31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Nine

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Do you see that lovely arch out there? It is the source of the name of the state park in which it is located – Natural Bridges. We drove out there from our retreat center fairly early in the morning of our first full day. Discovering that it would cost us ten bucks to drive onto the campground, we opted to go in the opposite direction, toward the parking lot right at the edge of the cliff that overlooks this rock. From that viewpoint, this is what we saw:

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Do you see any sign of that lovely arch from this angle?

Nada. Zilch. Nope. 

Your point of view, your perspective, your position makes a huge difference in what you can actually see. I’ve had days, I’ve had seasons, I’ve had YEARS when parts of my life looked like a solid, dark wall. And then, a simple shift in my viewpoint, a slight difference in my perspective, a new angle of vision made all the difference in the world. 

At no point in time can we see every possibility that exists in a given situation. WE don’t have the power, the ability, the intelligence, the vantage point to make such a thing possible. But . . . there is Someone who does. There is Someone who can. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to wait. To trust that with the passage of time and the accumulation of more experience, the gathering of more facts, the readiness to engage in more of those ongoing conversations in life, we will begin to see an old, impossibly bleak problem with freshness and new insight. Maybe that blank wall has a lovely big hole in it! Maybe we can sail our small craft of a life right on through it and come out the other side with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of a brand new view.

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Telling It Backwards and Forwards — a Sermon Preached at Pasadena Covenant Church

It was a privilege and a joy to rejoin our home church yesterday morning as the preacher for the day. This is the place where we raised our family, where we are known well. They find themselves in another interim period and there was one text among all four for yesterday that just seemed perfect for this time of transition they find themselves in. 

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“Telling It Backwards and Forwards”
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Preached at Pasadena Covenant Church
August 14, 2016
Diana R.G. Trautwein

Listening to the lectionary texts for this week, you might think that today’s sermon would be full of doom and gloom! Jim read for us some pretty discouraging words from the prophet Isaiah, words about God’s Vineyard. Even the gospel reading Melissa did for us sounds a bit harsh to our ears, those particular Jesus-words from the gospel of Luke.

The vineyard of ancient Israel, God’s hand-picked beacon of a people, was disgustingly low on fruit, and God has had it up-to-here with them. Pretty bad news.

And our gentle, peace-loving Savior — talking about bringing swords and fire and all kinds of muck and mayhem. I’m guessing this one is not anybody’s favorite gospel passage. Again, sounds a whole like bad news.

And then, there’s the bad news all around us, all the time, as we look at the world we live in today — which, in reality, is pretty much like any other ‘day’ in history you might choose, I suppose. We’re not likely to see a lot of good news out there either, are we?

It seems that we human creatures have this knack for messing things up, sometimes in spectacular ways. And if the Spirit had pushed me to consider any of the other three texts for this morning, I have a hunch the sermon you’re about to hear would be different from the one that came to me in pieces over the last couple of weeks.

Before my husband and I left on what turned out to be a strenuous (but incredibly beautiful) 18 days of vacation, which took us out of state for most of the month of July, I selected the New Testament epistle reading as the focus for this morning’s primary truth-telling time.

I chose it for a couple of reasons – first of all, I chose it because it is not radiating with what sounds like bad news, though it doesn’t shy away from the realities of life in any way. I don’t know about you all, but I, for one, am more than a little bit tired of the bad news we hear so much about, every minute of every day, in this negative campaign season we are slogging through. It seemed like the words of The Preacher to the Hebrews might provide a bit of a different worldview from what is being televised, broadcast, texted and tweeted on all sides these days.

So that’s one of the reasons for this choice today. But the primary reason I chose this text is because . . . I love it — it’s one of my favorite sections in all of scripture and it has been for a long time. So let’s dig into it, okay?

The book of Hebrews is a curious one. Folded in with the epistles at the back of our New Testament, it reads more like an extended sermon, one written for a congregation going through a tough time. This sermon-in-13-chapters was probably delivered in a pretty narrow time frame, with some scholars guessing at 64 to 70 A.D. The original readers were part of a church of Jesus located somewhere east of Jerusalem and they were experiencing a virulent wave of persecution, with no end in sight.

These Hebrew believers were wondering if it was worth it to hang in there, to ‘keep on believin.’ Maybe it was time to just fold their tents and quietly slip away into the gathering darkness. Maybe it was time to give up the faith.

NO, says the Preacher. No. Remember where you came from, concentrate on where you’re headed, and run the race.

 Run. The. Race.

Despite what some quarters of the church might wish us to believe, we here in the United States of America are not in any way, shape or form being tortured for our faith. Yes, indeed, there are some decisions, values and attitudes which can make us feel sidelined, maybe even occasionally discriminated against — but, in truth, compared to these 1st century believers, we are persecution-free.

Yet, we 21st century believers still struggle, don’t we? Sometimes we, too, wonder if it’s worth it to hang in there, to keep walkin’ the talk. Life can be challenging — and the journey is not guaranteed to be pain-free. In fact, all of us — every one of us in this room — knows what it feels like to be discouraged, to feel weighed down by the cares and concerns of this world, to wade through the morass of personal grief and loss, to wonder if we can actually put our foot out there again, the one that needs to take the next step in the road.

So, despite the differences in our settings, I think this congregation of believers in downtown Pasadena needs to hear these words every bit as much as those wonderers and strugglers somewhere in the ancient middle east.

We step into this written sermon very near the end of it. The Preacher has been doing some heavy-duty teaching about the connections between the Old Covenant and the New, pointing out the remarkable ways in which Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s plan to rescue humankind from our own brokenness and sin.

As the chapter which contains our reading begins, our Preacher gives us a beautiful definition of what the word ‘faith’ means. It’s found in verse one:

“What is faith?” he asks. “It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”

What follows from that definition is a veritable roll call of people from Jewish history. It’s a specific and fascinating list, containing both men and women, scoundrels and saints, almost all of them introduced by one word in the Greek: pistei – which means, ‘by faith . . .’

