Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Ian Schneider

Photo Thanks to Ian Schneider

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Henri Nouwen (Life of the Beloved, 67):

It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! This is so apparent wherever you go. No one is brought to life through curses, gossip, accusations or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction and death. As the “blessed ones,” we can walk through this world and offer blessings. It doesn’t require much effort.

 

 

Advent Post #12

 “…Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)

Mary must not have known of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I could imagine Elizabeth and her husband keeping it to themselves. It was high-risk.

Why share such news if the pregnancy could fail? Why bring all those people, who’d definitely be awestruck, into the business? Perhaps Elizabeth’s body wouldn’t cooperate and be a hospitable container for the developing baby. Perhaps God wouldn’t allow Elizabeth’s pregnancy to succeed. Perhaps it wasn’t true in the first place, her expectation.

These are real wonderings. There are false hopes. Our bodies don’t always cooperate with our dreams. Miscarriages happen, especially for those who hope at higher risks. And when they happen, they bruise parts of parents which most never see. Linger over that and make your connections prayers.

You see Mary rushed to her relative after hearing Gabriel’s words. They would share. Apprehensively or not, they would develop a bond around the amazing things God was doing. I can hear Mary rehearsing her terror, her wonder, and her praise. I can imagine she’d nearly trip over her feet to run to her loved one.

Imagine the gift of Elizabeth, who at six months is already filled with a growing baby, now being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is language I’m fairly used to because I’m Pentecostal, even if it’s an experience that makes me shudder with gratitude and light and humility. She was filled.

The Spirit fills us. The Spirit (a feminine word which we never allow ourselves to utter enough), she enters us and resides with us. She is present during moments of greatness. For Elizabeth who has likely been uncertain, I imagine there being a new calmness, a resoluteness with Mary’s entrance and with the Spirit’s coming that some things are definite. Her baby’s eventual arrival, John’s eventual life, was certain. Is that the evidence of the filling? More certainty than before. Perhaps not total but more.

I believe that Advent is a season where we rehearse to ourselves the steep, enduring promises of God. We tell ourselves–and each other by entering our homes and hanging out–and we embody for ourselves the real truth that the world as we know it is undone. We embody the message and the messengers who will tell the world the truth it needs to hear. We live that truth each day, and in our living we change the world.

Might this be the spilling which we need this season? I pray that you are as Pentecostal as the next believer, as filled with the Spirit as Elizabeth and, later, those first kind followers in the upper room. May this season bring us a new quality of faith, a trusted assurance that God is working in us to bring the world grace.

Advent Post #6

“Do not be afraid…you have found favor.” (Luke 1:30)

At some point I started fearing the rain. I never consciously feared it, but my body (like most people’s) would begin to crouch and clinch when waters started falling from the sky. My shoulders would turn in and down. I’d almost tighten at the back as if there was something wrong with the water. “Like I’d melt,” it used to go when I was a child.

I noticed this years ago when my pastor remarked about my mother taking a walk in the rain. She’d met us at his home after having walked. He was joking and he said something like, “Your mother walks in the rain. Both of you all are strange!” I can’t tell you all the context that makes that comment fun and acceptable. If most people called my mother strange, I’d find several ways to hurt them, but when Bishop Trotter said it years ago, it opened up something to me. It showed me 1) that someone else noticed how much my mother could enjoy a walk and 2) that I didn’t enjoy walking in the rain for some reason.

After that, I began to question myself in little bits about my scrunched shoulders and tight neck. I took deep breathes when it started to rain and tried to relax my back. I started being aware of my body’s fearful response. And then I, too, started to enjoy walking in the rain.

So what of this angel’s message? “Do not be afraid…you have found favor.” We live between Gabriel’s words, between the stern encouragement (Is it a command from this divine being?) and the description of what we’ve been given from God.

We live responding to old wounds which have turned us against ourselves and against others. We respond to those crises in our yesterdays, and they leave us cowering in the face of God’s future. We need the angel’s first words: Do not be afraid.

We need them because, despite our best efforts, we fear. Maybe not the rain but something. Sadly, it is as natural a response to life as any, even if it’s unnoticed. But, thankfully, it’s not the only response available to us.

“You have found favor” is the other statement from Gabriel. There is a negative command, and there is a positive affirmation. You have found favor. You have achieved, insofar as grace can be achieved in any literal sense, favor. Consider that: favor.

I think of favor as what I most need from God, what I most search for even when I’m not consciously searching. Favor is what my spirit wants and craves when I’m doing nothing at all. Another word in the neighborhood of favor is grace.

My spiritual director asks me regularly, “Michael, what’s the grace that you need?” What is the favor you’re craving? What do you most need? For all those questions, we have found answers in this season. They’re around us, waiting for us to notice and choose them and live through them. May we do so.

A Prayer About Cancer For Three People Particularly

You know that we care for our mothers, whatever their ages, and I bring these three mothers to you in prayer.  You know their diagnoses, the particulars of their medical histories, their prognoses, and their feelings about it all.

