Tag Archives: spirituality

Wait on the Posse…

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14, NRSV)

We live in an age of instant gratification. Constantly, we seek to decrease the time between ‘pushing the button’ and ‘engaging the device.’ Whether it is commuting to work, waiting for your computer to ‘boot’ up, sending a text, making a call, or just standing in line, we HATE to be found waiting. For many, anytime spent waiting is time wasted. After all, time is one area of human life that is irredeemable. As a result, we find all manner of ways to ‘fill the time’ so that we maximize our usage of time.

I would suspect that this obsessive fixation on time came with the march of technology, progress and ingenuity. (More specifically that fixation is unique element of most Western societies. But more on the that later…) Much of the technology revolutions of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and the Modern eras all came about as ways to save time and increase efficiency. In fact we measure an object, institution or person based upon their ability to move swiftly and (perhaps secondarily) effectively. Everything from fast food restaurants, Emergency Rooms, airlines and even your local dry cleaners tout their ability to minimize waiting times and delays. Ultimately however, this fixation has created a high level of impatience among many of us.

In the Christian life, waiting has also become annoying. The disease of impatience has crept into the life of discipleship. Instant gratification has grabbed hold of many of us in the faith to our detriment. We expect prayers answered immediately, preaching to be brief, worship to be ‘efficient’ and our purpose to be instantly clear. Essentially, we as Christians want our faith to conform to the fast paced, hectic and aggressive schedules that we all keep. We expect to multitask our faith with all of the other elements of work, family, and recreation that define the competition of so many of our lives.

Unknown

In my vocation as a Pastor, I run into so many Christians (and others) who wrestle with patience. They pray for it, and use mantras to govern their mind while they are forced to wait. The loathe the moments when they have to wait on spouses, traffic and all of the mundane moments of life that seem to lead ‘nowhere’. Consequently, they find horrifying, the moments of wrestling and contemplation that characterize the Christian faith and discipleship. “You mean I have to wait”, or, “I know I should be more patient”, comes the reply to the task of discipleship. Most frightening for even more us is the idea that we have to wait on God.

This simple admonition of the power and purpose of waiting in our above passage is often lost on many of us. The Psalmist pens this as a song of confidence and boasting in God. Posing the question of “Whom shall I fear?”, the writer is clearly strengthened in the power of God. However, what seems to be subtly present, is that the revelation of the Psalm have come through an intense wrestling of faith, or spirituality, or strength or some other existential struggle. Verses 13 and 14 puts forth the faith of what he believes he shall see in his life: The vindication of his hurt and pain, if he can just……..wait. The most powerful revelation of the Psalm is that in waiting, he found peace in the midst of struggle.

The psalmist seems to fly in the face of much of our conceptions of time and waiting. Western cultural mores are built around the clock. Everything we do is governed by time and its infinite worth as a commodity (which never devalues). Trains, planes, and careers run on the clock. However, in other cultures, time is a construct of the community. African (and African Diaspora) communities embody a culture of ‘communal time’ as one historian suggested. In our collective experience, we experience ‘beginnings and endings’. An event or activity does not begin until all the necessary parties have assembled, which may be later than the clock. The emphasis is placed on the assembly and the power of the community as opposed to the abstraction that is time. (Of course this is problematic when it comes to bus schedules, airplanes and other aspects of modern living.) 

images

 

The worldview of the Psalmist might be similar to our African brothers and sisters in that the importance of waiting on the ‘necessary participant’ is critical to the journey of life. In other words, the psalmist might be offering us the challenge of communal formation with God while we are waiting. Said differently, your journey is not worth its goal if you leave ‘before time’ and without all of the proper personnel. Being mindful of God and God’s plans in the midst of the journey is worth the wait, as God’s actions are critical and directions are essential to the life of faith and success. Anything less is just ‘keeping time’.

