Friday, December 30, 2016

Breath & Spirit

While practicing centering prayer, my attention began to be drawn to my breathing. I became more aware of each breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathing in more deeply. Pneuma. The Greek word for both Spirit and breath. Spirit as breath. It brought to mind Genesis 1:2, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

In Hebrew the word is ruakh, which also means breath, wind and Spirit. They are interchangeable because the breath of God provides man both life and spirit. I Am gives us the breath and life that allows us to be. Breath, like grace, is a gift given freely to us. When we are young, we run headlong into the wind, faster and faster, delighted at our own speed until we collapse on the grass and laugh amidst our heavy breathing. We feel alive. We feel infinite.

How we take our breaths for granted until they become labored and difficult. I saw this with my own mother as she lay dying. Breath becomes hard as the person struggles to get what they need just to live. Breath becomes harsher. It is no longer breathing, but gasping. Breath, life, Spirit all are leaving this mortal flesh. We now face the reality of our finitude. There is no future beyond the next breath. One of my favorite books of last year was Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air about his dying of cancer. It is remarkable moving, poetic, philosophical and spiritual work. One of my favorite lines was, "We shall rise insensibly, and reach the tops of the everlasting hills, where the winds are cool and the sight is glorious." What an amazing and profoundly hopeful image of the life to come. Where Spirit rises and on the tops of "everlasting hills" feels the cool "winds" and sees a "sight that is glorious." What must that truly be like to cross from this world to the next? The Spirit, like wind, rushing from the body to return to the mouth of its Maker, who first gave it life. Breathe out. Breathe in.

Earlier in Genesis we are provided with a glorious image of God, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). Divine Spirit as wind moving across the waters. God as metaphor, which is the only way we, in our limited abilities, can even begin to grasp our infinite Creator.

With my eyes closed, breathing in deeply, I imagined wind across the waters, stirring it to life just as the Spirit would bring to the early Church in Acts 2:2, "And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting."

This Spirit, this wind, is what John speaks of when he says, "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (3:8).  Those who are born of the Spirit are like the wind.

I love to lie in the grass of our backyard and look up into the limbs of our oak trees and watch as the winds of March move the leaves. Or to feel the wind off the ocean with its saltiness. Or to stand on a mountaintop and feel the wind around me and watch as that wind causes a hawk to rise and soar above me. There is life in that feeling of having the wind brush against me. To know that there are forces in the world that are greater than myself because it reminds me of a greater God who has set all of this in motion through the breath it takes to speak. The Word speaks words of creation. We are the breath and words of our Creator.

It's overwhelming to think of that and it fires my imagination.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled faces on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).

Where there is life, where there is wind, where there is breath, where there is Spirit there is the Lord, there is freedom. All throughout scripture, we see biblical figures, like Moses, who cannot look upon the face of God. Yet here, in this verse in 2nd Corinthians, we can see the very Spirit that gives life and be remade into that image. The Spirit that first gave us life now gives us new life. And, through Christ, we are filled with that Spirit, that wind. Through the Spirit our form is changed into the image of Christ. Through the fall of Adam, the image was lost. We could no longer see ourselves in the Imago Dei, but now, in Christ, that has been recovered and restored. Now we reflect the Divine Image.

Is this not the image we see when the Spirit commands the prophet Ezekiel, "Prophesy to the breath" (what a wonderful image to begin with. Prophesy breath. Prophesy life)?

 ". . .prophesy son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live" (37:9).

All of those images of breath and wind and Spirit tied into rebirth, of giving new life to those who were dead.

What I love about this connection God has made between breath and Spirit and life is that all of our life is spiritual; we cannot separate our lives into the sacred and the secular because it is all connected. There is no barrier. All of our lives are to the glory of God, our Creator who breathed life and breath into us. This breath. This heartbeat. They are to remind us of the Divine. In God is life.

Our every breath is praise.

Our every breath a prayer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My One Word: 2017

I am coming out of 2016 feeling weary. Christmas, in many ways, didn't feel like Christmas this year. So when I went to do my morning scripture reading and then my centering prayer, I found that the word I reflected on during my prayer was "joy." It's one of the words we most associate with the Christmas season and, yet, it is one that I saw the least in people as I went about my day, working in stores during the holidays, I saw a heaviness in those I came across. And 2017 is less than a week away.

Yet, this morning, as I sat in stillness and silence, joy kept welling up within me as the word I was to focus on over the next year. It was also something I prayed for over many of the people that I know who are struggling (in marriages, with health issues, with depression). 

Joy is not happiness. Many make the mistake of thinking the two as the same, but they are not. Happiness is momentary and fleeting. Happiness is most often hinged on something good happening to someone, or in celebration, or in getting something new (such as a car or house). Joy is not happiness because it can be found in sorrow, in loss, and in turmoil because joy is rooted in a hope beyond our circumstances. Joy is not circumstantial. 

The Greek word for joy is chara and it means: gladness, a source of joy. Chara is connected to another Greek word xara, which means to extend favor, lean towards, as well as to be aware of grace and favor. These are not rooted or connected to circumstances but to God. Unlike circumstances, God is never changing. 

