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.

 

 

 

 

Stepping into the Shoes — SheLoves

It’s the last Saturday of the month – so it must be my turn to offer a contribution over at SheLoves Magazine! You can start that piece right here and then follow the links over to finish it off . . .

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I’m not quite sure how I got pegged as a leader, but somehow, it happened. Not in my school or social settings, however; it happened at church, after my family moved and we began attending a church with a large youth ministry.

And I went to everything.

I loved church. I felt safe there, secure, even confident. Church attendance was always a part of our family story. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, social events, weddings, memorial services. Yeah, we went to it all. I was an eager middle school learner with a sweet, college-aged Bible leader on those Sunday evenings. And that woman was among the first to identify leadership and teaching gifts in me.

Those gifts got put on the sideline after college, at least for a few years. We served overseas together and had our 3 kids pretty quickly. And when they were 7, 5 and 3, we shifted to a more local congregation, and it was in that place that my gifts were recognized, affirmed, identified and labeled as gifts belonging to a pastor.

A pastor? Me?

I had never seen a woman lead in worship, unless it was a visiting single missionary or the local leading layperson in youth ministry. Never.

That idea, which was in many ways the natural progression of what began when I was twelve years old, never entered my mind.  So my decision to go to seminary in my mid-forties was based on what I experienced as a call to seminary, a desire to become a better Bible teacher, a more experienced worship planner. Even while there, I honestly never thought about leading a congregation in a pastoral role.

But two of my male professors called me out on that. “We see the gifts, Diana. Why not pray and consider whether or not God might be preparing you for exactly that?”

And so a long discernment process began during the second of my four years in school. And one late afternoon in year three, while taking a long walk around my neighborhood and earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and will, 

Please click here to join me over at SheLoves . . .

A Letter to My Mid-Life Self – The High Calling

I am honored to be contributing to The High Calling’s special week on the decisions and transitions of mid-life. And this particular post will show up on the date that would have been my parents’ 73rd wedding anniversary. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self. Not my teen-aged self, nor my 20’s or 30’s self – but my mid-life, 50-year-old self. . .

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Dear girl,

Yes, you always will be a girl—or at least part of you will. Fifty feels decidedly ungirlish, I know, but believe me when I tell you this: fifty truly is nifty.  Such a great age! The hard work of growing up, navigating relationships, figuring out what it means to be married, to mother children, to be a daughter-who-is-also-an-adult, to manage work and home—that’s all behind you now. Yes, you’ll keep discovering new ways to do all of the above, but the steepest learning curve is behind you. Honest.

And ahead of you? Oh, my! So many rich and wonderful things, so many interesting choices, and so much to give. All those years you’ve been living? There are people who need to hear about what you’ve learned. And there are so many creative ways for you to use what you’ve learned in new ways. There’s a lot left to do—even better, there’s so much still to be.

Turning fifty formally introduces the second half of life, that rich season of growing an inner life as well as an outer one. Please don’t waste a minute of it. Keep reading about contemplative practices, carve out time for daylong retreats, continue to work with a spiritual director. All that personal work you began in your 40s will continue to be formational and powerful, especially as you step out into the next big phase of your professional life. You don’t know it yet, but in two years, you’ll make the biggest move of the last thirty, moving in every way from all that is known and familiar, geographically and personally. And you’ll do it so that you can take a new job. Yes, you.

Here’s what you’ll discover: everything you’ve done up until now—caring for small children, juggling commitments, carving out time for yourself, learning how to let your spouse and friends help you understand yourself, the growing appreciation for how God has wired you—all of that will make you the best possible employee, the best possible you for whatever comes next.

Please do come on over to one of the finest magazines on the web and let me know that you’ve been there, okay? Just click here . . .

 

And the Light Went Out . . .

I dressed in black,
ate my dinner earlier than usual
and drove one canyon over to rehearse.

DSC01442The sanctuary was filled
with evening light when I walked in,
heightening the lavenders and blues,
those deeply colored pieces
that fit inside the clerestory windows.
DSC01437 Musicians and readers met in the balcony,
our home as the sun made its way down,
down behind the hills and the sea.
No paper trail this night,
only the dark light of the screens
to guide us from scripture to painting, to silence.
Then to poem, to song,
to the loss of
one more layer of light. DSC01438 There is a sober feel to this night,
a quietness that invades our spirits

and guides our tongues.
Nothing is wasted.
No breath, no sigh, no syllable.
DSC01439 It is crowded and cramped where we sit,
bound by chair legs and mic stands,
script pages and surreptitious, hooded lamps.
DSC01440 The chandeliers,
hand-pounded
by an artist-blacksmith
in the valley,
remind me of crowns tonight.
Crowns fit for a king —
or one falsely accused. DSC01443 We begin with full brightness,
streaming in through the windows,

