Sunday, September 24, 2017

I am 2017

I am 2017. Three hundred and sixty-five days. Fifty-two weeks. Twelve months.
And I am laden with gifts. Weighed down with blessings and grandeur.
Like a favourite aunt’s over-stuffed suitcase. Brimming with potential.
But these gifts are wrapped up in ugliness. Covered with the stiff paper of effort.
Ribbons of pain, trailing, curling, forming bows of agony.
Without an honest heart, these gifts will only be hate-filled horror.
Because the beauty of these gifts comes in the seeing - in the eye-opening truth.
Truth must be carefully hunted, mined like diamonds.
My gifts are the ugliness inside hearts brought to fruition.
They are the completion of the unswept dirt lazily accumulated in souls.
The frayed and untidy edges of ideology unravelling rapidly.
The full nightmare of some unnoticed hate-seeds left lying in the soil of the mind.
How? How can these terrible things be gifts? Presents? Favours?
Although, in truth these things have been seen unfolding in me.
And it has been believed that the urgent, necessary task was opposing hate,
Of being distanced from evil, of sorting each other into boxes labeled “good” and “bad.”
The foremost belief has been that a full war on hate would win the day,
That a belief in good would protect from the insidious evil running rampant;
And that the arrogance required to judge others would not contaminate the innocents.
No, this is not what is required. These are not the necessary tasks.
To unwrap my gifts unharmed, an inward looking, soul searching is required.
The heart. The mind. The very self. The hidden places. The unnoticed spaces.
Searching, sweeping, lighting, weeping, dusting and taking out the trash.
Finding and removing any particles of lazy hate. Of unchecked arrogance.
For my gift is knowledge. Knowledge of the power and danger of hate.
In all its ugliness and shame. In its greed and gross injustice.
So, before opposing this in others, before taking a noble stand with the weak,
Search within. Do an internal inventory. Seek out hate lurking unnoticed.
I’ve shown what it looks like, blown up. Diligently uncover it within,
And cast it out, ruthlessly turning over tables. Whip in hand, strong words firing.
This is not a time for gentleness. It is time to face the ugly truth.
And in the end, this ugly gift becomes freedom, truth, love.

Against these three, no hate will stand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

on grief, from Psalm 59:10

When I am feeling heavy the weight of sorrow
When my heart is tossing to and fro
When there seems no end to my flood of grief -
Powerful and surprising in its surging
It encompasses me like a thick fog
So that I cannot even see you afar off, God.

Then you will come and meet me
Yes, the Most High will come in his steadfast love
Even to this broken heart
His whisper of hope I will feel on my skin
His gentle presence will surround my desolation
I will wait for you, O God
I will praise you in the midst of my grief.

Friday, April 14, 2017

the passion

Passion   pash-un    noun

any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.

Word Origin:

1125-75; Middle English (< Old French) < Medieval Latin passiōn- (stemof passiōChrist's sufferings on the cross, any of the Biblical accounts ofthese (> late Old English passiōn), special use of Late Latin passiōsuffering, submission, derivative of Latin passus, past participle of patī tosuffer, submit;

1 Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not PASSION, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not PASSION, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not PASSION, I gain nothing.

This morning, on the day of the Passion of the Christ, I am reminded of the similarities between the word passion and the word love.  I realize that these words are not interchangeable, and that the origins of the word passion have to do with suffering - specifically Jesus' suffering. But the link between these two words is undeniable, and there is a lesson hidden there for us. True love bears the cost of loving - it is willing to suffer for its own existence. Love is closer to passion than we often allow. Love is no meek and mild thing. It is willing to fight. Love suffers long. Love is never safe.

Somehow, we have swallowed the lie that the best thing we can give our loved ones is safety. Our entire world has become consumed with providing everything that is SAFE for our children. In the Broadway musical, Hamilton, there is a song sung by new parents to their young daughter, Theodosia. One of the lines says, "I'll make the world safe and sound for you." The entire song captures the feelings of every new parent. A feeling that is born out of the best intentions. "If I sacrifice everything and work hard, I can give this amazing human being the very best life. I'll fix the world so they can have a life of comfort."

What we don't realize in that moment is that a life of comfort will never satisfy. It only robs us of our true self. If I tell my children "everything they need to know" and discover for them "the best way to live a happy life," they will never find joy in it. It becomes a prison. We were created to explore, discover, and take risks.

At the same time, any church that claims to "have all of the answers" and tells its congregation, "Come learn from us - we will teach you what to believe and how to live," destroys the very life it is trying to save.

Passion requires risk. Passion ceases to exist without the potential for hurt and suffering. Why do we think we should protect against the potential of suffering when God does not? God did not spare his own Son. He does not spare our suffering either. He knows the potential for suffering is required for passion to exist.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Run with the Horses, writes about a Czech philosopher, Vitezslav Gardavsky, who said, "The terrible threat against life is not death, nor pain, nor any variation on the disasters that we so obsessively try to protect ourselves against with our social systems and personal stratagems. The terrible threat is that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.