This is why Paul writes in Romans, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (12:12).  Many would look at that statement and think Paul had lost his mind for even adding that middle section to that sentence. We can understand to "be joyful in hope" and even to be "faithful in prayer," but very few of us would sign off on "patient in affliction." The word Paul used for patient is hupomone and it means "endurance" or "steadfastness." Anyone who has ever run a marathon of any length understands those words because if one has not built up one's endurance, one cannot find the stamina to continue on and make it across the finish line. It means that, when we are in the midst of suffering, we are to realize that it is but for a time and that, even as we are hurting, there is also joy to be found.

Nineteen years ago, when my mother was dying of cancer, I found myself exhausted and weary day after day after day as my sister and I helped my father to take care of her. The days were long and tiring. It is hard to watch anyone suffer through their struggle with cancer. It's hard to watch the person you know and love so deeply in agony at times with each breath or slight movement. There are times when my only prayer was that God would relieve her suffering and let her die. Not an easy prayer to pray, especially when one selfishly wants to keep that loved one with them. It was during this time that I found my greatest consolation in the Psalms. 

The Psalms are brutally raw and honest. They taught me to take everything before God. Like the Psalmists, I was honest before God: taking my hopes, my hurts, my hates and my hallelujahs to Him. There were times when I begged Him for her healing, when I begged Him to take her to Him, and times when I poured out my anger at Him for making her go through all of this. Yet, through all of it, I learned the truth of, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy" (Psalm 94:19). 

My mother did not want to die. She fought to make it from one holiday to the next so that she could still be here to celebrate with her family.  My mother confided to me that she prayed desperately to God that she would see each, so that she could still be here with us. By that December, she entered hospice. Each day could be the day. I knew she was fighting to make it to Christmas, but the fight was becoming too much for her. She needed to let go, so I begged God to make it easier on her. That night, she suddenly said, "I can see it. The colors are so vivid and the light is so bright." Some might claim that this was merely the effect of morphine in her system causing a hallucination, but I knew better. The hallucinations she had were never positive ones. No, God was giving her a glimpse of the world to come. For a brief moment, He, in His tenderness, had lowered the veil to let her see, so that she would not be afraid, that she would be able to let go finally. That was the truth of God's "consolation bringing me joy" in that moment. Even as I write about it now, tears of loss and joy roll down my cheeks. 

Shalom is found in understanding that sorrow and joy are connected and necessary. Shalom is wholeness. We will never have wholeness when we try to disconnect the two (as shown in the insightful Pixar film Inside Out). 

Joy is also a choice. We must choose joy. Henri Nouwen wrote, "Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day." 

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is something we must choose to walk in even when our circumstances would have us choose otherwise. It's not just in the birth of a baby, but in the death of someone we love whose suffering has now ended. I was reminded of this because the day we left for Ukraine to adopt our son was also the day my mother died on. God in His grace was reminding me that both are a part of life. Birth, life, death, rebirth is more than just a physical cycle we see in nature but a spiritual one that our Creator uses the seasons to remind us of. Understanding that is what enables us to "count it all joy" when we are in the valleys of our lives, when we are in the deserts and the wilderness. It is a reminder that, in the midst of darkness, light will come again. It's also a reminder that we are to be light and joy to those who are broken and lonely and hurting and in desperate need of a kind word, a smile, or a hug. May those who are hurting, as Paul said, "Come to you with joy, by God's will, and in your company be refreshed" (Romans 15:32). I pray for that refreshment for those who are coming out of 2016 weary and worn, battered and bruised. 

May 2017 be filled with God's ever glorious joy. May His joy fill us with wonder even in the midst of our worries, love in the midst of loneliness, hope in the midst of hurting, and trust in the midst of the storm. May we all know a joy that is deeper than understanding, greater than ourselves and our circumstances, and is a reminder that God takes great delight in us. 

Joy is my word for 2017. 

Take time before the new year and pray. Seek God and listen to His voice. What will your one word be for the new year?  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Eyes Of God

When I was a child, my parents came home from having dinner with a very famous television pastor. He was well-known in the Word of Faith (health, wealth and prosperity gospel). She spoke of him in terms of his "piercingly blue eyes" and how "God must have such penetrating eyes." Listening to her, but saying nothing, I did not think her description rang true. Instead, I imaged God's eyes to be more like a dog's. Now, before anyone gets upset with my analogy, I will explain why. A dog's eyes are filled with loving expectation, an awaiting for us to notice him or her there. Is that not the eyes of the father awaiting his prodigal son? Expectant eyes searching the horizon for the figure of his youngest child returning? And when he saw him a far off, he ran to his son, embraced and kissed him.

This also makes me think of the heartbreaking scene of God calling out to Adam and Eve in the garden, "Where are you?" knowing that they now feared His fellowship, which was the very reason He created them. It reveals how God's ardor for us is greater than His wrath.  As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail" (Lamentations 3:22).

How we see God reflects us more than it does Him. How He sees us is unchanging. "For God so loved the world . . ."

This is a change from how others saw their gods. The Roman philosopher Cicero wrote, "The gods attend to great matters; they neglect small ones." In contrast to this is Yahweh. His eyes are on the great and, especially, the small things because nothing and no one is insignificant to Him.

Our first perceptions of God come to us through our parents. If we have a strict authoritarian parent, we may very well view God through that lens. If we have a parent who is distant, then our idea of God may be an existential one of distance or absence. If a parent is judgmental or the child has to earn their parent's love and affection, then they may feel that they have to earn God's love through behavior and works.

