Be the Change

Enoch and I watched Zootopia earlier this past week. This quote by Judy Hopps, the rabbit and main character stuck out to me in light of recent events and in life, “I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.”

Change starts with you.  Change starts with us.  I often use the sermon illustration of each of us as drops of water that can fill up a bucket.  We’re more powerful together, but we don’t lose our autonomy, our individuality, our free will to choose to BE the change.  I hear the hymn in my head of “Pass it On” as I’m reminded of the words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  I used to love when we would sing/shout the words, “to shout it from the mountaintop,” because we were shouting in church “Praise God!”  We’re called to be the change and to shout it by our words and actions – individually and collectively – and all of that honor and glory goes directly to God.

We watched another movie, “A Far Off Place” with a young Reese Witherspoon circa 1993, Josh, Caleb and I had watched when we were kids.  It’s the story of 2 young people and their African guide who trek across the Kalahari desert 2,000 kilometers to get away from the poachers who killed their parents.  Xhabbo says that if the wind could do it, we can and Nonnie echos him.  The three main characters are Nonnie, a girl who has been born and raised in Africa, Harry, a boy who is visiting from New York City on vacation and doesn’t want to be there, and Xhabbo, the African bushman who helps them on their journey.  At the beginning of the movie, Nonnie wants to go with Colonel Theron, the grandfather figure, to hunt the poachers, and her dad refuses to let her go.

Nonnie Parker: Dad, wasn’t it you who told me people need to stand up for what they believe in, or nothing’s ever gonna change.

Paul Parker: People need to sit down and talk, otherwise *people* won’t change.

Nonnie Parker: I’ve seen a lot of sitting and talking around here, not much changing. If you were George Washington’s father, we’d still be British colonists.

Many of us are weary from what is happening in our world and in our church… And people talking past each other.  We need to really hear each other.  We need to form the relationships that it takes to be honest about our positions and have real dialogue without threat of being demonized, painted into corners, or called names.  No matter what, we need to sit down and talk and be open to God’s leading and actually be the change, be the love, this world needs.  Can we do that?

I was recently listening to Lauren Daigle “Oh, Lord” and it has this chorus in it.

Your strength is found
At the end of my road
Your grace it reaches to the hurting
Still through the tears and the questioning why
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

I personally am still reeling from General Conference, moving in the midst, Annual Conference, the Orlando shooting, and the many atrocities that go on in our world every day.  I cling to our Wesleyan theology in times like these because it gives a framework for life.  God is with us.  John Wesley is said to have those words at his death.  At the end of his life, summoning all his remaining strength, he cried out, “The best of all is, God is with us,” lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.”  We take comfort that God is with us giving us comfort, love, direction, and all that we need in times of trouble and times of celebration. We are all in need of God’s sanctifying grace to be made further into disciples that look, speak, and act like Jesus.  We should all stand our ground in hope humbly seeking God’s will.  We should resist being stuck in the past, dredging up the same tired arguments.  We as Christians are trained to see all things made new and resurrection dust as pollen everywhere.  When Harry and Nonnie arrive at the crest of a mountain and only see more dunes, Harry looks back.  Xhabbo says, “Harry must not look back.  This is Harry’s future.”  This is our future.  God’s got this.

Philippians 3:12-16 says, “12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”

Let us go forward, pressing towards the goal of making disciples, not for our glory, not to receive any accolades because that’s what God calls us to do – to love as God loves and bring kingdom to earth. How do we do that?  Micah 6:8 says do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. In Wesleyan language that means personal piety and social holiness.  We need to take time to be spiritually fed ourselves so that we can be Christ in the world.  I picked this card up in Portland.

IMG_5591 I think we all should follow the advice of Clive Staples. “There are far better things ahead than any we may leave behind.” This is our future.  I’m not calling General Conference a desert, but we have to keep on swimming, as Dory says, keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I’m hopeful that if we prayerfully and humbly seek the will of God than God WILL move and as it says in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”  I will trust in the promise that we who are called Methodists have a future with hope and we who seek to follow Jesus with our whole heart, mind, and strength will see God’s kingdom come to Earth.

