Authenticity, Musings, Prayer, psalms, Suffering

Still Feeling It AND Not Giving Up

Last week, I shared some incredibly raw and real thoughts and feelings I’ve been having about what I am seeing within much of the American Christian world. I was struck and humbled by how much my words resonated with so many (and upset some, as well!). I am grateful for the space it has opened for some of us to share our collective grief and pain. While the post was precipitated by a recent event, the feelings and thoughts were not simply about this one situation or “issue” (I really don’t like that word, by the way). Rather, in many ways, this was the culmination of a lot of pain and frustration that has been on a sort of “low boil” for awhile. In regards to how people tend to respond to us when we are in that place, I will have more to write…perhaps later this week.

I believe that my post was not a cry for a debate about a certain topic, nor was it simply a knee-jerk reaction or “hot take” on the latest social media outrage. It was my attempt at a sort of prophetic lament. This is a way of naming what one sees as inconsistent, wrong, and painful…and holding it up to each other and to God. It is a way of saying: “I see this. I feel this. It hurts me and others. It is wrong. We can do better.” In short, it is an expression of where we really are in our faith and life and a small step toward imagining something better. And we see this especially in the psalms. I’d encourage you to read some of them like Ps 31 or 88. Or even Ps 41 (which is an interesting mix of lament and thanksgiving, seemingly on the back end of some intense suffering).

D. A. Carson says that, in biblical lament, the authors do not try “to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

I would also add, that such lament is not just before and with God, but it is amongst a community as well. And it is a KEY and necessary step in addressing any sort of action or response. In short, lamenting is is not giving up or losing hope. It’s looking at and letting out. It is the practice of naming what really is as it is.

Actually, I believe that when we refuse to lament, when we run away from that which is uncomfortable, when we “spiritualize it away”, or even settle for having abstract theological debates about topics, that these can all be forms of giving up. We jump from what is to how it can be quickly and easily resolved. So we respond like this: Here’s a verse. Here’s a book. You should just pray about it. You should just count it all joy!

Soong-Chan Rah in his EXCELLENT book, “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times” says this: “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget. The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”

The practice and habit of lament helps to ensure that we are still connected to suffering and pain in the world, even when it isn’t our own.

There is so much more to say, but I will leave you with one quote from Walter Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination”: “The cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done not by an outsider but always by one who must embrace the grief, enter into the death, and know the pain of the criticized one.”

I’m not done. I’m not going anywhere. I am carrying my feelings and grief with me in the work God has for me in the world. In the end, we lament; not because we have given up, but because we refuse to do so. May we lean in to all that we feel, think, and experience as necessary and un-rushed step forward. May we still feel it, still wrestle, and by doing so, not give up.

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Musings, Prayer, psalms

“Can We Pray That?”- Daily Office Reflections

(Psalm 42, 52: Deuteronomy 11:13-19; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10)

Psalm 52

1      You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *

against the godly all day long?

2      You plot ruin;

your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *

O worker of deception.

3      You love evil more than good *

and lying more than speaking the truth.

4      You love all words that hurt, *

O you deceitful tongue.

5      Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *

topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,

and root you out of the land of the living!

6      The righteous shall see and tremble, *

and they shall laugh at him, saying,

7      “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *

but trusted in great wealth

and relied upon wickedness.”

8      But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *

I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

9      I will give you thanks for what you have done *

and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence

of the godly.

 

As I was praying this during morning prayer this morning, the words seemed to fly off the page and stirred up a lot in me. I thought, “Can I really be praying this right now?”

The psalm seems to be addressed more directly to this tyrant.

I have to be honest: there are many of these descriptors that connect to how I feel about our current president. I don’t intend this to be a politically divisive post; I’m just trying to talk about where I am this morning and where God is meeting me (which can only be where we really are!)

Over the last months, I have felt much of what the psalmist names here. I see a boastful, arrogant leader who pays fast and loose with the truth and uses his words to hurt others. He trusts in wealth and trickle-down economics at the expense of the poor. This is putting it mildly, in my opinion.

