Killing the Power Play – Lessons from World Vision and Church History

gotta kill the power play

It’s been over week now since World Vision acted, the Evangelical world reacted, and hundreds of us wrote about it.  This morning, I’m enjoying some coffee and reading John 9, which is a story about a blind guy Jesus heals with spit and mud on some random Saturday.   This leads to some intense questioning and right there in the middle of it all we read this:

Then some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not observe the Sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs and miracles?”  So there was a difference among them

People who are experts in knowing the text, when confronted with a real life situation, have differing ideas regarding the proper interpretation.  Imagine that!  It certainly won’t be the last time people disagree about what it means to live faithfully.  Circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols, observance of “a day” devoted to worship will all become issues, just in the first decades of the New Testament.

As church history unfolds, the number of issues about which people who share the same faith in Christ disagree will multiply exponentially:  working in theater, working for the military, the ownership and/or use of weapons, the deity and humanity of Christ, the nature and meaning of the priesthood, the meaning of communion, the permanence or passing nature of miraculous signs in the Bible, women in ministry, divorce and remarriage, the weighted balance of calls to justice vs calls to personal pious morality, whether translate the Bible into common tongue, and once that was decided, which translation is better – and I’m just getting started.

Our sadness and shock regarding events surrounding World Vision last week say as much about our collective amnesia as they do about the state of Christianity.  There really is nothing new under the sun, including the way people have reacted, including accusations and withdrawal.

There’s surely a time for both of these things.  We look back in horror at the church’s collective silence in Germany, or the failure of the Southern Baptists to apologize for racism until the 1990s.  While the majority went one direction, in both these cases there were minorities that actively resisted the trend lines, and withdrew from the prevailing tide of culture.  Bonhoeffer both spoke out against the Reich and began an underground seminary.  There’s a time to quit fighting and simply seek to gather with like minded people, out there on the margins.

Is this such a time?  Rachel Evans seems to think so.  She writes:   “I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change”  and this is a good thing because forcing culture change has never been our calling.  We’ve always been called to offer an alternative to the prevailing winds of culture, not force culture change.

I don’t think the church gets this right very often because starting with Constantine, the threads of power have been tightly bound with threads of piety, and the results have been ugly, not just in recent history, but for about 1800 years now.   Crusades, Inquisitions, and the boycotting of Disney and Starbucks are all the same iterations of bringing power to bear on people in hopes of changing their view of truth.  Last week, though, it was this same tactic applied to people who share the same mission, as some Christians called for withdrawing financial support for World Vision in protest over a shift in HR policy regarding gay married couples.  Two days later they reversed their decision, leading at least some people I know to withdraw their support over the reversal.  I’m stunned that the same people offended by such tactics when the right invoked them against WV turned around and used them against WV when the shoe was suddenly on the other foot.  It’s loud.  It’s ugly.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s evangelical Christianity in the 21st century.

If you want to leave, there are plenty of places to go.  The Catholics have the coolest Pope ever, but they still forbid same sex unions, keep women out of leadership, and frown on birth control.  The Eastern Orthodox church has a marvelous creation theology, and a compelling view of the atonement, but they tend to think they’re the only ones with the truth (a kind of a “fundamentalism with incense”).  House church?  If it’s healthy it’ll grow and then you’ll need structure and kid care, and who makes these decisions?  No church?  It’s an option, but scripture’s clearer about gathering together regularly and living lives of interdependence in community as a testimony of loving each other than it is about nearly any other subject.  What should we do?

I’m about to write that we need to stop marginalizing people, and I can already hear the comments about how churches do exactly that when they draw lines.  But the reality is that every organization in the world stands for something, and when you stand for something, you draw a line, and when you draw a line there are outsiders.  So, we need to see that churches either have standards or they don’t stand for anything.   The question on the table is what do you do when an organization with which you’re affiliated, either through attendance or support, when you or someone you love is over there on the wrong side of the line on some issue?

 What then? 

Stay or go isn’t, in my estimation, the most important matter.  There are people in the church I lead who’ve done both very well, in spite of disagreements on some matters of faith and practice.  What matters most is that it’s high time to “kill the power play” (a hockey metaphor for my Canadian and Bostonian friends).  A British friend, long since passed away, shared a story with me once about a pastor in London.  He was intent on recovering a “true church” and was, by most counts, a brilliant bible teacher with a real capacity to see truth and communicate it with clarity. The trouble was that he saw things, in his own estimation, with such clarity, that he realized nobody saw the real truth except him.  He died only willing to take communion with himself, a tragic irony given the fact that communion is intended to be a testimony of our shared life in Christ.