  • This post was originally written for the South Carolina Delegation Meeting  on Saturday, June 18th.

Nathan – The Editor

This semester at Gator Wesley, we are going to use as our backdrop, Leonard Sweet’s book, 11 – indispensable relationships you can’t be without – in which he talks about the 11 people [relationships] that we need to be who Christ creates us to be – we need
• an Editor
• a True Friend
• a Butt-Kicker
• an Heir
• an Encourager
• a Yoda
• a Back-Coverer
• a Reject
• a ‘Little One’
• a VIP
• a Place
• a Paraclete – “one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate”

This week we have Nathan, the editor.

1 Chronicles 17:1-15
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God’s Covenant with David
17 Now when David settled in his house, David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2 Nathan said to David, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.”
3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: 4 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: You shall not build me a house to live in. 5 For I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel to this very day, but I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle. 6 Wherever I have moved about among all Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 7 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people Israel; 8 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies before you; and I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 9 I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall wear them down no more, as they did formerly, 10 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will subdue all your enemies.
Moreover I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. 11 When your days are fulfilled to go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, 14 but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. 15 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

Have you ever heard of a “yes” man or woman? It’s a thing. Merriam Webster defines it this way, “a person who agrees with everything that is said; especially: one who endorses or supports without criticism every opinion or proposal of an associate or superior.” You will meet “yes” men all the time in the workplace. Have you ever heard of a celebrity out of control because they’ve surrounded themselves with no one that ever tells them no? I can name all sorts of actors/singers/entertainers that died tragically because they were surrounded by people on the pay roll. They received no unbiased opinions, because the machine around them depended on their celebrity for their livelihood. We can give countless examples of these behaviors…..Hello, Britney shaving her head or Justin Bieber in his latest trouble or need I even say Lindsay Lohan without images flashing through your head?

They needed someone to be “real” with them or keep them grounded. They needed an editor, like Nathan. Nathan spoke truth to power. Who’s not afraid to call you into account for your actions? Who’s not afraid to get under your skin? Who’s not afraid to gently, but firmly say that you’re acting like a jerk? That’s your Nathan.

A Nathan reveals, pulls back the curtain, to who you truly are. Recently I went on a facebook posting rampage, where I watched the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance. In the movie Bagger played by Will Smith, says, “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.” A Nathan’s not afraid of calling you out because he can see through the layers to YOU. And the Nathan’s in your life, care about and love you, but they’re not about to let you get away with anything, just like Bagger Vance.

Nathan figured prominently in David’s life 3 times. At 3 critical junctures. In the text for today, 2 Samuel 7, David had just finished building his palace. He had been greatly blessed by God and decided that the ark of the covenant, which was still in a tent, needed a permanent home. He consulted with Nathan who agreed at first, but as you hear in the passage, Nathan changed his mind because it was not what God wanted. Nathan also said some good things to David – that David’s name would be great, his people would have peace, his son would build a “House for my name,” the throne and kingdom of David and his son would be established forever, and what would later become the Davidic Covenant – that Jesus would be in the lineage of David. You may be thinking that’s not gutsy speaking truth to power, he just told him not to build a church, and he said several good things after that. Well in 2 Samuel 12, David had recently committed adultery with Bathsheba and had arranged the death of her husband Uriah. Nathan was sent to David by the Lord with a parable – a poor man had one lamb, a rich man had great flocks of sheep – a traveler came to the rich man who prepared a meal for him – the rich man took the lamb from the poor man rather than use one of his own for the meal. David heard the story and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” [vs5] Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” [vs7] Awkward.

David repented of his sin, and the Lord forgave him – but the consequences of his sin then meant that the child born to Bathsheba did in fact die. The sign, however, of forgiveness was that David and Bathsheba had another son, Solomon, the inheritor of the promise.

The third time doesn’t have the same sting as the Bathsheba story, but it’s important nonetheless. It happens in 1 Kings 1 right at the end of David’s life. God had made it clear that Solomon would inherit the throne from his father – when another of David’s sons, Adonijah, tried to usurp the throne, Nathan supported David rather than Adonijah. He informed Bathsheba of the plot and advised her on how to ensure the right successor. Nathan was called in by David and told to anoint Solomon king – this he did and it was proclaimed to the people.