But as the psalm goes on, this is a prayer for this tyrant to be taken down, or more directly, taken out. By God. It’s a prayer that God would demolish this leader so that the righteous would see what happens when leaders operate this way.

My first thought was, “Can we pray for this?” This seems extreme. Many commentators thing that this psalm was penned by David in response to the lies, scheming, and murder committed by Doeg the Edomite in 1 Samuel 21-22. He murdered 85 priests based on lies he spread to King Saul.

David had witnessed the evil which can come about when leaders (Doeg is said to be a lead shepherd in Israel) play politics and spread lies. It ends up in destruction.

I’m still not sure how I feel about praying these words, but I do understand the feeling. Perhaps God meets us where we are, even in our outrage and anger against those who perpetuate injustice. Perhaps, we can continue to call out to him and plead for those who lie, steal, kill, and destroy to be taken away.

And we can also commit ourselves to being people of mercy, knowing we need it as well. We can, more positively, proclaim the goodness of our God. We can be a voice for what is true and good in the midst of so many half-truths, full-blown lies, and boasts of what is evil.

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer

“You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” – Daily Office Reflection

Easter VI (Psalm 85, 86; Ezek. 1:28–3:3; Heb. 4:14–5:6; Luke 9:28-36)

28 Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

Ezekiel 2

1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6 And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.
8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

Ezekiel 3

1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.

So, the book of Ezekiel is pretty weird. A lot of imagery. Eating scrolls. Wheels in the sky. Dead bones. All the more reason, I think, for the LORD to make sure Ezekiel knows what his task his as a prophet: to speak what he sees and hears to the people to whom God has sent him.

As I was reading this today I was thinking about many in my life who have served prophetic roles; they spoke truth to me in a time where I most needed it. It was not always pleasant and I did not always listen. But the words do their work in their own way and in their own time. And I am grateful for those who were faithful to speak what they saw and heard to me.

I often am so concerned about how people will receive and respond to my own challenges and invitations. There are many times in writing sermons or rehearsing conversations endlessly in my head (anyone else do this?) where I would try to craft the words in such a way that I would imagine the greatest possible response from others. When you craft things in words, you can become pretty good at persuasion and even mild (or not-so-mild) manipulation of emotions. I’ve learned how to convince people.

But this passage causes me to pause in two ways. First, it reminds me of my primary responsibility: to speak what I have heard and seen, whether people listen or they don’t. This is hard, because it is lonely sometimes. When people don’t respond or don’t validate your words, it can cause doubt to creep in, “Did I really hear that right? Am I wrong? Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Secondly, Ezekiel eats the scroll. Weird, I know. But I wonder if it signifies the internalization of the message he was charged with speaking. Sometimes I am quick to hear something and simply regurgitate it: sort of spiritual bulimia. I think the challenge may be to allow the messages we feel and the impassioned words we hear from God to take up residence in us for awhile; to digest them. I wonder if many prophets are burned out because they binge and purge the words of God, not taking the time to be nourished by the words that are not just for others but are really for us, too.

So, for my prophetic-voiced friends: keep speaking! But keep feasting, too. And take a nap every now and then post-dinner before sharing the treasures you’ve found. It’s really good for you, and will be good for us as well.

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church, Daily Office, Jesus, Musings, Prayer, Relationships, Suffering, Trinity

Ask God and Ask in Faith – Daily Office Reflection

Easter V

(Psalm 80; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27)

James 1:1-15

1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Have you ever just felt totally stuck? There have been times where I have felt paralyzed by a situation or just completely at a loss when it came to a decision I needed to make. Some of you may be like in that you walk out every conceivable consequence or possibility which may result from a decision or conversation. It’s exhausting, right? So much time and effort is put into trying to figure out what might possibly happen. And then, there’s that point where you eventually realize you actually can’t control outcomes. How frustrating is that?

James, as he is writing this letter, is considering the lives of many who would have heard it. They were driven from their homes, likely by some sort of persecution–by things they couldn’t control. After urging them to choose joy (in light of what such trials produce, not simply the trials themselves), he says, if any of you don’t know what to do–if any of you need insight into the world around you–it is time to do one thing: ask God for wisdom.

