Life Update: We are Planting a Church

 

What our house has looked like on Sunday mornings for the past three months.

What our house has looked like on Sunday mornings for the past three months.

Hello Friends and Family.

I’ve been relatively quiet on this blog for a while. As well as on Facebook, really. Today I want to share with you what is (and has been) going on in me and my family’s life.

As the title of this post says, life right now is all about Church Planting.

Kate and I have dreamt of planting a church for probably the past 5 years. We’ve kicked around ideas here and there. Checked out a few cities. Met with people to brainstorm. Kept notebooks of ideas. Argued about it. Dreamt about it. Argued more (hey, we’re passionate people). You know how it goes.

And so 3 months ago when life handed us another curve ball, yet we found ourselves surrounded by and supported by a small group of beautiful humans, we chose to not waste any more minutes just dreaming about it. We looked at one another and decided it was time. We said (more or less):

We are all about making good stories.

For us. For our kids.
And we want to live by Faith in a way we’ve never done before.

More than that, we are totally okay if this whole thing doesn’t work out. If it’s a flop, a failure.. if it cranks along for a few years and then stops… we’ll be okay. (This isn’t our goal, of course. But being free of the anxiety and fear of failure is a powerful thing.)

We won’t not do it because it might not go exactly how we’d want.
We won’t not do it because it’s scary.
We won’t let money be a deciding factor, for we never have.
We don’t want to look back on life and always wonder ‘what if?’

There is too much at stake to not go after it. Our spirits are compelling us. Like an artist who HAS to create the thing that is bursting inside them, we HAVE to do this. We have to be faithful to the Spirit inside of us, the invitation of the Divine. If following Jesus means anything right now, it means doing this.

Do we know what we’re doing?
Meh…
Probably more than we think we do. And certainly way less than we actually do.

But we are surrounded by, and partnering with, some of the most amazing and exciting and passionate and loving and innovative and wonderful people we’ve ever known.

And it is thrilling.

So yeah, in short, I wanted to (finally) let you all know what I am now doing in life. For those who are learning about this for the first time, I apologize. We’ve stayed intentionally silent and under the radar for these past three months, not telling anybody what we are doing unless they’ve asked.

But that was only for a season, and that season has reached its natural conclusion.

So with great excitement (mixed with a bit of trepidation), I invite you to check out the not-fully-ready-but-still-live-anyways website of our new church:

SOJOURN GRACE COLLECTIVE: San Diego’s Progressive Christian Church

SGC-facebook-cover-photo

And then go Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, which we also just launched last week.

Next week I’ll tell you more about this amazing Faith Community we’re establishing.

For now, I just wanted to bring you in the loop.
We’ve been meeting in our house for three months, but starting next week we will be meeting at Garfield Elementary School in North Park San Diego (just a couple miles north of our house).

Here’s a few pics from the past three months, as well as two videos.

Thank you for reading. For caring. And for being excited with and for us!

 

Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

When life is hard it is only natural and normal to ask the question, “where is God, in all of this!?”

I’ve been exploring a couple thoughts on that exact question. In Part 1 I suggested that God is ahead of us, inviting us towards a better future, a better way of life. And, like the father in Luke 15, God stands poised to run towards us at the first inclination that we might be ready for repentance.

In Part 2 I suggested that when we are in the Valley of Hard Times that God ALSO is right there, IN the Valley with us. Present, holding us, carrying and sustaining us. Not just waiting on the outside for us to emerge, but in the trenches with us being our strength.

Finally, I’ll offer one more thought.

Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Behind us. Having just shoved us off the cliff and in to the Valley of Hard Times.

What if God isn’t just at the top of the valley, cheering us on, waiting to welcome us home?!
And what if God isn’t just also down in the valley with us, carrying us and sustaining us and holding us…

What if God also stands on the OTHER edge of the valley, the once from whence we came, because it was God who directed us to the valley in the first place?

What if God is the one who actually PUSHED us over the edge?

What?!

Okay, I know that sounds a little crazy. And it probably is. I’m probably wrong about that. And that’s okay.

But I can’t help thinking about it anyways.

Two reasons why.

  1. My own life experiences have given me reason to think that this might be the case.
  2. In Matthew the Gospeler’s opinion that’s exactly what God did to Jesus.

