  May we celebrate those times rather than dread them.  And above all, thank you for standing on the mountain with your disciples so that we’re able, here and now, to have a glimpse of the summit that’s worth it all – Your reign made visible in our lives and world.  Give us eyes to see it.  Every single day.

In your great name we pray…

Amen.

 

Lightening Our Loads: Musings on Genocide in Holy Week

(This will take a few minutes to read, and maybe create more questions than answers.  So at the outset, please know:  I believe in just war – I believe in the right of governments to carry the sword in order curb evil as seen in Romans 13.  And, I believe in that the path of the cross is our calling as Christ followers.  May God give us wisdom)

Of course it happened again. We all knew it was just a matter of time before another bomb went off, this time in Belgium. The explosion and shrapnel, though, is never, never the end of the story. Rather it’s a beginning. It sets off another round of fear, profiling, stereotyping, and hatred. It becomes the soil in which the human heart is tempted or incited to match violence with violence. It mobilizes armies, entrenches already held ideologies, and loads lives down with anxiety over the future. Fear of neighbors. Fear of burkas. Fear of travel. And worse than fear; hate. And worse than hate; the threat of violence in retaliation. And worse than the threat of violence; actual violence.

It’s nothing new. And further, it’s nothing new to note that it’s all being done in God’s name by both sides. Giving a soldier a Bible though, or a suicide bomber the Koran doesn’t sanctify the cause, and there’s no better time to be reminded of this than Holy Week because while wounded people are treated in hospitals, while victim’s families mourn, millions will spend time this week pondering the path of Jesus walking to the cross. That cross, and then one who went there, still speaks and lives today, imploring us to follow him on a different path than the one that matches violence for violence, fear for fear, hate for hate.

As Jesus stood at the outskirts of Jerusalem on the last week of his life, his poignant cry is telling. We read that “…he saw the city and wept over it saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!…” And then he entered the city, spoke truth to power, was arrested, unjustly tried, forgave his accusers, and died.

Why did he say that? Evangelicals might have been happier if he’d said, “If you had known the prayer to pray so that you can get to heaven when you die…” Or, “If you had known the right sexual ethic or aligned with the right (or further right) political party.” Or, “If only you had armed yourselves and exercised your 2nd amendment rights.” Don’t misunderstand, please. Prayer, sexual ethics, and one’s views on gun control matter. But Jesus wept because the people who studied, defended, and sought to protect the ancient texts, never knew the things which make for peace:

They never understood, not really, that monotheism is, at the core, about peace. The God of the Bible was distressed in the early parts of Genesis because of the violence which had filled the earth, and monotheism began in the midst of polytheistic world views characterized by violence, tribalism, and slavery. In such cultures, religion was the mask used to cover the pursuit of power for the few at the cost of oppression for the many. So it has always been. So it is to this day.

But the God of Abraham, who by the way, is the God at the headwaters of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, posits an entirely different path. Jonathan Sacks, in his marvelous and timely book, “Not in God’s Name” writes:

Not all at once but ultimately it made extraordinary claims. It said that every human being, regardless of color, culture, class or creed, was in the image and likeness of God. The supreme power intervened in history to liberate the supremely powerless. (According to this God)….A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. Life is sacred. Murder is both a crime and a sin. Between people there should be a covenantal bond of righteousness and justice, mercy and compassion, forgiveness and love. Abraham himself, the man revered by 2.4 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims and 13 million Jews, ruled no empire, commanded no army, conquered no territory, performed no miracles and delivered no prophecies. Though he lived differently from his neighbours, he fought for them and prayed for them in some of the most audacious language ever uttered by a human to God –‘Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?’ (Gen. 18:25) He sought to be true to his faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith.

Things turned out differently of course. Judaism became marked by a terrible superiority complex of self righteousness. Christianity quickly became wedded with state power, and we’re still bearing the ugly fruits of violent colonialism, crusades, and violence carried out in Jesus’ name. And Islam mutated too, presenting itself as overflowing with hate and a lust to destroy, as seen yet again in Belgium this week. Boom!

Jesus words are haunting. “if you’d known the things which make for peace…” Though we hate what happened this week, and in Paris, and in Istanbul, and in Egypt, and in Syria, I wonder: Do I know the things which make for peace? Or have I baptized my lust for comfort and control in Bible words, and continued to wander in the deep ditch that is violence done in God’s name, matching hate for hate, threat for threat, bomb for bomb?

