Holy Saturday Reflection

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I am writing this because I feel like it is time to open up a little about my life over the last few years and Holy Saturday felt like a really good time to speak my peace. I am writing this because I know other people feel the darkness and struggle too and we all need empathy and even more: hope.

 

My grandpas both died when I was very young. Between their deaths and other deaths I would closely experience, there were many, many years. For much of my life, I could blissfully ignore the reality or think about it in more abstract terms.

 

That changed over the last few years.

 

About 3 years ago, we made the decision to move back from Michigan to Ohio, primarily because my mother-in-law was dying of cancer. It was an incredibly difficult time for us, leaving the life we’d built there, most of the friends and acquaintances we had, and then coming to spend time with my mother-in-law, Jane, who was slowly suffering in ways that were so hard to watch. We felt so much like we should do something, but there was so little to do other than to be there. I knew I should be supporting my family, but instead I was in the worst depression and confusion I’ve experienced and I’m ashamed of how little “supporting” I did.

 

Then almost 2 years ago, in May of 2018, we were there as Jane passed.

 

The funeral was beautiful and uplifting and it was amazing to hear how many lives she had touched. It was wonderful to think that her suffering had ended and that now she was alive with Christ.

 

However, my grieving had just begun.

 

As I mentioned, I had hardly had to dwell on death before this. But now, it was here, front and center, and had just painfully stolen someone so precious to us.

 

Not only my emotions, but also my faith started to break under the toll.

 

Before this, I was used to the smaller areas of my faith being “deconstructed” and “reconstructed” through the journey of seminary and learning in general. But this time, my faith in its entirety was hard hit. Going to church and being around vocal Christians was difficult, for many months. While I could go into much more detail here of what I learned in this time, it isn’t what I want to focus on today.

 

I know many others who have similar stories in recent years of doubts, grief, and uncertainty.

 

For me, the journey of healing has taken time. Summarizing it, my fear and anger eventually gave way to sadness and the sadness eventually gained back a glimmer of hope and trust. 

 

While a lot of Christian material didn’t “work” for me over this time, I wrestled with Andrew Peterson’s music, especially his “Resurrection Letters: Prologue & Vol 1” which came out right at this time. I found in it a broad understanding of the hope of Jesus mixed with the wavering and complex emotions we all experience.

 

This song (link below), in particular, hit me right where I was at.

 

This song pauses at the time when those who loved or wondered about Jesus — the disciples, Mary, Peter, and others — had now experienced something truly horrific. At the end of all his teachings and promises, it looked like tragedy was all that was left. And they were left to mourn, to wrestle, to doubt.

 

And while we, now, can look back at the Resurrection, in ways, we are still stuck on Saturday, not seeing with our eyes what we believe to be true. While I do believe Jane is together with Christ right now, I can’t see it with my eyes. While there is hope in my heart about Jane and the gospel message of hope in the resurrection for us all, like the disciples, my emotions wrestle with what is in front of me.

 

And this is where the step has to come to get from hope to faith. “God rested.” Evoking the entirety of the sabbath rest, the shalom, peace, the well working of a well created universe, ordered and ruled by its Creator, the “it is very good” at the end of the Creation story. Christians are called to have faith that behind the scenes God is still working today. What started with Jesus, the “firstfruits” of redemption, will be carried out in God’s redemption of the entire creation, that all will be made right and all will be well.

 

Before I can say the “He is risen indeed” of Easter morning, I must wrestle with the silence of today. Before I can believe that despite all suffering, God will make all things right, I have to put my faith in the moment of the silent, yet powerful working behind-the-scenes: Jesus resting in the tomb.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ecPeSRID3Y

Diverse Christian Opinions and The Way Forward

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I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed recently exploded with opinions about the recent Supreme Court ruling with respect to “gay marriage.”

My Christian friends gave a multitude of opinions, and most of them looked very different.

If you are struggling with all these opinions and having trouble knowing what to think or do next, I think this is a great moment to engage in what the author Gabe Lyons’ terms, “Restoring.”

For a while now, I’ve been a pretty big fan of the perspectives in the series of books, UnChristian, and, The Next Christians.

If you missed it, UnChristian was a landmark book helping Christians understand how Christianity has virtually disintegrated in the public square in American life. It helps us understand how Christianity is perceived and why some old approaches aren’t working any more.

In the much needed follow-up book, The Next Christians, the author, Gabe Lyons, sets forth a new way forward to engage culture.