In chapter 4 of Mathew, as he’s about to tell the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days, Matthew writes this:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” -Matt 4:1

Did you catch that?

Jesus was led BY the Spirit of God in to the wilderness.
Yes, sure, eventually he encounters the Satan while he’s out there. But it was the Spirit who sent him there.

Now, to be fair, perhaps God didn’t PUSH Jesus over the edge and in to the Valley. I imagine this leading was more of a gentle prompting. But the point still remains. It was God who initiated Jesus’ entrance in to the wilderness and ultimately in to a time of great temptation.

Have you ever done something that you just felt, in your bones, in your very spirit, was something that God was leading you to do? You just had this sense that this was where God was leading you.

Take this job.
Begin a relationship with this person.
Initiate this conversation.
Go here.
No, no, no… I mean there.

Are you with me?
You been there before?

And then, think back, and examine if any of those situations, those scenarios, those relationships, those life choices eventually went to crap. Just a total backfire. And you found yourself thinking, “wow, did I just TOTALLY misunderstand God on that one? How hard did I swing and miss on that?!”

I’ve been there.
I’m betting you have, too.

But I think that sometimes, even though we end up questioning ourselves and doubting that we really were walking in the direction God was leading us, that sometimes (in our more clear-headed moments) we end up concluding that indeed we had done as we felt led by God.

We entered the wilderness at God’s prompting. Not fully realizing (of course) that it would, in fact, turn out to BE a wilderness. Filled with pain and sadness and rejection and hunger and thirst and temptation.

But we still say it was God’s leading.

And don’t we generally come out of those times stronger than before?
I mean, isn’t every wilderness, every Valley of Hard Times, something that ultimately shapes us and grows us to become a better US?
I don’t know… maybe not every time. That’s likely not true.

But most times. I wager.

Julian of Norwich is one of the most important Christian mystics in church history. She was an anchoress in Norwich, England in the 14th century. An anchorite was essentially a spiritual hermit who would live in a cell, carved in the side of a church, choosing to live a life of prayer and meditation.

Julian said this:

“First, there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

Yes.

Just, yes.

I love placing the very FALL itself within the mercy and the grace of God.

After all, we grow most after we fall, right?
We discover more about ourselves after we fall.

If we are to grow, mature, then losing, falling and failing is a requirement. It is a necessary, and even GOOD part of the human journey.

I have always tried really hard NOT to fail.
I won’t start a new effort unless I know I’ll be really good at it.
This is why I put off learning to play guitar for like 3 years. Because I knew I would be awful at it in the beginning. (Brilliant, right?)

But there is grace IN the fall itself. Not just in the getting back up again.

So I guess that’s why I feel that sometimes, when we ask the question: where is God during this incredibly hard season of my life, I just wonder if one possible answer is: at the beginning of it all, prompting you to journey out in to the desert, in to the wilderness, so that you can find a type of transformation that can ONLY happen in the wilderness.

But (to go back to Part 2) God doesn’t just send you packing with a couple loafs of bread and a canteen… No, God is beautifully present IN the wilderness with you. Every step of the way.
IN the darkness.
IN the thick of the trial and pain.
Holding you… sustaining and carrying you…

And (to back to Part 1) God is also ahead of you.
Waiting with open arms… ready to RUN to you, scoop you up, and carry you home. Throwing a party to celebrate the courage it takes to finally repent, to turn around, to decide to live a new way.

Praise be to God, the One who leads, sustains, and invites.

Amen.

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Alongside us. Sustaining and strengthening us. Unmoved by the chaos.

Yesterday we explored one potential response to the question of where is God when life is hard. And we borrowed from the story of the Prodigal Son in suggesting that God is out in front of us with two postures.

1: God calls us forward. Inviting us out of our patterns of unhealth and misery. Beckoning us to a more abundant life.
2: God anxiously anticipates the moment our hearts begin to turn away from the path of destruction and towards the path of life. And in that moment God runs out to grab us, envelope us in love, and lead us back home.

Today I want to explore another idea related to the location of God during the hard times of life.

I don’t think God ONLY stands at the edge of the valley you’ve fallen in to, cheering at you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start climbing up.

Though certainly I think that’s true.

