Implored 

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Yesterday I received a text from a friend with a simple message; “Shane, I implore you to write.” With one sentence, he spoke many. This friend receives words as a sign of love and life. He was not asking just for his sake, but also for mine. What a gift! So, Nathan, I will seek to offer words in this Easter season. 

Last Easter Sunday, our family squeezed into the spaces between our remaining belongings and headed east. We thought we knew a general direction for our journey, but we had no way of knowing what was ahead. Easter to Easter has been a “sabbatical year” for us. It has included weeks of silence, days of rest, moments of desperation and celebration, ordinary days, many death stories (dying of our “selfs”), and beautiful resurrection stories. It has been a journey of relinquishment and experiencing the gifts of relinquishment

Today I looked up the words I wrote the Monday after Easter last year:

“Along the way, we will have to remind ourselves why we started this journey; to listen carefully to the calling that pointed us toward a new future and a different kind of life. Every day will be full of moments when we must remain determined to walk faithfully on the path before us. Undoubtably there will be doubt, and in those moments we must look for the trail markers left by our guide that say: Be a target of grace. Practice non-anxiousness. Pursue the joy set before you.” 

The gift of the last three sentences (and the stories behind them) continue to implore us toward new life.  It’s true, words can be a gift of life and love. 

Remember

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As I stood beside his gravestone and looked across the valley to the fall-colored mountains, I recognized the moment. This moment was supposed to happen. Serendipity. Providential. Whatever it may be, it was right and good. As I read his words to those gathered, it was a familar sense. Words from an age before that when loosed into the air again have power to shape future. Prophetic words. Offered with the palatable taste of a poet. Once spoken, their influence works deep within the soul; stirring new realities from an old story. 

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Remember: A collection of words by John W. Hawkinson

“The persistence of memory is an exalted thing. Memory is like a wonderful picture show; go ahead, choose your era. Imagine it. While 1828 is far the best, try 1928 right now…

It’s a balmy night in 1928. Without any promises to keep, you’re traveling up old route 9W on the west side of Dutchman’s river, headed north. You’re roaring ahead in a Model L Lincoln Phaeton or a Packard Roadster with its well-engineered purr of mighty cylinders from motordoms golden age. 

The road is all yours, as is the night itself, pierced by rays from two huge nickeled brass drum headlights. Your passenger is not only accustomed to, but thoroughly at home with, a strong rush of cool air whipping through her golden tresses, resembling a maiden of the mist, a madonna of freedom and youth. 

The road takes me past the Catskills, past the towns of congenial taste and the stave, quiet, dark timbers of estates; past farms and apple orchards; through the smell of fresh morning hay; the sound of cricket’s music with all the ways of life that seemed to fit.

The night ride continues on into the darkness, beyond the little glowing lights like a symphony of pre-determined harmony. You knew no matter where you were headed, you HAD already arrived. For materialism, if you’re going to have to have it, should be at its best. That’s how it was in those days. In 1928. 

But today, this is the shifting era of too much, too much of everything. What once was so good is being suffocated, stifled, drowned, broken and buried for want of more. Not through wild political notions or insidious forms of government, but through want alone man has defined his own purpose; and through want alone man will lose their identity, their freedoms, their elbow room and that wonderful sanity in being part of a well-ordered harmony.  

What is this world becoming? Too many people, with too many goods, commodities and services. Over-production, greed, vanity, gullibility, strategic insanity, technological ignorance, religious paranoia, lack of compassion, forgotten humility, and an inability to see the poor and meek. 

It may be that through want alone the world will end, not with a bang, but a whimper of want.

So, may we remember the simpler way of 1928 and choose to live toward it today. Uncluttered, with the simplicity of less; the enjoyment of quality and refined congeniality. And when we can’t see it clearly in the present; may we remember.”

May we remember John W. Hawkinson. 

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.