The answer comes as I walk with Jesus to the cross this Holy Week, and perhaps in light of all that’s happening, this Holy Week is the most important week of our lives.   When I walk with Jesus with a goal, not just of feeling bad about how much he suffered FOR me, but rather, through the lens of seeing him as the prototype of what it means to be a person of peace, I’m struck with some profound and radical realities:

I learn that retaliation isn’t God’s way. Peter pulls out a sword and is ready to take on the army, but after cutting off a guy’s ear, Jesus heals him (the very soldier who’s come to arrest him) and tells Peter to put away the sword, reminding him that the one “who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” Sure, if you want to get all pragmatic about it, the fact is that if someone’s dead, they’re no longer a threat to you.  But their family?  Their tribe?  Their government?  All of them will make sure that, by god, “you will pay.”  All the way back in Genesis 4, a man named Lamech boasts, “I have killed a man for wounding me…and a boy for striking me” and goes on to say that if anyone tries to extract retaliation he’ll pay them back 77x greater!  Yes.  This is our world.

No.  This is never.  Ever.  The way of the cross.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.

I learn that forgiveness IS God’s way. Later, after Jesus has been beaten, spit on, humiliated, and nailed to a cross, a crowd is mocking him. Jesus’ response is to pray, asking God to “forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Wow. If I’m going to walk with Jesus, rather than just appropriating him for my own political ends, I’m going to need to lay down my weapons, lay down my life, and pray for my enemies.  I’m going to need to learn how to forgive the very people who aren’t even aware they’re wrong.  As Jesus warned the disciples, “an hour is coming when people will think they are doing God’s will by killing you.”  That hour is here.

Those who did that to Christ were forgiven.  Without confession.  Without acknowledgement of guilt.  Read it here.  Forgiven.  In a world where bitterness is the norm, and prevailing ‘wisdom’ teaches us that a scorched earth policy will eventually solve the problem, this notion of forgiving is hard to swallow, and surely leads to more questions than answers.  I know because I have the questions too.  It seems nonsensical and too idealistic.

But the one answer it does lead to is this:  those who have the courage to forgive will break the cycle of retaliation and hatred.  They’ll break it rather than escalate it, and those are the only options, friend.  Either the cycle of retaliation is  broken, or it’s escalated.  Will I be part of the problem or part of the solution?

I learn that fear must be overcome. The way of the cross is exactly the opposite of the way of upward mobility, or comfort, or expansion, or matching violence for violence. It’s the way of fidelity to God’s vision for peace, by being peace in the midst of a violent world.

If you think that path was easy for Jesus, consider his sweating drops of blood in the garden on the last night before crucifixion and his prayer that if there were any other way to bring peace, would God please offer a way out, because this way resides far from our instincts for self-preservation! In the end though, those instincts went to the cross too, because the way of peace is the way of losing one’s life to find it, the way of turning the other cheek, the way of letting God make things right through God’s means and timetable rather than taking things into our own hands.

Bombs go off and we’re afraid, especially in proportion to their proximity. But in this global village, every bomb is a cause for fear, a cause for retreating into our cocoon of tribalism or racism or religious retaliation.

It was Machiavelli, not Moses or Mohammed, who said “It is better to be feared than to be loved”: the creed of the terrorist and the suicide bomber. (Jonathan Sacks)

Yes, and it was Jesus who said, “he who seeks to save his life will lose it.  But he who loses his life for my sake, will keep it.”  If you think that doesn’t require courage, just ask:

Martin Luther King

Sophie Scholl

Dietrcih Bonhoeffer.

Or Jesus.

Now it’s our turn, and in the midst of all the political rhetoric inciting violence and hate, my prayer is that you and I will have the courage to walk the way of the cross.  That’s what makes this week so special this year.  It’s not just for me.  It’s my path too. To make it on this path, though, I’ll need to take both fear and retaliation out of my pack, and exchange them for an eagerness to forgive and love.  It’s the way of Jesus, and his load is the right one.

I pray I’ll have the courage to go there.

OE or OE? Choosing the Right Letters for Life

You wake up in the morning and scan the news on your phone.  Two text messages into your day you already know you’ll be working late.  Then you discover you’re out of coffee and realize that you’d stopped at the store on your way home last night for only one reason: to buy the beans.  As you entered though, you saw the oranges and thought you should pick a few up since it’s the end of citrus season, and that led you down a different aisle where you picked up a few malted peanut butter balls as comfort food and some oatmeal to counter the effects of the balls.  You decided on fish for supper and found a wine to pair with it, and left satisfied.  Only now, just when you need the most, you’re lacking the beans so you curse yourself for being so flighty.  The presidential debate debrief in the news tells you that every single candidate on stage last night lied numerous times except the guy that will soon need to quit because he has only 3% of the vote.   You slam your fist on the table, wondering what’s to become of our country when clowns and mad men are the ones America is clamoring to elect.

