Archives for posts with tag: Faith

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The story of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at the core of Christianity. We believe this story is the great climax of history; it is the hinge point of all things because it is through Jesus that God brings new creation.

Easter speaks a better word than any other. Easter declares life, not death is God’s future, the reign of God is here. Easter proclaims that God is faithful to creation, and all of creation will be put right as the waters cover the sea. Easter sits at the center of the Christian story because we believe Easter is the salvation all of things.

But the logic of the Christian story does not begin and end at Easter. Ours is a story that follows the way of suffering. Holy week takes us to places we would not expect. We will follow Jesus to the upper room with a betrayer and the garden where the mob finally gets their man. The crowds will crowds cry, “Crucify Him,” and the crown of thorns will sink into Jesus’s head. Holy week leads us to cross, and demands that we look upon the tomb.

And the cross of Christ is a big deal. Jesus’ death was for us. On the cross, Jesus took our iniquities and atoned for our sins, but that is not all.

The writer of Hebrews reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus,

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Holy week reminds us that we are not called out of this earth; instead, we are called to follow Jesus outside the camp.

Douglas John Hall says, “Unlike religions that draw their converts away from the world, a faith informed by a theology of the cross constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion.”

We are called right into the midst of the world, to be part of it. The crucifixion of Jesus was not simply a transaction for us; it is the heartbeat of our movement. We are to follow the way of crucified Messiah.

I am not sure what this looks like for everyone. It might mean standing with a friend against cyber-bullying. Or it might be volunteering your free time at a food pantry. This way of life might call you to full time ministry or maybe you will teach in an underperforming school. There are a million ways to move this into your life, but the logic of the Christian story runs this path. It demands that we suffer with those who find themselves outside of the camp. We can go here because we believe ours is a city that is to come.

This is faith. It is when you know deep in your bones that life is found outside the city with the outcast and the lame and the poor and the broken and the war tore and the homeless and the dirty and whoever has been pushed out by society. As Jurgen Moltmann says, “The theologian of the cross is led by the visible nature of God on the cross. He is freed to love that which is different and other.”

UnknownAs of this writing, we are a little over a week into 2014. The New Year comes like a blanket of fresh snow. Collecting everything under its crisp, white weight. Everyone is full of hope and expectation; the new year offers a chance to reset our gaze towards an ideal you, the you that sounds wonderfully successful and productive.

This kind of reset is important. New goals and aspirations are valueable. Our days can begin to stack up on us. If we are not careful, the ins and outs of life can dull us to progress or renewal. Lost under the pressures of the grind, we easily lose sense of the story we find ourselves in. A new calendar awards a chance to engage our purpose and glance at the big picture. This kind of activity is crucial to help focus us and to help us take stock of the narrative we inhabit. As I have written before, the Christian narrative calls for a particular way of life.

While the new year offers us a chance to take stock of our identity, modify problem areas, and chart a course for improvement, we must be careful. We must remain open to surprise and interruption.

This week was the first Sunday of Epiphany. The Epistle text was Acts 10. The story of the mission to the Gentiles. It is a weird story that begins with Peter in asleep. During his slumber, Peter has a vivid dream. In the vision, Peter is witness to a large sheet lowered from Heaven. In the sheet are four legged animals that Peter has abstained from all his life. Then the Lord commands him to kill and eat the animals.

“Surely, not Lord,” Peter returns. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

The next day, Peter traveled to Caesarea and went to the house of Cornelius. His home was filled with expectant people. The Good News had proceeded Peter’s arrival and the household could not wait to hear from him. But here is the thing. Cornelius and his whole household were Gentiles. So Peter walks into the room and  it struck him. He remembered the vision as he looked at expectant strangers. God was doing a new thing. Though the law stated these Gentiles were unclean, God was moving Peter toward a new way of life.

What follows is a huge break for Christian faith. These people, who were once cut off, were welcomed into the family of God. The Holy Spirit rushed through Cornelius’ house and surprised everyone with new creation. Peter made himself interruptible by the living God and it changed everything.

Miroslav Volf says, “The Christian difference is therefore not something new into the old from the outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old.”

God’s news creation can be surprising because it is not the future we might expect. For us the future is the expected course that follows the chain of events from moment to moment. This is what goal setting is based on. We can chart the future if we focus on the variables and our talents. Our vision and goals can help us progress to the next place, but they can also take us off track because we might miss the unexpected surprise. The bursting forth of God’s new creation.

Now, this does not mean I am against setting goals and resolutions. I think it is crucial to order one’s life. A disciplined way of life is crucial to stability and growth. I just hope the way you order your life allows to attend to the interruption.

