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Thursday, June 29, 2017

רֹאִֽי׃אֵ֣ל: God Who Sees

I’m continuing to sit with Genesis 16 and the story of Hagar as I explore the God who experiences us in a very basic, sensory driven way.

Genesis 16:13 is incredibly beautiful in its reciprocity.

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (NIV).

To be seen, in this sense, encompasses both vision and care.  Too often, we believe we have experienced something, simply because it happened in front of our faces.  This seeing, however, requires an action of sorts.  God sees Hagar, not simply as someone who is standing there.  God sees Hagar in all of her neediness, and this sight moves God to covenant.

Interestingly, Hagar requites.  This is not a requirement of God’s love, but it does, indeed, lead to a more favorable outcome (at least in this part of the story).  Hagar determines to work with this God who sees her as she, in turn, sees God.

It’s remarkable—the ebb and flow of relationship.

Before this moment, even if God was near; Hagar didn’t recognize it.  Now she sees what God sees.

I’ve had a little bit of trouble sourcing the following quote, because it’s all over the Internet, and perhaps it’s just something that people say, but it may have been adapted from the words of Robert Pierce, founder of World Vision:

Break my heart for what breaks yours… 

I want such a deep relationship with the God who sees that my eyes register the same sights, compelling me to care for the other like God does.  It also doesn’t hurt to know how intensely God sees me—my thoughts, my deeds, my hopes, my dreams, my frustrations, my brokenness, my faith, my doubt, my fear, my strength… just all of it.  It’s unusual to be seen like that and to still be immeasurably loved. 


Monday, June 26, 2017

Love the Church

After spending five days immersed in the quadrennial family reunion that is General Assembly, I came home and crashed before 9:30pm and slept all night (11 hours straight).  If you know me, you also know this is outlandishly strange.  I'm exhausted.

In recent days, I have made a concerted effort to curb the sarcasm and frustration and to discard the cynicism altogether.  I’m making progress.  I had exactly three moments, this week, when I felt that I absolutely must share my frustration in the social media world.  Two of them were entirely justified and the other was actually more of an opportunity to discuss how we might do better in the future, so I’m going to move that one from the ‘eye roll column’ to the ‘be a part of the solution column.’

We do have to do better, but we also have to love the Church.

Scratch that.  Perhaps we have to do better, because we love the Church.

And I mean the Church, universal, but I also mean whatever small part of the Church in which we happen to find ourselves—the ‘big C’ Church and the ‘little c’ church. 

And friends… this can be hard for me.

It hasn’t always been hard.  There’s always been a struggle of sorts, but in earlier days it was a struggle for the church, not against her.  And then life happened.  And then some more life happened.  And I did, indeed, find myself in a place where my story resonated far too deeply with all the other stories of people who have suffered hurt at the hands of the church.

Interestingly, though, I’m not too interested in living that particular narrative anymore.  I’d rather live into the one where I love the Church so much I will kick and scream and fight to remain a part of her, precisely because I do have something to offer, precisely because I can be a part of the ‘better.’

That’s not me patting myself on the back, please don’t misunderstand.  But, shouldn’t we all want this?  Shouldn’t we all desire to be a part of the body that functions and loves and redeems?  My tribe is focusing on Ephesians 4 as we participate in conventions and assembly:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  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 and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (v. 4-6, NIV).

In a world where we often have divergent beliefs and opinions, even among those whom we love deeply; unity in diversity can be an enormous challenge.  But maybe we could sit with this for just awhile.  Maybe, we could truly embrace, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love” (often attributed to Augustine but modified over the years by enough people that it is difficult to source…  I most recently heard it quoted by the character of Phineas Bresee in a movie about his life, which I was privileged to watch at its premiere on Saturday afternoon).

I’m not sure any of us has time to argue about things that don’t matter that much when there is so much work to be done, not to be perfect, but just to be better…


Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Heart Hurts

I’m honestly not sure how much more my heart can take, this week.  It is raw.

It’s Sacramental Saturday at FGT, and I am dumbfounded, because I spent hours, yesterday, worshipping with people from my tribe who are deeply devoted to worship that includes (and is very often centered around) the Eucharistic meal and the grace it imparts, instituted by Jesus, commanded of us if we seek to both properly remember his death and go out, filled with his life.

