Another day of throwing out what I had previously written because it just wasn't relevant anymore.
Another day of learning that too many lives have been lost and countless others traumatized forever....again.
Another day of being sickened by the level of discourse online when our country should be mourning and compassionately working together to understand how to stop this sickness we've contracted.
Another day of feeling a weird tension between sympathizing with all the "We don't need more thoughts and prayers" tweets, yet still holding the conviction that prayer is powerful and we need to be crying out for the kingdom to come in the U.S. as it is in heaven.
Another day of wondering if mentioning another school shooting is virtue signaling on my part, and if it minimizes other tragedies that I don't choose to publicly write about.
Another day of fighting the desire to crawl in a hole and just weep because everything is so ______ messed up (I'd like to use a very strong word here.)
Another day of realizing that my children have never been shocked to hear about a school shooting-- because they've practiced active shooter drills for years.
Another day of wondering what the role of a pastor is in regards to legislative policy and advocacy, since even as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can view solutions through such different lenses.
Another day of wondering why a belief in the nonviolent Jesus and the nonviolent message of his kingdom is still seen as so radical, even among Christians.
I have nothing to teach, nothing to encourage today. Three senseless shootings in 10 days is inconceivable, and Jesus does not want us to be ok with this. I wish I were stronger and more full of wisdom, I really do. But today I feel powerless and heartbroken, and I know that prayer alone is an anemic response to such preventable tragedy. Yet still, I'll mourn to God and to anyone who will listen. Perhaps you'll join me.
I mourn 21 precious lives, created in God's image.
I mourn the lack of comfort for those who long to hold their children again. I mourn that there is no recovering from such a thing. My heart breaks for them with compassion and unease.
I mourn the millions of families who feel a fresh sense of fear as they send their children into school each morning.
I mourn that we have 70 million more guns than people in our country and that we hardly even question our assumptions of violence.
I mourn the loss of 20,726 lives last year alone simply because a trigger was pulled.
I mourn that it's so easy for people to become radicalized into hatred.
I mourn that someone has the capacity to do so much violence so easily in such a short amount of time.
I mourn for the unfair burden placed on our teachers and administrators- the crippling weight of fear, hopelessness, and responsibility.
I mourn that community care has disintegrated and failed so many people who need help.
I mourn our lack of mental health resources.
I mourn that this young man was bullied and wounded years before he did such a horrible evil. I feel compassion and anger toward him.
I mourn how many people do not know the love of Jesus, which would change the trajectory of their lives and so many others.
I mourn the disconnection in God's Church between prayer and compassionate action.
I mourn political allegiances that hinder people from working together for the good of the most vulnerable.
I mourn the lack of unity and love in God's Church.
I mourn my own paralysis and cowardice in knowing how to lead through these moments.
I mourn 21 precious lives, created in God's image.
Jesus, we believe you are the prince of all peace -- soul peace, societal wholeness, and nonviolence. Come quickly, and draw us to action to heal shalom that has been broken.
Be very careful, then, how you live...
Saturday in Delaware was stormy and humid. I was getting ready to officiate the wedding of some beloved friends. But right as I preparing to leave, my neighbor a few doors down called out to me and asked if I could give him a hand. I was in a full suit, so I admit that I was a little nervous he was going to ask me to help move a sofa or something. I didn't want to sweat through my celebration clothes before I even got to the wedding! But it turns out that he had some friends visiting, and he just needed help with his thermostat.
Here's the thing, though. The thermostat wasn't broken. It was working fine. It simply needed to be turned down a few degrees because the humidity was making the living room a little toasty. Also- he knows exactly how to work his thermostat. That wasn't the problem either.
So what on earth was I doing there? Well, it was Saturday, and my neighbor is Jewish. He observes Shabbat very specifically. And that means that on the day of rest, no work is allowed. And to him, that means no pushing the button to drop the thermostat 3 degrees. So I pushed the button for him, and ten seconds later, I was back out the door. I didn't even break a sweat!
