Lent (Days 27-29): The Language of Faith

 

Being part of a community of faith makes you realize the different trajectories of life and faith that are going on simultaneously. Sitting in one Sunday morning service you will have at one time: people whose lives are peaceful and restful and are present to the rightness of things, others who are experiencing deep tragedies and loss and who wonder where God is in the midst of it all – and probably are very angry with him at the same time, and even still others who are coming out of their own chaos and pain but who are re-experiencing the coherence of life and God one day at a time. These experiences are not always so neatly marked off from each other, due to the fact that in many ways we can live in all three of these areas at any one time. However, they do offer some clarification about seasons we experience in the life of faith. The Psalms match these varying trajectories quite well, leading one Old Testament scholar to even categorize three different strains in the Psalms that makes sense of these simultaneous realities in our lives.

There are Psalms of Orientation – (example: Psalm 65) we experience that everything is right in the world, God is at work restoring and providing for many and for ourselves; there is justice, there is color, essentially we see things coming together and being ordered well. In these Psalms we agree with the author that life is sweet, we are meant to enjoy it and to be satisfied by the God who has created such beauty and order. We are content and happy for it seems that God, others, and ourselves make sense at this time.

There are  Psalms of Disorientation – (example: Psalm 88) our experience is that life is out of control, utterly chaotic. Justice is perverted, all appear guilty and God is noticeably absent. All we can see is the grayness that covers over everything, there is no hope for life to be better and we are in despair. We seek, we question, and we beg but there is no answer to the pain of life. We are tired and angry, and yet there is still no end to the pain. The previous life that seemed so sweet is given a bitterness as we experience loss, grief and death (can be both literal and metaphorical). The foundations we had built upon have crumbled and disappeared, life is a heap of ruin.

There are Psalms of Reorientation – (example: Psalm 22) this strain only occurs after a period of disorientation. One reality has died and in its place there is a new reality being born. It is a time where tragedy and comedy, pain and joy, loss and hope are intermixed. There is the pain of the loss of what we had previously hoped and longed for that has come to pass, but in its place is a new hope is born and a new way of life is being organized. This is a process of course, it rarely happens in an instance but is a journey that we take one step at a time. However, with each step forward we move into a path that is more straight and coherent, thus leading us to a deep hope and trust in the power and provision of God.

Note: these are not clean steps that we take and we always know which one we are in presently, often times these things will happen at the same time and we will be very confused in the process still. However, I believe articulating all of this gives just a little more clarity to our present situations, and it also gives us a language for how we approach and live into our faith. So often when we experience disorientation, we simply want to shut down and withdraw, but there is powerful and evocative language in scripture that can guide us and help us realize that we are (a) not alone in our suffering and that our tradition is filled with people just like us that have experienced the loss of their perceived reality, and (b) that we can pray to God in our anger and confusion and that God does not fear our questions and honest struggle.

Jesus himself prayed a prayer of reorientation when he echoed the author of Psalm 22 in saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The beginning of this prayer is so disorienting and matches the feelings I am sure Christ had as he was on the cross. And yet, if you read the rest of the Psalm, there is a deep and abiding trust that the God who has seemed absent will save as he has done in the past. And that prayer is so pivotal for all of us during this season of Lent, we can easily sense in our own lives when we have felt this way. So let us be honest in our faith and in our prayers.

  • Lord Jesus, lead us in prayer…
  • Today I would encourage you to read Psalm 22 and to pray over it and make it more palatable for your life. Consider reading the Psalms throughout the rest of Lent, learn from the authors a deeper sense of faithful language.
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Lent (Days 25+26): Fruit We Bear

As we looked at the fruit of the Spirit this last week, I wanted to include a song that captures the point of what all this is about. Bearing fruit in our lives should point others and ourselves back to what matters…Christ. I love the lyrics of this song, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. This is Lost and Found’s “Fruit We Bear” (and I was actually at this concert so it is really cool to experience this again):

 

 

 

LET US AGREE, THAT WE WILL BE
SIGNS OF THE LIFE TO COME
AND MAY WE BELIEVE, AND FREELY RECEIVE
ALL THAT GOD HAS DONE

MAY THE FRUIT WE BEAR BE CHRIST
MAY THE HARVEST BE RIPE
OH THE FRUIT WON’T FALL SO FAR FROM THE TREE
ABIDE IN YOU, ABIDE IN ME
AND THE FATHER IS GLORIFIED
MAY THE FRUIT WE BEAR BE CHRIST

AS WE LIVE, MAY WE FORGIVE
GRATEFULLY EACH DAY
AND FOR PEACE, FOR LOVE TO INCREASE
HOLY SPIRIT, WE PRAY

 

 

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Lent (Day 24): Fruits of the Spirit- Continued

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.”

 

(So far this week my aim has been to elaborate some on what Paul might be getting at when he talks about the fruit of the Spirit in  Galations 5. We have covered love and joy thus far, and though I would like to spend a day on each example listed among the fruits I feel as though I should stick to a weekly schedule with my blog and finish the theme of the fruits by this Saturday. Tomorrow I will conclude the subject of this week with a song that ties all of this together quite well.)