God’s plans for our lives, and even our own plans for our lives take time, effort and energy to come to fruition. Efficiency and fast don’t seem to be good partners when it comes to discipleship. A hallmark of discipleship is patience. A willingness to wait after done all you could do is incredibly difficult but worthwhile. For in the ‘sacrament’ of waiting, we will find a reason to boast in the power of God to see God’s plan through. Patience for you and patience for me is a vision of truth that we could all use. Again I say, WAIT!!!

 

Comments Off on Wait on the Posse…

Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Hope, Old Testament, Sacred Memory

Newtownian Understanding (Part 1)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35, KJV)

The simplest verse in all scripture, (and the one that is easily remembered during games of scriptural recall), is the above passage. In all of the Biblical witness, the profundity of scripture is so often found within its deep phrases and careful construction of the narrative. Understanding the nuances of the story and all of the subtleties of a passage of text, so often exposes the deepest meaning and truth for application. John 11 verse 35 captures all of that in two simple words……..Jesus……wept. It is the most provocative and deeply profound statement in the Bible.

John’s understanding of Jesus as the “Word made flesh” means that this Jesus is God realized and revealed in humanity. John’s Jesus is independent of the disciples and ready to engage all of the tasks of human existence because of the confidence of the relationship he has with “his Father.” The relationship is so connected and so intertwined that we understand John’s Jesus as fully God in the moment. So what Jesus does, so God does as well. When Jesus acts, God is at work. Jesus speaks, God is speaking. They are “one.”

So then, the moment when Jesus comes to the tomb of his deceased friend Lazarus, is an eye-opening moment in the life of Jesus and all of us. For in this moment, despite all of the power Jesus possesses to rectify the situation……..Jesus cries. God cries. Its earth shattering and provocative. It challenges all notions of divinity but yet it is witnessed to right there in the text. The fullness of divinity expressed the deepest and fullest moment of humanity…….grief.

Weeping

The events of this past Friday are so disturbing and numbing that it really defies words to attempt to explain. I, like many others around the world, was shell-shocked and stricken by the horror and evil visited on elementary school teachers and students. Much of my crying came from watching my own children play, oblivious to what was taken place in the world and how the parents of those twenty children could no longer do so. It hurt to see the pain in Connecticut while seeing the joy and innocence in the eyes of my children, knowing that the world we live in will one day jade those eyes and cause them to produce many tears.

These situations have become all too common in our country and frankly, a form of this type of violence occurs in neighborhoods and cities across this country everyday. Mothers and fathers are nearly constantly weeping because of the loss of a child to gun violence and assault. News images and reporters cover a fraction of the violence that visits many neighborhoods and communities. In America, we have sadly learned to cope with mental illness, gun violence and the tragedies of mass public killings. By the way, if we have found a way to cope with the killing of our children at the mall, in movie theaters and at schools, we have developed our own level of mental illness in society.

Each time this horror visits us (be it in Tuscon, Aurora, or Newtown), we as a nation quickly move from sadness to debate about fault, illness, or theological/philosophical distraction to satiate our desire to understand or make sense of these situations. People say things like “God needed another flower” or “its all part of God’s plan”. (In fact, if you read the John passage closely, you will discover that Jesus makes his own theological assertion about the death of his friend). In my experience, these assertions and claims, do little to provide the ‘help’ and understanding that people think they do. In some cases, it causes harm and pain. It is not constructive to try and comfort without first wrestling with your disturbance. That means taking time for self-reflection and processing. Some might argue that theological assertions and policy debates are ways to grieve and process our emotions in periods like this. This might be true, however, while there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, there are constructive ways to grieve. Constructive grief means dealing with the hurt your have experienced in ways that continually allow you explore meaning and feeling about a situation. This is very difficult and shouldn’t be done alone. Sadly, many do not know or are unwilling to go through the hurt to Process their emotional health. Rarely do we take the time to process our own emotions in light of these situations. As a result, we learn little from these horrific moments and become broken people ignoring the cracks and fissures of our neighbors and friends, because we don’t want to expose our own brokenness.