And therein lies the problem with withdrawing.  Rachel writes about how great it would be to “focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion

Yes, it would be great.  But of course, there are theistic evolutionists who don’t favor gay marriage, or women in ministry.   What happens when that woman speaks in your new community, or isn’t allowed to?   -  because the reality is that if you’re now a community, you don’t have the luxury of not deciding – either woman speak or they don’t.   We don’t all agree on everything, and my British friend reminds me that when that’s the goal, we’ll end up dining, and worshiping, and bowling, alone.  That’s why the most important thing isn’t being in or out, it’s killing the power play.  Kill the notion that you’ll force change by exercising power!

What does that mean?  It means I need to stand with Rachel and everyone else by putting an end to the notion that our calling is to “force a culture to change” through boycotts, marginalization, and labeling.  It’s time we recognize that Jesus’ people have never agreed on anything, except that he rose from the dead.  This doesn’t mean an end to all discussion and spirited debate.   It doesn’t mean and end to communities and leaders needing to exercise spiritual authority and seek to uphold the faith with humility and courage.  It does mean an end to attempts at making other faith based organizations conform to my exact view of the faith, and rallying the troops to punish them when they fail to conform.

What does this look like in practice?   I think the best answer I can find is written by a former WV employee who is also gay (anonymous for obvious reasons)  Here’s what he writes in response to the decision and its subsequent reversal:

I am disappointed. I feel defeated. 

When it comes down to it, I understand the reasons behind the final decision – donor money makes things happen, and many donors didn’t agree with the policy change. My brain gets it, but my heart feels crushed.

It hurts to think that I could be turned away from my “dream job” at one of the best companies in my industry, not because of a lack of skill or education, but because of who I love and my self-expression.

… I feel all the emotions. Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Shock. Confusion.

But beyond all of these, I feel love

I think of the millions of lives impacted for good. The children who have been fed and given an education. The parents who have received micro loans and given support for their families. This reminds me of why I love WV.

I think about the countless conversations I’ve had with people about the incredible work World Vision does. The feeling of excitement I get in my stomach when I explain the brilliant approaches WV has made for economic and community development around the globe. I still believe strongly that World Vision is one of the most effective development agencies operating today. This reminds me of why I love WV.

I think of my former coworkers and the relationships I’ve formed through World Vision. Several of my dearest friendships were established there. These are the people who have strengthened my skills, taken a chance on me, and challenged me to grow professionally and as an individual. These are also the friends who have been so supportive during my coming out process. This reminds me of why I love WV.

And so as I prepare for my meeting at World Vision (as an independent contractor not subject to WV’s employment standards), after hearing that individuals in same-sex marriages will still not be employed by WV, I am full of love.

Because love comes first, and the rest will follow. Because love is louder than hate. Even if hate has a louder bullhorn.

 

 

 

 

 

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Response to World Vision defies Physics: Church’s REACTION is bigger than WV’s action, and sad

I took physics in college as an architecture student, and learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Likely true in the world of matter, but this week evangelicals managed to prove that Newton’s law bears no resemblance to realities when it comes to the ugly science of ecclesiology, which is ostensibly the study of the church, but often in reality is the study of how humanity has messed with the church by taking the beautiful mystery of Christ’s bride and body and adding it’s own sorry cocktail of arrogance, violence, indulgence, often baptized in God language and waiving the flag of Jesus.  The results down through history have not been pretty.  Papal power grabs.  The thirty years war.  Ugly admixtures of church and state.  Crusades.  Colonization and land grabs.  Catholics hating on Martin Luther.  Martin Luther hating on the Anabaptists of the radical reformation, and so it goes.

You’d think we’d maybe have learned something, and I still hope some of us have.  But the responses surrounding this week’s World Vision declaration is a sorry reminder that we have o so very far to go before we show the world the character of Jesus through our collective organizations and institutions.  For the three of you who are unaware,  World Vision has decided to “hire gay Christians (who are) in same-sex marriages“.   In an attempt to avoid an outpouring of vitriol at the hands of fellow Christians, and to clarify his position, Stearns said:

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there. This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support….We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us. This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”

This makes perfect sense and is in keeping with World Vision’s “non ruling” on other potentially divisive issues, such as baptism, divorce and remarriage, and the ordination of women.  Their mission is to care for the poor of the world and to do so in Jesus name, and they ask their employees to subscribe to the historic faith articulated in the apostle’s creed.  There are people who subscribe to the creed who land on both sides of numerous theological practices; pacifism and war, alcohol use, and all the issues listed above.  World Vision has created a big tent, where Christ followers from different faith traditions can focus on their mission to serve the poor and vulnerable of the world, because Jesus does that.

