Month: December 2014

What Not To Say

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There is a lot of bad theology out there.   There are a lot of stupid things we have said about God that has made God into  “our own personal Jesus.” (To quote my favorite 80’s band).  We have personalized, minimized and materialized God into a god.  There are a lot of things that have been said about God that are just not true.   I have a good list going.  But there is one thing that we say, that must never be said again. Ever.  There is one thing we must stop saying.  And that is this:

God will never give you more than you can handle.

That is by far the dumbest thing I have ever heard.  I find it insulting to both God and the person who is faced with the impossible thing.  This statement has no Biblical grounding.  Read the Psalms and you will find the opposite  theology.  You will find people lamenting, grieving, struggling, and suffering.  Nowhere do you find a Psalm that says, “Thanks for giving me this enemy who is shaking me down, and thanks for the pain in my back.  I can handle it. You could probably give me one more hardship and call it good.”  Moreover, and to the greater point, God is not the distributor of pain and suffering.  God is not Zeus.  God does not delight in seeing people suffer.  God does create a playbook for each of us in which He says, “O.K.  I  will give him this disease, this divorce and this detriment, that should do it.”  (I do, however think God speaks in alliteration.)

But back to my rant.  We have to stop this.  We have to stop saying stupid things about God when bad things happen.  We have to stop thinking that somehow we can handle the burdens of our lives because somehow we are tough enough to handle them.  “Well, the tornado came through and took my house and I lost my job and  no one in my family ever talks to me, but God will never give me more than I can handle, so I better toughen up and handle it.”  (Insert your favorite expletive.)

My heart is heavy with people who are heavily burdened. My list is long, I don’t know where to start.   I’m sure you have a list too. Maybe you include yourself as one in pain, one who is grieving, one who is suffering.  Here is what I believe to be true: God is closer than the air we breathe. God is in the messy, yucky, painful, awful, smelly, unfair, difficult parts of our life.  Not because God wills it, wants it, or planned it, but because God is the Mother Bear of all Mother Bears and would never let Her children suffer alone. You know the kind of Mother I’m talking about.   Maybe you resemble Her. Maybe when your child is suffering, you suffer for them, with them and even more than they. God is like that, tenfold.  God is the Bulwark, the Mighty Fortress, the Strong Deliverer.  You know, when the nightmare happens? The one from which you cannot wake? God creates a foundation under you and puts a shield around you and holds you tight.  Like an anchor in the storm.  He’s got you.

So the next time that awful thing happens to our friends and loved ones and we shake our heads and wonder how they are going to get through it, and we think we need to say something, or even be a little pious and suggest that we know the will of God, it would be best if we said nothing at all. Just be still. Sit with them in their suffering. Just be present.  Be humble enough to recognize that we don’t have all of the answers, nor do we need them.  We only need to know that we are shielded, protected, held and beheld by one greater than ourselves.  If we can do that, we may come to hear a Still Small Voice, who has something profound to say.  If we are quiet enough to listen.

 

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I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? (Psalm 121)

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God With Us: Devotional

I was asked to provide a devotional for mothers on the meaning of Christmas.  “Come and tell us the meaning of Christmas,” they said. I considered pulling out  some Nouwen, Buechner, Merton.  Some clever anecdote by Young or Brown Taylor or a poem by Anne Weems, and just call it good.  After all, it’s a busy season and everything that can be said about Christmas has already been said, tenfold, right?  What more could I offer about the meaning of Christmas that has not already been offered?

We know, we know, Dr. Seuss taught  us, “It’s not about presents, or packages, or the roast beef.”

We know, we know, Charles Shultz told us, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

We know, we know, it’s far too commercial, too busy, too excessive, too exhausting.  But we join in it, like a flock of birds in formation against the grey sky.  We join in and then complain we are in it.

The liturgical season of Advent  teaches us every week to focus on one of four concepts: Peace, Hope, Joy and Love.  These four broad reaching concepts are to frame our preparation for the  Christmas season.   Our lectionary readings begin with scripture about the second coming,  repentance, messianic promise, and the incarnation, the belief that God came in human flesh.  These concepts are far more introspective and soul tending than most of the activities we do over this season.  I think that’s why often we can feel some sadness and loss on the shortened days and long nights.  Our souls are pulling us one way, and our lives are pulling us another. I think we should feel a little sad, a little repentant, a little reflective, because let’s face it God didn’t come into the world so we could have a picture perfect Christmas morning.  God didn’t come into the world so that the economy would take a nice bump at the end of the year.  God didn’t come into the world so that we would be happy all of the time.

God came into the world to shine light in the broken places.  Have you seen the world lately?   God came into the world where innocent children are slaughtered for religious reasons.   God came into the world where refugees walk without a home. God came into a broken world and cried for justice and sang for redemption and labored in the night. God came into the world and sat in the rubble and said, “I see this!  You better take notice too. There is another way.”

The meaning of Christmas is simple and impossible.  It is to recognize that God is with us and in the world. It’s simple compared to all the other things we make Christmas out to be.  And it’s impossible, because the concept is so hard to believe up  against the world in which we live.  That is the mystery of faith.

We seem to have forgotten his name. Immanuel.

God with us. That’s Christmas

 

Advent 2: A Voice in the Wilderness

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Advent begins in the distance.  It begins in places we find ourselves, not because we planned to be there, or wanted to be there, or ever thought we would be there.  Suddenly, we look around and are shocked to realize, “Oh my God, how in the hell did I get all the way out here?”

We assume, because we are at our most primal level of survival, that we are alone out there, and that no one cares or is looking for us.  This is a bit of self-pity and inward thinking and we know that, but in the wilderness we don’t care. There is too much to do, to grieve, to fear, to forgive to not just get stuck in our wilderness state.

Until, that is, we hear a voice.  Where did that come from?   Did you  hear it?  Was it to the south or the north?  A voice that cries out, “Comfort, comfort oh my people.”  Did you hear that?  How does it know we are out here?  Did it come out to find us?  Was it here all along?  Was it waiting for us, knowing we would somehow find ourselves out  here?

The voice cries for comfort, in the uncomfortable land of the wilderness.  It cries for a soft pillow and a warm blanket against the rocky ground and strong wind.  It cries for a light in the window and a hand at the door. It cries for laughter through tears and humility through forgiveness.  It cries for a change in our thinking, our living and our hoping. It cries for acceptance that this is the way things are, but not always the way things will be. It cries for us, with us and out for us.  It cries for peace.

God,

How did you find me out here? I thought I had myself pretty well hidden. Camouflaged myself so that no one would ever know that I am hurting, lonely, grieving, angry, afraid, anxious, and guilty. I put my trust in earthly things. I loved myself more than you.  I thought I was immune to what other people were experiencing.  But I am just as human and susceptible to being in the wilderness as anyone else.

How did you find me out here? I’m not sure I want to leave this place, as hard as it, I have gotten comfortable in this identity.  I cannot really imagine life in any other way.  You do not ask me to leave.  You seem to understand I need this time out here.  Stay with me God.  Give me enough to sustain me through the day. Let me see cracks of light in the dark clouds and fill my brokenness with your steadfast peace. Walk with me. Stay very close. Let me know you are near.

Amen

 

What is your wilderness experience? 

What will peace look like when it is given to you?

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