In a poll done by Baylor University years ago, they did a study on how Americans perceive God. The found that 90% of Americans did believe in some form of higher power and only 5% classified themselves as atheists. How did Americans view God?

28% saw God as an authoritarian figure. Either you please God or get punished.

22% saw God as benevolent.

21% saw God as critical (keeping a checklist of the good and bad someone does like some spiritual Santa so that He can tally them up to decide who does and doesn't get into heaven).

24% saw God as distant and removed from humanity and what happens in the world.

These statistics are important because, as A. W. Tozer wrote, "What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

How we see or perceive God will impact how we deal or don't deal with our Creator. If we are motivated by fear, we, like Adam and Eve, may long only to hide from the God who seeks out our company. If we think we cannot measure up, that we are driven to perform to earn God's favor then we will be weighed down under the burden of our work and toil in the hopes of getting approval and will miss out on the joy and love that true communion with God really offers us.

Sin is what keeps us from being who God created us to be and be in relationship to God. To see God as anything other than as the loving Abba (Papa) that Christ shows us, is to see not our Creator but a false idol of our own making. If we are not deeply aware that we are beloved of God, that He loves us despite ourselves sometimes, then we have set up on our god in place of the one, true God. If we see God as harsh, or distant, or a cruel taskmaster then we are serving our own illusion that is radically different from Romans 5:8 that reminds us that while we were yet still sinners God showed His love for us through the death of His son.  This is repeated again and again throughout the New Testament (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:4-5, 1 John 4:9-11).

If we see God as a God of love and we see ourselves as His beloved sons and daughters then we will see others through the lens of that love and we will embrace them.  Meister Eckhart wrote, "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one loving." Why? Because when we know the love and grace of God through His son Jesus, then we see the world as God sees it and not as we would in the flesh because we are filled with His Holy Spirit. And with that Spirit we walk in the fruits of the Spirit that are reflections of our Heavenly Father.

Do we see God as infinitely loving? Infinitely compassionate? Infinitely merciful? Infinitely tender?

When we truly do, we will be astonished by how we not only perceive Him, but ourselves and others. We will move out of being people who need to defend and justify ourselves to people who simply love as Christ has loved, as God loves. We will find ourselves rooted not in our own insecurities, failures, flaws, wounds and pains. Instead, we will see that both sorrow and joy are filled with His presence and that, no matter what our circumstances, we have eternal hope in a God who loves us more than Himself because He gave completely of Himself. When we see God as God sees us, we will move through this world in a Christ-like manner of loving compassionately, freely, intensely and with great abandon.

How do you see the eyes of God?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Feast In The Wilderness

Yesterday morning began with me spilling coffee on myself and my car. Not some of it. All of a tall thermos-sized travel coffee mugs. My intention that morning was to use the commute to pray for people I knew who were going through struggles (whether they be marital, health, financial, loss or depression worsened by the holidays). Yet whenever I began to pray, something happened that took me from being centered in God to being frustrated then irritated then angry by circumstances around me. The radio became chaotic noise (not Christian music nor NPR nor even my Benedictine Monks playlist on my iPod). I clicked the radio off in the hopes that the silence would help bring inner stillness since the bumper-to-bumper traffic that was snarled due to a wreck was causing me to physically be still. My labor was met not with fruits but with frustrations. It was as if I kept hitting a spiritual wall and could not break through.

By the time I arrived at my destination, I was a frazzled and harried mess. I knew that if I didn't pause, take out the Bible I keep in my car and read it before I began my work, the rest of the day was going to continue along in the same fashion as it had. So I opened to where I was in the book of Exodus. I came to Moses telling Pharaoh that God said for him to let the Israelites go "that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness" What struck me in that first verse of chapter five were those words "a feast to me in the wilderness." All I could think of were all of the people I knew who were in some kind of wilderness in their lives and it welled up within my spirit that even in those times, we can still have a feast there in our troubles to worship God.

Feast in Hebrew is a word that means more than just a large meal; it's a festival. I like the idea that, in the midst of tribulation, celebration can be a form of worship. The Israelites, who'd spent three hundred years in Egyptian slavery, did not even know Yahweh. They were far more familiar with all of the Egyptian gods and here their God wanted to reintroduce Himself with a feast in the midst of the wilderness of their bondage. It makes me think of the Twenty-third Psalm where He tells us that He will prepare a table for us in the midst of our enemies.

In the Tanakh, God's plan is revealed through the Seven Annual Feasts of the Lord appointed at specific times throughout the year. As Leviticus 23:4 states, "These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at appointed times."  There are seven appointed feasts. These feasts were both theological and communal because they were meant to bring people together to celebrate and to worship God.

The seven feasts are:
1. Pesach (or Passover) - a feast of liberation and redemption
2. Chag Hamotzi (or Unleavened Bread) - yeast, a Jewish symbol for sin, is eliminated
3. Yom habbikurim (or First Fruits) - Christ as the first fruit
4. Shavu'ot (or Pentecost; also known as the Feast of Weeks) - the disciples receive the Holy Spirit
5. Yom Teru'ah (or Feast of Trumpets) - trumpets announce Christ's second coming
6. Yom Kippur (or Atonement) - a day of confession
7. Sukkot (or Tabernacles; also known as the Feast of Booths) - wedding feast

When I read Ruth Reichl or M. F. K. Fisher or Gabrielle Hamilton's writing about food, their words are so rich and descriptive that one begins to long to smell and to taste the physicality they so accurately describe. Or Ernest Hemingway's in A Moveable Feast as he describes so sensually eating an oyster:

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost that empty feeling and began to be happy and make plans."

