Skies of Sorrowful, Anxious Hearts

Yesterday, when skies were finally breaking blue and the snow began to melt, the phone rang and an upset voice spoke of surgery: emergency, urgent, and no we don’t know why or what or how this could have happened when we were all getting sunburned together this weekend and the babe was crawling and laughing like little ones are meant to do.

And suddenly, things changed. The world seemed to stall and one could hardly help but wonder how everyone at the grocery seemed to go on with life as though nothing had happened, nothing out of the ordinary.

Boston has stopped, for them the world whirls round at a different pace. And all the problems of weddings and school and loans and apartments disappear into the right perspective. The world, my roommate says, is no less and no more evil than it was on Sunday. We’re just seeing it in new ways.

And so much of the soul yearns to say that God gives and God takes away and blessed be His name no matter what side of the equation we land on. But so much of the soul kicks and screams in protest that this isn’t the world we were made for, the life we were intended to have before that foolish reach in the garden.

The sky wrings its hands in sorrow and the snow falls, heavy and blowing again. Does she mourn and worry like we do? Or does she know how to better trust the one who made her and thrust stars and clouds and sun and moon into her care? We want to have open hands, to trust and pray with confidence. But the fearful knowledge of the mangled mess which we call earth and life is sometimes overwhelming, despite the streaks of light that are always shining in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome the light, but sometimes, on hands and knees, in hospital rooms and empty homes, it is hard to see the light which is Jesus, reaching back and pulling us on to the future where all things are made new and right.

The battle is not done.
Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied
 and earth and heaven won.

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MIA & Community

I’ve not been posting lately. E’s parents were in town, then we flew to Seattle for a dear friend’s wedding, this weekend was spent building raised beds for gardens and in the midst of that I’m writing about everything from methodology to Israelite religions and hope. We’re always dreaming, hoping for the future and trying to live well in the moment: whether there are children under foot in the kitchen at a friend’s or the sun is turning my skin to shades of pink while preparing to disappear for snow the next day.

In all this, I find more and more that community is important. Community, like missionality or incarnational ministry, has become this “in” word in the last several years. The strange thing is, there’s nothing sexy or exciting about how we do it, and how we find we need it more and more each passing day.

This weekend, E built raised beds out of huge logs of sweet smelling cedar. We were at our friends’ J&P with their little ones, three and 15 months. Another family had come as well and while the men were building 12x2x2 boxes, we sanded a table to be re-stained, talked about pregnancy and kept children away from saw blades and the little cliff at the edge of the yard. We will go over each week this summer and work with J&P in that garden, take dinner, play with their kids, send them away on much needed dates while we put the little ones to bed beneath summer stars. They apologize for having kids, for always needing us to come to them. We laugh and remind them that we love them and we love their children and this is just how family does things.

A friend at school has been going through a hard time, on an email I sent about class I told him I was thinking of him, that E and I were praying for him. He wrote back and told me no one has said that; they empathize in the moment and move on as soon as he’s disappeared from sight. I thought to myself that was the strangest thing I’d heard in a long time, that we can’t care well enough to think and pray for those who aren’t right in front of us.

Someone yesterday said they want to take me and E for a hike, then lunch. They want to talk with us and hear about our hard places, our edges that need smoothing, our holes that need filling. The amazing thing is that on Saturday, in the midst of scrubbing paint and varnish from the rounded edges of that now newly stained table, I had said to J that I want this same couple to walk with us, listen and speak to us.

So, God answers prayers, yes.

But here there’s more than that. This is our little community: school, work, and a church we’ve left but from which we still have friends. It isn’t flashy, there’s not curriculum or structure. It happened around gardens that save money, enjoyment of nature and friends being honest about crummy times. It’s willingness to listen, to adjust plans, to play with small children and learning to love that we’re all in different stages, with different needs and different wisdom.

And as I live in it more, some days it feels like nothing has changed in 150 or 200 years. I said to J as we made lunch in the kitchen and the men were building in the hot sun that it reminded me of an old-fashioned barn raising — if only I’d brought an apple pie! We laughed and then I asked her questions that you can only ask a married woman and she smiled and listened and outside I know that P was reminding Ethan that marriage is good but hard and so worth it despite the upward climb past selfish tendencies and drowning sin.

And we need community. And it isn’t sexy or exciting. It’s dirty and messy and beautiful as we’re walking through life together. I know why it’s a big deal in the church today, in the post-modern west. But sometimes I wonder if in making it such a big deal we’ve lost the simplicity and ease with which we step into something that will take us for a fast and wild ride.

