Last summer I gave an interview to a writer from Faith Today on the topic of lament. The resulting article is out, and well worth a read. Enjoy! Faith Today: Joy in Lament
I was going to post some resolutions for this year, but I decided I liked my friend Corrie’s resolutions so much, I would steal them for myself. Enjoy!
In the past two weeks I’ve moved away from Hawaii, celebrated Christmas in Phoenix, bought a car and moved to California. It’s been 11 days of constant motion, packing and unpacking, traffic, goodbyes and hellos. So yesterday I took my Sabbath and went out exploring with no particular agenda. I ended up at the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen and bought a latte. As I waited for my coffee, I noticed that every single person filling the twenty-odd tables had some kind of screen in front of them. People were sharing tables but no one was talking, making eye-contact, or smiling. It struck me as odd, for a room to be so full but so devoid of life.
I grabbed my latte and went to sit outside in the sunshine. For thirty minutes I watched the parking lot bustle with activity. Drivers zoomed in and out of parking spaces with…
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Today is New Year’s Eve, although I prefer to think of it as Old Year’s End. Our culture glorifies the new, worshipping the latest trend, the vigor of youth, the newest products. We start forming our “resolutions” for the New Year and eagerly look ahead to what’s next… what’s new. We are urged to leave the old behind us–to forget and move on.
In the words of the Counting Crows, its been “A long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”
The word resolution has come to mean, at this time of year, “the act of determining” (thanks Webster). And I will think – tomorrow – about what I determine to add or take away from my life. Good habits I’m determined to form. Bad habits I’m determined to expunge. I think it’s a good practice, as long as we don’t treat it as a complete make-over. As long as we are realistic and care-full and kind with ourselves. (More about that – if I have time – tomorrow.)
Today, however, I want to take a moment to think about the year past. Because the word resolution is also about answering, about “solving again.” There is a cyclical reconsidering implied, and its etymology carries connotations of loosening and releasing. And there are things I need to answer for myself about this year. Things I need to loosen and release.
2014 was a good year in many ways. I am so happy with my new job at Columbia Bible College. It’s such a good fit for me and we have enjoyed reconnecting with our BC friends (and having a book budget!). But leaving Bon Accord has meant that we left a tight church community, that we no longer live in the vicinity of my family, and that my husband is currently unemployed. There is deep sadness in all of these things. Sadness that I need to take time over. There was also a release, in 2014, of our struggle with infertility. That is something I will need to reprocess, rethink, “resolve,” every year, I think, before I can dive into the next one. I need to ask again the question of how one fulfills a calling to parenthood without the gift of children. 2014 was also a year that brought joy and extreme sorrow and pain to some of our family and friends. Those joys and griefs are weighty – and as such they, too, deserve my time and reflection. I need to answer, to solve the question of how the good and the bad of this year have/will change me. Of how to loosen and release those joys and sorrow – not to forget or to “move on” – but to see them as a part of myself that I can carry forward rather than a weight that pulls backward. I need to loosen my self-concern and consider how to lift my head to care for my community. I need to pursue the question of how to continue to grieve and celebrate well – for myself and with others.
So today – as the old year fades away – maybe take a quiet moment to yourself to reflect on 2014. To pray. To resolve. To loosen and release any chokeholds. To ask the Spirit some of the burning questions the year has raised. To listen for God’s answer, however hard it is to understand.
Then raise a glass to the joy and sorrow – toast the old year, in all its spotted-glory, before you ring in the new.
I hate watching TV at this time of year.
Too many perfect families (mom, dad, 2 kids, a dog) gathered around a perfect table… or in front of a perfect tree… finding each other the perfect gifts… lighting up with the prefect reactions….
And if anything does go wrong it goes adorably wrong. So the dog knocks over the Christmas tree, and everyone laughs and laughs (while looking at each other creepily)—and no one actually has to go over and clean up the mess. No one throws the dog outside and slams the door unnecessarily loudly or swears when they step on a broken ornament.
So we turn off the commercials and we head out to find that perfect gift, we buy all the perfect decorations, we try to perfect-up our families a little…
But it never really works, does it. We never get that “Christmas card” Christmas. Even if we do enjoy Christmas (and I do!), the warm fuzzies never quite live up to expectation.