And I don’t think God ONLY waits there patiently, with great excitement at the prospect of you finally getting out. God is not just a cheerleader inspiring us to get back up again, and then there to celebrate with us when we’ve succeeded.

Though I think that’s true.

No, my hunch is that God is actually down IN the valley with us.
Present in a way so that once you’ve reached the lowest of lows and cannot even FATHOM starting to get out of the mess you’ve made, it is in THAT moment that God scoops you up. When you’ve run out of all your energies, exhausted from trying so hard, is when the Grace of God can truly and finally take over.

You know, that whole “God is strongest when I am weakest” sort of thing.

Paul, when dealing with hardships in his life, takes this posture:

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Cor 12:10

Paul takes a certain delight in the hard times because he knows that is, perhaps, when he is most aware of the presence of God.

And we all know this to be true, don’t we?

When life is going well and we’re in a rhythm of sorts, and there’s really nothing to complain about, then it’s pretty easy to… I dunno… sort of forget about God? To just sort of be like, I got this. Life is good. I’m good. All good.

(I’m not alone in this, am I?)

But when the sh*t hits the fan and everything starts falling apart, well it is then that we start to search for God. To grope around in the darkness, hoping for something secure to grab on to.

And IN that searching, IN that desperation, is precisely God.

If you grew up in conservative Christianity like I did then perhaps you struggle with some of the same religious baggage that I do. And one particularly heavy suitcase is the one that suggests that God can’t stand evil. Can’t stand sin. That God is Light, therefore there is not God-ness in the Dark-ness.

Are you with me?

And so what happens, or what can happen, is that we begin to believe that when we are in the depths of disaster (perhaps brought on by our own propensity to screw things up) we tell ourselves that we have to escsape the darkness in order to find the Light.

That surely God can’t be here, because there is too much “bad” here.

Here’s what I have to say to that: name for me, if you will, the primary tangible spot, the very location, of what amounts to the most horrible and tragic moment of evil and darkness?

The cross on the hill of Golgatha.

Isn’t it?

I mean, that’s how the biblical writers saw it.
That on that cross was the weight of the whole human race’s sin.
The cross: where the full power of sin and shame and evil and death all piled up and were hurled at the Son of Man.

Perhaps the singular most dark moment in history.
And there, right alongside it, right IN it, was the Light.

Jesus stood in the very place of human tragedy and sorrow and pain and suffering and evil.

The cross itself points to the reality that God is present precisely in the moments where you would least expect God to be.

21 the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21

On the cross was exposed the weight of humanity’s shame and guilt.
The point at which the powers of sin and death were exposed.
Sin was on full display.

And there was Jesus.

(Who, rather ironically, felt abandoned by God. Do you blame him? Don’t you feel abandoned by God at times?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Clearly God had not forsaken Jesus, for God does not. But even Jesus himself felt the agonizing loneliness that accompanies great sorrow and suffering. But that’s another thought for another day.)

I ask you to pause and go read this post, written by Richard Beck. Specifically because of the section taken out of Elie Weisel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

I’ll wait…

You back?

Wasn’t that a harrowing tale?
And yet also a powerful, powerful image.

So that’s why I think that God does not merely sit atop the valley, waiting for us to emerge. I see (and have experienced in my own life) a presence and reality of God RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT.

Right there in the valley. In the darkest places.

Where is God when life is hardest?

Exactly there.

Part 1: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

“Where is God?!”

It’s a common question.
One most often asked when we are confronted with the more ugly side of human existence. We ask about God’s presence or existence or involvement when we witness tragedy and disaster.
We also wonder about it when we go through really hard seasons of life.

Sometimes life is hard because the world is hard. Be it natural disaster, or uncontrollable economic forces, or disease or sickness.

Sometimes life is hard because people are hard. We are the victims of other people’s hatred or fear. We are beaten up, hurt, damaged by other humans.

Sometimes life is hard because we make it that way. Be it bad decisions or patterns of poor choices. Maybe we chose a path of destruction for ourselves, or we are consumed with selfishness, pride, or fear. And so we are in a hard time of our own making.

In all those cases it is natural to ask: where is God?

