“We will not be silent”… will we?

Taproot Theatre in Seattle is presently running a play about one of my faith heroes, Sophie Scholl.  Along with her brother Hans, these two were German students, members of the “White Rose”, whose mission was to incite German people to resist the reign of Hitler. The play is well-written and well-delivered,  consisting primarily of dialogue between Sophie and her interrogator.  If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope you don’t miss it (running through the end of April), not only because it’s a good play, but because it will provide you with a window into the heart and mind of a woman who embodied the kind of heart and mind needed today.  Here’s why I believe the White Rose’s catalyst to action is worth pondering today:

Seeing the play provoked me to re-read this book.  It’s about the role of the White Rose in the German resistance movement of the 30’s and through the WWII.  Some books are live, in the sense that they speak differently each time you read them because you’re different, your world is different.  We’re living in a time of global polarization between haves and have nots.  Were living in a time of mass migration, as people flee death squads, poverty, violence, hunger, and disease.  This migration has led to a backlash rise in unhealthy nationalistic fervor and neo-Nazi/white supremacist groups in Europe and the Americas.  Shootings in Black churches, and synagogues are just the tip of this hate-filled iceberg.

The White Rose was awakened to action by two things:

I. An awareness that their culture had lost its anchor.  One author says it this way:  “In a universe where all values have been shattered, where religions and histories and literatures and social structures have lost their meaning, man has to stand up again and proceed to create his own world, his own values, his own decisions, his own actions.”  The shattering of values that began in Germany in the early 20th century continues on, globally, at an accelerated pace, right to this very moment.  Social structures such as marriage, and institutions such as the church and university, along with the meaning of family are all “up for grabs” as we’re cut free from the moorings and anchors of western civilization.

Members of the White Rose were horrified that the Nazi movement was creating new meaning by calling people back to a mythical golden age of Aryan supremacy, full employment, and the ouster of those who were different.  Even though such an age never existed, its appeal in the wake of all the economic, political, and social chaos was strong enough to create a movement, and it was this movement that the White Rose stood against.

What enabled them to stand up against this romanticized future wasn’t simply a counterpoint set of ideals pulled out of thin air.  Their convictions were born from revelation about the dignity of all people, and the dangers of all forms of idolatry, including the idols of materialism and nationalism.  Their resistance literature essential said It’s not enough to end unemployment by building a vast military machine.  It’s not enough, never enough, to enthusiastically swear allegiance to a leader, any leader, if said leader is asking you to believe lies, diminish and marginalize other people, and sacrifice your freedom of thought and expression on the altar of national loyalty.  It’s not enough to believe that our strength is only gained through the diminishing of other peoples, other nations.  We’re made for more than this.  We are, as a nation, better than this.

What made these ideas better?  Their source!  Behind the curtain, Hans and Sophie Scholl were friends with Carl Muth, a theologian whose small magazine had been banned from publication by the Reich.  Hans and Sophie met with Carl on a regular basis in his small house in the forest, which was, “nearly bursting with book, journals, and manuscripts.”  Muth became a mentor of sorts for these two who would put their ideas into print and distribute them widely throughout Bavaria.

We too, have access to better ideas, ideas that speak to racism, addiction, loneliness, materialism, nationalism, and the many fears that inflict our culture presently.  We have the same source of revelation Hans, Sophie, and Carl had – the scriptures.  Do we know what those ideas are?  Do we believe them?  Or have we, through our own lack of discernment, allowed ourselves to be passively carried along?  The White Rose serves as a perpetual reminder that ideas matter, and that the mark of Christian maturity must, among other things, include discernment.  I say this, because lies and idols are often, as they were in Germany, couched in the same scriptures, used for dark ends instead of liberation.  Without discernment, we run the risk of unwittingly aligning ourselves with hate, fear, and violence, and doing so in Jesus name.

II. A conscience stricken by silence.  “‘Where are the Christians?’ Hans shouted after hearing an ‘enemy broadcast’ reporting that German Communists and Social Democrats had resisted the Nazis and been caught.  ‘Should we stand here with empty hands at the end of the war when they ask the question, ‘and what did you do?'”

The White Rose spoke because, as Sophie said, “somebody needed to make a start of it”.  MLK spoke for the same reason.  So did Sojourner Truth.  So did St. John of the Cross.  But for every soul who spoke, there were too many… far too many… who remained silent.

While Sophie and Hans inspire us in the play, the interrogator is perhaps, the most important figure.  He agreed with her convictions, or so he said.  He was sympathetic.  He understood.  But he could not speak; would not speak.  To do so would be too costly.  His job; his reputation; in his time, even his life was at stake.  The risks were too great, so he allowed himself to be carried along by the tides of culture rather.