and shining out
from every light
in the house.  DSC01444 From my perch,
high above the worshippers,
I watch the space darken,
and feel the weight of it
settle into my bones.
My foot is aching this night,
tired from too much joyful standing,
baking and decorating,
standing beside my tall grandgirl,
who loves to try new things.
DSC01445And I’m glad that it hurts.
Not in a strange or masochistic way,

no. Rather, I am grateful to identify,
even in a small way, with
the pain of this day.
With the darkness,
the good and necessary darkness.
The darkness which brought us 
everlasting light;
the darkness in which the Good
was splayed out before us all,
absorbing our fallenness,
our brokenness,
our sinfulness,
our shame. IMG_4098 I am reading poetry tonight,
my partner a retired English prof

from a nearby college,
a wise and kind man,
who answers my queries
about
meaning and inflection,
about rhythm and pace.
DSC01446We hear the story,
the old story,
the true story.
We look at etchings,
beautiful, old etchings.
And we sing.
Sweetly, reverently, we sing. 
IMG_4097Seven times, a candle is snuffed out.
Seven words from John.
Seven songs are sung.

But only six poems.

For, in the end,
at the end,
there are no words.

Only the blessed darkness.

And then,
the Christ candle begins to move,

lifted high, cradled,
down the steps,

into the night.

And this time,
this time as I watch it go by
into the darkest space of all,
the one directly below my chair,

I weep.

This is a space where I cannot  be,
where I cannot see

the gleaming of His light.

And it hits me,
as if for the first time,
that this light went out.

The Light of the world willingly
went out,

was laid deep in the earth,
and did not shine.

How did any of us survive that darkness?

And yet . . . that very darkness
birthed
RESURRECTION.

Perhaps, I need to rethink
the meaning of the word,
the reality,
the gift
of darkness.

My deep thanks to Jon Lemmond for his wonderful script, to him and to Don Johnson for their masterful reading of the scripture, to Bob Gross, Jon Martin and Janet Spencer for such lovely musical leadership, to Tanner Gross for managing powerpoint and light level, and to my reading partner, John Sider. And special thanks for and to the poets – Richard Crashaw, John Byrom, Gerald Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Christina Rosetti and Tania Runyon whose words graced this event with power, and with invitation.

Are We Missing the Boat?

The title of the post comes from this idea in the historic church:
“The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used
for the symbol of Christ and His Church.
In Latin the word “navis” means ship from which derives the word for the Nave of the Church.”

DSC01342We flipped things around in worship last Sunday.

Communion came first, sermon came last.

For me, that change turned out to be a powerful,
thought-provoking exclamation point to a lot of things
that have been churning around inside me
for the past couple of weeks.

We passed the trays on Sunday.
Not my favorite way to participate in this sacrament,
but the instructions included something new,
something that made this time-honored,
possibly-more-convenient,
definitely-less-messy way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper
a little bit more palatable for me.

We were invited to say the words to one another.

This is not something we normally do,
so right out of the chute, we were experiencing
a little cognitive dissonance,
a gentle stirring of the usually placid waters
that mark our times of community gathering:

We went to the table first, instead of last.
And each one of us was asked to say,
“The body of Christ,”
“The Blood of Christ,”
to our neighbor.

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Coming out of the last two weeks on the Christian internet,
those two small changes spoke volumes into my soul.

Why?

Because way too many of us have lost sight of the big picture,
the glorious, beautiful, flawed but remarkable
Big Picture.
And this is it —
WE BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER.
Every one of us who calls upon the name of Jesus,
who chooses to follow in the footsteps of that
strange and wonderful rabbi,
is part of ONE family.
ONE.

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We may not agree on every point of doctrine,
we may enjoy differing worship styles,
we may live in wildly divergent cultures,
with very different standards of living,
lifestyle choices,
abilities and disabilities,
preferences and political parties and points of view.

But we are ONE.
The Body of Christ.
The church. 

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And when we begin sniping at each other,
undercutting, criticizing, taking sides, name-calling
for any reason —
any reason —
then we have missed the boat,
refused to see the Big Picture,
and engaged in thinking, talking and doing
the very things that Jesus himself prayed we would not.

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Our text, both Sunday morning and Sunday evening at our monthly Taize Service,
was taken from the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, verses 20-26:

 “My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
that all of them may be one,
Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one–
I in them and you in me–
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory, the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you,
I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
I have made you known to them,and will continue to make you known
in order that the love you have for me may be in them 
and that I myself may be in them.”