If the action of declaring that WV will hire gay married Christians was tantamount to tossing a snowball, the reaction of the church at large has been nothing short of an avalanche; disproportionate, and filled with destructive power.  Franklin Graham declares that “it’s obvious World Vision doesn’t believe the Bible”.  WV can, in Graham’s mind, not have a position on any of the faith practice issues listed above, accepting into their fold the divorced, the indebted, the teetotalers and drinkers, those with patriarchal views and the egalitarianists, without any problem.  But not having a position on this single issue suddenly makes them, in a sweeping condemnation, an organization that doesn’t believe the Bible.   Denny Burke of the Southern Baptists tweets “Good bye World Vision”.   Some pastors are encouraging their congregants to cancel child sponsorships in protest.  Boom!  An avalanche of protest is directed at WV right now, reminiscent of the hundreds of other notable doctrine wars among Christians that make us look more like fighting political parties than Jesus.  Meanwhile, the words of Jesus about us being known by our love for one another and our unity recede to the background as, somehow, we collectively show the world that its more important to argue, accuse, and boycott, than serve.

The point I’d like to make isn’t about gay marriage.  It’s about how we treat each other as Christ followers.  And here’s what we might consider:

I.  We all have convictions – and we’re all Learning

We pastors need to make rulings on things like divorce and remarriage, and whether or not women can be pastors, and whether or not we should offer sanction to a same sex wedding by performing it.  We who lead in churches might not even want to land on certain positions, but we don’t have that luxury.  Either woman can be pastors or they can’t in some given setting.  This forces us to shape our convictions on various issues, and as a result, we hold those convictions, and uphold those convictions.

And yet, I don’t think I’m the only one who has changed my view on this or that ethical issue over the years.  My changes have come through careful study, prayerful consideration, conversation, and consideration of an issue within the larger context of a faith community.  The fact that I’ve changed on this, and not on that, means that my understanding of my faith is continuing to grow, even while I live out my convictions.

I need convictions, and the courage to uphold them.  But I also need the humility to recognize that, though I have good reasons for my convictions, there are people on the other side of an issue who also have good reasons for their convictions.  They serve in a different part of Christ’s body, where they have the freedom to live out their convictions, even as I have freedom to live out mine.

There should be a way, though, to express our differences without the indicting weight of accusation dividing Christ followers again and again.  World Vision isn’t even saying they have a position on the issue of gay marriage, which is their prerogative since they don’t do weddings (though I, as a pastor, don’t have that same prerogative).  In spite of this, the word rolls out, from other faith organizations, that WV “no longer believes the Bible”.

It’s one thing to say, “I disagree with you on this single issue… and here’s why.”  It’s another to hold up your single issue as evidence that you’re a heretic and that you don’t believe anything the Bible has to say.  WOW!  I thought we were beyond that.

II.  Because we’re all learning – we should dialogue

The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron, and it’s a metaphor of the healthy friction of disagreement which, in its best iterations will lead to greater fellowship and eventually, more clarity with respect to matters of faith and practice.  This can only happen in an environment where we drop our accusatory tone and verbal weapons, instead beginning with the notion that this other with whom we are speaking loves Christ as we do, in spite of our differences on a particular issue.  When this happens, we’re challenged, frustrated, enlightened, and even if we don’t change our view a single inch, informed.

The early church wrestled with all kinds of issues and Paul seemed to indicate that there would be room for disagreement on some things without calling another’s faith into question, or worse, presuming that the other has lost his/her faith completely.  There’s an example here, and another here.  In both instances, Paul calls for grace and love to rule the day.  Of course, it’s equally true that the early church came into clarity on various ethical issues and drew a line in the sand.  You don’t sleep with your step-mom, for example, and expect the church to be OK with it. You don’t treat sex as just another appetite, like food.  That misrepresents sexuality utterly.  But holding slaves?  Letting woman speak in church? Allowing a divorced and remarried person to serve in the church?  Whether the earth is six thousand years old or 14 billion year old?   Can you at least see that, in all these cases, there are two views – and people on both sides believe in the resurrection and in Jesus as the way, truth, and life.  This should create an environment of robust and healthy dialogue, but our insecurities and combative natures creep in instead, creating embarrassing discord.

We’d do well to repent, collectively, for this kind of arrogant divisiveness.

III.  Because we’re all learning -  both sides need to offer grace

I’m so very tired of hearing from the left that those who won’t perform same sex weddings are bigots and haters, tantamount to abusive slave owners of the 19th century.  Can you grant the possibility that they’re trying to be faithful to revealed scripture, even if you don’t agree with their conclusions?  I’m equally tired of the right presuming that all who have said yes to same sex unions aren’t just making what they view is a misinformed decision on a single issue.  They are utter heretics.  Can you not grant that they too might be rooted in a desire to be faithful to what God’s revealed even if you don’t agree with them?

