Living Into Our Woundedness

Image Being wounded is hard. Living with an amputation, great loss, or obvious disability can be a challenge on even the best of days. In our society, we are always striving to be the best. To be at the top of our game. To score the highest wages. Our society does not have much use for individuals with disabilities and oftentimes when a person who was once a long term employee gains a disability because of age or accident the company now considers them dispensable. Growing up in the Christian church, my theological viewpoint has been shaped of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipotent. To think of God as disabled seems to devalue who God is to me. And yet, He was. Jesus was disabled at one part of His life. Think of what happened when He was on the cross – His figure was so marred beyond human comprehension that people either turned away, stared at Him with their mouths agape, or simply mocked. The book of Isaiah reminds us that Christ wasn’t a stud. He was an ordinary looking man. There was nothing in His appearance that would make people turn their heads in a crowd. Not only that, but Isaiah reminds us that He was wounded and bruised for our sins , and that He was marred to the point of not even resembling humanity any longer.(Isaiah 52:13-15 and 53:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+52%3A13-15&version=CEB, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53&version=NASB)

Living in a L’Arche community (an intentional community for adults with developmental disabilities) for the past year has presented both difficulties as well as immense joys to me. On the one hand, being vulnerable is something that I’m not very good at. It’s not something that I like doing. There are times when I can be vulnerable with my closest friends, but to think of being vulnerable with fellow co-workers and even supervisors let alone “clients” well that is beyond my grasp. Yet, at L’Arche we are so interconnected with one another that when one person is struggling, we have no choice but to struggle alongside that person (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12%3A26&version=ESV). We help take their burdens onto ourselves. Their difficulties become our difficulties.

At L’Arche we are called to live into our woundedness daily. In order to live well in community, a certain sense of transparency must take place. In community we cease being heroes and become fellow pilgrims. We cease trying to do everything in order to make a name for ourselves and instead admit to our flaws and failures. In L’Arche no one is perfect. The core members are made up of adults with developmental disabilities ranging from semi-independent all the way up to completely dependent. From a world’s view these adults may seem useless and even meaningless…like they are not contributing members of society, and yet these are the very ones who emulate Christ’s love in such a profound way. Christ cautions us that if we do not enter into the mindset of the least of these, we won’t be of much use to the Kingdom of God.

So at L’Arche I have had to find a nice balance between naming and claiming my skills and living into my woundedness. We all come to community as broken people and we will all leave as broken people. Community is the most healing and helpful when we are aware of that brokenness and rather than simply wanting to cure it and be over with it, we embrace it and learn from it. People come to community for a variety of reasons, but in the end of the day we need to look past those differences into embracing each unique person’s story in order to live more fully into our own story.

In Latin, the word vulnerability becomes the word “wound”. To be wounded means to be vulnerable. Sometimes that can been seen in quite a negative way. For example, perhaps we have been through a difficult experience where someone we considered a close friend or confidant broke our trust and thus because we chose to reveal ourselves to that individual and thus be vulnerable we have now become wounded. On the other hand, I also believe that vulnerability does wound us in some ways. It wounds our ego, our pride, and our perception of ourselves. Being vulnerable is risky business. People may see us differently. However, if done correctly, vulnerability does not rob us of a sense of self but in fact enhances it. Because to be vulnerable means that we are able to enter into deep relationship with another without fear of judgment.

Thinking about my closest friends, I feel comfortable sharing with them just about everything in my personal life. We can talk together about our deepest fears, struggles, and urges and in the end of the day we still love and accept one another. Oftentimes my accountability partner and I admit that our relationship has grown stronger over these past few years exactly because we hold nothing back. So in that sense, vulnerability technically continues to be a risk, but a healthy one and a God honouring one.

Oftentimes wounds exist in our lives whether we realize it or not. Perhaps one may feel that now that they have opened up that their ability to be vulnerable has caused a tear in their life… but in many cases, that tear was probably always there and just not as noticeable. We all carry around past hurts and future fears, but being vulnerable allows us the opportunity to share those hurts and fears with another in community so that the weight does not have to be as heavy on our shoulders. Live the vulnerable life. Live into your woundedness.