While you drink your tea (TEA!!!  ugh), you scan your schedule and realize you have three difficult meetings today and then a notification hits your phone for a fourth, slated for that time you were planning a stress relieving run.  The traffic getting in is ridiculous, and by the time you arrive at work, you can only think of one thing:  the weekend.   You grit your teeth and prepare to endure another day in the trenches, just hanging on until you can breathe again. 

Let’s hone in on that one phrase: “endure another day” because I’m increasingly convinced that, while there’s a place for endurance in our world, we endure we more than we should.  Endurance is what we often choose when we’re facing circumstances that are different than our expectations.  When we encounter them, we hang on, pushing through until it’s over.    Hard meetings.   Company.  Meetings.  The dentist.   Eating our broccoli.  There are lots of things we ‘endure’.

I’d argue that everything in life is either OE or OE.  Either we have Obligations to be Endured, or Opportunities to be Enjoyed.  As I grow older I’m learning that things I once thought of as obligations can just as easily be thought of as opportunities, and when considered in the light of opportunities, they become easier, lighter, and more joy filled, even if they’re things I would never have chosen.    Notice I said, “easier” rather than “easy” because let’s face it, not everything is easy.  Still, I’ve been a pastor long enough now to have watched people go through unemployment, business failure, cancer, the loss of a parent or child, and relationship implosion.  Nobody would choose any of these things, but in this fallen world, these are realities that come our way.

What I’ve seen is that there are people who, though they wouldn’t have chosen their circumstance, manage to be fully present in it, and find enough beauty and joy in the moment to be express gratitude.  I know one man who, shortly before he died, said to me, “Richard I am so grateful for all the things I’ve learned through my cancer, and how it’s shaped me to be a better husband, father, and Christ follower.”  Then, with tears, he said, “I don’t know if I’d have learned these things without the cancer”  Wow!

He reminds me of Paul who, in writing his letter to the Philippians, says, “I want you to know that my circumstances (of being imprisoned) have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…and in this I rejoice.”   The capacity to find opportunity and enjoyment in circumstances we’d never have chosen is, I’m learning, a sign of wisdom.

In contrast, I’ve known people for whom the couple is always half empty.  Anger over their employment situation; bitterness over health challenges; staleness in their marriage; there are people who are, when they wake in the morning, already looking forward to the end of the day.  This is sad to me, because their days are piling up as Obligations to be Endured.  Joyless.  Lifeless.  Stressful.  It’s ironic that Paul, in prison, sees an Opportunity to be Enjoyed, and I can’t even handle my commute.

It’s my commute, by the way, that showed me the power of this lesson.  I received a fitbit watch for Christmas so that I can now see my pulse whenever I want just by looking at my wrist.  The southbound traffic from North Seattle to downtown is almost always bad when I’m heading home, and since I’m new to commuting the time quickly became a source of frustration, an obligation to be endured.  I’d fume about the poor planning of our city officials, fume about the endless growth of our city, fume about the tunnel project that I voted against twice!  The whole time, I was also thinking, “as soon as I get past Issaquah, I’ll be happy again”  thus making my commute through the city an obligation to be endured.

Then I started looking at my pulse while I was sitting in traffic and realized it was way too high, and I’d fume about my pulse, and my anxiety levels, which only made me more anxious, and then my pulse would go up some more.  You get the picture.  Type A; more than I care to admit.

Then I repented.  I begin to see my commute as an opportunity to be enjoyed.  The first day with this new perspective, I started paying attention to the views: our glorious space needle; queen Rainier; Lake Union.  I’d pray little prayers of gratitude for the privilege of serving the city I love more than any other in the world.  I’d thank God for the beauty.  I’d pray for shalom for our city, pray for the churches.

After doing this once or twice, I looked at my pulse watch and didn’t believe it.  My pulse was 25 beats lower per minute!  This has been happening consistently now for a couple of months, so I know it’s not a mistake.  It is, rather, a change of perspective.  It’s a matter of looking forward to the commute as a time to pray, enjoy the beauty, maybe listen to a staff member’s sermon online to help give feedback.  Enjoyment leads to peace, and peace leads to joy, or something like that.