This is admittedly a HUGE topic. It deserves much more time and thought than what I’m about to give to it. So just know that this Three Part series is obviously not exhaustive. But it might serve to help you (if you are in a hard season of life) to find just a moment of Peace. To discover, if only briefly, where God might be in it all.

Part I: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Ahead of us. Both inviting us to a better Way, and ready to welcome us home.

20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. -Luke 15:20

You know the story.
We call it the Prodigal Son story.

Son demands money, runs away, spends it wildly. When everything is lost and the son has hit bottom the son decides to return home. And where do we find the father?

Standing on the porch waiting.
With eyes wide open, toward the horizon, never giving up hope that his son would come home.
Anxiously and excitedly anticipating the slightest hint that his son is done with his prodigal living.
Running. Running out to meet the son.
Embracing. Holding.
Taking by the hand and welcoming the son back home.

Where is God when life gets hard?

Ready and waiting for you to say, “okay, enough is enough. I can’t keep running. I can’t keep wasting my life. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I’m lonely. Scared. Exhausted. I’m ready to change. I HAVE to change.”

That’s called repentance.
And when we just start to show the smallest glimmer of turning-around, there is God.

BAM! Right there, with open arms and an open heart, ready to take us home.

‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

For those hard seasons of life that come about at our own doing, because of our lack of wisdom, or lack of courage, or lack of listening to those in our life who are worried about us, I see God at the edge of the cliff of the valley we’ve made for ourselves just biting Divine nails, anxious for us to wake up.

We are invited to a better way of living.
This was (and remains) the call of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus offers a way of living that John described as a “life of the ages” (or, eternal life). He also calls it an abundant life. This is Life the way it is supposed to be lived. The most human life. The Divine life.

The life of, well, Jesus. The God-man.

When we make a mess of our lives (which is often) God’s posture towards us is one of invitation. Of beckoning and calling. God is ahead of us, pulling us forward towards greater peace and love and beauty and hope.

And the millisecond that we make a move, no matter how small, towards coming back home, the God-of-all runs to meet us. To cover us in Love. To bear our shame for us.

In the Prodigal Story the father runs out to meet his son. The picture here is that the father runs out to meet his son before the son can enter the city and take the long walk-of-shame home. Instead, the father meets the son outside the city walls and adorns him with gifts of the father’s blessing, and then leads his son home. Taking on the shame that ought to have been the son’s.

What a beautiful picture of where God is when life is hard.

Ahead of us. Inviting us to a more beautiful, abundant life.
And also ready to swoop us up, clothe us in grace, and welcome us back home… no matter how far we’ve wandered.

Justin Lee’s, “You Love Gay People? That’s Great! Prove it!”

So I read this today.

And it could be one of the best things a non Open and Affirming Christian could read.

So good in its spiritual tone.
So good in its practicality.
So good in addressing a very common (but often understood or understated) issue.

The issue being: Non-Affirming Christians thinking that just saying “I Love gay people!” is somehow enough.

It’s not long to read.
But hopefully after reading it, it will stay with you a long time.

 

We’re Not in the Jaws of It.

I’m reading this book.

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.

(serious points go to both the name of the book AND the name of the author)

I picked up this book on a recommendation from Rob Bell.
If Rob read it, and loved it, I’m going to bank on sharing that love as well.

And sure enough it is proving to be my favorite read so far this year. So many incredible insights from Francis Spufford, a Brit who is writing to mostly a British audience on why he still thinks Christianity is legit.

In his chapter “Hello, Cruel World,” Francis muses on the reality of evil in the world. Not an altogether new topic, by any means. But I found his takes refreshing.

After dismantling all the common theodicies (theologies of why there’s evil in the world), Francis finally offers the following thought:

How, then, do we deal with suffering? How do we resolve the contradiction between cruel world and loving God? The short answer is that we don’t. We don’t even try to, mostly. Most Christian believers don’t spend their time and their emotional energy stuck at this point of contradiction. For most of us, worrying about it turns out to have been a phase in the early history of our belief. The question of suffering proves to be one of those questions which is replaced by other questions, rather than being answered. We moved on from it, without abolishing the mystery, or seeing clear conceptual ground under our feet. Cataclysmic experiences can pitch us back into it of course, but mostly they don’t. Even in bad times we usually don’t go back there. We take the cruelties of the world as a given, as the known and familiar data of experience, and instead of anguishing about why the world is as it is, we look for comfort in coping with it as it is. We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of perplexity, a wider hope than we can manage in time of despair. If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given you, it wouldn’t help any more than the inadequate and defective explanations help you, whether they are picture-book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything – and probably the most it can do, is help you to endure, or if you cannot endure, to fail an fold without wholly hating yourself – is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, it’s the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and, if we can, to go on loving.