This kind of attention leaves room for friends and loved ones to call us out of our tasks. It pays attention to the goings on in other people’s lives, and is open to times of reflection and silence. More than anything, an attentiveness to surprise is grounded in an openness. A humility that allows your best laid plans to be held loosely.

This year might be the year where you finally breakthrough. A year where your resolutions become accomplishment. I hope it is a year of productivity, but I hope you will also be open to interruption. I hope there is enough room in the plans you make and the relationships you keep for surprise.

Grace is thrown around all the time. We are reminded it is not us, instead it is the grace of God that saves. These words have crisscrossed our nation and gone into all the world. And this is good news. Our salvation does not depend on our activity or our social location or our gender or wealth. It is truly grace, but grace is more.

I think I was in 6th grade when the Magic Eye books hit the market. These books were received with great excitement. I hear these abstract images gave way to a 3-D image of a horse or a lion or three crosses or whatever. I wonder if this was a well-marketed practical joke because I never saw anything other than the original image. Try as I might, I could not adjust my view to see the “magic” image.

Even though the “aha” never came with the magic eye books, I have been witness to new things from old. It is the beautiful thing about life and language. Something that has turned almost wooden or rote can spring to new life.

This happens all the time as I practice dwelling in the word. I was taught dwelling in the word in a Master’s Program at Rochester College. This way of reading with others has a way of opening us to God. The second semester we focused our dwelling on a familiar text, Philippians 2:5-18. As we read, I was drawn into a phrase I’d heard all my life, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That text washed over me and I started to recount, to work out my own salvation. The people and the stories and the activities and the sacraments. Moment by moment I remembered. I guess I had never taken account of all this but to reflect was an act of grace. Memories of many kinds. Landmark decisions, small almost inconsequential moments. Sad moments and joyful ones. This was grace.

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 We read from Job at church a couple weeks ago. “I know that my redeemer lives.” The words echoed through the service. Again and again we turned to those words. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”

Those words transported me back to a packed hospital room. We had far exceeded the ICU visitor limit, but no one seemed to care. The gathering was full of familiar faces. Faces that helped raise my brothers and I. Those who Mamaw and Papaw had shared life with. Dad and Mamaw stood on the right side of the bed. Mamaw held Papaw’s hand, as the song dashed out our tears.

We sang the chorus as loudly as our grief would allow. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”

These are the moments where my salvation was worked out. The daring speech of Scripture gave us the ability to stand in an ICU and declare life. “I know, I know my redeemer lives.”

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 Last week Miroslav Volf’s Facebook status got me to thinking. He said, “When suffering comes, sometimes we see only the dark abyss of nothingness, but sometimes through the darkness God’s face shines on us.” This truth is what continues to draw me back to the Christian story.

If I told you I never had doubts, I would be lying. Actually, sometimes the doubts are so strong I can barely bring myself to pray. The doubts take different forms. At times, it is the logic of it all. I just cannot find solid footing in the arguments. Other times questions about suffering and pain spark doubt.

Still other times it is the dark abyss of nothingness Volf describes.

The Avett Brothers have this song called “Winter in My Heart.” They play on the oft-used winter imagery to unpack a gray, cold moment in their life. I know what they mean. If our souls have seasons—and I believe they do—this has been a winter season for me. The most difficult part, which The Avett Brothers agree, is “I don’t know what the reasons are.”

But the reality of grace is even in the dark abyss, even God’s face shines. God finds us in the great and the gloomy. The praise and the lament. Volf’s Facebook message is one way I am being saved. It caught me and it was grace for me.

God’s salvation is happening; we are being saved. This activity must be shared. It is more than grace for our individual souls. These are the stories we must tell, so together we can work out our salvation.

So may you live in the reality of how you are being saved. I hope you reflect on the moments, the great and the small, of salvation. May they cover you as the water covers the sea.

Stories can take many forms. Some are straightforward narrations of life and others are imaginative tales likely full of vampires or zombies. The powerful thing about a good story is it can work regardless of the material, yet a good story must know the core of its being. Breaking Bad played well because Vince Gilligan and his team of writers knew what they had and they were faithful to the story. It made sense and was compelling from the first to the final frame.

I think this is an issue for the church today. We are unsure what kind of story we are a part of. It is easy to lose sense of the ongoing narrative in day to day, but it is the most important task of the church. We must be drawn into God’s past, present, and future to ground ourselves for life.

As I thought about this today, I came across a short blog post on Richard Beck’s blog. The simple post is a reflection on the Pope’s embrace of a man with severely disfigured man. Above his reflection is a picture of Pope Francis as he hugs the man. This is no small action; it is reminiscent of the way of Jesus. Prior to this, a little boy made national news when he ran on stage to greet Pope Francis during a speech, and it was with great care that he welcomed the little boy. Pope Francis is a man who understands the story he is a part of. The life of the Crucified Messiah is in his imagination.