I’ve begun expanding this little trick, applying it to other things.  Social engagements I wouldn’t have chosen?   The fourth sermon of the day?  A report that needs to be written?   A salad?

It’s crazy, but when I seek to follow the example of Joseph in Genesis, and Paul in Philippians and the later chapters of Acts, I begin to view most of life as an opportunity to be enjoyed, and the results are an increased sense of joy and gratitude, not to mention better health!   If the only thing on your “opportunity to be enjoyed” list, is your hobby and your free time, you’ve got a problem.  You’re cheating yourself out of joy most of your waking moments.  Repent.  Enjoy.

An Austrian monk explains this perspective better than anyone I know.  Take a few minutes now and watch this, and then go out and finish your day with the perspective that most of it, as much as possible, is a gift from God, an opportunity to be enjoyed!

Cheers friends, and may the Peace of Christ be yours in full measure as you seek Him.

 

Finding Peace instead of Chocolate

IMG_3047There’s a place I hide the last of my German chocolate, breaking off tiny squares at a time since I likely won’t be heading to that part of the world again until November.  It’s tucked away, and I went there today for a bite of comfort because, surprising as this might sound, I’m in the midst of a stress bout, even though I’m a pastor.

The stress is about some frustrations regarding Christians fighting each other.  It’s about questions regarding the future because even though they say 50 is the new 40,  60 isn’t the new anything; it’s just old.  It has me thinking about the future, and that very line of thinking gives birth to about ten more questions so that by the time I’m done thinking so much, I need chocolate more than anything, and I run to my drawer of comfort.

This time, though, sort of like the Narnian wardrobe thing, I reached for the chocolate in the dark and grabbed a small Bible by mistake instead, it being about the same size as a large Milka bar.  I hadn’t touched the cover for over a year, likely, except to move it when I moved this desk for the year.  It was my dad’s.  As soon as I touched it, though, I thought about my upcoming sermon this weekend about authenticity and said to myself, “Toss it into the bag.  Maybe it’s a sermon illustration.”

Then I drove down the mountain, all the while thinking about the many things in my life presently which feel out of control, or at the least, outside of my direct personal control.  Lack of control and uncertainty about the future are things I don’t like, and what I like even less is that the answers are often found in only one place: patiently waiting.  I’ll quickly confess I’m terrible at this, so much so that when these seasons of uncertainty happen, as they happen to all of us, the stress and anxiety I say are so easily banished in Christ somehow move in and take up space in room that is my soul.  Then I think too much – about the o so many things I can’t control, and I often get even more anxious, and then anxious about being anxious.  Some of you understand.

i arrive in Seattle and drag my bags into my little place down here, anxious, stressed, feeling overwhelmed.  I’m sure many of you know these feelings.  Then before I head to a meeting I unpack and there it is, now in the full light of day.  My dad’s Bible.  I stop and open it because, no surprise, I didn’t read mine this morning in my present state of worry.  When I open it though, it falls not to scripture text, but to the inscription from his sister, my aunt, written on dad’s birthday in 1933:

“Happy Birthday Romaine…

May you enjoy many happy hours in the meditation and visitation with our heavenly Father thru this volume of letters He has written to you. 

May you never forget that Phil. 4:6,7 as well as countless other wonderful promises will always remain true no matter what happens. 

Lovingly,   ‘Sis'”

That passage she referenced?  Well I thumbed through the Bible and it was the only passage Dad had underlined:

2014-06-04_08-43-10-1“Be careful for nothing (or another translation writes: “don’t worry about anything”), but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”

“Remember” my aunt wrote, speaking to me from the grave this afternoon, “that Phil 4:6,7 will always remain true no matter what happens

She wrote those words to my dad in 1933.   Yes.  No matter what happens: 

World War II happened, and countless bouts of pneumonia for dad.

After marrying the delightful prize that was my mom, an early life threatening miscarriage happened.  It led to a surgery that put an end to hopes of children.  That why they adopted, and where I came into the story, why I’m here writing, rather than somewhere else…

Annual bouts with the flu happened.  They  would so weaken dad’s lungs that after 40 he could no longer visit the mountains he loved, and his basketball and track days of active sport were gone for good.

Health challenges happened all the time.  They would get worse as he got older, and he’d come home and sit with an oxygen tank for a little rejuvenation.   Annual stays in the hospital for the flu became commonplace.

Work loads grew as he moved from teacher to principal to superintendent, leading to too much, leading to an early retirement.

The flu shot in October of 1973 happened.  It was too much, and became full blown flu, and then pneumonia, and the end.