Instead, we’re faced with reality: exams; papers to mark; families that are broken, falling apart, or simply not very perfect; wallets that aren’t quite as thick as they need to be to buy those perfect gifts; trips home that somehow never achieve that peace and rest we crave; Christmas pageants that involve bowling balls thundering across the stage of the church (sorry… inside Columbia Bible College joke).
But here’s the thing. We present these pageants—kids in bathrobes with tea towels on their heads, pillow-stuffed Marys, adorably grumpy inn-keepers—and, much as I love those pageants, we’re glossing over reality just like Christmas commercials do. We’re striving for our own version of perfection.
I guarantee you that no one sang the gentle strains of Silent Night as Mary sweated and strained in childbirth. And she did not receive into her arms a clean, contented, sleeping child. What baby sleeps through the birth canal? From what I’ve heard, they ALL come out crying.
And the stable—most likely a cave—would not have been as warmly and cozily straw-lined as we imagine. And there would have been poop. A LOT of poop.
And Mary was young. And her pregnancy made people stare and whisper and shun her.
This. THIS is how a king—no THE KING enters the world. Not in the perfection of a palace, with servants to wait on him and perfumed water to wash the indignity of birth-goo from his skin.
Not our God.
With noise and mess and stink—he entered our world. Screaming his little heart out. He entered our world.
And still he enters our mess and our noise. He enters our exams and the stacks of papers we have to mark. He enters our screwed-up families and our empty wallets.
Every year, quietly, without fanfare, without twinkle lights, tinsel, or gift wrap—he enters our imperfect Christmas.
He enters our imperfection and makes it his own. Takes it upon himself. And gives us instead his deeper, wider, higher vision of perfection.
“From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee…..”
So… let me give you permission for a few things:
This Christmas, you have permission to be tired sometimes, and not up for visiting with every relative and friend on the face of the planet.
You have permission to NOT buy the “perfect” gift for every family member and friend. Give coupon books of hugs. Make people use them.
You have permission to NOT look at Pinterest—not once. Not even a tiny peak to see what type of Christmas scent should be bubbling away on your stove. Nobody wants to smell your orange peels, cranberry, and vanilla anyway. In fact, forget about Facebook and Instagram too. No one is having the type of Christmas they say they are on social media. Not even you. Put it away.
You have permission to spend time with people rather than spend time getting things right. Go for walks. Let people help, rather than feeling like you have to pull everything together yourself. Some of my best memories involve visiting over a sink full of dirty dishes.
You have permission to hide away when you need to. Re-read a favourite book. Take a bath. Dig out some old music and re-enjoy it. Lock your door for an hour or two.
This Christmas, you have permission to NOT exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in—they will be small—and they will not look like our version of perfect.
This Christmas, you have permission to not be perfect. Or to have a perfect Christmas. Find a quiet space. Light a candle. And take time to read again the story of the God-baby. Who came to earth in dirt, and pain, and noise. Close your eyes and give Christ permission to enter the imperfection—to enter your mess and teach you a new way of being fully human.
Have yourself a merry, imperfect Christmas!
I am pleased to announce that I have accepted a position at Columbia Bible College, in Abbotsford, BC, as the Director of their Worship Arts Program. I am delighted with this opportunity, and have been nothing but impressed by Columbia: by its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students, its programs. I’m excited to begin teaching. And I’m terrified. In almost equal measure.
When I was in elementary school I was one of those kids that looked forward to school in the fall. Oh, I loved summer. No doubt about that. But my nostrils would flare at the smell of pencil crayons, and I would spend weeks salivating over back-to-school flyers – meticulously making my lists, marking off the cheapest prices, and then dragging my poor Mum to at least five different locations in order to purchase the items I had circled carefully in each and every flyer. But, every year – just before the start of school – the twinge of anxiety would begin. “There’s no way I can handle grade four. They have to do multiplication and division. They don’t just colour maps… they have to know things on them!” It’s a pattern that continued, at least somewhat, throughout my academic career. “I can’t do High School. They have to read Shakespeare!” “I can’t do University. They have to write papers and complete labs!” I can’t do Grad School. They’ll actually expect me to know things!”…..
