Monthly Archives: September 2014
I have been involved in many conversations of deep hurt the last week. I have felt overwhelmed.
I have been in many conversations about ministries (church and non-church) experiencing formlessness and void, crisis about the future. I have felt overwhelmed.
The world is experiencing much violence and fear from every side. I have felt overwhelmed.
Today, in the dark sanctuary of my congregation, light was shining through the stained glass windows and they are wonderfully designed such that the window for “I am the Resurrection” is 10x brighter than any other window. Dazzlingly bright. (I cannot do it justice here but I have tried with a couple of phone pictures.)
The window spoke to me. Is speaking to me.
Do not fear.
I have come to give you life.
You are not alone.
You are my beloved.
I am the Resurrection.
This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here
- In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
- To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
- To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
- To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
- To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: here
- In gratitude to God: here
- Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: see below
- Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives
As we break this section down I will skip the “empowered by the Spirit… live holy and joyful lives” parts. Not because they aren’t important, but because I hope that I covered them last time in the “in gratitude to God” reflection (we could always say more but I’m trying for a series of reflections and not a whole book!). So without further ado:
I’m a big Yoda fan. I even have an authenticated life-size Yoda statue (which is a lot easier than the same for Chewbacca). I am as quick as any to quip, “Do or do not, there is no try.” But… do I really think that is true? Certainly there places in scripture (and our faith communities) where we draw lines in the sand and make it clear you either do this and you are one of us, or you do not – and you are not. But to say do or do not is to presume that the task is do-able, and that we are absolutely clear what the task is. And so I ask: is the way of Jesus something we can do? Is it helpful to say we will either or not do what Jesus asks of us? Or do we, rather, try. We try to serve Christ in all we do… or maybe to say that in a slightly stronger way. We strive. We yearn. Our bodies lean in to the way of Christ. We crave to live as Christ would have us. And yet we know we will not perfectly do it. We will not achieve it. We will not be “the way of Jesus” we will be the best approximation of that way that we can muster. In this word, strive, we combine accountability and affirmation, confession and pardon, aspiration and settledness, prophetic calling and gracious inclusion, the way we do not and the way we do.
We strive. Not “I try” but “we strive.” It’s stronger than me alone or simply a tacit veneer of hope that something like Jesus will happen in me. We strive acknowledges the claim Christ’s way has on all that we are, while granting us grace to fall short. When we “do not” it does not mean that Christ is not still at work in us and through us. It means that while we set out to live a life that is beyond our ability Christ delights in our efforts no matter how short we come of whatever goal we aspired to live. As Thomas Mertonsaid, “the desire to please God is in fact pleasing to God.” (loose quote, full quote footnoted below).
I want to say one and only one thing. I am convinced that scripture is clear (or as clear as it ever is), if you wish to serve God (through the way of Christ) than to do that we must serve each other. We love God by loving our neighbors. We serve Christ by living in service to the whole community of God’s creation
What a powerful two words: daily tasks. We don’t serve God by going to church, by worshiping, by being in Sunday school or a mid-week Bible Study, by going on a mission trip, or…. whatever. We serve Christ in our daily tasks. All that stuff we just named that sounds like the programmatic life of the Church – that’s all just practice. It’s like a homework assignment of writing out spelling words. But we do not write out spelling words for the sake of busy work. We do it to make them a part of who we are so that when we go to use those words we can do so naturally, instinctively, and without thought. They become a part of us for their use in our daily tasks. We mistake Church as an end (a goal) in itself far too often. It is simply meant to be a community of formation for the REAL TASK. Living in service to Christ in our daily tasks. How are you serving Christ at school? At work? At play? At home? On the road to these places? At the waiting room for a Dr.’s appointment?
Let us rephrase that question in light of our whole reflection: how are you striving to love the people you encounter each day?
This is what we commit our lives to look like: God’s love being poured out in chance and intentional encounters every day of our life. All the other things we do in God’s name? They live in service to that goal and not the other way around. The goal is to live the love of God and the way of Christ towards our neighbors in our daily tasks, and whatever it takes to keep us directed toward that goal… is church (intentional community of faith). And anything else? Is probably either a distraction or directly counter to who we believe ourselves to be called to be.
Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives.
Thanks be to God.
This prayer is a great gift, these words sit – among others – above my desk as a constant reminder:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” -Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Yesterday we closed a Presbytery worship service declaring a building vacated and dissolving that worshiping community as a congregation. It was a moment to recognize that death happens.