For those who give voice to their call for racial justice, or environmental justice, or for those who call lies and idols what they are, or who speak up for life in the womb, victims of sexual violence, and human trafficking, or the countless others who have no voice – the risk of loss will always be there.  But a life lived to carefully, is a life lived contrary to the fundamental principle and example of Jesus:  “he who seeks to save his life will lose it… he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Our silence, at times, is our greatest sin.

“We will not be silent” is what Sophie said.  May her tribe increase.

 

Cory and the Seventh Story – A Children’s Book Worth Reading

I live in a city that largely rejects evangelical Christianity.  While I understand reactions of alarm, sadness, and frustration among people of faith – my reactions are different.   First, I find their reaction understandable.  People in my city care deeply about systemic issues of race, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, addictions that are tearing families apart, and the degradation of the environment.  They find the image of Christianity portrayed in American culture as being, at best, silent on race, dismissive of environmental degradation and the importance of caring for the earth, and increasingly passive regarding the gap between wealth and poverty.  Viewing Christianity as either irrelevant or antagonistic to real issues, many have turned turned away.

I don’t blame them, but I’m angry – because people who are rejecting the faith aren’t rejecting the real Jesus.  They’re rejecting an Americanized, Capitalistic, Upwardly Mobile, Anti-Science, Anti-Environmental stewardship Jesus.  What angers me is that so many, having rejected this fabricated caricature of Christianity, will never encounter the real Jesus, the one who loves all humanity, blesses enemies, disarms violence by absorbing it, cares for people on the margins, and points to Himself as the headwaters of a universal healing and restoration that humanity and our planet desperately need.

What’s needed in such a time as this is a reframing of faith – so that people come to understand that the good news of Christ is that in a world of broken stories, Christ has come to herald the beginning of a better story, one that will saturate and transform every atom in the universe by the final chapter.   It’s a story of weapons being melted into tools of agriculture.  A story of every dispute and broken relationship being settled.  A story of creation, deeply scarred by grandiose human aspirations, finding healing, and more.

Wouldn’t it be nice if children could learn this better story early in their lives, and see it lived out in a faith community?  Living it out is something churches are called to do.  Telling the story is something parents and teachers are called to do and I’m happy to report there’s now a book written for children about “God’s Better Story.”

Cory and the Seventh Story, written by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, offers a concise, accessible recounting of six failed narratives in human history:

Domination: Us ruling over them

Revolution: Us overthrowing them

Isolation: Us getting away from them

Purification: Us marginalizing and rejecting them

Victimization: Us feeling sorry for ourselves because of them

Accumulation: Us having more shiny objects than them

They’re offered in parable form as various forest animals live out from these narratives and experience ensuing disasters, both individually and collectively.  Then a horse shows up in the forest and speaks of a better story, a seventh story, a story of reconciliation, generosity, unity, and contentment.

Like the gospel, the story is received by some, rejected by others, especially those who’ve made “gains” in the lesser stories.  The whole thing harkens back to how Pilate and Herod and the Jews were all, for different reasons, threatened by Jesus – His invitation to live into the better story of God’s kingdom would have cost them; positions, reputations, comforts, wealth.  And there’s the crux of it.  The “good news of great joy, which shall be for all people” as the angels said on Christmas night, requires that I move into that story’s values – values of inclusion, love, peace, generosity, forgiveness, hospitality.  And moving into that requires, for each of us, letting go of something – pride, hate, prejudice, victim mentality, rush to violence, individualism, materialism.

“I can’t live in two stories at the same time” seems to be a message of this book, and that’s appropriate since it was also a message of Jesus.

We’ve managed, though, with a little theological sleight of hand, to do just that.  We’ve done that by saying that what’s most central to the gospel is believing the right things about Jesus.  You know: His deity, humanity, virgin birth, death on the cross to absorb God’s wrath, resurrection to live and intercede for us…all that stuff.  The trouble is that we’ve tacitly implied that if you believe this stuff and stay away from certain big sexual sins, you can have confidence that you’re “saved”, even though you’re still stuck in one of those six unsatisfying stories.

Um…. no.  Jesus said that when the day is done, we’ll be known by our fruits.  Are we hospitable?  Generous with our time?  Do we love our enemies or call them silly names?  Do we care for the least among us, as Jesus did?  Cross social divides, as Jesus did?  Jesus made it abundantly clear that if our religious activities don’t lead to living out these values, something’s wrong.