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I Am Troy Davis By: Jen Marlowe – A Book Review

Image“The ‘I AM TROY DAVIS’ slogan is one infused with meaning. On the one hand, it is a deep call to solidarity. On the other hand, it is a stunning awareness that I could also have been Troy Davis. What’s to say that just because I was born a mixed kid (with mostly white phenotypes) and grew up in an environment where the chance of this happening to me is unlikely, that I deserved this? We all have the potential to be Troy Davises. That’s why we need to stand up and speak out against the injustices that are happening in our nation and globally.”- Deborah-Ruth Ferber (Peace Studies Student and Activist)

The day is Wednesday, September 21, 2011. I am attending a small Christian private university in Ontario’s capital (Toronto) hailed as the most multi-cultural city in the world by the United Nations many times over. In the 3 years since I moved to Toronto to attend school (as of this writing in 2014 this will be my 4th year here) I have had many experiences of being the only visible minority because I was the only white pigmented person on the city bus. Yet although many Torontonians close their eyes to the blatant injustices that happen even in Canada’s largest city, I cannot ignore the fact that disparity of wealth, human rights violations, and racism still run deep. Perhaps below the surface. Perhaps not in quite the same ways as I experience when I lived for one year in Indiana, but all of the same issues are still there.

This year is to be my graduating year and in May 2012 I will walk off the graduating stage from University and enter into my first year of studies in Indiana as a peace studies major. At this point, I knew about the death penalty and as a committed pacifist I felt it was wrong, but it remained quite elusive to me. In Canada we do not have the death penalty. In Canada, prisoners may serve a life sentence (by which they mean 22 years or less) and in Canada minors are considered young offenders with rehabilitation programs offered to them more consistently than the slammer. Yet, lest you think Canada’s justice system is way better than the states, it is not. And this year through my studies and through conversations with victims and friends and families of victims, I have learned how deeply flawed our criminal justice system in Canada is as well. Yes, we may not sentence anyone to death, but there are a lot of other ways to sentence someone to emotional shunning, silencing, and heresay which are so akin to the emotional distancing that causes social death for so many individuals. Out of jail, but still not able to land a job or care for their families despite the fact that they have “done their time.”
Yes, the death penalty may not be an institution in Canada, but to say it is a non-issue, while nothing could be further from the truth. For anyone with a sense of human dignity and worth must understand that when one member of society (regardless of citizenship, race, ethnic or economic composition) dies due to a grave injustice, that a part of us also must die with this individual.

Troy Anthony Davis, is an example of such an individual who due to forces beyond his own control (such as being born of-colour) was wrongly accused by a system which totes justice. Jen Marlowe (an human rights activists and film maker) as well as Martina Davis-Correia (an advocate for abolishing the death penalty and Troy’s sister) journey with their readers into the depths of despair and grave human rights violations stripping Troy of all dignity and sense of self.

Marlowe’s writing captures the reader’s attention jolting them to alertness in Troy’s gripping and chilling tale. Marlowe and Davis-Correia take their reader down a pathway that explains human rights exploitations due to racial divides within a system that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable members of society. This hauntingly convincing book empowers all readers to take a stand for fighting against the death penalty and against the system which costs the states $18,000 per execution1 and pits “two innocent, victimized families against one another.”2

Yet, Troy’s story is way more than just carefully and systematically weighing the pros and cons of a long established and controversial legal process. It is also a story of one man’s humanity, and of the blatant injustice, flagrant racism, and one family’s decision to courageously stand against it. Troy may have had a voice, his family may have had a voice, but they are not the only voice crying out in the wilderness. They are one of many individuals and families who are fighting to end the death penalty and are joined in solidarity with families of individuals who have been murdered, friends of the accused, national and international human right’s activists and advocacy groups, and members of society at large. They may be one voice propelling the system further into change, but they never have to fear being alone for many stand with them.

