All posts by raincitypastor

Are we there yet? Sojourners and Shalom

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

How do you find music you like? Here’s one way it happens for me…

I purchased a compilation CD recently because I’d heard one song on it, on the radio, that I wanted to savor, and because the proceeds from the CD go to preserving the forests of our beautiful Cascade mountains. Neither reason would have been good enough alone, but together, I caved and bought the CD.

Though I bought it because of this, I loved both the lyrics and music of Ingrid Michaeleson in this song, so I visited her web site, and bought more of her music. Three nights ago, alone, I sat and listened, over and over again, to her offering titled, “Are we there yet?” I thought of those I know facing cancer, infidelity, foreclosure, aloneness, and so much more. Ingrid takes the trite little things we’ve said all our lives, like “Home is where the heart is” and “Every cloud has a silver lining” and turns them on their head to reveal the reality of our incompleteness. I listened to it eight times in a row, sitting in candlelight as the rain fell, and pondered the tension in which all of us must leave, between the shalom (peace and wholeness) of God, and the reality that we’re sojourners.

Are we there yet? Nope….not even close. Hebrews 11 tells us that nobody’s ever there, not in this life, not even among people of faith. There’s always, it seems, an ache. Even, as I’ve written elsewhere, in our moments that come closest to perfection, there’s an awareness of how fleeting they are. The perfect powder melts. The perfect moment of intimacy fades.  Stuff happens.  “Are we there yet?”… I don’t think so.

And yet, it’s also true that somehow, mysteriously, in the midst of our not yet being there, a peace is available to us that is beyond our capacity to grasp. This peace, in its fullest expression, has its roots in God’s notion of “shalom” which encompasses the deep satisfaction that comes from everything being just right. And there’s a sense in which this shalom is available to us right now, not in full measure surely, but available nonetheless.

I believe that it’s available because, in Christ, we’re granted to possibility of looking at the world through different eyes, childlike, wide-eyed with wonder over the simplest things, be they the remarkable shades of green that come after the rain, or the subtle tastes of a good red wine. A friend who is battling cancer has this sense of ‘sojourner’ right now as she does battle with the disease in her body, AND at the same time, she experiences profound peace and joy because her daughter in law is carrying her first grand daughter. There it is: sojourner and shalom.

Unless we have the eyes of Christ, the sojourner piece will devastate us and we’ll become, frankly, dark people who either numb ourselves through addictive escapes, or pour our own darkness into the world, or both.

Thanks Ingrid, for a song that captures the reality of our sojourning so powerfully. And thanks be to God that in the reality of our brokenness, shalom awaits.

This is what I’m talking about…

Obama wins the prize...but why
Obama wins the prize...but why

“God has placed eternity in the hearts of men…”  is one of those mysterious verses in the Bible that is best explained through illustration, by pointing at something and saying, “that’s what it means”.  Now that Obama’s been awarded a the Nobel Peace Prize before actually doing much of anything substantive to contribute to world peace, I think we have an example of Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Don’t go all “Rush” on me, and scream about liberal conspiracies.  Your tirade will cause you to miss something valuable.

Don’t whine, either, about how Obama deserves this award, and how his presence at the table as someone who tries negotiating before bombs is enough of a cause for him to triumph over these candidates. He doesn’t, and it isn’t.

If we step back though, and take a deep breath, we might realize that Obama was granted this award, not for anything he’s done, but for what his style represents.  Rightly or wrongly, the committee was impressed with the removal of the defense shield, and his willingness to engage in dialogue with enemies with whom the previous administration refused to converse.  Did you get that?  They were impressed that he was reducing weapons and talking with his enemies.

Why be impressed with that?  I’d suggest that the committee was impressed with that because our hearts long for the kind of world that will exist when Christ reigns.  He will say, “come let us reason together”, and when justice rules perfectly, He’s promised that we’ll melt our weapons down and turn them into tools of agriculture.  Hmmm… Christ’s reign looks like what again? Reason and dialogue, and a reduction of weapons.  No wonder people like Obama.  I’m not defending O’s political strategy, nor challenging it.  I am saying that people like reducing weapons and talking for a reason, and the reason is because God put it in their hearts to like it – we’re made for peace and dialogue.

Oh, and there’s a giant warning here too.  Humanity’s greatest failures have come whenever people have promised the fruits of the kingdom without the reign of the True King.  History has shown that there’s only One who will be able to bring this about.  Like or don’t like O’s strategy.  But don’t confuse it for the kingdom – to do so would be disastrous.