Now, it would be easy (some of you already went there) to suggest that this is a bit legalistic or ridiculous. But let's hold off on judgment, because that's not what I took away from that moment. He was not stressed. He had a smile and simply asked if I was available. He was at peace and I was happy to help.
The moment left me thinking about my own life and faith convictions, and my own peculiarities. And specifically, I thought about my habits of embracing God's gift of rest. Around here we call it "sabbath-keeping." In the Jesus faith, it may look different from my Jewish friends. Yet Jesus had no desire to abolish the need for rest in God. In fact, he expanded it to be even more encompassing, placing himself as the new sabbath space and encouraging people to understand that rest is a gift, and it need not limit them from doing good (Mk 2:27/Mt. 12:12).
But that's more theology than we're doing today. The point is that my friend had drawn some lines in his own life in order to practice rest in God, and it was ok that it looked odd and peculiar.
When I step away from my work and striving to rest with God (sabbath-keeping), I have no problem adjusting my thermostat. Yet there are other things that I've learned I can't do- check email, scroll, try to complete tasks, etc. I'm not even allowed to run fast on those days! It's a little peculiar. I'm good with that. I'm sure I'll continue to draw new and peculiar lines in my life as my own seasons change.
As we walk with Jesus, learning to draw healthy personal lines to keep us rooted in our identity in him is crucial for spiritual formation. It requires intentionality, and sometimes it will make us a little strange.
We cannot talk about this enough, because we are swimming in a societal ocean of speed and unrest. In order to slow down for loving connection with Jesus, we must establish boundaries and rhythms. It will be countercultural. People may be happy to hear about our practices of rest.... "but still, I just don't understand why you didn't respond to my text!!" They may not understand some of our peculiarities, whatever they are.
After I walked out of my neighbor's house and wished him a restful shabbat, I was left with a question:
Am I willing to draw lines in my own life in order to fully enter into the gift of God's rest?
(plus a bonus question... am I happy to help others as they do the same??)
So here's today's simple invitation:
Where will you be a little ridiculous to embrace God's gift of rest?
Jesus longs to give us his rest and his presence. But he can't do it alone. We've got to do the work of rest. Good luck!
Jesus, help me establish rhythms of grace to rest in you.
The one who claims to abide in God ought to walk just as Jesus walked.
-1 John 2:6
I spent some time with people this week who have babies. I'm not around babies that much anymore. They're cute, but they're odd little things. They don't use words so you can't tell what they're thinking.
Thankfully, babies do grow up. And one of the major indicators of leaving babyhood... is taking those first "baby steps."
Sometimes I hear about growth in the faith journey being about taking baby steps. I guess that makes sense. It's like any real growth in life...
Keep it attainable and easy. Just a little at a time. Be cautious. Let your progress be careful and linear and methodical. You know, "baby steps."
Wait. Have you all ever actually seen a baby in real life?
That is not how it works.
How on earth did "baby steps" become synonymous with incremental, careful, and riskless? That is most definitely not what happens.
Baby steps are anything but linear, careful, and methodical. When babies learn to walk, they bobble all over the place like drunk teddy bears trying cross a pond of floating lily pads.
Without being overwhelmed by the many risks, they throw themselves into the future, usually falling literally hundreds of times before they get a few steps put together in a row.
They are brave and not afraid to fail. They are ok with looking like a complete idiot. And they don't mind falling fabulously and diving forward into their mother's or father's arms. There is even delight in that moment, regardless of success!
In their baby steps, they are full of enthusiasm and energy and fear and risk. And sometimes tears and booboos. But they are brave. They try.
So I'm thinking that growth as disciples of Jesus is about taking baby steps. It just doesn't mean what we think it means. The path of discipleship requires courage and vulnerability and risk that we often fail to name.
Those risky moments of stepping out and moving ahead could look like anything. What looks small from the outside is actually really significant.
To a friend: I was thinking about you and I want you to know how I'm praying for you...
To a spouse: I want our faith journeys to be more connected. Can we learn to pray together more often?