The early churches in Corinth and Galatia couldn’t be more different than each other.  Gentile vs. Jewish.  Cosmopolitan vs. somewhat provincial.  Liberal vs. Legalistic.  Both needed correction.  Both missed the mark.  Both received corrective words from Paul.  But what’s most striking to me is that Paul asked the liberal, cosmopolitan, Gentile Corinthians to take an offering for the legalistic provincial Galatian church.  Instead of tweeting “good bye Corinth” Paul begged them to share fellowship, because after all, they loved the same Jesus, worshiped the same God.

Instead, today people are cancelling sponsorships to World Vision because of their “non ruling” on gay marriage.  A snowball gets buried by an avalanche.

If you simply must know my view on gay marriage, I’ve written about it elsewhere, but as I said at the outset, this isn’t a post about homosexuality; it’s about how we’re killing each other and our testimony through our inability to love each and disagree charitably.  I stopped writing about homosexuality because my words were taken out of context and the comments people offered were so hateful that made me sick.

In conclusion:

I believe there’s one right view on every ethical issue – God’s view, not mine.

In the meantime, until I know everything perfectly, I’ll preach Christ, live out the convictions I have, and seek to disagree charitably with those whose view is different than mine.  And, because my sponsored child in Albania just wants to keep going to school so she can move out of poverty, I’ll keep sponsoring her.

 

 

 

 

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This one weird trick will change your life: Slow Down

The tree in the backyard is growing, relentlessly, powerfully, and slowly.

Our children are growing, as we do too, slowly; imperceptibly every day.

The meat in the crock pot is tenderizing; slowly.

Our world, very much alive and changing all the time, is changing slowly.

Slow, it seems, is most natural, most of the time.  And yet we lust for speed.

We look for quick fixes to relationship issues, addictions, fears and anxieties, intimacy with Christ, weight loss, studying for tests, and o so much more.  Hucksters over promise on quick transformation  (six minute abs anyone?), have been doing so for centuries, and succeed because there’s always a market for “instant”.   Lately though, I’ve learned once again, that the way of Christ followers is utterly other than that – it’s SLOW.

I’m planning a big long hike this summer, over 400 miles, with over 100,000 feet of elevation gain, and in preparation I’ve been trying to fix some injuries.  My strategy though, of resting until I feel no pain, and then getting back at it with 150 calf raises, and running stairs in a weighted backpack, hasn’t been working.  Every attempted return to activity has sent me limping home, frustrated and angry.  “They say ‘stay active as you age!’” I rant to my wife, “but they don’t tell you that when you try to, you’ll get hurt… every – single – time.”

It was during my most recent period of forced convalescence that I discovered a word I’d not encountered before:  SLOW.  The author suggested that the best thing to do after an injury is to let your jogging pace be bound by two limits:  your heart rate, and your pain.  He suggested running in minimalist shoes so that, if there was something wrong, you’d get feedback from your body earlier rather than later enabling you to adjust or stop, letting your pain be your guide.  He also suggested using a heart rate monitor and staying, relentlessly, at the low end of the aerobic zone for your age.

All right then.  With toe shoes and pulse watch, I set off, striding lightly and slowly.  Quickly, my pulse is out of bounds, so I slow down further still.  I’m on the path by the lake, “running” but not really, more like “jogging”.  No, that’s not right either.  It’s just a cut above a brisk walk, and I feel fragile and weak as all who aren’t walking pass me as if I’m standing still!  I see people from the church I lead and they wave and smile kindly, as I do when I see senior citizens courageously walking the lake.  I’m frustrated because I know that I could run faster.

But recently, running faster hasn’t been good for me, so I stick with the plan, refusing to let my pulse rise above 140.  After 28 minutes, I’m home.  The pace is embarrassingly slow on my little exercise phone app, and I fear someone will find my phone and post the data on facebook.  I ponder deleting it, but determine to run the same route two days later, keeping my heart in the same zone, just to see if my pace would quicken a bit.  It did.  So I did it again, and again, again.

I’m still running, faster every time, and injury free, as I stay in the zone and slowly, slowly, slowly, add distance.  I don’t feel the changes, day to day, workout to workout, but I know they’re happening because of that nifty app on my phone!

Of course, this isn’t ultimately about running, or hiking.  It’s about the true nature of the path to which each of us are called; the path of transformation.  Paul says that we’re called to look towards Christ, soaking in his glory and learning to enjoy intimacy with him.  This in itself is a practice which takes time to develop and countless Christ followers, if honest, would say they have little or no enjoyment of intimacy with Christ as a reality.  One reason for this is because we have this sickly “cost/benefit analysis” mentality whereby we assess the value of our activities solely based on whether they yield immediate fruit.  So we try a little Bible reading, maybe light a candle and read a prayer – but our minds wander.  It’s challenging to meet with Jesus because he’s Mr. Invisible and we’re not sure, at the level of our deepest selves, whether we’re even meeting with anyone.  So, after a little while, we ditch the effort.  Cross-fit’s more measurable, clearly a better investment of our free time.