When my aunt wrote that God’s peace could be dad’s “no matter what happens”, she had no idea what she was talking about. 

But she was right.  And as I read Phil 4:6,7 today, 83 years after my aunt wrote the inscription, I remember how, in the midst of all that I’ve related above (and there’s much more… too personal), Dad knew peace.

He never complained about not being able to play basketball with me.  Instead he’d get high on Oxygen, come outside and play a game of HORSE, and then go re-oxygenate as if he’d climbed Everest.  At the time I thought he loved basketball.  I now know he loved me. He’d crack jokes about his limitations, and to keep us all smiling, put fake hot dogs in the refrigerator, laughing uproariously when mom tried to put them down the garbage disposal and they shot out like rockets.  He went to some of my concerts when I was in high school, and made sure that I was able to go to Europe with the band, even though we couldn’t afford it.  “We’ll find a way” he said.  And he did.

The man was so very short on self pity, because he was so very full of the peace and love of Christ in spite of the fact that life was, to say the least, not what he expected.

By now there are tears as I write this.  They’re tears of gratitude that I have someone to look to as an example as i grow older and also face my own uncertainties, and limitations, and disappointments.  They’re tears of gratitude for my aunt who lived her faith and knew her own disappointments, including the early loss of her husband to cancer, and her subsequent years spent ministering to single mothers.  Through it all for her too: the peace of Christ.  And the tears are the cry of my heart, asking the the God of all peace would be my source of peace right in the midst of the storm that is now, and whatever will be the storms that are tomorrow.

So for lent?  I’ll be reading from Dad’s little Bible every day – and I might even buy a fake hot dog.

 

 

Bible Reading’s Boring or Difficult? Try this at any age!

“No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.”  

 

From “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Yesterday, in the church I lead, I spoke on the importance of reading the Bible on a regular basis, fully realizing that this kind of exhortation is sometimes received as well as telling a vegetarian they need to have a steak for supper. For many people the Bible is fraught with difficulties, including:

1. Failed attempts at reading it consistently in the past, due to lack of understanding, which leads to a sense of frustration, which makes the discipline extraordinarily easy to jettison as other priorities crowd it out.

2.  A sense that the Bible creates more questions than answers. “Why did God sanction violence and genocide?” “Why the polygamy?” “Why the crazy rules about underwear?”

3.  Meeting people who know the Bible well but whose actual lives aren’t very pleasant. The Bible, misused, can make you judgmental, arrogant, and less charitable. I know someone with a closet full of notebooks from sermons and knew her Bible backward and forward, but who treated her own daughter with contempt and manipulation.

4.  We don’t know where to start; so we never really start at all.

Can I suggest that all of these understandable reasons for avoiding personal Bible reading are rooted in a misunderstanding of why it’s important to read the Bible?   The Bible has one single purpose, which is to reveal God’s infinitely loving plan for humanity, a plan that ultimately presents Jesus Christ as the star, the key source of hope for each of us personally, for the future of humanity, and for the entire universe!

The fun thing I’ve discovered over the years is that when the Bible’s read through the lens of looking for Jesus, it becomes not just more enjoyable reading, but a means of building an actual relationship of intimacy with Jesus. We begin to see this standard-bearer’s heart for embodying love, servanthood, and generosity throughout the whole Bible. This is no accident, as we discover that in the end, Jesus is in every story in some way. Jesus knew this, as we read here.

We lose sight of this, though, often. We can’t see the forest for the trees, as we get tripped up on questions that we can’t answer, allow ourselves to get led down a side trail of arguments about ethics (whether about divorce, homosexuality, or the place of guns in our world), and soon we’ve lost the big picture and the main point. Questions and ethics matter, but they’re best discovered in the context of the big story.

This is where “The Jesus Storybook Bible” comes in.

It’s the only children’s book I’ve recommended for our teaching team at church, and now, if you’re looking to reinvigorate your devotional life or understand the Bible better, I’m happy to commend it to you too. I have a friend  (we’ll call her Donna)  who struggles with regular Bible reading.   However, reading the “The Jesus Storybook Bible” through the lens of a child has once again renewed her joy of discovery as it’s helped recapture the main story.

She says, “The author has a lovely way of wrapping up each story or event by pointing to Jesus. Rather than being distracted by my questions, I’m simply reminded that it’s not just a book about how God wants me to live my life but, rather, how God loves me enough to orchestrate my rescue. This is pretty exciting (& liberating)!”