Our text for the morning picks up at verse 29 and continues through the 2nd verse of chapter 12. If you have your Bible, please turn and follow along with me. I will be reading from the New Living Translation”

29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians chasing them tried it, they all were drowned.30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven days, and the walls came crashing down.31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city when they refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32 Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak and Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and all the prophets. 33 By faith, these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. 36 Some were mocked and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. 37-38 Some died by stoning and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world.39 They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.40 For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends, from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven.”

The word of the Lord

 If I didn’t know better, I might suspect that this preacher had some training in the African American tradition. Did you hear the cadences? The rhythms? The litany, the roll call, starts slow, then picks up speed and finally just seems to cry out for a little call and response, don’t you think?

Verse 29 starts out with specific names and events — and I want you to notice a few things about those specific names. Do you recognize them all? Well, David, for sure. Probably Samuel, and if you have a Sunday School background, you’ve likely heard of Sampson and Gideon.

But Barak? In that particular story – at least as I remember it — the hero is a woman, a judge named Deborah. And Jephthah? That guy who made a foolish vow, one that God never asked him to make, and then had to put his gorgeous daughter to death as a result? Yeah, that’s the one.

And then there’s the prostitute on the list! Rahab is also listed in Matthew’s gospel as part of the genealogy of Jesus. No way does Matthew talk about her history of prostitution, however! Yet this preacher takes pains to remind us of that truth. Why do you suppose that is?

Well maybe it’s to remind his listeners that nobody’s family tree is perfect. We’ve all got some wacky cousins out there somewhere, don’t we? And we in the church are no exception. Truth be told, we’re all a little wacky, in our own, unique way, aren’t we? BUT no matter how wacky we may be, every one of us is given the same gifts of grace, every one of us is invited to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, every one of us has a part to play in the telling of this amazing story we cling to.

Dick and I were an active part of this body of believers for 21 years. We’ve been attached to some of you for another 20 years, always happy to read the list of prayer requests, coming to as many memorial services as we can manage, praying for you all regularly. And this last week, we began to make a list of all the wonderful and wacky saints whom we know from this community who are now a part of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ described in this passage. I know we’ve missed a lot of people on our list, so I want to invite you, right now, to help us fill in the gaps. I invite you to call out names of those who’ve moved from this life to the next, women and men who were a part of this family of faith. Let’s see how many we can come up with in a minute or two:

(Names rang out from all around the room and I very quickly read through our list.)

Now stop for just a minute.

Stop.

Hear those names ringing around this room. Close your eyes and see those whom you know and love, see them living their lives of faith, wacky and weird and wonderful as they each were. Breathe in deeply. And say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ for the glorious truth that we — those of us in this room, at this moment in time and history — we had the privilege of watching each of these people live out their faith, imperfections, mistakes and all. These dear people are our witnesses, ones who tell us the story of faith from our past, ones we carry around with us every minute of every day until we are reunited with them in the New Creation. Thank you, God. Thank you!

 

I want to invite you back into the text now, and point out that after this specific list of witnesses from the past, this list of those who were faithful, the sermon shifts gears a bit and becomes much more generic — no more names, just situations from our shared history as followers of Israel’s God. And then, there is another dramatic shift, and this is an important one — there is a shift from positive outcomes of faith to negative ones. And the contrast is stark.

No more battles won, flames extinguished, the dead brought back to life. No. Now we hear of death and persecution, of torture and hunger and pilgrims wandering the world in abject poverty and disgrace.

Both outcomes are possible, friends. Both. There are no guarantees of a suffering-free life to be found anywhere in our gospel. In the reading from Luke, Jesus tells us that truth, too. As we heard, Isaiah the prophet warns Israel of bad times to come.

Even the psalmist in Psalm 80, which is also on today’s lectionary list, asks a heart-rending question, one that feels familiar to all of us on some days:

 “O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.”

There is no room here for health-and-wealth, prosperity-gospel, the power-of-positive-thinking. There is not. But, oh, friends. There is room for joy. There is room for purpose.There is even room for contentment, no matter what the particular circumstances of our lives may be at any given moment. And we find that room in the last transition of the passage before us today. Chapter 12 takes us there, with power and with hope. “Therefore,” the preacher cries out.

Oh, what a powerful word! Therefore, because we have this ‘cloud of witnesses,’ these people from our past who speak to us of faith and endurance, of commitment and completion, we ourselves can enter the arena of life and run the race that is set out before each and every one of us. He’s told us the backwards part of this race — the human foundation upon which we stand, the storyline that is uniquely ours.

Now, he says, enter the fray, secure in your unique place in the line-up of God.

Yes, life can be discouraging, even frightening. Suffering is real and pretty much guaranteed to every member of the human race, but . . . there is a hope which keeps us going. There is a scarlet thread, a bright cord — to borrow the image from the story of Rahab — there is a lifeline. We find it when we turn always and forever toward the future that awaits us. And the best way, indeed, the only way to make that turn is to turn our eyes upon Jesus.

The old gospel song got it right. It’s an oldie that I sometimes sing with my mom, who is 95 years old and suffers from severe dementia. She is nearly blind, almost deaf, hasn’t a clue who I am, beyond the fact that she loves me and enjoys going out to lunch when we load up her walker and head out twice each week. It’s been a tough thing to watch her disappear, and yet . . . there are such lovely pieces remaining. One of them is her deep faith in Jesus, and one of them is music. She remembers the 1st verse and chorus of lots and lots of old hymns! And this one is a favorite for both of us. Maybe you know it, too? Sing it with me . . .

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.”

Pretty much exactly what the preacher is talking about in 12:2, don’t you think?

We need to tell one another the stories of our past, oh, yes, we do. But even more than that, we need always to turn our eyes forward, toward the Savior who beckons us, to look at the One who went before us on this journey. Jesus, who endured such suffering and shame, and yet who radiated the love of God everywhere he went.