The problem is that meeting with Jesus is like meeting with anyone.  It takes effort to carve out the time, and no single encounter, any more than a single run, or cross fit workout, is necessarily meaningful or measurable.  Like romance, or practicing the violin, meeting with Jesus is sometimes profound, sometimes painful, sometimes boring. sometimes enchanting.  And just like romance and the violin, it gets better with time.   The ones who quit too soon don’t know what they’re missing.  They think the problem is the practice, or their skill level – but the problem is impatience.  Keep showing up and good things will happen….slowly.

The transformation we’re promised is “from glory to glory” and the language implies that the change is imperceptible because it’s slow.  To the extent that we’re concerned with “how we’re doing” we’ll become mindful of our shortcomings, and then looking to fix them, one at a time, as quickly as possible.  How much better to just keep showing up in the presence of Jesus, learning to enjoy companionship with him, and resting in the belief that, by staying “in the zone” so to speak, good things will happen.

in his book Run or Die, Kilian Jornet, a very skillful runner who ascends and descends mountains at unusual speed, talks about why he doesn’t suffer from race-day nerves:

“I practice and train for almost 360 days of the year. It’s like a baker getting the jitters the day he has to bake bread. In the end, bread is bread and maybe the bread turns out good or bad depending on a number of things that escape the baker’s control, but the bread will be made according to the same recipe whether it is Monday or Sunday.”

Despite his success in competitions, Jornet has come to focus on the practice, and not the expectation.  (thanks to Justin Roth of  “The Stone Mind” for this)

Focus on the practice of enjoying fellowship with Jesus, not the expectation that if you read your Bible enough, or pray enough, or are quiet long enough, you’ll make a quantum leap out of addictions, or fears.  You’ll move out alright… but It. Will. Be….. Slowly.  Step by Step.   enjoy the journey.

PS… if you’re interested in practical help with developing habits of pursuing intimacy with Jesus, I’ll be re-releasing my book “O2” for Kindle on Amazon under the title, “Breathing New Life into Faith”   Stay tuned!

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When “Here” is better than “There”

I wake up this morning in Colorado and, as is typical, make my coffee and then go to my ipad where I catch up on the news before reading my Bible.  It’s just getting light as I scan the news, the craziness that is Ukraine.  Last night on the newshour, a professor of Russian studies said, “even if you’re not religious, you should be praying, because if this becomes war, all bets are off.”  Toss in some stuff about Syrian refugees, and I’m mindful that our world is filled with suffering, and though the cup seems overflowing already, still there’s more pouring in, moment by moment, as lives are plunged into war, hunger, poverty, trafficking, disease. 

I read my scriptures for the day, something about nations and kingdoms fighting against each other, and food shortages, and epidemics.  It’s a reality, of course, as the news a few seconds earlier corresponds with Jesus’ timely words. 

Then I turn around, and there’s a sunrise happening that can’t be described, because it’s not just the colors: it’s the cold, it’s the clarity of the air, it’s the silence, it’s the raw beauty, and significantly, it’s the fact that I am here – in this place, and not there, and any of those places I’ve read about this morning.  I’m awestruck, but conflicted at the same time.  photo copy 2

“Why am I here” is the question that haunts me, and at many levels there’s no answer.  There are responses though, and some of them aren’t helpful.

Guilt isn’t helpful.  We’re here, in wealth and, relative to most of the world, peace and safety. There are hard working, honest people throughout the world who are victims of oppression and injustice, so the causal sense that we’re here instead of there because we’re better must be evicted from our thoughts.  Equally wrong, though, is a sense of paralyzing guilt, a sense that we, for some reason ought to be there and not here.

Fear isn’t helpful.  Our collective narcissism is evident when the questions and comments of journalists extend no further than how the events over there affect our “self interest here”  It can be strangely dis empowering to watch various parts of the world collapse around us, filling us with anxiety about whether we’ll be next, and how we should arm ourselves for protection.  But no, over and over again, Jesus tells us that he’s warned us about these things precisely so that we ‘will not fear’, which is the message that heralded Christ’s birth, and rings throughout his ministry for our benefit and well being.  We need to give fear a swift quick.

Isolation isn’t helpful.  “Not my problem” we see, as we change the channel to some rerun, or go out for a run, or pour another glass of Merlot.  It’s far too easy to believe that the stuff that over there is outside the sphere of our influence and should therefore be outside the sphere of our concern.  This, as we’ll see, misses that mark.  I’m surprised at how many people no longer digest the news because it’s simply “too depressing”.

