After Charlottesville: Unequivocal, Repentant, Listening, Re-formed

 

There is a phrase that’s thrown around churches like mine: “Reformed and always reforming.”  Depending on who you talk to this refers to either the personal response of individuals (We have re-formed our theology now we need our hearts, minds, morals and outer lives to be re-formed as well) or the modus operandi of the reformer in the world at large – (Our theology and church and lives are always being re-formed by our engagement with scripture, creation and each other).   People argue about this, I guess.

 

I was reminded of this phrase when I read the article by Jemar Tisby in the Washington Post on Sunday (and more of the work at RAAN- Reformed African American Network).   In the Post Mr. Tisby wrote these words, “After Charlottesville, Will White Pastors Finally Take Racism Seriously?”   Will I?   We are asked if white pastors NOW realize that so much of the Christian life is expressed as though White-ness, the benefit and understanding of the world you have when you are white, is considered the explicit and implicit goal and best outcome of our life together as Christians?”  “Will you, White pastors, realize this and see what it does to your brothers and sisters?” Mr. Tisby is asking in this article.  This cannot be unseen once you see it – our culture and our church were born out of this very assumption.  What we saw in the states this weekend was the vile, end-of –the-spectrum outcome of assuming white culture, history, church history, theological and institutional conclusions were the norm and the goal.  The vile outcome of this implicit way of walking in the world manifests in the degradation and utility of anyone not white for the purposes of a culture that benefits white skin and ideas alone.  North America was founded on this and all the good we enjoy was built within this method.  This is not in dispute.  White Christian’s understanding of themselves and the blessing of God is rooted in this – this is also not in dispute. It is.  It is.  It is a fact.   Now we can absolutely not be racist in theory or wish ill on the immediate people around us, but we can also absolutely benefit from the legacy of the degradation and utility of other human beings, and we do. And that has to be reckoned with.  Because race and the habit of not seeing others who are not like you, plays out in economics and in opportunity.  After 100’s of years, it is of course still embedded throughout North American culture that economic factors, capital, and opportunity factors, social capital, are unequal between the races.  And when we talk about white privilege it is this:  Can we look away from other people’s hurt, harm, words of protest, and in no way have our economic or physical lives threatened?  Can we live our lives without being affected by this?  Is OUR norm completely fine?   That is our privilege which is a race privilege and a class-economic privilege.  Now I’m not saying we all have to become full-time justice activists.  But what our brothers and sisters are asking is that we do not look away from the evil of racism woven throughout our institutions because we simply can and our daily lives of good abundance and our lives with Jesus would not be affected (but of course, it will be).

 

What Mr. Tisby is calling for is for the church at large to accept the diagnosis which our brothers and sisters of colour are giving us all.

The human flourishing which God intended and incarnates at all points when God walks among his creation, (and that is a reformed, biblical, beautiful concept if ever there was one) is being held back by a refusal to acknowledge this deeply rooted brokenness, SIN of systemic racism.

The flourishing which God intended in his Kingdom is being held back when we do not listen to what’s being said.  Its being impeded when we do not ask questions about, repent from, turn around, and finally see Jesus as the one who holds EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

The flourishing of God’s creation is being impeded, by us, when we do not listen and obey, act, think, and interpret the world differently, with humility, with total, unequivocal mercy and grace.

The flourishing of God’s kingdom is stopped and then perverted when we do not take the response-ability to be re-formed, as it were, in regards to The Other.  When we do not respond to grace a life like Jesus’.   When we refuse to let light into this area, we are refusing to have our lives taken over by the ONE  that is bringing all things together into unity, into wholeness,  that is destroying the wall that divides us and is creating in himself one new humanity out of the divisions. (see Ephesians…all of it).

 

In Canada, in the Canadian Church, we do not have the cultural legacy of slavery, but we have a legacy of assuming white culture is God’s norm.  We do.  The white church thought it was right to damage and demean a whole culture of God’s creation to force it into whiteness, which they assumed was God’s truth.   And it has decimated real humans, our indigenous brethren, in ways that are still being realized.   If we are going to have reconciliation with anyone, we have to start there.  The obvious and empirical evidence is this: God’s world is not defined by white culture (which was European and colonial culture and is now also North American and capitalist culture).   The beautiful truth of God so loving this world got worded as, “you have to think, be and live exactly in this way, OUR white way, to understand God’s love.”  And that is not the truth.  Just travel and find out. Just listen to voices long silenced and find out.   God’s world, and God’s word, empirically we can tell by using our eyes, is more than our own understanding of it.  It is more than our own interpretation of it.  So as re-formed pastors, theologians, lay people, how do we understand God and interpret Jesus and these incredible scriptures knowing that our interpretation of them is rooted in a white cultural bias and is rooted in a cultural bias that puts the power of interpretation into the hands of a few who fit the bill?

 

What gives me hope is that Jesus got this “reformed and always reforming” thing and I think in both senses of the phrase.  He understood his role as a prophet, calling the interpretation of God’s works in the world back into an original light, back into a wholeness, a love, a relationship of meaning, wonder and created covenant.  But he also called into question the interpretation 100’s and 1000’s of years of that call that a specific culture had.  He did not mind breaking Sabbath laws if they helped God’s creation heal and become whole, over and over.  He did not mind breaking social taboos of associating with women, men of disrepute, over and over–it healed them and they became whole.  He re-formed a cultural understanding of the work of God in service of each person’s restoration into loving communion.  He re-formed the culture’s understanding of God and its theology – that it wasn’t by our work that we come into relationship with HIM – it is by His work and His grace.   And then He charged everyone to take that lived truth of grace and offer it back to God through the very shape, action and motivation of their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.   Love this God, love this neighbour, love this self.