An editor works tirelessly so that you can be the best that you can be.

“Joe Myers illustrates the editability with the story of his wife, Sara, handing him back an essay she had edited for him, and all he could see was red. Every page was dripping with blood. As he tried to find one pure white page, she said these words: ‘Joe, this is fantastic! This is one of the best things I have ever read! This is going to change people’s lives.’
‘You’re kidding. You hate it…’
‘No, I love it.’
‘But look at all the red. You hate it.’
‘Joe, I love it. I just want you to get your ideas out as powerfully as you can. Every time you see red on the page, you should hear me saying to you, ‘Joe, I love this, I love you, and I want the whole world to read this book.’”

How many times do we see the editors of our lives as our biggest critics? How many times do we see the ink all in red and think that we’re not good enough? How many times do we take personally what we see as criticism but those that love us have said it to make us better?

Leonard Sweet writes, “What makes the Nathans unique in your life is that they are fundamentally best understood as welcome intruders. They tend to pop in unannounced to take the moral temperature of a particular moment, especially at the most inconvenient and disturbing of times. But because you are already in a relationship with them, and authenticity is your brand, their temperature taking isn’t always welcome. In a culture of increasing transparency, thanks to the internet and ubiquitous surveillance (the average Londoner is captured on camera over three hundred times a day), you refuse them entrance at your peril.”

In biblical language, Nathans “speak the truth in love.” As it says in James 1:22, a Nathan is not someone who rushes to “tell you the truth” but someone who helps you to “do the truth.”

As anyone who has ever written some words on a piece of paper, it’s not always pleasant or fun to get edited. The English major in me, cringes at the thought of taking my paper to the writing center and for them to pull out the fine tooth comb or the magnifying glass to make corrections. It’s like they see my soul stripped bare and the vulnerability is apparent. They see me. In all of my weaknesses, in all of my vulnerabilities, in all of the places I would rather not see – they see me.

So prayerfully consider the Nathans in your life. You don’t want to pick a person that is critical for critical’s sake, that is destructive to your world, or does not care about your well-being. So be discerning as you notice the people in your life that make you better, aren’t afraid to give you a reality check when the situation calls for it, and do so in love.

But as you notice the Nathans in your life they have some tell-tale signs. The first is they get under your skin. They look at the inner workings of your life and are not afraid to call BS. An English teacher in high school taught me the acronym meant Be Specific.

The second is they will ask you questions. Sweet says that questions can comfort, challenge, or convict. A Nathan looks at the heart. Snow White on Once Upon a Time wouldn’t get away with the darkness growing in her heart, if a Nathan was around. A Nathan would ask the familiar words of Wesley, “How well is it with your soul?”

The third and final thing is that they will tell the truth. A Nathan helps us see the truth about ourselves – truth telling, not truth dumping. Truth dumping is when we tell someone the “truth” but we’re really giving our own opinion, and it’s needlessly hurtful because the truth teller is not seeking to make us better but is seeking to destroy, cut down, or belittle. Nathan’s words are blunt, but with love. It is said about a Nathan, “There are kinder words that could have been said to me, but there aren’t truer ones.”

My brother Josh just happens to be a Nathan in my life. You’ll meet him on fall retreat because he’s going to be the speaker. He’s not afraid to call me on the carpet when he thinks I’m not being my most Godly. But I trust him implicitly. I don’t always like what he says. I don’t always agree with what he says. But 9 times out of 10 he has a point. He has perspective on my life. Even when I don’t see it. Even when I can’t see it. He has a way of breaking through. It may take a couple of days, of inner debate within myself, to see truth in his observational interruptions, but I trust him. So I listen to him. Because I know he’s watching out for me and just wants me to be the best that I can be.

So I’m glad that Len Sweet writes, “Everybody needs a Nathan. Even Nathan needs a Nathan.” Even Josh needs a Nathan in his life.

So open your eyes to the Nathan’s of your life. Your Nathan’s may easily come to mind. They may not. But we all need them. Oprah is attempting to be Lindsay Lohan’s, but that is another story and another sermon.