The week before that I preached at that same church on Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection and Peter’s rebuking him that he can’t die (Matthew 16).
We have a tendency to confuse form and function. In that moment I believe Peter was obsessed with the form of Christ. He didn’t have a failure of faith. He has a failure of imagination. He could not imagine Christ outside of the way he had experienced him to that point. He was obsessed with the form, rather than the function of God… of Jesus. So resurrection held no hope for him. He didn’t want resurrection – he wanted not to have to go through any changes.
We get that way about Church. (God too…) We get where we obsess about the forms we know and are comfortable with and cannot see past them. But God is on the move. And the form of the Church is too… the Church will form and re-form as need arises to fulfill its function. When a form has played its part… it will die. But that doesn’t mean the Church dies. The Church is not a form. And the Church will find a new way to be manifest even as we mourn the loss of the way we knew, the way we were comfortable with, the way we wish it could still be.
The challenge I find with regards to death is that we are called to give it neither too much, nor too little, credit. When we obsess on death we miss the point, and those who wish we would talk more and longer about “a dying church” are perhaps a bit too obsessed with form. The Church isn’t dying… the Church is finding a new form. Its purposes will still be lived out, its function is as much in demand as it always has been and always will be. It just isn’t necessarily being met the same way we are used to imagining. Like Peter… we need to give that up a bit and challenge our imaginations to see a new way. We need to be Church making real the same hope, love, and justice in very new ways through unfamiliar forms. We need to trust that resurrection is real, and – wait for it – good. We need to be willing to be re-formed.
We proclaimed yesterday at the end of the service that this site was no longer a worshiping congregation of our church. But as I walked out the words that resounded in my head were, “but of his kingdom there shall be no end.” The Church – even THAT church – will go on. Its a form that died, not its function, not its purpose, not even its being. That is simply waiting for resurrection and the new form it will take as God coaxes life from the formlessness and void, and calls it good.
I do not like running. Let us get that clear. I have always been of the opinion that if you saw me running you ought to start running too because something bad was chasing me. And here I am… I’m running every other day for between 30 – 45 minutes. I started in July and here we are in the beginning of September and I haven’t quit yet. I do not enjoy it. I do not find it peaceful. I do occasionally feel successful when I hit a new milestone. But when I’m running what I wish to be doing is not running. My body is sore. I do not get a “runner’s high” from the exercise. I feel like I’m running myself to death…. But I know otherwise.
I’m running myself to life. My medical insurance plan is trying to be proactive to get us to live healthier so we will have less health costs (not entirely altruistic on their side, but still in my best interest). I visited my doctor and, as has been the case for years, she says, “You should exercise more.” I crack a joke about running around after four kids and working a job that has night meetings and no real weekends. I list all the excuses why I do not have time to exercise. They aren’t bad excuses. They aren’t unique to me. And you know what? They will seem hollow if I don’t live to hold my grandkids in my arms.
I want to celebrate major life events with my children and I want to hold them and cry with them in moments of great loss. I want to see their dreams realized and let my heart break with them when those dreams cannot be. What I don’t want is to have all that cut short because I couldn’t find time to take care of myself.
As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a powerful reflection from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
In modern life, people think that their body belongs to them and they can do anything they want to it… This is one of the manifestations of individualism. But… it also belongs to your ancestors, your parents, your future generations, and all other living beings… Keeping your body healthy is the best way to express your gratitude to the whole cosmos. (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 106)
And then I’d go one step farther. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all inter-related. We cannot neglect one without expecting it to have negative effects on the others. This is an aspect of discipleship the church has almost always neglected – as if we could train up spiritual maturity in a vacuum divorced from the rest of life. Attending to our physical health is as much a part of responsible stewardship as any other more traditional task. Our bodies are a gift given to us by the universe, by God, by our parents, by everyone who has invested in its nurture and growth. Their gift deserves our responsible care.
I have been cheating the future by over-indulging the present. So no. I don’t like running. But it’s an investment. It is an investment in responsibility that in a world where many factors cannot be controlled (like if I get hit by a bus or get cancer or happen to have, as I do, genetically bad cholesterol) I will take control of the parts that are very much my responsibility. I will run. I will run myself to life.
So what about those excuses which weren’t made up? What I am finding is a couple things. Consider this my tips for getting started from someone still very early in the learning process:
- Know yourself. I am not a morning person. I don’t try to run early. I have tried it before – and failed miserably. Sometimes I run in the heat of the day. Is it the most effective time to run? No. But it’s the most likely time I will actually do it – and that makes it’s the PERFECT time.