If I’m honest, this step all-too-often a last resort, not a first impulse. It isn’t until I’m broken down, confused, and lost that I turn to God and ask for help and insight. Now, the remaining part of this passage which talks about asking without doubting can get us tripped up. Sometimes, people take this to mean that we need to be certain about what we are asking. For example, people will say things like: “You really need to believe God will provide for you or heal you or [fill in the blank]. You can’t doubt, or it won’t work.” I think that’s missing the point, and it is pretty dangerous. If God only worked when I was absolutely certain about something, he wouldn’t ever work!

Instead, our trust (the opposite of doubt, by the way) is in the One from whom we are asking. We believe that our God is trustworthy and the wisdom he shares with us is good and worth heeding. It would be like saying this: ask for advice, and then believe that the advice is worth following, even if it seems a little strange, difficult, or confusing. You can trust the Giver of the gift of wisdom, which means you can trust the value of gift when it comes.

What if we just took a small step toward God today of simply asking for wisdom? Is there something you can hold up today and say: “I don’t know what to do here, God, will you show me?” This is asking and asking in faith; faith being a deep trust in the One who loves us and is excited to give freely of wisdom to us.

A Prayer for Guidance

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see
light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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church, Daily Office, Jesus, Musings, Prayer, Relationships, Suffering, Trinity

“That they may be one, as we are one” – Daily Office Reflection

Easter II

(Psalm 119:1-24; Daniel 2:17-30; 1 John 2:12-17; John 17:20-26)

John 17:20-26

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

A friend of mine recently made a print of this icon depicted above with the phrase “As we are one” underneath it. The original was created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublyov in the 15th century. It is meant to depict the Trinity, as he interpreted the visiting of the angels to Abraham and Sarah as a theophany, or revealing of God in the three persons of the Trinity. Now, the print sits on my prayer altar in my home study, a reminder of the invitation and prayer of Jesus for people like me: that we would be one with other followers of Jesus and that this oneness would be same sort of unity as experienced in the Trinitarian life of God. No small prayer, to be sure.

Since beginning my studies at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, my desire to see and embody more expressed unity in the Church has grown. I have had the privilege of learning alongside sisters and brothers from a variety of streams and traditions. I have been challenged, encouraged, sharpened, and blessed by this experience. In short, I think I have had a deeper encounter with this Trinitarian life of unity for which Jesus is praying.

As much as we catch glimpses of unity and deepened relationships with other Christians, we often see much expressed disunity. We have become professionals at fragmenting the Church and building walls around our respective denominations and tribes. If we are to take Jesus’s prayer seriously, this lack of unity is missionally irresponsible. Jesus connects our expressed unity to whether others will believe that Jesus was sent by God to love the world.

Where is the disconnect? Why is it that many who are the most passionate about people hearing and believing in the good news of Jesus can also be the most fractious and divisive? Why is church unity often pitted against evangelism rather than being seen as integral to it? How can we preach a message of reconciliation while living so unreconciled to other followers of Jesus, even where we disagree theologically. Hank Hannegraff’s (The Bible Answer Man) recent conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and the negative responses of many to him and to this Tradition are very demonstrative of this hostility. (No link to the story, but feel free to google it)

Where can we join God in the movement of love toward others? The mission of God to love and redeem the world is rooted in God’s own life of unity. God is interested in bringing all that is not God into communion with God. This is God’s mission. What might it look like for us to participate in this life of unity, which is available to us as those who are in Christ.

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Daily Office, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Musings, Prayer, Suffering

“Things are not alright” – Daily Office Reflection

Lent IV

(Psalm 69; Jeremiah 22:13- 23; Romans 8:12-27; John 6:41-51)

Romans 8:12-27

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

 

In reading this text alongside the Psalm appointed for today, I am remembering the importance of honest and raw prayer. I see such a great example in this Psalm of simply naming what we see, how we feel, and asking God to answer and save.