 

And in the ultimate “the medium IS the message” moment, the incarnation of God’s self in Jesus offers us the truth of how God is.  He is with us, over and over, in all cultures, in all races.  In all various broken and incomplete understandings, He is with us.  Andrew Walls, the missiologist, talks about how the very fact of the incarnation leads to a broader, fuller, truer, more whole understanding of the gospel with every new people group it encounters.   It does this because the incarnation is a translation itself.  A translation of God’s life force into the context of one culture.  And as each group encounters the gospel, something new is made known about the presence of that God.  And then that translation is translated again into another culture and then into another, with the truth being the kernel of “with us”, “for us,” “unto us” in every context and sola Christo (Christ alone) being the diamond waiting to be revealed with every generation.

 

To the church of North America, if I may, letting God translate Jesus into a context of diversity IS what IS happening now.  We are not a whole bunch of worlds separate from each other.  We are one world, one big-small world.   This is the truth that He is revealing through His creation.  And submitting to God’s work of opening our eyes to His diversity is the first step.  Followed closely by an examination of how we don’t do this systemically, at large, and from the front.  In practical, daily terms: Step number 1 – LISTEN TO OTHER VOICES.  Ask for discernment, ask for courage, ask for humility.  Read other stories.  Listen to experiences, and understandings of our good God.    Step number 2 – TALK TO OTHER VOICES.  Talk, see, ask questions, under-stand – that is, stand literally under their experience until you get it.   Step number 3 – TALK ABOUT IT.  Talk about race, how it is experienced in your specific context, engage with stories from YOUR city and the world.  To your kids, to your spouses, to your parents.  In your classrooms, in your churches.    Step number 4 – LISTEN, READ, TALK with the Spirit of the Living God, with all the honesty you are capable of and ask Him to reveal what’s going on.  Ok, maybe that should be first.  And also maybe that is actually happening as you do steps 1-3.

AND THEN LIVE DIFFERENTLY, in response and in gratitude to this good news of God with us.

 

We affirm that Jesus would have none of this white supremacy garbage.  That really should be easy to affirm.  And now its ok to see where its roots and effects still lay within our every day workings.  Its ok to repent now.  It really is.  Nothing happens until then.  We all know this, don’t we.

 

 

Re-formed, always re-forming.  Inside, yes absolutely, and also outside, with the help of our brothers and sisters who hear things and know things we may not be listening for yet.

 

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A Visible Reality

 

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself.  They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learned, and apprehended, and that is all.  But, the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him.  That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.”                                                      Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word had some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on  a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it.  So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow and share. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”                          Barbara Brown Taylor

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”  Romans 12:27

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Advent in the Dark (Or The First Year….)

(These are thoughts that have been rattling around my head and that we are talking about a lot in our church community–thankful for those honest pastors…) 

woman-with-a-candlestick-jpgblog

Woman with Candle    Casper David Friedrich, 18th century, Germany

When I was about 7, I took swimming lessons at the wave pool. During class the waves were turned off but on the last day of class, they turned the waves on, to give the kids a chance to play in them. I remember one wave crashing over me while I stood in waist deep water, knocking me over. I tried to get up, but for some reason I kept trying to stand up just as the next swell came crashing. I couldn’t get my head above water. I remember starting to panic, completely unfamiliar with the waves, completely doing all I knew to do to try and get up – but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t get to the surface. Suddenly my instructor’s hand reached down and yanked me above water. She had noticed I was struggling. Thank God.

I don’t remember the fallout – I don’t remember what happened after that or if I told my mom or if the instructor did. I do know that I hate wave pools and don’t take my kids there. And I do remember the panic. I remember the sensation of not being able to get to the surface.   And this is the image and the sensation of this season. This is what it feels like, even with all the good and beautiful things, opportunities, people that surround me.   I get panicky after a few minutes, hours, days of disorienting swells of grief that just keep coming.

I don’t even know how to start processing this. This Christmas without a mom. Everyone said the holidays would be hard. And I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting this body snatching takeover of grief. I didn’t know to expect that everything would feel hard, sharp, dull, excruciating. The arm-numbing anxiety of last spring is back but harder and worser. I am surprised.

And I am aware, oh boy am I aware, that my grief is occurring within the grief of our world, our broken, hardened world.

And this is where Advent starts. Advent, I’ve said it before, is NOT ONLY the happy, sequined Indigo merchandise you can buy, feel happy about and think all is right with the world. Advent actually won’t let you do that – it wont let you be satisfied with that. Advent is stark. It is longing. It is waiting. It is darkness. Advent dwells in the unknowing dark but it also hears rumors and intimations and has a dim start of hope that where you are is not the end. And this tricky Advent always ends in a greater mystery, not certainty.   It ends with a baby on a dirty floor to an unwed teenager and told of only to the lowest, most overlooked workers and to strange outsiders.   SERIOUSLY, THIS is the door of Christmas we walk through and we should be absolutely gobsmacked by it. It makes no sense, not to the untransformed parts of us anyways. Not to the parts of us that need to WIN.  Not when my momma died and I haven’t talked to her in 6 months and never will again.   Not to the Aleppo’s that happen every day and the extremism of our own views and the unavoidable dehumanizing of anyone who does not prop us up. Through this is what we walk through and towards when we do Advent. And to that crazy story is where we look.

Hold that thought for a bit……

Advent is waiting AND advent is hope. It starts in silence.  Seemingly unfounded hope is the ground from which this season has to grow. Piercing hope for things so completely outrageous, so completely unrealistic.  Hope for things like joy, or peace, or even love. For life reunited and reconciled and as it was meant to be. Advent is stark, it is longing, it is waiting, it is darkness, it is unknowing AND it is also the action of lighting one tiny candle and then after awhile, lighting another one and then after awhile more, we light one more. We both sit and acknowledge the darkness AND we strike a match towards tiny, tiny flames. This is the practice of Advent.

