Sunday, July 14, 2013

With All My Heart

I sat for 30 minutes listening to a man who had nothing to say.

I noticed it immediately, the strange disconnect, the old feeling that something was off, wrong.  What is it? I asked myself.  What is happening here?  I looked at his face, noticed his stance, considered his tone of voice.  I examined the strange annoyance that bubbled up in my mind and made the muscles along my spine twitch.

He was taking his time, but he wasn't being compulsively detailed, so it wasn't his pitch or pace that bothered me.  He was ... summarizing.  He was summarizing - not in that "let me set the stage for the point and purpose of my message" kind of way, but in that, "This is all I really have to talk about" kind of way.  It's like he wanted us to hear how much research he had performed.  He wanted us to know that he had really done his homework on it, that he had prepared.  It was like he wanted to distract us from the fact that, though he had spent all this time on something about which he was going to talk, it didn't really matter.  It didn't mean anything to him.  It didn't speak to him.  His message was a summary and his conclusion was an intellectual, theologically sound summation that he could have stated in five minutes or less and it would have made the same impact on him and us.

I'm sure you recognize by now that I'm talking about an experience at church - an experience that I have had regularly at church, in fact.  I confess that I get irritated with it.  I confess that it feels like my time is being wasted.  Where did this inane ritual come from? I wonder.  Why do we sit every Sunday morning and listen to someone ... talk to himself ... about nothing that is even meaningful to him?  

I don't want to confess this to you.  I don't want to speak ill of a fellow minister.  And I understand more than ever how much "pastoring" has become a "job," a set of tasks that must be completed.
  • Read a Passage
  • Write a Sermon
  • Plan a Service
  • Preach
  • Repeat
  • Attend to Other Matters as Needed
  • Oh, and Live up to Everyone Else's Expectations, too.
But I think what is happening inside of me in these moments is less about the perceived failures of the person standing up on the platform that Sunday and more about this deep and unsilenceable question plaguing my spirit, "There has got to be something more."

And that's it, that is what bothers me so much.  It feels like a waste of my time if there isn't something more.  And it feels like a waste of my time because I know there is something more.  

It's there staring out at me from the biblical story like an exotic wild flower in full bloom.

It's there, erupting from the pages of scripture like a rampaging bull, like a government that has just developed nuclear warheads.

It demands my attention.  It captures my heart.  It compels my imagination.

How can you summarize in a moment like this?!?  I want to shake my fist at the pastor.  I feel a little guilty over being angry at him.  He's just a man.  This is just a bad week, a bad month, a bad season.  He can't be hearing from God all the time, can't always have some remarkable experience or some life-changing insight.  Sometimes his job is going to be just that - a job.  

But inside my soul is seriously weeping.

I had a different experience at this same church - once.  And, praise God, I had a different experience at another church just last night.  I have been visiting different congregations now for 9 months, and it has been amazing to experience God speak - not through the voice of one man or woman, but through the voices of more than a dozen different people, bodies, locations, and messages - through lay leaders, friends, co-workers, small groups, testimonies, and acts of kindness small and large.  In all of those experiences, however, there is one that stands out in direct contrast to the Man Who Had Nothing to Say.

In a smaller but vibrant church on the cusp of Nowhere I heard an amazing set of messages from a man whose life had been changed - whose life is continuing to be changed - by the God about which he spoke.  It wasn't a particularly emotional set of messages.  On the contrary, it was a very practical sermon series - so practical, in fact, that it didn't just mean something to the pastor, but it meant something to the lives of the people listening to him.  I rejoiced in the message.  I walked away feeling like, though the pastor hadn't said it the way I would, though there were points with which I would argue or around which I would ask for clarification or more nuanced language, this man knew the same God I knew.  This man experienced the same God I experience.  This man was on the journey, the journey on which I find myself, going in the same direction, and he was offering what he had to help me on the way.

It was a breath of fresh air.  It was a much-needed encouragement.  It caught the sparks of my desire and intimacy with God and stirred them into flame.  There is something more, he seemed to whisper, I can see it, too - there, hidden in that copse of trees just ahead.  Let's go!  Let us chase it with all of our hearts...  Want to?

Dear God, yes!  How I want to!  How I want to chase God with all my heart.

And isn't that what the Spirit of God is whispering to His church, his bride, his beloved?

Do you see it, the delight and desire of my heart?  Can you catch a glimpse of this vision, my heart for you, for the world?  Do you know me?  You can.  You can go with me.  We can run into this together.  Want to?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Today's Confession: Shame (on Me)

I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with shame and insecurity.