- Start small. I decided I would just work on what I could do in a 30 minute workout and that is all I would tackle. Healthier eating could happen later. But setting unrealistic goals aids the excuses. Repetition and discipline is more important than making huge strides.
- I find I do eat slightly healthier without trying because I don’t want to ruin the effects of running… but I’m NOT on diet. And I’m not working on this… its just a byproduct that is its own good.
- I don’t have a “b” but I don’t want the outline rules folks to tell me I needed to have one.
- Start simple. I prefer riding my bike. But its extra steps. I have to pump tires, have more equipment maintained, get to a good biking path, and actually have my bike with me. It may not be much – but its more complication. More complication just lends voice to the excuses. So while I don’t like running it is also extremely simple. No gym, no equipment (though I did buy better shoes), and no real need for great intentionality – when the time presents itself I go.
- Double up. I have taken to running at parks where I can do laps while watching the kids play. This way I’m not forcing Caroline to watch four kids while I run – not that this isn’t a good idea from time to time, and not that she would do it – but again. Simple. Keep my methods agile. I also have taken to running during my son’s soccer practice. I used to play games on my phone, or do email, or make up an errand I didn’t really need to do. Now I run and that time was already boxed off for me on my weekly calendar.
- Give grace. My target is 30 minutes. I don’t care what the 30 looks like, and occasionally it’s had to be 20 minutes. I try and do 40 the next time when that is the case. But I’m not trying to build it up to a larger and larger time. I try not to beat myself up when, for whatever reason, I stop early or end up walking. My trick is consistency and consistency is happening because I’ve made it agile and easy to fit in. The moment it becomes more… well, we’ll see. By then maybe it will have become a large enough priority that I can make it happen – but I’m not promising anything and that feels good to me. This is all about giving myself grace to make it work simple and small.
- Don’t Compare. Other people run faster than I do… a lot faster. Some only walk. I see them, they see me. We even wave sometimes – it’s almost like a club without dues to be paid. We are all already paying actually! Anyway. The point is that we are out there doing it. Forget faster or slower, shorter or farther. None of that matters. It turns out you aren’t me and I’m not you. So if you need to compare than do so against yourself. This isn’t a race. This is about improving and caring for you. Yes I’m impressed by the chiseled physiques of the people who go blazing by me. I’m plodding out there with my sweat soaked shirt, I probably look like I’m gasping for air, and I know that nothing about me says, “I’m cool.” And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. I’m not doing this to impress you. I’m not running to lose weight, or get more muscles, or impress anyone. I’m doing this to live longer and better.
- Get cheerleaders. I run alone (unless my son joins me which he does once in a while). I do that because it’s easy and agile and easy and agile is what is getting this done for me. It’s easier, I hear, for others to make themselves run if they have a partner. That’s great. There is no right or wrong here. What makes it do-able is right. Regardless of what works for someone else. But you need cheerleaders. I post my runs on Facebook through an app. I do not do it to brag. I don’t do it say look at me. I am doing it because I feel like I’m responsible to people who have taken notice of my running. I feel like they will call me on it if I don’t post a run. And you know what – it feels good when they hit “like” on my run. Particularly when it’s the people who run marathons and triathlons and post times well beyond anything I can conceive of. I’m affirmed. I’m accounted for. I am cheered on that what I’m doing matters. Needing a little bit of cheerleading is NOT narcissism. Its about encouragement – it’s the cloud of witnesses that egg us on as we run the race that is set before us. Self-care not only gets healthy habits but it recognizes that we need community to encourage us to keep it up.
- Express gratitude. I’m not doing this well yet so here is my start. Thanks for being cheerleaders. Thanks for encouraging me in a practice that feels so bad even while I know on some level it is good. And an even bigger thanks to my wonderful wife Caroline for being willing to deal with me ditching out on the end of bath time or whenever it is that I disappear for 40 minutes to go run. I couldn’t do it without you. And lastly. Thank you to my kids. Who reminded me that my life is not my own. Who challenged me without a word or a glace to make sure I have done what I can to be there for the tears, the laughter, and the love.
I AM running from something when you see me. I’m running from excuses. More than that I’m running towards… I’m running towards a better future than what was in store for me a month ago. What about you? How are you being called to health? Let me know – because I’d like to be a cheerleader for you too!