Who to Be

Yesterday I sat outside, finished reading a book by a theologian whom I love for his work in the patristics while being staunchly Reformed and vaguely Barthian. A friend came over, chatted for awhile beneath brilliant sun at only eight in the morning; sometimes it startles me how Colorado goes from winter to summer in the course of a week. He’s married, this friend of mine, and his wife is one of my favourite women though lately between school and work and life we’ve hardly spoken more than two sentences. Squinting at me as I talked about camping, Romans and Corinthians he said to me,

“in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

I nodded, head bobbing up and down in natural agreement. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I like the sound of that, I have control to be the kind of wife and person I want to be. Today, I want to sweet and gentle and tomorrow I’ll be kind and gracious. The thought of control evokes something deep in me, a longing in my soul for consistency, foresight and independence.

This morning, I climbed into the land cruiser that still shudders while idling and I felt a surge of frustration. Home is a mess and I’ve an exam this afternoon for which I’m hardly prepared amid everything else in life. In the short lived cool of the morning I was hot and upset. Ethan asked me what was wrong, as he always does when he can sense that I’m on edge, when he reads me like an open book.

I heard those words from yesterday’s sunny conversation, “in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

Today, I wanted to be strong, sure and content. So I lied through my teeth; said everything was fine and settled into the old fabric seat of our twenty six year old car that Ethan will always call a truck. By the end of the five minute ride, I had nearly exploded.

It isn’t about me choosing and forcing myself into prescribed mold of who I want to be in marriage, in life, in work or school. My friend was right, he was wise and spoke a bit of truth over me. But like dealing with the patristic notion of deification, one needs certain nuances.

I will be content and strong and sometimes I will even be sure of myself and what life holds. But that does not come from me choosing and then creating such a state of existence within myself. It is choosing who I want to be: a woman who follows Christ, who loves him and trusts him, who gives space to the Holy Spirit to conform and restore? Or something of my own making?

The beauty of the Incarnation is that God took on flesh and saved us by uniting humanity with deity, by making holy that which was sadly warped and twisted. The beauty of justification is that we are given a new identity, declared righteous and put in right standing with God.

The question now is whether or not we choose to grow into who we already are, and submit to the will of the Holy Spirit, the one who changes us into who we, in our deepest hearts, want to be?

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.

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!

 

Easter Monday

Yesterday we worked. We went to work, and then we went to friend’s for lunch to celebrate a resurrection we’ve heard about hundreds of times. So, how does one — after growing up in the church — make the resurrection new each year? This is always the problem for me. Easter is a holiday that I don’t dislike but I don’t love. It is full of pastels like pink and purple, frilly dresses and deviled eggs. Yesterday I wore chacos with my jeans and we went for a long walk after a lunch of lamb, parsnips and yorkshire puddings.

But yesterday was full of sweet gifts: hospitality, warmth, hope, friendship and sunshine.slane ruins

See, Jesus dies and takes all the sins of the world on him. But something else, something slightly different happens when we light the Paschal fire at church and whisper on the eve of Easter here that He has already risen there.

  
The Paschal fire at our little church burns the thanks and prayers we bring to Holy Saturday and the broken day between Friday Good and Easter Morn. And we watch life be rekindled, stand in swirling smoke that raises voices to heaven like a pleasant sound and aroma to Him. We stand with each other, huddled against the wind coming over the mountains and we are resurrected to new life already and together.

It’s something about community and the call of the church. Perhaps this comes with Pentecost in a fuller way: the Holy Spirit indwelling where he had only once rested upon momentarily. But it starts here: with Jesus come back to life, calming their hearts and restoring to them the reason they had come together to follow in the first place.

So the celebration the next day — after work that drains and saps life because the curse has not yet been stamped out — that celebratory lunch over lamb and vegetables from the hopeful ground restores community, hope for tomorrow’s work and fellowship. And these moments: watching the sunset from a warm front porch, laughing and shouting over a boardgame and cheering to new life in Christ: these are the moments that make Easter beautiful and make Monday bearable as we return to the drudge of a world that is still being redeemed.