These practices of Jesus’ don’t happen accidentally.  They happen by waking up to the reality that Christ, living in us, desires to write Christ’s story of hope through us!  Knowing God’s story, and drawing on the resources of the author to discover our part in it IS the Christian life, and the sooner we reframe our declaration of the gospel to include these truths, the better off we’ll all be.

I, for one, will make sure that this book, and the “Jesus Storybook Bible” are a regular part of my grandchildren’s reading curriculum.

NOTE: I was given a copy of this book for free in exchange for offering this honest review.

When God was a Bird – A Book about Finding God in Creation

One of the most profound experiences of my life was attending a small retreat for pastors and scientists in 2010 on a tiny island in British Columbia.  The intersection of science and faith rocked my world in the best possible way.  Already a nature lover, I felt as if I’d been given permission, or more strongly, exhortation, to look for the fingerprints of God everywhere, from the structure and behavior of the atom to the vastness of black holes.  My curiosity about all things was gloriously affirmed, and new adventures of seeing how Christ affects everything, began.

Somewhere in between the micro of the atom and macro of the universe, reside the flora and fauna we encounter on a regular basis in our daily living.  They comprise our ecosystem and its increasingly clear that our Creator has called us to both feast on creation and care for it.  Mark Wallace’s new book, “When God was a Bird” magnifies this invitation with stunning clarity and significant weight.  His thesis might be controversial in evangelical circles because of how close it comes to “animism”.  I surely didn’t agree with every word he writes either, but here’s the thing:  profound truths often reside right near the edges of error, and our fear of error often prevents journey to those needed edges- and we’re all the poorer for having let this fear control us.  “When God was a Bird” was, for me, a book at the edge.  He posits, for example, that when the Holy Spirit shows up as a dove at Christ’s baptism, God is showing us that God animates and empowers ALL life, not just humans.  You can argue about it amongst yourselves.  For my part, I’ll note that a standard evangelical teaching is that, though humans are God’s image bearers, only humans are failing to display God’s glory.  The rest of creation is essentially doing fine!  (Psalm 19, Psalm 104).  So I’m fine believing that God’s spirit is omnipresent in creation, expressing glory through the myriad interactions of sun, rock, stars, moon, elk, bird, bee, pollen, spider, squirrel, seed, and …..  unfolding of each day.  Creation, in fact, is waiting for us to get our act together so that the universe can be healed!  (Romans 8)

This book is mostly about feasting, receiving, worshipping, through creation –  about learning to see God in all creation, to see that God is animating all life, and that all life is therefore, beautiful, ordered, and worthy of reverent preservation.

Using a different bird as his foundation for each chapter, Wallace examines God’s relationship to creation through a prism, revealing various facets of creation theology that instill, in me at least, greater sense of seeing and reverence.  I read, and then look out the window at the forest in which I’m blessed to live.  Long ago I realized that this forest wasn’t simply a stage on which my life was playing out, any more than your place, or any place, is simply stage.  My place is also my teacher.  Through the silence of winter snow, the song of the Varied Thrush in spring as I walk through the forest during after supper dusk, the chattering of squirrels  in the summer, and the diminuendo of voices in the vibrant colors of fall.   All are pointing to God as the source of beauty, provision, delight.  Wallace simply takes it a step further, seeking to show us that the delight we feel when we pay attention to creation IS a delight in God.  Argue the semantics of animism if you wish.  But the larger point is clear:  quit treating creation as either a stage for the play of humanity, or a store of harvesting by humanity.  God’s in all of it, and we ignore or abuse at our peril.

Anyone looking for a deeper relationship with God through paying attention to the book of creation would be well served to consider the claims of the book, even if you don’t agree with everything.  The only warning I’ll offer is that the book is academic.  It will, for most of us, require an expansion of vocabulary.  Coupled with interweaving of theology with ecology, it was, for me, a slow read.  Slow, though, is often worthwhile, and that was surely true for me in this case.  The wisdom and thought provoking revelation offered in this book will prove helpful in some emerging programs of a wilderness ministry our church offers for people in the greater Seattle Area.

note:  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review

Authentic Health: A Good Read to start 2019

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Thessalonians 5:23

If you’re taking stock of your health this New Years season, I’m happy to recommend a book that has proven helpful to me this fall.  There are more than a few of us, Christian and otherwise, who have our “pedal to the metal.”  We work long hours, stay up late, and play hard in our free time.  Our problem isn’t that we don’t exercise, or have the occasional smoothie filled with green things, it’s that we don’t have an off switch.