Henri Nouwen’s words came into my inbox every day and this last week, these particular ones went right to the center of me:

“Jesus is the savior of the world.
We are not.
We are called to witness, always with our lives and sometimes with our words,
to the great things God has done for us.
But this witness must come from a heart that is willing to give
without getting anything in return.
The more we trust in God’s unconditional love for us,
the more able we will be to proclaim the love of Jesus
without any inner or outer conditions.”

 Something about that little paragraph makes me wonder if the ‘entangling sin’ the preacher talks about in that last verse of our text today might be something like this:

an unwillingness to believe that God loves us, exactly as we are, and to trust that God is continually at work within us to form us into whole, healthy, loving, giving people who bear a striking resemblance to our Elder Brother, whose name is Jesus.

We are admonished to ‘strip down’ in these last verses. And if you take all the extras away, that, for me, is the GOOD NEWS in a nutshell:

God loves us as we are, God is at work within us to form us into our truest selves, which will look more and more like Jesus himself. Now WE are called to be the love of God at work in the world.

We are called to live loved.

That’s it, the stripped down version, the ready-for-the-race truth of it all. The best news I know anything about.

It is Jesus himself who leads the way into that stadium, my friends. The ones we love who’ve gone before us are important parts of our story and it is oh-so-good to remember and celebrate them. But it is Jesus who is the pattern, Jesus who is the forerunner, Jesus who is the Savior.

And together — all those who’ve gone before us and all those who will come after us — together, we will be saved, we will be safe, in the best and most ultimate sense of that word.

Because Jesus’ entry into history marks the biggest transition ever recorded anywhere by anyone. Slashing through space and time, our Divine Visitor came to call us home, and with his life, with his death, with his resurrection, he showed us how to get there.

Don’t give up, the Preacher tells those 1st century believers! It’s gonna be scary, it’s gonna hurt, its gonna be hard. But don’t give up. “Look at Jesus,” he challenges them. Remember his life of love, remember how he endured such shame and torture for you, remember how he loves you. Remember that he prays for us, sitting now at the right hand of the Father. Remember that he roots for us as we run the race before us.

Keep telling the story, Hebrew believers.

Keep telling the story, Pasadena Covenant Church.

Yes, tell it backwards — remember who you are and where you’ve been. Celebrate all of it. Give thanks for all of it. And then, tell it forwards. Look to Jesus to lead you, to set the pace, to take you the distance. You find yourselves in an in-between time . . . again. And that’s a hard place to be. But it won’t be forever. The story is not over.

Look!

The crowds are cheering! There are hundreds of us, thousands of us, believing in Jesus and believing in you. God is not done with storytelling through this congregation, not by a long shot. And I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of that story looks like in this good place. Can I get an amen?

Amen!

 

 

 

 

My Hair, Myself — SheLoves, August 2016

A fascinating theme this month — the single word, ‘hair.’ Well. What came to me, as I was traveling nearly 2500 miles on an epic road trip last month, was this bit of stuff about my grandmothers and me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/responses to that topic! Come on over and join the conversation!

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My paternal grandmother, Pearl Scott Smith Gold, at about age 80 (1960ish)

My Gran had long, thin, gray-and-white hair which she wore wound in a bun on the back of her head. It was a style reminiscent of the 1880’s or 90’s, and somehow suited her. For several years after my grandfather died, she would stay with us for two to three weeks at a time and shared my bedroom when she did. Every night of her stay, I would watch, fascinated, as she wound up chunks of that long, thin stuff around leather strips, which served as wave-setters while she slept. Then, in the morning, she would expertly comb and position every strand into a perfect loop, holding it in place with long hairpins.

My own hair at that stage of my life was the bane of my existence. It was almost as white as it is now, as my brother and I were complete towheads until we hit puberty, and it was thin and very, very straight. My mom thought it would be nice to have a curly-haired daughter, so she would periodically put me through the process of a permanent wave, which I considered to be nothing less than torture. The irony was, it never worked. Never. I would end up with frizz on half my head and stick straight hair on the other half.

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My brother Tom and I at about ages 3 and 5 – 1950ish — see?
Stick straight around the bottom, weird curls on top. Oy vey.

I think about us now, my elderly grandmother and my young self, and realize that what we think about, do with and understand about our hair say a lot about who we are and where we’ve come from. I come, on one side of my family, from that tall, thin, southern schoolmarm who married later than most and carried a lot of racial prejudice deep in her bones. On the other side, there was Nonnie, who was almost as wide as she was short (4’11”), lived with serious heart disease for half of her life (which extended 101 years despite that handicap), and began her own, very successful, business in her late 50s. She was an immigrant from Canada, and a very strong woman, though she hesitated to let that strength show, preferring to work underground in ways that were sometimes detrimental to the health of her family. While I knew her, Nonnie’s hair was short and curly.

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My maternal grandmother, Elsie Thompson Hobson, about 1980. She would have been 84 that year.

At this stage of my life, as I am staring at the last leg of my own journey on this planet, I remember with love and gratitude the contributions of those two women to the richness of my story. Gran would be shocked to discover that I served as a pastor in mid-life. I choose to believe that, after some thought and prayer, she would have been proud. She died when I was 18.

Nonnie, on the other hand, died the first year of my ministry life here in Santa Barbara. And as I commuted from the LA area for the first few months of that ministry, I would stop and visit her in the rest home which became her final stop. She grabbed my hand on one of those Thursday mornings and told me, through tears and with a fierce quality to her voice, that I was continuing the journey she never finished, a story I had never heard before that moment. She was headed to Winnipeg at the tender age of 19 to enter ministry training with the Salvation Army when she chose instead to marry the older, handsome man who had admired her singing on the street corners of Vancouver. That sweet moment of revelation provided one of the strongest benedictions of my life.

Each of my grandmothers survived difficult marriages, had their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses, carried within themselves deep intelligence (one educated, the other not) and pretty decent people skills. And Gran’s old fashioned hairdo and Nonnie’s more modern style said something about who they were.