I think that's why God chooses feasts, as a way to draw us in and make us long for fellowship not only with each other but, ultimately, with Him. Jesus began a parable with, "The kingdom of God is like a wedding feast. . ."  Is there a more celebratory feast than one celebrating two people coming together as one? It's where Christ performed his first miracle. And, unlike wedding dinners now, they would celebrate from five to seven days.

One of my favorite movies is the Danish film Babette's Feast, which was based on a short story by Isak Dinesen (author of Out of Africa).  It's the tale of two sisters, Martine and Phillipa, who live in a small village on the remote coast of Jutland. Their late-father was a pastor of a small, austere congregation. After his death, the two sisters took over for him but, their congregation dwindles as members grow older and die and no new converts are made. Once beautiful young women with suitors (all of whom their father rejected) both are now old with only each other to keep company. It's a lonely existence.

One day a woman, Babette Hersant, a French refugee shows up at their door. Having fled a counterrevolution in Paris, offers to work for the sisters in return for shelter. Reluctantly, they agree and Babette finds herself isolated in this puritanical sect for fourteen years. One day, she receives word that a friend, who is still in Paris and has renewed a lottery ticket every year that Babette had purchased while she lived there, that she has won 10,000 francs.

Babette decides to use the money, not to return to Paris and her former dissolute life, but to prepare a large, sumptuous feast for the sisters and the congregants to celebrate the founding pastor's one hundredth birthday. At first reluctant, they are persuaded by Babette and she begins to prepare a lavish French meal using ingredients and supplies that she has sent from France. It becomes the talk of the village and, fearing that it is sinful, the sisters decide that those who eat this meal will not speak or take pleasure in eating the food.

What is beautiful about the feast is how it is an act of love and self-sacrifice on the part of Babette. It's a lovely metaphor of the Eucharist that Christ shares with his disciples. In the story the film is based on, Dinesen writes:

"Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! That which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another."

What a gloriously beautiful image of a feast as being likened to the overwhelming tenderness and graciousness of the grace of God poured out lovingly on us, whether or not we ask or deserve it. Grace as God preparing a banquet for us just as Babette did for the congregation: taking us out of the bland austerity of our daily lives and providing a gorgeous glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. A feast is a display of ultimate grace and generosity. There are the rituals of preparing and sharing a meal that are sacred acts that can draw us closer to one another and to God. Food is celebratory and comforting. They provide sensory memories that last longer than other kinds of memories we have, which is why the French novelist Marcel Proust used the tasting of the Madeleine dipped in his tea as the impetus for having his past flood back into his memory that makes up the story of his monumental work In Search of Lost Time.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good," Psalm 34:8 tells us. What a Eucharistic image of God. To "taste and see" His goodness. Why? Because God delights in our enjoyment, in our pleasure of the gifts He has provided us. How He must smile when we taste something sweet, like a strawberry, for the very first time and He knows that is why He created it for us and called it, "Good." He takes pleasure in the variety of his creation: fruits and vegetables and herbs that we use to create our varied dishes that can be sweet or salty or bitter or rich or creamy. It's why Rabbis would put honey on the tongues of their new students. Honey was rare and expensive, so, as they put the honey on each student's tongue, they would tell them that "the word of the Lord is sweeter than honey" because they knew that after tasting the sweetness of the honey it would never leave them.

After I read that verse in Exodus and I reflected on those words "feast in the wilderness," I paused and I prayed. I prayed for those I knew who were in the midst of their own wildernesses and I asked God to prepare a feast for them. I prayed that His love and grace and mercy would be poured out on them and that they would taste the sweetness of His truths. May we all have and delight in such feasts of grace.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bridegroom Of Blood

The Bible is full of strange stories and passages that we often overlook in the grand narrative. There, tucked in the book of Exodus, after Moses' encounter with the burning bush is just such an odd and disconcerting passage. We are all familiar to the point of over-familiarity with the story of the burning bush because it is taught to us ad nauseum as children in Sunday school, has been taught and preached repeatedly, and has entered even our secular culture that even someone who has never attended a church or synagogue know of Moses and his encounter with the burning bush. 

What follows in this encounter is God calling Moses to go before Pharaoh and tell him that "I Am Who I Am" sent him and to let the Israelites go. Moses tries to negotiate his way out of God's call to the point where God's anger was kindled against him. After this scene, Moses returns to Jethro, his father-in-law's, to get permission to return to Egypt. He gains this and, with his wife and sons, they return. 

Here's where the story gets really weird.

"At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it and said, 'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!' So he let him alone. It was then that she said, 'A bridegroom of blood,' because of the circumcision." (Exodus 4:24-26).

What the . . .?

Bridegroom of blood?

What is that all about? It sounds like the title of an episode of Game of Thrones.

