Friday, September 29, 2017

Water from Rocks

The Israelites were pretty great at complaining.  Well… me, too…

I am an excellent planner.  I am not so awesome when my plans fail, and I’m not just talking about the ‘big stuff.’  It can take me days to get over it if someone orders the ‘wrong’ ice cream on vacation (OK, I’m lying.  I can take years.  I am actually referencing a real thing that happened years ago…)

And yet, somehow, I find myself living this crazy, divergent, dichotomous life that I did not expect…

Some weeks back, I was described as ‘tenacious’ (I think endearingly so).  The words that followed were, “Nothing shakes her…”

Are you kidding me?  I must either be wearing an incredibly convincing mask, or I’m actually morphing into a person who can handle transition, change, and spontaneity at break neck speeds.  I hope it’s the latter, but I’m fairly certain the jury is still out.

My lists of tasks to accomplish on any given day have become somewhat humorous.  As an example, among my responsibilities yesterday were things like: buy every Halloween decoration ever created, interview a philosophy and religion department chair, finalize details for a class reunion, and make rocks out of baking soda.  Who has a list like that?  To be completely candid, the baking soda rocks were really getting to me.

I feel as if I should reiterate… over and over again, for the sake of redundancy… that I like my job, and I’m glad to be here.  Before I accepted this position, I made sure I could come to terms with the phrase, “Wherever you are, be all there” (-Jim Elliot).  It’s a good place, these are good people, and I am committed to serving them well for as long as I’m here.

I have, however, had to come up with creative ways in which to wholeheartedly embrace this time of my life, which is not quite what I expected it to be.  I had a couple of very convicting moments, yesterday.

First (and I would not recommend this to anyone who is even mildly struggling, because it’s so very raw), I decided it might be a fabulous idea to use St. John of the Cross’, Dark Night of the Soul, as devotional material.  Allow me to give you a few moments to laugh at me… 

Alright, that’s enough now…

But seriously, Chapter II.  Is my crappy attitude coming from pride?  Have I become one of ‘those people’ who resolves much and accomplishes little?  I don’t want to fall into that, “the more they do, the less they are satisfied” (pg. 8) category.  And I know that’s my M.O.  If I’m going to swing the pendulum (widely) to either side, it’s the ‘try to drown out everything even remotely difficult with busyness’ side.  And this is where the parallel with the Israelites comes in.  These people actually uttered words about how it would have been better to die in slavery than to be free in the desert!

Now, there’s a lot that can be said about how they should have just entered the Promised Land when directed to do so, in the first place.  I get that.  But it’s also rather remarkable that God was still willing to provide for them, even if it meant doing insanely miraculous and unexplainable things like sending bread and meat from heaven and making water spring from rocks. 

And here I sit, looking at my baking soda creations that will (hopefully) get this point across to Kindergartners and fifth graders and teenagers and me: Even when people mess up, God is faithful.

To be honest, the most life-giving conversation I had, yesterday, was when my podcast guest said something to the effect of, “I was doing children’s ministry while I earned my PhD.” 

Wait, really?  What a breath of fresh air!  As it turns out, it doesn’t hurt to have something to keep us grounded in real world, accessible theology.


Monday, September 18, 2017

We are Water

Psalm 77:16-19, “The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (NIV).

This might be far… far… far… too metaphorical, and I’m honestly not sure exactly where I’m going with it.  Fair warning.  I love the daily office readings (if I didn’t, it would be difficult to continue to blog like this… although I admit I have been less consistent than I would prefer in recent weeks), but the amount of repetition sometimes makes it difficult to dig deep enough for new insights on a regular basis.  This morning, however, I think I hit the water table…

We are water.  Raging, unpredictable, profound. 

Infants are made up of something like 78% water.  When you bring a new baby home, it’s basically like buying a gallon of spring water at the grocery store, except you do have to consider the other 22% of human being that requires work to keep it alive… so it’s actually not like that, at all…

By the time we become adults, we have writhed and convulsed and trembled and quaked enough that we’re only about 55%-60% water.  Transformation takes place, but that’s still a huge percentage.  It’s more than half.  But we’re a little less fluid than we started out…

God creates with water.  And then later, God destroys with water.  And then even later than that, God redeems with water.  And we’re water!  I wonder what that says about our creative, destructive, and redemptive potential in the world.  Maybe everything.  Maybe we should be praying for God’s invisible footprints to trample our mightiness and to cut a path straight through the middle of who we are. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

To Lay Down Our Lives

This morning, the following verse struck me:

I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (NIV).

Sounds nice (wait, what?).

It’s pretty basic… even fundamental… and yet I think we have lost sight of the significance of sacrifice in the name of love.  I think, much like the expert in the law from Luke 10, we are asking, “Who are my brothers and sisters?  Who is my neighbor?”