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Jesus was praying for us that night,
all of us.
Our pastor reminded us that the opening verses of this chapter

contain Jesus’ prayer for his circle of friends, 
those whom he had called to be with him,
walking those roads,
seeing those miracles,
hearing that voice.
But in this last segment of the prayer,
he prays for ALL of us — ‘those who will believe. . .’
And dear friends in Jesus,

that means
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

There are lots of people writing on the internet,
serving Jesus in a variety of capacities,
offering hope and healing through a long list
of charitable and church-based organizations.
Many of those friends would not see eye-to-eye
with me on a long list of topics.
But on this one thing,
this one central thing,
we are ONE:

Jesus is LORD and JESUS is the hope of the world.

And each one who hangs their life on that sentence
is a ‘relative’ of mine
and of yours.

It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not even pretty.
But it is TRUE.

And here’s what else is true — the way we are one,
now hear this, please —
THE WAY WE ARE ONE
IS HOW THE 

MESSAGE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
IS CONVEYED TO THE WORLD.

Did you catch that in the beautiful prayer-words of our Savior?
The way in which our unity reflects the unity of the Trinity
is exactly the way in which the love and grace of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Spirit,
is transmitted most effectively into the world
that does not yet know about it.

“Then,” Jesus says,
“Then the world will know
that you sent me.”

Can it be any clearer than that?

DSC01348 I can think of no more powerful symbol of this unity 
than sharing bread and cup at the Table of the Lord.

And that is why our Sunday experience spoke so strongly
right into my troubled and tired heart.

WE ACTED IT OUT, you see.

We acted it out even before we heard the word preached,
before we passed the plate,
before we read the scripture or prayed our community prayer.

And somehow, acting it out helps me to catch a glimpse of
The Big Picture a little bit more clearly.
It helps me to catch, rather than miss, the BOAT.

It reminds me of how vitally important it is for us to 
love one another as God has loved us.
When my muscles move,
and my mouth speaks,
when I receive table gifts from the hand of another,
when I speak words of life to yet another,

“I REMEMBER.
AND WE ARE RE-MEMBERED.*”

And I know once again, that

WE BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER.

*My thanks to a long-ago story from Madeleine L’Engle for these lines.

Joining this one with Michelle, Laura, Jennifer, Jen.

 


What’s In a Name?

It’s been quiet around here of late. I’ve written around the blogosphere at several different places in the last few weeks, but not terribly often here, in my space, just writing for me, and whoever might stop by to see whatever words I’ve gathered.

We had a quiet weekend, celebrating Dick’s birthday in several small gatherings. On his actual day, just he and I went out for lunch and to a matinee. On Saturday, our son and his family surprised us with a drop-in, take-out dinner from our favorite local Mexican hang-out. And on Sunday, after church, we met our eldest daughter and her husband and youngest son at BJ’s in Ventura. We love s t r e t c h i n g birthdays out as long as we can — and three days was just about right.

My guy was hungry for ribs, and BJs never disappoints. And to finish things off very well indeed, he was served his own individual Pazookie, complete with candle! Do you know what a Pazookie is? Just one of the divinest desserts ever invented, that’s what. A freshly baked cookie (several choices – he picked peanut butter), fresh from the oven, topped with a scoop of Haagen Daaz vanilla. Heaven in a small aluminum pan, that’s what.

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The drive south took us past this lovely spot, looking down on Summerland Beach. The day was breezy and the water a little bit wild — always fun to see. And somehow, the celebratory mood of day and meal and family seemed fitting and right after a profoundly moving worship experience earlier in the day.

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This was our fabulous worship band-of-the-week jamming after the service was over. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, planned a perfect combination of songs for the theme of the day, including a masterful arrangement (his own) of,  “Lord, I’m Amazed by You” with The Doxology. The entire opening sequence brought me to tears more than once — filled as it was with what we do best: contemporary and traditional music, both poured through the inventive mind of Mr. Gross. We sang that old favorite, “Holy, Holy, Holy” this way – verse 1, totally a cappella (and we can SING the harmony in our community!), verse 2, full band with quiet percussion, verse 3, up a key, adding the most moving slow roar of the drums I’ve ever experienced, and verse 4, straight ahead and gorgeous. Oh, my.

DSC01241As always, the music, the prayer, the readings from Old Testament and New coordinated well with the preaching text of the morning, which this week was taken from the last eleven verses of John 16.

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God spoke powerfully through Pastor Jon about what it means when we pray in the name of Jesus. Here are a few highlights from that passage:

“My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name . . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God . . .  A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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These few verses contain some mighty huge ideas, ones that linger and permeate. Ideas like these:

The name of Jesus is strong, redemptive, life-changing. It is not magical.

There will be suffering in this life — which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. But because of Jesus, because we are given the inestimable gift of praying in his name, we are never alone, no matter what. 

Praying is not about words alone. In fact it is more often about silence . . . or it is experienced in action. We pray in Jesus’ name whenever we offer comfort/aid/solace/provision for another.