Do you know what David named his son? That’s right. Nathan. And that’s the line through which Jesus came through Mary’s side. You see, the Nathan’s of your life will have a big Godly impact in your life if you will let them. May it be so.

Holy and gracious God, may we be ever on the look out for the Nathan’s in our life. That they call us into account and are willing to ask the hard questions. May you set our feet on right paths and may we walk in your ways. Thank you that we were fearfully and wonderfully made and we can rest in the promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. May you give us wisdom as we discern answers to questions that seemingly have no answers. May you give us your peace that transcends all understanding, when we wrestle or need your comfort. May you give us your grace that we may know your more fully and as we continue in your sanctifying grace to be the person you created us to be. In Jesus’ name I pray. We pray now as you taught your disciples to pray….

Getting Back

I’ve been preaching for four Sundays now.  Reading from a manuscript.  Sunday was the first Sunday I had the nerve to do the communion liturgy and benediction extemporaneously.  I bet it was the shortest communion extrapolation ever!  I’ve been frustrated with how slow a process it is.  I came home late in the afternoon after having lunch with the students and something prompted me to reach for The Legend of Bagger Vance among the collection of our DVD’s.  It was a God thing.  I needed it.  And God knew it.

 

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

 

“You know I can’t quit.”
” I know. Just making sure you know it too.”

 

“Look at his practice swing. Almost as if he’s searching for something. And then he finds it. He settles himself right in the middle of it. Feel that focus. He’s got a lot of shots he can choose from….But there’s only one shot that’s his. Authentic shot. And that shot is going to choose him. There’s a perfect shot out there trying to find each and every one of us. What we got to do is get ourselves out of it’s way and let it choose us.”

 

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. But you ain’t alone. I’m right here with you. I’ve been here all along. Now play the game. Your game. The one that only you was meant to play. The one that was given to you when you come into this world. You ready? Take your stance. Strike that ball. Don’t hold nothing back. Give it everything. Now’s the time. Let yourself remember. Remember your swing.”

 

It was like my own personal pep talk.  I need to be me.  I need to trust my own voice.  I need to be centered on God and all that comes with it.  It reminds me of the old Siler’s Bald song Getting Back.  With the lines like, “I crawl, I run, as you wait for me//With open arms, there you stand//take my heart in your hands//I’m going to keep my eyes on you//I pray this life you’ll see me through.”

So there’s progress.  I was able to do the chinese balls with my right hand.  I wasn’t able to do that a month ago, so I dreaded it when my occupational therapist placed them before me.  But I was pleasantly surprised that I could do it!

It still terrifies me to stand in the pulpit.  But I know I’m not alone.  May my nervousness draw me closer to God.  This is my prayer.

Thanks for all of yours!  I walk this journey with all of you by my side and a great cloud of witnesses looking on.

Grenades and Blue Like Jazz

I had a comment on one of my blog posts this morning that made me think a bit. It was on the post “Jesus to a 4 Year Old” and the person posted that we (Christians) are stupid and we’re corrupting our children and making them stupid. Wow. Good morning! I can understand that. There are many that have experienced Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, unethical, and dillusional. There are some who assume that to believe what we believe, we must be stupid, unenlightened, or just ignorant.

It’s ironic reading this comment after watching a screening of the Blue Like Jazz movie last night while at the Refresh campus ministry conference. If you know me, you know I’m a big supporter of the book and have been a big supporter of the movie. I didn’t know what to expect last night and was trying very hard not to get my hopes up or set the bar too high. The book and the movie are VERY different in a lot of ways. It was hilarious last night explaining the differences to the many who had not read the book yet. They are so different that the wonderful Donald Miller wrote a book about the making of the movie – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Read it. (I may actually it more than Blue Like Jazz.)

Some of the questions afterwards were what kind of audience is this going to be directed to and why was it so different than the book, etc. This is not geared towards the Christian audience that would go see something like Fireproof or Soul Surfer. I don’t know if they would it make it through the slightly over the top first 5 minutes. It’s slightly more appealing to those of who believe that we can be authentic and real people of faith and can still enjoy a good sometimes crude laugh sometimes a la Jimmy Fallon or Bridesmaids. Even still to me it’s really geared to those who have railed against the church and the things that don’t add up when comparing the love and actions of God with the love and action of God’s followers.