To the extent that we allow these mindsets to carry the day, our worlds will shrink down into petty preoccupations with our own personal survival, or crippling depression and anxiety.  One need only read the Bonhoeffer story or this favorite diary read from WWII to realize how tempting these options are.  Gratefully, there’s a better way:

Instead of guilt, gratitude.  Every sip of cold water, every good night kiss, every moment of this very precious life.  It’s vital to recognize that our culture is well beyond the boundaries of comfort, having become guilty of lavish excess, and surely guilty of increasing injustice too.  Gratitude though, is for the fact that there no bombs on the roadside, that people gather in public places to express their views, mostly without fear of reprisal, that there’s food on the table and the possibility of friendship, love, education.  It’s far from perfect, but there’s much for which we can be grateful.  This is a starting point to living here well.

Instead of fear, hope.  It might sound shallow and cheap to offer hope from the scriptures for those living and dying in the midst of suffering, but what other hope is there?  Nations will rise and fall.  Justice will ebb and flow.  People will die in the crossfire, and the friendly fire, and the forest fire.  And those of us who escape these ravages?  We’ll die too, and it will always be inconvenient, and seem wrong.

This tired script, though, is coming to and end.  History is headed towards a new script, where every molecule is shot through with the glory of King Jesus.  You know, the one who loved lepers, and women of the night, who told stories that hinted his kingdom would be utterly other – a place where the lame, blind, oppressed, broken, would not only find healing, but a place at the table with the king – a place where all war, and cancer, and rape, and genocide, and AIDS, and tribal divisions will vanish in the flames of a just judgement, leaving nothing but healing and joy in its wake.  MARANATHA… it can’t come soon enough.

But until it does, it’s our calling to live as people of hope.  If the sun’s not yet fully up, we are, nonetheless, called to be the Colors of Hope – the sunrise foretelling a better world.  This isn’t about a short term mission trip; this is about a total overhaul of our values so that our daily lives embody, in increasing measure, the very hope of which Jesus spoke.  That way, Jesus is no longer a theory – he’s a living king, and our lives reflect his reign.  That’s the best response I can think of to the nightly news.

Instead of Isolation, Prayer.  We feel helpless, watching the news like that. We’re not.  We can pray, believing that God intervenes in history in response to the prayers of God’s people.  Years ago, a dear friend whose husband was a British Major in WWII showed me the program from a prayer service held in London after the war.  In it, there were quotes from Churchill, Roosevelt, and other spiritual and national leaders, calling the nations to prayer.  There were even specific prayers offered, having to do with weather.  History tells us (I believe) that God intervened.  Prayer matters.

Of course we’re not necessarily called to spend all of every day in prayer, interceding for each nation and activity.  That would take us out of the game. Instead, we’re invited to live lives that are permeable enough to let God in, to let God break out heart over some specific thing, whether its Sudan, Congo, Crimea/Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, homelessness, sexual slavery, or something else in the seemingly endless list of brokenness.  Maybe all you can do is pray over the thing that breaks your heart.  But prayer’s a big deal, or so we say we believe.  And of course, we could all pray this a little bit more, since Jesus taught us to do so:

May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen?  Amen!

I welcome your thoughts.

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Setbacks and Overcoming – The first is assured; the second is optional.

sometimes your world gets shattered

Dream big and work hard for it, because doing so takes you places — not always where you want, but often way farther than you can imagine. – Ranniveig Aamodt

 

 

 

Setbacks come in all shapes and sizes.  They are relational, financial, physical, emotional, spiritual.  They are sometimes enormous, like divorce, and other times “death by a thousand cuts”, occurring so slowly that you wake up years later and find yourself wondering why you’re in a story that so utterly misrepresents your deepest self.

Setbacks come for all kinds of reasons.  They’re the result of our own bad choices, or the wrong actions of others, or both.  They’re caused by the market (that’s me), or the weather, or political turmoil, or a cell that randomly decides to multiply out of control.  They’re the result of ice on the road (that’s me), or a drunk driver, or a hidden chunk of ice and ski binding that doesn’t release (that’s me), or a salesperson who lied to you.

One thing’s certain though: Setbacks happen.  Moses came to the point where he’d rather die than continue embracing his role as leader of a whining nomadic tribe.  He wasn’t where he wanted to be.  Jeremiah complained that God tricked him when God called him to be a prophet and now that things had turned out as they had, he was reconsidering.  Peter thought he was strong enough to stand in solidarity with Christ but when he say Jesus’ eyes after his denial, he ran away weeping.  Paul preaches and suddenly finds himself in a random dungeon, chained to the wall.

The question of the day then is “What principles can help me respond well when setbacks happen?”