Give them your closest ear as they whisper their questions, their prayers, their dreams, and their pains through the courses before them.  May you collect their every word, gesture, and ache, translate them into beautiful, powerful speech, and may you be moved by them to act gloriously.

Grant them your company through what may feel like both a crowded and lonely time.  May they sense you in glances, in whispers, in surprises, in meals, in quiet.

Heal their bodies through any means necessary, using doctors with their medicines, nurses with their many touches, technicians and their tests, and friends and family and children and strangers, making every single interaction a strong movement of divine healing.

Rebuke death all the way through, like you did in Jesus and reset their bodies to be increasingly vessels of health and glory.  Fill them with reminders that you have conquered death and all its effects, and keep them in that peace when all seems opposite.

Endure with them the broadness of unanswered questions, occasional doubts, hard-uttered gratitude, resentment, wondering, knowing and not knowing, and waiting.  Bless their efforts and their attempts to restore themselves while giving love to others.

Make them laugh.  Make them sit and stir and run in joy.  Make their evenings filled with splendid memories and their days cracked with blessing upon blessing.

Open before them and us your future, and make us to find our destinies in you.  Our collective future is in and with and for you, and may you grant us daily a proximity to that tomorrow.

Give them and us such generous spirits that we pray for the best, seek the good, and persist in the suffering along this way.

Empower every person in their path to be loving, gracious, good, faithful, and persistent even when we don’t know how such things come through us.

Grant us silence when words falter.  Grant us strength to submit to a redeemed life that ends and doesn’t end in you.  Equip us to be a supportive, fiercely loving, vulnerable and weak and bold and steady community of witnesses to what you’re doing.

In every way, remember Grace, Rob’s mother, and my mother.

In the name of the One who Heals all our diseases.

Amen.

Jumping In Sin & Looking For Grace That’s Gone

Bruce Robertson sent me something on Facebook that, coupled with the unrelenting reports about David Petraeus, got me thinking specifically about leaders who fall in and around the Christian community.  The post pushed a basic question: What’s the role of that community to those leaders who fall?

These sentences provide a sense of the post:

Sadly, in many cases, when it comes to restoring a fallen leader, the offender’s depiction of evangelical denominational or church discipline, feels more like John 19 where the Jewish leaders request for all the men next to Jesus on the cross to “have the legs broken [as well].” This is a far different response than Jesus’, saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

The result of this law-driven approach to sin is not pretty. Because of this, the evangelical culture dictates that when our worse moments befall us, we must hide. There is a real doubt that we will be lead home safely through our struggle.

I come back to this concern every year or so.  Unfortunately the experiences of leaders keep the question before us.  How do we respond as a Christian community when leaders in that community fail?  Is there a difference between the church’s response to a leader who fails and to a non-leader who does?  I keep thinking that there is a clear answer in the scriptures about this, but there isn’t.  To be clear, this is because when scripture handles the matter of sin and sins and sinning, it doesn’t split the responses to those who are in leadership roles from those who are not leaders.  If anything, there is a pervasive sense that every reader who takes up the dangerous documents of our scriptures is in for it, is a sinner, and is eligible for the free, audacious, and incredible gift of grace and all that comes with it.

There are mentions of how to handle people who have sinned, but those instances are not focused on leaders; they’re open for everyone.  There is a clear implication that sins should be addressed, faced, confessed, repented of, and turned away from.  There is a reasonable expectation within the scriptures that the consequences of sins live well beyond the times of confession and repentance–again, for leaders like Moses and for hardly named people in crowds.  There is also a long theme of forgiveness, and that theme would certainly include the leaders and the non-leaders within the church.

But it fascinates me that people who are led often require that leaders be exploited and punished, even when those leaders have spent themselves 1) protecting those they lead from such ungracious behavior and 2) promoting a Person who gives grace to the sinner.  There is this weird and intense curiosity with a leader’s sins, like in Petraeus’s case or in the last preacher to fall, and this continual pressing into the details of what happened, right before there is a slicing off of any chance that leader would have to rejoin the community.  There’s an insightful psychological treatment in that, one I can’t give, but it has to do with pedestalizing people in positions a) they don’t belong in, b) we’ll never really get into ourselves, and c) which are properly designed for the Divine.

Sometimes I think we should describe the Church as place where people jump in sin, where leaders never ever ever get up to speak or preach or inspire without the strings of sin attached to us.  Sometimes I think that we should wear signs that say “Fire me now because while I didn’t do the big three or the big five or the big seven, I definitely sinned at least sixteen times before I stood up in front of you.”  At least it would open a conversation about sin and grace and leadership and restoring everyone to relationship with God.

Sometimes I wonder if churches and faith communities are really communities of grace.  When the people who lead them, be they paid staff or not, cannot truly receive “grace to help” in our times of need, then what’s happening in our gatherings may not be graceful at all.  Sure, that doesn’t mean that anything goes.  It’s never meant that.  To think that is to read a different Book.  Indeed a place of grace is a place with clear expectations about the gift offered.  But would you agree that we are pushed to look for grace and to tell the truth when we don’t find it?