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, Neighborhood, Prayer, psalms, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 30th, 2017

Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )

Psalm 56

1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.

2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?

5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.

6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.

7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?

9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.

10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;

12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

 

Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).

But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!

Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?

Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?

For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.

But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.

And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)

As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.

So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?

For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.

Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?

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Daily Office, Discipleship, Musings, Prayer, psalms, Relationships, Scripture

Psalm 37: One of My Favorite (and Most Challenging) Psalms-Part 2

I wanted to share one more reflection on Psalm 37. When reading it as a part of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 37 is split into two parts. I want to focus on the second part today. You can read part one here.

Here is the full text below:

9 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly, *

and their inheritance shall last for ever.

20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times, *

and in days of famine they shall have enough.

21 As for the wicked, they shall perish, *

and the enemies of the LORD, like the glory of the meadows, shall vanish;

they shall vanish like smoke.

22 The wicked borrow and do not repay, *

but the righteous are generous in giving.

23 Those who are blessed by God shall possess the land, *

but those who are cursed by him shall be destroyed.

24 Our steps are directed by the LORD; *

he strengthens those in whose way he delights.

25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong, *

for the LORD holds them by the hand.

26 I have been young and now I am old, *

but never have I seen the righteous forsaken,

or their children begging bread.

27 The righteous are always generous in their lending, *

and their children shall be a blessing.

28 Turn from evil, and do good, *

and dwell in the land for ever.

29 For the LORD loves justice; *

he does not forsake his faithful ones.

30 They shall be kept safe for ever, *

but the offspring of the wicked shall be destroyed.

31 The righteous shall possess the land *

and dwell in it for ever.

32 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, *

and their tongue speaks what is right.

33 The law of their God is in their heart, *

and their footsteps shall not falter.

34 The wicked spy on the righteous *

and seek occasion to kill them.

35 The LORD will not abandon them to their hand, *

nor let them be found guilty when brought to trial.

36 Wait upon the LORD and keep his way; *

he will raise you up to possess the land,

and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

37 I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, *

flourishing like a tree in full leaf.

38 I went by, and behold, they were not there; *

I searched for them, but they could not be found.

39 Mark those who are honest;

observe the upright; *

for there is a future for the peaceable.

40 Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; *

the future of the wicked is cut off.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD; *

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them; *

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

 

The main trust of this psalm is this: God cares for those whom God loves, so God will care for them, protect them, provide for them, and deliver them. One of the large ways God does this is by being just and dealing accordingly with the wicked. The righteous, then, can live in such a way that shows they truly believe this to be true about God, by way of generosity, living peaceably, dwelling wherever they are, and entrusting themselves to the  strength and power of God.

I wonder, though, how many of our decisions in life are motivated by a deep, unspoken belief that God is not working for our good, that God doesn’t really care for us, God won’t provide for us, and that God has left things up to us to take from here.

Yes, I realize this is a blunt statement and certainly doesn’t jive with our stated professions of faith. I can already hear the cries of “Deism!” and “Heresy!”, with which I certainly agree. Be that as it may, I think this psalm speaks to our struggle to truly believe (at a core level) what we confess or profess to believe (at a surface level). And we can see this in our fears and actions. We are not really believing what we confess to believe.

When there is injustice around us (and it certainly abounds!) I know my first impulse is to get angry and wonder,”What are we going to do about this?” This is not a bad question at all. But, if it is not tempered with, “What is God doing about it and what will God do about it?” then we may need to step back and ask ourselves, “How can I actively trust God’s presence and work in the world to right this injustice?” Notice, this is very different from “letting go and letting God” (I have a whole rant on that phrase I will spare you from, for now!). Nor is this just pure activism. It is active and faithful presence, rooted in the beautiful reality of God’s greater care for justice than my own.

Quite simply put, God cares more about justice than we ever could, and God can bring about justice in ways we never can. So, this can free us to live generously, compassionately, peacefully, and faithfully; knowing we are participating with God in this powerful and restorative work in the world. God will help. God will rescue. God will deliver. And God invites us to join in this work! What a privilege!

 

My question today is: When I see the wicked prospering and evil abounding, even amongst those who claim to follow Jesus, how can I engage from a place of deep trust in God’s work and desires, not simply from my own anger or fear?

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