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photo is of the ruins at Hill of Slane. Copyright belongs to Wikipedia.

dedication of various sorts

Recently, while starting a new textbook I read through the preface and discovered the book had been dedicated to a friend of mine. She’s a beautiful sweet woman who’s getting married in a few months and I have the privilege to have her dad as a seminary instructor. She has been encouraging and patient and kind with me, excited about my life and my hopes in a way I’ve rarely had with female friends. Needless to say, I read the lines of dedication and nearly burst into tears in my office.

Needless to say, it’s been a long week. It’s been a week of tears and exhaustion and late nights with dinner at 930pm on more than one occasion. There’s been enough discouragement and existential theological crises to go around the seminary and back again. And I’m not even referring to midterms.

E has been on a deadline. This, of course, is nothing terribly new. We live on deadlines, our culture thrives on them as markers of achievement, accomplishment and success — even personal value and worth. I had deadlines too: papers, midterms, scholarship apps, taxes. But there was something in these lines, these boundary markers this week that made it harder than usual to push ahead and “keep up the good work.” Maybe it’s that in some of our life we’ve been over the deadline lately, in a way that nagged at security, value and worth. Maybe it’s that lent and penitence and realizing sin before the looming cross has just gotten to us.

To be honest, I wish it was the second option; that my sense of sin and unrighteousness, that my failure to to be conformed to the One in whose image I’m created was the reason for the tears in my office.

I cried on Monday because in a few minutes spent on social networking websites I felt undermined, cast aside, forgotten and unnecessary. I almost cried today because of the beauty in seeing my friend be so lavishly loved by her father so as to be remembered in words that many hundreds of people will read — to have work that took years of formation, challenge and perseverance dedicated to her sweet smile and progression from daughter-child to daughter-woman.

This week, I thought about giving up so many things for fear of failure, rejection and wavering purpose. Last week I heard Ethan do the same as he stood in my kitchen and said that work was doing him in, that everything was going wrong and wondering where is God in this? We’re trying so hard, striving, working, scrambling and serving. We’re on deadlines, with plates too full and cups too empty.

But then, last week, on the first day of Spring, the sky clouded over and I felt like the world was slowing down, coming to a halt; and we were finally starting to catch up to the spinning axis. And after class I read that “God was so much, and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of ‘the little ones’) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life.” Like the father dedicating his book and work and time to my friend, dedicating the project that had consumed so much of his very life, this is how God is: coming down, kenosis and self humiliation to walk alongside little Ethan and me in the midst of ruined projects, grammatically incorrect papers and mounting bills.

So we’re holding these two things in hand: that God is good and that life right now is hard.

But what if we’re not to hold those in separate hands, but pull them together and realize they aren’t so incompatible as they seemed at first glance?Jean Calvin placed election in such a position within his Institutes to comfort us and give assurance that amidst the travails of life in a fallen world we are saved, called, and promised such vindication beyond the grave that this will seem small and of no account. Nothing separates us from the love of God, even when it feels as if everything separates us from the love of God. And thus we are renewed, restored with value and worth that draws on being created by such a great and gracious Lover, given worth by being held tightly and close despite the mess of this thing that we call life. And we’re given back our purpose, we’re given back our heart to carry on — not because we are striving, but because we are already accepted, known and loved.

Not meeting deadlines or making grades or getting published. Just walking with Him, growing in trust, learning what it means to be like him as we learn who he even is in the first place and then giving all that back to him as glorious praise.

This week, by God’s grace, I’m busy with papers and reading and catching up on day to day work after midterms. It is grace to be so occupied  because Ethan is busy and I’m hardly seeing him but for late night dinners full of exhausted words and tired hands propping up heads and slumped shoulders. I’ve had a few nominal fits of tears, always restricted by the workload before me and the very energy it would take to allow for salty tears.