Throughout her writing, Marlowe brilliantly weaves in and out of time displaying a high level of understanding of how the past influenced the Troy Davis case. From growing up in racially charged Savannah (Georgia) to being at the wrong place at the wrong time, to choosing the wrong day to go to Atlanta for work, Marlowe shows how the system was pitted against Davis from the start due to his race and social standing. In her book, Marlowe notes, “more than half of Georgia’s death row inmates never finished high school and several had IQs that indicated mild retardation or borderline intellectual functioning. She [Martina] saw men who came from extremely damaged families; who got in with the wrong crowd, who were very, very poor.”3 If this is not a wake-up call to the American nation then their deafness cannot be cured. For, it is often the “least of these” whom Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and many others admonish us to care for who end up in these situations. Not the powerful, strong, and intellectual giants. As the old death penalty adage goes, “Capital punishments means them without the capital get punished.”4 Troy’s case and the case of so many others who are executed and lethally injected year after year shows just how “arbitrary, racist, economically biased, and shame filled” each case and each execution really is.5

The day is March 26, 2014. It is 2 years 6 months and 5 days after Troy Anthony Davis was given the death penalty despite sufficient evidence to the contrary and witnesses claims of being harassed, intimidated, and manipulated to give false testimony against Davis to the police (many of whom later recanted). The death penalty still exists in several of the states, although many individuals and organizations from within those states are beginning to reconsider. I have since gone on to work primarily with the demographic of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Ontario’s capital of Toronto. I still experience blatant racism and injustice in my city – economically, due to a lack of gender equality, and due to religious differences. Foremost of all, I have noticed how adults with developmental disabilities are often treated unfairly and not given a voice, many of whom lack the necessary foundation for getting expert advice. My heart aches to think of what it would be like if someone from this demographic in Canada was unfairly served the death penalty. I still maintain my peace activism activities. This is my life in 2014. It may be 2 and a half years later but I truly do believe that the Davis case has the potential to be a catalyst for change.

In fact, I Am Troy Davis, has already served as a catalyst of change amongst my friends and me. Since I am from Canada and the majority of my friends are from Canada, the death penalty is not something we frequently discuss. Other injustices, sure, but the death penalty, not so much. It seems we largely ignore that part of injustice from our neighbours in the South. Yet, as I began reading this book, something happened. My friends and I began having many different conversations about the death penalty and the implications it has on American society and our worldviews at large. Many of my friends expressed discouragement, anger, and disbelief that such a case could happen. One of my friends stated over dinner yesterday, “how could this be possible? Isn’t America supposed to be a Christian nation? How can Christians kill each other?” Her question haunted me as I went to bed last night, and it should haunt you too. How can Christians pour the lethal injection into the soul of a completely innocent and healthy man when many men, women, and children worldwide will die today due to illnesses that could easily be cured in minority world countries or due to not being able to access and pay for their medications even if they do live in a first world country? I’d also like to extend the question to you today, how can we as Christians sit by and idly watch as our brothers and sisters in America and in many other countries undergo the death penalty today despite lack of evidence, pleas of their innocence, and a racially charged system? I’ll let you answer for yourself, but for me the answer is clear: Christians (and people from the majority of other religions) are called to take a stand for the innocent and to execute justice and fairness (not human life). Please join me to help end the death penalty once and for all. Please join with me in saying, “I am Troy Davis. We are Troy Davis. Troy Davis is my name.”

 1 Jen Marlowe and Martina Davis-Correia, I Am Troy Davis, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), 148.
2 Marlowe and Davis-Correia, Troy, 171
3 Ibid, 144.
4 Ibid, 3.
5 Ibid, 194.

Marlowe, Jen and Martina Davis-Correia. I Am Troy Davis. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013.