Now I have read Exodus numerous times and yet this part of the story has gone overlooked until now. Like many biblical stories, I tend to gloss over such strange passages and focus solely on the more well-known parts. I have probably just read over such side stories and paid little to no attention to them because it didn't fit with the story I remembered. Yet, when I read this section of Moses' life, I just sat there, puzzled and baffled at what this possibly even meant. It's certainly not something I've heard in any Sunday school story or sermon. 

I grew up being taught that if it's in the Bible, it has a purpose. So what's the point of this that it got included in the narrative of scripture?

The more I thought about this passage, the more puzzled I became, so I decided to research the meaning, if it even had one. So, down the rabbit hole I jumped.

(Yes, this is how my mind works, so you can imagine what it's like for my poor wife).

Let's start with the first part in verse 24 where it says, "At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death." A very ominous and disturbing verse to read. Why was the Lord wanting to put Moses to death? Was it because his anger had been kindled by Moses' reluctance despite Yahweh had revealed himself to Moses and this was still met with reluctance?  Despite agreeing to let Aaron speak for Moses, had God's anger had not been appeased even as Moses was returning to Egypt?

A "lodging place" comes from the word malon, which literally means "resting place." So Moses and his family had stopped to rest. " . . . on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death" is very unsettling. Did the Lord literally go to meet Moses with the aim of killing him? And why wouldn't he have done it earlier at the burning bush when he could have easily consumed him with flames instead of out in the desert with his wife and children? And why would God kill this man He had just called to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt? 

It is very cryptic as to why God wanted to kill Moses. Some have interpreted the reason as being Moses neglect of having circumcised his son, but why would God want to kill him for this and without any warning? Besides, Genesis states that neglecting to circumcise was punishable by exclusion from one's people not death.  They write that because Moses didn't circumcise their son, Zipporah took matters into her own hand and did it, with great disgust, and that was why she called him a "bridegroom of blood." 

Some have interpreted this verse as Moses became deathly ill and Zipporah understood this to be punishment from God. Some have interpreted it to mean that it was their son and not Moses who had taken ill. They take this interpretation because the previous verses had been about sons: 

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my
firstborn son, and I say to you, 'Let my son go that he may serve me.'
If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son."

Scholars have noted that this text is confusing since it says "the Lord met him and sought to put him to death" without specifying who "him" is in this passage. 

I tend to lean towards him being Moses, since there was no mention prior to this verse that would cause a change in perspectives off of Moses. Everything up until this verse has been about Moses and God. My thoughts are, that if this were Moses' son, then he would have either been named or it the verse would have said ". . . the Lord met him and sought to put his son to death."

Whomever the Lord sought to meet and kill, it seems capricious and without reason, which we know is not God. I know I have always struggled with the Old Testament God who seems more prone to wrath and commands the Israelites to kill women, children, and animals of their enemies. Noted atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The God Delusion:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character
in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak;
a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic,
capriciously malevolent bully."

Very strong and harsh criticisms that many will immediately take offense of and dismiss his complaints. But when I look closely at parts of the Old Testament, I want to cringe. So how do we square this view of God with the New Testament one that Christ portrays in images like the father running without concern for his own sense of authority or pride to embrace his prodigal son who is returning home? And Jesus keeps reminding his disciples that he and the Father are one. If "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever," as the author of Hebrews 13:8 writes, then how do we view God in terms of problematic passages that make Him appear more vengeful and angry than filled with the grace and mercy that Jesus proclaims. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17). 

I often think how we view God says more about us than it does God. As Anne Lamott wrote, "We know we have remade God in our own image when He dislikes all the same people that we do." 

What this means is that we cannot look at God through any other lens than the one Christ has given to us. We cannot view God through our limited perceptions or even the limited perceptions of biblical figures, who often get things very wrong because they bring to God their prejudices, dispositions, and peculiarities. Too often we see Israel's kings and priests giving God a blood-thirsty voice to justify their human violence, while the prophets of God warn against this and of our remaking God into a god of blood-lust. 

When we mistake man's perception of God as to being the real image of God, then we, too, want to cry out in disgust like Zipporah did, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" 

It is only after she circumcises her son and touched Moses' feet with it and declared those words that the Bible adds, "So he let him alone." Once again, the nouns are nonspecific, though we assume that the first he is the Lord and the second is Moses. Then Zipporah repeats, "A bridegroom of blood," this time "because of the circumcision." She is angry with her husband. In Hebrew the word is hatan means "bridegroom," but in Arabic, it meant "protected" or "circumcised" which would change the meaning to "You are protected by blood." Ultimately, viewed in these terms, we are once again pointed back to atoning blood, which we will next see with the lamb's blood brushed onto the doorposts and lintels of their houses in Egypt and, ultimately, Christ on the cross. 

Once more, I am confronted by how I do not know my Bible as well as I think and that it never stops surprising me. It also reminds me that scripture does not give easy answers or, as Rich Mullins said about scripture, that it "does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask."

That's why, when I come across passages that confuse and baffle me, I search out text and context. The Bible is a narrative of love and grace, which points ultimately to Christ. Everything points to a cross that tells us: God loves you and meets you at the place of your common need and brings those who let him to salvation. Scripture, like the book of Exodus, is about deliverance and redemption and how messy and costly this wild, extravagant grace can be.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What Is Truth In A Post-Truth Culture?