We pray with our bodies, not just in them. WE are the continuation of the Incarnation as we allow the Spirit of our Lord to work through us, as we live out what it means to be the Body of Christ. 

Praying in the name of Jesus touches on one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith — we serve a Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit — One in Three, Three in One. 

We do not ask Jesus to pray for us, so as to somehow buffer the space between us and God the Father. Too much of the church has painted a picture of a scary God, one that Jesus saves us from, a God that cannot be approached by the likes of us. But Jesus says clearly and beautifully, “. . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you  . . . “

“Take heart,” Jesus says. Immediately after predicting that all his friends will desert him in his hour of need, that they themselves will have their share of trouble. “Take heart,”  he says. TAKE HEART?  Yes. And not only that, but because of that name, that powerful name, they — and we — will have peace, the kind of peace that makes room for this truth: the One in whose name we pray has overcome the world.

I carried these pieces of grace with me as we drove down the coast, as we laughed and ate a good lunch with our daughter’s family, as we came back home and prepared for the week ahead. Turns out there’s a lot, a LOT, in a Name. I am grateful

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Q & A: Week Eight — The Book of Love

We have arrived at the end of the journey, this exploratory willingness to sit in the middle of the hard questions and LIVE them a little. You’ll notice that I’ve picked up the surfing image once again, ever grateful for all that I learn about God and faith when I watch them do their thing! I thank each of you for coming along with me down this road, for your contributions to the rich conversational threads spun by each week’s topic. You can find links to each of my reflections in this post. Each individual post listed there holds the links for your contributions to that week’s conversation. And if anyone wants to add further to the conversation, please do so by linking your post in the comments section of whichever weekly question you want to reflect on.

I have one further resource of my own, one that applies specifically to this final question, which is, What do I do with all the hard/weird stuff in the Bible? Seven years ago, I was invited to be a writer for a denominational resource paper on how we read scripture. I offer it here, if you’d like to read it, as a more detailed and somewhat more academic approach to the whole topic of our relationship with the Word of God. I also commend to you these fine posts, written within the last week or two, by Morgan Guyton and Ed Cyzewski. Both men did stellar work on these biblically related themes: Here’s the link to Morgan’s and here’s the one to Ed’s post at Micha Boyett’s beautiful blog. Lastly, I cannot recommend too highly Eugene Peterson’s beautiful tome called, “Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading.” He says everything I would say and he says it so.much.better. 

DSC01029It was stormy last week. Much-needed rain fell by the bucketful, and we were thoroughly and delightfully doused. From my perch on the bluffs, I could just barely make out a couple of surfers, trying valiantly to take advantage of the buffed-up waves. They were heading into rough water, with swells extending well above their heads.DSC01032

Depending upon where they were located in relation to the development of the wave, these surfers only had a couple of options. They could quickly turn their boards around, climb on top and try like crazy to stay upright. Or, they could duck their heads and dive underneath the wave as it broke heavily above them.

On this stormy Sunday morning, I saw a whole lotta ducking!

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Sometimes, that’s what we have to do, too. Maybe this is particularly true in regard to this week’s — or any week’s — question about the Bible. I do not pretend to have all the answers about this book of ours, about its origins, its contextual issues, its multiplicity of genres. I do have some answers and I’ve enjoyed all the learning I’ve done over this life of mine to get to those answers. But there are times when I truly do not know what to do with some of the strange or difficult things I find in scripture.

That’s when it’s time to duck myself beneath the wave and swim through. Because if there’s one thing I know about our holy book, it is this: we are meant to place ourselves under its authority. 

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This does not mean blind obedience, nor does it mean adhering to a strictly literal interpretation of what we find there. It does mean that the Bible is primarily designed to be a book of revelation and of transformation. It is not a book of information, not a list of facts to be digested mentally. It is not a science book, nor is it a history book in the sense that we currently define the subject of ‘history.’

It is, I believe, a love story. A love story that is meant to be ‘eaten,’ thoroughly ingested and lived into. And it is a story told in words. Genesis 1 and John 1 each tell us that the WORD of God breathes out all that is, calls it, and us, into being. And the words that fall off the pages of scripture are words that are designed to be taken in, not simply read and filed. They are words meant to change us, from the inside out.

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I was raised by a mathematician father and a word-gifted mother in a home where arguments over inerrancy were simply not important. The Bible, I was taught, is the word of God, the ‘only infallible rule for faith, doctrine and conduct.’ It is God-breathed, in partnership with human authors, and tells us all we need to know about who God is, who we are and how we are made whole. Although I’ve had to wade through, and eventually discard, some pretty lousy theology in my life, my early understandings about what the Bible is, what the Bible does and how the Bible does it have remained steady. 

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In my faith community, we look to the word of God to show us Jesus, to guide us into truth and to tell us how to live. We love the Bible and we offer multiple opportunities to study it and learn from it.