 

 

 

 

7 Habits of Successful Christians

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So, I recently posted my list of 5 things that Christians should really stop doing… but what about things that Christians SHOULD do in order to be successful in their walk with Christ?  You’ve probably all heard of Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but what about 7 Habits for the effective Christian?  Hold on, hopefully that is not already a book… So, I’ve decided to include my ideas here:

1)      A Successful Christian Will Pray – Prayer is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and it is from this practice and this discipline that the rest of our life flows.  When we pray we become intricately connected to God’s plan and we become more aware of His love for us.  The Bible reminds us to pray at all times (without ceasing).[1]  It reminds us to pray in every circumstance because God will take care of us.[2]  Lastly, the Scriptures remind us that because God is love He wants us to come to Him with our requests.  In the story of the Persistent Widow, the Judge was an ungodly man who didn’t care about anyone’s welfare other than his own.  This widow came to him day and night and wore him out.  Finally, the judge said, “I really don’t care about this woman or what she wants.  I just want her to go away.  I’m not answering her request because I want what’s best for her, but she’s worn me out with the same request so I’ll answer it so she can leave me alone.”  Jesus reminds us that if that judge, being evil, did this for the woman, how much more will our Heavenly Father provide for our needs when we pray, but how many of us actually take Him up on that offer?[3]

2)      A Successful Christian Knows They Can’t Do It On Their Own Strength – A successful Christian is one who understands that God’s grace is magnified and perfected in their weakness.[4]  At the end of the day when they survey their lives they see instances of God’s faithfulness and understand that they could never have made it through without His guidance and support.  A successful Christian can acknowledge this and humble themselves before God in order to be raised up by Him.[5]

3)      A Successful Christian Shares Their Burdens With the Community – Successful Christians know that they can’t do it on their own, they need others. The book of James reminds us that when we are happy we should gather people around us to sing happy songs with us, when we are sick we should call the elders of the church to anoint us with oil.[6]  Bringing others on board is a way of receiving help and giving them the opportunity to care for us just like we want to take care of others.

4)      A Successful Christian Meditates On Scripture – David often meditated on God’s Word.  He tells of how he mused about God’s deeds.[7]  The book of Ephesians reminds us that God’s Word helps us to fight against the evil schemes of the Devil.[8]  Someone who is successful in their walk with the Lord allows Scripture to pour into their lives, they memorize it, they think about it when they go to bed at night and when they wake up.[9]  They also teach their children to follow the Bible.[10]

5)      A Successful Christian Follows God’s Will On Their Lives – A person who is successful in their walk with the Lord tries to discover God’s will in their lives.  They are so in tuned with Him that when they start going the wrong way, God’s voice gently redirects them back into the right path.[11]  A person who is living for Christ wants to put God in charge of their lives and to value His will even before their own desires.[12]

6)      A Successful Christian Belongs To A Larger Body (Church) Which Helps Encourage Them and Builds Them Up – Successful Christians know that they cannot grow on their own.  They know they need Scriptural teaching, encouragement from others who have walked in the faith for a lot longer than they have, and corporate worship.  The book of Hebrews cautions us to not give up regularly meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.[13]  Some Christians believe that they can grow on their own, but without having people to walk alongside you and encourage you when you start feeling weary, your faith and love for God will soon grow stagnant and cold.

7)      A Successful Christian Seeks First After God’s Kingdom – Successful Christians know that God will provide for them so they don’t have to worry about where their life is headed.  Paul reminds us not to worry about anything, but instead with prayer and supplication to make our requests known to God.[14]  Jesus also says in the Sermon on the Mount that we don’t have to worry about any earthly needs because God knows about them and will provide for them, but instead we should SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD and the rest will fall into place.[15] NOTE: This does not mean we shouldn’t be good stewards.  Paul reminds us to leave no debt outstanding.[16]  A successful Christian will practice good financial budgeting and stewardship principles, but in the end of the day they will also know that their help comes from the Lord.[17]

BONUS: A Successful Christian Has At Least One Accountability Partner – Successful Christians open themselves up to respectful correction of others who are stronger and have walked longer in their faith.  A successful Christian accepts discipline knowing that it produces further character growth and morality.[18]  A successful Christian also gives themselves the opportunity to correct erring brothers and sisters with the hope that they can win such a person back to their faith.[19]


Lenten Practice

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We are now in March and in just one week, we will be entering the Christian season of Lent.  Lent is a time of denial, of self-sacrificial giving, and of prayer and pondering.  It’s a time for meditation, for reflection, and for spiritual disciplines.

