What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

See Comments

I was going to change direction today, but my good friend Macon left a shining example of a stirring and insightful comment (as is his wont), even pre-caffeinated. This sparked my own, distant and faint echo of a lesser thought that I posted in response and I will leave it at that for a while.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

No Doubt Part 3: The Great and Terrible Exchange

In the end I want to humbly propose that Shanley has exchanged a greater good (humility) for a lesser good (doubt) in order to achieve a certain set of ends that are admirable and good (community).

And what I want to say is that this is simply a small and specific but very concrete picture of what all of us do just about every day on this side of the great and terrible exchange described in the Scriptures.

Our lives, lived here among the land of the ruins, are a shadow of what they might have been. This comes about as the result of the first great and terrible exchange, and it is perpetuated and exacerbated by the ways that we re-enact that same exchange in our daily lives: doubt in place of humility, revenge in place of forgiveness, lies in place of truth, cheating in place of integrity, cynicism in place of hope, walking in the shadow rather than living in the Light, self-determination rather than submission and trust.

The work of Jesus and the power at work in the gift of his Holy Spirit are the gifts given to us to roll back that exchange "far as the curse is found." To make right choices again, stumbling and fitfully, is the opportunity offered us as we are invited to live our lives following the One who made us.

No Doubt Part 2: The Poor Man's Way

So while I disagree with Shanley's means (doubt) I actually thoroughly agree with his ends. Shanley's chief concern seems to be that certainty cuts us off from community. To come to a place of certainty about things means that you are done with dialogue or conversation with fellow human beings.

I think that Shanley's goal is good. Most of us have known people who are so certain that they know everything about everything that it is, indeed, impossible to have genuine discussion or dialogue. Some of us are that person. Hopefully you know who you are.

But the problem is that to become cut-off and smug is a possible but not necessary consequence of certainty. In other words, it is possible to have certainty in a winsome way that does not end discussion but, to the contrary, promotes it in a healthy way.

The Biblical word for this is posture towards certainty: humility.

What Shanley has done, at least in the way that he talks about it, is exchange "humility" for "doubt." Doubt as it functions here is simply a poor-man's humility. Doubt requires none of the self-discipline or character or integrity or patience or wisdom that humility does.

Doubt allows room for discussion without the responsibility to act or respond wisely in light of the experience of the conversation. Indeed, perpetual doubt does not require any action on our part at all except to go on doubting endlessly and pointlessly.

Rather than exist in this perpetual posture of doubt that is exhausting intellectually (it takes a ton of work to doubt everything) and vacuous emotionally (eventually doubt robs us of the ability to enter into any joy seriously) and untenable philosophically (to be certain about doubt as the best way to live is to be certain about something, and so the thing collapses in on itself), it might actually be better to pursue a life of genuine humility, though that road is certainly no easier.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No Doubt Part 1

So the movie Doubt came out recently and I read an interview with writer/director John Patrick Shanley. In the interview, Shanley, of course, celebrates a life philosophy of doubt. "I would endlessly dispute anything" Shanley bluntly states in the interview.

He argues that certainty ends the conversation...or at least that it tends to do so. He exorts us to be in unceasing dialogue with other people. He says that doubt opens us up to genuine dialogue and exchange of ideas.

I think that Shanley is simply reflecting a deepening and growing cultural value. Doubt has become exalted as one of the most authentic and "real" values. To believe or trust or hope blinds us, it's argued. To doubt is the only way to get to the bottom of anything.

I see this cultural value playing out in various Christian communities. Particularly for people who grew up in the church--to continue to believe often feels naive and to doubt seems more intelligent.

Now certainly for many people doubting is a part of owning their faith. But doubt is not and cannot be a permanent posture for a life of any genuine quality. Shanley says that it's not exhausting to doubt everything. But that's clearly not the case for many people. For many, a life of doubt leads them eventually to the shadowland of a life of apathy or cynicism.

And to say that doubt is the best tool to foster conversation is to say something with a strong degree of certainty. So Shanley is fairly certain that doubt is better than certainty. He's not doubting his posture of dubiousness.