To your kid: I would love to just sit and listen to how you feel connected or disconnected to God these days.
In an email: I think your nonprofit matches God's heart, and I'd like to start regularly volunteering.
To anyone: I'm sorry.
To yourself: It's time to be more generous with my money and stuff.
To an acquaintance: I realized that I know so little about you and your story. Could we have lunch together sometime?
To a friend: Since you mentioned faith, would you like to join me with some friends from my church? We're trying to learn from Jesus to build an honest and loving community, and I think you'd be a cool part of it.
To a friend: Can I be honest with you about what I've been through and trust you to hold compassionate space for me?
Baby steps may look small. But they're bold and courageous and full of faith. And they are life changing.
As a loving parent, God walks with us, catching and picking us up as we learn the skills of love. And like a child, each time we take a courageous step, movement becomes a little easier the next time.
Opportunities for baby steps come our way every day. It's alright if it feels both small and scary. That's what bold, faith-filled moments of vulnerability are. And they teach us to make use of the Kingdom-of-God muscles that Jesus is growing in us. When the time comes, new humans just know they need to take that step and joyfully risk it. In the same way, the more that we grow with Jesus, the more we will be drawn to new movement, both deeper and wider.
So I hope you have the incredible courage to walk with baby steps today, led by Jesus.
Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, help me stand... Peace,
“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
Allergy season is intense. The bright blooming trees of spring lure you out with beauty and warmth, and then the pollen just obliterates you with sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes. It's like that deep sea fish with a light on its head to draw prey. I'm currently on my back patio writing, and I just sneezed on cue. It got me.
Ever wondered why, when someone sneezes, we say "God bless you" or "Gesundheit!" (only counts if said with a thick German accent)? What is it about a sneeze that is so bless-worthy? Does our theology hold that God is more eager to bless the sneezers than, for example, those with migraines? No one ever says "God bless you" if you say you've got a headache.
There are a variety of explanations across cultures, but at least one is rooted in history. During the 6th century, there were two horrible plagues that swept across the Roman Empire, killing almost half of the entire European population. For both the Justinian Plague and the Plague of 590, sneezing was an early sign of sickness. So if someone sneezed, everyone knew that person was at risk. In light of this, Pope Gregory I passed an edict in 600AD, requiring nearby sneeze witnesses to to respond with "God bless you" when they heard someone sneeze. The idea was that this person would need God's compassion and strength in the coming days, and perhaps the immediate prayers would be a source of supernatural healing.
And so it has continued and morphed through the years. These days it has lost most of its spiritual sentiment, but still offers a generic bit of kindness in our world.
Now, I'm not a proponent of edicts or forcing people to practice spiritual habits, but I am compelled by how a sneeze blessing still has the power to interrupt anything. Speeches, court hearings, concerts, whatever. If someone sneezes, a blessing can happen anytime, anywhere, and people welcome it.
Perhaps this is a model for us as people of Jesus, who have learned God's deep heart of compassion over and over again. What if throughout our day we were constantly noticing another person enough to ask God to bless them?
What if we were so in tune with the little struggles and risks that people face, that we were always asking God to lean in and keep them whole? And what if we verbally mentioned it to people a bit more often?
- "You're a great mom. I'm asking God to bless you with energy today!"
- "You have such a tough job. God bless you as you patiently keep working with angry clients."
- "You give a lot to others. I'm hoping God brings some deserved rest to you tonight!"
- "I noticed you've got allergies. I stand in solidarity with your suffering, and may God have mercy on us both..."
I want to be able to stop what I'm doing and offer a blessing at any given moment, in any possible way, for any number of reasons. Life continues to be difficult these days, and people continue to be run down and worn out. They each need compassion, wholeness, and hope from God. You do too. So does your neighbor. I believe Jesus offers those things. Let's keep aligning our hearts enough with Jesus until blessings pop out of our hearts and mouths all day long.
Jesus, bless the people I see today with your love, and help me to be an instrument of your blessing wherever possible.