We don’t forget, mind. It doesn’t escape us that there seems to be something wrong with any picture in which God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world. We still know that if He can help us and He doesn’t, He isn’t worth worshipping; and that if He doesn’t help us because He can’t, there must be something weirdly limited about the way He’s the God of everything. The impasse is still there. It’s just that we’re not in the jaws of it. We’re not being actively gripped and chewed by it. Our feelings have moved on elsewhere.

Aaahh… yes.

The impasse is still there. It’s just that we’re not in the jaws of it.

I have found that to be true, my friends.
I gave a sermon several years back called Hidden for Ages, and I similarly described how even if we could receive an answer, an explanation, to why certain bad things happen, then it ultimately won’t satisfy us. It won’t help. Not really. So God invites us to embrace mystery, and to lean in to the everlasting and ever-loving arms of God.

Sounds trite, perhaps.
I know.

But it’s real.

Well, for me anyways.

And Francis.

 

I’ve Counted Up the Cost

Rend Collective Experiment

Several weeks back I was sitting down with a relatively new friend. Over a BLT and an IPA we exchanged some war stories about previous experiences in the church. She is a pastor, and I am a pastor, and we both have gone through the ringer (as virtually every pastor has… or will…).

If you know me, or have followed my journey, then you know a bit about what I went through a couple years ago. So I was telling her that story, coupled with a few other tidbits here and there, and eventually she looked at me, tilted her head slightly to the side, furrowed her brow just ever so slightly, and said,

Colby, you have been through a lot. You have been beaten and bruised by the church. Both the people and the institution. And yet here you are, sitting across from me, still saying that there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing. Why is that?

Great question.

Another friend of mine, back when I was first exploring the possibility of moving to San Diego to join Missiongathering, expressed a similar query. Because he knew what had happened in my previous church, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why I would willingly go back in to the Lion’s Den.

Fair enough.

I recall one of my professors in college, during a class on ministry-something-or-other, emphasizing to us would-be-ministers the following truth:

If you can do anything else… then do it.

In other words, if anything else gets you excited, or floats your boat, or resonates deep within your soul, or energizes you, or suits your passions and your dreams…. if there is any other vocational possibility out there for you, then you should do THAT, and not be a pastor. I don’t think he was trying to talk us out of becoming pastors. I think he was trying to give proper weight to the road that lay ahead of us, should we decide to follow the call to shepherd the people of God.

And now, 12 years after my prof uttered those words, I am firmly resolved that there is nothing else I want to do.

No matter how messy the church can get, I love her.
No matter how damaged I may get, or my family may get, I am committed to her.
No matter how difficult it can be or how impossible it may feel at times, I am in it.

I still believe that the church can be:

  • the mechanism by which hope is sprinkled in this world,
  • the avenue by which lost people can be found,
  • the place where misfits and dreamers can discover purpose,
  • the organism by which life, true life, abundant-life-found-only-in-Jesus, can be experienced,
  • my home. your home. our home.

So yes, I know it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. And that’s okay. I get that.

But to quote one of my new favorite bands, Rend Collective Experiment, from their song “The Cost”:

I’ll walk the narrow road
’cause it leads me to You
I’ll fall but grace
Will pick me up again

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh I’ve counted up the cost
Yes I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

I do not need safety
As much as I need You
You’re dangerous
But Lord You’re beautiful

I’ll chase You through the pain
I’ll carry my cross
’cause real love
Is not afraid to bleed

Yes, I have counted the cost.
I’ve fallen.
I’ve bled.
I’ll fall again.
I’ll bleed again.

But Lord, you are worth it.
And so is your Bride.

(Check out the song. It’s marvelous.)

Also, I just read this from Rachel Held Evans, after writing up this post.
Her post is called “The Cost,” and it’s more awesome than this one. So go read that, too.