I think we are asking how far we actually have to go in order to (just barely) satisfy the requirements of the law.  We want to justify ourselves, but that’s not what love is about.

Love is extravagant.  Love is excessive.  Love is asking, “How much can I give,” as opposed to, “How little can I get away with.” 

The second question is more like tolerance…

No, it’s not even that.

The second question is more like saving face through the use of deception and fa├žade.  Seriously, why even bother? 

Let’s not mistake inconvenience for persecution, friends.  We are called to lay down our lives for the other.  Love is about giving everything.  And it’s about giving everything for the people with whom we do not easily self-identify, because, “us and them,” is a false dichotomy.  The problem is not that people are diverse.  The problem is that we have failed to recognize the Imago Dei as the core of who we all are.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Maybe I’m Pharaoh

As we read the story of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt… as we read about the plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart… I’m not sure we ever put ourselves in Pharaoh’s place (at least, I didn’t, until this morning).

This revelation that I might be more like Pharaoh than I’d like to admit came on the heels of the narrative of the death of Ezekiel’s wife (see Ezekiel 24:15-27).  The story actually made me kind of angry (Do we admit that about Scripture?  I don’t really know…).    As I was reading, I had these moments where I thought, “Don’t you even care?” and, “For crying out loud, don’t let go!  Hang onto this!”  The words are rough: With one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears” (v.16)… after that, I just read blah… blah… blah… blah… blah…  And I am about 152% sure that’s not how I should hear the word of the Lord. 

In that frame of mind, somehow when I came to Exodus 10:21, as the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart and, “he was not willing to let them go,” I felt this weird (probably completely inappropriate) compassion for Pharaoh, which I never could have imagined.  I’m pretty sure it’s because I have trouble letting go of people (and situations… and things…), even when it’s hurting me… or them… 

This next part might come across incoherent, but please try to bear with me, because the whole thing was coming together pretty early in the morning…

A song came to mind… Caedmon’s Call (no surprise, since they have been my favorite since the mid-90s)… “Prove Me Wrong” (more of a surprise, since it comes from what is probably my least favorite Caedmon’s album, if there is such a thing, and clearly I am not a real fan of being proven wrong…).  Undoubtedly, this song surfaced specifically because of the line about Pharaoh, but it left me thinking more…

Is this holding on a doubt thing?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  I do know that Mark 9:24 keeps sounding loudly, somewhere at the subconscious level, lately: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (NIV).

I was recently described as tenacious (which I took as a compliment), but I am trying desperately to determine the appropriate balance between holding on and letting go.  Which one requires more belief?  I don’t love the answer…

Thursday, September 7, 2017


It’s a BCP and RCL mash-up kind of morning, because some days I just need both…

First, there’s Paul.  He’s writing to the Corinthians, and he’s frustrated.  He feels as if he has given them absolutely everything he has and everything he is, yet somehow mutual disappointment remains:

II Corinthians 12:15, 20, “So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less… I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be” (NIV).

This passage is not expressly about God’s love and sacrifice for us, but I couldn’t help but think about how God doesn’t always measure up to what we want God to be.  Of course, humanity has a rough time coming close to our potential on most days, so I stopped to wonder if we are also mutually disappointed. 

When I was a kid, disappointment was the worst punishment.  If a parent or a teacher or a friend said, “I’m disappointed in you,” the level of shame was unbearable.  It was all the motivation I needed to “be good…” or at least to “not get caught.”  No time out, spanking, or loss of privilege could ever compare to the pain of not adding up… not meeting (and often exceeding) the expectations of other people… being a disappointment.  I like to think I’m not a people pleaser, as an adult, and I highly doubt most people would describe me as such, but the truth is: it still eats away at my soul if I let anyone down.  And I am, undoubtedly, my own worst critic.

How do we reconcile this?  How do we come to a point where we do find ourselves… and others… and God as we hope us all to be?      

I’m not interested in pat answers, but put simply: we have to change our expectation:

Psalm 37:3-7a, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him…” (NIV).

We can’t be Christian and selfish.  The two are mutually exclusive.  How did we miss this memo?  Life (and faith) works best when we align our desires with those for which we were created.

Now, please don’t misunderstand!  As human beings, created with free will—the ability to choose anything of which we are capable—we can do what we want.  But there is an old adage that goes something like this:

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

Well… keepin’ it real, sometimes I hate that!  Of course, those are probably exactly the times when I need to realign my expectations… and my thoughts… and my feelings… and my attitude… and my actions…  Because this all really comes down to whether or not we are going to be the people we were created to be, and that requires the same kind of complete self-giving that puts the other first. 

Not easy, but what else would we expect?