Thursday, September 30, 2010

The lamentor who can still see green

The time between Pentecost and Advent marks the longest season in the Christian calendar. This period is often referred to as ordinary or common time, although these terms can cause great misunderstanding if they are used in a way to refer to time that is mundane or trivial. Instead, ordinary time refers not to a descriptive of the season, but to ordinal counting: a way of counting time. With the color green as the hallmark of the season, many churches focus on God's mission in this world and our awareness of growth and redemption happening all around.

Jamie and I have been swimming in the "greenness" of our lives over the last 22 weeks. We have been challenged to ask in every situation - the easy and the difficult, the good and the bad - "What is God doing in this?" When we have been at our best and have been able to ask this question, we find that we are slower to judge, more receptive towards listening, slower to act selfishly, and more hopeful about the situation. This is a far cry from stating that every easy (or difficult) situation is directly scripted by God (i.e. "God gave me a million dollars!" or "God gave me cancer"), but that in every situation we are to respond first as a receptive listener who might actually hear something, and then as an active participant who might actually be called to do something.

The lectionary for this week calls for a reading of the book of Lamentations. Lamentations is filled with some of the most vivid descriptives of a land and people who see very little green. Yet the author never gives way to complete despair:

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'" - 3:22-24

...this after he says that "he has made my teeth grind on gravel" (3:16) and "I have forgotten what happiness is" (3:17). This author was living as a participant in a story, a story that told of the One true God who had brought a people out of Egypt and into an abundant land, a people who were chosen to be set apart as a beaming light to the nations, a people who would never be forgotten. Even when darkness was all around - as it certainly was when their lands were taken over, their God mocked, and their children hungry - green was not forgotten. Yahweh had proven His everlasting covenant-commitment with this people time and time again, and the lamentor(s) would not be shackled into complete despair.

And so we gather every week to continue in the proclamation of this God who does not fail and does not give up on the restoration of all things. We gather to proclaim Christ crucified for the sake of the world and to proclaim our commitment to being a part of this peaceful kingdom. We gather to encourage one another to see the green that is all around us, and after receptively listening to the Holy Spirit, to pick up a brush and join in the great masterpiece. And we are thus formed to be able to ask the question, "What is God doing in this situation?" even when darkness seems to squelch all other colors.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing Not to Express, But to Learn

I used to believe that people who write do so because they have something to say and know something about that something. Sure, there may be difficulty in choosing words, structuring sentences, and arranging paragraphs, but the main idea is already known and thus just needs to be described. Therefore, I perceived writing not as an artistic development or process-to-achieve-understanding, but as the final step in laying down what is already known.

This assumption about writing often kept the white pages in Microsoft Word as white pages. The thought was always, "How can I write about something, when I don't know what that something is, don't know what to say about it, and don't know what good it would be for anyone to read about it?" As I've grown to understand my own learning process, I realize that writing is not a final step, but one of the first steps required to walk on when forming coherent thoughts and opinion.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to read Stanley Hauerwas' Hannah's Child where he summed up this same idea:

Writing is hard and difficult work because to write is to think. I do not have an idea and then find a way to express it. The expression is the idea. So I write because writing is the only way I know how to think.

I recently remarked to someone that I feel as if I have not been thinking very deeply over the past few months. I attributed this to busyness and a mind consumed with a newborn in the house. There is certainly truth in this, but the larger factor (I am realizing) is that I have not been writing at all. I hope to engage regularly in the process of writing not because I have a lot to say, but because by engaging the discipline, I will hopefully think deeply and be continually transformed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning that we have hands...

My daughter is just beginning to realize that she has hands. She surprises herself when they accidentally appear in her line of vision, and then she is captivated by them for extended periods of time; she has yet to realize that these are useful to achieve her desires of sucking, grabbing, and holding.

That she has to learn this - that she exists in a body - is a beautiful thing. Jamie and I pray for her future and all the things that she will face and for all the lessons that will be learned through them. But before she can learn about love, and friendship, and forgiveness, and beauty, she has to learn that she exists.

As Christians, we make certain proclamations about the world that are otherwise unknown to the world. In the same way that Lydia is discovering a truthfulness and a reality of her own bodily existense - a realization that will birth an entire new way of life - so we believe Jesus has revealed an entirely new way of life. We are invited into this through the call, "Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand." And when we respond to this call, we do not simply sit back and remark about these realities ("Oh, I have hands, NEATO!", or any number of doctrinal statements that quickly become the essence of faith) but instead are invited to practice the realities which have been revealed, and therefore become transformed by their truthfulness.

Many of the realities of this kingdom come to mind:
  • Learning to forgive

  • Practicing a posture of peacefulness

  • Openness towards strangers

  • Particular care for the poor, the lonely, and the oppressed

  • Giving possessions away

  • Regularly communing and fellowshipping with others.

Lydia's journey of discovering her bodily existence is a beautiful journey. She will live differently as she realizes she has hands, feet, and the ability to communicate with others. Everything will be new. May our eyes be opened to the kingdom come near through Jesus Christ, and therefore accept the call to repent and believe, living forward with eyes opened to the truthfulness of a world being redeemed and restored.