The Book of Mormon Broadway musical writers said that it’s a love letter from atheists to people of faith. In some ways I can see this as a love letter from Christians to atheists. In a lot of ways that simplifies it way too much, but it is something different. I can’t say enough: read the book, read the book, read the book.

It’s easy to throw pot shots at each other – whether people of faith or those ticked off at the Church. It’s easy to make judgements and assumptions and believe in the cliches. It’s harder to engage and dialogue and admit fault -not just on a personal level but as this body of believers that we represent. I know there are times when I want to apologize to folks for what some do in the name of Christ and the church. I know there are times when we as Christians hate on each other and judge each other because of worship styles or how we live our lives. Part of it is admitting that there’s something wrong – that we are culpable or personally responsible for some of these things and not just pointing fingers at particular bodies or theologies or idealogies.

All this to say – talk to me – give me a dialogue on what you believe or don’t believe. Engage. Chat. Share a meal or grab a cup of coffee. Don’t just toss an anonymous grenade where you feel self-righteous and filled with purpose, actually get to know people and see them as who they are as people – not just what box you have put them in.

I’m saying this to myself as well. We have put up the walls to our boxes so high and so thick that we don’t get out of those very often…whether we’re scared or angry or indignant or ignorant as to the whos and whys outside of stereotypes. Do you have friends that aren’t Christian? Do you have friends on the fringe? Do you have friends who don’t look like you or talk to you or believe exactly as you do?

I admit that after seeing the movie last night, I’m a little nervous. I’ve used this book countless times in sermon illustrations and small groups. I’ve pitched the amazing story of funding the movie and how I believe in this thing that’s not Evangelical or Liberal but it’s one person’s story of faith and a journey we’re invited into. But the movie is a heck of a lot more risque than that and there are some seens that I’m like – can I promote this movie? Not just in campus ministry/college student land, but to multi-generational crowds? We don’t blink twice about some of the tv shows or movies we watch or what we read, but when we throw Jesus into it, it makes it that much more layered and complicated. So am I going to promote this knowing that there’s profanity and drinking and who knows what else not to mention the disregard and mockery of the church for much of the movie?

Are you? What do you think as pastors, as lay people, as Christians, as people of faith in a sometimes hostile world and a sometimes blissfully presumptive world??

http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/

Bahahahahaha…

Is laughter the best medicine?  I’m not talking about giggles or polite laughter at a joke or a reference that’s not really funny but you’re supposed to insert said appropriate laughter here.  I’m talking for real, serious, tears streaming down the face laughter.

Earlier this semester the lovely Nick Jeffries from Camp Chestnut Ridge came and did some great team building stuff with our campus ministry.  We did a mirroring exercise where we all stood in a circle and we’re supposed to be copying another person in the circle, so let’s say I was supposed to be copying Jane, Jane is copying Chris, Chris is copying Malcolm, Malcolm is copying Lisa and Lisa is copying me.  It only takes one person to start copying a random thing and people are cracking up.  Or at least people like me are cracking up.  There’s something that is absolutely contagious about laughter and being silly that if we let our guards down even in the most stressful of times in the semester, we will readily and eagerly “go there” and crack up for awhile.

Tonight Mike and I went to see the movie Bridesmaids (yes, insert all sorts of cautions, parental controls, and other red flags here).  I saw it a conference a week or so ago and laughed so hard I cried, multiple times.  In telling Mike about the movie, I couldn’t figure out if the movie was really funny or if merely watching it with a theater full of laughing people and joining in laughing at the movie but also laughing at their reactions and raucous laughter was the thing that made it so hilarious.  After now seeing the movie twice (judge away, judge away), I definitely think it’s both.  This isn’t just some gross out, perverted, lame-o, insert fomulaic jokes here kind of movie.  Yes, there are some pretty “wild” (what word can you really put there?) scenes, but there’s also a good story as well.  A realistic story even.  Or at least more realistic than a lot of the crazy stuff out there.  The movie has heart.