Of course, if you have children, the book is a must. But if you’re 20, or 35, or 58, or 78, the book is just as valuable. I can’t think of a person who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

Lent is coming up very quickly, and a great way to fall in love with Jesus all over again might be by reading through this grand book in preparation for Easter. You’ll be glad you did.

Lessons I’m learning in 2016 #2 – Loving My Neighbors, a mile at a time

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5200 vertical = a mile of blessing and transformation

January 18th was my 60th birthday and it was more than just a great day.  It was an awakening.  The day unfolded differently than I’d anticipated.  Early rising, intense exercise, and solitude were the anticipated words of the day because these are things that, for most of my life, I’ve assumed to be life giving and energizing.  They’re the things I usually choose, or have been prone to choose.

I don’t know if it’s the 60 thing, or some other winds of change blowing through the soul these days, but this birthday unfolded completely differently, so the last post, this post, and the next one are devoted to the three things I did differently on my birthday, each of which has changes for the better.

After sleeping in, we soon received texts from the neighbors who were putting together a neighborhood ski day.  My wife, ever the lover of getting together and connecting, was all in.  I wasn’t so sure.  A year ago, when I realized my birthday was going to land on a holiday, I’d secretly declared a goal to myself that I’d ski 60′ vertical feet on my birthday, as a sort of feeble attempt to mock the inevitability of aging.  “Take that!” I’d shout after 8 solid hours of hard skiing.  Aging would smile condescendingly, knowing that the house always wins.  But whatever…that was my plan.

The neighbors have children, and skiing with children wasn’t on my radar.  Neither, for that matter, was skiing with grown up neighbors.  It would be slower.  It would be conversational.  It would be limiting.  I’ve always, at the least, been as comfortable with a day skiing alone as I’ve been skiing with friends.  There are a dozen reasons for that, all beyond the scope of this post.

Suffice it say that when Donna suggested we ski with the neighbors, my response was, predictably, “I’ll do a run with you guys.  But then I’m leaving.  I need a good workout today.”

Yes.  That’s right Richard.  Use exercise as an excuse for isolation.  It’s worked well before because it sounds so self-disciplined, so good, so pure.

We arrive and are quickly in line with the neighbors, and as fate would have it, I ended up with my neighbor Paul’s daughters:  Elizabeth and Georgia.  I’d been in rooms with them, at neighborhood parties before, and down at the end of street in the summers when we neighbors play pickle-ball, but I didn’t know them, not really, for the simple reason I’d never made the effort.

Turns out the loss was all mine.  We started skiing together and these girls ski fearlessly, joyfully, with a childhood delight that made skiing with them some sort of shalom, by which I mean a window into peace, wholeness, and hospitality.  They’d cut into the trees, take little jumps, go literally anywhere I suggested, even as I’d follow them on routes previously unknown to me.

Then there were the rides up on the lifts, learning about who likes math, and who likes swimming, and horses, and about life on a few acres outside Tacoma, and what they do at the cabin when they’re not skiing (checkers, sledding, “hangin’ out”…)

Their dad helped Donna and redesign the space under our deck so that it could become a decent wood storage space.  He’s a sort of renaissance man – teacher, inventor, pilot, woodworker – and delightful role model as both dad and husband.  I’d had a few conversations with him over the months, but the girls, never.

Until today.  By the end of the day, I’d only skied 5200 vertical feet, instead of my normal 20,000, and my ridiculous goal of 60k.  But I’d never, in recent memory, enjoyed skiing more.   The family would come over later that evening, with other neighbors, for some cookies and milk, a little birthday celebration, and I learned that they actually enjoyed skiing with me, which way maybe the best gift of my 60th birthday.   It was a wake up call, a discovery…or at the least, rediscovery.

In this year of my 60th birthday, as I think about what I need to prioritize if I’m going to continue enjoying the life God has for me, a morning of skiing with the neighbor girls taught me a vital lesson:

We’re made for relationships and community.  I’d read a great book recently about habits that help make us healthy, entitled, “The Primal Connection” documents that social isolation dramatically depresses one’s immune system, and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, concluding that a lack of social connectedness is the health equivalent of smoking a pack a day, or drinking excessively.  Wow!   Apparently when God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” God’s talking about something that’s good for you, both life giving and enjoyable!

Of course most of you know this, but there are two groups who are vulnerable.

First Group at Risk : There are some of us  who write, study, teach, and live inside our heads creating ideas and interacting with ideas – so much so that this cerebral world becomes more important than flesh and blood.  I’ll confess to you that this world sometimes feels safer than the messiness of relationship, so I’ve sometimes chosen isolation far too readily.  I’m repenting now…and regretting what I’ve missed.