What are your thoughts on community? How do you create or find it? How do you maintain it? What sacrifices come with keeping community? How does your community and family help you and yours?

Made Glorious Summer

Yesterday in class I gave a presentation on Wolfhart Pannenberg’s theological method. What was supposed to be half an hour turned into the last hour of class as I fielded questions about the eschaton, anticipation, retro-causation, lots of other “big words” that sound important and difficult. Really, I talked a lot about Jesus as the centerpoint of history and the hope we have in the echoes of eternity that we can hear even today in our grinding work and anxious waiting for his return.

After the presentation, when we had moved our tables back to their normal formation and dumped out water from the teapot, while I helped the professor stack teas and sugar into his little box that comes with him each week, he said I’d done a good job. And then, as my hand stretched for the door and I leaned towards the mundane latter part of my day he called me up short: “you should get a PhD. Lord willing, whatever the future looks like for you, I think you should not put aside your hopes of a PhD.” I laughed, nervously, as I always do when someone says such a thing — that both exhilarates and terrifies me.

Today, as I pulled into the parking lot of a coffee shop with one of my students, I got a txt from my boss. And I, opening it with nerves that I had mistakenly promised to come into work today, I found myself not only surprised but delighted. Because he’d written to tell me about a scholarship he thinks I qualify for. And I nearly jumped out of the car with joy.

And yesterday, I was told I could get credit for research for SBL.

And tonight I fly to Seattle with my love for a weekend to celebrate my dear friend Caitlin and her coming husband.

And it’s sunny outside.

And all I can think is that after a month or more of long hard days, with late nights and a life chock full of stress, arguments and helplessness, I have been reminded that God cares for me, that God is with us, that he is in these little moments of joy and hope.

And while they might be spoken in sarcasm and spite by Richard in Shakespeare’s ancient play, I could jump and clap my hands while shouting the words —

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer!

 

Absence

Hello readers, followers, friends.

I’m going to be absent for a couple of weeks (you may have noticed the lack of posting last week). I’m in the midst of midterms, massive paper writing, youth group, negotiating a 5k with my injured knee and — oh yeah — that whole social life thing (which is quickly disappearing).

I’m behind in three of my three (!) classes and stupidly picked up some extra work hours. I think we can safely call the accumulating pile of used tissues in the bathroom trash a stress cold. Thanks for understanding while I disappear from the blogosphere, from twitter and everywhere else.

But I’ll return, never fear. Hopefully after next week, but I can’t guarantee. In the meantime, between midterms, papers on Pannenberg and running on icy, half shoveled paths, I’ll be musing on a theology of work, center set theory and some Old Testament ethics. Which is to say, I’ll be back, and hopefully have something worth reading.

again, thanks for understanding.

grace and peace.

Categorically Speaking…

Categories always remind me of Kant. Which means, the Enlightenment and the shifts in how we view knowledge, the world and ourselves. While not attempting to misrepresent history, one might note that the Enlightenment brought about a serious obsession with categorizing, title-ing and qualifying things. The ancient world, though intelligent and philosophical in its own right, was a bit more satisfied with mystery if they couldn’t find a more specific answer to their various questions.

Today, it seems, we have a hangover from modernity that doesn’t like mystery. So we quantify, we label and we want to put things into boxes on shelves that are very neatly organized in alphabetical order by year of origin and expiration date, thank you very much. For this, I’m thankful that we’re moving into post-modernity (and beyond!) as it is more concerned with the holistic person, the story, the narrative, the relationships, etc.

The church, however, is always behind the changing tides of culture, usually by ten to fifteen years. So tonight, at youth group, I got to experience the labels, the titles, the categories. We did a test that was meant to examine how we best relate to God–a good process, since churches and schools often teach one mode of experience as being most common (think three point sermons or quizzes). This is problematic because sermons, especially in Protestant churches, do not cover the full range of ways in which people experience God. This is a reason I’ve come to enjoy youth ministry: we play games, hike, camp, serve neigbourhoods, sing, teach, etc. It’s easier to do a wider gamut of activities and thus impact more hearts in a wider variety of ways. Thus, the quiz/assessment could have been a great tool to help students facilitate their own spiritual growth by alerting them to how they best experience or relate to God.