I wonder, what does my own hair say about me?

Read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today, won’t you?

Remembering Who We Are — a Sermon

Preached at Montecito Covenant Church, Sunday, June 19, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

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Have you ever had one of those days when you wonder, “How in the heck did I get here?” Yeah? Well, me, too. In fact, today happens to be one of those days! How in this crazy world do I happen to be standing here, in this pulpit, struggling to find words that might bring both hope and challenge in the midst of the unspeakable pain, fear, and hate that seem to be exploding all around us in recent days?

Despite the fact that words of all kinds have been flying fast and furious — over the airwaves, across the internet, in conversations by the water cooler or on the street corner — very few of those words have been either hopeful or challenging. Gratefully, I discovered that the words set before us this week in the Common Lectionary are exactly those kind of words: ones that bring both hope and challenge,

You’ve heard three of our four texts already this morning — the beautiful psalm that we sang at the beginning, the one about the longing we sometimes feel for the presence of God; and then the words that Anna Sung so beautifully read for us earlier in the service, those strong words of encouragement in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, contrasting the work of the law with the work of the Gospel; and the narrative from Luke, the story of the man released from a legion of demons and restored to himself.

As sometimes happens in the lectionary design, all of these readings help to point us in the same direction today — the direction of hope, the direction of transformation, the direction of remembering who we are.

 Well, at least they point us in the direction of who we say we are, those of us who show up in this place on Sunday mornings. We claim to be those whose hearts long for God, people who are set free from legalism, women and men released from all kinds of demons, being brought back, day by day by day, to our best selves.

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And now, Scripture lesson number four speaks to those things as well. For this reading, we turn to Elijah, that wily, wiry, complicated, faithful, sometimes cranky, always interesting old prophet. Elijah is perhaps second only to Moses in the pantheon of great forerunners in the Old Testament. And like Moses sometimes did, our man Elijah finds himself in a hard place in today’s lesson. His world has quite literally gone to hell in a hand basket, and he is feelin’ it.

In the chapters just before the one we’ll look at today, Elijah has been very, very busy. Busy doing the good and difficult work of a being a prophet, and God has looked out for him in some miraculous ways. But . . . here’s the hard truth of this deal: God has also given him a job for which no one is ever thankful. That’s the problem with being a prophet, you see. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say. Yet, what a prophet says is almost always of utmost importance, can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, can sometimes even change the course of history.

I encourage you to read this saga for yourselves sometime later today — all of Elijah’s adventures in 1 Kings are found in the two chapters preceding the one before us today, chapters 17 and 18. But before you hear today’s passage from chapter 19, I want you to understand this: Elijah is a good guy. His very name means ‘faithful to Yahweh,’ the very personal self-chosen-title that God had given to Moses, so many centuries earlier.

Also important to remember is that Elijah has just come through an experience of demanding spiritual warfare, up there at the top of Mount Carmel, a place where the God he serves showed up, big-time.

In a perfect world, Elijah should have been celebrating at the beginning of our chapter today. He’s experienced some real success as a prophet, working in a dangerous time, with some very dangerous people. But enjoying success is not where the man is. No, not at all.

Listen for yourselves. I’ve invited some friends to read it for us today — open your Bibles to this text, by all means. But for now, just listen. Take in the story.

Insert here a 3-voice readers’ theater version of the morning text.

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 Oh, how I love this story! I really, really do. Why do I love it so? And why do I think it’s an important story for us right now, at this moment in time? First of all, I think it’s important because of two things that are found in most biblical narratives: this is a story that teaches us about ourselves, and, this is a story that teaches us about God.

Most of all, though, I love this story — and I believe it to be a story that is immediately applicable to the current state of the world and of the church — I love this story because it is TRUE. This is a story that is true in the biggest sense of that word. Whether or not what we have here is marked by incontrovertible, historic and factual accuracy or not, (and I choose to believe that it is), this narrative is one of the truest depictions of the human condition I’ve ever read anywhere. It speaks profoundly to our deep need for connection — to God, to ourselves, and to one another — and it also speaks to our need for a sense of purpose, especially when life feels overwhelming. This is a story about flight that becomes pilgrimage, of exhaustion transformed by refreshment, of deep discouragement relieved by renewed purpose.

And underneath it all, it is a journey that is at the same time inward, upward and outward — three words which pretty succinctly describe what is of primary importance for this moment in time, as well as for the old prophet on that long ago wilderness trek.

We begin with inward. I think all the best journeys begin this way — AA, in step 4, calls it ‘taking a searching and fearless moral inventory’ — and it’s tough to do. Hitting the wall is not fun, reaching bottom is, quite literally, the pits. But, oh!, it is so important.

Our friend Elijah is just plain done. And he says so, loud and clear. “I have had enough, Lord!” he cries. “Kill me now!” The man has worked hard, hard, hard. He’s been faithful and true. He’s been obedient to the word of the Lord as he understood it. And Jezebel was one scary queen. She had tremendous power and was viewed as the earthly mouthpiece for mighty Ba’al, the foreign god she and her husband Ahab were encouraging the Israelites to worship. So a threat from her, is a threat indeed. King Ahab didn’t seem to phase Elijah much. But Jezebel? He was outta there.

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Now intellectually, he must surely have known that Yahweh was greater, right? He’d just seen ample evidence of that on the top of Mt. Carmel, in the great battle of the Dueling Altars. Yet somehow, these words from Jezebel — coming to him through the mouth of a ‘messenger,’ we’re told — these are the words that finish him off.

Elijah is isolated, lonely, undone. So he runs immediately for the border, dumps his faithful servant, and then heads out into the boondocks, more alone at this point in time than he has ever been.

Why is it that when we’re feeling most alone, we so often do everything in our power to make sure that we ARE alone? Some scholars see this act as Elijah’s way of making a clear statement that he is DONE with the propheting gig. “See, Lord, no servant. Therefore, no work to do, right?” Whatever his reasons, the man who feels alone, is, now, indeed, alone.