And so eventually this whole thing crumbles. Shanley ought to be doubting his doubting-ness--it's impossible to maintain with any real cohesion a philosophy of eternal and permanent doubt. Eventually it all implodes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Much Ado About Santa

In our circles over the past couple of weeks, there's been much conversation about what to do about Santa. We want our kids to know the real purpose of Christmas, and Santa's a massive distraction for that.

I really like how my parents handled this, so we're going with it. Santa stuffs the stockings, that's it. So we knew who gave (and had to write freakin' thank you notes for) all the real gifts. Santa brought a boatload of candy an occasional small present along the way.

Just an idea for those of you who are in the same pre-school boat that we are. My good friend Marshall has a thoughtful post about this with a different take. Actually, our kids have shown very little interest in Santa to this point, but I'm sure that'll change.

Due to travel schedules around here, today is our family's Christmas Eve. We'll be doing our big opening tomorrow and then doing some traveling, so this is my last post for a couple of days. Here are a couple of sweet kid pics and Merry Christmas!

Davis and Zoe prepare for the church Christmas play. Zoe was an angel, Davis was a wise man. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to see it again and again. Better than Cats.

Emma Kate, at 15 months, is still learning how to walk. All her energy to this point, I believe, has gone to her vocal cords--she talks in EK-Language non-stop. We hoped that giving her sunglasses would help her to focus on her walking, but you can see how much good that did us.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beautiful Pain

At the end of the Bible is a little enigmatic book called Revelation. The various attempts at pulling together all that transpires and what it all means have filled many books that have sold many copies (including, alas, the Left Behind series).

But the main actor in the book is clear. It's Jesus. And he appears in many and various forms throughout the book. But the way that he's introduced is a sort of "North Star" towards understanding his character and power as John wants to describe and talk about it throughout the book: he is the lamb who was slain.

The fact that Jesus is resurrected with a glorified body that still bears the marks of his crucifixion has been a source of rich meditation throughout the life of the church. And so here, perhaps, we land at our resting place as we think about pain and as we approach Christmas.

Christians worship the Lamb who was slain, the suffering Servant, the Savior who suffers on behalf of and in place of his people. And the marks of his pain and suffering are not erased when he is perfected but rather are a source of endless worship and celebration. Wounds, glorified. Pain that is not erased but rather gathered in with the eternal beauty and wonder and power and purposes of God.

This is, I think, a foreshadowing of what you and I have to look forward to. Our pain will become our beauty. This is the full redemption of Christ--his wounds, his slain-ness, is a part of who he always will be, forever. And so it will be with us. But they will mark us not as ones defeated but as ones who have overcome, who have won, who have been made wholly wonder-full.

Your pain will become your beauty. This has been secured for us through the one who was born in order to bear all our pain, all our grief, all our sin on himself. He came to suffer pain, to gather all pain onto himself and to clear the way to the High Country. All we must do is accept this great gift, and then hang on to the end.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Garden-Variety Pain

Blogging about pain these past couple of days has made me think a good bit about this fall. The past several months both personally and professionally have felt like a jumbled mix of frustrations, disappointments, challenges and obstacles.

Individually, each of these wouldn't have been a huge deal. But put them all together and I'm starting to wonder what the crap God's trying to teach me in all of it.

Today I was journaling out my frustrations and praying angry prayers. I always feel somewhat conflicted when I pray this way. I have so much to be thankful for, shouldn't I just be counting my blessings? It would seem in a world full of pain that mine is only a minor pile of frustrations and disappointments mingled with some legitimate sadness.

This is when James saved me.

The New Testament book of James starts this way:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Trials of many kinds. A pastor of mine in Richmond once taught on this passage and he said the way that trials is being described here in the original text is "garden variety" trials. Any kinds of trials.

So today, I complained to God about my piled-up, weed-laden, garden variety trials. And I confessed that I didn't have the faith or courage or patience to "consider it pure joy." I was just frustrated and over it.

