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?

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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.

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.

Friday Good

Today I rolled out of bed, climbed from the loft and hurried to get ready in twenty minutes. I burnt an egg, forgot my Bible, and brushed my teeth while texting E apologies that I was running late, even though it was my appointment to which I was late. I hardly remembered as I slid my macbook into the bright timbuktu bag, I hardly realized it was a day other than Friday. I only thought once, in a momentary glance at my Bible, splayed out on the coffee table to pages in Isaiah, I barely remembered in that instant that this Friday was more than just the last day of Spring Break and the day that Ethan’s parents would be in town.

Twenty minutes isn’t time to contemplate Good Friday.

We drove through construction, always Colorado spends the time between winter snows under construction. Like some bizarre metaphor for life: that we’re always under process, except when ice and frozen earth bring us to grinding halt. But even then, with the water in the grooves of the road, melting and freezing with each day’s cycle, even then there is process and change; even if we don’t see it until the cracks have spread to wide gaping holes.

I lay on the table at the chiropractor, wincing beneath the hands of massage and adjustment. My knee stretches out and back in, and when he’s pushing on a certain point in the muscle I can feel the pain radiate to both ends of my leg, and he’s shaking his head that I want to go rock climbing today. My body is broken, and I want to do what? But he sighs and gives me permission, says it won’t help but it probably won’t make things worse.

An old friend, one who has helped immeasurably with Ethan’s business start, texted E this morning while we were waiting through that construction zone. Something about writing a reference and at the end of his cheery morning message, left a little wish: Good Friday to you. But there was hardly time to think of that when we were driving me to work, and shuttling E off to his own last day at a lingering worksite that seems to push back with everything he does.

I came in to work and found an email where I was graciously dragged over hot coals. Sometimes, when they’re being polite, the anger is almost more severe, the disappointment more stinging. And apparently the office is closing early today, though no one told me and my hours are all over the place for this month’s paycheck, this month’s survival. Why are we closing early?

Good Friday.

Because today is the day that Jesus died. The day that he — God come down among us — let himself be stripped, broken, crushed and crucified. Last week he was riding in, prophetic statements abounding and triumph seeming close at hand. Tonight, at Tenebrae, he’ll not make a noise as he goes to the slaughter, like the sheep they killed each Passover: quiet, calm, resolute and sure. In darkness and shadows we’ll remember the one who took on fallen humanity, took on my broken body, my harried pace, my unkempt sin and put it to death with the piercing of his hands, and torn back, crushed side and bloodied head. And in his death he took on the curse: the bold rebellion of sin within humanity and the bruised earth suffering beneath, fighting back at you and me, even as we fight amongst ourselves.

Because Jesus came, came to do this act of love. Came to take me on, broken and angry. Came to walk at Ethan’s side, tired and frustrated. Came to walk among us, know us, reveal the One to us, and then in the most unexpected act in history: came to fling out his arms, take on all our mess and ruined humanity, and in his great, bloody embrace, came to take it all away.

Thus says your Lord, the LORD, even your God Who contends for His people, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

My brokenness, forever under repair, my fallen nature evidenced in a body that so easily falls apart, the sin that makes me rush instead of wait, wait on the Lord, those things for which I am due much, much more than strained knees and abrasive emails, for that he took on flesh and carried away the cup of wrath: from me, from the nations, from the earth.

All this on a Friday we so desperately and hopefully call Good.

 

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