This morning, one of the first things I saw was an angry message indicating that I do not, in fact, respect or take the Catholic Church seriously, because I participate in the Eucharist.  After doing my very best to answer this concern with grace and love, I just sat down and cried (OK…  let’s be real…  I didn’t actually wait to cry.  I cried as I typed the response.  Then I cried some more.  And some more.  And some more.)

I would think that I’m pretty close to out of tears, but they just keep coming.  Some have been good: Some have been terrible.  At the very least, the floodgates are damaged, but I am beginning to think they have washed away, altogether.

But at least I’m broken.  It’s necessary if we want to be like Jesus.


Monday, June 19, 2017

To Love and Leave

***From something I wrote two months ago…  Although there was blog silence, I kept writing:

(Start) Illinois state line.  Iowa state line.  There might be something completely inappropriate or downright crazy about the fact that even after thirteen years, it never gets easier to cross that line, knowing that I will just have to cross it again without the hope of returning for who knows how long.   

I can remember being really young, a little bit stupid, and completely sure that this was the place I would like to live for the rest of my life.  In a flea infested rental house, I declared that it would be OK with me if we never moved anywhere else (please note, I meant the town, not the house), if we dug our heels in and stayed here forever, loving these people, ministering in this community.  You’d think after all this time I could drive by the house we eventually bought without tearing up.  You’d think I could grab a cherry 7-Up at the gas station without feeling like I might have a complete emotional breakdown.  You’d think.  And yet…

It’s like playing a very emotionally expensive game of ‘The Life We Could Have Lived.’  I just made up the name, but it is a very real thing we do.  And by we, I mean me.  I mean you.  I mean all of humanity.  You probably have no idea the lengths to which I would go to call this place home again, but, interestingly, I do.  I would almost sell my soul.  But just… almost.

And so we scooped the loop… admired the third Casey’s store in this 5,000 person strong place… and I’ll soon join the rest of my family for a few hours of sleep.  Tomorrow we’ll travel to another town that both once was and might have been, but I anticipate crying less (read this, not at all), because some missed possibilities matter more than others.  (End)

It’s long, but I needed context:

I Thessalonians 2:17-3:5, “But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy. So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain” (NIV).

Almost twenty years of ministry has taught me many things, but perhaps none is so profound as this: you will often have to love and leave.

I can remember having a conversation with my youth pastor’s wife, before I committed to accepting this call, at all.  “What is it like?” I asked.

I wish I could remember more of what she said, but it is indelibly ingrained in my memory that (at the time) a hard and fast rule was, “Don’t continue to communicate with members of a congregation once you have left.” 

It seemed harsh.

“How will I ever make (and keep) friends?”

“How will I know if they are OK?”

“Why do we do this?”

Well… it was a different world, of course, because we were merely on the brink of wide-spread use of email (although, from what I can discern the very first email was sent in 1971… long… long… long… before I was born… so it’s sort of funny that it took a couple of decades to become commonplace), we were just approaching the days of Internet in every home (Remember those dial up cards?  No?  Never mind…), and social media was in its fledgling stages.  All of this does not begin to take into account the farfetched aspiration of holding a cordless telephone in your hand in order to have a face-to-face encounter with someone halfway across the globe (We have outdone the Jetsons, friends…  where’s my food-o-matic?).

I learned many… many… many—OK, there are not enough ‘manys’—things from this dear friend of mine, but there was just no way she could have known how the world of communication was going to explode!

I know, now, that this ‘rule of ministry’ was intended to protect incoming pastors from the inability to assimilate and to protect church members from looking through rose colored glasses and wishing for ‘better days’ (which may, or may not, have actually been better).  It was intended to foster new relationships and bring people together.  I think it might even have been intended to protect outgoing pastors from the same type of grief that comes from loss of circumstance.  None of us were supposed to look at any of this as loss.  It was all just part of God’s plan to move us along, to connect us with another part of the body.  Maybe there was a time in history when it even worked.  But… based on Paul’s words… I seriously doubt it.

Because some of us get very deeply attached, and cutting off all communication is like ripping flesh from our own bodies.  That sounds hyperbolic, but I have actually experienced real, physical pain over the loss of people, so don’t count it out as a possibility.

Now, I try to keep it real, so I’m going to be brutally honest in admitting that there are some churches… and some people… whom I do not miss.  My family and I have served in six physical locations (encompassing probably seven or eight different communities of people), and although I have certainly loved people in every one of those communities; there is only one that makes me feel quite like Paul with Thessalonica. 

