You cannot ignore what is under the surface

Denver Water has been digging up the streets around the church for what feels like forever. In reality, it has been going on for close to a year. This digging underneath the surface is in order to address something that needs attention. They have been digging in order to remove and replace old, lead pipes that will negatively impact drinking water if left in place.

The whole Denver Water project is like a picture of our lives. It is like a living metaphor, every single day, for those of us who live in Platt Park. There reaches a point where you simply cannot ignore what is under the surface anymore. So very often you and I have things going on “under the surface” of our lives that we try to ignore. If we ignore these things for too long, they will eventually rise to the surface, usually causing bigger problems.

The digging, the repairs, and the work always seems to take soooooo much longer than we had hoped. The process is often soooo much messier than we plan. The patience required to address what lies below the surface is grueling work. Most days we wish we could just have our streets back, even if that means ignoring problems that need addressing.

So it is with our interior lives. God is so patient with us. May we have the patience and courage to not ignore what is under the surface. May we allow the love and light of Jesus to be our guide in excavating those tender places that are in need of care. 

Simone Weil says, “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.” I pray God will give us this sort of humility as we face the things that need tending under the surface of our lives. 

How do you feel about Lent?

I wonder, what are your feelings about Lent? What did your church tradition teach you about Lent? Was that something you were told “the Catholics” did to try to earn salvation? Was that something “liturgical churches” did to try to shed a few bad habits? Was Lent the time of year for people to give up meat and share in “fish fry Fridays?” Do you feel like Lent is a little depressing? 

I grew up in an evangelical megachurch in the 1980’s in the midwest. In that context, there was a big emphasis on the Bible and Jesus and a personal relationship with God and a fair amount of suspicion towards tradition, plus an anti-liturgical sentiment. So my church growing up did not observe Lent. I never had ashes smeared on my forehead until recent years. During seminary, I worshiped and worked at a church that embraced the worldwide liturgical calendar and I began to learn about and came to value the collective wisdom of the global church in developing a time each year, in preparation for Easter, that intentionally carves out space for repentance and renewal. My experience today with Lent is not at all in conflict with my childhood roots of prioritizing the Bible, Jesus, and a personal relationship with God — in fact, it has deepened those very values in me.  Lent (and the liturgical calendar) has also expanded my horizons to include practices that I only gave a momentary head nod towards growing up. By honoring the liturgical seasons of the year, I am learning a way of placing myself in the stream of spiritual formation in areas I might otherwise seek to avoid – areas such as reflection, repentance, and renewal in my relationship with Jesus. 

Mark 1:15 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.’”

Lent is a season of the year that is about Jesus’ words: “repent and believe the gospel.” 

Lent assumes we are going to mess up. Did I just hear a huge exhale?!? I think a lot of times in the church, people think that if they start following Jesus, then everything is going to be a constant ascending upward until perfection is found in heaven someday. 

Lent reminds us that we are going to mess up, and that is actually good news! Lent reminds us that the journey of faith is not a constant ascending. There are mountains and valleys. There are mistakes we make; regrets, sin, and shame along the way. Lent reminds us that repentance is the way to renewal in our relationship with Jesus. Lent invites us to take off our masks, to stop masquerading around like we have it all together. To pause and make space for the grief of our alienation and separation. Lent reminds us that we do not come to Christ by doing everything right. We actually come to Jesus (and grow in Jesus) by seeing his perfect beauty, realizing we are alienated in a myriad of ways, and then throwing ourselves upon his grace, mercy, and forgiveness over and over again. We receive God’s eager absolution, his deep healing, and we are built up in his loving-kindness. Thank God for such a season; thank God for Lent!

Historically, Lent was a time for new converts who wanted to be baptized into the church to prepare for their baptism on Easter. The preparation time was 40 days. Later on, wise followers of Jesus observed that this wasn’t just a time for new converts only, but also a time for those who had fallen away from the church to return. Later on still, the collective wisdom of the church realized that it wasn’t just new converts or people who had fallen away from the church who needed renewal, but rather everyone needed seasons of repentance and renewal. We all need times when we reset, and return to the Lord. And so this season we now call “Lent” was born. 

I wonder, has there ever been a time in your life when you felt the need to renew your spiritual life? How did you handle that?

If you have mixed feelings about the season of Lent, I pray that you will keep an open mind. There is no “right way” to do Lent. The heart of this season is repentance and renewal in your relationship with the Lord.  What might that look like for you?  I pray for our Lenten journey, as we seek to acknowledge where we are alienated and disconnected and ask God to renew our spiritual vitality in this season we share. 

A word on relational ruptures

We are in a season of the year that the church has long referred to as Epiphany. One pastor describes it like this:

“The season of epiphany is a reminder to the church of her vocation to face outward, toward the other, to share the Light of Christ.”

— A.J. Sherrill

But the truth is, when we turn outward toward the other, we often find there the remains of an ancient wound that shows up in a whole host of relational cracks and ruptures.

We all want to be seen and known. We all want to be connected in a loving community. Yet despite all our best attempts at relationships, somehow relational ruptures seem to find us. These ruptures are like an ancient echo of a more primal rupture. An echo reverberating forth from a garden long ago. These relational strains and divisions find their way into our lives despite our best parenting and all our best investments in therapy, and we find we cannot fix them on our own. This is why we need the bread and the wine; this is why we need the real presence of Christ Jesus. 

We all want to be seen and known as we are; not as we act. We all want to be seen and known as ourselves; not just as we are on our best days or worst days, but in our entirety. We want a witness to our lives. Author Curt Thompson put it this way “You were born into this world looking for someone who is looking for you.” Yet the soul is shy and we’ve all learned ways of hiding our true selves. We hide ourselves from ourselves, we hide from each other, and we hide from God. We’ve all been hiding since the near beginning of time. 

Within the first few pages of scripture we meet people longing to be known and hiding their true selves in the Garden of Eden. In the story, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect garden where they lived in a close, connected relationship with God. Fully known, fully loved, no fear of rejection. But when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from, they became aware of their nakedness and felt a sense of shame, so they hid from God. We’ve all been experiencing shame and hiding ever since. In his kindness, God called out to them and asked them what had happened, and they confessed their sin. Again in his kindness, God provided them with clothing to cover their nakedness, but their relationship with God and with all of creation had changed forever.

This story is about the fall of humanity, but it is also a story about the importance of being known and accepted by God. It is a picture of how — in spite of all our hiding — nothing can separate us from the great love of God. Nothing. Not our sin, or our shame. Not our best efforts to cover our true selves. God sees you and knows you and loves you. Jesus came to redeem all that is broken and restore all that has been lost.

May this foundation of eternal love ground you, strengthen you, and help you to turn outward towards others in your life today with the same sort of love you have received from heaven.

Crickets & Coins

The call to follow Jesus is not just about what we do, it’s also about who we become. Perhaps the most important thing God is doing in your life is not what he is doing through you but rather what he is doing in you. The scriptures say that people look at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. Who you are becoming is God’s most important work in your life. We tend to focus our time and attention on what we are doing – what we are accomplishing – the projects of our lives –  our accumulation of possessions, our development of our careers, our achievements in life. But following Jesus is not just about what we do, it’s also about who we become. Are you becoming a person of fervent prayer?  Are you growing in generosity? Are you seeing more of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control in your life – or less? Who are you becoming?  

If you want to know who you are becoming, look at your desires. What is it that your heart desires? What are your eyes and ears attuned to see and want? What does your body crave? Jesus would sometimes ask people, what do you want? Because our wants, our desires kind of reveal what and who we worship. I read a great story recently….

It’s a story about a farmer from a rural part of the country. And this farmer comes to visit a relative in a major city. They’re walking down the busy and noisy main street, amidst the clamor and confusion and traffic and general hubbub of the city at rush hour. And just then, a fire truck goes by, siren blazing. And the farmer says, “Listen: I hear a cricket over yonder.” The relative — the carefully conditioned city dweller — replies, “How can you hear a cricket in the middle of all this?” The chirp of a cricket in the very core of a buzzing city — we can’t hear that, right? But the farmer, unfazed, says, “I figure you hear what you’re listening for.” And with that, he takes the spare change from his pants pocket and drops it on the ground. And at the almost imperceptible sound of a few coins hitting the sidewalk, children stop in their tracks, heads turn, notice is taken.

Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Most of us would hear the coins and miss the crickets.

Taylor Swift is leading us in lament

“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side.” … I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”

― Barbara Brown Taylor

I had gone on a solo overnight to Frisco the night that Taylor Swift released her latest album, Midnights. I had planned to drive down early in the morning to get the kids off to school. As a bandwagon fan of Taylor’s work, I naturally found myself listening to her songs just hours after their release, in the dark of early morning driving home from the mountains all alone. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses a song to just hit you over the head, and that happened for me with track 15. I am regularly amazed by how God gives poets and writers of songs the ability to speak to our hearts and move us in a given moment of time. So often they give us what we didn’t even know we needed. Like prophets, they speak to cultural moments in a universal way that is also profoundly personal. Without an ounce of coercive power, an artist can sing to us, and move us, and we change. 

As I listened to “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” I couldn’t help but feel that Taylor Swift is leading us all in lament. She is showing us how to let “salt streams out of my eyes and into my ears.” We have all experienced so much loss, personally and collectively. Yet we have pressed on, pushed through, pivoted. We do what we need to do to survive. We are resilient. But the time comes when you must lament because your body keeps the score. There comes a time when all that grief and ache and loss catches up with you. There comes a time when you need a good cry for all you’ve lost and all you’ve been, and all the friends who were and weren’t and may not be again. There comes a time for lament.

God invites us to lament. The Psalms are filled with lament. Our culture just isn’t always the biggest fan. We like to push sadness underwater like a giant beach ball that inevitably pops up again, hitting us in the face with tears in the grocery aisle at Target. From time to time, God brings us a word, or a song that helps us grieve all that has been lost. I pray you may find yourself in the kingdom of heaven where “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” 

Thank you, God, for giving us this song and for giving artists songs that lead us in a worldwide lament. Click here to listen to Taylor Swifts song, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky”.

If you’d like to explore lament in the scriptures, check out these 5 psalms of lament: 

  1. Psalm 130 / Key verse: Psalm 130:1, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!”
  2. Psalm 6 / Key verse: Psalm 6:3, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”
  3. Psalm 38 / Key verses: Psalm 38:9-11, “All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.”
  4. Psalm 10 / Key verse: Psalm 10:1, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
  5. Psalms 42-43 / Key verse: Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

The leaves are so vulnerable

I am sitting in my chair looking at the trees outside my window. They are bursting with vivid colors, yellow and red and every shade of green and orange. It strikes me that the leaves are so vulnerable. In all their glory they are about to die. Just the slightest breeze and so many come falling down. A big gust and it looks like we will be raking again today. 

These leaves remind me of my own shy soul and the shy souls that I have encountered in every person I have ever known. We are all vulnerable. Despite our best posturing and performance, we are at any moment mere mortals. We are amygdala-dependent humans. When we do not feel safe we will automatically move to fight, flight, freeze or fawn in our response. We are dependent even on our best of days on the next breath as gift from God. 

The wind is blowing strong now and the vulnerable beauty of fall is fluttering to its own death. Consenting to the ground where snow will fall and all will appear dead. Nature will teach us over and over again that death, and winter eventually give way to spring. And so it is with you and I. May the leaves be our teacher today. 

Stay soft — it looks good on you.

We’ve been hosting this group in our home recently. It is made up of people who have been in church groups for decades. They have all experienced change, loss, betrayal, pain, and the sadness that comes when the community does not live up to our expectations of it. They have all been let down, disappointed, hurt. Here is the thing that is amazing to me — they are still showing up anyway. They are showing up open to themselves, to each other, and to God. Sometime back a friend gave me a little note that said, “stay soft, it looks beautiful on you” and I have that note hanging in my office. Yet if I’m honest, I don’t think I’m remaining all that soft lately. My tendency in this post-covid-ish world is to shrink inside of myself like a turtle, I don’t want to risk that pain again. I don’t want to attach to a transient group of people who will likely leave, move, change or die! Most days I feel that I would rather be self-protective. So this little group we have been hosting is saving me in a way. They are saving me by reminding me that showing up even after the inevitable disappointment of the community is worth it. It is worth it because the alternative is to close yourself off and to become isolated and hard. 

C. S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.”

Love means opening ourselves up to pain, loss and sorrow. I hope you will join me in taking the risk to love again. 

Love big. Be well.

Casting Bread Upon the Water

This past week was Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holiday that kicks off ten days of naming and releasing our sins – both those that we have done and those that have been done to us. I love that there is an entire community worldwide that is pausing to take inventory of their lives, to name their sins and hurts, and to thrust them out of their lives. It is an annual way of cleaning out, of repenting and clearing the slate of our souls before God. I think my favorite parts of this holiday are the embodied practices like the blowing of the shofar and casting bread upon the water to symbolically cast away our sins. So, this week, I told my kids that Jesus was Jewish and we were going to celebrate and practice Rosh Hashanah together. We stood together by our little backyard swimming pool and Russell blew the shofar horn, and we held some bread in our hands. Then we paused to take inventory of things we had done and things we had left undone, ways we have not loved God or our neighbor as ourselves. Then we took our bread crumbs and with a big motion, we threw that bread into the pool. The next day, Tim and I stood alone together by a river in the mountains, and we once again threw our sins symbolically into that flowing river.

It is not any act of my own that brings about repentance and forgiveness, it is only by grace through faith in Christ that these realities become mine. And yet still there is something so very powerful about embodying these internal realities alongside others in visible and earthy ways. I imagine I will keep throwing my bread – that is to say my sins – upon the water in the days to come because those places of unforgiveness keep creeping back up in me and I find I need to name them and release them repeatedly before I am free of them on the inside. Which is why it is especially powerful to me to actually do something with my body rather than only with my mind and heart. Of course I can just do this all silently in prayer, but it is not the same, and this year especially I needed a way to get those impossible feelings out of my body through bodily action. Embodied spiritual practices make what is invisible visible and memorable — this is the value of rituals. To light a candle. To taste the bread and wine. To take myself to a body of water, hold the bread in my hand, throw it, and watch it go away from me. This is a picture of what God is doing for us in Jesus, and it feels good and true to embody it. 

Love big. Be well.

You are the light of the world

Imagine you have just arrived in New York City. You are looking forward to a few days of museums and shows and dining out at some of the world’s best restaurants. You land at the airport, hop an Uber to your hotel, but just as you are pulling up to your hotel something strange happens — the lights go out. You come to find out that the entire city has lost power. It’s not the first time this has happened, you remember reading about the NYC blackout of 1977 and 2003 and 2019 … but you didn’t expect it while you were visiting. So you go into the hotel and they hand you a candle and a flashlight, and you fill out your information on a piece of paper because all the computers are down. And you make your way up the stairs to your room because the elevator isn’t working. It feels a little hot with no AC, so you decide to crack the window.  When you open the window shades you are shocked to see that there is a hotel across the street that is all lit up. You open the window and you hear music! There is a whole lot of joy across the street and you are in a whole lot of darkness. You are baffled, you are wondering, how in the world can there be this much light in the middle of this much darkness? So you decide to make your way downstairs because obviously you’re in the wrong hotel. So you grab your candle and flashlight and make your way back downstairs and across the street in the city that has gone dark. The streetlights are not lit, the houses are not lit, the storefronts are not lit, your hotel is not lit – but this place is all lit up. You walk across the street into an air-conditioned space, and there are TVs all along the walls of the foyer with CNN talking about how dark NY is. You get into a line that is serving food because none of the other places in town can serve food without power. Eventually, you find the manager and you say to her, “I don’t understand, please help me understand, how can there be this much light in the midst of this much darkness?” and she says, “I’ve been getting that question a lot and it’s fairly simple: when we built this hotel we built it with a gas generator. So we are not dependent on what is happening out there to determine what is going on here. We’ve got something in here that because it is not dependent on what is going on out there, gives us in here what out there does not possess. We have something built-in that gives us the ability to transcend the darkness in which we find ourselves.” 

Jesus said to his followers,

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” — Matthew 5:14

Jesus is saying: you have something built-in that gives you the ability to transcend the darkness, you’ve got something in here (in your soul and in the community I have given you called the church) that is not dependent on what is happening “out there” in the world. Jesus is talking about how his followers will show up in a society when it is dark, how they will be light, how they will be IN the dark world but not OF the dark world. It is this idea of Christians and culture – how do you follow Jesus when the world has gone mad? How can you let your light shine? 

May you access your God-given resources to shine the light of the world in your corner of the world today. 

Living into community

Have you ever received a phone call that changed the trajectory of your life? 

I bet everybody could tell of a time when a phone call came that changed your world – at least a little bit. Sometimes it is good news, you get a job offer, or receive the news of the birth of a child. But often it’s a crisis. The doctor’s office calls and the news is not good. Or, there was an accident. Or you get a call from the principal’s office or the police station -and it is something that involves your child. Or there is the loss of somebody you love. 

Sometimes a phone call comes that splits your world in two – there is the life you lived before the phone call and the life you lived after the phone call. 

I am sorry to say this but it is true, one day news will rock your world. And when that phone call comes it will find you living in one of two conditions. It will either find you living in mostly isolation, mostly disconnected from other people, largely on your own emotionally, relationally and spiritually. In this condition, you are not sure if there is anybody you can reach out to. Or, it will find you living into community. In this condition, you will be surrounded by some people who know you and love you because you will have eaten together and laughed together and talked together and prayed together and have done life together. And those people, they will hold you up, and strengthen you and support you. They will not be able to make it all better, but they will keep you together as if by an invisible force. That is what community is. Community is like an invisible source of strength, and God says you will not grow without it, you cannot thrive without it. It will not be the words or advice of these people or their ability to fix the situation that will strengthen you. Like you, they will be powerless to change what is real and true. But the source of strength will come nonetheless through connection, through the witness of one soul to another. When a friend can listen without judgment, see the good and call it forth, especially when you can see nothing but confusion and despair – it can change your life. 

May you be found living into community when the phone call comes. 

What steps can you take today to be living into community?

Take a moment now to thank God for the loving relationships you already have and ask God how you might take steps to further live into community today.