Authentic Health by Gus Vickery M.D., is just the book for such people.  Though there are chapters on nutrition and exercise, they weren’t game changers for me (though the material about intermittent fasting was compelling).  My health problems stem more from doing too much than too little, from going too fast than too slow.  For these reasons, the chapters on sleep and stress reduction through meditation were a big deal.  The material presented was compelling enough to motivate, and simple enough to take action immediately.  I did, and am now sleeping eight hours a night most nights, and have moved my morning practice of meditating on scripture and praying to a higher level of priority and thus consistency.  The results of these two things have been measurable; reduced resting pulse, reduced blood pressure, increased presence in the moment when in conversations with people, increased sense of peace and joy in situations that previously created stress for me, and less anxiety about the future.

Before the chapters on these matters are presented, the good doctor spends time challenging us to think about whether we really want good health enough to make needed changes, or if it’s just a wish dream.  The chapters on motivation and habits are, in my opinion, worth the price of the book because the reality is that most of us reading this have ample time to create the kind of habits that will allow us to live in the fulness of Paul’s prayer that we prosper in spirit, soul, AND body.  He suggests that we often unconsciously choose habits (foods, sedentary use of time, anxious thoughts).  This book isn’t a promise, by any means, of immunity from disease or suffering.  Far from it.  Countless people do all the right things, and yet are victimized by cancer, or heart disease.  On the other hand, it’s equally true, that a commitment to spirit/soul/body health not only mitigates the risks of contracting chronic diseases, it empowers us to do what we’re born to do!

My interest in health is, at the core, an interest in calling.  I fully realize that whatever contribution I’m called to share with the world can only be made to the extent that I have the emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to be poured out.  That energy cache is filled or depleted, to a large extent, by what I think about, what I consume, and how I use my time.  As I grow older, I’ve discovered that my body is less forgiving of bad habits, too little sleep, too much exercise, too much junk food, too little meditation and prayer, have almost immediate negative effects showing up in my body and emotions.

I recommend the book because for too long, followers of Jesus have lived like gnostics, nurturing the invisible realm, while neglecting the body.  This is not better than the opposite problem of materialists who are seeking to prolong bodily health forever, fearing its all they have.  The real truth:  You are an ecosystem, and your body, spirit, and soul feed off of each other’s health.  Neglect any one of these three legs on the stool that is your life and you’ll fall over.

If you’re even thinking about “movement and play”, “eating for health”, “sleeping better” or “getting in the right mindset to live well” in 2019, I wholeheartedly recommend Authentic Health.

Note:  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Fight for Hope: A Life Worth Living

I was sick last week, and in my down time thoroughly enjoyed reading “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War:  How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918”.  Aside from being the longest book title I’ve encountered recently, the book was a sort of wake up call for me, a reminder of how easily I, and perhaps others, are lulled into complacent slumber these days.  Many in the western world find ourselves disillusioned with the loss of integrity in politics, religion, business, and education.  It feels as if the ground is crumbling all around us and there’s no safe place to find shelter.

My temptation in such times is what sociologists call ‘cocooning’, a tendency to withdraw into the predictability of our homes, close the drapes, and live our private lives.  The temptation is real because fighting, even if the pen and words are your tools, and even if your intent is solely to point people toward a greater hope, is hard work, and at times discouraging.  Those intent on pointing people to the possibilities of a better world, a lasting hope, encounter an avalanche of cynicism, if not outright opposition.  There are stakeholders in our culture who deal in the currency of fear, hate, and tribalism – and these stakeholders exist on the both the left and the right.  They have language intended to objectify and incite rather than build and heal.  As a result, many of us have stopped talking to each other, choosing the cocoon rather than the front lines of ideological discourse.

I was surprised to learn that both Tolkien and Lewis, two of my favorite Christian authors, fought on the front lines in WWI, literally serving in the trenches because the weight of western civilization hung in the balance.  After the war, when nearly every other author was ripe with cynicism, these two swam upstream, invoking that people be willing to courageously fight for the better world that only comes when the real king, the eternal One, reigns.  They held the line through words, myths and tales  of Lions, Wardrobes, and Rings.  To read their correspondence is to discover that at a time when the whole world was cynical, these two held on to hope.  What’s more, it shows me that each of them provided needed encouragement to  the other, a sort of sustenance for the battle. Lewis encouraged Tolkien to publish The Fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien told Lewis to keep writing the Narnia series.