Except.

Something quite wonderful happens. The text uses the exact same word here as the word applied to Jezebel’s servant — mal’ak — messenger. And because this entire story is told in a favorite Hebraic literary form called a chiasm, the double use of the word fits beautifully. A chiasm is an elegant structure that sets up parallels in a story or a poem from beginning to end, so that if you look at an outline of the entire story you can see how each piece from the beginning is resolved at the end.

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So, a messenger — called an ‘angel’ in most of our English translations — meets Elijah right here, in the middle of that vast wilderness, as he struggles to find a little shade under the scrawny branches of a solitary broom tree.

You know, I’ve never seen an angel with wings and a halo. But oh-my-word — I’ve seen lots of angels with flesh on ‘em over the years. Just this weekend, a ‘messenger’ from God spoke to me in a moment of panic and uncertainty. Three times. Three different angels from this congregation sent me single line texts, at exactly the right moment, saying they were praying for me as I worked on this sermon. So no matter what this particular messenger/angel looked like, I believe this person was a divine visitation. And here’s what I want us to pay particular attention to: the angel/messenger knew EXACTLY what Elijah needed most at this moment: he needed rest, he needed something to eat, he needed something to drink.

When we or someone we love — or even someone we don’t know personally, but care about very much, like all those who have suffered from the latest abominable massacre in our country, this horror in Orlando — when people are suffering and struggling, the very first and best thing that we can do is to see that their immediate physical needs are met. That’s why relief agencies step into crises with tangible gifts — water, food, cots to sleep on, counselors to meet with.

What is not needed in that first moment of crisis are words of condemnation, judgment, criticism, or conjecture. Elijah didn’t need that messenger to tell him he was acting like a coward. He didn’t need a voice labeling him an unforgiven sinner. He didn’t need any response other than the one he got: a gentle acceptance of his exhaustion, and the fulfillment of his at-the-moment, most pressing needs.

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And after those first needs are met, what Elijah received next was of equal importance: he heard kind words. Yes, he heard kind words, laced with empathy and understanding: “Get up and eat some more,” the messenger said to him, after he’d had some sleep and some food and some water. “Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.”

Some translations write that last line this way: “For it is too much for you.”

Exactly.

“It is too much for you.”

What has happened to our LGBT brothers and friends is too much for them. What has happened to our rational, peace-loving Muslim sisters and friends is too much for them. The ugly, hate-filled, side-swiping verbiage happening in our recent political conversation is too much for all of us.

And the best thing we can contribute — after any and all physical needs are met — the best thing we can offer in the midst of exhaustion and hatred is this: kind, sensible, true, loving words.

And only those words. In the immediate aftermath of crisis, we all need to sit down next to the person who is suffering and offer a kind and loving presence. There will be a time for action.There will. But not now.

And so, having slept, eaten, been refreshed by water, our hero sets off across the desert, heading for the Mount of God, called Horeb in this text, an alternate name for Mt. Sinai, that fabled place where Moses met God, and received the tablets of the law.

When I hit the wall at the end of 2001, while I was serving here as Associate Pastor, I took care of my physical needs first. I was exhausted and discovered I was also anemic. So I began to treat that. I was taking some medicines that were making things worse, not better, so I stopped those meds. And there were a few, not a lot, but a few, friends who called or wrote or visited and brought me kind words, too.

But the single most important thing that happened during those months of recovery was that I began to sink into worship, daily worship, using a big red book called “Celtic Daily Prayer” with an accompanying CD. I loved that book — and I used it so often the cover fell off! Experiencing deep periods of worship was what eventually restored me to myself, and to my ministry here.

And that is exactly where our friend Elijah is headed. He is headed to meet God.

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Forty days and forty nights he traveled, which is an old Hebraic way of saying that this trip was perfect, it was complete. And he heads now on the upward part of his journey, both physically and spiritually — up, up, up, he climbs, landing himself inside a cave — maybe the very cleft where Moses had been lovingly placed for his own protection when HE met God on that very mountain.

And then . . . And then we get this remarkable interchange, this wonderful doubly-done conversation. God asks a simple question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Wow. What a question.

What are you doing here, Diana?

What are you doing here, Jon?

What are you doing here, Jim?

What are you doing here, Linda?

What are you doing here???

 Holy mackerel — the question of the ages, right?

What are we doing here? Are we being the church? Are we loving our neighbors? Are we engaging in spiritual warfare, as our pastor as so eloquently instructed us these last four weeks? Are we offering kind words to one another, and to the world around us? Are we living love, all day, every day? Are we open to the very real possibility that God might be doing something new and powerful in us, in the church, in the world?

What are we doing here?

And Elijah gives answer. And boy, it’s a pretty self-serving answer, isn’t it???

“I’ve done my job, Lord. I’ve done what you told me to do. And these people — the ones you sent me to — these people, they’re the ones who’ve messed up. And now I AM ALL ALONE. I’m the only one. Just me. Just little ol’ me.”

And the Lord is so deeply kind in response: “Go outside your cave, friend,” he says. Stand there before me.”

But I want you to catch something here. The text says simply that Elijah ‘stood there’ in verse 11, just as the Lord begins to ‘pass by.’ But skip over all the drama for a second and look at verse 13. Do you see it there? The wind, and the earthquake, and the fire go by, bringing with them majesty, chaos, destruction, HUGE reminders of the power of God. Yet the text very carefully tells us that God was not in ANY of these. No. After all the bells and whistles, there comes the ‘sound of a gentle whisper,’ or the ‘sound of silence,’ as my favorite interpretation puts it. And at THIS, verse 13 tells us, Elijah wrapped himself in his cloak, and THEN, he stepped to the entrance of the cave.

Unlike Moses, whom the Lord placed into the cave for his own protection, God invites Elijah to come out of the cave and to stand before Yahweh. And somehow, Elijah cannot even respond until . . . the silence is as overwhelming as the loneliness. Isn’t that interesting?