If you have never had moments of utter rejection and loneliness; if you have never experienced fear; if you have never understood what it is like to go without - without touch, affection, kind words, compassion, safety, nurture, or basic human care; if you have never been lied to or cheated on; if you have never lost a loved one; if you have never done something that you do not want anyone to know about - ever - then you will not understand this confession.

It is surprisingly easy to pretend that I do not have shame and insecurity issues.  The only signs, unless I know how to pay attention, are certain emotional or irrational moments, a few incongruous patterns, some transient anxiety, or the one or two things that never seem to quite work right in my life.  I usually have to clear away the distractions, the numbness or apathy or anger, the busyness, the activities, the denial to find that shame and insecurity are there.  They are the things that whisper to me in the dark, quiet places of my soul and tell me that I am worthless, that I am ugly, that I am a failure, and that things will never get better - I will never feel safe, I will never be protected, I will never be loved.  They point out every flaw, every failure, and every piece of evidence to that end - and there is plenty.

Needless to say, fear and depression are natural byproducts of shame.  My perfectionism took root here in the past, as well, along with codependency, hiding, intellectualism, over-spiritualization, over-achievement, obsession with looking good on the outside, anti-social behavior, appeasing, self-harming, suicidal ideation, prescription drug abuse and, finally, a suicide attempt.  Shame has prompted me to reject before I can be rejected, to judge others in a desperate attempt to self-protect, and, ironically, to tolerate neglect and abuse - not just tolerate them but cling to them.

All of these behaviors are isolating, self-destructive, and they only cause more shame, which keeps me locked into my cycle.  But it is this last part - the abusive and neglectful relationships part of my story - that is the source of my greatest shame.  I have walked naively into dangerous situations. I have passively allowed myself to be victimized - worse, I have even participated in my victimization.  And I have hurt others.  In the course of my life I have been selfish, unloving, manipulative, avoidant, calculating, and dishonest.

I am confessing this for two reasons:

First, this month I will celebrate ten years in recovery from these addictive, compulsive, self-destructive cycles.  I have ten years of sobriety from suicidal ideation and self-harming behavior.  Nine years ago I said no to the abuse and neglect of an unfaithful, addicted spouse, and God delivered me from that destructive relationship a year later.

But I also need to confess this because I still need help and I want breakthrough.

Every year, God has been faithful to show me my patterns, to peel back a layer of not-so-helpful attitudes, behaviors, or defense mechanisms.  One by one, he has revealed my "little addictions" - like wanting to be successful even if it is not healthy, or wanting people to think well of me to the point that I ignore what is going on inside.  At each stage I have had to bring another part of my life, world, heart, and past into recovery - into conscious, intentional, and relational submission to God - in the hope that He can "restore me to sanity."

I think I am finally at the root of my cycle: Every time I am in shame, I stop thinking clearly. I grow more and more terrified, hurt, and hopeless.  I may not act out in the ways that I once did, but even now I "freeze" and can allow unhealthy things to continue.  I definitely withdraw from myself and others.

I want to win this war on shame so that I can make good decisions, so that I can love myself and others.  I want to dispel the lies of shame so that they do not control me, and I want to build up my resilience to shame so that when it attacks I am not taken out.  If shame gains any ground in my heart, mind, or behavior, I want to recognize it immediately, admit when I am wrong, make amends, and live a life worthy of repentance.

The first step is always to admit (face, acknowledge, get honest about, confess) that you have a problem.  Well, I have a problem, people.

Brought to you by: Today's Confession.

Friday, March 8, 2013

They Were Wrong

"And we all know what happens when we take matters into our own hands, as the story of Abraham and Sarah reminds us!" 

It was said as an aside, intoned as a given, mentioned in passing by an educated man as he dissected an unrelated text from the New Testament about the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It was a bit of a non sequitur but it was offered without much explanation: Everyone, after all, knows the story of Abraham and Sarah, and everyone knows what happens when we faithlessly "take matters into our own hands" instead of "waiting on the Lord."

Wait on the Lord...

The truth is, I've heard the Abraham and Sarah reference in some form or another at a dozen churches; I know exactly what they are talking about. I grew up hearing the story preached passionately from the pulpit by a stocky ex-police-officer with a thick mustache, always with an emphasis on the manipulative, impatient woman who did not submit to God, who did not wait on God and brought disaster on herself and the world in her faithlessness and disobedience.  (Interestingly, the one thing with which I was not familiar when I first heard these stories was the notion of mysogyny.  But that's a different soapbox for another time.)