The book’s a good read for anyone who’s a fan of Tolkien and Lewis, but in addition to discovering their life stories, I came away with some deepened convictions:

  1. I’ll be called outside my zone of giftedness at times.  I still need to go.  Neither of these two were soldiers by nature, and yet when called, they rose to the occasion, doing what was needed in the hour of trial.  Many of us withdraw from anything “uncomfortable” or anything out of alignment with “our passions” and I’d suggest that these two teach us that’s a big mistake.  Their lives in the trenches, with the stench of war and death, became the soil out from which two of the great literary works of all time were created.  Nothing in your life is ever lost if you show up fully.
  2. The call to hope is usually challenged.  I still need to fight for it Just look at the Bible; the hope of entering the promised land is challenged – the hope of Peter’s fidelity to Christ is challenged – the hope of remaining steadfast in the midst of trials and setbacks is challenged.  I’m increasingly convinced that every step of forward progress toward embodying hope, inviting people to hope, or creating hope, will be met with naysayers, rock slingers, and haters, and that they’ll come in all forms from atheist to evangelical, left to right, rich to poor.  That’s because, conversely, those committed to “The Return of the King” and the “Destruction of the Ring” and the “Freedom of Narnia” are found in all those same forms of rich, poor, left, right, etc. Aslan’s on the move, sweeping through all the categories that divide and building a tribe out of the displaced and disillusioned, the wounded and scarred, the frightened and the sick – and it’s this tribe that is God’s army of hope for today.    Are you in?   This book will sustain you… to the last battle. 

Time heals nothing

I’m not sure why “This is Us” even found its way into my life as a show to watch, but however it did, I’m often amazed by its power to speak to me at so many levels.  Aside from being well crafted, the show has lots of freaky parallels to my own story, enough to make me feel, at times, like I’m watching a movie of some sections of my life:

The show has an adopted child in the family – I’m an adopted child in my family.

The sister among the siblings struggles with weight  – my sister struggled with her weight.

The dad in the story dies during the adopted son’s senior year in high school – my dad died my senior year in high school.

The death of the dad overwhelms the mom.  The death of my dad overwhelmed my mom.

It just goes on and on, so that in last night’s episode, when the son who got accepted to an exclusive college called and said he was going to delay for year to stay at home and care for his mom, I felt every ounce of his pain because I also delayed my entry into an exclusive college to stay home and care for my mom for a year, a year that turned out to be one of the hardest of my life.  These episodes have had me reliving family history stuff related to weight, performance, how we dealt with conflict, sibling dynamics, marriage dynamics, parenting styles, adoption, and so much more.

Here’s the point though, for now:  Life, Art, and Revelation are, at their best, woven together in a cord, so tightly that it’s difficult to pull them apart, separating the one from the other, so that deep transformation or understanding can arise from short periods of intense revelation.  This happened in the past 24 hours with respect to the subject of time.

The leaving of the leaves is an annual reminder that we too will leave.

Life:  I’m driving east on I-90 after an intense period of work in the city: big meetings; small meetings; one on one meetings; board meetings.  I’m tired yes, but quickly brought to awe and worship as I see the maples and cottonwoods changing color, and leaves falling in the wind.  Every autumn is a reminder of both the gift and brevity of life for me.  Something about the trees losing their leaves shakes me awake, and I ask God, at least annually, at least in the fall, to empower me to live wisely, and well because I’m mindful that life is short.  An autumn will happen, someday, when I won’t be here to see it.  That’s why my hope is to keep my daily priorities more or less aligned with my mission statement.  I don’t want to get to the end of the game and realize that I’ve lived just to survive rather than serve, to consume rather than create, to gain rather than give.   “…teach us to number our days…” said the Psalmist, and yesterday the annual reminder of that prayer was in full color on the trees and in the air.

Art:  That episode last night ended with the mom owning up, for the first time, to her passivity regarding her daughter’s struggles with weight – owned up to the fact that her husband’s death, and particularly the circumstances surrounding it, left her empty, with no love to give her children.  The daughter owned some stuff too, in a real conversation that came about 25 years later than it needed to because we think that “time heals all wounds” for some stupid reason.

Right there, in the midst of that conversation, the producer embedded a profound Damien Rice song called “Older Chests” which poetically exposes how we speak out of both sides of our mouths regarding time.  On the one hand: “I’ll be fine.  I just need time” and on the other, “Everything’s falling apart as time marches on”.  He exposes the folly that time heals anything at all.  Yes, time is needed, but only time plus the hard work of forgiveness, or confession, or a next step of service or generosity, or a reconciliation of a relationship, or a naming of your addiction and getting help, or a step of brutal honesty — only those things heal.  Time, without the intervention of our next steps, just leads to decay, and ‘presenting problems’ and unchecked addictions that are either visible or hidden.