We also offer twice yearly day-long prayer retreats, monthly Taize services, weekly prayer gatherings — all because we believe that the Bible, under the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, is meant to change us, not just teach us. There is a difference there, you see. A big one. Yes, there is a wealth of fun and challenging information to be gleaned from our holy book. The stories of beginnings in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. The patriarchs and matriarchs, the exodus, the monarchy, the prophets, the exile, the wonderful, story-laden gospels, the letters to young churches. It is wonderful, rich and true and we love to learn it all!

But beyond learning, beyond memorizing, beyond making and keeping lists or rules, the Bible is a powerful force for inside-out transformation in the human soul. Reading it reverently, intentionally and slowly can change our DNA, if we let it. We must read scripture with ALL of who we are, not just our brains. And that task? Well, it pretty much takes a lifetime.

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By Tuesday morning of this week, the sun had returned and the water had calmed. There were no surfers this day, only walkers and lookers, soaking in the sea air and enjoying the blue of the sky. But as the previous weekend had taught us, not every day is a sunny one. 

We don’t get to decide if the day is going to be sunny or stormy, do we? Maybe that’s because WE are not the center of the universe and not nearly as powerful as we sometimes believe ourselves to be. And some of our experiences with scripture feel more closely akin to sunny days than others, don’t they? Sometimes our reading brings us glimpses of God, glimpses of ourselves, glimpses of grace. But then, of course, there are those other experiences, the ones that descend when we come up against a difficult passage. Some days, it feels like the storm clouds have moved in on us, bigtime. 

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And there is not one thing wrong with butting heads with the word, with arm-wrestling God about how hard it is, with asking questions. This entire series is based upon the necessary goodness of questions, of living them well and heartily as we limp our way down the road called faith. But there is one very important truth that we need to hang onto in the middle of all of our questioning: our experience is not all the truth there is to be found. It’s important to explore our feelings, responses, reactions and to try to sift out what’s going on inside of us. 

But we are not the final arbiters of much, truth be told. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves that our personal experience-of-the-moment is not at the top of the pile when we’re searching for truth. What we’re wrestling with needs to be placed, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “under the authority of the Bible and not over it. . . the Bible, all of it, is livable; it is the text for living our lives.” 

We are invited INTO the word.

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And we are invited to let the Word into us. There are always going to be mysterious and strange pieces of story in our book. There just are. Happily, there aren’t all that many! Most of what we have, when we take the time and care to understand nuances of language, culture, changing societal norms, the development of the canon of scripture, and the variety of literary genres included in this collection of ours — most of it is readily accessible to us. There are so.many.resources available to help us work through the tough spots, the weird stuff, the question marks. And if there are specific texts that are troubling you, I encourage you to look at the commentaries, to speak with  your pastors and teachers, and to see if you can find answers that satisfy.

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But here’s the thing: please don’t lose God in  your efforts to understand the things that trouble you in the Bible. Some of the things I read on the internet make me wonder if the writer has ever encountered God in the pages of scripture. Have tears been shed, jaws dropped, realizations appeared like a bolt of lightning? Because sometimes excursions into questions can quickly become intellectual exercises — a parsing of verbs, a splitting of hairs, and way too much proof-texting. 

DSC01087BUT . . .when our honest, heartfelt questions help to open our souls and widen our spirits, they are very good things, indeed. They can lead us deeper into God and deeper into ourselves by leading us deeper into the word.

And it is the Word of God that centers us, anchors us, transforms us:

“Without this text, firmly established as the authoritative center of our communal and personal lives, we will founder. We will sink into a swamp of well-meaning but ineffectual men and women who are mired unmercifully in our needs and wants and feelings.” – Eat This Book, page 35

“But the words of Scripture are not primarily words, however impressive, that label or define or prove, but words that mean, that reveal, that shape the soul, that generate saved lives, that form believing and obedient lives . . . Having and defending and celebrating the Bible instead of receiving, submitting to, and praying the Bible, masks an enormous amount of nonreading.”  – Eat This Book, page 140

 

Just in case you missed seeing this on Facebook when Ann Voskamp posted it, this is a lovely small video clip of some Chinese Christians receiving Bibles for the very first time:


Q & A Tuesday Wrap-Up: Week Four

 

There are a lot of words in this wrap-up — and most of them are from all of you!DSC00924

What a rich conversation we’ve had this week! Thank you all for your insights and your articulate, kind responses to me and to one another. Thank you for helping us all to wrestle well with the question of ‘tears.’ Yes, yes. There is room for our tears in the body of Christ, even though many of us have felt them to be unwelcome in particular corners of that body. The words you’ve shared, both in link-ups and in the comments section, have added so much liveliness and depth to living this particular question. I am grateful.