PEACE, FORBEARANCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL.

I’ve added the translation from Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible because I feel like it demonstrates beautifully and poetically what these words mean in motion. What I mean by that is sometimes we hear words over time, and they can become very repetitive and bland, not because that is their essence but because we have at times stripped them of their vitality. I don’t think this is always intentional, sometimes it just happens. Come on, you know that when you read this passage sometimes you just sit there thinking, “What do these all really mean?”. And don’t you sometimes think that this all sounds like the least revolutionary and rebellious type thing you could possibly do?

And yet it is so subversive, so counter-cultural that its true implications are hidden from us in plain sight. I remember a reflection by Bono of U2 that has always stuck out to me. He was talking about his desire to be a true rock star. He said that rock ‘n’ roll is inherently rebellious, and for him the most rebellious thing he could do was to sit in the back of a tour bus with his bandmates and read scripture.  Everyone was partying late into the night, getting high and drunk, sleeping around and just going crazy. For Bono, none of that was subversive, it was the same across the board. It was the norm. What he wanted was a life less ordinary. I think many of us live in a culture that is the “the same across the board” in this sense; lives filled with chaos and disorder, quick satisfaction and temporary fixes, betrayal and manipulation, systems that discourage compassion and radical love. When we truly explore what our lives and the lives of those around consist of, we can be encouraged by a life that displays “affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely”

That is truly a radical life.

A harmonious life.

A life lived in God’s rhythms.

A life we can have.

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Lent (Day 23): Joy

* Today’s post is written with a heavy heart for today many of us lost a grandmother, mother, wife and friend in Bobbie Hanks. She will be sorely missed, but she leaves behind her a beautiful story that is written in the lives of those who knew her and were close with her. It might seem odd to write a post on Joy tonight, but since it is my belief that she is experiencing more fully the goodness of God today, I can’t think of a better thing to talk about.

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

 

JOY

What to do with this funny little word? Many of us in fact don’t know what to do with it or would be hard pressed to recognize it even if it was sitting on a bench next to us. A lot of times we equate it with happiness. However this connection, though at times true, does joy a disservice.  Happiness is often what we strive for in life, why we want to have a higher paying job, a different city to live in, new friends to hang out with. We think that if we can attain happiness then we have attained life. But this should not be our highest pursuit. I believe in fact that joy should be one of our highest pursuits, and that joy is what our hearts truly long for in the end. Happiness really depends on a feeling of gratification. And though this is not always bad, it is quite limited in its scope.

A shorthand definition for joy is this: experiencing the goodness of God. This goodness can be experienced through the gifts and grace that God extends to us, but it can also be encountered in his righteousness, truth and mercy. It can be seen in what he does for us, in what he does for others and what he is in and of himself. Joy is a delight in God, and what makes this so much more rich and deep and life giving is that it can be done in the highs and lows of our lives. Happiness is really a very narrow experience, for it can really only be had when things seem to work right for us, or when we find pleasure. Joy is a different animal altogether, it is something that can be found even when life seems so disoriented, confused and sorrowful. Life may not seem to be working right with or for us, but through the midst of it we can sense and trust the goodness of God and be sustained by that. Happiness is very temporary, a blowing of the wind, whereas joy is something eternal. Joy points us towards the future and is bound up in a hope that longs for the reconciliation of ourselves  and our world with the supremely good God. Joy can outlast pain and evil because deep down it knows it does not have the final word. I think joy often happens when we realize the moments in which we are trusting and hoping in something that is beyond what we are seeing.

So what are we to do with joy? I believe it is our calling to look for and live into the moments of our lives and sense and trust that there is a God who is good and right working through the tapestry of our stories. Yes, we will still feel the pain of death and loss, but our joy is grounded in the hope that those things do not in fact have the final say. There is in fact something beyond those two realities….resurrection.

This we pray. Amen.


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Lent (Days 18-22): Fruit of the Spirit

Hey guys! Wow I took a little bit of a vacation from this blog of mine and I am missing it very much. Life got busy, I got lazy, and the rest is what they call history. But I am back again and I am remaking my goal to blog at least once a day. I think part of what I need to do is make the blogs shorter and more to the point. I am quite adept at taking a long time to say what I really want to say. The other thing that I am trying to do is have a weekly theme that goes with my writing. So I have mapped out some things for the rest of Lent and aim to talk about all of it. So our theme for this week will be “the fruit of the Spirit” that Paul talks about in his letter to the Galatians. Here is the text:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

So let’s take the first one today:

Love. It is a word that is so often said and one that can be so passively given. It can also be a word that we dare not speak to each other, because it is such a powerful word as well, and its implications can be quite terrifying. But we can speak of love all we want. We can talk about it all day long, but the real challenge that is set before us is to live it. Will we make the choice to love over and against the other choices to suppress it, deny it, withhold it, manipulate it, etc. And how often do we choose to the other options? How many excuses can we give to why we don’t love the way we should? Are we honest enough with ourselves to say that it is not always “I don’t know how to love” but “I just don’t want to love!”