Second Group at Risk:  The rest of you.  You’re the ones who are better and texting than talking.  Better at facebook than face to face.  Better at virtual reality than real reality.  You’re on the bus not talking to people.  You’re in bed not talking with your spouse.  You’re eating in front of a screen.   You’re failing to understand that eye contact, activities together, and actual contact face to face and heart to heart is the life for which you’re created.  You’ve traded that richness in for a fake world, a highlight reel that’s void of vulnerability, authenticity, and human touch.

That birthday gift of skiing with neighbors was more than just fun.  It rocked my world, calling me to repent of isolation, especially my isolation painted over with the thin spiritual veneer of solitude, or commitments to health.  Posh.  I’m praying I’ll spend the rest of my days investing much more intentionally in loving my neighbors, blessing and serving, being in the thick of the laughter, shared burdens, and shared joys that comes from being part of a tribe.

Thanks Georgia and Elizabeth.  Best. Birthday.  Ever.

 

 

Lessons I’m learning in 2016. #1 – Sleep and Rest

Monday was my 60th birthday and it was more than just a great day.  It was an awakening.  The day unfolded differently than I’d anticipated.  Early rising, intense exercise, and solitude were the anticipated words of the day because these are things that, for most of my life, I’ve assumed to be life giving and energizing.  They’re the things I usually choose, or have been prone to choose.

I don’t know if it’s the 60 thing, or some other winds of change blowing through the soul these days, but this birthday unfolded completely differently, so this post and the next two are devoted to the three things I did differently on my birthday, things I’ve now elevated to goals for 2016.

First Thing:  Instead of early rising, sleep.  My wife and I walk with the neighbors most mornings at 7am, and I try to fit in coffee, Bible reading, and meditation prior to the walk, which means a 6am wake up call, or even earlier.  But on Monday the alarm went off and I didn’t want to get out of bed.  Then some dialogue started happening in my head as I lay there listening to my wife’s deep, rhythmic breathing.

Me: “You should get up.  That’s what productive people do.  You know those verses about the ant and the sluggard in Proverbs right?  ‘A little sleep, a little slumber… and poverty will come upon you!…’

Other Me “Yeah I know, but it’s my birthday.  It would be fun to try and sleep in, to try being a relaxed type B person for a day, maybe even type C”

Me: “That’s a slippery slope you’re on there.  Today it’s your birthday.  Tomorrow it’s too cold.  Then it’s a habit.  Then you’re fat, and broke, and dead.  If that’s what you want… sleep in”

Other Me:  “Can you shut up just for a day, please?  I’m tired of intensity, tired of being driven, especially by you and your insecure compulsions.  Lighten up.”

Me: “I will not lighten up.   Vigilance is how things happen, good things, productive things, necessary… necess… nvdlese….nsssz

Other Me: “zzzzzzzzzz”

And that was that. I didn’t wake until my wife returned from walking with the neighbors!  This is a small victory for sleep, and it’s actually a good thing.  In a recent favorite read, Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-being I learned that one of the best things we can do for our creativity, productivity, and health of both soul and body, is to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  This is very different than the way I’ve thought, which is, “think how much more writing, exercise, thinking, working, and living you can do if you get up early?”

In point of fact, our sleep-less-ness is tied to our beating back the night through electricity.  I know this because we were without power for four days during the Christmas season, and this meant that around 3 in the afternoon we’d sense the darkness coming on, and make sure our candles were at the ready.  They were great to sustain conversation, but not good enough for reading.  Plus, we’d powered down our media except for acute events, such as texts from work or daily checking of email.

People said to me, “Get a generator” but I said back, “Nope.  These days, hard as they’ve been, have opened my eyes to the possibility of rest.”  That’s because we’d go to bed long before nine on most nights.  “A long winter’s nap” as they say; and I woke refreshed.

Sleeping in set the stage for a great birthday, and since then I’ve been shooting for 8 hours of sleep.  Truth be told, I’m landing between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2, but still, it’s progress.   It’s counter-intuitive, because there’s a part of me that’s driven.  But as I lean into this call to rest, I find myself aligning to the rhythm of restoration that’s woven into all of creation, and the restoration that comes through the gift of sleep means more creativity, more capacity to be present, and just a general sense that life is closer to God’s shalom than it ever is when I’m anxious about staying in bed too long.

Welcome 60!  Thank you for banishing my fear of sleep, and finally giving me the courage to believe I’m not lazy.  Good night now… see you in 8 (OK, 7) hours!” 