A good storyteller must have an imagination. They must be so immersed in the thickness of their narrative world that they are able to transport the listener or reader into the new reality.

Last night, I read an article about Stephen Colbert’s writing team. The 15-person team works hard every night to hold to the shows vision. The success of every bit and each joke is weighed against the backdrop of the world of Colbert. They must have a working imagination of life on the Colbert Report. If their writing falls outside of the arc, the show and its narrative disappears. The show does not work if the writer draws on something outside of the narrative’s core.

This is what I think we are. We are a collection of writers in the ongoing, unfolding story of God. It is God’s activity that sets the vision and shape. Our task is to be so drawn into the imagination of the unfolding Christian story that we are able to speak and perform the story. We must know the sweeping moves or we will get lost in the minutia or worse “jump the shark” all together. It will be like a narrative that spends far too long describing the bookshelf in the main characters home office. The description might set the room nicely, but will likely be lost on the reader.

I like what Doug Foster says in Seeking a Lasting City. “Our story is the story of Christ. If anything has to be kept straight, it’s who Christ is and therefore who and what the church is. Christ’s identity and nature define his church as redeemed people who, like Christ give themselves for others.”

The Church is a collection of people who are at their best are constantly reminded of the story in which God has called us into. We need to always be reminded this story is about a God with a jealous love for the world and plans to put all things back to right.

It is difficult to find anyone who is unconcerned with justice. The issue is, sometimes our sense of justice comes in conflict with someone else’s justice. The task of uncovering the assumed universal justice we all seek is the struggle of human existence, yet this universal justice slips through our fingers or remains out of reach. The attempt toward justice has a way of curving towards our sense of the world, our vantage point. This means our serious pursuit of justice puts us at odds with the other.

A quick look at your favorite social network or news program lets you in on the differing ideals of justice. Everything from the Syrian situation to health care, to minimum wage to taxation can lean towards a claim about justice. The perspective from either side of the issue is that the other side’s claim makes has no merit. The world seems obvious to us, the problem is it often does not bend completely as we would like.

In Exclusion and Embrace Volf argues, enmity or violence do not have to be the result of our differing views of justice. There is a project we can pursue that can give space for the other. This project he calls a will to embrace. At the heart of a will to embrace is something he calls double vision. It is the practice of learning to see everything both from your viewpoint and the viewpoint of the other. This practice demands a particular kind attentiveness, an attentiveness open to wisdom of the other.

Sociologist Clifford Geertz says,

“To discover who people think they are, what they think they are doing, and to what end they think they are doing it, it is necessary to gain a working familiarity with the frames of meaning within which they enact their lives. This does not involve feeling someone else’s feelings, or thinking anyone else’s thoughts, simple impossibilities. Nor does it involve going native, an impractical idea, inevitability bogus. It involves learning how, as being from elsewhere with a world of one’s own, to live with them.”

The last few words are huge. We have to “live with them.” The preposition “with” calls for a different posture than we often give neighbors and strangers. Our individuality has taught us to tolerate the other when necessary, but to live with another is to be attentive to the depth of their humanity. A “with” life forces our guard down and demands we are vulnerable. This is the kind of practice that can allow us to live in a world with conflicting justices. It does not mean we throw up our hands and give into everything, yet it does mean we hold our beliefs with humility.

The wisdom of the stranger invites us to a larger story, a communal consciousness where our horizon of understanding offered a new plain of understanding in the space where our horizons meet.

A little over a year ago, I met Ann Atwater. She lives in Durham, North Carolina where she continues to fight for the cause of others. Annie was a key leader in the movement to integrate the schools in the Raleigh/ Durham area. She set out to change the schools but was met with resistance from the Superintendent who was a white man. At first, her dislike and distrust for her counter-part ran deep, but over time they began to learn from each. These enemies turned partners and friends noticed if they expected their children to welcome the other they better do so as well. Their unlikely relationship created space for them to work for justice together. Together Ann and the superintendent, C.P. Ellis worked to lead a community to accept integrated schools during the height of the civil rights movement.

I sat in Ann’s living room a year and a half ago as she told her story. I got to witness her speak with such care about her one time rival. These are the stories that can happen when there is a will to embrace the other. Something happens when people interact with one another. When we are willing to begin to see the other as a co-journeyer.

The others in our lives, strangers and neighbors, offer us a great wisdom. Even though they might seem like the enemy or polar opposite, they might be your co-workers toward justice. Their experience or insight might change everything for you. Learning to live “with” others will open you up to a new world, a world where we are able to see far beyond the vista of individualism.