In the gospel of John, when Christ stands alone before Pilate, it ends with Pontious Pilate asking a question that has reverberated throughout history, "What is truth?" Now we have politicians, including our newly elected President, and many in a culture asking not, "What is truth?" but more "What does it even matter?" This ideology is know as "Post-truth." It was also chosen by the Oxford Dictionary as the word of 2016. They defined "Post-truth" as, "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Feelings not facts define reality even if they are based on fantasy, mere opinions, or anxieties.

Truth does not matter in such a culture. It's as if we have become Pilate, shrugging, and asking, "What is truth?" not so much to know, but to say that we can define it ourselves however we see fit to. It means we elect a man to the highest office in the United States despite the fact that over 70% of what he says is false and, even if we find out it's false, we don't care.

So what does that mean to a follower of Christ? How do we live and approach a society that does not believe in truth as a basis for a reality we all believe in? And this is not even referring to a religious truth, but just the facts the underlie and gird our government, our society, our interactions with others, and how we approach what is right and wrong.

We have politicians, media, and organizations that shape and control facts, manipulate and distort them in order to shape opinions and prejudices. And people no longer seek out truth because truth does not shape itself to meet our wants and needs, but only look to have our own ideas and beliefs supported. We live in a society that is filled with information and it's easily and readily available, but there is often a lack of knowledge, truth and wisdom.

Pilate asked, "What is truth?"

Truth in Greek is al├ętheia and means not merely the spoken truth, but truth as reality, a divine truth revealed to man.  

Truth is not arguments. Truth is not information. Truth cannot be reshaped to fit within our own agendas and feelings. Truth cannot be shaped by us, but, as followers of Christ, we are to be confronted and shaped by it. As John 8:32 reminds us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." How can our culture find freedom if they are willfully and blatantly ignoring even the concept of truth for a more ambiguous and dangerous narrative of "post-truth?"

We are hearing repeatedly now that "facts" or "truth" doesn't matter. Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, said in an interview with Diane Rehm on NPR, "Everybody has a way of interpreting (facts) to be the truth or not true. There's no such thing, unfortunately anymore, of facts." He said that one can say whatever one chooses and does not even need facts or reality to back what one up and that people no longer care.

As Christians, this goes completely against the very theology that we proclaim. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" but how many in the Church no longer even hold to this? How many say that Jesus is a truth and not the Truth? How many are more reflective of our culture than our Christ?  If Christians are silently accepting of our leaders and people in authority flaunting their flagrant disregard for any assemblance of truth, then how are we salt and light in this world? 

Yes, Truth is uncomfortable. It is meant to be. It does not allow us to stay as we are, but confronts us in our sinfulness and calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Christ. This is not easy or popular. It does not get printed on bumper-stickers.  No one running for political office would dare make such pronouncements, But we are not following leaders but a Savior. A Savior who cared not for the political machinations or in populist thought or in what would raise his numbers in a Gallup poll. He was not interested in gaining popularity or great numbers, but in raising up disciples who would go unto all the world and proclaim Truth, even at the cost of their very lives. 

To even begin to claim to be disciples of Christ, we cannot allow ourselves to be silent when those in power speak of a malleable reality. Psalm 119:160 reminds us that, "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules last forever." God's word is Truth. His rules are eternal. We are to be sanctified in His Truth, not swayed by whatever the prevailing winds are in our culture. Yet I do not see many Christian leaders speaking up against this falsehood of "post-truth." Too many of Evangelical leaders seem to either be too busy vying for power or are choosing to remain silent because they have aligned themselves more with a political party than with the Savior they claim to follow.

Wendell Berry said, "We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true."But are we?

Psalm 25:5 states, "Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation . . ." 

Psalm 86:11 says. "Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth . . ." 

As Jesus prayed in John, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (17:3).

Can we truly claim to follow Christ if we are not both actively seeking Truth and proclaiming it to the very culture we live in? 

"Post-truth" is not just a danger to our society, it's a danger to our theology. When  this "post-truth" is acceptable within the Church, we cannot say that we are in this world but not of it. We cannot speak of Jesus as our Lord and Savior if we are more swayed by appearances and opinions than we are the very Word of God. We are told to abide in his truth. Abide means to remain in, stay, await, endure, continue in, last, and live in. We are told to put away falsehoods and to "Speak the truth to one another." To follow Christ is to acknowledge that there is one Truth, that there is a Truth. This is not always easy or comfortable or often welcomed.

Francis Schaeffer wrote, "Today not only in philosophy, but in politics, government and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died . . ."

Are we holding to and speaking the Truth despite the "post-truth" our leaders, our culture, and even the Church is now claiming? Are we lamps burning to lead "on earth as it is in heaven?" Do we hold fast to the truths of our faith or have we abandoned them to be relevant and accepted?

This "post-truth" era we are now in is a dangerous and slippery slope for those who are to be shaped by faith and Truth and not ever-changing factualness. Ultimately, we must realize that to deny Truth, is to deny worship. So we must no longer be silent but speak the Truth in love and boldness. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Best Of 2016: Albums

When compiling this list of my favorite albums of 2016, what struck me was that none of these amazing artists are played on the radio. Despite being some of the most talented and gifted singer/songwriters their work does not fit within the format of modern radio stations. It's a shame because each of these artists have crafted what are not only some of the best records of this past year but ones that will last because of their depth, quality of songwriting and the artistry that they brought to these amazing works.