One of the earliest link-ups this week was breathtakingly beautiful, with reminders that life lived on planet earth is only an introduction to the life that is to come. She wrote: “I love crawling close in hospital beds and into the stories with their glimpses of the main stage, and inviting the next chapter into the room. It’s painful and gorgeous all at once. It’s the most beautiful thing my soul has ever felt. We are in the lobby. We have only caught a glimpse of  beauty.” I encourage you to read the entire post.

Several posts this week were written in poetic, prayerful format, asking the church to be more open to letting the tears flow freely and unashamedly. We were encouraged to:

Make room in our own woundedness to walk the road with others who are weak and in pain. Be a sanctuary for the seeking, the saved and those sick in body, mind or heart. 

Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with all who rejoice. Lift and uphold each other in prayer. Come alongside and be Christ’s ambassadors in caring for all in need.

Another faithful friend wrote a story of freedom, of permission to be all of who she is in the presence of God:

my younger self
was never known to cry
perhaps it was scolded out of me
having too often heard
“I’ll give you something to cry about”

but my God gave me tears
when I surrendered to Him
my harsh and stoney heart

 now I am known
as a woman who weeps
long and deep tears 
born of joy, pain, awe 
and intercession

A regular contributor chose to offer a poetic reflection on both life and scripture in response to this question about tears:

The woman brought her tears,
rained them on our Lord’s
dusty feet. The body of Christ knows
(though we have forgotten)
the fellowship of tears.

And a regular member of the conversation joined her blog for the first time this week, also writing her thoughts in poetry:

While some have been tears
of deep grief,
sometimes tears tell me
it’s time to
stop
pay attention
see what God has for me.

Although not always readily apparent,
the time spent paying attention
until it becomes clear
is time
well-spent.

This beautiful and poignant post came from the deep wells of personal pain and loss and speaks to the hard but necessary truth that we don’t always know where our tears will lead, how our sorrow will be redeemed:

It will be days, months, maybe years, to process what God has done and to see the fruits from the passing of this small seed.
New life is coming, even from this death, and there will be more to write.
Leah has her own story to tell, but I will share some of the precious words she said to me,
“Mom, we will never be the same.  He taught us so much.”

His name was Garrison Isaac.

You know ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughter’–and he is–laughing, I know.  
With Jesus.

A really important corrective came from this once-Catholic-maybe-still-Catholic writer who reminded those of us with conservative/evangelical/Protestant stories that there are other stories about tears, too:

Well, Catholicism has no problems with tears. Repentance is regular and necessary and tears are often part of that. Life is accepted as being full of pain so there will often be tears. There isn’t any pressure on believers to be joyful. So when I came across this sense of failure over feeling unhappy or depressed or sad I was puzzled.

Tears have accompanied deep revelations of sinfulness and forgiveness. . . 

Perhaps there should be some tears shed for the harm that has been done to the church by our disunity.

And the comments section this week simply soared, with heart-to-heart connections and beautiful words. A few of my favorites:

“He doesn’t let a single tear go to waste.
And the day is coming when He will dry each one.
Now that’s a promise to hold on to.”

About bad theology in the church:

“Once, not long after my miscarriage, I was told (taught, actually) that–if we’re not joyful–we make God the Father look bad. I rejected that idea in my spirit immediately, but I still feel a little angry when I think about it. We can be so careless w/ one another.”

A couple of deeply personal stories about the power of Holy Spirit tears:

“My cancer is well advanced in my bones, but I have made the commitment to sing in the choir the whole sesaon. I am pretty much the bass section. 2 weeks ago the anthem was “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world.” The verses always start out the with basses belting out “I want to meet my Jesus,” or some variant on that theme. It was tough going for me. I did it, then went back to my seat and put my head down and started bawling while someone in the congregation stood up and thanked the choir for their spirited anthem. It was all good. These tears are gifts from God.”

A great reminder of a famous movie quote:

“Do you remember the line in “Steel Magnolias”? “My favorite emotion is laughter through tears” I’ve always loved that line.”

A profound question:

“Can I grieve my way back to owning tears? For so, so long, I had no safe place–and it seems I’ve forgotten how.”

Two reminders that early childhood lessons can sometimes trip us up as adults:

“Somewhere I picked up the idea that they [tears] are often manipulative or embarrassing, and I cringe now remembering ways I have dismissed the tears of others.”

“I decided as a young child, that my sister would use her tears to manipulate my parents whenever she was getting in trouble, and I vowed I would never do that.”

Testimonies of gratitude for the freedom to accept tears, those of others and our own:

“God has been slowly chipping away and breaking down the walls around my heart and in the last two years I cried more than my whole life. (I am 59) He weeps with us and gives us comfort.”

“A book that was instrumental in the process for me was, ‘The Wall Around Your Heart’ by Mary de Muth. I can highly recommend it. This breaking down in order to rebuild can feel like a strange unravelling where ground shifts beneath our feet and all seems uncertain.”

