Toward

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Last Monday our family of five decided to pray in two specific ways. First, we would gather each evening of the week and write down 100 “gifts.” We took turns speaking aloud the names of people, things, and the stories for which we are thankful.

It seemed it would be a healthy and easy task to name 100 gratitudes each evening. But it wasn’t easy. The first evening went fairly quick…but as we started the second, we discovered it was going to take effort to not repeat ourselves. This was not for lack of things we were grateful for…but a lack of practice to recognize and name the gifts around us. We slogged our way through the evenings, writing down 100 thanksgivings each night.

Our second prayer was simple: “Friday at 3.” Why Friday at 3? No particular reason. Perhaps it represented the end of the work week or the time our children are dismissed from school…but more likely, it represented the end of our effort. 

It was sixteen months ago when we committed to this journey. Sixteen months of wandering, healing, praying, listening, job-applying, proposal writing, growing, reading, praying, scrambling, hoping, praying, and…doubting. We began wondering if we had missed a turn in the trail. We began to doubt the path of calling we were following. We felt the shame of foolishness. We heard the whispers of our observers.

Every day we confessed our fears to one another in order to arise with hope and trek forward again the next day. But last week, we had reached the end. Our self-mustered courage was exhausted. Our meager provisions gone. Our adventurous spirit crippled with fear. Our knees too weak to remain standing in the emotional storm. Our map was too tear-stained to know where to go next. 

Psalm 3 became our model for desperate prayer; “God, get up and do something! Show yourself to be God.” 

It would be impossible to detail all the events from last Friday at 3. The perfect job. A life-changing gift. A farm. A home.

It’s as if the voice of calling who once said, “Go, and in your going I’ll show you where you’re headed” finally spoke again. This time the voice from elsewhere said, “Yes, continue toward the call.”

Will We Follow? 

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Yesterday, in many churches around the globe, the Gospel passage of Matthew 4 was read. The passage finished with the words, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”  

Jesus’ message of the reigning kingdom of God/Heaven has become an after thought for many in the Church. But it is the message that needs preached in the synagogues of our day. THE message of Jesus is commonly overlooked in exchange for a transactional religion propping up spiritual egos. We would rather be told how bad the world is and how good we are than to hear the actual transformative and healing message of Jesus for the world. We have traded the name of Salvation for an empty pattern of self-worship.

It is shocking to see how the witness of the church has become something far less than the message of Jesus. Eugene Peterson says, “To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given its character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.” If we aren’t finding the character and shape and direction of Jesus in our lives…perhaps we have followed something else. 

It seems the first step of following Jesus is relinquishment of our own ways. Verse 22 says, “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” 

When the disciples relinquished their nets (provision and positions) and left their father (inheritance and security) to follow Jesus…they trusted Jesus to lead them to a new way of seeing and living both economically and relationally. For Jesus invites us to see and live within the provision, position, inheritance, and security of the Kingdom of God. This is an alternative way of living and organizing our lives, households, communities, and yes, even nations. The Kingdom of God is about economics as much as it is about inner peace. It is about our neighbor as much as it is about the immigrant. The Kingdom of God is as expansive as the universe and as specific as “put down your sword.”  

How? How is the Kingdom of God engaged in all things? By calling everyone to ask one single question. What is that question? This. If Jesus were living my life, how would he live it? There other ways to ask the same question – If Love rules in my life, how will Love behave? – If Resurrection acts in my life, what will Resurrection do? But the question is always the same. If I am following Jesus…I am always asking the question, “How would Jesus live in this moment?”

Following Jesus isn’t something we just SAY we do. It is an everyday resistance to our own ways and a picking up of Jesus’ ways. Following Jesus isn’t something that happens one day a week. Following Jesus is a way of life. 

What makes a Christian? Following Jesus. It is every moment of our life marked by the ways of Jesus. I love the way Dallas Willard says it, “We can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” That’s it. To be Christian…our lives must reflect the life of Jesus. It’s not a people group. Not an association. Not a membership. Not a voter block. It is offering presence with the despised. Restoring those who are victimized by the powers. Welcoming the stranger. Forgiving our enemy. Loving our neighbor. Gentleness. Kindness. 

You get the point. 

I hope. 

Jesus is still inviting.  Will we follow?

There’s certainly nothing new or extraordinary about these words…but today I had to sit down, shake my head, and listen for the words, “Follow me.”  

Homeless and Unemployed. 

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It’s a new year. And…we are still homeless and unemployed. 

Confession: there are days when the anxiousness awakens me…and it’s only after two cups of coffee and some intentional breathing do I settle into an okayness. The “I am nothing but who I am” realization haunts my imagination. So embedded in my life was the desire for comfort and position that even after 15 months of choosing to resign from both…the affects are still daily present. The shame of incompleteness, feelings of failure, and an overwhelming sense of incompetence are present everyday. To even write those words raises my heart rate with prideful worry that it gives ammunition for others to gloat about our plight. 