How many artists do you know that take their inspiration from spiritual heroes like C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Saint Patrick, John Newton, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Saint Therese, and Martin Luther? All Sons & Daughters did that with their latest album Poets & Saints. They visited the places where each of these heroes lived and studied their lives and faith. From that came the songs for this amazing album. The songs are deep, introspective, prayerful and beautiful. Some of my favorites off this album are "I Surrender," "Rest in You" and "You Hold It All Together." By going deep into the history of the Church, they came away with some of the most moving and gorgeous worship songs.

All Sons & Daughters' official website:

Sandra McCracken's Psalms was easily one of my favorite albums from last year and her latest, God's Highway, makes this year's list. McCracken is a gifted songwriter who has become a modern day hymn-writer. The songs on this album, like her best, offer an honesty, depth and hope that reveal the craftsman she is. With a voice reminiscent of Emmylou Harris, McCracken's voice offers raw emotion as she sings of not only her struggles, but also her hope in God. From the title track "God's Highway" she sings, "Fear not, keep on, watch and pray; walk in the light of God's highway." As with her last album, she mines the richness of the Psalms, as well as in the New Testament. This is very honest and personal worship music that our air waves could definitely use more of. 

Sandra McCracken's official website:

Paul Simon comes from a generation that gave us some of the most talented songwriters we will ever know (from Lennon & McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen). Simon has created some of the most memorable music ever recorded from his Simon & Garfunkel days to his solo career (filled with highlights like his monumental album Graceland). With Stranger to Stranger, he has recorded another of his best albums. This one is filled with the bittersweetness that mark his best works as his songs speak of people trying to find hope in disappointment and overcoming regret and nostalgia. In terms of the music, it is his most experimental with its use of homemade instruments like the zoomoozophone. His lyrics are filled with wit, wisdom, and alienation. 

Paul Simon's official website:

I was fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen on his very last tour when he came to Asheville. No one explores politics, religion, isolation, sex, and relationships like him. On You Want It Darker, he creates his last great masterpiece. This album is a rumination on the passage of time and of mortality. The title track "You Want It Darker" begins:

If you are the dealer
I'm out of the game
If you are the healer
I'm broken and lame

At certain points, the chorus drops out and he growls, "Hineni, Hineni. I'm ready, my Lord" (a Hebrew cry of devotion). This album, like his others, is filled with biblical imagery even as he sings about religions that preach love but sow hate and conflict. There is his usual dark wit and an eye that captures both the bleakness of life as well as the redemptive beauty. Cohen is a psalmist and poet who includes the secular, the spiritual and the sensual. This is one of his lyrically most complex albums and it lets us know just what we will miss with his passing. It's rich, bleak and brilliant.

Leonard Cohen's official website:

Michael Gungor took on a monumental task when he decided to release three albums in one year, but that's what he's done with Gungor's trilogy One Wild Life. He describes it as "starting with birth and ending with death - so it goes through a physical life." It breaks down into Body, Soul and Spirit. As with all of Gungor's albums, he pushes the limits of what is defined as "Christian music," especially in relating to what he calls the "dignity and beauty of physicality." All three of these records are like our faith: challenging and, ultimately, hopeful. 

Gungor's official website:

No one records music like Regina Spektor. She is unique and talented in both her lyrics, the sound of her voice, and the instrumentation (all of which are strengthened by her training in classical music). She is a storyteller who gives glimpses into the uniqueness and strangeness of life. She can go from songs that resemble fairy tales to ballads to catchy pop songs. It begins with the upbeat "Bleeding Heart" about heartache that builds to a shout-out full of energy. This album seems more personal than some of her previous records and it shows her strengths as a gifted storyteller.

Regina Spektor's official website:

Carrie Newcomer is a profound poet whose voice soothes while her lyrics broaden ones theology. She is an expert at capturing the miraculous in the mundane. There is a balance between simplicity and complexity on each song in terms of the instrumentation and the lyrics. All of the songs are enriched by Newcomer's Quaker faith with its emphasis on peace, solitude and simplicity. They remind us that God is with us in the quotidian mystery of our lives. 

Carrie Newcomer's official website:

While the Avett Brothers are one of my favorite bands, their last album True Sadness sounded too over-produced. It did, however, have a song that is not only one of their best, but is now one of my favorites. "No Hard Feelings" reflects on mortality, the afterlife, and on the measure of a man's life.

The Avett Brothers' official website:

These were my favorite albums from this year, what were yours?

Please message and let me know.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Best Of 2016: Books

I cannot imagine a life without reading or a house without books in it. Thankfully, I don't have to. For as long as I have been a reader, I have cherished discovering new authors and books that would become my favorites; works that I revisit again and again. A good book can take us outside of ourselves, deeper into ourselves, make us see the world and ourselves differently. Books can have huge impacts on our lives, the way we view and think of others, and can impact our theology. 