Hope is a word that is sticking to me. “Hope for what?” my cynical mind keeps asking. Hope for a better world, hope for a world with no hurt? I remember two days after mom died, my 4 year old was upset about something, I don’t remember what. And she took it very hard, crying miserably on the floor. Her little, honest, wild heart was broken and I stood there and looked at her and thought, “What is the point?” What is the point of me comforting her, and trying to grow her into a loved, confident, compassionate human. What is the point when people die, things end with such finality, loss is seared into us and our world seems to be choosing death on all sides and nothing actually seems to change. What is the point in choosing to love,  when it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the world we have to keep living into.

And then I got down and held her and kissed her wet cheeks, and wiped her snotty hair. I lay on the floor with her, and with that question, and I know that what drew me to her was stronger than the despair. That was a grace, I know that.

 

What do we hope for when our certainty is stolen from us by tragedy or just by the erosion of years and hard choices.?

A few words from thoughtful people are standing out to me in all of this.  Theologian Cornel West (which a good pastor drew my attention to on Sunday) writes this:

“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational,… whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”

Ahhh…..Hope looks “beyond the evidence to CREATE new possibilities based on VISIONS that become CONTAGIOUS that allow people to ENGAGE.”

Those words.

Advent hope is this: the place in which we make room beyond the evidence. It is the dwelling place of the artists and the prophets (and if you’re lucky, the preachers).  In Advent, we actively hope that there is a more true and more real ground of our being where new possibilities, new imaginations, new stories, new ways of envisioning the world stir up, and engender life. Unto us. Unto me. This the methodology of our God—hope. It is for our souls and it is for our bodies. It is for our communities, ideal and actual. It is for His beloved creation, that he is always bringing back to Himself, that is, the creation He is always bringing back to love. And he starts with hope—the hope that envisions something completely crazy—a God quietly hidden and completely with us.   And that vision has caught hold, a downright contagion. It caught hold within Mary, within Elizabeth, within Anna….It called to Mary of Bethany, and took over the woman with no name who reached out beyond the wall of complete and total rejection, just to touch the hem of that dusty robe.  And that envisioning bridges us unto wholeness, unto life.

Krista Tippet, in Becoming Wise writes about hope in a chapter she entitled “Hope. Reimagined.”

“We are flesh and blood and bone. There are those for whom this reality is not a homecoming but a matter of day-to-day survival. Mystics and monastics pray on embodied behalf of those who can’t. In a century of staggering open questions, hope becomes a calling for those of us who can hold it, for the sake of the world. Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life and sometimes seems to over come it. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we with is to be.”

Not idealism, not even optimism, but hope is a choice in the actual truth of the situation, which is more often than not, a choice that has to be made in darkness.   A choice that becomes a practice – which maybe becomes a muscle memory.   Even when I read these words of Tippet’s I understood them. These words gave me hope, that one day I might have hope and even live within it. These words opened up a space to imagine what Hope I could have in this world of my inescapable loss, and the deep loss we all know within our human hearts, frayed and torn as they are when we answer calls from the hospital and open up the news apps on our phones..

And the essence of my hope…..is always this……God with us; presence. In this true and real place of earth and mud and consequences and grace.

Civil rights activist Vincent Harding told Krista Tippett that what what African- Amercian kids were telling him was that they needed “human sign posts.”  She quoted him as saying:

“I’ve always felt that one of the things we do badly in our educational process, especially working with so-called marginalized young people, is that we educate them to figure out how quickly they can get our of the darkness and get into some much more pleasant situation. When what is needed, again and again are more and more people who will stand in that darkness, who will not run away from those deeply hurt communities, and will open up possibilities that other people can’t see in any other way except through human beings who care about them.”

Hope is standing in that darkness, AND lighting that small candle. It is not fleeing, numbing, forgetting.  It is being with the real of what is happening, AND making space to imagine not being alone in it. The light will come, it always does, AND it does so in such a way that it grows within that darkness, that womb, that hidden seed. Remember I said that the mysteriousness of Advent leads to an even greater mystery (tricksy Advent). The promise we look towards this season, at Christmas, always comes rooted, not in some faraway place we have to get ourselves to, but right in the dirt where your foot is right now—in a real life, in a real community, in the slow, dirty work of human life and presence and love.   That is incarnation.  That is the hope He imagines into the darkness and it is the story He crafts which can “shift the world on its axis.”

That is why I stood with my husband in the dark of our messy house on November 27 and lit a candle.   I miss my mom and I miss what can never be now that she’s gone and the swells are so scary and so physically debilitating and nothing I write out could ever actually express what this feels like. I worry about my kids and don’t know what to do other than get down on the floor with them—it doesn’t seem like enough. And truly I do not know how human hearts ever recover from all the hurt we are capable of. But we light the candles, working on our muscle memory. We light the candles in the midst of the dark and we pray out loud,

“Come, imagine in us what could take root even here. More than I could hope or imagine, a small root that will somehow knit us back together, ALL of us here.   I won’t let you forget this promise, and don’t let me forget it either. Open this story in our hearts so that we can become as human sign posts in this darkness. And even as I am not sure I can do that this season, open this story up in me so that I don’t succumb to the darkness.”

Apparently words mean something–and these words and THIS WORD HOPE have meant something to me this season:

Psalm 130:1-2,5-6

We wait for the Lord, all of our whole being waits

And in his word we put our hope.

We wait for the Lord,

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchmen wait for the morning.

 Isaiah 62:6,7

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;

They will never be silent day or night.

You who call on the Lord

Give yourselves no rest,

And give Him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the peace of the earth.

John 1:4,5

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all of us.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Ephesians 1:18

And I pray that the eyes of your heart may be en-LIGHT-ened in order that you may KNOW THE HOPE to which he has called you.

The Book of Love – Part 3

–I just can’t stop thinking of the question, “What story do I live out of?”  In all the areas of my life.  In my exhausted parts, in my broken-hearted parts, in my confused parts, in my angry parts, in my terrified parts.   All those parts are a bit closer to the surface lately than I usually want to admit.  So here, on Maundy Thursday, the day when we celebrate how Jesus washes clean our dirty, tired parts, when we remember this shared meal that gives such deep welcome but we don’t really have a clue how it is all going to play out–today I want to think about this.  