“I do feel I am doing this not only for me but for the precious people who are coming along behind me and I am grateful the opportunity to keep growing. Love the community here.”

A beautiful pledge to commit to openness and break the family pattern:

“but somehow to me, because of their stoicism, it felt like trusting God meant I didn’t feel the depth of the pain. I just had a visit with my only living Aunt last night who was only 5 years older than me. We wept together on the phone, sharing the sharing the pain of this approach – my grandmother not talking to her about my Grandfather (her dad) dying and my parents not talking to me about how i felt about the loss of my two siblings when I was a child. these are kind people who loved us, but they did as they had learned – but at the time, it seemed to us like we were to be brave and soldier on. by the time i could have talked to my mom about this, she got sick and soon died thereafter. I am determined to be open about my journey.”

And these words, from someone new to the conversation – well, they rang true in places deep and dark:

“Once when I was on a panel with other moms, discussing how women can minister to one another, I said, “Sometimes the greatest gift is to have someone cry with me.” Indeed, aren’t we uncomfortable with tears often, quickly sniffling and stuffing them away in our sinuses. I hold firmly to the thought that tears are a gift, and a gift to be shared with those who choose to walk with us. To have another share a time of tears is beautiful, to let them flow freely, not holding back, is a source of healing. One time when I had a blood test for inflammation, my sedimentation rate was off the charts. Later in the day a dear friend and I shared a precious time of talking and crying together. For some reason I had another blood test the next day. The inflammation was within normal limits. Shared tears can be healing indeed! On the other hand, Joy hold its own in the healing arena. I have had people ask me how I could possibly be so joy-filled when I experience such great pain. The answer, of course, is Jesus. The constant Joy is another gift, not manufactured by me, but given to me by a God who sees and loves deeply. The Joy and Tears are compatible, not mutually exclusive. They come together, share the same heart. I fully believe we can be shedding tears of sadness or pain and yet walk in Joy in the same moment.”

Another new ‘talker’ expressed regret and frustration with the ‘cheerfulness’ of too many church gatherings and how that can shut people out:

“I too could take the “good Cheer” better if we also were allowed to let the cracks show. That vulnerability is something most people just don’t want to face, it is too real, I guess.”

And almost immediately, there was this good word, reminding us all that we need people in our lives who know us, all of us, and who love us anyhow!

“I hope you have a “posse.” Through one of the hardest ministry hurts we experienced, i had four friend who knew the all of the story. they saved my sanity – my life.”

And I wonder how many of us can empathize with these words of realization, this glimpse into the full mystery of our own hearts:

“I have recently been surprised by my tears over something that I thought had been dealt with years ago, and realised it was because God was bringing healing to an area of my heart, of which I had been completely unaware! Which makes me wonder how much more of my heart is unknown to me…”

And to wrap up this week’s wrap-up, this lovely story of grace re-discovered through the healing, releasing power of tears:

“The worst period of my life was marked by a state of denial that refused to accept I was struggling. I used a false religion of acceptance (false because I was actually angry, resentful and playing the long suffering pious martyr) that hardened my heart and for a long time no tears fell. I was often ill and now it seems to me that these things were linked. Stress built up inside me and when not aknowledged and released as tears it manifested in other physical ways. (I do not believe that this explains most illnesses btw!) It was this experience that led me to believe that in some ways I was saved by grief. Mourning my sister’s sudden death paved the way for mourning unaccepted losses. Tears allowed more tears and joy came in the morning.”

A  HUGE thank-you from me to all of you for your generous gift of time, thought, and words. We all richer for the connections made in this space.

 

A Sacramental Faith


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It’s been a rough week. A niggling ankle injury turned out to be a seriously shredded tendon, which may require surgery next month. In the meantime, I’m wearing a boot to try and immobilize it and encourage healing.

My mom took a nasty fall, splitting her fingers apart and bruising herself all along one side of her body. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but she is tired and more confused than ever.

My husband and I tend to take our worries out on one another, at least initially, and so we’ve been doing more than our share of sniping and growling. We’re moving back to center again, and I am glad.

I sit, with my foot iced and propped, encased in a serious boot, surrounded by too.much.stuff, all of which needs sorting. I wonder how and when to set aside enough time to do more than the basics. Meal prep, laundry, keeping appointments, writing – these seem to fill all the blanks on the calendar — and in my spirit — and there isn’t much room left. 

I went to worship almost reluctantly yesterday. We’d missed the week before and I came close to missing again. I was tired, anxious and sore, not eager to make conversation with anyone, unsure about a lot of things.

Which, of course, is EXACTLY when I need to be there, sitting and standing with the community, offering praise to God in the middle of the mess and listening for the Spirit’s breathy voice in the midst of the sanctuary. 