But I discovered something interesting one day as I poured through the Old Testament for the second or third time.  
I discovered no such thing.

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. 
But Abram said, "O Sovereign Lord ... You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." 
This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir. Look up at the heavens and count the stars ... so shall your offspring be.  
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. 
Genesis 15:1-3
This was the promise given to Abram one fine day as the  man lounged in the sun. He had just successfully pulled off the daring rescue of his nephew, Lot.  As I read the familiar words I was suddenly confused by what it didn't say.  In fact, I grew suspicious and flipped back a couple pages...
The Lord said to Abram  
Leave your country, your people, and your father's household and go into the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:1-3
Go into a land that I will show you ... I will make you a great nation ... 

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but it seems to me like God was being a little, well, vague in these divine revelations.  

     "Get up and go!"
     "Okay. Where, God?"
     "I'll let you know when we get there."

In fact, the author of Hebrews notes:  
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (11:8).
It seems like Abram didn't know a lot of things - consistently - and what I began to notice that 2nd or 3rd time through reading the story was that God seemed to have a particular and peculiar way of showing up with him.  God didn't actually tell Abram much of anything - not at first.  No, God had this way of giving Abram only so much information and leaving a lot of things out.  

So when God first spoke The Promise to Abram, it was just, "Go into a land that I will show you ... I will make you a great nation."  There were no what's, why's, or how's.  Just go and I will bless you and the world.

Indeed, when we pick up the story in chapter 15, Abram is a pretty significant nation in his own right.  His household was so large and affluent that he just laid siege upon a neighboring kingdom and successfully reclaimed the slightly estranged side of his family.  Already the land which God had called him to possess was being forced to take notice of Abram and his clan.  In fact, Abram so believed God's promise that he did not consider it unfulfilled to pass his inheritance on to his faithful servant, the cultural practice of the day. God had already given him everything.  

"What can you give me, God?" Abram noted.  Only then did God clarify, saying specifically from your own body will come your heir. 

Oh.  Well.  That's different.

So, wait, if God never said Abram was going to have children of his own the first time around, that doesn't exactly let them off the hook, does it?  Because this is the point in the story in which they "take matters into their own hands," right?

Interesting question.  And as long as we're asking questions, let's continue to ask the question of what God said - and didn't say.  For example, I noticed that even in chapter 15 God didn't say a word about Sarai in all of this.

So Abram had a different kind of promise this time - a promise of an heir, the promise of a child.  But Sarai is barren.  And it is the custom of the culture that, when a wife cannot bear an heir, she gives her maidservant to her husband for the sake of carrying on the family line.  So Sarai gave Hagar, her maidservant, to Abram, and Abram had a son.

That's pretty much how the story reads. There are no whispered questions or confidential asides decrying any of the parties involved.  There is no shaking of the head or the fist, no pronouncement of God's judgment.  So I wonder: Is this a story of faithLESSness or faithFULness?  It seems to me that Abram and Sarai were so convinced that God's promise would come true that they planned their lives around it.  They were anticipating it, expecting it, looking for it, and willing to submit themselves to it - from the beginning - even when it didn't look a particular way - even when they didn't know what the heck they were getting themselves into.

No promise had been given to Sarai at this point in the story - except vicariously, and  then it was the promise that Abram would have a child.  It wasn't about Sarai.  In fact, women were mostly property anyway.  There was no specific reason for her to think God would fulfill His covenant through her and He certainly wasn't under any obligation to.  They believed God's promise, so when it became evident that it would not come through Sarai, she turned her face toward the fulfillment of God's word as He might see fit.

It was only then - only after Ishmael was born to Hagar and, once again, Abram was lounging in the summer sun with a son - that God, true to form, popped in and offered the rest of the story.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said:  
 I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers ... You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham ... As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.  I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. 
Genesis 17:1-5,15-16.