The problem I have is that not only did the nine categories offered all bleed into each other (they weren’t distinct) but they tried to quantify or qualify things that didn’t need separated. For instance, one question asked if I would rather “stand in the pouring rain for an hour while waiting to confront someone” or “journal about my frustrations” instead. I’m non-confrontational. Ask my roommate. I avoid confrontation at all costs. However, I also avoid journaling like someone avoids the bubonic plague. Journal? Confront? Neither of those sound good. In fact, they both make me really anxious as I’m writing this post. So I left that question blank.

And then the next one.

And the next one…

My “score” was a bit of a mess because I had avoided several questions similar to the one I mentioned. Would you rather read a book? Or hike? Well, I don’t know, is it a good book? Who am I hiking with? Do you feel close to God in a church with liturgy and incense? Or in nature? Um, both?

The nine different options explained how we best related to God, most of my kids experience Him in nature (we do live in Colorado). But what of my students who appreciated activism? That isn’t an option in the church they attend… What about the fact that none of them felt that asceticism was how they related to God? Many of them breathed deeply with gratitude that they wouldn’t “have” to fast because “phew! that’s not how I experience God!”

I’m being very round-about in this post because I’m still processing it all. My struggle with quizzes like this are that they allow us to indulge what we already know we’re good at (hiking, reading, etc) to the detriment of learning new things (fasting, contemplation, et al). But God meets us in radical ways whenever we avail ourselves to His Spirit. When I was in high school, my dad and I drove past a Greek Orthodox church while discussing several individuals leaving our congregation over changes in the worship music. My dad, in his frustration pointed at the church and said, “if your heart is in the right place, you could walk into that church and worship God even if  you didn’t know what was going on.”

I experienced that my freshman year of college in a Russian Orthodox Church, and again in France during a Catholic mass–in Latin, by a french speaking African–and yet again during Vespers in a local Greek Orthodox church last year. I’ve experienced God on the top of 14er’s, on the shores of Costa Rica and in a tiny hotel room in Vladimir, Russia. Because He is everywhere and in His Spirit we are enabled to know Him in every way known to humanity.

I’m frustrated with our obsession to put God in a box, or to put ourselves in a box rather than choosing to know God in all situations, at all times and by all means possible. God doesn’t need categories. The systematic constructs are helpful means for us to start our journey towards Him. But at some point, we must set aside our systems and say to Him, “you are God and I am not. Speak, for your servant is listening,” and then, whether we are in a coffee shop, on a mountain or serving the homeless while fasting, we should be still, we should listen, and we would know him.

This frustration may be somewhat misplaced but…lately I’m just fed up with systems, categories and labels that don’t allow us to be holistic and don’t “allow” God freedom to act however He wishes.

__________________________________
Donald Miller (an author I enjoy) actually wrote about similar issues on his blog today. It is a much better articulation than what I wrote last night at midnight as my roommate arrived home and started brining a gigantic Turkey. You can enjoy his thoughts here.

Whoops

For anyone who may have read the post entitled “what we’re offering” I apologize that it was still in a rough shape. I meant to finish editing it over the weekend but helping out at a conference for high school girls plus having three papers and a presentation this coming week…. well, it just didn’t happen.

 

It’ll show up in fine form eventually.

Sheet Rock (Dry Wall) + Foot = Another Injury

E called Monday while I was out with a friend. From the tone in his voice it was obvious that he was either very tired or something had gone wrong. Because E is always tired after a typically twelve hour day I had a feeling that this conversation was going to be more about something bad that had happened at work.

He fumbled for words. I would find out later when I yelled at him and cried that it was because he didn’t want to worry me. I took the stumbling sentences as added seriousness about the situation. He wasn’t supposed to be at the house today, he was supposed to be in the mountains painting while a dry walling crew put up sheet rock. We had eaten dinner at the house the night before, a dinner of black eyed peas, avocado, tomatoes from our garden, corn and a few other ingredients tossed in a tangy dressing. We sat on the deck where they haven’t yet built the rail and dangled our feet over the cement below, littered with scraps of metal, wood and flaking paint. But for some reason he had been at the house, helping with the dry wall.

His coworker L had lost a grip on a massive sheet of the stuff. He clawed the open air but never caught the wall. I can see the look on the poor college kid’s face–he’s a good kid, quiet and reserved–as he watched the dry wall crunch into E’s shin and slide down till it pinned his foot. They had to pry it off with a 2×4 because it was too heavy to lift. 400 pounds too heavy.