Memorial Newtown

In the days and weeks ahead, my vision of truth is that we take time to grieve constructively, together. We seek to understand ourselves in the light of this confusion. We weep. We write. We pray. We do the things as families, communities, neighborhoods that restore wholeness in our lives together. Constructive grieving is done privately and publicly and experienced individually and collectively, so that no one is simply alone and no one is delusional about their hurts and pains. We live together and grow whole……..together.

There is an interesting conclusion to the pericope of Jesus weeping. Jesus weeps and then orders the stone be removed and does something. After he weeps, he takes action. After crying, he addresses the situation. Quite simply, there is a time to cry and then there is a time for action……. (Part II will turn out attention to that action)

Comments Off on Newtownian Understanding (Part 1)

Filed under Christian Church, Civil Religion, Community, Discipleship, Gosepls, Grief, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Justice, New Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Redemption, Sacred Memory

Paralyzed by Success

22 All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” 23 The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. 24 They set out and went up into the hill country, and when they reached the Valley of Eshcol they spied it out 25 and gathered some of the land’s produce, which they brought down to us. They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.” 26 But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; 27 you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’ ” 29 I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. 30 The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. 32 But in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.” (Deuteronomy 1:22-33, NRSV)

Life is filled with various emotional actions and reactions to the circumstances we are placed in. Many times our emotional action or reaction to the things that surround us are positive and sometimes negative. I know that many times we are told that reactions themselves are neither negative or positive. We are told that the context for those emotions determine whether something is positive or negative. I would submit however that within virtually any context, one of the strongest negative emotions is fear.

Fear in its purest form is based on misperceptions and misconceptions about the reality around us. Fear is often irrational and illogical. Our fears are rooted in experiences, thoughts or memories that are either contrived (totally a figment of our imagination), misunderstood (interpretation and perception is wrong), or some variation of the previous two (misunderstood experience that is overanalyzed for a meaning that isn’t there!). The real danger about fear is its tendency to feed on itself in the heart of the fearful. With little effort, a person can work themselves into a frenzy of hatred or isolation based on fears that are left unchecked.

One of the unhealthy results of fear is its eventuation into paralysis. Fear, if left unexamined, can lead to paralysis in a situation. My fear of spiders always paralyzes me when the time comes to get rid of the pesky insect. Other fears will stop people in their tracks. Fears, and any manner of phobia, lead their sufferers to seize up and keeps them from experiencing the fullness of life. It isn’t just fears of creatures or events that keep us paralyzed. In the human experience there is this peculiar condition that many of us go through from time to time. It is a fear of success. There are those of us who spend our lives moving from situation to situation and living of life of equilibrium and mediocrity because we believe it is safe. Our warped sense of safety in the status quo (no matter how dysfunctional) comes from a strong fear of risk. More than that, some of us take the risks to be better and yet when we experience success, we frantically return to what we know. It happens when people who have lived in failing and bad situations finally experience real opportunities. They experience growth and health in their relationships and their lives and things begin to look up. After a few months of success, they sabotage good relationships, healthy living and good jobs. They return back to what they know and then wonder why they would sabotage what they knew to be a good thing?

The opening speech of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy offers insight into a people who are fearful of success. Moses recounts a story from their experience in the wilderness in which spies are sent into the promised land of Canaan to check out its suitability for their coming. The report comes back of a land “flowing with milk and honey” but filled with giants. The people then gripe and complain and then decide that they will not go in spite of the fact that God has (according to the text) “given it to them.”

In recounting the past, Moses is really teaching the people about their future. This will not be the only time when they have difficult moments. This will not be the only time that it LOOKS like the promises of God are at hand but just out of reach. This will not be the only time that all has gone according to plan and people get caught up on their fears. Moses is showing the people the foolishness of their fears and the paralysis it causes. They are willing to forget everything God has brought them through and stay on the outside of the promise of God, because of the fear that has consumed them. This is in spite of the fact that everything they have done has met with success.

;

The same holds true for us. Moses is trying to teach us to be careful about how we appropriate and manifest our fears. We have a tendency to believe that when everything is going according to plan, Murphy’s Law will come into play. Instead of focusing on Murphy and his law, why not focus on the successes God has already allowed for you to experience? Why not focus on the ways God has already brought you through circumstances and situations that you could not control? Why not acknowledge that you are in a place you have never been before and God didn’t bring you this far simply to leave you?