You know, it's easy for us to look back on all of this and say that they should have known God's intentions the whole time.  It's easy for us, with the story stretching behind us into history and not before us into the unknown, to say, "God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. It took a long time to fulfill that promise and they lost faith, taking matters into their own hands. But that wasn't what God intended.  Ishmael wasn't what God intended."  But the only way we can make those kinds of statements is by reading ourselves and our modern Christian culture into the story.  Even God himself said,
"I will surely bless Ishmael; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  He will be the father of 12 rulers and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac" (17:20-21).
God promised to make Abram into a great nation, into many nations. If Ishmael had died off then maybe we could say, "Yeah, that didn't seem to work so well."  But he didn't.  Ishmael became a father of many nations himself, fulfilling God's promise to Abram.  In fact, it is almost as if God fulfilled his promise to Abram not once but three times: God made Abram's household a great nation that blessed those around him (see the story of Lot and Sodom); then God made Abram the father of nations through Ishmael, a son from his own body, and blessed those nations because of him; and finally God gave Abram a son by Sarah, with whom he made a particular covenant that meant Abram became the father of even more nations and even more blessing came to him and because of him through it.  It's a thrilling story that speaks to both the mystery and abundance of God's promises, doesn't it?

So, to recap: Abraham and Sarah weren't modern.  And they weren't Christian.  And the truth is - as far as I know - we have absolutely no biblical reason to believe that theirs is a story of faithlessness, manipulation, or failure to wait on God.  In fact, if anything, I think this story is the exact opposite example: This is what it actually looks like to wait on God.  This is how we are to be faithful!

That's right, I'm going to say it:

All the pastors I know who have preached on this story are wrong.

Further, if we are an Exodus people - if we are a people brought out of slavery, brought into the wilderness, brought through to be made faithful, and brought up to take the land - then not only are they wrong, but they have denied us a vital narrative to help us on our journey.

People of God: This is what it looks like to be faithful...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Spirit of the Ruins

Now I can finally say with full assurance and all the gusto I can muster: It's the most wonderful time of the year!  

That's right!  Lent!  Ashes! Sorrow! Reflection and inventory! Fasting and contemplation! Sin and repentance! A grappling with death!

Who else wants to get in on this shindig?!?

*cue crickets*

But it is a wonderful time of year - a beautiful time even.  For if our story is an exodus story - one about slavery and deliverance - then we quickly discover that it is also a wilderness story, with questions and doubts, wanderings and failings, longings and long journeys we do not know if we will ever complete.  It is, in fact, a story of death - and new life, a story of taking the land and rebuilding the ruins of the past.

A friend of mine put it this way:
Some things present themselves as "an Everlasting Gobstopper ... deliciously sweet and yet there is never, ever an end.  And endings are such good-tasting things. But they may not package well or seem so novel to our whimsical, wonky wants."
It is the end of a thing that allows for a new beginning, and the beginning of a thing is always, eventually, followed by an end.  So let us not be dissuaded by death, sorrow, and ashes, but let us see where this exodus story - and the story of the cross - takes us...

*     *     *

While skimming through Ezra I was struck by obvious and yet hithertofore missed themes. God had declared through Jeremiah that His temple would be rebuilt.  I don't know how many years passed between that prophecy and King Cyrus of Persia - whose heart was moved by God to act - but the book of Ezra begins with chapters and chapters about how long it took for that promise to be fulfilled.  Kings came and went since Cyrus and they decided the temple was a threat.  Finally, Darius completed the assignment generations(?) later.

So  many attempts to build - stalled, thwarted, attacked, diverted - yet all along it was being rebuilt.  God was fulfilling His word, His promise.  It took lifetimes.  It was a pbrocess.  God called upon many to uproot and leave their homes to go and do the work.  He called the people to sacrifice, to give offerings, to give gifts for its building.  It was a burden and a joy that fell on everyone whose heart was moved by God.

It makes me think of the building of a new relationship - the way my friends and community are with me as I venture into this endeavor myself. They experience my hurts and they suffer their own hurts with me.  They are blessed when I am blessed.  And my relationship is a blessing to them - when we are doing the hard work of planting and sowing righteousness and life.  My community bears a responsibility even if they are not being sent into the fray themselves.  The burden is both a joy and a sadness.  In fact, Ezra 3:11-13 says:

"And all the people gave a shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  One could not distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.  And the sound was heard far away."

Real life, true love, and authentic community is a combination of weeping and laughter.  It is remembering the past and honoring tragedy with grief - even while stretching out one's hand to the burden and the joy of the promise of new life and redemption.
Somewhere in Israel 2009

God woke me with visions and the whispers of His Spirit.  One of the many things he showed me was the image of a ruined city - crumbled walls and scattered stones, decayed by the wind and the rain and the sun, baked and barren.  He said:

"When I rebuild the ruins, I do not just build new walls on top of the old foundations, I pull out of the ruins the essence and beauty and grandeur and hope, the vision the land had before those things were destroyed, the promise that was trapped and buried within the ruins.  I call it out of its grave with crumbled walls as markers; I breathe new life into it like coals fanned into flame, and I dream with the very foundations about what it someday will be."