I've learned a ton about perseverance and love and faith from my friends Sam and Daniele as they've cared for their daughter Eliza and mourned her death these last several days. But it's good news that I don't have to have someone close to me die to have trials that rate serious ranting...and that God can redeem for my good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Re: Pain

The other day as I was blogging about how open my friends the Jacksons had been about their struggles with their little girl Eliza, I made this comment:
We hide much of our pain, shame, guilt, and brokenness that needs to be brought out into the light.
I've been thinking about this the past couple of days and I realize that it's clearly a mis-statement. Some of us respond to pain by hiding it. But a quick tour through the blogosphere reveals that this is not always true. There's plenty of pain out there, and plenty of people willing to put it on display.

It seems that there are a couple of equal and opposite errors in regards to how we process our pain. The first is to hide it. The second is to enshrine it. We can become so attached and defined by what the crap has happened to us that our identity can become wrapped up in our pain. I've been hurt, and I'm angry about it, and you can't tell me that I can't be or shouldn't be.

Our tendency towards either of these errors is probably a combination of temperament, culture and family factors.

Jesus encountered people on both ends of the pain-relating spectrum. One woman was so eager to hide that she quickly changed the subject to a politics. One man was so deeply enmeshed in his pain that when Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well he couldn't answer him.

It would seem that the answer to the important question of what will we do with our pain in many ways dictates what kind of human being we become.

And the Christian answer, it would seem, is a combination of activities all designed to free us from pain becoming our Lord and Master: prayer--honest prayer before God, sharing appropriately in community, asking and extending forgiveness where it is needed, repentance where we sin in response to our pain, walking in obedience as the doctor's prescription for the healing of our souls. Pain makes for a terrible life-orientation. It's a life barely lived.

It is very popular currently to say that pain and suffering is "God's Problem." Nothing could be further from the truth. Suffering is our problem. But the good news about the Christmas story is that God has made it his problem. He comes to get us in the middle of our pain to free us from our pain having the last word on us. He comes to free us from a life barely lived.

That's good news, but it requires decisions on our part. What will you do with your pain?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


One last post about this powerful story and this tremendous family and then I'll move on, I promise.

Over the past several days there have been some tremendous things spoken about Eliza's life and her family. The funeral yesterday was tremendous and overflowing with power, love, sorrow, joy, truth, music, laughter, hope.

I can't remember who to attribute what to, so let it be hereby noted that the things rolling around in my head that I quote or paraphrase below are either from David Hyman, associate rector at All Saints Church, Steve Breedlove, senior rector, or my dear brother Sam Jackson, who buried his little girl at 2:00 yesterday afternoon and then an hour later stood up in front of several hundred people and gave the most impassioned, gracious, wonderful 8-minute speech I've ever heard.

*What did Eliza teach us? She taught us to hope for heaven.

Most children we recognize as gifts from above but our hopes for them anchor us more fully on this earth: birthdays and graduations and weddings.

But Eliza had all of those things taken from her at birth. And as her body failed her again and again through constant seizures, we along with her family longed for the day when she would be given a perfect body. Eliza taught us to hope for heaven.

*Eliza needed everything and could give us nothing back. There was no thank you, no hugs, none of the things we customarily associate with a healthy, loving relationship. She just needed and needed and needed.

And for that, we loved her.

What a glorious picture of the love our Father in heaven has for us as his people. We are helpless to do much more than to need: love, direction, saving, help, security, faith, hope. We have little to nothing to offer God. And yet he loves us with an impassioned, makes-no-sense kind of love.

*Eliza is home now. Praise God.

If you'd like to give to defray the medical or funeral costs for Eliza, here's the address:

The Eliza Jackson Fund
Trinity School of Durham and Chapel Hill
4011 Pickett Rd.
Durham NC 27705

Monday, December 15, 2008

Funeral Reflections

It would be natural to do this, but especially in light of how parallel our family's lives are, I've been thinking a lot over the weekend about how our friends have handled the pains and joys of caring for Eliza.

The thing that Kelly and I keep coming back to is how open Sam and Daniele have been throughout this whole process. They have been honest with their faith-shaking pains and struggles and they have been honest about their joys and hopes. They seem to have a clear sense that Eliza was a gift from God and like all his gifts this one was meant to be shared.

In the Christian Story about the universe, all was created good but has been marred by rebellion against the Creator. So for me it comes as no surprise but with a great deal of consternation that our culture hides and goes public with all the wrong things. We hide much of our pain, shame, guilt, and brokenness that needs to be brought out into the light. We flaunt and celebrate our rebellion and mis-spent worship that should have never been at all.