When Jesus Altered Scripture

“Yeshua, would you do the honor of reading the text this morning,” the synagogue attendant softly asked, as his outstretched arm was offering me the scroll.

I walked to the front of the room feeling a strange mixture of excitement and nerves. For the past few weeks I had been traveling around Galilee doing this exact same thing, but today is different. These are my people. This is Nazareth. This is where I grew up. These men here know me, and they know my rather checkered upbringing and all the scandal surrounding my birth.

But still, I’m feeling light today.
I’m feeling full… full of my Father’s Spirit.

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that I returned from my time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness. 40 days of not eating was bad enough, but then I had to spar with the Satan at the end of it. So many temptations… but each time I was able to pull from the Scriptures to resist. Even when the Satan tried to use the Scripture against me, to twist it, I still outfoxed him.

And since then, since getting back to civilization, I’ve been on a roll. People are finally starting to respect me. Admire me. Listen to me.

My hands trembling slightly, I take the scroll and turn around to see the faces of friends, family, and other people I’ve come to know and trust and love. Looking down I could see that I was handed a section from Isaiah.

Phew. I’ve always liked Isaiah. I’ve always felt strangely connected to his words. As though he was able to sense in some way the mission I feel called to. He got me.

As I’m unrolling the scroll I can feel the butterflies inside me speeding up. My eyes come up from the scroll one last time to scan the room. Will these men hear me? Will they listen? Will they respect me like the others have throughout Galilee? Or will I continue to feel their patronizing crooked smiles as they placate me as the “illegitimate son of Mary the UnFaithful.”

Nervous, and seeking escape, I look back down at the scroll, determined to not look up again.

I take a deep breath, and begin to read:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me

I knew that was true.
I’ve been more keenly aware of that recently that ever before.
From that strangely beautiful baptism by my cousin John, to the time spent in the wilderness… I definitely feel God’s Spirit upon me.

Anointed… yes, that’s the perfect word for how I feel right now. I read on…

to bring good news to the poor,

Wow… yes… absolutely! I have always felt drawn to the outcast, the forgotten, the poor. Like I said, Isaiah gets me…

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound

This is it.
This is why I’m here.
I just know it.

My whole life has been leading up to this moment, and I can feel it. This is who I am, this is what I’m called to do. Now is the time, I just know it, when God is announcing healing, and love, and freedom… Good news! Okay, Yeshua, keep yourself together… keep reading…

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

And then I stop… mid sentence.
Crap. Hold on… wait…

My eyes are glued to the scroll, refusing to look away just yet.

Proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, yes, good… I’m down with that. So far so good.

But I knew what was next.
I had this section memorized, but somehow it has still caught me off guard.

Suddenly, though I’ve read this sentence and said these words countless times, suddenly it no longer feels… right? Good?

What began, moments ago, as a mixture of excitement and nerves, has now morphed completely. The nerves have partnered with fear and resolutely wiped out any and all excitement. I don’t want to be here any more. This is not going to end well. I can’t read the next line. I won’t read the next line. Everything else resonated so deeply with me… within me… but not this. No, not this.

I stare at the words as I feel the stares of the men around me. I roll them around in my head again and again, refusing to say them aloud:

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… and the day of vengeance of our God.

No.
I can’t do it.

I don’t know exactly what Isaiah had in mind, but right now, in this moment, I don’t agree.

If the Spirit of God is upon me, and if the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and proclaim the arrival of the Lord’s favor, then that makes sense to me. That I can do.

But I am not here to announce the vengeance of God.
Sorry, Isaiah, that does not resonate with me.
I can’t go there with you.
That’s not me.
That’s not my Father.

I finally compose myself (and, I think, finally closed my mouth… I’m pretty sure it hung awkwardly open this whole time). My mind was made up. Even though everyone will be wondering why I stopped mid-sentence, I know that’s what I have to do.

My fingers found their strength again as I rolled the scroll back up, preparing to return it to the synagogue attendant. He seemed a bit confused as I moved towards him; the rolling of the scroll was complete, but the reading of it obviously wasn’t.

Finding my courage again, and remembering the space I’ve been in lately, walking in God’s Spirit, I turned back around and sat down. Feeling the eyes of all, and sensing that they were expecting me to finish the Prophet’s sentence,  to announce the coming vengeance of God, I slowly scanned the room, making sure I connected with each set of eyes before I spoke next.

