Christianity has a powerful tradition of naming truth to power and holding our elected leaders accountable. Unfortunately, we’ve put aside much of that tradition in recent decades in the interest of not getting too controversial. The past year has revealed to me the growing need of the Church in our public discourse, and for Christians of all walks of life to be unafraid to demand more from our leaders of all political parties. Jesus would expect it of us, no matter whom we voted for. I repent for the ways I’ve been negligent and afraid and commit to being braver, putting my faith only in Christ.
I recorded a video after I marched in Boston to express some of this and wanted to share it with you.
I’ll never forget when one of my church members compared our worship service to The Phil Donahue Show.
Despite worshiping with close to 300 people, we often share our prayers out-loud, using a microphone, allowing everyone who wants the opportunity to speak what is on their heart. In order to facilitate this, I often have to run/briskly walk around the sanctuary – a la Phil Donahue – to provide said microphone to those with their hand in their air.
Humorous comparisons aside, this practice – while often helpful in sharing pastoral concerns with a large group and allowing worshippers to model prayer for one another – presents some difficulties, too. Chief among them: Sharing joys and concerns is a very extrovert-centered spiritual practice. So for Advent, we decided to do something completely different.
Never did we expect to be transformed by what we encountered.
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law andalso the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” –John 1:45-46
I remember when I first moved back to Boston after living in Washington, DC; I found a nice apartment in the Ashmont neighborhood of Dorchester.
“Ashmont? Oh, you don’t want to live there. Isn’t it dangerous? Nothing good comes out of Ashmont.”
I was reminded today of how often churches love to describe themselves as “a family.” For many of us, there is something very comforting about that analogy to describe our church home.
“Church family,” at its best, conveys warmth and love. When it’s used it’s meant to express that “this is a place where we sacrifice for one another” and “this is a community in which you can be truly seen and unconditionally loved.” For those who find “church family” a desirable descriptive, it’s a powerful witness to the ability of the Church to bring people together.
Shocking as it may sound: I don’t think the Church should be like a family. At least not any family I’ve seen.
Advent is never a very long season, We only get about three weeks to prepare our hearts for Christmas, and in truth, it never seems like enough time. I can’t tell you how many Advent seasons I’ve gotten about halfway through and thought: “I’m letting it all rush by, again!”
It was only two days ago, just about the middle of Advent, when I caught myself thinking about how I’m letting it rush by…again. Then it happened. I got sick. I mean, lay in bed all day headache that no medicine can cure sick. In fact, as I write this post, I’m sitting in the same sweatpants I’ve been in all day, because I’m sick.
I’ve become fascinated with a book I recently bought. It’s titled Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. How I’ve enjoyed reading through this book and dreaming of why a culture would need a word for “the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to rest.” (The word is “poronkusema.” I have no idea how far that actually is.) While all of the words are fascinating, one word feels particularly special as we begin the Advent season. The word is “naz.” It comes from Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. It roughly translates to: “The pride and assurance that comes from knowing you are loved unconditionally.”
“…Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…”
Over the last few days, I’ve watched the story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard steadily grow in exposure on nearly every form of media – both “new” and “old.” Friends, family, and colleagues of every demographic and background are sharing her story and offering bits of personal commentary, like little windows into our most vulnerable core.
If you haven’t read about Brittany, she’s an intelligent and vibrant, young-woman, with an indisputably beautiful soul. She also happens to be terminally ill. While the death of a young person is always heartbreaking, Brittany’s story in particular has gained national attention because she knows exactly when she’ll die: November 1, 2014. She knows this because she’s been prescribed medicine to end her life – a practice that is now legal in the state of Oregon.
“Did you learn to pray growing up? I did. I learned to fold my hands, close my eyes, and bow my head. When it was time to say some words, I’d either recite a prayer I was taught, or go through my list of joys and concerns. Maybe you experienced something similar?
When I decided to practice my faith more intentionally as an adult, I assumed that meant way more time spent with my head bowed and eyes closed.
After all, that was the “right” way to pray.
Have you ever read the story of “Jacob’s Ladder?” A lot of churches may have preached on it over the weekend. In the story, Jacob has a dream of an incredible ladder which stretches from Earth all the way to Heaven. On the ladder are angels (oh, so many angels), climbing up and down, and up and down again! To top it all off, God appears next to him to assure him that there wasn’t a thing Jacob could do to escape God’s presence. Upon waking up, Jacob’s can only exclaim: “Surely, God is in this place and I did not know it!”
Have you ever sat around a room and wondered if everyone knew something you didn’t? I spent a lot of my life wondering if I was doing something wrong in my spiritual life. I’d look around churches, and meetings, and Bible study groups, and wonder: Why isn’t God speaking to me like them? It looked and felt like God was moving in everyone else but me, even though I was doing everything they were doing. I longed to experience God in the same way as my brothers and sisters in faith. Why did these things seem to work for them, and not for me?
Please don’t do this during Lent.
Ah, Lent. Those 40 days stuck in-between Mardi Gras and one of those Sundays lots of people go to church. It can be a confusing time.
“Why are people walking around with dirty foreheads?”
“How do I figure out what I’m supposed to give up?”
and my personal favorite
“Why is it so depressing?”
It seems that for many, Lent often serves as a reminder of depressing times and self-serving attempts to fast. And sometimes, these things are more true than I would like them to be. So let’s get right to it. Here’s what Lent isn’t: