Let us pray for a new way forward

Hello friends.

It is Thursday morning and I’m here in my office at church. Yesterday afternoon, we witnessed a terrible thing happen in the United States. We watched angry people storm the Capital, push through barriers, break windows, attack law enforcement officers, and replace American flags on poles with Trump flags. The people who did this believed their actions were patriotic. They believed they were fighting for their nation. In fact, they were doing a terrible, terrible thing.

I think perhaps the most disturbing part for me as a follower of God in the way of Jesus was watching the news coverage and seeing flags that said “Jesus 2020.” I don’t know what faith those flags represent, but they do not represent the Jesus we see in the ancient scriptures.

Wednesday afternoon and evening was scary. We saw ourselves at our worst. That event showed us what thugs and bullies look like. It showed us what white privilege looks like. A woman lost her life. Law enforcement officers were seriously injured. It is imagery that broke our hearts and, I believe, deeply grieves the heart of God. 

So now here we are today…where do we go from here? Let us pray for a new way forward.

Today, we claim anew the promises of God. Today we embrace again the noble path of Micah 6:8 that says, “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Wednesday was for weeping. And now today we return to the hard work of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Today, we resist the urge towards tribalism.

Today, we remember that Wednesday was not who we are. We are better. We are kinder. We are braver.

Today, we stop and catch ourselves each and every time we start to caricature the “other” in our minds. 

I dropped the kids off at school the other day, and I was walking around Wash Park, and my loop that day was about 45 minutes, and when I got back to my car I realized that I had spent my entire walk having an imaginary conversation with a family member who I used to be close to, but currently find myself in a bit of a silent strained relationship with because of our differences in perspective on race, religion, and politics. When I realized that I had wasted 45 minutes in an imaginary conversation, I wanted to cry. The hot tears behind my eyes felt like tears of confession. Because here is the thing, we were not actually talking with each other. And my time thinking about this person was not time spent in prayer for them, it was time spent in an imaginary argument. Assuming that I knew exactly what they’d think and say because of the labels I have placed on them. That is not right and that is not fair. People are complex, and people do not always fit into the smug little boxes we have for them. 

So today, we stop that. We do not vilify the other. We reject the pressure of our world that seeks to caricature “the other” by placing a label on them and thinking we understand them. You and I do not know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. It is not your job to control or change others, it is your job to love others. It is our job to love others as we have been loved by God. God did not love me because I deserved it. So I do not love others because they deserve it. I love others because God has loved me. And sometimes, just sometimes, that love transforms and surprises us.

Today, we stop the tribalism and divisive rhetoric, and we choose justice and mercy over fear and hate.

Today, we give so much thanks to the law enforcement officers, reporters, and peace activists who stepped into the danger on Wednesday for the sake of the common good.

The truth is, we need faithful followers of Jesus on both sides of the political aisle. We need faithful followers of Christ who will live with integrity and seek truth even when that means departing from whatever their party or tribe is saying. Our primary allegiance is not to an empire, or platform, or ideology. Our allegiance is to a crucified and risen Savior. Today we choose our word of the year, which is peace.

May the peace of God permeate all I think, say, and do today.

Today, let us remind ourselves that there is more – much, much more – that holds us in common than divides us as a people.

Today, we seek to walk the way of faith, hope and love again.

We may have hard days ahead but we will find our way through them together. May we not forget what we have seen and may our disturbance lead us to holy action. May God’s spirit be before you and beside you and around you and within you in these coming days, and may we walk the way of love, that is the way of Jesus together.

Amen.

You Are Your Brother’s Keeper

Since the Fall of man people have been disclaiming responsibility for others. It was Cain’s excuse after he murdered his brother: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) But in Christ, we have no more excuses. We have to answer “yes” to Cain’s question; we have become our brother’s and sister’s keepers. What they do very much matters to us because Christ has reversed the curse of Cain – where Cain sought to separate himself from his biological family, Christ has bound us together into a spiritual family; the people with whom we will spend eternity.

Since we’re responsible for one another we’re called to help each other out. The goal is to get to what Jesus describes in verses 19-20: “When two or three are gathered in my name…” It’s in that gathering that the Father promises to answer our prayers and Jesus promises his presence among us. So James instructs us to “confess your sins to one another “ (James 5:16), and that “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20; cf. Galatians 6:1)

Jesus’s family matters to us, and we’re stronger and closer to Jesus together. So whenever someone is threatened by sin, we’re there to help one another in love.

The Enemy-making Machine

Human beings are good at making enemies. The Hatfields and McCoys are a case study; the two families engaged in a decades-long blood feud that claimed a dozen lives. The point of contention? One lost pig of Randolph McCoy in the fall of 1878, blamed on William Anderson Hatfield. It’s easy for us to put people into categories, to think of them as either friends or enemies, and treat them accordingly. Unfortunately, this enemy-making mentality has seeped into the church throughout history as well.

But Jesus wants to demolish that kind of thinking among his disciples and replace it with something better. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus outlines a process for dealing with sin among the church, a passage that has too often been abused by our friends-and-enemies thinking. This text is really about moving past the boundaries of friends and enemies to consider and treat one another like family.

Who might Christ be calling you to treat as family today?

Privilege, Power, & the Gospel of Jesus

There is a lot of talk about privilege in our world right now, especially white privilege. So often the conversations are loaded, filled with either defensiveness or shame.

Part of the problem seems to be that we tend to think of power in terms of position only, and we have a sinful tendency to only think about power in an upwards direction. We readily see ourselves as “less powerful” than those above us, but rarely think about how much power we have to serve those who are weaker. 

Jesus came and laid down his life for the healing of the world. Each week when we gather around the table of communion we remember that Jesus (who was all-powerful) willingly laid down his power for the sake of others. To follow in the way of Jesus is to, like Jesus, be taken-blessed-broken and given for the healing of the world. It is in the bread that is broken and in the wine that is poured out that true life and redemption are found.

We must recognize that no matter our position or privilege, we all have power.  We all have power within relationships to subvert or support, to destabilize or stabilize, etc., as well as other types of power like wealth or status. Humility and service aren’t about randomly giving up that power, but about using that power to serve the interests of others. As the ancient scriptures say, “Let each of you look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) Becoming a servant is not about becoming less than ourselves, but using our full self to serve the needs and interests of others.

Failure of Nerve vs. Failure of Heart

There is a wonderful leadership book called Failure of Nerve, which is all about having the courage to leave the status quo and lead change when necessary. It’s a really great book about adaptive change.  Right now, in our world, however, I don’t think our problem is a failure of nerve. We are all embracing adaptive change, we have no choice. We are adapting. We’ve learned to pivot. One pastor I know said, “I think I can learn adaptive change, I just don’t know if I can survive it!” I think that gets at the heart of this moment. I think our problem is not a failure of nerve, it’s a failure of heart. Many of us are wondering if we have what it takes to survive, we are wondering if it is worth it, or if we should abandon the job, the town, the house, the plan, or the school and make a big change. It is tempting to make a big move in part because it gives me a temporary feeling of control in a time when so many things feel out of my control.

I know some of you will be called to make a big change right now (and I support those Spirit-led courageous journeys into the unknown!) But I also want us to consider that sometimes re-arranging the furniture on the outside deck of my life keeps me from some house cleaning on the inside. Many of us are not all that developed in life endurance skills because we have had the luxury of so many distractions. When things get hard or uncomfortable, we just move or change rather than endure. If you tackle a big change in life right now, it will take a lot of your attention to do that, and it may give you a temporary feeling of control, but it also may distract you from an inner journey invitation. So for those of you who are weary and losing heart, and looking to distract yourself by grabbing the reins of something you can control by making a big change in life…hear the words of this ancient sacred text and consider Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Remember dear friends, the one who endures, resides in you. May you not grow weary or lose heart. 

Here are a couple of inner life questions to ask yourself right now:

  1. What key spiritual practices and rhythms are going to sustain me in this season?
  2. What key relationships are necessary to build resilience as things won’t be getting easier anytime soon?

I know that so many things feel outside of your control, and they are. Please know that you, my dear friends, are being held up in prayer before our ever-present loving God. May you rest in knowing you are fully known, fully loved, with no fear of rejection. Right now. Right here. Just as you are.

Hello, Anxiety

Anxiety

an ever-present tightness in my chest

a worry in my head

a companion I ignore and push away

deny is real

run over, past, around

but rarely through

rarely talk to. 

 

So today I say

Hello anxiety

I see you anxious one

I see that tightness in your chest

That story you are making up in your head

Rather than scold you, I invite you to sit down for some tea because, 

“Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.” (Simone Weil)

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7

Our Divided World

So many of my conversations with people lately reveal the anguish of our deep divides. Families are in turmoil as generations disagree on issues facing our world today. Friends are dividing over political differences. Relationships are fracturing as honest dialogue has been replaced with monologues in an echo chamber world.