Sam and Daniele had a baby that was not expected to live for longer than a handful of days, then maybe weeks, then maybe months. Instead of circling the wagons and drawing the shades and putting up a giant "No Trespassing" sign, they invited community into their lives.

If real humility is thinking rightly about ourselves, then perhaps this was simply a sign of humility. They knew that they would need the help and support of their community to get through the challenges they were bound to face.

In doing so, hundreds of people have been encouraged by this little girl and her family. Literally. I know because my wife is the point person for the funeral today. All weekend long e-mails and phone calls have poured in. Everyone asking, "what can I do?"

Not all pain should be public. And there are plenty of things about Eliza and the challenges of caring for her that no one will ever know about--nor should they. But these dear and deep and wise and humble and hurting people have been gloriously transparent and generous with their little girl. And that has blessed and challenged many of us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Prayers for Friends

I met Sam Jackson at a sparsely populated park in the fall of 2005, our first fall living in Durham. Our boys were weeks apart. Our wives were both home, pregnant with second children, both girls. They were due a handful of weeks apart. He was attending the same church my brother was at the time. Our boys hit it off. We both loved C.S. Lewis. We exchanged phone numbers.

Many months later, having run into one another perhaps once or twice, we ended up at the same church that they had just recently started attending. Thus began a friendship between two families that has deepened and grown over the past two years. Our little Zoe was just months old. Their little girl, Eliza, was just a few weeks younger, and was not well.

Eliza was born with holes in her brain. This caused uncontrollable seizures. She had basic brain stem function and that was it. She was in a vegetative state. There was little hope that she would live beyond her first week. But she did. They sent her home at ten weeks from the NICU to die. She didn't. Sam and Daniele and Luke loved on her and cared for her and celebrated her through to first birthday. And then, unfathomably, to her second.

The doctors always said that it would be the flu or pneumonia that would probably cause her body to be overworked to the point where it gave up. After nearly three years, that finally happened. Little Eliza Jackson went to be with the Lord today. She is finally free of a body that was never fully functional. Her first steps were in paradise.

Please join me in praying for the Jacksons. While this has been "coming" for nearly three years now, it's still hard, sad, and the grief is heavy.

To read more fully about this tremendous family and how they have labored in faith, hope, and love to care for this little girl, take a look at their blog: dixiejax.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

David's Audacity: Gifts, Calling and Competencies

One of the things that strikes me as I read through the Psalms is David's audacity--see Psalm 18 for an example of what I mean.

I was talking with a friend on Friday who was sharing some thoughts about gifts, competencies, and calling. Someone had challenged him recently to consider what it meant to lean into his spiritual gifts rather than the competencies that had been acquired on top of those gifts. In other words, the power was in the core gift given by the Spirit, not in the techniques or skills that had been learned.

And the spark that sets all this in motion, the person explained, is calling. To know that God has put you in this place, at this time, to do this work frees you to lean into the gifting with boldness and power. Calling is the spark that ignites the gift (and competencies) into effective-beyond-expectation work.

It struck me as I considered this that I think this combination of gifting and clear calling is what frees David up to be so incredibly audacious. He knows that God has called him to be king--there was an incredibly unexpected anointing ceremony in his dad's house. As time goes on, he shows himself to be a gifted leader. And of course he acquires some skills along the way.

It takes years upon years for David to finally realize his place as king. But God had called him. And David leaned into the certainty of that call his whole life.

I think so many people wander from job to job unsure of where to go because of a lack of sense of this calling. Most of us have an inkling of our giftedness, have acquired some competencies or skill sets along the way, but we have no idea about what it is that God would have us to do.

Calling is not just reserved for kings or people in ministry. One could be called to computer programming to military service or to doing a cartoon strip.

Sometimes I think that the Lord leads us through years of wandering before we receive our calling--Moses had a life experience of this sort. Sometimes I think we wander unnecessarily because we don't take the time to listen for the voice of the Lord extending a calling to us. Sometime I think he withholds it from us because he knows that we're not ready to receive it yet.