The Light has Come: So Lighten Up!

When my wife and I arrived home Monday night after a 5 day delay in getting there due to “snow on snow” (12 feet, or 4 meters for my Europe friends) as the Christmas carol says, the house was dark because the power had gone out.   As a result there’s darkness, and lots of it.  This far north on the earth, with this many clouds, our world is dark most of December by nature; without intervention we’re in the dark about 17 hours a day!!

Inside, a few candles dispel the total darkness that would otherwise be ours.  Now, into our fourth day of power outage, I’m musing on the powers of darkness and light – and perhaps there’s no better day to muse on this than Christmas Eve…

“The Light Shines in the Darkness” is how the great mystic disciple of Jesus named John put it, “and the darkness did not overpower it…”

That’s the way of it of course.   Monday night,  near midnight, the power had returned and my wife and I were startled awake by the hum of various motors and the return of lights.  I turned the all off and returned to bed, but the relief was short lived; another moment awake in the middle of the night was when I realized we were in the dark again.  In this total darkness it’s in you to freeze up, afraid of hitting a wall or running your foot into the edge of something.  Every step’s tentative, and this is visceral.  It’s deeply embedded in our ancient brains to move tentatively, if at all, when darkness shrouds our world.

Then I light a match, there at 2AM, and then a candle.  That’s all it takes to dispel the freeze of tentativeness, instilling in me a confidence to move, to live, to take action.  Light dispels more than darkness.  It dispels fear, uncertainty, and the kind of disengagement that shrinks our lives.

It’s literal of course, but it’s metaphor too, because John is saying that the meaning of Christmas is that light, in the form of Christ.  “In Him was life and the life was the light of humans”  which means that in a world of darkness, there’s a light to dispel the kind of fear, disengagement, and uncertainty that leads to the racism, tribalism, and violence that so saturates our world.

When the young man who shot and killed people in a South Carolina prayer meeting appeared in court, he was met by family members of the victims declaring their forgivenessLight shines in the darkness. 

A young man, at cost of his life, shelters three young girls in a different shooting.  Light shines in the darkness. 

Light doesn’t just show in martyrdom though.  It shows up in generosity, words of encouragement, crossing social and racial divides, opening your home, visiting prisoners, and o so much more.  Light shows up in powerful beacon-like ways, and tiny acts with no more lumens than a single match.  It matters not:  light is always light.  It always wins.

In a world punctuated by the darkness of violence, war, betrayal, and loss, 2015 has been especially dark on a global scale.   I don’t need to pour out details of mass shootings, insane dictators, blatant racism, millions of refugees, and the scourge of human trafficking that courses through the veins of our tired earth like a cancer.  You know it all already.   This is the face of darkness.

I find it poignant that it’s always at the sites of mass shooting or other great losses that there’s a gathering of candles.  It’s almost instinctive in us to light a candle at those spaces such as Paris and San Bernadino where darkness has sought to overtake us.  It’s a small way of saying “NO!  In the name of God, we won’t let darkness prevail.  Light wins!” 

For years I’ve had a little poster in my office that says, “Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness” and o how we need to hear this word as we enter 2016, when most of what I hear is how bad the world is, and how stupid politicians are, and how stupid people are for voting for politicians.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Enough already.

How about being light instead?

We need this word because it’s not a platitude, it’s a powerful reality.  Jesus said it  this way when he spoke to his followers:  “You are the light of the world…let your light shine…!”  There’s much more to the text but the essence for this moment of darkness is to realize that you and I have a calling.  Having been granted the eternal light that is Christ as our indwelling source of hope, it’s incumbent on us to let that light shine, so that all the hope, mercy, generosity, service, wisdom, grace, and reconciling power that is found in Christ alone will find expression in your life and mine.

Every action that looks like the love, generosity, service, sacrifice, wisdom, forgiveness, and joy that is Jesus, is light!   And the thing about light is that it always wins; always dispels the darkness as a hint that, when history’s fully written, we won’t all have been sucked into a black hole.  Rather, “there will no longer by any ight; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them…”

One little light, born in a manger, is spreading still, and will overcome all darkness in the end.

So tonight when you light your candle (or join us online if you can’t make it to ours or your own), remember that all the light which fills the dark room comes from one source.  We receive it gladly and pass it only until the darkness disappears.  This isn’t some cute little service.  This is the hope of the world.

Go.  Be the light, even as you celebrate the source.   Merry Christmas! 

 

 

Moving towards wholeness and hope – step by step