Passion requires courage, It requires risk. In honour of the One who lived with ultimate passion, embrace something dangerous today. Take a risk. Be vulnerable. Live uncalculating. Unleash your heart. Ask God to show you the desires he Himself has put within your soul. Find a church that inspires you to the search. Listen to people who push you to greatness. Nothing is safe. Life is meant to be lived passionately. God is meant to be pursued relentlessly. Reject ideas that put God in a "safe box." Spend time with those who will include you in their Great Pursuit of Him!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

think on these things

We all want to believe that our lives are mostly propelled by good - that the fuel that motivates our actions and decisions is ultimately beautiful and wholesome. We know the power of positive thinking. We are familiar with Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

And so, we recoil from the idea of meditating too much on our own failures - our own ugliness. We convince ourselves that this couldn't possibly be a healthy practice, that we must focus on the positive and the holy, in order to be holy.

James 4, however gives us a glimpse into a healthy attitude of searching our own hearts. James provides a call to sober connection with our faults and failures - an exposure of the wounds of our own sinfulness. I have been struck lately by James 4:8-10

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

How do I integrate this into the regular cleansing routines of my life? Just as my body, my hair, and my clothes need regular cleaning, so my soul requires that necessary attention. And just as I learned, in my early years, to take responsibility for the cleanliness and health of my person, so must I learn to care for my mind and soul.  Sometimes a meditation on what is not lovely is exactly what I need. But routine and self-discipline will be necessary, for it does not come naturally to face my failures and sins. It is not appealing or exciting to gaze on the ways I have been selfish and greedy. Just as it is not glamorous or stimulating to scrub away the dead skin that has accumulated on the bottoms of my feet. But it is done for the benefit that comes after. No one can deny the glorious feeling of crawling into a freshly made bed with smooth, clean feet. This is the motivation of self-examination for sin. It is the blessing of what comes after - that precious closeness with God when I know I have hidden nothing from Him or myself. Only what is exposed and acknowledged can be cleansed. And such a cleansing! He is a most gentle and fragrant soul-cleanser.

God has given me many, many good gifts. One of the most powerful is the understanding that He is good. This confidence creates a safe place for me to expose my weakness. I bring my shame and, instead of punishment or condemnation, I receive healing, cleansing. I have found that the only cure for shame is exposure to a safe source (with thanks to Brene Brown.)  It is true that we must expose shame to heal it. To hide or ignore shame is to give it free reign in our lives. It will indeed cripple us. But to expose shame makes us very vulnerable. Only someone who loves and respects us can facilitate diffusing our shame. That's the best description of God I know.

I hope to integrate the practice of soul-scrutiny into my regular self-care routines. Have a shower. Have a time of confession and grief. Brush my teeth. Have an honest moment of self-examination. Fold some laundry. Examine my heart for ugliness hiding in the folds of the lovely and good.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

teach me

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

I've chosen Matthew 13:33 as my "passage for the year." Throughout 2017, I will refer back to this verse for re-focus, for contemplation, and for encouragement. 

I've chosen this passage because it is so filled with mystery and wonder. Who is this woman? What is this leaven? How is the leaven hidden, and why?

This week, I had a moment that brought me right back to this verse. (and I expect I'll have many more of these moments before the year is over.)

Two young women came into my shop. They both ordered vegan cheesecakes and tea. When they were finished eating, one of them came up to pay. I was overwhelmed when she left me a $9.70 tip. It was just so incredibly generous and unexpected.

And that made me think of God's generosity. It is always amazingly, unexpectedly, more than what we would think. It was such a simple gesture - money - but given in a simple, honest manner. And it made me think of God.

After the girls left, as I cleared their table, I was filled with one prayer. "Teach me. Teach me to be generous like you, God. Teach me to be like you. Teach me to practice simple actions that point people to a generous Creator."

And, of course, I began to think of my chosen passage for the year. Perhaps, the leaven is generosity, kindness, love. And perhaps, the woman is all of us - any who choose to be her. And perhaps, the leaven is hidden in plain sight - in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Will The Real God Please Stand Up

I’m so tired of holding it all together, God
Of this charade
This pretending I’ve got it made
But this God-card that’s being played isn’t You

I’m so tired of binding up my own wounds
Bandages trailing, blood dripping, smile slipping
I convince myself that You’ve healed me
That this hurt hasn’t reeled me back on my heels
That I’m not limping and wincing and crumbling to the ground

I’m so tired of trying to BE YOU, God
Of creating my own miracles
And bringing grace to my own days
I’m tired of the burden of doing Your work
Telling others You’ve got my back
Telling myself I feel no lack, all the while picking up the slack

I’m so tired of making You into who I think You should be
With smoke and mirrors so that no one will see
The entire facade is really me

But I know You’re so much more than I’ve allowed You to be
So this is me
Admitting my need
A new creed
My soul will be freed, and my wounds will bleed and bleed
Until You show up - in truth

I’m done pretending it’s all ok
I’m done with this “Christian” way
I’ll stay broken until You heal me