If I dedicated blog posts, which I always want to do, I would dedicate this to my dear friends whose questions have not been answered how they expected.  Please lets keep telling the story to each other.  I know I need it.  Maybe it will help.

This is the 3rd part of my Book of Love rambling.    The story we live out of–

 

And then this story, of us and God, of God and this world, comes to a crux. We get to a still point.    One day, unbeknownst to all those hearts, a girl woke up in the middle of the night. Terrified, but also able to see something that had that sheen of hope. That young, uneducated girl was able to conceive of something completely unexpected. She woke up and said yes to that call. She was afraid but still showed her face.   And she was filled with all that part of Love and all that part of God that the world was made with.   She was going to bear a baby. And it was at once miraculous and prosaic.   God – so big, so everywhere, so much more than us became so small, so located only in one particular spot, with those particular parents, siblings, cousins. And the So Much More of the UNIVERSE became at ordinary, common baby strapped to his mothers back as she gets her water for the day. This is the power of the universe – the power we crave so intensely – the power of all the creative love furled within one small dark boy.

 

This storyteller – I tell you. Not only does he consistently choose to work in ways that surprise and confound our proper and dignified sensibilities, but this storyteller once again, and always, does things in order to bring himself and his creation back together. Reprised, remembered, recapitualated, reconnected in ways that cannot be undone. Not by anger or hatred or shame or fear. That baby was in our world, deeply intertwined with the whole of creation – just as we all are.

 

That same part of God that folded himself into the creation of the universe, our world, our star and all the stars and all the worlds, en-folded once again, that part of himself that grows and learns and draws life from the ground into a small jewish displaced boy to parents who had nothing to go on but snippets of dreams and intimations they got in the night and what felt like swords piercing their deepest hearts.

 

And this is the still point in our story. This enfleshing of God himself. This incarnating of love into specific ways of language, culture, religiosity, spirituality. Love, now in flesh appearing.

 

From here the story moves fast. Time is different for the duration of this story. It is full and it is urgent and it is growing.   One story among millions, this story, His own story, has bloomed out into a thousand different takes, like the sides of a crystal.

 

Remember the words Jesus said, the spit he rubbed, the water he changed, the fish he provided, the storms that calmed, the skies that grew dark, the mountaintops that changed in his presence. The tears he wept, the laughter he let loose, the sticks he picked up, the tables he overturned.   Conversation after conversation showed bit by bit a fuller picture of the LOVE THAT MADE THE UNIVERSE. He told stories. He challenged. He forgave. He welcomed the unwelcome. He made new bodies that had been torn apart. He brought into the fold those who had been cast out. He knew that the peoples bodies were important – he fixed them, he fed them. He knew that peoples minds were important – he asked questions, he told stories, he listened, he made connections to the stories they’d heard their whole lives. He knew that people’s spirits were important – he forgave them, he let them go, he released them, he gave them new life, he unbound their hearts. And they imagined that their own lives could be a part of something, an unfragmented story that at its root was not fear and was not death and was not anger and hatred. But was love.

 

He both pointed to, and created a time, a kingdom, a reign, where the last were first.   Where those, that in no way would ever win in this world, were the Kings. Where peacemakers were the children of God. Where those with no one and nothing were brought in and given people and given everything they needed to live.   Where those running from violence and oppression and everything that diminished the image of God in them, could come and be at peace. In ways that were very immediate, he showed that love, that same love that desired this world to grow and flourish, the same love that we read about at the beginning of this story. That same love that devoted itself to the long, long story of God-With-Us that has become our faith. That same love that at every point and every turn in the story aimed to bring back together that which was torn apart.

 

And then he died. He was killed. He was punished and hurt and so many people were confused. And we think about it all the time. Why did he die? What did it do? How did this show love? How did this bring the world, bring us, back together, back to God, back to the whole that we long to be?

 

Centuries of this question go before us here now. And just like those people, who, when they were physically touched by Jesus from Nazareth, knew that something MORE had occurred in them, just as something deep in their core leapt when he talked about God and them, just as they re-member-ed something of the deep reality of their lives when this man was around and was talking, so too, when he died, they knew.   They knew something had occurred that went beyond what they saw.

 

The Love of the Universe, distilled into three days of real life. A Friday of tortuous injustice and of unimaginable loss. A Saturday of numbness and grey confusion.

 

And then a Sunday, a daybreak, like the millions of days broken before it, rising anew on an old, blood soaked and weary piece of land.

 

The Love of the Universe, distilled into the calling of one woman in the garden that surrounded the houses of the dead – Mary, Mary, don’t you know that its me. Mary, Mary, don’t you see that its me. The one you have been looking for.

 

The Love of the Universe, bringing back together that which was torn apart. Bringing together that which was kept apart. Opening doors to an inner temple, opening mouths to speak of grace and of reconciliation, opening hearts to live for it and to die for such a grace. GRACE! LOVE! Not power but the exact opposite – the giving of oneself for the glory and beauty of another. And the Resurrection –giving people, all those loved people, a way into the re-member-ing of the universe. Redeemed, Remembered, Recapitulated, Reconnected, Reconciled.

 

And just as the pattern of Creation was that of the long story of love, the pattern of Incarnation was the long story of love. Because the part of God that made the world with love was the part of God that fleshed out what that love looked like, in a real human home, in a real human voice, in a real human life of hope and need and body and death. With real stories and real tears. And he made love all anew.