So as we observe this Lenten season, may we face with courage and conviction the death that has been a part of our story.  May we submit ourselves to the wilderness and to the rebuilding God calls us to in the hopes that we may be made faithful.  And may we live in the beautiful place where our shouts of joy are indistinguishable from the sound of our weeping.  For this is what it means to truly live.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where God Is

Our story begins in slavery. All of us.

That is the truth of which we are reminded at the dawn of each new year - with the practice and celebration of Advent.  Yes, the season of anticipation is a season of remembering our bondage.  It is a time to open our eyes and admit our powerlessness.  We are a people in darkness - so much so that we do not even recognize it. When we remember the coming of Messiah what we recognize is our need for Him to come to us today, to come and deliver us again. Still.

Do you need to be delivered?  

Those of us who make our way to recovery usually do so because we have recognized something profound.  It is Paul's confession in Romans 7:21, in fact:
So, I notice that when I want to do what is good and life-giving, I actually have a mode of thinking, feeling, and acting that is destructive...  
Most translations say that this "evil" is "present with me" or "right beside me."  I have likened it before to Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25:

There is a way that seems right (to me) but
in the end it leads to death.

Let me emphasize this for any non-recovery readers out there:


You know, all those times that you look at someone else and think, 

"I can't believe he just did that.  You just don't do that." 

"I work hard to NEVER be _________"
like 'those people'

That is the way that seems right to you.  And it goes with you everywhere you go; it is right beside you.  And it probably always will be.

That is why AA members always begin their time by saying, "Hi, may name is ____, and I'm an alcoholic."  They are confessing out-loud that the way that seems right to them - the mode of acting and thinking and feeling that is right beside them - is alcohol.  Alcohol is their Pharaoh waiting to enslave them, ever present in Egypt where they used to make their home.  They say it because they know that the only way NOT to go back is to acknowledge what is waiting for them if they do - lest they forget!

And if our story begins in Egypt, then John "the Baptist" tells us how to prepare, how to receive our deliverance: Repent.  

What he describes is not a one-time turning away from one clear "sin."  What he describes is everyday life.  You know that thing that is present with you, right beside you, that way that seems right to you?  You need to repent of that the same way that you used to practice it - diligently, regularly, constantly.  The language John uses is "bear the fruit of repentance" and I think this is intentional. John is talking about an ongoing process of submission very much like working the ground - season in and season out - in order to bear good fruit.

I like to think of it as living a life worthy of repentance.  Like the alcoholic, I do not get to forget that I once lived in Egypt and served another master, because my Egypt is right beside me, and I need to live in constant repentance from it, not in fear, but in constant seeking and surrender to my new master, my Deliverer, and His path for me.

This repentance, this constant surrender in humility, then, is the wilderness.

This is the wilderness to which we are led when we are led from our bondage.  I think we experience it as a wilderness because it is new and a little scary, and we have absolutely no idea what to do!  But it is the place where God teaches us how to be faithful.  It is the place where we die and are resurrected so that we might go in and take the land of God's promise to us - but again, not once: constantly.  It is in and from this wilderness place that Jesus entered into "ministry" and I am convinced that this is the place from which we minister, too.  It is only as we follow God's Spirit into the wilderness and receive His provision, direction, correction, and anointing that we then have wisdom, provision, direction, correction, and hope to offer others.  It is only as we die and receive new life that we have new life to offer others.

This wilderness repentance process is a lifestyle and it takes a lifetime.  We are constantly learning how to be  a faithful people, submitted and surrendered to our God.  And I think that what we find as we learn how to live there is that "God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves" (AA Big Book).  As we learn to live in the wilderness, God is invading the land and conquering the giants, preparing a place for us.  And the greatest irony is, the Promised Land is actually the land of our past, our brokenness and humiliation.  

If God leads us out of slavery into the wilderness, then as we learn how to be faithful there, God is going in and rebuilding the New City of his Promise right on the ruins of the old.

This is where the simple story of Israel's exodus begins to fail us - and must expand to encompass everything that happened after they were given their land.  They made quite a mess of things.  They were beaten down and destroyed.  They were sold back into captivity and homelessness.  They needed to be rebuilt.  We need to be rebuilt.