In our world of deep divides and polar opposite perspectives, why does truth matter? Should we just throw our hands in the air and let each person go their separate way? Here is one reason why truth matters: the narrative you believe will impact the way that you live. The story you believe will impact the way you relate with yourself and your neighbor. So, as we read and research various viewpoints, perhaps we could make it our practice to simply ask ourselves: how will this narrative lead me to live in the world? Will this narrative lead me to love others more? Will this narrative lead me to be more generous or more defensive? Will this narrative lead me to live in fear or greater freedom? Will this narrative lead me to love God with my whole heart and love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus said, ““If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth,and the truth will set you free.”” — John 8:32

Truth matters because the stories we believe impact the way we show up to one another. May we be people who seek out the truth, not because we want to be “right” and lord it over those who disagree, but rather because we want to be people who live in love and extend that love to others. The story you believe will influence the way you live. May you live in the eternal dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who is one God and mother of us all.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in these uncertain times.

May the Lord surprise you in the ordinary moments of your day today with holy presence.

May the Lord reveal to you your belovedness.

May the Lord free you from anxiety.

May you lean into the eternal love of God and may you extend that love to another today.

Getting the Scarlet “C”

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

— Frederick Buechner

In July 2020, I turned 45, celebrated 19 years of marriage with Tim, and got sick and tested positive for COVID-19. Getting this virus is kind of like wearing the “Scarlet C” around on your chest right now. We are all trying to avoid this experience and wondering what it will be like if we get it. I am so grateful for all the care and prayer I have received during this time. I am also so very grateful to be feeling better and myself once again!

For me the experience of getting COVID happened while we were wrapping up our family vacation in Wisconsin. I started feeling sick with cold-like symptoms, but after a couple days it turned into a fever and chills, followed by an achy body and sleeping 18-20 hours each day. Then came the cough. Whenever I tried to take a deep breath I had to cough, a dry kind of cough. After a few days of being sick I decided to get tested for COVID, and my thinking at that time was just to do my due diligence and get tested out of an abundance of caution, but I really didn’t think I had the virus. I kept thinking, ‘we are in northern Wisconsin after all, in rural America – how could I get it here?’ While waiting 5 days for the test results I lost my sense of taste and smell, and then at that point, I figured I probably had it, since that is such a rare experience that I had never had before. The COVID test came back positive right as I was starting to feel better. Then the kids and Tim (who were with me the whole time) needed to begin their quarantine in case they were carriers. So, that was my experience. Not fun, but certainly not very extreme compared to others. Even though I never had to go to the hospital, I can only think of one other time in my life when I was that sick for that long which was when I was 16 years old and got a parasite in my system while living in Bolivia one summer.

One thing about getting COVID is that you are truly given permission to rest. I wonder if it might be helpful to give ourselves that sort of permission more often. May I offer you a bit of permission today? You have permission to rest. If you are a serial achiever who is always striving to get an A+, you have permission to get a C- in life right now. You have permission to be less than your best. You have permission to be weary, afraid, and mediocre. May you receive your worthiness apart from your performance. May you practice just being beloved when there is nothing you can do to prove your worth. May you rest in the grace and goodness of God today.

Start Close In

There is a poem by David White that I really love called “Start Close In.” Basically, the poem is saying that rather than trying to solve all the problems in the world, start close in, start with yourself.

This poem reminds me of a passage in scripture that simply says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: to mind your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…” — 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

These words remind me that I do not need to show up to every fight I am invited to. When our world is on fire it can feel like a full time job to show up to every single conversation being waged online and among family and friends. I have permission to be quiet and mind my own business, and so do you. You do not report to anyone other than God, and God knows your heart. Take your lead from the whispers of the Holy Spirit on when to speak and when to remain silent and listen. You live for an audience of one, and God is already pleased with you. You cannot do anything to earn God’s favor. May your daily life win the respect of others. May you rest in the gift that it is all grace. May you start close in.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

We only see in part

For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  — 1 Corinthians 13:12

We live in a world not yet made right. The scriptures say we only see in part. 1 Corinthians 13:12 speaks of us seeing “in a mirror dimly;” the King James translated this phrase as seeing “through a glass, darkly.” It’s a good picture of how we view the kingdom, and why Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to describe the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was telling his followers that although the kingdom may seem small now, there’s an unbroken line from its present manifestation and its future maturity.

Just imagine for a moment you held up a piece of very dark and cloudy glass and looked toward the mountains. You’d see only the barest outline of the peaks; it would be difficult to pick out the clouds in the sky, or any real features. Now imagine that this was the only way you had ever seen them. You would never know their true grandeur, only their barest outline, and it hurt your eyes to try to see much of them. This is what we are like as we behold the things of the kingdom in a world not yet made right. They often appear to us as the barest outline, if not completely obscured. But one day the glass will be removed, and we’ll behold these realities face to face, and they will be even more glorious and brilliant than the sight of the Rockies on a sunny morning.