I think that apart from a faithful combination of gifting, calling and competencies, it is almost impossible to be at peace with the work that we do. It is certainly almost impossible to do it with the power and effectiveness that is intended.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Psalming my Way to Christmas

For the bulk of my college years and the years immediately following, Christmas was met with surprise and alarm at how quickly it passed without much genuine reflection or thought. The day itself was often met with panic--like an unexpected visit from a very important house guest.

So about ten years ago or so I began the habit of turning to the Christmas story in Luke once the calendar turned to December. This helped me to at least recognize that the house guest was on his way, whether I was ready or not.

But this year, my sense was that I needed to not return to Luke but rather stay the course in my read-through -the-Bible-in-just-over-four-years book that last time took me about seven or eight years to get through.

So I'm preparing for Christmas in the Psalms this year. And while it's a little more work to have to think "how does this point me to Christmas" it's been a wonderful place to contemplate how the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of all the promises and needs and desires of our hearts.

Consider these passages from Psalm 17 & 18:
Let my vindication come from you;

Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand

Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down;

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.

He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.

I am particularly drawn to the repeated images of God's rescue of David in the Psalms--the rising up, the coming down, the deliberate movements in response to David's plight.

This seems to sum up quite well what Christmas is all about: God comes to get those who are desperately hemmed in by enemies and/or their own folly. These people are on the brink of death and have no resources in and of themselves to save themselves. David seems to be here often. It would seem from the Biblical account that we are here quite often as well (born in that place, even), though many of us would prefer not to consider this too deeply.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Lewis: Screwtape on Time

Yesterday's post motivated me to dig up C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters to find the passage where he shreds the whole notion of "my" time.

A quick caveat for those who are unfamiliar with the book. It's written as a series of letters from an older uncle demon (Screwtape) to his nephew demon (Wormwood) who is assigned to a man who just became a Christian. Uncle Screwtape's job is to help Wormwood get his man away from God ("the Enemy" as Screwtape calls him).

Here's a chunk of the portion on time:

"Men are not angered by mere misfortune but my misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied...Now you will notice that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him...

They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it has been stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption "My time is my own."

Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possesor of twenty-four hours...what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sabbatical Journey Day 14: Transitioning

Sometimes when I'm really tired and get a good night sleep I'm crankier than I was in my sleep-deprived state. The sleep un-masks how tired I really am.

That was me for most of last week. In my first full week of actual sabbatical (the previous week being Thanksgiving week), I was alternately moody, grumpy, taciturn, checked out and occasionally slightly unpleasant.

I find that when I feel down or out of sorts, the sin that is most recurring is the coveting of my time. I don't want to be generous with "my" time (C.S. Lewis graciously but viciously pulls back the curtain on the whole concept of time being "ours" in Screwtape Letters) when I don't feel like I'm in a settled place.

I think many of us Type-A, slightly over-achiever types have this problem. It probably has something to do with control-freak issues, but that's another post for another day.

It seems that the path to health necessarily goes through this phase. A disturbing number of my students tell me that they like to stay busy because they don't like what comes to the surface when they slow down. Similarly, I don't like to be moody. Left to my own devices, I'd stay busy so that I didn't have to deal with feeling lethargic and weighed down.

But here's the deal: to keep running on a broken leg only exacerbates the problem. I have to work through the grumps to get to the life on the other side.

And the Lord was good to turn things around towards the end of the week. Of course, since he knows me and loves me, the life-line that he tossed me came in the form of community: three tremendous men who contacted me about getting together. It is a humbling and wonderful thing to have real friends.

These conversations seemed unusually rich. Afterward each one a phrase or a word or a piece of the conversation continued to roll around in my head--things that the Lord was trying to show me or wanted me to think about.

And I'm half-way through Lord of the Rings. And I got a Starbucks card in the mail on Saturday from some dear old friends. What more could I possibly ask for?

It's going to be a good sabbatical.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Christmas Music

So I've always loved Christmas music. I get this from my dad, who would start to listen to Christmas music in August if my mother would let him. As it is, we both have adopted Thanksgiving weekend as the official start to Christmas music season.