On the whole, I think there is an urgent need for the perspectives found in these two books to capture the minds of Christians today!

Aside from adding books to your reading list, I feel like it is really important to understand where we all come from before we move forward.

The Next Christians begins by delineating the most common approaches to culture that Christians of the recent past have held:

the-next-christian-less-reform

This diagram taken from the book shows the categories of interaction. You probably know people who would fit into each one or into several at different times. The purpose of this list is to help you understand these groups as well as show what can be the inadequacy of each.

I will very briefly summarize:

Insiders: “Circle the Wagons!” Perhaps better called, “Isolators,” they isolate themselves by doing Christian things and surround themselves by Christian stuff.

Likely to say: Look how bad it’s getting out there.

Culture Warriors: “Fight!” These people are the ones most likely to voice their opinions. They become involved in voicing their concerns in debates and political discussion.

Likely to say: Now is the time to take back America.

Evangelizers: “Win Souls!” Tracts, tactics, concerned with souls and uninterested in about anything else.

Likely to say: All this doesn’t matter, let’s just convert people.

Blenders: “Christians can be cool!” Culturally indistinguishable from non-Christians, they want to blend in and tend to think that the separatist Christians are crazy. They often push for “relevance” in church.

Likely to say: I’m sorry if Christianity was cramping your style, I’ll try to keep it to myself.

Philanthropists: “Do good things!” These people volunteer and are involved in their communities. For them, being Christian means doing social good.

Likely to say: Jesus is about love.

While all of these approaches have had their strengths and weaknesses, the author argues that the way forward is the path of the “Restorers.”

His own synopsis of what a restorer is:

  • Provoked, Not Offended
  • Creators, Not Critics
  • Called, Not Employed
  • Grounded, Not Distracted
  • In Community, Not Alone
  • Civil, Not Divisive
  • Countercultural, Not “Relevant”

The trailer for His book can be found here:

This leads me to the point and my own opinion.

For too long Christians have been consumed with being distracted and offended by what is happening in American culture.

While we are called to stand for the common good, Christianity is not called to try and revive a broken political system to forward our own agenda.

It is incredibly sad how divided our nation and fellow Christians have become. Satan always works to divide and fracture. This issue has sharply divided our families, nations, and congregations.

But, the task before us is not a lament. It is a call to hope.

If we realize that we are in post-Christian America, we can understand our relationship with our country in a more constructive light.

Maybe our position in the U.S. is more like Israel’s relationship with Babylon during the period they were taken into exile in the Old Testament. Just like us today, they couldn’t change what was going on around them. The affairs of Babylon were too far removed from the concerns of the God-fearing, alien, Jewish people.

But this is what God told them to do in Jeremiah 29:7. Not to be swept up by the mindset of those around them, but to: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

While there is a time and place to speak against things, instead of continuing to yell at the cost of losing our voice, we can choose to be salt and light. We can look for the welfare of the places we find ourselves without getting so distracted by everything that is opposed to what we believe is right.

If we understand that our call is to restore, we can see our vocation as being peacemakers, praying for healing to many wounds. We need to have our imaginations captured by the work the church has always been involved in: healing the hurts, evils, and broken lives around us.

We must continue sharing the invitation to live in the reconciliation offered in the gospel.

Rather than becoming frustrated with all that is going on and ready to yell your disapproval, realize that in Christ we have something beautiful and unique to bring into the public sphere:

The Grace of Jesus

(Disclaimer: I know this post is controversial. It was meant to be. I was saddened hearing all the angry Christian rhetoric. If I were talking strictly politics, I’d make a different argument. But American politics is not a central part of who I am. Being a Christian is.)

You can’t possibly mean that…

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Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.

Today, Easter, or better, Resurrection Sunday, is the day that we Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The most important church holiday. Reflecting on today’s sermon I thought about something I heard recently.

What do you mean by resurrection!?

I was listening to a debate between the atheist, Richard Dawkins, and a Christian. When it came to them discussing the resurrection, Dawkins stopped and said, “You can’t possibly mean that.” He did not believe that a religious person could possibly dabble in his domain, science, in such a preposterous way as to say that we believe in a real, physical resurrection of our bodies.

This sentiment is not abnormal either. In our culture right now, religion is fine, as long as it stays in certain confines. If it makes you happy, if it makes you feel good. I don’t care about the cute little things you believe about some deity in the sky. But don’t you dare step out and say that your beliefs should be adopted by other people or that your beliefs conflict with the domain of scientific disciplines…

We don’t want your story!