Over the years, many people and churches have developed different Lenten practices.  Many churches host special Wednesday night services during Lent, others encourage a specific book study during the Sunday School hour.  Many individuals also make commitments whether to take something up or put something down.

Often the question, “what are you giving up for Lent?” is a popular one among various groups of Christians.  People have been known to give up everything from coffee to chocolate to Facebook.  Sometimes people also decide to be experimental and a bit radical – perhaps making more conscious food decisions, abstaining from meat, or fasting weekly.  Still others decide to take something up.  Additional time for devotions or prayers, additional time for the family, to read through a book on their own.

I once heard in my Christian Life and Discipleship class at Tyndale that it takes 40 days to develop a habit or to break one, and in that sense it makes sense to take or give something up.  Although I have often seen people indulging on Sundays or going back to their same lifestyle after Lent, when I think the purpose of Lent is one in which we have more conscious time to examine our lives and to find the resources we need to “burn longterm”, to be committed, and to stay the course.

These past few years I have been reading some of Henri Nouwen’s Lenten materials, although there are several other very good resources to use as well.  Last year I read through Nouwen’s Show Me the Way, and this year I’ll be reading From Fear to Love.  Nouwen also has the books Renewed for Life and Walk With Jesus – Stations of the Cross which are great additions to any library. 

Another one of my favourite practices of the Easter season is going to Shrove Tuesday celebrations at the Lutheran church I did my internship at while at Tyndale.  Although one could argue that Shrove Tuesday and Carnival or Mardi Gras are defeating the purpose of Lent, I would beg to differ within reason.  I don’t advocate for what happens in Louisiana per say (trust me, I was there during Mardi Gras one year), but in doing some historical research on Shrove Tuesday which I presented to a group of highschoolers, I actually find it fascinating stuff.  Shrove Tuesday blog to follow…possibly…probably…Anyways, funny thing is I don’t even like pancakes, but you can’t go wrong with SHROVE TUESDAY pancakes complete with chocolate chips, bananas, and berries!

So those are my Lenten practices.  Now I want to open it up for conversation.  What Lenten practices do you or your church follow?  What books do you work through during Lent?  Is there a specific book of the Bible that you become specifically attached to during Lent?  What are you giving up for Lent this year?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post them in your replies.  I may have a follow up blog featuring some of my favourite ideas in the next few weeks.  Engage!  Additionally, if you have any favourite quotes, poems, or hymns about Lent or Easter or if you are a wise sage yourself and have any words you’d like to share, I may even feature you in my Twitter feed :).

Intro To Lenten Blog Series

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It is now March, and although looking out the window towards my Canadian landscape the earth is still majestically sprinkled with snow, the sounds of life are silently hushed although a bird’s voice just emerged in glorious song, and the weather is a balmy -13C (lest you think I am complaining just two days ago it was -24C so this is quite the improvement!), spring is proverbially right around the corner.  As we say good bye to our skates, our skis, and our snowboards, we say hello to the earth beneath our fingernails as we begin planting soft flowers and succulent vegetables, and we say hello to wildlife including the Canadian Geese at Tyndale which enjoy attacking unsuspecting students. 

Although fall is my favourite time of the year, spring comes in a close second for me.  There is something brilliant about the spring time.  For one, it signals the end of another year at university or seminary and for some a time of transition from academia into professional life.  For others spring marks the beginning of the busy wedding season full of new life and a profession of love.  Not least of all, when talking about the Seasons of Life spring is often seen as the prime of one’s existence.  A time when everything is new, when hope is beginning to bud, and when future aspirations begin to emerge.  It is a time of not knowing and yet being content in that not knowing.  It is a time of rejoicing as the ice begins to crack and we can see the lake again.