 

And then, in classic God style, Love told us to keep at it. Keep telling the story, keep making the love, keep creating it. Keep being that embodied bit of love in whatever home we found ourselves in, on whatever piece of land we found ourselves planted in.   He gave us His body and then made us His Body, his very self of Love. Growing, learning, all parts working together, as all bodies learn to. He is continuing His work of bringing the world back together, in every generation, welcoming every heart as if it was the only heart he ever cared about, welcoming all of us into his heart. He has brought us into his creating work, just as at the beginning. Without fear but with communion. With that sense that each of us can know, know as we know the back of our own hands, the way of the universe, the way of love.

 

The book of love, its been said, is long and boring. It’s a tale of a thousand ordinary invitations, a thousand ordinary open doors and a thousand ordinary choices.  

 

Here, in my brown house with big draughty windows and decrepit doors, with toys and crumbs strewn about in literal drifts, here, the book of love is writing its next chapter. With my family and my friends and my church budgets and meeting minutes and bank appointments. With every one that comes across my path – alike and very unlike.  It is in the welcome of these into the space of my heart that this story of love keeps being told.  And in your house, with your people, and your mess and your joy and your deep fear. And in every house on every street. This book is being fleshed out, it is being written and filled out.  

 

 

What story do you live out of?   What story do I live out of? One where love is grown into the very DNA of the world, where there is enough, where we have hope, where Grace stops retribution in its tracks?

Or do we live in one where we have to fight and scrabble and defend.

Do we live out of a story of bringing together, of bringing us together? Or do we live in a story of tearing apart?

Of love or of fear—in our own hearts?

 

We choose our stories, we can choose the next words; what story do you live out of? What would be different if the story was indeed one of such a love? A love that re-member-ed its very nature back to itself.

 

 

Write your story and know it is the story of His body. It is a chapter in the big story.  Tonight, keep choosing to write it, knowing that it is written in the big book of Love, it is woven into the story of this world. Your story and the bits of love within it, no matter how twisty the plot, has a place in God’s Big Story. Keep reading The Story, keep writing The Story, keep being written.   Just keep being written into that Book of Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Unexpected Advent

 

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Advent.  It is a time of hope, of waiting, of anticipation.  It marks the waiting the world has always known. So many words have been said about Advent.  We want to enter it, we want to live it.  We want to savour this time-this lead up to Christmas.

Advent is a time where we can step back, and reflect on this peculiar, kind of upside-down story of how God chose to enter our world …. as a baby—His Very Word made Flesh. And its a time that can be about preparing a place inside of us, within our carefully crafted lives, where God might enter, in his upside-down way, in his word-made-flesh kind of way.

 

As I have read and meditated on the lectionary Advent readings this month, it seems that rather than mark a nice, comfortable path to the end of the story in Christmas, what I think Advent does or can do is prepare us for the the beginning of this new story; these readings take us to an open door more than they lead to a happy hallmark twinkly light ending.

And you can really see this by looking at the whole month of Advent and the scriptures we reflect upon. They have this sense—not just of a Christmastime “hope” but of a deep and very deep prophetic longing—that longing and waiting that speaks to our innermost selves and what we need of God and also somehow it is a longing that speaks to the world. These scriptures, then,  are also about offering or yielding or preparing a place for that longing to grow into and then pour out of.

 

When we look at the the first week of Advent, is all about Crying for God to Come. The Scripture readings center around God’s people, CRYING OUT for God to appear decisively—Scriptures like Isaiah 64 which cry for God to tear open the Heavens, or Psalm 80 where the people are crying out from exile, “restore us Lord”.  There is deep pain, the knowledge of deep injustice and yes,  desperation for God to show himself that is not in any way lost on us today.

 

In the Second week of Advent, the scriptures all talk about GETTING READY for God to come—Isaiah 40, a voice is to cry out “Prepare God’s Way” and then in the gospel of Mark with John the Baptist so roughly and unequivocally calling for repentance, for baptism for the forgiveness of our sins and for getting ready for the Kingdom coming. Its such an honest preparing, baring of ourselves to get ready for God to come that the scriptures call us to. Its terrifying, really, that honesty.

 

Then on the third Sunday of Advent we are finally promised the GOOD NEWS. The nature of this news is being fleshed out in the scriptures of this week. Is. 61 talks about the Spirit of the Lord anointing a prophet who will bring Good News to the oppressed, the Psalm this Sunday is one of Ascent that the pilgrims would sing , returning from exile on the way to the rebuilt temple. And the gospel reading this week is John the Baptist who is pointing to a new and radical kind of Good News—one that is not like himself…”there’s one coming….”  Its not like anything they had ever seen.

 

And then we come to the fourth Sunday of Advent.   We read the annunciation and Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1 and and the scriptures all make the point- the Good News is officially announced.  And its announced…. to a girl. And moreover, its announced that this GOOD NEWS is coming THROUGH this girl and her baby. The promised end that all these scriptures have been pointing towards is shown to be a real, incarnated beginning—that is in fact, a human life. A small, vulnerable infant, completely dependant on another small girl who somehow made room within her for the BIGNESS of the fulfillment of ALL that deep pain and, deep preparing, deep hoping that preceeded this new life.

 

And this is the story that we get to live in during Advent.  This is where we sit with the God we have known to break into our own lives and just talk about preparing our own hearts for this season of longing, and this season of waiting, and this season of yieldedness, openness and preparation for what God is always doing.  We walk through this season and at the end we find there is not a final end but actually a doorway we are invited to walk through.

The following is a modified Lectio Divina on Luke 1.   Lectio Divina which just means, “divine reading.”   It’s a way of slowing down our reading and engaging and responding to Scripture, to the very familiar words.  Read the passage of scripture a number of times and after each time spend some time in silence, holding what you’ve read, letting it roll around you a bit.

As you read the text, hold it lightly. Even with all those words I just said about Advent, don’t try to listen or respond in the “right” way to the text. You can take some time to “THINK” about Advent later. Now is a time for experiencing it in God’s presence. If a word or phrase catches your attention, sit with it. Don’t feel you have to grasp or deal with the whole text. This is not analyzing or informational reading….its reading the text in such a way that allows you to enter into it, not stand above it, trying to glean something from it.   There are some questions to guide the silences but if God is speaking to your heart about something or calling you to stay with a word or thought, then follow that.   As with any time you come to God in this way of silence and mediation, don’t judge your feelings or reactions that come up as good or bad—but just hold what happens in that silence open before God, bring what comes up into the light and ask Him what He would say to you.