Butterflies gone.
Fear chased out by love.
Peace had arrived.

That’s when I said,

“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

- – – – – – -

A creative imagining of Luke 4:16-21

 

 

 

The Groaning of the Black Fish

Last night my wife made me watch the CNN Documentary, Black Fish.

(The type of “made me” where she just knew (because she knows me) that I would WANT to see it. Mixed a bit with the “made me” where she had already watched it and wanted to be able to have a shared experience with me.)

If you’re unfamiliar with this documentary, in a nutshell it is about how Sea World took Orca Whales from the wild, breeds them in small confined quarters, rips babies from their families, and causes sure psychological damage to these animals. And, as a result, far too many people have been brutally attacked, injured, and killed.

It was certainly one of the most disturbing things I’ve watched in a while. Heart breaking on a number of levels, including a very selfish one: our family (our boys!), have absolutely LOVED going to Sea World. It’s been our family’s place of choice to go have fun. We’ve probably been half a dozen times in the past two years, and each memory is precious to us.

But, of course, after watching Black Fish we will never step foot in that place again (unless it’s a midnight mission to free Willy).

Reflecting on the documentary and sharing all the thoughts I have would take too long, and I couldn’t do it justice. So I just invite you to watch it.

However there has been one thing that hasn’t left my recently haunted mind yet.
Something that, once the credits began to roll, caused my inner-self to weep.
The part of me that is specifically and uniquely “human” was very, very sad.

To explain what I’m getting at, here is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

18 Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. 19 For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. 20 You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope 21that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now. 23 And there is more; it’s not just creation—all of us are groaning together too. Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete— (Romans 8:18-23, The Voice)

We (humans) sit at the top of the food chain. We sit at the top of the consciousness chain. We sit at the top of the Creator’s Creation.

We are the collective CEO’s entrusted with this place. What happens on our watch, to the creatures and the environment in our care, is on US.

And when I watch something like Black Fish, I am struck with this thought: We have an incredible capacity to fuck up our jobs.*

The Orcas, that we have captured and ripped from their families (and continue to rip from families), that we keep locked up and forced to do our bidding, are part of the creation that has “collapsed into emptiness.”

Watching those whales last night you could see (and hear!) the “groaning” for liberation.
The pleading for the caretakers (us, humanity, the CEO’s) to help actually take care of them.

The sense I get from Paul, in the above passage, is that part of what he’s getting at is this: you and I (meaning, humanity) have been given a wonderful and beautiful gift in Christ and through God’s Spirit, the gift of freedom, of new life, of redemption and liberation. But creation and the created order has not yet entered in to that reality. It has a deep and abiding hope that one day it will be “liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

We have a gift.
They don’t.
Therefore we are under obligation to be aware of that, to cause that to matter to us, to do something about it.

The Bible begins, for Pete’s-sake, with the charge for us to care for Creation.

Anyways, Black Fish was a profound experience. Listening to the Orca families literally weep as their kids are ripped from them was haunting enough, and then on top of that I had Paul’s words from above filling the chambers of my mind, demanding to be heard amidst the cries of the Killer Whales.

We can do better.
We have to do better.
It’s on us.
It’s on you.

You have been given the gift of liberation.

And when you hear the groaning of the black fish,
Use it wisely.
Use it well.

- – – – – – – – – – – – -

*I realize that some of my readers are uncomfortable with my choice in words here. And I do apologize if I caused you to read/say/think a word that you try and generally avoid. That being said, I chose it with great purpose and intentionality, for it is probably the only/best word to convey the deep sense of anger, frustration, and intensity of my emotion. To say that “ripping babies from their families” is really messing up, or really screwing up, just doesn’t cut it. And I’m willing to bet you’d agree.

 

The Squishy Stage

A Little Bit Less

My wife and I have done our fair share of child raising. We currently own the rights to 4 boys that were created by us and, by extension, are now being raised by us. So what I’m about to say next might (to the un-parental ears, especially) sound a bit harsh, but I’m declaring that I’ve earned enough cred to say it anyways.

Our youngest son, Huck, is at that age (or, more accurately, “developmental stage”) where we like him again.