For Christians, spring is also the beginning of something far greater than simply the beauty of the earth.  Spring is also a time for us to remember the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ who for humanity and for our salvation came down to this earth in order that we would have the ultimate example of someone to follow.[1]  Through His gruesome death on the cross, Jesus displayed to us an ultimate example of self-giving love culminating in the act of rejecting His deity for a short time in order to feel the full effects of humanity.  It is for this very reason that the writer of Hebrews reminds us that we don’t have a high priest who is indifferent to our daily strains and struggles, but instead we have a leader who has fully come into us and was tempted by the same taxing temptations that we go through daily and yet He conquered each one without sin.[2]

The season of Easter in most Christian traditions is similar to the season of Advent for both Advent and Easter are a time of awaiting, a time of not knowing, a time of suspense.  We are not Lent people, we are Easter people.  We know the end of the story.  We know that as Rob Bell would say, “love wins”.  Yet, this Lent I would encourage you to strip yourself of those notions.  To do away with the fact that you know what comes next in the story.  Read the Scriptures this year as if you were one of the first disciples.  Although you know the Hebrew Scriptures, your emotions are telling you differently. 

You have just met Jesus.  He has become one of your closest buds.  You have enjoyed sharing many meals with Him, going on fishing trips with Him, and occasionally drinking a beer with Him (okay, I just threw that in to see if you were still paying attention!).   Jesus is your closest confidant.  You feel you can tell Him anything and that He would never judge you.  He’s been so good with your kids and every time you’re about to lose it on your wife, talking to Him seems to make everything okay again.  Your trust in Him has grown over the three short years that you’ve known Him and just like many people who have a best friend would relate, although it’s only been three years, you feel like you’ve known Him for an eternity.  You can’t really remember what your life was like before you two met and became buds.  You do everything together.

Just last week, you were in Jerusalem with Him.  Everyone was hailing Him as a King.  He was riding on a donkey and people were putting palm branches in front of Him.  You don’t think you have ever felt so proud of your best friend.  Then suddenly, as if without warning, things change.  Looking back, you can see where and how the tide started to turn, but in the moment you are at a loss. 

You’re both Jewish.  You’ve just settled down for the most important celebration of the year – the Passover.  You’re recounting the ways God was faithful to the Israelites when they fled Egypt.  You know that if He hadn’t been you wouldn’t be here today.  You’ve done the customary fast from leaven bread, you’ve washed up, and now you are sharing your meal together.  But this meal is different.  Passover is always a sombre time for you, but even in the sombreness, there is a sense of rejoicing.  Yet, today feels differently.  As if a heavy cloud is hanging over all of you and you simply can’t name it.  Jesus looks more tired than usual.  He looks weary, as if something is on His mind.  But you know guys, they don’t talk about feelings, usually.  So you decide to just let it go.

Then Jesus does something strange.  He takes a towel and puts it around His waist.  He starts washing each of your feet.  You can’t understand.  This is the role of a servant.  Of someone who is not a member of the family, but Jesus is your friend and He’s also your mentor and teacher.  Why is He doing this?  You try to resist, but He continues anyway.  He says something about being a servant.  You don’t understand.  Just last week people were hailing Him as royalty.  Princes and Kings don’t do stuff like this.  Only peasants and surfs do.

Finally, the meal continues on.  Jesus takes bread and wine.  Two common household items that generally don’t have any significance, and He looks up into heaven and blesses them.  Then He passes them around.  There’s nothing unusual about this.  This is what generally happens at a meal.  But what happens next is something very strange.  He says that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.  Wait a minute.  Does this not sound like cannibalism? 

As you continue dining, Jesus’s pained expression grows more and more heavy.  Finally, you nudge Him on the shoulder because you can’t take it any more.  “Man, what’s up?”  You say.  “something got you down?”.  His eyes almost fill with tears and His voice quavers as He relates “someone around this table is going to betray Me today.”