Sometimes I wonder if what keeps us from getting to this place is that we avoid being where we really are. “No, the waters aren’t up to my neck…I’m doing fine! Just going through a tough season. I’m just so busy right now, you know?” “God is still in control, right? God knows. And any way, it could be worse.”

There can be some amazing freedom in naming the fact that things are bad, broken, and feel hopeless. This passage always reminds me of a song called “The Resistance” by Aaron Niequist. The words are pulled straight from this passage:

all creation waits / bated breath in pain
for redemption’s day
all creation cries / floods and charcoal skies
things are not alright

with brokenness and broken fists we
beat upon the breast of falleness
we hear the call of kingdom come as
one more train we chase to only miss
but we will never give up on it

We are quick to quote Paul’s words above, ” I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us,” but have not done the important work of naming the suffering and, well…actually hurting in the midst of it. Paul was good at naming his own suffering: rejection, loneliness, despair, beatings, shipwrecks, thorns in his side…I could go on. But he then was able to reframe it with hope.

We miss out on the beauty and power of hope by downplaying or ignoring our pain. And we can miss the greatness of our God and our opportunity to depend fully on God today for our strength, our hope…even our words/meaning in prayer.

So…what is bad around you and in you? What needs to be set right? What do you look at and think, “God, save me! I am drowning!” And then, pray and groan about it, totally unfiltered. Don’t worry about the right words. Don’t worry about being theologically correct. Trust that, as you come to God as a child, God wants to hear from the kids.

 

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Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“He withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” – Daily Office Reflection

Lent IV

(Psalm 89; Jeremiah 16:10-21; Romans 7:1-12; John 6:1-15)

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

In this part of John’s Gospel, Jesus had a pretty good moment. He performed a miracle, feeding tons of people. And he taught his disciples something about God’s provision. And people are starting to see him for who he is…or at least, part of who he is. They say, “This is the prophet we’ve been waiting for!” which was a part of their hope for the coming Messiah. A Messiah that they were ready to take and make king.

I had to stop here and think about how I would feel were I in Jesus’ shoes. I would probably be thinking something like, “They like me, they really like me!” I would be basking in the glow of the success of feeding all of these people. I would be feeling pretty good abut myself. Oh, and they want to make me king? Well…I guess that is what I’m here to be. It feels good to be wanted. Father, who would’ve guessed that the people would embrace me like this. What a blessing!

But Jesus’ response is not my response (thanks be to God!). When he realized that he was getting super popular, when he realized that some other were trying to co-opt God’s plan (though they likely didn’t think of it that way…they probably had some good desires for freedom and God’s kingdom to come) Jesus make the decision to get away by himself. At first, this seems so counterintuitive. Was Jesus against being popular? Was he that weird guy at a party that just leaves awkwardly to go be by himself? Is he really just an introvert at heart?

I think something more important is going on here. Perhaps Jesus saw this as a temptation. After all, he had been tempted with popularity before by the Enemy in the desert when he was tempted to throw himself off the Temple for all to see God’s angels come to save him. If Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, as a real human with real feelings, is it too difficult to imagine that Jesus was feeling the pull of popularity, the allure of acclaim, and knew he needed to change things quickly?

I have been challenged with this temptation of popularity recently. I want to be liked. I want to be noticed. I want to be appreciated. (and these are not bad desires in and of themselves, necessarily). But, they often can be desires which push me to act in certain ways. I will take this role because people really want me to do so. I’ll post this on social media in hopes that it gets a lot of likes/retweets/shares.

For Jesus, and for us, the way we can fight against the real pull of popularity is to intentionally choose solitude. It is to say, in effect, I am not what people think of me. I am not my successes (or my failures). I am simply loved by the God who always sees me. The regular practice of solitude–shutting out the noise of the world–allows us to tune into the Voice that speaks perfect love and acceptance to us.

Some of the most profound things have been revealed to me when I take the time to be alone with God, and away from the voices all around me. Do you practice solitude? If so, what has that been like for you?

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