Revelation:  Then next, I read my devotions this morning, and came to this:  The conventional explanation regarding suffering is that God sends us the burden because God knows that we are strong enough to handle it, but this is all wrong. Living in a fallen world sends us the problem, not God. When we try to deal with it, we find out that we are not strong. We are weak; we get tired, we get angry, overwhelmed. . . . But when we reach the limits of our own strength and courage, something unexpected happens. We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves. And in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on. (My paraphrase of a good word from Richard Rohr this morning.)

So there you have it.  A theme just keeps coming up over and over again with incredible intensity for 24 hours:  “You’re getting older Richard, and your years of enjoying autumn leaves are numbered.  Use your time wisely!”  Next up:  “Time heals nothing Richard, and that show which mirrors your life so closely exposes the steps you need to take toward community in certain relationships because time doesn’t create community – calls, and supper, and conversations, and hikes, and laughter and truth telling – these create community in time.  And finally, “There are times of suffering, but these times can be only be redeemed, not by passively riding the waves of more time, but by actively taking steps that move us to whatever we need to move toward, be it forgiveness, gratitude, dependency, truth telling, or whatever.

Time heals nothing.  And I know it better today than yesterday at this time because God speaks through falling leaves, TV shows, and text… thanks be to God.

Silence, Suicide and the folly of our “left vs right” polarization

The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy… but I have come that they might have life!  – Jesus the Christ

Some weeks feel darker than others, exposing the confusion, despair, and unanswered questions that are always there.  Usually we can distract ourselves with a good IPA, maybe a little recreation, or a cheer for our team.  But when Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade both commit suicide, our surface pursuits are stripped away, for a few moments at least, and we’re reminded that no amount of travel, wealth, fame, or physical comfort, can assure us of a sense that life’s worth living.

Each untimely loss is tragic, but the fame of these two not only creates a breadth of grief, it highlights the untidy reality that suicide rates are on the rise, dramatically.  45,000 take their own lives each year, twice the number as deaths by homicide.  It’s the 2nd leading cause of death among the 15-34 demographic.  As a pastor I know the devastation it leaves behind and can tell you its like no other.

We’re fools if we don’t pause, at least for a moment, to acknowledge that the world we’ve created isn’t working very well.  When you add gun violence, death as the byproduct of addiction, and untimely death as the byproduct of our inability to access medical treatments into the mix, the picture becomes even darker.

It’s at this point in my writing that I get frustrated these days.  I know that if I talk about the systemic problems of our culture’s obsession with personal freedom, some on the right will label me a liberal anti-Christian.  When I offer the truth that, no matter how unjust one’s circumstances, no matter how bleak one’s situation, there’s a hope and healing, in Christ, available to every person, without cost, I’ll be labelled a religious fanatic by some on the left.   The need for systemic change and the call to individual responsibility/opportunity have somehow become adversaries in this highly polarized world.   We’re polarized, shooting each other over either/or straw men erected by ministries and political parties desperately in need of the “other” to be vilified.

But meanwhile, a world class chef, whose travel and friendships seemed exemplary to most of us, commits suicide.  A couple stuck in poverty and wracked with health challenges poison themselves by lighting their BBQ in their bedroom letting their cats out while they choke on carbon monoxide.  Another young gay man commits suicideTo the theological left, who believe these problems are systemic, and to the right, who believe the problems are personal, I offer the same answer:  yes.  

In a world of death, Christ makes the audacious claim that he has come to give “life for the ages” to anyone who’ll turn to him.  This is the promise of a personal transformation, whereby our spirits are united with the resurrected Christ, so that we’re empowered with wisdom, grace, strength, joy, and peace that is beyond our capacity to realize on our own. “Jesus is the answer” has powerful truth in it.  There are people, around the world, whose faith in Christ fills them with a vibrancy and joy that can only be described as otherworldly.  I’ve seen this with my own eyes on every continent: Tibetan refugees filled with joy in spite of losing their homeland, survivors of the Rwandan genocide with broad smiles speaking of the power of Christ to reconcile, families trapped in systemic poverty finding strength in worship and generosity – in each case, people whose lives have been transformed by Christ radiated a joy that was beyond comprehension. Yes, the people on the theological right are on to something.  A personal relationship with Jesus makes a difference, which should come as no surprise, since Jesus spoke of it himself.

On the other hand, Rwandans do work for systemic change.  Victims of the #metoo movement who’ve found power in Christ also work to change the culture so that sexual predation doesn’t continue to steal childhoods, and livelihoods, and dignity.  Brian Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy,” powerfully articulates the reality that the fulness of God’s vision for humanity includes not only inward renewal, but systemic change – that lynching is not OK, nor restricting voting rights for certain classes, nor any of a host of other oppressive tactics that scar our national story.  It’s no good calling the oppressed “other” to simply be born again while closing our hearts to their needs for justice right here – right now.  Jesus didn’t say, “I was hungry and you gave me a sermon…”  Yes – the people on the theological left are also on to something:  Systems need changing, and they need changing in Jesus’ name.