Very often God uses what surprises or startles or disturbs us as the beginning of something transformative.  I see this in Advent – the waiting and anticipation and weight of ALL our hopes.  And its fulfillment in a tiny, vulnerable baby born to a couple of kids in the middle of nowhere.

In You we put our trust.    Meet each of us in the place where you know we will find you, in the place of our own longing and deep hope. Prepare and open our hearts-in your completely unexpected and completely perfect ways.

 

Advent Lectio Divina

Luke 1: 26-38

  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the girl’s name was Mary.   He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor! The Lord is with you. “   She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.   He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of this ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end. “   Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too; your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GOD.   Mary said, “You see before you the Lord’s servant. Let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.

 

First Reading:

Is there one word or phrase that God is impressing on you?   Turn it over in your heart. Hold it up to God and ask him to show you why its staying with you.

 

Second Reading:

What do you feel as you hear this? Can you imagine yourself in this scene? What do Gabriel’s words make you feel? What do Mary’s words make you feel? Is there something specific in your life that connects with this? What can you hold up to God? Feel free to write down any thoughts or prayers.

 

 Third Reading:

What is the invitation to you tonight?  How is He inviting you into this Word?   How do you find yourself responding? Write down what God might be saying. Or rest quietly.

 

Thank you always God.  This story gathers us anew every year.  Open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. Breathe your breath into this season.  Prepare us to deeply hope in you, to cry out to you, to know you dwelling within us and to know you pouring out into our world. Prepare us to know your Peace, your Hope, your Joy, your Love, even as we now wait in darkness. In your Holy Name…Amen.

 

 

Where Does Our Breathing Go ? (or….Stream of Consciousness Writing When My Kid Is At Preschool)

The three year olds are throwing around the theology these days.

My three year old has been asking lots of interesting questions lately. This morning, as we were crossing the reservoir it was, “Why do bridges hold up?”   Yesterday it was, “Why do we not float away into space like balloons?”   Good questions baby. Last week she asked, in tears, “Where are we when we die? Where does our breathing go? Will the earth die? I don’t want the earth to die. I don’t want to die. I want to bring life to the earth!” (Seriously…..I’m not even glossing that. It was intense. I’m not even sure where this all came from….I’m pretty sure Paw Patrol doesn’t cover this stuff….)

However it came about in her mind, it was the breathing question that hooked me. And her desire for life.   Somehow she knows, she intuitively put together that breath is essential to life, that they are connected. That something without breath is without life. And that her breath is connected to the earth being alive…..

And then last night I was flipping through some old books, thinking about how we read the bible, and came across this bit by Brian McLaren in reference to 2 Timothy 3:16 which is the “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful so that the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” passage.

            “What is meant by God-breathed or inspired? God’s breath is associated, from the 1st verses of the bible with creativity and life-giving vitality. In Genesis 1, again and again, God breathes out: “Let there be…..” And God’s creative breath gives permission to whatever possibility (light, trees, fish, people) to become actual…..to actually come into being. In this primal, sacred narrative, the creative breath of God is associated with God’s life-giving Spirit who first moves over the chaos of the waters so they yield their creative possibilities and eventually teem with life, and who then enters humanity, making each person “a living soul” or a living person. To say Scripture is God-breathed is, then, to elicit this primal language of creation.”

God wanted life. God wanted his words to bring life. If something has life, it is dynamic, moving, flexible not rigid. It is growing, changing and developing according to its purpose – its set out DNA. It is reacting, it is initiating. It is interpreting, assessing, and making decisions on the world around it. It is interpreting its own self – that is to say, a living thing is connecting with the world, connecting with itself and then making conclusions, consciously or unconsciously, on how to proceed.

I think of how we read scripture. We often read it, or were taught to read it, like a wall, like a concrete foundation that we then build upon. And I can see that yes there is something bedrock about how scripture could come to reveal what underlies our lives.  But its foundationalism is not in the snippets of instruction written thousands of years ago.  When we try to read it that way and find ourselves mired in unhelpful arguments about head coverings, women speakers, or shellfish and picking grains of wheat on the Sabbath. Its foundationalism and its authority lies in the fact that it is a story. A long story. God’s long story.  A long arc, drawn across the stretch of the universe. It is our story. Its foundationalism resides in the fact that it is the breath which lives inside of that story that is the breath that gives us our very ability to live out our own stories.  The commands, the laws, the exiles, the cry of the prophets, the disciples, the early church and personal instruction therein – these are all a vital part of the story. Together they tell us what life with God was like for people then, what the character of that God was and is and always will be and because it is a true story, it resonates. We recognize it as our story. We recognize ourselves in David’s desires, in Isaiah’s call for justice. We recognize ourselves in the women at the well, in Peter’s denial, in the groups of believers that have to keep relearning and unlearning and relearning again what it is to know God together. We recognize this story because it is given life by the same breath that speaks life into the darkness we know very, very well.

It is a story of the loving creation of a whole world. I think of how I touch my babies’ faces when they sleep, I hold their soft cheeks with my cupped hands, drained from the sassiness of the day, these faces are still, their sleep bringing restoration. Their breathing is quiet but constant. I think of God cupping the face of his creation, that love, that wonder, that care. I think of how the story starts. With His life, his very word, breathing breath into his world, his universe.   I think of how the story links our beginnings, our first steps, our createdness and our ability to create.  And the story moves on – We find ourselves and our remarkable ability to miss the mark at the center of this story. We read this story, ingrained onto our own hearts in the details, the history, real and alive – awful details, horrible and violent. God’s story is told in the midst of a creation coming to terms with itself and coming to see where their true heart lies. God’s story of him and us is told through the culture of a people, much like it is still told through ours and other cultures today.  And this is the way he wanted it.  All our understanding about Him comes THROUGH our very specific, peculiar cultures.  None of us stands outside of that or outside of the biases and assumptions that being a human born into a culture necessarily brings to our understanding of God.