1. Always get up -  Failure is rarely our biggest problem.  It’s how we respond to failure that sinks us.  If the failure’s the result of our own bad choices, it’s easy to relive the moment or the decision that led to our predicament, over and over again.  “Why didn’t I…?”  If it’s the result of another person’s wrong actions, bitterness comes knocking.  “If only…”  as we replay the boneheaded or evil actions of the other.  Random stuff that falls on us, like tornadoes, or cancer, are maybe hardest of all because there’s nothing, no one to blame.

Whatever the cause the, though best response is always the same.  “All right then.  This is where I’m at.  What’s the next step?”  That’s the remarkable story of Joe Simpson in Touching the Void, whose climbing partner, thinking Joe to be dead, cut the rope, sending him into a crevasse with an already shattered leg.  That’s the story of David after committing adultery and murder.  Every story of transformation and climbing out of the hole that is our setback starts with a profound acknowledgement of reality, a belief that transformation is not only possible, but our calling, and a commitment to take step after step, for ten thousand steps if necessary, as we seek to move into a different place.  Self-pity, after about 20 seconds, is a waste of time, and needs to be seen for the enemy it is.

2. You are not your circumstances – When Norwegian climber Ranniveig Aamodt fell, she was damaged beyond recognition: “I had three compression fractures in my back from L2 – L4. I had broken my pelvis, both my talus bones (the main weight bearing bones in the ankle), as well as numerous small bones in my feet. The ligaments in my ankles were stretched and torn and had ripped small pieces of bone off the bones they were attached to. My right elbow was broken into many small pieces and my triceps tendon was torn halfway off. I’d also smashed up my front teeth.”
Her accident shattered her identity as well, and in the end she needed to say, “I realized that I had to distinguish between who I am, and what I do: I’m not a climber. Climbing is something I do. Even if I lost climbing, I would still be me.”  Setbacks happen precisely because they create a dissonance between we think we are, and what reality presents in the moment.  I thought I’d be married.  I thought I’d be rich.  I thought I’d be healthy.  I thought I was a climber.

Her recognition that she is not her climbing became a critical foundation upon which she would rebuild her life and, ironically, climb again.  All of us have images of who we think we are and some of those images need to die, not so that we can become less, but so that we can become whole.  This is because it’s vital to be passionate about our goals and pursuits, but always with an open hand, allowing God to shape them in ways we wouldn’t have anticipated or chosen.  Jesus reminded Peter, after his failure, that in the end he’d be taken places he didn’t want to go, but that this wouldn’t make him less, it would make him more.

 

3. You are not your limitations – The notion of holding our goals with an open hand, though, is dangerous.  It becomes, at times, a license to embrace our limitations and wounds, cherishing them to the point where they come to define us.  When we find ourselves making peace with our setbacks and sort of “moving in and setting up furniture” we need to shout, “Noooooooo!” and fight back.  That’s the biggest value I find in Ranniveig’s story (a little long, but worth it).  The word “overcome” and “overcomer” runs throughout the New Testament because God is trying to tell us that it’s our move, that we have next steps to take, that we are not our failures, that we can overcome.

The point for Ranniveig isn’t to get back to climbing again.  It’s to overcome the incredible pull of complacency, pain, and self-pity that will not only prevent climbing again, but prevent any sort of meaningful life.  We need to find our next steps, recognize that there’ll be a piece of us that doesn’t want to take them, and then take them anyway.  She writes:

I decided to accept the condition I was in, think positive, and face what as ahead. This triggered a kind of power. “Bring it on,” I thought. “I will do everything I can to make the best of this situation.”

4. You are not your fear.  The most insidious thing about setbacks is that as we begin to recover, we’re sorely tempted to spend the rest of our days avoiding the possibility of ever reverting to that pain again.  Of course, when we do that, the pain begins to define us.  Again:  “Nooooooo!”

Our friend writes about it this way:  my physiotherapist asked me to jump 40 centimeters up onto a squishy foam pad. I didn’t want to hurt myself, and the idea of jumping with my bad ankles was terrifying. But I had to make a choice. So in action and attitude, I jumped. I still remember his words: If you don’t do this, you’ll try to find ways around your limitations. But to know your true limits, you have to get in over your head, and more often than not, you’ll realize your limits are greater than you thought.

We need to step back in:  to relationships, on the slopes, in the gym, in our walk with God, whatever it is.  And yes, we’ll be afraid.  That’s why it’s called “overcoming”

What’s your limitation?  What’s your fear?  What’s your next step?

 

 

 

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Today Only: Colors of Hope is free for your e-reader!

ImageGod’s taken the complexity of religion and boiled it all down to three simple things:  mercy, justice, and intimacy.  This book is about what it means to orient our lives around these three pursuits, make our lives into works of art that display hope to a hurting world.