So why, in God’s name, are we shooting each other, hating each other, arguing with each other, and defending our limited understanding of issues? Meanwhile, the world continues to reel as the systemic principalities and powers, and the personal sins of each human conspire to create a world that is so dark, so hopeless, so disturbing, that the number of people choosing to exit early is rising rapidly enough that suicide is now officially declared a public health crisis.

Would to God that this becomes a wake up call to churches everywhere.  There’s a meaning crisis behind the health crisis that is suicide – and the church would do well to demonstrate the power of Christ to fill human hearts with meaning, hope, and contentment – while at the same time prophetically investing its voice and strength in addressing systemic issues of poverty, lack of access to health care, school shootings, racism, and sexism that are choking our vitality.

We need the Jesus who says “come unto me all you who labor and are weighed down…and I will give you rest” as much as we need the Jesus who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind” all because God’s good reign has arrived through Jesus.  

Kierkegaard wrote “Either-Or” in 1843.  Maybe my next book should be “Both-And” because one thing I know for certain.  Shooting each other, and over-identifying our faith with particular political parties is simply not working.

 

 

Post a Review – maybe win a book… or two…or three.

It’s Black Friday, and I’m here to help you with your Christmas Shopping!

It’s this simple:

  1. If you’ve read it, write and post a review of The Map is Not the Journey on either Amazon or Facebook.
  2. show me a link to your review in a message on facebook, or a comment here.
  3. that’s it – you’re entered in a drawing for two winners that happens on December 3rd.

1st place (random drawing) wins 2 copies of “The Map is not the Journey” and one copy of “The Colors of Hope” (winner of a Christianity Today “Best Book” award in 2011)

2nd place wins one copy of “The Map is not the Journey”

Thanks, in advance, to all who are able to share their reviews of “The Map is not the Journey”.

And here’s hoping your journey throughout the Advent season is filled with the peace and joy of Christ.

 

 

Let the Journey Begin – An invitation to travel to the Alps with me

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all” is how Helen Keller put it.  She’s was onto something, surely.  When Dave Matthews mused about the “Ants Marching” in his masterful music some years ago, it seemed to me he was pondering a sort of inevitable decay into a ritual of breakfast, commute, work, commute, supper, exhaustion, repeat.  There are surely forces at work in the systems that are western civilization contributing to this dismal picture.  However, I’d suggest that Jesus wants to infuse our normal daily existence with Divine Life so that in the midst of whatever it is we’re doing, the source of wisdom, joy, hope, mercy, justice, generosity, compassion, and service that is Christ bubbles up from deep within.  What’s more, this kind of life is available to us every single day, even the mundane ones, the unchosen periods of suffering, the challenges.

I needed to leave my job for three months and trek through the Alps to learn this lesson, and learn I did, and I’m thrilled to share my adventures with you in my new book The Map is not the Journey: Faith Renewed While Hiking the Alps”.  The death of my close friend in a paragliding accident in the Alps came just at a point in my career where I was beginning to question the future.  The convergence of these elements led, a year later, to my wife and I doing a 40 day, 400 kilometer trek through the Alps.  Beginning in Italy, we went on to experience the Alps in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.  Lessons learned there, along with all the adventure of it (yes, we did walk into our private room one night to find a couple sleeping in our bed!) are found in this new offering, now available at Amazon and fine booksellers.  Each chapter includes a link to photos from the stories of that chapter, in hopes that you’ll experience the trip we took in a small way too.

It’s a book for everyone who’s wondering what’s next, at any age.  

It’s for those whose lives have turned out differently than they’d expected.  

It’s for those who are tired, and looking a fresh infusion of life in their daily routine. 

It’s for those who have set goals that they failed to meet.  

It’s for those who want to learn about hut to hut travel in the Alps, or long range hiking.  

In short – I hope it’s for a lot of people! 

Here’s a little video teaser I made on my iphone.

You can help this book succeed in a few simple ways:

If you think you know people who might like it, share your purchase, or this blog post, on your social media.  Thanks!

Reviews on Amazon are always helpful.  Thanks!

What some have said who’ve read it:

Denny Rydberg – President Emeritus of Young Life . “For those feeling fatigue after years of faithfully doing the same thing, for those looking for new eyes to see what God is doing and has on his mind, and for those who need a jolt of adventure, this is the book to read.” 