I think of how the story goes through an arc of drama, tension, beauty, failure. I think of how at all points this is a story about how love breaks through our expectations and draws us back to where we were meant to be. I think of how this story is still being written. And that’s where this breath idea hits me hard. The story of God and us, as revealed in the bible, is a story that is not over. It is not static. It is not a concrete pad that we pile big, impregnable boulders upon. It is alive. It is God-breathed. It is growing and developing according to its purpose: its purpose being to tell and retell the story of God and us. Even now. As these old, old words are read by people who bring their own unique perspective to the world, these old, old words are being breathed into over and over bringing new understanding, making sense to new generations – sometimes with different results (we now generally look down on slavery and that’s because we re-interpreted scripture and because we looked at the big story – not the cultural details about masters and slaves. We all seem to recognize now that slavery, in any form, doesn’t fit with the big story God is continually writing even though its well supported by the writings we call God’s word). They are being given a chance to breathe out their life into new lives, new situations, new contexts, new peculiar humans just trying to find their heart.

There is a word that I’ve said is my favorite word – incarnational. We talk about the Scandal of the Incarnation. How unfathomable it is that the breath that keeps this universe growing was the breath of Jesus of Nazareth. How the cosmic and eternal power of The Creator was brought into distinct and empowered expression in Jesus of Nazareth and how this man’s personality, his family, his decisions, his talents were all brought to bear in the flowering of The Christ. The doctrine of the Incarnation is an old, hard fought one that we hardly give thought to. But it is a doctrine that absolutely validates our right to be human, our status as good creations, our part of the story.  A dear friend of mine says that creation – this physical and alive world and our physical and alive humanness in it – is not the setting in which our souls have to transverse.  It is THE main character in this story.  It is the subject of His absolute majesty.  And then that God became man tells us that it is good to be a human, it is good to sleep, good to eat, good to need a home, need family, need to work, need to belong.  Creator, redeemer – they are the same and they were there at the beginning as they will be there together at the end.   These are part of our design as good creations – they are what make us His.

I think about how God has chosen, over and over, to work within the particularities of a people. How He has chosen to become so entwined with his creation, that he would let himself be known through relationships, through the music different cultures create, through different cultural artifacts and quirks. He chooses this because He values our fleshed out humanness. He more than values our humanness; it is central to how and who He is. He is all about His creation.

In very real ways, understanding our faith incarnationally will change us. It allows us to value the things that make us real and whole humans – good food, good sleep, good sexuality, good family, good songs, good stories, good learning, good growing. Knowing that God lives his redemption through a human body allows us to reclaim our bodies. To take them back from hatred and mistrust to wholeness and healing and value and enjoyment. We do not have to hate our bodies to love God. As we come into love with God more and more, we will begin to treat our bodies as beloved. We will come to treat our own minds with care and love and welcome. What the fall did in part was separate us from God by separating us from our bodies, ourselves. What God did in Jesus was bring us back to the pulse of God’s heart by bringing us back to ourselves, our very real bodies, our very real stories. That is why we remember him WHENEVER we eat or drink. That is why we are His body – every part valuable and working together.

Our Christian faith is an incarnational one. At least it could be – if we let it. We could be whole, body, soul, spirit.   We could walk through the hard stuff of our lives trusting that the way we were made – vulnerable and in need of sleep and care and real bread – was actually the way home. The path to that wholeness might be a long one and it might be winding. It might be one that we never come to the end of. But it is our promise. And in His amazing mercy and amazing love for us and astounding delight in us, he even lets the hard parts, the damaged parts, the broken parts, the parts we wrecked or that were sliced through by others, become the places of healing and true flowering of grace for others and maybe even our own hearts. And that might be a path that takes years and years and years to walk up.

Living out an incarnational faith. This is a big subject. One that plays out into every part of our lives. Our relationships with our earth, our food.   Our relationship with our families, our relationships with ourselves, our bodies and our emotions. Understanding our faith incarnationally will change how we read, digest and interpret scripture, how we read, interpret and move within our culture. How we deal with birth, how we deal with death, how we deal with grief and with suffering. How we encounter one another, The Other, the hurting, the brokenhearted, the refugee, the orphan, the weird kid who makes everyone really uncomfortable.

So for today, I am thinking about what living incarnationally does to my understanding of scripture. And what I think this means in my everyday bible reading is this: I enter into these words, expecting them to reach me here and now. I enter the scriptures and understand that I am entering into my story. A big one. That I may understand differently in a few years. The scriptures are alive. They are not static. And not one of us truly lives as if they are. I enter the words knowing that they were written, not by God without human affect and not by humans without the inbreaking of the in-spirit-ation of God, without his breath bringing it into form and sound and life. The living word.   The incarnated word.

Just as God chose to bring himself to his world through a particular person, a particular community, in a particular time, with all the culture and the worldview that gave an individual, so he chose to work in our words like this. He chose to work and breathe within the very particular lens of interpretation each group on earth works within. And this makes a difference. It will make a difference in how we approach scripture and to how we approach each other. We, in this age, with this privilege, do not have the handle on interpretation. We are just the most recent in a long line of people who have had to work out their faith within the confines of what they knew to be true. In 1000 or even 100 years, what will be different about what we understand about scripture. How will the dialogue we have with it be different. If anything, understanding scripture incarnationally will give us humble pause and will cause us to look up more than we lash out.