You don’t get this.  Everyone around this table is friends.  In fact, these are your 12 closest friends and you know that they’ve always got each other’s backs.  Sure, you’ve all made mistakes.  Had a few quibbles here and there.  Sometimes had a full blown argument.  But you’ve always apologized to each other and no remorse or bitterness has sprung up.  After taking 10, you always remember that you’re all best friends, make amends, and forget entirely about the situation.  So how could Jesus be saying that someone in this tight knit circle of friends would betray another from this table.  You don’t understand it.

Everyone begins to look at one another.  Pointing fingers, accusation in their voices.  “Surely not I, Lord.”[3]  “You must be thinking of someone else.”  You try to console Him, but He refuses to be comforted.  He just looks glum.  Suddenly the mood becomes even more grave.

“Lord, who is it?”  “Who’s this man who is going to do such a thing?” Someone finally pipes up.  Jesus looks around the table, His eyes briefly falling on Judas before He looks down.  Judas and Him exchange a glance as if they know something no one else knows.  “The one who is going to dip His bread at the same time as I do.”[4]  Jesus mumbles.  Sure enough, Judas dips his bread in with Jesus’s.

At that moment, Judas’s eyes grow wild.  Is it fear?  Anger?  Remorse?  Or?  He slips out without a word… Jesus calling over His shoulder as He leaves, “Whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.”[5]  None of you know exactly what He means by that.

You all finish the meal quickly, somewhat uncomfortable with what just happened.  No one says a word.  As you exit the room, you sing a song.  A customary Psalm you all grew up with and generally love.  But this time the words seem hollow.  Even the song doesn’t seem to lift anyone’s spirits.  You sing it mechanically, simply having memorized the words although the words do not hold any special meaning to you now that you have just gone through this crazy evening.

Finally, Jesus walks with you to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He wants to be alone, He says.  You’re all tired.  Physically and emotionally.  You’re running on empty.  There’s nothing left to give.  You collapse on the cold ground and your eyelids close, meanwhile your friend is going through the most agonizing moments of His life.

You’re suddenly awoken by the sound of quickened footsteps, shouting, and the light of torches.  As you begin waking up, you see Judas… he’s still with you guys… oh wait, no, he’s with the guards.  He gives Jesus a kiss on the check.  A customary greeting, but then before you know it, Jesus is seized.  Was isn’t the guy fighting back?  Why isn’t He kicking, screaming, punching, hitting?  Why isn’t He yelling to get your attention?  You want to help Him, but you freeze.  You aren’t sure what to do.  Finally Simon Peter, lunges at one of the servants and cuts of His ear.[6]  Blood starts pouring out of His head.  Jesus, just restores His ear.[7]  As if He doesn’t care that these people are after His life.

Jesus is dragged away.  The next few days will hold many trials, beatings, and eventually His death.  But none of that matters right now.  Your leader, your best friend has been taken from you and you feel so helpless and so alone.  You feel like you’ve failed Him.  What kind of friend are you?

Not only that but you feel confused by Judas’s actions.  He was one of the guys.  He was your bud.  How could He do something like this?!  You begin to question everything you’ve ever known.  Jesus had spoken to you about His death before.  You knew it was inevitable.  But not now.  Not here. 

And so the period of waiting begins… you don’t know the end of the story.  You don’t know what comes next.  You want to believe that this is all a bad dream, but whenever you pinch yourself you scream in pain.  Where is God now?  My God, My God, why have you forsake us?[8]

The period of Lent in the Christian tradition is a time to recall and live with these emotions.  It’s a time of uncertainty and wrestling with doubt.  It’s also a time of immense sadness.  The forty days leading up to Easter remind us to intentionally pause and reflect on the life of the Christ.  It’s a time to sacrifice, but also to show mercy.  It’s a time to engage more heavily with Spiritual disciplines, to fast, and to deny ourselves. 