You see, generally speaking (and every parent is different, for sure), newborns pop out and are so adorable, smell so good, and the miracle of life is still so fresh in the air, that you can’t help BUT like the little wrinkle ball. However, as they grow bigger, and your sleeping chart grows smaller, you slowly start to like them a little. bit. less.

It isn’t only the sleep deprivation, however.

It’s how they consume all of what used to be called “your life.” All the things you normally did, at a normal pace, have been forever altered or eliminated entirely.

And, mind you, I’m just the Daddy speaking. All of this gets amplified in our situation when you’re the Mommy, and you’re breastfeeding. Seriously.

Nonetheless what ends up happening is, even though you absolutely adore and love your little tiny human, you find yourself just not liking them as much.

But then…

Oh then…

They hit the SQUISHY STAGE.

The Squishy Stage

It may go by a different name in your household, but for us we call it The Squishy Stage. And this is the stage where you find yourself, almost on a daily basis, wanting to just reach down and snatch your little bundle of cuddleliciousness and squish the beejeezus out of them.

And you find yourself liking your child again, thanks to their newfound squishiness.

They are cute. And cuddly.

And squishy.

When Jae (our 3rd son) reached this stage, he just adopted it as one of his many names. We would routinely call him Squish, Squishy, or, my personal favorite, Squish Bucket.

The most magical part of the Squishy Stage is their cheeks.
Their cheeks just radiate with squeezable sweetness.

You hold them and you squish them.
You kiss them and you smush your nose in to them.

It’s beautiful.

The Down Side

However there’s something surprisingly frustrating with the Squishy Stage.

It’s kind of like how you can see a photograph, or a painting, of a gorgeous landscape. Truly breathtaking in its ability to capture the beauty found in nature. And yet, even after staring at it and appreciating it as much as you can, you ultimately find yourself just not quite satisfied. And you think, “if only I could see the REAL thing.”

Or, it’s kind of like when you have a cold, and it’s one of those colds that completely knocks out your sniffer. And you can’t taste ANYthing. But you sit down to this amazing meal and stick a fork full of what you KNOW is really, really good food… but you just can’t taste it. It’s just not satisfying.

During the Squishy Stage, when you’re pressing your cheek firmly against the radiating squeeziness of your child’s cheek, there is this sense that you just

can’t

get

close

enough.

It’s as though that chamber in your heart, reserved for the exponentially expanding quantity of love required to raise littles, is bursting at the seams, but your smashing proximity to your littles’ cheeks just still isn’t enough.

I wonder if that’s why, according to the late Maurice Sendak, the Wild Things said to Max, “we’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at January 7, 12.06 PM

Because when you just can’t get close enough cheek-to-cheek the only other option appears to be to consume them entirely. That’s the only way to get closer.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

This sense that there are moments with a loved one where you just can’t get close enough to truly satisfy the demands of your love-exploding heart?

That’s what the Squishy Stage does to me.

Closer

This past Sunday at church we sang “Closer” by Steffany Frizzell. And for me this song gives a voice to that ache in our soul when we just can’t get close enough.

Your love has ravished my heart
And taken me over, taken me over

And all I want is to be
With you forever, with you forever

So pull me a little closer
Take me a little deeper
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

‘Cause your love is so much sweeter
Than anything I’ve tasted
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

Honestly, I don’t really know what “closeness” to God looks like. Or, for that matter, feels like.

Sometimes I think I “feel” close.
Other times it feels like there is great distance between me and the Divine.

And some days (I’ve had a lot of them lately) I feel like I want… no, I NEED, God to pull me a little closer.

I want to find some sort of connection with my God that satisfies. That is enough. That is good.

I want to know God’s heart, and to feel known by God.

My hunch is this: as much as right now Huck is in the Squishy Stage, and I just can’t seem to get close enough to him, I get the feeling that this is how God ALWAYS feels towards me. That God’s heart is always expanding and exploding with a love that constantly wants to pick me up and squeeze me, hold me, squish me.

I may be wrong.
But I think I’m right on this.

So if you have a little one, or a loved one, and today you give them a squeeze and think to yourself, “I’d eat them up, I love them so,” then just remember: that’s how God feels about you.

You are loved.

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