But just as much as the movie has a hilarious and edgy heart, it’s also a beautiful thing to just be sitting in a theater with a room full of laughing people.  And this isn’t just normal self-conscious laughter, this is I don’t care who’s around I am laughing outloud and for real.  So much laughter.  There was one guy that was laughing so hard and loud that several of us just died laughing listening to him.  Seriously, several of us began to laugh so hard we were crying just because it was like this domino affect just listening and joining in on laughter.

There is something special about laughter.  Smiles.  Seeing them.  Hearing it.  Sharing it.  It can lighten a moment even in the most darkest and trying of times.  It can bring people together that don’t even have words to speak to one another.  It can break the ice on an awkward date.  It can be that camraderie in a scary situation, a nervous interview, or that spontaneous a ha moment when it all comes together.  It can even be the laughter that springs forth out of you randomly when someone is calling you on your stuff or providing a truthful but real revelation on what’s up in your life.

Beyond just turning that frown upside down, laughter is a uniter.  Not laughter or happiness at the misfortune of others – well maybe some of that in movies and America’s Funniest Home Videos.  What’s special is that contagious, joyous, surprise of laughter.

There are a multitude of youtube videos on laughter – from laughter yoga with the  lovely with the hilarious John Cleese to all sorts of songs and chains and challenges.  Check them out.  Do what it takes to laugh.  Everybody needs those moments of abs hurting laughter in the midst of our sometimes crazy world.  If Bridesmaids is not your thing try some knock knock jokes or going to a comedy club or even laughing at the hilarity that can sometimes be our lives.  Laugh long and laugh loud and don’t care a bit about who’s watching or listening.  (Even if that means snorting or guffawing in the most endearing of manners.)

I like that in the movie, Megan tells Annie that she’s got to grab on to her life.  Instead of just letting it knock her down, she’s got to have some fight left in her to claim it as her own.  I know, I know.  I shouldn’t try to wax eloquent about the movie at this point.  However, if you have seen the movie, hopefully this song will make you laugh.  If you haven’t seen it.  Very cheesily, hold on to one more day.  Laugh.  Outloud.  Break free from whatever chains.  Know that there is someOne who can break the chains and wants to laugh with us every day, even in the midst of the muck and the mire.

Easter?

He is Risen! The cross still looms to remind us of the sacrifice and the promise that death and sin are defeated by the love and grace of God!

We say that as Christians we’re an Easter people, a Resurrection people.  I believe that and have given an enthusiastic “He is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  I don’t know if it was because Easter was so late in the season this year but I started off pretty well at the beginning of Lent in trying to be intentional about this journey to the cross, but as the semester began to draw to a close and the to do list piled up, our car was totaled and we were depending on just one car, three of us had strep throat, and we moved everything out of my grandparent’s house, Easter somehow got lost in the shuffle and all the upheaval of life.

A clergy friend of mine posted the other day that Lent and Holy Week are her favorite time of the year.  I love spring and the flowers and the sun out more (even though we haven’t seen that as much yet).  I love the smell and feel in the air as people begin to come outside and play volleyball in the sand at Winthrop Lake, go on walks in the evening, and enjoy time on your front or back porch.  The transition from winter to spring is an amazing one and I know that very easily makes a symbolic leap to death and the resurrection.  So don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year, but I can’t say that I enjoy Good Friday.  It’s like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List where it’s not something that you watch every day to lift your spirits, but it’s something you know you need to watch at least once to recognize the sacrifice and the weight of what was cost.

I hate to pick favorite anything’s but Advent and Christmas are probably hands down my favorite time of year.  It’s such a powerful witness to me that the great God of the universe decided to come as a baby and dwell among us.  Emmanuel, fully human and fully divine, is such a super big deal.  You can’t have Easter without that in-breaking of the kingdom where God became a vulnerable baby right here in all of our human frailty and all the kaleidoscope of human experience.  In some ways it’s the same reasons that I love watching The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston  the night before Easter every year.  There’s something about when Moses says,” I want to know God,” as he longs to go on the mountain, and something sacred and special about this God who speaks and delivers the people.  There’s something about Ramses in the movie when challenged to cry out to his gods for help saying about Moses’ God, “His God, is God.”  A God that could have anything or do anything God wants, that chooses to be in relationship with God’s people, that chooses to bring deliverance and justice, and that chooses to be present in the midst of suffering – that is something more powerful than any adjective could describe.