Thanks for hearing my confession; for it is the reality of many days. While that confession of my feelings is true, our situation of “homeless and unemployed” is only partially true. We live in a shared household economy. It is a beautiful narrative of grace that we are reminded of with every shared meal and restful night. The sporadic income we are earning is enough for our daily needs. Truly, we have more than enough, but that truth has yet to transform our imaginations. It requires a daily reminding of our daily enough-ness. So, when I awake anxious; I choose non-anxiousness; and seek to walk gallantly through the day. 

Such is the path of faithfulness: resist, relinquish, receive. 

Last week our family shared a meal with Walter Brueggemann. I feel odd when I talk about our friendship, it is certainly undeserved on my part, but has been an incredible gift in my life. As we caught up on stories regarding our farm progress and our current community/faith practices, I asked WB if he had “a word” for our children. He paused for a moment, looked at Samuel and said, “Sam, the way we’ve been doing church isn’t working. This is the time to be trying new ways. Faithfulness will lead us. Faithfulness is what you are seeking. And faithfulness requires getting out of the rat race.” 

If there is a single word to describe our family’s daily motivation…faithfulness is the word. The desire for faithfulness led us to resign from vocational ministry; the pulling of faithfulness leads our journey toward an agrarian life; faithfulness is our calling. 

Faithfulness is the “slow and persistent revolution” of our daily lives.* Faithfulness requires an awakening from the slumber of consumption and a resistance to the propaganda of pride and power. Faithfulness practices presence. Faithfulness humbles. Faithfulness loves. 

I agree with Stanley Hauerwas when he says, “The church seldom wills herself to be faithful. Faithfulness is more likely the result of necessity.”* This was our story. And I sense it will be the story of the Church as she enters what appears to presently be a new era of reformation. We don’t simply choose faithfulness…somehow Faithfulness chooses us.

Our prayer these days is simple. Ironically, it is included in the section of the Book of Common Prayer titled “Prayers for Use by a Sick Person.” This is our healing prayer…

This is another day, O Lord. I do not know what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me do it patiently. If I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. 

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*Stanley Hauerwas, Approaching the End, p 82. 

A Vulnerable God

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While pregnant, Mary began an 80 mile journey. She would have thought of the risks. Surely she pondered “what might happen to my baby?” 

It would have been more comfortable to remain at home, out of sight from the shame-casters who loved to judge her unwed pregnancy. It would have been reasonable to think her “chosen-ness” granted her an exemption. But off they went to Bethlehem, carried by the faith of God’s promises and the demanded risks of Caesar. And “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born” (Luke 2:6). 

There’s really only one word that describes this finally week of Advent leading up to the remembrance of Jesus’ birth.

Vulnerable. 

Mary’s vulnerability. The vulnerable baby. The vulnerability of God. 

Vulnerability isn’t something we readily assign to God. Almighty, yes, but vulnerable seems so anemic. But yet, God introduces himself to the world as exactly that, vulnerable. Vulnerable in birth and in death. God’s self-revelation is wrapped and revealed in vulnerability. 

This reality should influence every pre-conceived thought we have about God. The Apostle Paul said it like this; “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). And Paul wasn’t trying to say “God is soooo strong that at his weakest point he is stronger than humans.” Rather, Paul was clearly pointing to God’s choice to self-reveal in weakness. Vulnerable is how God wishes to be known. 

I confess, I do not often seek God as vulnerable. Most often my prayers seek for increased sufficiency, strength, and opportunity. I don’t think I have ever yet prayed, “God make me more vulnerable.” Perhaps that will become my prayer for the new year. God, make me more like you; vulnerable. 

I suppose when I think about it, holiness is lived-out vulnerability. Meekness, gentleness, humility…such are the fruits of vulnerability. And of course love is vulnerable. Without the vulnerabilities of love…we wouldn’t know God. To say that “God is love” is to say “God is vulnerable.” 

This Christmas I am seeking the gift of vulnerablity. To become more available. Transparent. To practice more love. Holiness. Confession. I want know the vulnerable God. 

Advent: Becoming Love

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Through Advent I will be sharing some thoughts pertaining to how the weekly lectionary scriptures are speaking into our family and the families we gather with every week.

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One way to celebrate Advent is the four weekly themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. As we approach this fourth Sunday of Advent, may we be postured to receive the Love of Christmas. 

There’s much talk about love, but it seems love can’t be defined or described by talk. Love is described in its becoming. Love is a verb. Incarnation describes love well; God becoming flesh. Emmanuel. God fully with us.  

God is love, 1 John 4 tells us, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.  But there is more than a description of love in 1 John, it is also a calling. The practice of becoming love is the calling of all those who wish to know God. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I suppose then, if we want know God, we ought to practice becoming love. 

God is love. Let’s not define God any differently. God is love. Wherever there is love, there is God.

Discovering God as eternally active love has also radically changed the way I see self and the world. I have opened more of my own life to receiving and being formed by this Love. The invitation to holiness expands with Love holding the door, Jesus’ passion for others becomes tangible around the Love-table, and the role of the Church finds its place in the neighborhood.