Just because things are going well doesn’t mean that disaster is around the corner. Just because the Lord has been faithful in his promises toward you doesn’t mean that you have to be something you are not to ‘make it.’ Sometimes we use ‘promised land moments’ to focus on the ‘what ifs’ of our success. And instead of moving toward success in faith, we get stuck and paralyzed by our proximity to the possible. Moses’ instruction here is always a clear vision of truth in all of life’s situations, “The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place.”

Comments Off on Paralyzed by Success

Filed under Christianity, Discipleship, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Prophetic Accountability, Sacred Memory

Y’all Got Power…

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14, NRSV)

“You Got Power!!”, a member of my congregation exclaimed.

My family and I were among the nearly 4 million Americans that were affected by the summer storms (called a derecho) that swept across the midwest and eastern seaboard. the storms were fast and intense. Literally, thirty minutes of wind, rain and lightning resulted in 1.5 million electrical outages in the DC Metropolitan Area. Many persons are expected to be without power for days in sweltering 100 degree heat and humidity.

We lost our electricity a little after 11pm on Friday, at the height of the storm. Temperatures spiked around 101 degrees on Saturday and the home in which we live, the internal temperature spiked at 84 degree. (The lower parts of the house were bearable at around 74 degrees.) Many of my neighbors and friends vacated their homes to attend movies, malls and museums in order to escape the heat and lack of rest. We stayed in our home and made the best of our time and energy.

 

 

At a church function the next day, many of my fellow congregants discussed our challenges surviving the storm. All of the people began conversations that day with, “Do y’all have power?”. The answer usually followed with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, according to the circumstances in which we found ourselves. It continued in this way until one member finally rebutted all of us when she blurted out, “Y’all GOT POWER!!! WHAT YOU NEED IS ELECTRICITY!”

Her statement pointed out a wonderfully refreshing theology. There is a power at work in each of us that never goes out! We just lost electrical connectivity due to the storm. Now sure, that is what we all meant, but none of us said it. We semantically equated electricity and ‘power’. No harm, no foul!! Not so much…

 The question of power seemed appropriate to the discussion, but her comment exposed a real theological distinction of our life in God. You see, what we call a thing is often what we believe about a thing. When we name a thing, we in many respects, define what it means to us. When we call a thing “black” we at have some level identified it as negative. This has been ingrained in our culture over many centuries and therefore become a part of our lexicon.  Black sheep, Blacklisted etc…

The behavior we exhibited after the blackout, gave real insight to our true definition of power in our lives. Many people were helpless without an ability to charge batteries, surf the internet, or even to simply watch television. In spite of the oppressive heat, many persons felt it absolutely essential (and necessary) to their survival to get to air conditioning and safe environments. Others, however, found it necessary to connect to ‘power’ in order to get their centers of identity powered up in order to function in a lack of electrical power.

What my parishioner’s comment reminded me of is the importance of remaining grounded in times of challenge and crisis. Paul reminds us in the above passage, that we all have access to a power that keeps us in the midst of our circumstances. Despite the challenges of our life, Paul says that we really do have power to live in and through those challenges.  The power to be patient in circumstances that challenge our patience. The power to be joy-filled in trying and sad times. We have power that keeps us ‘grounded’ when we very easily have a tendency to be ‘short-circuited’.

This power is outside the purview of our ability to mediate it and understand it. It is available to all of us! Praise the Lord!! The shorthand of power can be, for some, a literal understanding of enabling us to be more than what we are. It is a sense of identity for some. The storm, my parishioner, and this passage all remind us of the importance of remembering who has the power and tapping into the power that heals, restores, invigorates and affirms in the midst life’s difficulties and trials.

Keeping a constant tap to the power source of the universe helps us all gain a vision of truth in each of our lives. 

Comments Off on Y’all Got Power…

Filed under Christian Church, Epistles, Hope, Jesus Christ, New Testament