And it will allow us to understand those that see things differently than us are not evil, but have had a different incarnational experience and see things differently. We will interpret differently. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to bring levels of awareness to each other.  And that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all and any way of understanding goes. It does mean that we gauge everything by The Incarnated Word.  It does mean that we have to choose to love the individual in front of us with all the honesty we have – if only because we recognize that none of us has the full picture. We need eachother to fill it in. We need to listen for course correction and for that which resonates with our own heart as it is being called by our Creator. We need each other to incarnate the word for us more fully, more in- love-ly. And as with anything that has to do with actual love for each other, this process is way harder, way longer, way less susceptible to the forces of power and control that have always fed our worst nature. Living and interpreting incarnationally is hard work because it won’t let you remain unchanged by the person opposite you. But its work that will always leave you more full and more open and more in love with the world that you are a part of breathing life into.

My three year old baby – she’s funny and weird and full of very loud life. She is full-on. And she knows that her breath is her life. And she knows that her breath is connected to the breath of the world. She knows it instinctively. She knows it because she has been living for 3 years and is growing according to her own DNA, developing into her incarnated expression of our Living God.   And so are you and so are your kids. Lets teach them to read their lives and the lives of those around them with a love for the God who expresses through them. Lets teach them to read their own stories and the story of the world and the long story of faith in such a way that they are allowed to breathe into it even as it breathes into them.  Do not let us forget that this is a living story, ever changing, ever growing, ever learning, ever developing according to its purpose, its DNA, which is to tell and retell the story of God and us. Father, help us to always hold in front of ourselves the incarnation of you – your very word – in one another.  Because this is how you do it – fully fleshed, dynamic, creative and growing.

Living word, breathe life to the world today…..and even, and maybe especially, to the three year olds.

The Honorable

— I suppose it had to happen eventually – I’ve been at this church for almost 7 years.  I mean, its not like jvs doesn’t talk about this in his sleep 😉  But this is a full-on, two-book way of seeing things.  Seeing God in everything – seeing that fingerprint of how he is in this world THROUGH the things in our world.  Even cabinet appointments!

The news cycle has cycled right on past this now – apparently Starbucks did something to their cups and, I’m not sure, but the world is ending I think….

But a couple weeks ago, something I read on the CBC News site that really struck me. I read this article about the response to Jodi Wilson-Raybould’s appointment as Minister of Justice. I had a strong reaction to it. A good one and it surprised me. And my reaction to hearing about these appointments and the reaction to it was, “Of course.” Of course this is good news. This is good news because I am a Christian and when I see things that make me see Jesus, that’s good news.

Now don’t get upset and think I am saying this particular government is God’s appointed government. I am not saying that loving the liberals is the Christian thing to do, necessarily.  I’m not saying that. What I am saying is, that the reason, I think, this appointment and the whole cabinet appointment caught our attention and the attention of so many is that it is a clear, beautiful and true image of something we already know to be true . It is a picture we can look through and see God.

And what we see when we look through these appointments and “read” this story, and see Ms. Raybould take the oath of office is nothing short of an image of incarnation. It reveals to us the nature of THE Incarnation and it catches us a bit – it calls us a bit.

Because God chooses to work over and over (and yes I’ve said this before….but I like saying it so I’m going to again) through the lives and the long development of a human life to show who He is. Jesus, God-With-Us, God fleshed out in a very particular history, God Incarnate. Who Jesus of Nazareth was, in particular, in his detail, mattered. Because place matters and matter matters and the stuff of our lives matter. Everything that makes us who we are matters. And He wants us to know that and moreover He wanted to redeem that.  And in the Mattering of Jesus’ life, there was brought together the perfect representation of Who God Is and Who We Are.   And how he incarnated that life, with his personality, his choices, his history, his struggles, his sufferings made him the perfect fit for all that He is to each of us now.

What people are seeing in this cabinet appointment here is that Jodi Wilson-Raybould knows what it is like to be a woman. She knows what it is to navigate in this country as a minority (and a profoundly misunderstood, mistreated and misrepresented one, I think it would be safe to say).   As a leader in her community, she knows what it is to hold and own her own culture, her own identity up and out and then to lead from that place.   She knows what it is to study and work, very hard, and to respect and defend the laws that we have to cling to in our democracy.

She is all these things in herself, in her person. The family she grew up in, the culture and community she knows herself belonging to, the choices she made, the schooling she undertook, the work she has done. It-the Mattering of her life – has all led to her being an astoundingly good fit for our next Minister of Justice – particularly because, as many have pointed out, that is the role that will be undertaking an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.   For such a time as this, indeed.

I will say it again, in the Mattering of Jesus’ life, there was brought together the perfect representation of Who God Is and Who We Are. And how he incarnated that life made him the perfect fit for all that He is to each of us now.

Her appointment and her story imaged the Incarnation of God to me.  It showed me a picture of why the Incarnation makes everything different.  Different because no longer are our bodies, our histories, our fleshliness liabilities. They are brought into the personhood of God.  No longer is her womanhood, her Indiginous heritage, her skin colour, her personality with all its choices potential barriers to her contributing to the world. They are the reason she has something to say.  And they are the locus of her authority on the matter.   No longer are we shut out from a life with the love of our own soul because of our bodies, our stories, our families, our frailty, our weakness.  In Jesus, his own body, story, family, frailty were the locus of his authority on Who God is With us and who we are now with our creator.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s story imaged the Incarnation of God to me.  Maybe your story does too. Maybe each of ours does, in small ways or maybe even big, flesh out who God is in this world.

In very real ways, I pray for Jodi Wilson-Raybould and all the work she has before her. I pray for true justice and empowerment for people long dismissed and feared and burdened while knowing that she is not a hero so much as a servant in this role and will probably have to juggle more issues and importances than I will ever realize. I pray that she is truly the right fit for this. And I pray for Godly things…both mercy and justice to be present and accounted for.

And I’m thankful for the democratic exercise we got to witness last week. I enjoyed taking part in it through the magic of the weird interweb world and through it I even got to see a bit of God. And that’s always a good day.