People today want to find their own meaning. This is what the ideal of freedom often becomes, freedom from any story but the story I choose.

This is why it is so offensive to people when Christians proclaim that Christ is Lord. Not just Lord of my feeling or my heart, but the true Lord of everything. If Christ is Lord, then Jesus Christ’s story is the only story that has real meaning. You don’t get to choose your story, but you must receive the story that is already taking place. You don’t get the perceived freedom of making up your own rules about how to live and who you are.

My hope is built on nothing less

The truth is, our beliefs do indeed conflict sharply with this mode of thinking. Resurrection Sunday is not a day to celebrate spring, or Jesus metaphorically rising in our heart. Resurrection Sunday is a day to remember Jesus’ real, painful suffering here on earth, and his physical, victorious resurrection.

We believe that there is something beyond the limits of science. Something like the “deep magic” of the Chronicles of Narnia. We believe in a God with the power not only to create this world for us, but also in a God who maintains control as Lord and has plans for this world in love, judgment of evil, and the healing of all things. We believe that just as Christ now lives, we too will live again together with Him!

Why Slow Down?

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Why slow down?

Everyone knows we need to slow down: The noise, the busy clattering of everyday life, the constant urge to use technology to get connected, and the rush to get things accomplished.

We know it just isn’t right.

The problem is that we aren’t sure what we need to slow down for.

It’s like you are driving down the highway and someone yells, “Stop the car!” but they don’t tell you why. You may take your foot off the pedal for a moment. If you don’t see any reason to stop, however, you’ll be a little ticked off and it’s all but inevitable you’ll put your foot back on the pedal.

We need to get there, we need to make good time. We can’t waste the gas, the effort to stop.

Well, we thought about stopping, but if there is no reason…

Why?

Speed Seeing

I’ve always enjoyed bike rides. There has always been something about them that gives me joy. I think part of it is just traveling at a slower speed.

When you travel at a slower speed, it is amazing to see the things that usually blur past but are always right there.

All sorts of things emerge:

the quaint cheerfulness of a neighbor’s lawn décor,

the enchanting size and age of an old tree,

the pause felt when passing someone and realizing you have time to wave or say hello.

Being Human

We must slow down because humans were not made to be single speed machines.

The 4th commandment states, more or less: “Thou shalt periodically apply the brakes.”

The peace and rest of Sabbath are not idle, but they make space for play, thought, creativity, and imagination.

Our experience tells us that this need is true.

When we constantly work with no reprieve, we get stressed out, sick more often, and don’t enjoy life.

Researchers tell us this is true. On the website for the National Institute for Play, it states that play is “the gateway to vitality.”

All work and no play don’t just make Jack a dull boy, but according to the website, deficient play can act as a “deficiency disease.” It affects mental health, tendency for violence, and addictive behavior.

When we don’t stop, when we don’t make time for the play and imagination that are intrinsically part of us, we hurt ourselves.

Variety and Rhythm

When we read Genesis 1, it is obvious that God is concerned with setting up rhythms of life. The sun, moon, and earth cycle to give us time and seasons.

These orderly themes from Genesis are carried into the ritual of the life of the Hebrew people, with celebrations and observances.

God knows that people are at their best when they have these rhythms.

We certainly can’t always go slow, but just as importantly, we can’t always go fast.

We can’t speed past the rich details that give variety to life.

We crave variety.

We have a vital need to savor

the shades of color,

the pitch of notes,

the arrangement of words on a page.

Listening for the Divine

Slowing down is about being fully human.

The way God meant us to be.

But it also gives us a chance to hear the Divine.

One thing I love about the church we attend is that every week we sing “Be still and know that I am God,” as a congregation.

While I do not claim to know all about how God speaks to us, I certainly know that we need space and stillness to hear and understand what God has for us each week, each day.

Slowing down with God allows us to enjoy the nooks and crannies of worship, Scripture, and prayer.

It allows us to apply what we know in new seasons.

What does God’s grace mean today, in this circumstance?

Purposeful Pedaling

I invite you to dust off your “bike,” and take it out once in a while.

Change your pace, choose to savor life.

Slow down.

Why?

Because in a world where you can choose to obey the stop signs or inevitably crash,

Thankfully, we have been equipped with brakes.