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Now whether this is evidence of Elijah’s superior and astute judgment about what constitutes the presence of God or yet another example of how truly out of it he was, or a beautifully drawn picture of how deep his need was, I don’t pretend to know. The text doesn’t tell us those things.

Whatever got him out there on that ledge, Elijah now stands in the very presence of God and hears God ask the very same question Elijah has already answered: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And here’s the kicker: Elijah gives exactly the same answer.

There is no sudden stab of insight. There is no increasing clarity or sign of intelligence. There is only, and I use this word very carefully, there is only obedience. The Lord says, “Stand here.” He’s late to respond, but he does it. The Lord asks, “What are you doing here?” And Elijah answers. Again. But I gotta say, something is happening here. I’m not completely sure what it is, but I have a few hunches. Because here is what happens at the very end of our narrative today: the Lord says to Elijah: “Go back the way you came.”

Go back the way you came?

Yes! The journey is reversed. The inward and upward journey is now, once again, the outward journey. Much like walking the prayer labyrinth, we walk in, and we walk out. But it is what happens right there at the center that makes the difference.

What we don’t see in the text of the morning is what comes next — and it’s important, too. God gives Elijah new marching orders — basically, he is re-commissioned as a prophet. BUT, this time, he is to find and anoint his own successor, so Elijah knows there is an end game in view.

And then — and oh, how I love this little add-on — and then, God carefully and clearly says to Elijah, “Oh by the way, you are not alone. You have never been alone. There are 7,000 — count them! — seven zero zero zero others who have been faithfully worshipping me all this time.”

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How gracious is this whole conversation? One worn-out, burnt-up old prophet, wrapped in his cloak, still feeling old and tired and done. And one remarkable God, who sees Elijah — all of Elijah — and says, “You belong to me, old man. Warts and all, weaknesses and all. And I am not done with you just yet. No way, no how.”

God calls Elijah to remember who he is. In the midst of his sorrow, even in the midst of his inability to truly see the goodness that is right around him, in the midst of it all, God says, “You. You right there. I’ve got work for you. Good work. So, take a deep breath, take a good look at me. And remember who the heck you are, okay?”

Oh friends. When we face days where we wonder how the heck we got here, can we remember this?

Can we remember the goodness of God?
Can we remember the truth that we are NEVER alone?
Can we look for angels in the faces of the people who help us?
Can we go deep into worship, seeking the presence of the Living God?
Can we climb whatever mountain is in front of us, confident that we won’t be alone                            there, either?
Can we reach out in love to individuals and groups who are being unjustly treated                              and persecuted?
Can we engage in spiritual warfare with the only real weapon we’ve got, the ever-                                present, all-inclusive love of God?
Can we be ready to answer that ages-old question: What are you doing here?

Can we remember who we are?

Oh, I hope so. I pray so.

Let’s begin by singing, with courage, the powerful words of the song in our bulletins —

             “Through it all, my eyes are on you, through it all, all is well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Detours That Tell the Story — SheLoves, June 2016

This month’s theme at SheLoves pretty much had me stymied. The deadline came in the midst of an incredibly busy ten days and I put it off as long as I could possibly do so and still hope to get published! When I did finally find the time and internal space to sit and write it out, I was stunned by how fast it came. The doubly-worded theme of “Detours:What the Heck?” became the narrative thread for my entire life. Maybe for yours, too? You can start here and then follow the links over to read the rest.

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I suppose you could say my entire adult life consists of a series of detours. Following my mother’s careful instructions, both verbal and non, I headed into adulthood with one — no, make that two — primary goals: graduate from college and find a husband.

I think my mother imagined a life for me that looked a lot like hers: early marriage, children, caring for a home, volunteering at church and in the community. And that’s the direction I was heading when I married my husband at the tender age of twenty, midway through my senior year of university.

But, what the heck?

This guy came from a very different denominational space than I did, having been raised in an historic peace church. He was registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war. So, instead of moving into a neighborhood near my mother and replicating her life, I found myself on a freighter, headed to Africa after eight months of marriage, fulfilling his two years of alternate military service.

Well, okay then. I’ll adjust. I’ll just take those same ideas I inhaled from my family and my church and transplant them to this new continent. And I suppose in some ways, I did. I kept our home tidy (most of the time), I got to know my neighbors, I went to Bible study and church. But I also taught secondary school, something that had never been on my radar. Ever. And I had fun doing it, too. Maybe this little detour could be a good thing?

And then I began to feel kind of funny — nauseous and tired and basically not myself. I described my symptoms in a letter home and my mother burst out laughing when she received it. “You’re pregnant,” she wrote back to me!

What the heck?

I was young, incredibly naïve, and saw my ‘doctor,’ (a missionary friend who lived out in the bush, forty miles away, over a very rutted dirt road) exactly three times during that pregnancy, gathering what info I could from another friend’s old nursing textbook on pregnancy. (I do not recommend this kind of reading to young, impressionable soon-to-be mamas. Not only were there written descriptions of every single thing that could go wrong with pregnancy and delivery, but photos!)

Six months later, we returned home and over the course of the next eighteen years , my life began to fall into familiar patterns, given my particular family and faith tradition. I had two more babies, close together. I volunteered at their schools, I worked at our church in any way they would let me, I found a community organization I enjoyed.

And then my eldest daughter fell in love with a good friend’s fine son, a man who endured a second round of childhood cancer within weeks of their burgeoning romance. Midway through her freshman year of college, she came to us and said they wanted to be married that next summer; she was barely nineteen.

What the heck?

 

Click right here to finish this post.

Looking at the Whole Truth

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“Oh, Diana,” friends tell me, looking into my eyes with tenderness and concern. “You are so lucky to have your mom still with you!”

I offer a small smile, nod my head and reply, “Yes, I know that I am.”