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As I perused the bulletin before the service began, I saw that there would be space this week for prayer and anointing. This is not a usual occurrence for us, but as soon as I saw the words, I knew why I was there.

Turns out, a lot of people had the same response.

Even after all the years that church has been part of my life, even after almost 20 years of professional leadership in the church, I am still amazed at how and when the Spirit blows across a room full of people. It stuns me every time.

And every time it happens in this particular community of believers, there is something sacramental happening in the service. Eucharist, baptism, renewal of baptismal vows, anointing.

These physical signs of spiritual truths, these tactile things — they are the pieces that the Spirit of God uses in our midst to move us, shake us out of the pews, stir our hearts. I don’t understand it, I just recognize it when I see it.
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It’s a powerful thing to see people streaming down the aisle to be touched by a pastor. We encourage prayer for healing after every single service, and very few people take advantage of those opportunities. But add oil? Make it part of the service itself?

They came by the dozens. And I went right up there with them.

The sermon leading into this event was built around a text in John 12, Mary pouring a large jar of pure, perfumed oil, spreading it lavishly all over the feet of Jesus. Pastor Don asked us to think about fragrances, how powerful they can be — for both good and ill. And the communion table featured trailing vines of jasmine, sending sweetness into the first few pews.

This is a story close to my heart. The very first sermon I ever preached in my life came from Mark’s version, and I preached on John’s text last year. (I wrote an abbreviated reflection on it during Holy Week.) And the closing line of my own reflection was right in line with yesterday’s theme: “. . . the surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.”

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We had two kneelers in place, two pastors with vials of oil, and we sang. Oh, how we sang. “Holy Spirit, Come,” as printed on the screens and one or two others that rose spontaneously as we listened to that Breath of Life within us.

One of the joys of our worship is the participation of lay people in the service each week — in the reading of scripture and the offering of community prayer. Yesterday’s prayer was written and offered by one of our resident poets, Professor Paul Willis, whose words always slow me down and make me think. The ones he chose yesterday were strong, muscular, maybe even hard to hear at points. But they were exactly what we needed. 

I invite you to pray them along with us as you read, because this prayer walks right with us, from the sanctuary of togetherness to the sanctuaries that we inhabit all around the city in the days between our gatherings. And those sanctuaries — our homes, places of employment, dorm rooms, school classrooms — these are reminders, too. Reminders that we are, indeed, a sacramental people, body, soul and spirit. . . of a piece.

Lord, so often we are satisfied with mere deodorant
to cover up our stinking selves. 
What would it mean to learn a new fragrance,
to be a new fragrance,
to offer that fragrance to you? 
What would it mean to take pure nard
from the farthest reaches of the Himalayas
and to pour it lovingly over your feet—the feet of our Savior? 
What would it mean to bathe ourselves from head to toe
in the fragrance of our Savior’s blood?

Lord, make us each,
remake us each,
into that aroma which will consecrate us,
each one,
into that individual fragrance of holy service
you have uniquely set out for us,
each one of us,
a path of service and holiness
that you have marked out for each of us,
whether that path lead into the High Sierra
or into the lower East Side of Santa Barbara,
whether it lead to the front of the classroom or to the back,
whether it lead to changing laws in the legislature
or changing diapers in the nursery.

Lord, right now we’re stinking it up. 
We always have been. 
Fill us with your redeeming fragrance,
and let us offer it back to you. 
Amen.
            — Paul Willis, February 9, 2014

IMG_3918Sunlight through the poppies when we had lunch with ‘the moms’ after church.

Linking today with Michelle, Laura, Jen and Jennifer

 


An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Ten

 

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I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

Romans 15:14-21 -NLT

“A special messenger to the Gentiles. . . ” It is the apostle Paul who picks up the thread woven into the fabric of the Incarnation by those wise men from the east, who came seeking a new king. I suppose this story is really more of an Epiphany tale than an Advent one, but here we are with this passage on the 10th day of our Advent journey.

Perhaps those who laid out this list of readings wanted to be sure this small, golden thread was right up front, where it would be noticed. Because, you see, we are the recipients of this particular gift of grace. We are the ones who walk in the shadow of those ancient seekers from the east; we are the ones who follow along with Paul as he rounds the Mediterranean Sea, leaving depositories of gospel grace everywhere he goes.

It’s a thread worth noting, an essential slice of the light we are seeking as we turn round one more bend in the road, journeying toward Christmas Day. We, too, are part of this story.

We, too, are marked by the Spirit as ones who are ‘full of goodness,’ simply because we know Jesus.

Humble Savior, will you help us to know you better as we travel this road? Shine your light on us, lead us into truth, help us to see your goodness shining out of our lives, even in the midst of the holiday crazy.

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.