Les Parrott, PHD – “If your spirit is weary or your faith is running dry, this book is like a refreshing drink from an alpine spring.  Richard paints incredible word pictures and takes you on a compelling journey of transformation.”  

Jim Zorn (former NFL coach and player) – “Richard’s travels aren’t just good stories of adventures.  They’re also instructive on how unexpected everyday experiences can shape us to become better people.  Those looking to find transformation in the commonplace will benefit from this book.”  

Please share this post if you think others would benefit from the book.  Thanks!

 

The Subtle Seduction of Letting Ourselves be Bent

My present study of The Song of Solomon for the preaching series at the church I lead has collided with my reading of “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit”.  The result has led me to believe that we need to rethink our notions of “sin”, because our wrong understanding has often led to lives of fear rather than confidence, legalism rather liberty, and anxiety rather than joy.  Here’s what I mean:

I. Our typical notion of sin has do with obvious dark behaviors.  Murdering another human is sin.  Drinking yourself silly is sin. Hating, or even ignoring, people who are different than you is sin.  Profligate sexual indulgence, outlandish greed – all these things are seen as sin, and rightly so.  It’s the realm of darkness, and we rightly point out that: “this is the judgement – light has come into the world but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil…”

The trouble comes when we begin to vilify the activity that is at the source of the sin and call it dark, simply because of the risk of indulging the sin.

We’re afraid of anger because we’re afraid of murder.  We’re afraid of alcohol because we’re afraid of drunkenness.  We’re afraid of challenging someone of a different race because we’re afraid of racism.  We’re afraid of sex because we’re afraid of all that happens when sex is misused.  You get the picture; and the picture isn’t pretty.  It’s a picture tantamount to that of the climber whose only goal is to not fall.  This fear-based approach will no only suck the joy out of living, but fill the soul with an aversion to failure and worse, avoidance of much that God calls good.

This is a far cry from what Jesus appeared to have in mind when he said, “I have come that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly“.  Wrong notions of sin can strangle the new life Christ has in mind.

II.  a Truer Notion of Sin: Sin is light twisted.  In “Out of the Silent Planet“, the first book in my favorite science fiction space trilogy, CS Lewis describes sinful humanity as “bent ones”, a perfect description because it describes a species still capable of creativity, majesty, beauty, and generosity – but who have been “bent” by sin, so that all the glorious qualities inherent in human nature have been corrupted.

The gift of sex becomes pornography, disease, dehumanizing abuse of power, and sexual slavery.

The gifts of food and drink become obesity, eating disorders, body image issues, and drunkenness.

The gift of human diversity becomes racism, oppression, and slavery.

The gift of work becomes industrialization, child labor, environmental degradation, and economic oppression.

You get the picture.  God gives humanity gifts and we find ways to bend and twist them so that they destroy both ourselves and others.

This is an important distinction though, because the way forward is not to smash the original thing, but to recover the meaning of the original thing.  This is what Song of Solomon is trying to say through its poetry, which exalts covenant love, and contrasts that with the usury and oppression so typical, not only in pornography and prostitution, but also in many marriages that have lost any sense of intimacy.  The book doesn’t trash sex.  It declares that in a setting of vulnerability and commitment, of affirmation and playfulness – full arousal, full pursuit, and ultimately full indulgence, is a thing to be celebrated.  Recover the thing (sex in this case), rather than blaming the thing as the source of the sin.  Sin is a good thing bent!

III.  Bending our desires back to their Original Design is what Christ does!   

This is what I love about the new book I’m reading.  It declares:

“…discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all…Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves.”

To the extent that we allow Christ to realign our lives, there’s a sort of spiritual chiropractic thing that happens.

Whereas before, sex was an appetite, now its an artful expression of intimacy.

Whereas before anger was a thing to be avoided, now there’s a realization that, before there’s a move towards advocacy, or repentance, or justice, there must often be anger.

Whereas before the ever expanding GDP was a sign of progress, a discipleship paradigm considers not just national financial wealth, but a nation’s capacity to care for its children, its poor, its vulnerable, its sick, its children living in the womb.

Before it was either “live to eat” (food addiction) or “eat to live” (utilitarian ‘food as fuel’), now its “food as sacrament”, invoking gratitude and pleasure for the gifts of sustenance.

God is aligning our loves and longings, as “You Are What You Love” declares.  And alignment leads to greater joy, strength, capacity for service, and ultimately a greater life.

Don’t begin with a massive NO!, either in your own discipleship or in your articulation of your faith to others.

Begin with the glorious YES!, that the life for which we were created is still available, and the seeds of that good life are found in uniting with Christ, who will align us so that we might “run and not be weary…walk and not faint