One thing that I'm recognizing as I listen to Christmas music this week is that more than ever I'm drawn to music that mingles the joy of Christmas with a tone of longing or waiting. "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" has long been one of my favorite Christmas songs. I find myself more than ever longing for music of that ilk.

There seems to be two extreme poles that you could land on during Christmas. On the one hand is a sloppy sentimentalism that glosses over all that's hard or difficult about life or this season in particular. On the other hand is a cynical, nihilistic despair and hopelessness that is equally lazy about engaging all that is good or hopeful about life or this season in particular.

Christian theologians have coined a sweet phrase for the tension that I want to live in during this Christmas season: the already and the not yet. Christmas has already come. Christ has already come, lived, died and rose again. Death and sin and Satan have all been conquered. It is already done.

And yet it is not yet done in terms of our experience of these things. We still wrestle with sin, death, sadness and Satan. Christ has come and he will come again. We live in the time in-between. All the relief and victory that we long to experience has already been secured for us but it has not yet been experienced in all the fullness of joy that we long for.

So I want to live in the already and the not yet this Christmas faithfully, neither lilting towards sentimentalism on the one hand nor hardened cynicism or apathy on the other. There is much to be joyful about: Christ has come! There is much to long for: Christ will come again!

So we celebrate the reality that Christmas is all about the good news of the God who comes to get us. And we also continue to cry out: come, Lord Jesus! And I find that I'm aided in that journey by music that strikes the note of both sides of this coin: the joy of the coming of the Messiah, and the longing for his final return to make all things new, all things well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

About my Nun

So one of the things that I spend most of my days doing on campus is discipling, mentoring, helping students navigate issues of spirituality, dating, leadership, UNC religious studies classes, fantasy football, whatever.

As a student, I had some tremendous IV staff workers who invested in me. It wasn't until about my fourth year out of college that I realized how much I missed having someone older and wiser who talked with me regularly to help me sort through my stuff. I was doing this for students, but didn't have it for myself. I started praying that the Lord would bring someone into my life who might do this for me. But folks like this are tough to come by.

About this time, several IV staff and other folks in ministry that I knew started talking about their nuns. They had recognized this same need in themselves and had somehow gotten connected with a local nun who met with them regularly for spiritual direction. "Where do I get one of those?" I wondered. Is there a Rent-A-Nun place that I could call?

It was actually a couple of years before I found my nun. Doug Stewart is a national InterVarsity spiritual formation guru. He also happened to be in a class I took one summer with InterVarsity. He also happens to be from North Carolina and has a soft spot for all things Tar Heel. He is old and wise in the Lord and in ministry. He is also an extrovert who also has a deep spiritual life--something that I was despairing of ever finding.

So Doug and I have talked about monthly for nearly five years now. I am spoiled to have such a tremendous resource speaking into my life. He is my official sabbatical supervisor, which means that our interactions will be more frequent over the next three and a half months. I'm booking a visit to see him later this winter. There are few reasons why I would travel to Chicago in the winter. Doug is one.

We talked yesterday. He spoke wisdom (as he always does)--this time about my sabbatical: Take the first month to unwind. Read a fun book. Don't try to do too much or be too intense to start with. Just enjoy the Lord. We'll do more soul-work later. Enjoy Christmas and your kids. Start to exercise, it will help release some of the anxiety you carry around in your body and soul. Go Heels.

Thanks goodness for my nun.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sabbatical Journey Day 10: Automechanic Spirituality

So my car has barely started at every start-up for about two months now. Literally, every time I started it I wondered if it was going to be the last time it would start. It kept starting, so I kept putting off taking it into the shop.

But sabbatical is a time when I'm cleaning out my to-do list. I went to DMV on Monday and renewed my driver's license--which I expected to eat up the next three and a half months of my sabbatical but surprisingly only took twenty minutes. Buoyed by such an expected gift, I took the car in today and had them look at it.

They called me an hour after I dropped it off. The battery, they reported, was so low on juice that they were surprised that it had started for me this morning. "A lawnmower takes more juice to get started than what you had left in your battery," Chris said at Auto-Pro-to-Call.

Given that it's been barely-starting for two months, I've wondered how long it's been that low.