And I do know that. I do. But there is also this other truth, ever-present and insistent. The hard, hard truth that the lovely old woman inhabiting my mother’s body is not at all the mother I have known for most of my life. She is beautiful to see, kind to everyone around her, breaks into old hymns multiple times an hour, and loves to visit the outside world.

But she is not my mother. At least, not in the ways that I wish she could be.

That woman, that mama, has been slip-sliding away for nearly a decade now, steadily losing pieces of herself. And as she drifts further and further from me, I feel as though there are large chunks of me fading into the ether right along with her. Huge chunks of my own history are gone forever, never to be found again. 

I miss my mother. I miss being known by her. I miss sharing history with her, I miss swapping stories, wrestling with hard truths, reading books, going to the movies, taking trips, making fudge, having her give me driving directions, watching her interact with my children and grandchildren, marveling at her insight into people and situations, laughing at her ribald jokes. 

She is here with me in physical form, and for that I give thanks. But she is not here in any of the ways that make her my mother. She is a beautiful, loving, sometimes forlorn, and very old woman. On July 6th, she will be 95, a fact that startles her every time I tell her. Last week, she turned to me and asked, “I wonder who I am?” 

I wonder who I am! 

Ah, Mom. I wonder, too.

 

As I stood under the shower’s spray this morning, I offered small prayers of thanksgiving:

     “Thank you, Lord, for hot water and plenty of it.”
     “Thank you, Lord, for my good husband and his careful attention to our finances.”
     “And thank you, Lord, for my sweet mama . . .”

And with those words, I found myself sobbing. Not gentle tears these, but hard-wrought, heart-felt, gut-wrenching sobs. “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. Most of the time, the tears are far away these days, leading me to believe that I have come to some place of peace and acceptance about the way things are. But today’s meltdown reminds me that below the surface, my own emotions about mom’s situation are deeply unsettled.

My only brother arrives today and I will be glad to see him and his wife. But we four aging children must have a difficult conversation this afternoon. We have a scheduled meeting with the finance guy at Mom’s care facility, that place where she is safe, well-cared for, loved. The cost of her care is climbing while her small investment account is diminishing, so we’re looking for answers today. How can we best manage her care? Will she be alright?

The better, and I hope bigger, part of me is not worried about this, trusting that there will be enough, that God will provide a way for this daughter, this faithful Jesus-follower, this disciple. But I found myself crying out to the God we both love this morning, asking how long? and, are you there? and, why? 

No answers appeared in the shampoo bubbles. Not one. Nothing but the strong sense that the invitation continues to be this one: trust meTrust that I see your mama, that I love her, that she is safe. Trust that your own love and care for her are enough, that you are doing the best you can, that she has not been abandoned. Trust that there will be enough.

Enough.

And so I will choose to do so. We four will be as careful, mindful and loving as we possibly can. And God will carry us through. 

In the meantime, I will call to mind that image I was given over four years ago now* — that image of my small mama, held safe within the immense sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the One who was present before the universe was breathed into existence, the One who sees each of us with eyes of love and concern, the One who is the only place of true safety any of us will ever experience.

I am trusting that that image will carry me through whatever lies ahead.

 

*I wrote a lengthy post with lots of photos about how that image was given to me here.

 

Remembering to Ask — for the Covenant Companion

Every other month, I get the remarkable job of writing a column for our award-winning denominational magazine. I love who we are, our history and our identity. Like many Christian denominations, we sometimes struggle as we seek to follow the Spirit’s lead, but we have one important distinctive that is highly valued: we agree to disagree on any doctrinal issue not considered central to the message of the Gospel. (One example: as pastors, we are ordained to baptize both infants and adults, depending on the convictions of the individual family.) We are small but, with God’s help, we are also ‘mighty.’ My contribution to our current issue was highlighted today at the online version of the magazine. Here’s a piece of it with a link to connect you to the entire piece:

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Everyone has a story. Everyone. You do, I do, the cranky checker at the supermarket does. The profanity-prone cabdriver, the arrogant teacher, the shy first-year college student, the exhausted gray-haired pan-handler on the corner — everyone has seen more, done more, experienced more than we can imagine. We haven’t a clue what another person has had to deal with in their lives, or even in the last ten minutes!

And yet, we so often act as if we’ve got it all figured out, that life is simple rather than complicated, that easy answers are readily available for any and all situations. We wonder, silently or aloud, why the one moving slowly can’t pick it up a little bit, why the one who is angry can’t put a cork in it, why the one in tears doesn’t pull him or herself together, why the one we can’t agree with is so dense and uninformed. We’re embarrassed, or we’re frustrated; we’re anxious or we’re judgmental. Too often, we default to defensiveness and reactivity rather than breathing in for a few seconds and remembering to ask this all-important question, a question I heard articulated perfectly by one of my pastors in a recent sermon. He gives his wife credit for this one, and I am grateful to both of them for it:

What don’t I know?

What DON’T I know? Truth be told, we don’t know much, do we? Some days, it feels like we know less and less about who and how people truly are. The pace of life in the twenty-first century doesn’t leave much space for easy conversation during the course of our days. We have to move on to the next appointment, tick-off-the-next-errand, tackle the task that nags at us from the back of our minds. We have no time for stories, no interest in distraction . . . unless, of course, the internet calls our name. . .

Come on over and finish it at the magazine . . .

And Then . . . There Is Light

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And it looks like music and laughter.

My mama’s neurologist has slowly been re-introducing her to Aricept since the new year. Initially, her caregivers and I were not at all sure about this. She was easily frightened, tearful and terribly, terribly confused for several weeks. At the same time, we also began to notice slight cognitive improvements here and there. So we hung in there, letting her hole-y brain slowly catch on to the new med.

I am so glad we did.

About two weeks ago, we began to see noticeable signs of improvement and my mom became a much happier and more restful person to be with, generally happy to be alive, delighted to see the sunshine, enjoying the taste of good food.