Dancing the Sabbath in 6/7 time

I’m privileged to teach in Europe every year for a week or two. Europe, you know, is what the Republican party is afraid we’re becoming if we let everybody have access to health care. It’s the “post Christian” culture that so many are afraid we’ll become if we don’t vote properly. I’m not certain what “becoming like Europe means”… I know it means that we’ll spend less on health care per capita while our mortality rates will drop and our longevity rates will rise. I know it means that church bells will ring at the beginning, middle, and end of each day, along with each hour. I know it means that public schools will celebrate “prayer day” where they learn about prayer in history, and spend time actually praying. I know it means that there’ll be less access to AK47s and other rapid assault rifles for common citizens, and that the rates for homocides will be lower, as will the rate of incarceration. I know it means a barista won’t lose their home because they need open heart surgery. I know all this… I just fail to see what everyone’s frightened about.

However, rather than tackle the whole “socialist, church bells, prayer day, gun control” culture, I’d like to just talk about the Sabbath, which is practiced far better in Europe than it is here. Our culture is open for business 24/7. As a result, we’ve collectively lost our sense of rhythm, and this has serious consequences:

1. Because shops are open 7 days a week, we buy! This piece of our culture has the effect of enabling our propensity to wear ourselves out. In contrast, only activities that enhance leisure and relationship building (cafes, ski areas) are open on Sundays in the places I travel in Europe.

2. Because we buy, we do stuff, and the stuff we do often has the effect of displacing the leisure of eating a meal, slowly, with good friends, good wine, good conversation. Instead we’re painting the fence, or cleaning the house, or whatever.

3. These things we do, combined with our love of TV, are effecting our relational capacity. A friend from Europe visited some college students here in the states and found their capacity for lingering conversation lacking, as they preferred, instead to play wii or watch movies.

Of course these are generalizations. Of course there are exceptions. Still, I’d argue that we need to learn from our European friends, how to dance to the rhythm of 6/7 time. Work hard six days a week, and then spend a day investing in rest, restoration, recovery, relationship, recreation, receiving all of it as the gift God intended.

We surely have different vestiges of our Christian heritage more prominent in our culture than our European friends have, but we both have these ‘hangovers’ from the Reformation (good hangovers… if ever there could be such a thing). It’s high time we acknowledged that, maybe they’re onto something with this Sabbath thing, and we learn from them. We might not be able to change the culture at large, but surely we can march to a different drummer ourselves can’t we?

Have friends over for a meal
Sleep in
Worship
Play music with companions
Do something with your spouse: take a bath together, go for a hike, read aloud o each other

In short, make one day different, a day when you quit fighting the battle for survival, and simply enjoy the relationships, food, creation, health, that God has placed on your plate right now. Here’s a book that might help get you started… and good Sabbath to you.

questions…bridges…life

Welcome…

After blogging for years over at blogspot (where you can find all the old stuff about movies, sexuality, politics, faith, doubt, Iran, Iraq, money, sleep, books, mountains, coffee… it’s all there if you nose around long enough), I’m moving over here to a different site, in hopes of focusing my thoughts and creativity a bit, trimming my efforts down to address three things:

1. Questions – I’m a pastor, and so I get real questions all the time.  “Why are we on the brink of bankruptcy after all these years of faithfully serving God?”  “Where the hell was God when my husband ran over our three year old daughter?”  “What’s wrong with a little oral sex among friends?”  “How can I make Bible reading less boring?”  “Why am I so bothered by Christian’s snappy answers?”  “How do I know that I’m believing truth and not somebody’s fable?” and many more.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, or even most of the answers, because if there’s anything I despise, it’s arrogance born of premature conclusions.  But I do have thoughts, because I’m equally suspicious of the postmodern notion that we’re awash in an epistemological storm that is sinking all convictions.  I don’t buy it.    As a result,  I have thoughts, and probably more questions, and some arrows to point the enquirer in what I hope is good direction.

At other times, I’ll post because I have questions and I’m looking for your input.  Thanks, in advance, for your help.

Bridges… I think it was Thomas Merton who talked about having a Bible in one hand, and the Chicago Times in another.   He saw the task of the priest as that of mediator, standing between the two worlds.  I love that task, because I love this world and the God who made it.   This world’s food, art, music, politic, ethic, economic system(s), recreation, relational angst, and everything else, seems to provide insights and windows into the God who so often appears to be invisibly present, right in the midst of it all.  I like to build bridges between this God and the beautiful yet broken world this God made.

Life… There are issues and observations, too many to mention, that just seem to come up in daily living.  I’ll write about them if it appears that they might be helpful in some small way.  The topics could range wildly, from coffee and cooking, to sexuality and sunsets.  I think God cares about all of it, wants all of it shot through with His glory, and it interested in showing us the way there.

Welcome.  I hope you’ll join me often.