You can order the book FREE.  Today only (Sunday, Feb 23rd) !!

At Amazon

At Barnes and Noble

There’s a free study guide available through Bethany Community Church – and it’s great for group study.

This offer’s for today only, so pass it on!  Let others know, because we live in a world hungry for justice, mercy, and love!!

Thanks

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O the Places You’ll Go! The Wisdom of Embracing Life as Journey

What can we learn by viewing life as a journey?

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”

I grew up living in “Cat in the Hat”, and by that I mean that rainy days were crazy days spent stuck indoors because of a California “hydrophobia” that led my parents and every other authority figure to say, “you’ll catch a death of a cold if you go out there!” (in that sky spitting a few rain drops at 63 degrees!).  The result, for my sister and I, was that Dr. Seuss became a good friend, and the antics of the Cat in the Hat become our reality.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, it turns, had a lot of wisdom.  I’ve sat in more than one graduation and listened to someone read “O the Places You’ll Go!”, intimating that life is journey, and that, as cliche as it sounds, the journey is the destination.  In fact, I’m finding that the more consistently I seek to interpret my life through lens of being on a journey, the more wisdom I have for the bumps in the road, fog, weariness, great heights that are both challenging and rewarding, hunger, light, and darkness that I find along the way.  Abraham was transformed by the journey. So was Moses.  So was the Apostle Paul.  Why not you?  Why not me?

I’m thinking about journey these days for a reason.  I have a sabbatical from my work in Seattle coming up this summer, and am planning a gigantic journey.  In order to better understand what it means to “walk with God” I’m planning on doing just that: walking with God for about 450-500 miles (somewhere in this neighborhood)  I’d originally planned to do this through the Cascade mountains close to my home, but the untimely death of a friend in Austria led to a change of plans, and so now I’ll be hiking through the Alps.  This will be a time not only of physical challenge, but of learning Alpine history, the wars fought, the refuges for faith established, the borders challenged, the blend of beauty and terror that made these mountains central to European history.  I’ll come to discover how people’s lives were changed forever by their journeys through these mountains.  But it will also be, much more, a time of learning at a profound and intimate level as each step, each crossroads, each setback and triumph will be instructive about what it means to walk with God.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey as I plan to share what I’m learning, as much as I’m able, right here on this blog, with a diary of the trip and key prep and pics  posted here.

Seuss was wise in “O the Places You’ll Go”, but a careful reading reminds me that it’s vital to always read and listen with a sense of discernment.  Embedded in this marvelous work, is this single stanza:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You are on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Brains? Check.

Feet? Check

But can I “steer myself any direction I choose”? Nope.  There will be places in the Alps where others, better suited for the terrain than I, will go, and I won’t be able to follow.  What’s more, I might plan to go a certain place, thinking it’s within my grasp, only to discover once I get there, that it’s not, that my ankle, or heel, or some other seemingly insignificant body part can derail my whole perfect plan. I’m planning 10-20 kilometers a day.  I may end up in a cabin by the sea, writing or playing piano.

This is life, of course.  We have plans, and then we have the setbacks that challenge our presumed sense of semi-omnipotence.  I thought it would be this, but it’s that.  I thought I would be there by now, but I’m still over here, feeling stuck.  I tried to steer my direction, tried to stay the course, but never arrived.  Still sick.  Still alone.  Still feeling stuck in my work, or my relationship, or my “walk with God”.  Been there?  Me too.  The truth is that I can’t go wherever I want to go.

The good news is that Seuss is wrong on another count too.  You’re not, “on your own” as he says.  You have a guide, and your guide has both plans, and contingency plans.  Your guide is committed to your destination, but the most important truth to remember along the journey is that your ultimate destination isn’t geographical, relational, physical, or financial.  Your destination is to look like Jesus, so that hope and joy, generosity and wisdom, peace and justice, flow through you into a world that’s desperate and thirsty.

And this destination, your guide says, is assured, regardless of seeming setbacks along the way, as long as you stick close to your companion and guide, who is Jesus.  You are, I hope, decidedly NOT “on your own”.

You may “know what you know”, but your journey will be best if you also “know what you don’t know” because this is the foundation for a humility that empowers you to check your map, talk with other pilgrims along the way, and most important, follow your guide.  He’ll take you places along the way that are not of your choosing.  You’ll be upset over this, and in the end you’ll see the value in it.  Let your guide be your guide.

Which brings me to the last point.  If “You are the one who decides where you’ll go” then all I have to say is “good luck” because “you’re on your own.”  The good news, though, is that you don’t need to be on your own.  You don’t need to simply look within the chasm of your own broken soul for direction regarding destination and next steps.  There is another.  Let Christ in.  Let Christ decide – about your money, your time, your vocation, your everything.  It’s liberating.

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