And somehow, we’re choosing, or learning to choose or choosing to learn that God is here, alongside, walking and speaking and listening. He is good when life is hard. We’re saying thanks for work, pushing control from our own hands and refraining from forcing God to meet our expectations. We’ve come into Holy Week when Jesus was crucified not only for sins but for failing to meet the expectations of those in Jerusalem. What are my expectations? That life should be easy? That work would be life giving despite the curse and hardened ground? That somehow choosing Jesus meant choosing life abundant in terms of the American dream? Are these my expectations of Jesus as saviour messiah? And how must that be recalibrated?

How can I see God, who like my friend’s father, has lavished love and time and effort in order to serve me? to bless me in ways I so quickly fail to recall? And in the midst of remembering his love, his faithfulness, his hesed and hoping in his name, his character rather than circumstance, how must I remember this:

that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’re exhausted yes, but not ruled or governed in worth, value or purpose by the deadlines and measurements of society. We are governed and given worth by the love of the One who made all things, sustains all things and brings all things to completion.

Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

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Phil 1. 6, 2.12

Confession [or step two]

I have been thinking about this one for a long time: what occurs in the process of reconciliation? What comes next after realizing the need for such action?

I think it’s confession, but I’m not really sure. Confession is a practice that I think the Protestant church left in the dust during the mad dash away from Roman Catholicism. I think it was a huge loss. No, I’m not very comfortable with the idea of confessing one’s sins only to a priest and asking that man to bless and absolve you and give you acts of penance.* However, James is pretty clear that we are to confess to one another and to pray for each other–so that we may be healed. So I think that confession is a necessary practice in the Christian life. Yes, I will admit that it is an extremely painful one; full of shame and fear. The last time I really confessed something to Ghena, I bawled my eyes out and was terrified that she would be incredibly disappointed in me.** But the muck in our lives needs to be dragged up and out into the light, for only in the light can things be dealt with.

In the whole reconciliation process, I think that confession is key. Or perhaps, a better word is honesty. I don’t know about you, but I lie to myself all the time. “I’m ok,” I repeat over and over when really, I am the farthest thing from okay. It is scary to be honest with one’s self. I think that’s because when we’re honest, we have to see all the ugly that is within our hearts. Somedays it’s astounding what we find in the dark places of our souls. But if we want to get anywhere, we have to be honest and really recognize our broken, wicked selves for what they are. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, we aren’t able to see the need for a saviour. Even if we acknowledge that need intellectually, we can’t accept it on a heart level.

And when we recognize the sin our own lives, I think it points out the way we sin against others. Oh yeah, last week I was ticked because my mum complained I’d gotten in late. Doesn’t she know that I wanted to be at my friend’s just a little longer? Oh wait, I promised to be home so she could go to bed, and, oh yeah, I was aware of the time and I selfishly chose to stay out, thereby giving my mother a migraine the next day. Hm. When I’m honest, I was incredibly self centered on my own needs and desires and neglected to acknowledge those of my mother and her inability to sleep through any noise above a soft whisper. It’s hard, becuase I want to stamp my feet like a little child and say that I was in the right, that I needed that time with my friend. But then I read about Jesus and remember it’s not about me. And I really should have been more respectful and loving. I should have honoured my mother.

I had to confess that. To myself. To God.

And then to my mum.

Eeek. Confession is hard.

But let’s be realistic. If we never confessed anything, we’d never see the need for reconciliation. We’d live in our own self righteous worlds, surrounded by our loving self. And eventually, we’d end up alone. And when humanity is designed to live in community,*** I think that reconciliation is worth the humiliating step of confession.