I went over the next night and sat with E for a little while as he iced with a package of frozen peas. “these are the best for icing,” he said with a cheerful smile and settled onto the couch.

I cried because it’s been a long couple of weeks and I’m stressed and worried about nearly everything in life. Ethan just wrapped his arms around me and reminded me:

We don’t have to be stressed, and I don’t have to worry–about where to live, where to work, or how E’s job can at times be a little sketchy. God takes care of us, and he protected E’s foot from serious injury. In fact, the number of close calls E has had at work are remarkable and we can thank either dumb luck or thank God that he has an eye on us.

Our father is so good.

Not just for saving E’s foot, his shin etc. Abba is very good for giving me a man like E who constantly reminds me where to place my trust and peace; something I need reminded of nearly every day.

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Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

WHY: this is lame

because, quite truly, I have nothing to write about today.

Colorado is beautiful.

My jobs are going well.

Monday night I ate cheesecake.

Last night I had a night all to myself.

I’ve read four books this summer.

I’ve been biking to church.

And I’m at peace.

there aren’t any why questions that I can think of. There aren’t any thrilling new decisions to explain to you and there are no brilliant ideas that I want to force on you. So, since I don’t have much to say,  you should probably just scroll over to one of my linked blogs and read something more interesting.

In Denial (but Towards Freedom)

Summer classes started today. Instead of doing homework, however, I read a good portion of Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. I appreciated the following:

In the more classical understanding of the matter, whether pagan or Christian, true freedom was understood as something inseparable from one’s nature: to be truly free, that is to say, was to be at liberty to realize one’s proper “essence” and so flourish as the kind of being one was. For Plato or Aristotle, or for Christian thinkers like Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, or Thomas Aquinas, true human freedom is emancipation from whatever constrains us from living the life of rational virtue, or from experiencing the full fruition of our nature; and among the things that constrain us are our own untutored passions, our willful surrender to momentary impulses, our own foolish or wicked choices. In this view of things, we are free when we achieve that end toward which our inmost nature is oriented from the first moment of existence, and whatever separates us from that end–even if it comes from our own wills–is a form of bondage…

This means we are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well. For to choose poorly, through folly or malice, in a way that thwarts our nature and distorts our proper form, is to enslave ourselves to the transitory, the irrational, the purposeless, the (to be precise) subhuman. To choose well we must ever more clearly see the “sun of the Good”…and to see more clearly we must continue to choose well; and the more we are emancipated from illusion and caprice, the more perfect our vision becomes, and the less there is really to choose… As we progress we find that to turn away from that light is ever more manifestly a defect of the mind and will, and ever more difficult to do. Hence Augustine defined the highest state of human freedom not as “being able not to sin” but as “being unable to sin:” A condition that reflects the infinite goodness of God, who, because nothing can hinder him in the perfect realization of his own nature, is “incapable” of evil and so is infinitely free.

Not my favourite book, thus far in the opening chapters. But certainly a well put description of classic freedom, so different than our own modern understanding.

Easter

I didn’t post yesterday because it was a busy day of church with some of our refugee children followed by hiking and an excellent dinner of lamb, potatoes, asparagus and other goodies.

Church was a delightful experience of fellowship, song and communion.

Hiking was a glorious way to celebrate the new life in Jesus.

Dinner was a perfect ending to the exhausting weekend of emotional upheaval.

It was a perfect day for Jesus to come back. It was sunny, warm and the skies were brightest blue. We broke fast, we reveled in the hope of the coming glory, we laughed and sang, we shared our fears and dreams.

And then K had to come back from the mountains to finish mounds of homework. I put off the work that today will catch up and eat me alive. J went back to searching for a job, praying for things to come through, waiting on the Providence. E had hives when he got ready for bed with no explanation as to the cause. My parents fell asleep, praying against garlic and migraines that had stuffed our roasted lamb. It was… interesting.

He’s come back! He’s come back! I wanted to jump up and down and shout it. He’s here! He’s here!

But he isn’t really. Still waiting, still hoping. Like springtime and summer. Half the grass outside has turned a shade of brilliant green and many of the trees are sporting new buds of hopeful life. But the ground is still brown in some places, and the trees are still bare in others.

He’s back! He’s here! He’s alive!

But we’re still waiting for that day, when He really comes back and rescues us from all this toil and muck and sin.

He’s  back! And yet, he’s still to come.