How are we becoming love? Are we abiding in Love? Is Love being perfected in us?

In the first few paragraphs of Richard Rohr’s book Divine Dance he ponders on why there is such a lack of Trinitarian doctrine among Christians. Rohr writes, “Could this absence help us understand how we might still be in the infancy stage of Christianity? Could it help explain the simple ineffectiveness and lack of transformation we witness in so much of the Christian world? When you are off at the center, the whole edifice is quite shaky and unsure of itself.”

I confess, there is something about the language and image of Christianity being “in the infancy stage” that gives me new hope. Love is still and actively becoming. There is also something hopeful about the Infant of Christmas. His Kingdom has only just begun.

In this week of Love. May we be a community who practices becoming love. 

Advent: Joying

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Through Advent I will be sharing some thoughts pertaining to how the weekly lectionary scriptures are speaking into our family and the families we gather with every week.

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Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

“The natural habitat of Advent is a community of hurt. It is the voice of those who know profound grief, who articulate it and do not cover it over. But this community of hurt knows where to speak its grief, toward whom to address its pain….And because the hurt is expressed to the One whose rule is not in doubt, the community of hurt is profoundly a community of hope.”*

As I have been reading through the passages for this third Sunday of Advent, a “prophet” sub-theme stands out. In Isaiah 35 we read beautiful prophetic words describing a joy-filled eschatology. Psalm 146 provides us a life-song of joy in celebration of the prophesied reign of God. James 5 instructs us to have patience in the “not-yet” and points us to the suffering-prophet as a example of how to live in expectant joy. Matthew 11 reminds us of the prophesied signs of the Messiah…the One who brings joy into the suffering of the world. 

Also, in Matthew, is that interesting phrase from Jesus, “blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus, as prophet, understood his radical re-defining of God would create joyful intrigue for some and murder-motivating offense for others. 

It seems prophets and joy fit nicely together in this third week of Advent. And I think “Joying” is a practice of Christian community. Joying is a prophetic practice: the practice of proclaiming and participating in the Kingship of Jesus. Joying proclaims the promise that all things are being renewed…and we can even celebrate that promise amidst the not-yet-renewed. Joying calls us to participate in providing hope and healing of others. Joying creates joy. Joying moves us into proximity with the vulnerable, broken, hurting, hungry, blind…all those who capture God’s preferential attention. Joying is the proclamation and demonstration of a different future, the future fullness of God’s reign. 

So, may we practice joying. May it start in the confession of our own brokenness and may it move us to the proclaimation and participation in the “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

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*Walter Brueggemann, Advent /Christmas Proclamation 3: Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year, (Fortress, 1984), pg 9.

Advent: Storying

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Through Advent I will be sharing some thoughts pertaining to how the weekly lectionary scriptures are speaking into our family and the families we gather with every week.

Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

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Every night, as she is tucked into her bed, Anah asks, “Tell me a story please.” It has become a routine/practice that makes both the process of going to bed and falling to sleep a more peaceful process. But ever since Sunday, when our families marked the beginning of Advent together, Anah has asked “Tell me a baby-Jesus story please.” 

Last week I wrote about the practice of mealing. It is a macro-practice of Christian community; a holy act (practice) of hospitality, remembrance, abundance, graditude and grace. The second week of Advent highlights another macro-practice of Christian community; storying

As I read through the scriptures for the second Sunday of Advent, the authors use of imagination stood out to me. It seems that Advent is calling our own imaginations to account for how we see the world. 

Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Isaiah 11:9 “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Psalm 72:19 “Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.”

The authors of these passages are telling a story that is much different than what is often told in the world (and many churches). Their eschatology was rooted in promises of peace and justice (Isaiah). Scarcity and hunger were being eliminated by abundance (Psalm). Hostility, war, and fear were being negated by neighborliness (Romans). Oppression, separation, and abuse of power are being called to surrender all authority to a Kingdom of peace (Matthew). 

The prophets, disciples, and the early Church understood they were charged with the responsibility of telling a different kind of story. A gospel story. A story of good news. It is still the responsibility of the Church to story one another toward good news. Storying is a practice of Christian community. 

If we are attentive in the season of Advent, if we put on a Jesus-formed imagination, we will discover Jesus wasn’t interested in creating or organizing a new religion. Jesus wasn’t interested in an exclusive people who would be known by a distinctive title separating themselves from others. Jesus didn’t desire nor was entertained by empty patterns of songs and words. Jesus wants our attention to shift away from lofty, religious performance and toward the meek, low, simple, and everyday grounded nature of humanity and creation. “God became flesh” is enough theology to find our way into Jesus’ world. “Fear not” is enough instruction to live in Jesus’ world. “Good news” is enough description to see Jesus’ future. 

So, in this second week of Advent, let’s tell a Story. Let’s be a community who is attuned to good news. Let’s practice storying; the formation of a Christian imagination. Let’s be a people who show and tell how peace and grace are invading the whole earth.