In thinking about Easter, I think a lot of my unease is around Good Friday.  It’s easy for us to lift up the tiny baby Jesus a la Ricky Bobby or in pictures and greeting cards, but you don’t see people sending out greeting cards or putting giant pictures of Jesus still hanging on the cross, crucified with the nails and the blood and the crown of thorns.  It’s easy to believe in this present and loving God that chooses to be with us, it’s a little harder to take the responsibility that all the suffering he did on the cross was for us.  That’s a little more weighty and pricks our pride a bit for those that think works or merit or self-seeking is what makes things happen, which is why I think we often rush straight from Palm Sunday right on to Easter and the resurrection.  We know it ends well and it’s all good and grace for us, but it’s hard to hear the words from Gethsemane, “Father, take this cup from me.”  It’s hard to read about the suffering much less watch anything like the Passion where we get an up-close and personal look.  If we really believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  If we believe that this innocent man was martyred for us, how does that change how we live our lives?  Does it?  Sometimes Easter makes the sacrifice look easy and the grace that’s thrown out in bushel-full’s seem simple.  But then I think about Peter and the other disciple running as fast as they can to the tomb and Mary weeping there.  This was real and personal and not something just long ago, but something that affects each of us as Jesus calls our name.

How would you describe Easter?  How would you describe what Jesus did?  Using real life language, what would you say?  In thinking about how to describe the Easter story to Enoch and Evy in ways that they understand, do I just pop in a Veggie Tales video on Easter or read them a children’s book or hope they pick up something at church?  How do we explain to the world what Easter means, not just the cute little baby Jesus, but the full scope of the story?

There’s a line to a song that I heard the other day that says “there’s no hope without suffering.”  There’s no hope without suffering.  I don’t know if that’s wholly true all the time, but I do believe that the hope born from suffering is a real and sustaining hope indeed.  What kind of resurrection hope are we offering our world?  This isn’t a hope that tells you that everything in life is going to be easy or rainbows and butterflies.  It’s much like our South Carolina motto, “While I breathe, I hope.”  This is a hope that says that no matter what, even on the darkest of days, that God is with you.  Sin and death have been conquered and new life, eternal life, abundant life, is offered in Christ.  No more do we have to make the same mistakes over and over, but through the power and grace of God and the Spirit that intercedes for us, we have the promise of something more in this life and a story unfolding far more magnificent, magical, and miraculous than any royal wedding, any Lifetime or Hallmark movie, or anything we may try to do on our own.  Beyond any “greatest story ever told” this God of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and everything in between – this God is seeking us and calling us to live this resurrection life out loud in the world by loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves to know that we don’t have to do it all, but we just have to depend on the One who did it for us.

Still love this song for Easter…

Want to see a fun Easter flashmob RISE UP?  http://blog.lproof.org/2011/04/glorious-resurrection-day.html

Those Lights

I’ve really enjoyed the lectionary texts from the past couple weeks that have focused on light.  I’ve always liked Epiphany but even more so this year for some reason.  I appreciate that Epiphany is not just one Sunday that we celebrate those lovely wise folks coming to see the new born King, but that it’s an entire season stretching until the day before Ash Wednesday where we’re all opening our eyes to God around us.  To me that’s pretty significant in our church calendar that this time between the birth of Jesus – the incarnation – and Lent is a time where we a people of the light get a chance to center and focus on that light, opening ourselves to it.

I admit that I’m now watching ABC’s “Off the Map.”  If that makes me a drama and Grey’s Anatomy lovin’ television watcher than so be it.  I like the concept that these three doctors have come to this jungle to get away from whatever they have left back home and yet they seem to face these same fears and concerns no matter how far they have run.  In the first episode the three newbies gather and realize that the doctors that hired them had done their homework on each of their back stories.  The guy of the group says, “So much for a blank slate!”