I offer this story in this, the infancy of a new year, in order for us to find ourselves in it.  Where am I?  Where are you?  Are we in Egypt, longing to be delivered (or making our home there with reservations about letting go)?  Are we beginning to learn what it means to live a life worthy of repentance or are we wandering in the wilderness storing up manna only to have it rot in our tents?  Some of us complain about the desert (me) while others quietly slip down and forge their idols with the gold they brought from Egypt.  We both have the nerve to be shocked when God confronts us with his presence, provision, and call.

While I descended upon the mountain for you, etching my heart for you in its very stones; while I poured out my desire for you and ached to make you my people, you longed for Egypt, grasped for that which would not sustain you, and then gave yourselves in frothy excitement to an idol, making love to her at my feet.

Some of us have accepted this desert assignment reluctantly, others have given ourselves to the wilderness trek, but we eye the Land of Promise with trepidation.  We are not interested in revisiting the ruins of our past.  We want a new city that has nothing to do with the old.  We want a reset button, not redemption.

I don't know what comes after redemption and the rebuilding of our ruins.  If the Passover Feast is any indication, then after drinking of the cup of redemption, the last bit has something to do with being taken to be with God.  This makes me think of another story.

I have come to understand that my "way that seems right" is legalistic perfectionism laced with codependency.  I like to feel guilty about things and take responsibility for that which is not mine.  I also enjoy beating myself up in an effort to achieve perfection.  The image of a slave being pummeled in order to perform inhuman tasks and build someone else's city is very apt, now that I think about it.  And in the course of doing things my way, a city, indeed, was built - on shifting sand - as the saying goes.  When it toppled I recognized a poignant truth: This is the best that I can do.  I have worked hard at "the way that seems right" and it produced death. I would rather have nothing and be with God, where I will always be satisfied with the Fruit of His Spirit.

I don't know about you, but I want to be where God is.  

May He call us out and make us faithful and even rebuild the ruins of our past so that we can be with Him.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Fires, Floods, Tornadoes, Ruins and Parades

Blogging lately has been like trying to write during a house fire.  Thanksgiving new-ness sparked a rush of flaming homework that made the Christmas road trip burn so bright that New Year's was nothing but coals, ash, and hot air.  I was shivering out in the cold watching the last timbers cave into a glowing husk before I even realized that I should have grabbed my laptop (and then realized upon my realization that I had).


Speaking of natural disasters: ideas, emotions, and un-uttered observations are whirling in my head like a funnel cloud just beginning to extend its insidious finger out of an ominous sky.  I don't know if I should linger and zoom in for that amazing, once-in-a-lifetime shot or turn and run as fast and as far as I can in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be), I've always been a little fascinated by extreme weather, so here I've sat as debris and small animals go flying all around me.

Look. There's a pig - that looks like a turkey.

This is a very strange way to say that life very often does NOT look the way you expect it to.  House fires, whirlwinds, holidays and homework have a way of overrunning riverbanks and sweeping you away into strange new positions among strange new locations, all while leaving you feeling very cold and very wet and wondering if you are going to be able to breath from one moment to the next.  In fact, you imagine that once you get a chance to really think about it, you will probably be good and traumatized.  But trauma requires time for reflection, I think, and who has time for that?

Me.  Apparently.

And for good reason.  You see, in the parade of moments (because parades, in my opinion, are just another kind of disaster) there was one thought that kept occurring to me and that has begged me to come back and visit - you know, when I have time to share a cup of coffee and maybe even try a homemade scone.  The thought went something like this:


No. That's not quite it.  It was more like:

"No - ouch! Danget! What the ...?"

"No, I don't want to ... Ouch! That hurts! Danget, can this be fixed? What the ...!"

One of my favorite authors, Rowan Williams, puts it this way:
Restoration means going back to the ruins of the past, to the devastated and depopulated land and building there, with the help of God, a city which is new but which still stands on the same earth as the old. It is going back to the memories of the painful, humiliating past and bringing them to redemption in the present.
God builds redemption on disaster sites.  It's the only way to build redemption, as it turns out.  In fact, when I try to vacate the premises, He gently takes me back.  Rowan goes on to say:
My future will not be mine without the concrete memories of all my past.  Our hope, then, is like the prophetic hope, a hope for the past, a hope for our native soil.  God will take us back to the place where our cities and temples, our ideals and aspirations, faith and love, were destroyed and defeated.  Risen life in and with Christ is now, entirely fresh, full of what we could never have foreseen or planned, yet is built from the bricks and mortar, messy and unlovely, of our past.
Where are is the caution tape in your life?  Where are the disaster sites - the places you'd really rather not go, the things you'd really rather not feel again?  My God is Building up Ruins.  Anyone else want to sign up for that?