There have been a few times in my life when I have known, beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt, that I am doing exactly what I was created to do… exactly how I was created to do it… exactly where I was created to do it… and I could go on doing it forever and be very happy.  There have also been a couple of times when I have known this was a possibility, but something (or someone) stood in my way, so such a plan was thwarted by the free will of another (I’m not going to go quite as far as Paul, attributing that to Satan.  Sometimes, it’s just people.).        

I recently had the great privilege of travelling across the country and stopping in many of the towns where we have served the church.  You can’t rely on feelings to determine how right a decision was or might be—read that again, you can’t—but taking a drive down this ‘memory lane’ was pretty telling for me.  There were so many moments when I stopped to connect with a friend… or share a story with the kids… or just still myself and take in a breath laced with history and life.  These moments held sentiments such as, “Wow, that was fun!” or, “I loved that!” or “Remember when…” and they came with smiles and deep-rooted peace about the ways in which God has used us throughout this life.  But there were some ‘ugly’ moments, too.  If returning to the scene of your life some thirteen years later, for example, results in indefatigable tears… for hours… across state lines… something isn’t right (says the woman who hates crying in front of other people and mostly only does it when she’s furious).

Ah… my Thessalonica…

Paul’s words, “I could stand it no longer…” just slice through my heart (which is a little vulnerable, right now).  And there are moments when… even after all these years… I have to check in on them.  I have to know about their faith.  I have to know they are OK.

And so, in this world of connectivity, where I can know what they ate for breakfast last Tuesday; I break all the rules.  Because once you are one of my people; there’s no getting out of it.  It’s not you: It’s me.  I love you.

Interestingly, in this current swirling world of life and ministry, I am standing on the precipice of what happens next, waiting (not very patiently) for the direction that tells me which way to jump.  And I am praying that, even though the potential for heart-wrenching pain is high, I will land in my next Thessalonica; because I would rather feel that deeply again than anything else.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sacred Space

It’s Sacramental Saturday, and although I (and others) have spent many hours and days exploring proper sacraments in this space; I’d like to briefly consider space, itself, tonight… this space… physical space… mental and emotional space… just… space…

I think we need it: I don’t think we allow for enough of it (simplistic enough).

The only way this ever gets remedied is for us to make space a priority.

And so I am tempted to talk about spiritual disciplines and how we must fill our spaces with them.  I am inclined to lean toward inward disciplines—particularly toward disciplines of abstinence, because it seems as if they might be the ones that best allow for space.  But I want to be careful, because even the thrust toward disciplines such as silence and solitude can become a burden if we do not first recognize the need for clear space… empty space… overall.  These things are not interchangeable.

I live in a culture overwhelmed with noise, and not just the kind you hear.  Even if I manage to sneak away to a quiet corner of my world where auditory noise is almost eliminated (the hum of the air conditioner isn’t something I’m willing to part with on such a hot, humid day); my mind will continue to run. 

Visual noise is, quite possibly, an even greater danger.  How about some stats? The sheer number of screens available to me at any given time is staggering—and addictive.  I should absolutely admit that it is addictive, because as I am typing even this post about space; I am slightly panicked over the fact that I accidentally left the power cord for my laptop 222 miles from where I now sit, I only have 33% battery life remaining (which should last approximately two hours), and I’m concerned that if my battery drops below a certain level I will need to quickly send this particular document to some remote location, so I can access it on one of the other four computers currently at my disposal.  Four!  This will, in turn, bring great irritation to one of my children, because it will leave him or her without a functioning computer for at least several minutes.  Depending on the child this affects, he or she may request the use of a hand held video game or tablet during such time.  And I think there may be eleven available options.  Eleven!  But if none of those devices are sufficient, perhaps one of the three smart phones or the TV will do. 

There is no space.

This post isn’t going in all the beautiful unplugged, hands free directions you might assume, though.   

As it turns out, I’m not much of an advocate for unplugged and hands free, except in rare circumstances (water parks are a good one), because my world requires technology for communication.  And communication matters—a lot.

So no, I’m not going to guilt you into putting your phone down, because you’re missing your life, and, in fact, I might encourage you to pick it up if it includes a camera, because that’s a fabulous way to chronicle the everyday memories that might otherwise be forgotten.

I am, however, going to ask you to think about when… and where… and for how long you might be able to clear some space to simply be covered by the grace that loves you because you exist.  No strings… no requirements… no pressure.

Sacramental and disciplined living is important and transformative, but it must begin with accepting that which we cannot do, if we hope to recognize God at work.