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*I understand how penance started, and yes, logically, it made sense. But at the same time, it flirts with a very dangerous line of theology (that is often not adressed) where penance simply becomes another method for earning salvation which cannot be earned only gifted and not even the faith we have is ours but that also was given to us so that none of us can boast. (Paul’s words, not mine)

**This only goes to show the depth of not only my insecurity but also my misunderstanding both of Ghena and God. He doesn’t say “go clean yourself up and then come back. Mhm, now we’re talking, that’s better. Here’s some love.” He, like Ghena, simply smiles sadly at the ways my sin has hurt me (and others) but takes me into his arms, tells me to hush and then says “I’ve got it covered. Jesus has got it covered. And I love you.”

***Check out the first two chapters of Genesis. God creates man [humanity] in “our” image, often considered a reference to the Triune nature. So man [humanity] is designed to live in deep, intimate community–I think that’s why God says it isn’t good for man [man!] to be alone, because  “alone” isn’t the complete image of the Triune God.

Reconciliation [or step one]

It’s a pretty difficult subject to wrap our minds around and even harder to put into action.

I podcast sermons from a pastor in Texas: Matt Chandler * who one might associate with the resurgence of Reformed Theology and the “new Calvinism.” In a lot of his sermons, including the two or three I’ve listened to while running in the past week, Chandler makes his listeners flip back from wherever he’s preaching to Genesis 3. Why? Because Genesis 3 is where the whole world fell apart. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall is viewed as a rupture in relationship between man and God, between man and woman. It’s not so much a fall from grace as it is a broken relationship, like an extreme argument between friends or lovers; one which will take years and hard work to overcome.

The beauty of the Gospel, simply put, is that God wanted to reconcile with his beloved. He reached down and sent his son to be the great sacrifice not only of atonement but of his desire to be reconciled with warped, lost creatures. It’s sort of like the time I took Coy out for milkshakes on my own dollar, even though he’d thrown a fit and been disobedient the whole day long. We got milkshakes and walked around the town center in the blazing afternoon heat simply because I wanted to restore our relationship. I sacrificed a few dollars to the burger joint and my clean shirt to the sweaty walk. But I did it because after nannying for three summers, I loved Coy like a little brother. God loves us quite a lot more than I love Coy and so instead of a few dollars, he sacrificed himself to repair our broken relationship.

But our relationship with God wasn’t the only thing that was damaged in the tragedy of Eden. Adam and Eve suddenly broke apart. Their intimacy was destroyed, and we’re living in the aftermath. We see it every day. My BBC headlines that come daily to my email are always about people ruining one another. Today a French national was abducted by gunmen in Mali and a student opened fire at a university in Hungary. We’re all torn apart, we hide in our broken, flabby skins; we get defensive because we’re so afraid of being open; we lash out at others, criticise them and shout because we are so terrified of our own depravity and the awfully humbling fact that we can do nothing about it.

I want to go to another country. In many ways, I want to go to a place where women cover their heads, the men grow thick, unruly beards and the imam calls for prayer five times a day. I don’t want to go because I feel strongly about women’s rights or education or the “fight” against “terrorism.” I want to go because I think that Jesus offers a better answer. People are always jumping down one another’s throats. But in Jesus we have this great shift in the reality of the world. There’s reconciliation–with God and with each other. I want to take that offer to others and share it with them.

But reconciliation doesn’t happen in one conversation. It doesn’t happen in a day. The US is still dealing with the effects of the Civil War. My Grandad would never have even called it that. If we can’t even decide on a name 150 years later, we clearly still have issues. And have you ever heard of Africa? The entire continent is awash in conflict between clans, tribes, and races. The Muslims themselves are still warring over who should have been the right successor to the Four Righteous Caliphs. Roman Catholics and Protestants maim and kill each other in Ireland. Netanyahu still raves about Palestinians and Jewish settlements… the list goes on.

People are working for peace in these things. But the problem is, they’re missing the most important element. They are missing Jesus. The forgiveness, the freedom, everything that Jesus offers us is essential for reconciliation. Without him there is no lasting reconciliation, there is no peace.

But even with Jesus, we are still humans and reconciliation is hard work.

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* Matt recently suffered a seizure. He is back at home with his family; please keep him, his wife Lauren and their children in your prayers.