And she started to sing again. Praises be.
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When I arrived to pick her up for lunch today, she was seated in her chair in the corner, with sunlight streaming through the window behind her. On her lap was one of her small menagerie of stuffed animals, this one a teddy bear, and she was speak-singing something to him.

“Hi, Mom! How are you today? Watcha doing?” I sang to her from the doorway.

“Oh, I’m just telling my friend here about the cross, that old rugged cross.”

“Great idea,” said I, “no better thing to talk about.”

And she began to sing in her quavery alto a few lines from that old hymn.

As we drove south through the hazy sunlight, she sang it off and on, until I found one on YouTube and played it for her to sing along with on my iPhone. I sang in my own quavery alto (!!), and she was delighted.

The lines of that old hymn kept reoccurring to her throughout our lunch on the wharf, showing up whenever the space between us was not filled with conversation. It has always pleased and astonished me that so many old song lyrics are still in there, somehow conserved through all the jumbled mess of her synapses. I am so pleased to hear them again. So pleased.

Always when we meet, it is happening-for-the-first-time-all-over-again. Always, she is delighted to take an adventure outside. Always, she loves driving in the car. 

Always.

There is seldom any memory of our many previous visits to the same place, especially as we are on our way. “We come out here every few days, Mom,” I tell her with a smile. 

“Are you sure it was me you took?” she asks sincerely.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I tell her. 

“Oh, well,” she says, “My brain is kinda weird, isn’t it?”

“Yup, Mama, it is. It is.”

Today there was a large cruise ship in port. This always means many, MANY more people in the waterfront area, and more people in all the local restaurants. The wait staff at our favorite place to sit and savor the view was hard-pressed to keep up with today’s onslaught. And while we were looking out the window, talking about how many children I have and how old they are (at least five times in the space of fifteen minutes), this sweet and funny thing happened:

The words to that old hymn came out of my mama’s mouth, though this time they were spoken rather than sung. That, in itself, is a small miracle, as the tune is usually required to spark that space in her diminishing memory bank. 

“So I’ll cling to that old rugged cross,” she said.

Pause.

“And exchange it some day for a crown.”

Pause.

“And sometime in between there, it would be really good if I could have a little something to eat!”

I tell you, I guffawed. And so did she. What a delightful moment that was. A brilliant flash of the mom I have known most of my life — quick witted, deadpan delivery, followed by riotous laughter.

That was much more satisfying to me than any single piece of the meal we enjoyed together today.

With the possible exception of a phenomenal scoop of vanilla ice cream which we shared, courtesy of the kitchen, in apology for the extended wait time today.

Now that, my friends, is a very good day. Very good, indeed.

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

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Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

A Lenten Prayer for Dusty People — A Companion Column

Every two months, it is my privilege to write a regular column for a newly re-formatted denominational publication called “The Covenant Companion.” I write these columns approximately two months in advance. The most recently released edition contains a Lenten prayer I wrote at the end of last year. I was tired, distracted by the holidays and had just arrived at a lovely motel for an anniversary getaway with my husband. On December 18th of last year, we hit #50. The deadline was looming and I was out of ideas. I knew this issue would appear in the middle of Lent, so I chose to write a prayer. The words that came tumbling out seem quite appropriate for the quagmire in which our nation finds itself politically just now. And once again, I am amazed at God’s grace and the Spirit’s prescient power within us, even when we haven’t a clue. Here is that column/prayer:

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This is what the LORD says—”Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland…I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

O Lord, how we long for you to do a new thing in our midst.

How we long to see the way made in the wilderness,

            the stream flowing through the wasteland.

For we are indeed your people, formed to praise you.

And so we do.

We praise you that you are the God of new things.

            That you are the God of wilderness way-making,

            that you are the God of life-giving water in the midst of life’s wastelands,

            that you are the God who reminds us to ‘forget the former things,’

            because you are in the business of making all things new.

Start with us, please, Lord. Start with us.

Make us new, inside and out.

Teach us to live as new creatures –

            not because we’re fad-hungry

            or driven to own the latest new tech device;

            not because we’re bored with life and need a new kick;

            not because we’re in need of a diversion.

Make us new because we need your transformational energy at work within us

            in order to live as whole and holy people.

Make us new because we’ve worn out the old ways,

            we’ve tried them repeatedly and learned the hard way that they just don’t work.

Make us new because we want to be people

            who radiate the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus –

            that amazing, multi-faceted, lovely fruit-of-nine-sides that Paul listed out for us:

                        Love, Joy, Peace,

                        Patience, Kindness, Goodness,

                        Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control.

So…start with us in this making-new business.

Because if we’re truly open to the newness your Spirit can bring,

            and if we truly live out of the fruit your Spirit grows in us,

            then we can carry that newness into every situation and relationship

                        we find ourselves in whether that’s

            our family home, our dorm suite, our place of business,

            our classroom, the grocery line, the traffic jam,

            the blog comments, the political debate,

            the kitchen table or the table at our favorite restaurant,

            the well-worn beach path or hiking trail,

            or the sidewalk right in front of where we live –

wherever our lives lead us –we can bleed newness, your newness, into our world.

So, we ask that your church worldwide might be a sign of newness,

            a whisper of beauty, a word of kindness,

            a presence of hospitality, a ray of civility

                        in an increasingly uncivil and terrifying world.

Convict us when we fall short of this worthy goal;

            convince us that we, with you at work within us,

            have the inside scoop on the hope this world needs.

Consider that we are but dust – but then . . .

            continue the work of new creation even in our dustiness.

 

And please, bless our very dusty leaders, denominational and political,

            who are engaged in important decision-making on many fronts.

Grant us peace in our churchly dialog and in our civic discourse,

            wisdom in our personal and our national decisions,

            and grace with one another when the day is done.

Thank you, Great God of all things new,

            for your everyday goodness and grace,

            for your mercies which are new every morning

                    and which sustain us our whole life long.

In the name and for the sake of Jesus, your son,

                    who makes it possible for us to be made new each and every day.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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