The reasons for this abound: love is costly. We have to lay bare ourselves in ways that seem to violate our identities and our deepest sense of pride. So often we do not love because it will expose our weakest selves, and we just can’t imagine what could happen as a result of doing that. Many of us have not been loved like we should have been; and so love is such a foreign concept, such a hidden idea to us that it almost seems like a fairy tale someone is trying to pass off as literal. We have lost the ability to imagine that love can be a reality.

In the midst of all of this confusion, we have a person who can guide us. Jesus walked this earth and loved people in ways that we still don’t comprehend. He spoke boldly and lovingly, he challenged and he consoled, he healed and yet he cut into the deepest interior of the lives of his audience. And all this was done in love. Jesus’ approach to love was not so much something to be believed in as much as it was and is a way to be. So St. Paul extends that invitation to us, to be love and to channel the love that God demonstrates in our lives to those around us. Yes it will expose us and make us vulnerable, but it will also set us free. And Jesus likes freedom, and he loves offering it to those who will trust his way of being.

 

 

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Lent (Days 16+17): Doubt as Faith

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

– Fyoder Dostoevsky

 

One of the most dangerous correlations we can make is to link faith with certainty. It is quite easy though, it seems to quiet a lot of the crazy thoughts we have in a given day. Being certain seems so strong and impervious, and yet it is one of the most dishonest things we can do with faith. Certainty doesn’t encourage transformation but instead can keep things status quo. Doubt is essential, not simply relegated to a part of faith but an act that can keep it engaged and vibrant. Frederick Buechner said “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. It keeps us awake and moving.”

But why are we so afraid of it? Why am I? There are reasons that are noble and not so noble. Yes we don’t want to step on the sacred, but what if the divine calls us to wrestle and fight and challenge? If you read scripture then you can’t deny this as a common theme. Jacob literally wrestles with the divine, and he is changed in the process. Struggle is what changes us, and God writes so many stories that involved it. But we humans, myself included, want to hide and be comfortable. And so some reasons we do not express our doubt is because this will be compromised. It will cost us something.  Easier to be certain, for then you can live your life unchanged. To doubt can be an act of repentance, to turn our ways towards God in a posture of true engagement.

Jacob limped away from his encounter with God. But he was transformed. He had a new name and was becoming a new man. And this process, by God’s sheer grace, can change us too if we only be willing to risk and trust God with our doubts and struggles.

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Lent (Days 14 + 15): Love is Confrontational

What captivates you about this image?

What is it about this image that challenges you?

This is a graffiti piece created by the artist Banksy, which you may already be familiar with or recently found out about him through the Oscar nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Many of his works have very thought provoking scenes that usually serve as social critique of commercialization and political systems. This is one of my favorite pieces by him for many reasons. One reason it that I love how this image turns my expectation on its head. As I study the posture, the body language, it is one of abrupt action and disruption. And yet in the man’s hand is an offering that is both beautiful and lovely. Can these two realities exist together? Disruption and beauty. Chaos and love. Will I keep on compartmentalizing them or will I be able to hold these two realities together and see them as an option? This is an image that reminds me that love can be a confrontation. It can disarm and be somewhat abrasive. Love does not necessarily equal being nice. At some points, it is not nice at all.

And yet this is a humble act.

The person in this image is carrying flowers, and the flowers are a gift. Flowers attract many of our senses, they are visually beautiful and colorful, their aroma is intoxicating and there textures can be soft to the touch. Flowers can change an environment, they can help us encounter our worlds from a different perspective. They are given in hopes that they will transform relationships and our shared environments. This is an image that reminds me of God and my most meaningful relationships with other people. The people who have loved me the most, who have given of themselves and been the most humble, have been the people who got in my face and challenged me. They disrupted my sense of comfort and routine, they exploded the myths I was living by, they exposed me of my sin. And yet at the same time they offered grace and acceptance. Essentially they helped transform my environment and let me see things from an alternate lens.

And God does this so well himself, and we can see it in scripture when we are really honest with it and not trying to glean little lessons from it but see it as a collection of real, gritty stories of people who walked with God like we do now. Doubting, frustrated, complaining and seeking. God sought those people out and shook them, he awoke them from their slumber. And he allowed them to enter into very confusing and chaotic times, much as he still does now. He placed them in situations in which they had no idea how to cope or handle themselves, much as he does now. And yet they followed, they searched and wandered and kept going because deep within themselves they knew a truth that we still know now if only we would be free enough to trust it: that true love is humble and yet confrontational, disruptive and yet beautiful, chaotic and yet graceful.

Lord, help us to trust you even in the moments where you seem like an enemy. Give us the vision to see that love is humbly confrontational. Help us to love others like you have loved us.

Amen.

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