This Lent, I want to journey with you into the life and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I want to walk with you through His passion and through journeying with you help you to discover the passionate love the Father still pursues us with.  As the Scriptures say, “He is willing that none should perish but that all should reach repentance.”[9]

ImageOur journey together will take many days and it will not be an easy one.  There may be times when you are tempted to give up.  To quit.  But I assure you that if you stay the course, Christ will magnify Himself to you in new ways and give you a new spirit.  Not one of timidity, but of a sound mind.[10]  Are you up for the challenge?  If so, please join me over these next few weeks as we traverse the plains of Israel together.

5 Things Christians Should Really Stop Doing

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Well, I’ve seen these lists crop up on blogs and all over the web many times.  I generally really like to read them, so I’ve decided to make my own list.  Some of them might just echo some things in other lists, in which case I would just like to reinforce those ideas… however, I’ve also tried to be a bit creative in my approach.

1)      Saying that Catholics, Mennonites, Lutherans, Anglicans (insert denomination other than your own) are not Christians – okay, this just really bothers me.  Sure, not everyone agrees with the way that you worship.  Some people don’t agree with all of your doctrinal theology, but that DOESN’T mean that you are the only one who is right and going to heaven and the rest of them aren’t.  In my opinion, Christianity does leave much room for interpretation and creative expression as long as our core tenets are the same – that Christ is Lord and that we should love one another.  Saying that your denominational tradition is the only correct one shows a lack of understanding towards other traditions and borders on intolerance.

2)      Saying that Catholics, Mennonites, Lutherans, Anglicans (insert denomination other than your own) are different RELIGIONS – Friends, I want to introduce you to two very different words: RELIGION and DENOMINATION.  Christianity is a RELIGION, Catholicism is a DENOMINATION.  They are not two separate things.  Religion encompasses the general beliefs of a specific group of people, denomination shows the finer points of their theology.  Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism are different religions from Christianity, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Mennonitism are simply different expressions of worship, liturgy, and theological expression from a belief system that shares more similarities than differences at the end of the day.

3)      Twisting the Bible to Say What You Want It to Say – How often have I met people who take one single verse of the Bible completely out of context in order to make a point and to justify a pre-existing cultural belief that they already hold.  The truth is, if you are going to use Scripture to back up your opinion then it’s important that you not only know hermeneutically what it is saying (what happened before and after), but also that you are aware of how Church tradition has influenced it positively or negatively throughout history.

4)      Saying That You Will Pray For Someone When You Really Have No Intention of Doing So – This one is generally on every single list I have seen, but I cannot do without naming it here as well.  I’ve been guilty of this one myself, I’m pretty sure every Christian has at one time or another.  Often times, Christians use the phrase “praying for you” as a derivation of “thinking of you” or as a pat answer to lessen tension, but truly praying for someone involves commitment.  It involves actually going to God in prayer and interceding for them.  Prayer is a power tool so it’s not something we should be taking lightly.

5)      Using the Christian Title When They Aren’t Living the Christian Life – Oftentimes, people say that their religious affiliation is Christian perhaps because they grew up in the church or because they think it is the acceptable answer, but outwardly they aren’t living that life.  You know that song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love?” Well, it speaks volumes. To be Christian is more than to just go to church, it involves loving others, taking a stand against injustice and poverty, and engaging with acts of mercy in this world.

BONUS: Saying “I’ll pray about it” when you what you really want to say is that you have no interest in the opportunity. – There is an unfortunate misconception among Christians that they must always be happy, always accept any ministry opportunity even if they have no interest in it (because remember friends, God ALWAYS calls us to do thing we hate doing), and that we always need to be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.  The truth is, if you have no interest in a ministry, don’t do it.  You’ll just be dragging your feet the whole time and dragging everyone else down while you do it.  If your skills don’t  lie in childcare or the choir, have the grace to decline and free up a spot for someone who does have those skills.  Christians ARE allowed to be honest, and in fact NEED to be honest.  So next time you get asked to be the kitchen supervisor or soundboard person and really don’t want to, just politely decline.