We often miss the point of education. We get so caught up in the idea that we must know all things, that we must be “enough” for every aspect of our lives, that we are no longer able to learn. We either decide that we must pretend to know everything in order to appear smart, or that we are incapable of knowing anything more because we do not know it already. Both decisions are clearly ridiculous. Both decisions result in a closed mind and stilted personal growth. The only way to learn something is to begin by acknowledging that I don’t know it, and to proceed on the understanding that I am capable of learning it.
I don’t know the demographics of everyone who reads this blog, but I do know that every single one of you is a student. And a teacher. All of us – students, teachers, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers – have something to learn and something to teach. We reach a hand forward and a hand backward at all times, hoping to pull someone else along behind us, even as some of our weight is taken by the person ahead of us.
There is a certain delight in being able to teach someone something you have learned well: whether it be a concept, a skill, or an attitude. There is also joy in the admission that you don’t know everything – because that means there is more out there to discover. And I definitely don’t know everything. I know some things. I have some experience. But the diversity and richness of this goodly-created world means that we can exist in a constant state of wonder and learning.
Tomorrow I step onto the steepest learning curve my life has thrown me to date. But I enter into this new chapter knowing that I have much to give and that there are people who will be willing to receive it; and knowing that I have lots to learn and that there are people – staff, faculty, students, writers, practitioners – from whom I can learn much.
I think I’ll go buy some pencil crayons.
Lord, God – how long?
How long must we bear the taint of sin
That sucks and pulls at our humanity?
Suffering God, hear the cry of your people in Iraq and Syria!
In your name ISIS butchers.
In your name ISIS tortures children.
In your name ISIS rapes and steals and murders.
Lord come quickly to uphold your name.
Reveal to the blinded their own actions.
Bring them to their knees with weeping.
Unveil to them the depth of their evil.
Turn them from darkness before they are lost.
You are the living water – bring water to the thirsty.
You are the bread of life – bring food to the hungry.
You are the good shepherd – guide the escape of the fleeing.
You are the true vine – provide community for the wandering.
You are the light of the world – give clear vision to those who lead.
You are the gate – provide safe haven for those in danger.
You are the resurrection and the life – give hope to the dying.
You are the way, the truth, and the life –provide a future for the destitute.
For you have not despised the suffering of the afflicted ones.
You feel every cut of the knife.
You share their agony.
You share their fear.
You share their weeping.
You share their hunger and thirst.
You share their poverty and displacement.
Lord Jesus, come quickly to help them.
Lamb of God, hear their cry.
And for us, who are distant:
Keep us from complacency.
Help us to not be overwhelmed into inactivity
By the size of this struggle.
Open our eyes to what we can do.
Teach us to pray.
Teach us to use our resources wisely.
Keep our hearts broken.
Keep our eyes wet with tears.
Come, Lord Jesus,
come quickly.Thank you for taking the time to pray. If you want to explore other options for action, consider writing a letter to your local politician asking for political action in this situation – including the offering of asylum to refugees. Or participate in an international day of prayer and fasting on Wednesday, August 15th (link below). Also consider supporting one of the organizations (listed below) doing good relief and reconciliation work in Iraq and Syria.
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East: http://frrme.org/
Iraq Refugee Crisis: http://www.gofundme.com/iraq-refugee-crisis
Canadians can sign this petition to urge their government toward action.
This is a good interview that puts some things in perspective: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/07/25/wearen-media-misses-iraqi-christian-persecution/
Support the persecuted church: http://info.persecution.org/iraqi-crisis/Please feel free to suggest additional organizations in the comments.
You are a joyful God, and you invite us to share in your joy.
Forgive us, Jesus, for we have preferred sorrow to joy. Forgive us for focusing on our failures, on the things we don’t have, on the things that have not gone as we wanted or expected – and so failing to recognize your blessing. Forgive us for seeking individual happiness over and above the joy we find only in you, and in the community you have formed for us. Thank you for the great gift of your Son, for his life, for his offer to share in his joy through the power of the Spirit and in concert with his church. Spirit, teach us how to live fully within the joy of Christ. Help us to enjoy each other, and your good creation, as you intended us to. Thank you, once again, for your wonderful, sacrificial gift that fuels our everlasting joy.
Sung Response: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)
Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God. You are raised, with Christ, to eternal life!
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.