I think sometimes we feel like that.  “So much for a blank slate!”  We wish that everything would just go away and be wiped clean.  The thing is though that community and church is not just about slates being wiped clean although it does say Jesus scatters our sins from the east to the west.  But there’s something about people loving each other in spite of the flaws and the crud.  There’s something about folks sharing in that refuge and safe place and being that harbor for each other whether it’s in the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Sometimes that being there for one another is letting go of a past wound or hurt.  Sometimes it’s acknowledging and saying outloud a secret that has kept us bound and stuck, whether it be our own, a family secret, or a burden we just kept on carrying.  Sometimes it’s admitting that we may not have it all figured out and we really struggle in some areas.  Sometimes it’s confessing something and seeking reconciliation.  Sometimes it’s just being open to where the Spirit of God leads.

It amazes me that at the times we are the most down or low or hopeless/helpless/spent – these are the times that often the light starts to break into those cloudy days.  There’s just something about that light that no matter how dark it may get – it breaks in.  We watched the movie TRON last night.  I know, I know – not the most high brow or Oscar worthy – but it was really surprisingly good and we didn’t want anything that would make us think to much at the end of a long Sunday.  I never saw the original but I really liked this one.  Part of the beauty of the story is that one of the characters had never really seen the sun.  She had no idea what that would look like.  She had read about it in books, true, but if you think about it – if you had no concept of what the sun is – how do you describe it?  The warmth, the light, that it’s practically everywhere, that it moves and shifts and changes.

There’s something unexplainable about the light but there’s something incredibly powerful.  In these days after the shooting in Tuscon, as we think about what it means to be community and shelter for one another as the Jars of Clay song talks about that I’ve mentioned before, I think about all of us holding candles together as one.  All of us lifting those candles as one.  That’s a powerful sight.  That it’s our collective voice, our collective being – lighting up as one.  Not “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayers” but “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.”  That we as community as a fellowship of believers lift each other up, we rejoice with each other, we mourn with each other, we keep telling each other to press on.

In that same episode from “Off the Map” (I know, I know) the main doctor says at the end to one of the new girls who’s figuring out why’s she there to look at the Southern Cross.  They’re a set of stars that look like a cross in the sky (yes, I wikipedia-ed it so it’s sort of legit).  He talks about how Magellan used the Southern Cross.  He knew that even if he was lost, he knew that if he found that in the sky, he would make his way back home.  All he had to do was keep on going.  So he tells her, “Keep on going.”

Now I know that there are times when we don’t want to “Keep on going.”  There are times when we think we can’t keep on going, much less want to.  But there are people and songs and scriptures and even those sometimes annoying bumper stickers that are lights that pop out along our way that help light our path to keep on going.  There is a shelter of people that help us to keep on going.  And that’s not just with a slate wiped clean, because you can’t escape and dodge forever, but that’s with all of who we are and are yet to be.

So are we those lights for others?  Are we ready to welcome people?  Are we ready to open our arms and our hearts and our eyes?  Are we as the Church/church ready to offer a refuge, a harbor, a light to those in a world raging?  Or do we just look like a big blob of dark with all of our “stuff” that sometimes gets in the way?

One of my favorite songs off of the new Jars of Clay “Shelter” CD (i know i can’t stop listening to it) is one called “Small Rebellions.”  Sadly there are no youtube videos that I can find out there yet.  But the words are below.

“God of the break and shatter – Hearts in every form still matter – In our weakness help us see – That alone we’ll never be – Lifting any burdens off our shoulders – If our days could be filled with small rebellions – senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – if we stand in between the fear and firm doundation – push against the current and the fall – God of the worn and tattered – All of your people matter – Give us more than words to speak – ‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach – And Love climbs up and down the human ladder – Give us days to be filled with small rebellions – Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – If we stand between the fear and firm foundation – Push against the current and the fall – We will never walk alone again – No, we will never walk alone.”

I’m glad that we don’t walk alone.  That there are lights along our way guiding us home and that we can be lights to the world.  Open our eyes Lord that we may see the ways that we can grasp hold of your light today that the world may see and know…

Psalm 27:1, 4-9, Isaiah 9:1-4