It strikes me that I'm as inclined to keep running my car as I am to keep running myself. As long as the car starts, I'm not all that interested in addressing the fact that it sounds iffy. As long as I can get up out of bed each day, I'm generally not all that inclined to stop and tend to my soul.

This sabbatical pit-stop for me is really about paying attention to the noises of my soul and re-charging. It's not as quick and easy as swapping out a battery. But for that I'm strangely thankful today.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hosea's Prayer

I just finished the Old Testament book of Hosea. The first couple chapters are most famous--that's where God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute as a metaphor for how his relationship with his people has degenerated.

Over the next several chapters, God lays out his case against his people with warnings as to the consequences to come should they not repent.

But in the final chapter (Hosea 14), God through Hosea gives the people of Israel (who have forgotten him and hence have forgotten how to pray) a great prayer of repentance to pray:
Return, Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!

Take words with you
and return to the LORD.
Say to him:
"Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.

Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say 'Our gods'
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion."

This is a tremendous prayer, worth making your own. First, the invitation: to return to God and recognize that our sins have been our downfall.

Secondly, for those of us who have a hard time speaking honestly about what we've done and where we've been wrong, the Scripture here generously offers us some words, a scaffolding to build a prayer around.

We ask for forgiveness. We ask to be welcomed back into his family, into his presence. We offer to him our mis-spent worship--this re-routing of our worship away from all the wrong things towards the God we were made to worship.

And in the final stanza, a tremendous chance for us to get specific. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war horses. We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our hands have made.

Here, you might insert what you look to for importance, significance, salvation: your financial situation (many are recently realizing the impossibility of salvation found in Wall Street), your GPA, your gifts or abilities or intelligence or friendships or rabid independence or whatever. We don't build wooden idols with our hands in our culture, but we certainly have no shortage of attempts at creating our own gods.

And lastly, all of this is offered up to the God who's character is affirmed in the final line: in you the fatherless find compassion. This is the God who's family we're being grafted into through this prayer. In a world full of broken families, God has compassion on the fatherless, the motherless, the ones who come from dysfunction, abuse, brokenness. We are invited into a community, a family, that is whole and wholly good and wholly for our good.

This is repentance: re-aligning ourselves with the realities of who we are, who God is, and being honest about where and how we have turned away from him; all of this for the purpose of being restored into his family, into the Relationship we were made for.

Monday, December 01, 2008

NIght Driving

Something magical about being a kid and driving at night, isn't there? Usually you're up past your bed time, driving to or from somewhere wonderful. The car has a glorious, rhythmic hum to it. Lights and cars and trucks go by. You're safe and warm and drowsy and all is right with the world.

I think that there's something that points to what true faith looks like in the trust that a child has in their parents as they sleep in the back seat of a car at night.

So we left from Cheasapeake, Va, home of Kelly's parents (a.k.a. Nanny and Grampy) on Saturday night in order to beat the traffic rush on I-85. There were ten miles of single-lane misery waiting for all us I-85 travelers just south of South Hill, and we knew that if we waited until Sunday we'd be stuck in some seriously snarled traffic.

As we passed through rural southeastern Virginia, I caught a glimpse of a guy sweeping up in a laundromat. I instinctively felt pity. What kind of life is it to be sweeping up in the laundromat in Lacrosse, Va, at 8:30 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving?

All my worldview tells me that by virtue of my educational opportunities, my travels, my life experiences, my work, and my general socio-economic status, I have a vastly superior life as compared to anyone who would be sweeping up at a laundromat at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening in Lacrosse, Virginia.

But as I've thought about this further, I've realized that I must not be too hasty. Quality of life is a tricky thing to measure and snapshots seldom tell the whole story. Moses, David and Jesus all spent long years doing menial tasks. And many today who live much more richly than I do by financial standards live much more poorly than I do in terms of the quality of life.

So I think my job is to bless the guy at the laundromat. I need to do what I can to ensure that there's opportunity for people in our country to pursue education and jobs that they enjoy. And in my matrix of what that looks like, there has to be room to include sweeping up the laundromat--even as I think that I'd feel better about that if he was cleaning up the laundromat that he owned and not for someone else.