The books that have made my list have made me think a little differently, see not only my own life but others in a new way, and to expand my faith to allow for even better questions. 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren was my favorite book of 2016. After reading this, I wished that I knew Tish so that I could call her up and have a great conversation with her about the wonderful book that she had written. Reading her book makes you think that you are because it's like having a wise friend who is deeply honest and funny and real. Structured in the form of an ordinary day, she is able to present how the ordinary is extraordinary because all of it is sacred. This is not abstract theology, but, like Christ's own teachings, rooted in the daily life. "We are marked from our first waking moment," she writes, "by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day." She then takes us through a day: beginning with "Waking" to "Sleeping" with all of the messy, grace filled moments in-between. Warren is a gifted writer who crafts beautiful sentences that reflects the rhythms that fill not only our days but eternity.

Tish Harrison Warren's official website:

My interview with her:

My original review of Liturgy of the Ordinary:

Back when I was an English major in college, I came across Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. A story about the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan left me with plenty of questions and reflecting on what would I do in their situation? Would I renounce my faith to end the suffering of others? 

I first encountered Makoto Fujimura through his blog and then in his book Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art & Culture.  In his latest, Silence and Beauty, Fujimura grapples with Endo's novel, as well as his own cultural heritage. His writing is as beautiful and as skilled as his paintings. He masterfully weaves his thoughts on culture, Japanese history, art, faith, and suffering and manage to bring it all towards Christ. His insights into the novel and into our culture's inability to deal with lament, suffering, and doubt are deeply profound and moving. "Christianity," Fujimura writes, "from its onset, has valued individual voices, as each person is made in the image of God. Jesus' welcoming of outsiders - even those commonly not considered worthy of attention, or those like the lepers who posed a health risk to communities - shows that Jesus came for the exiled, the marginal and the persecuted as much as for anyone else."

Makoto Fujimura's official website:

Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living was one of those books that brought me to tears. She is deeply honest about her struggles to please others and how it led to exhaustion, problems at home, and a time of serious questioning.

What I loved about his book was Niequist's candor about being someone who says "Yes" to too many things until she found that she was burned out and overwhelmed. All of the things she had thought were God's will and what she thought she wanted, weren't really either. In the midst of speaking engagements, to-do lists, and busyness, she found herself disconnected from everything. She was neglecting her family, her health and her spiritual growth. That's when she began to "remake" her life from "the inside out," She also learned that saying "No" may be the most spiritual thing one can do.

She writes, "What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management.
And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace."

Her honesty is what we need more of in the Church. She doesn't hide behind a spiritual mask of having it all together, but shows that flaws and failures are apart of faith.

Shauna Niequist's official website:

James K.A. Smith is one of my favorite writers, particularly his book Desiring the Kingdom. In his latest work, he shows that who and what we worship fundamentally shapes our hearts. That we are formed not so much by the philosophy "I think, therefore I am," but more as "I am what I love." His thoughts are shaped more by Saint Augustine than Descartes. 

We are all creatures of worship and we will find something to worship, though many do not call whatever we worship "God."  Smith presents how this has shaped even something as ordinary as a mall and how it was designed very much like a church and as a place of worship within our culture. 

Our beliefs are so often formed by our hearts and our desires, more than our thoughts and our arguments. 

"Too often," Smith writes, "we look for the Spirit in the extraordinary when God has promised to be present in the ordinary."

This book is challenging and makes one think and rethink the "whys" or our habits and why we do what we do. He shows us how discipleship should be transformed by our liturgies and our worship.

James K. A. Smith's official website:

I first came to Richard Rohr's writing through his work Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. When I heard he had written a book on the Trinity, I had to admit that I had not really read any works that dealt with what can be one of the hardest concepts in Christianity: the three-in-one God. Rohr use the metaphor of a dance (think a circular dance in which we are invited to join the "flow" of the movement of it). In Greek the word is perichoresis (from which we derive our word choreography). My favorite metaphor is the one of a child who climbs into bed with his or her parents. "Why do children like to crawl in your bed like this?" he asks, "Because that's where all the energy is! All the safety and tenderness they want! Between the two of you. They've got the best of both of you; they literally rest in the space, the relationship, between you." 

Richard Rohr's official website:

For years I have loved the poems of Mary Oliver, but had never read any of her essays. Her latest, Upstream, made me regret that I hadn't. Like Annie Dillard, another of my favorite authors, Oliver draws me into nature and the spiritual side of it. Both remind me to "Pay attention" and to be aware and present to the moment. 

How could I not love a book with a passage like this one?

"Wherever I've lived my room and soon
the entire house is filled with books;
poems, stories, histories, prayers of
all kinds stand up gracefully or are
heaped on shelves, on the floor, on
the bed. Strangers old and new offering
their words bountifully and thoughtfully,
lifting my heart.

But, wait! I've made a mistake! how
could these makers of so many books
that have given so much to my life -
how could they possibly be strangers?"

That's how I feel about Mary Oliver. Though her essays are autobiographical, she is not confessional. In fact, she holds many of her cards close to her chest, but what she does allow you to see is transcendent with beauty and wisdom. Certainly one can live by her words, " . . . observe with passion . . . think with patience . . . live always caringly."

These were my favorite books of 2016, what were some of yours? 

Comment and let me know. I'm always looking for recommendations on what to read next.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Doubt & The Great Commission

As a child, I used to wonder at God's reasoning as to why He would send His only son when He did instead of in the modern age when there was television; after all, if Jesus had been around when there was TV we could all see and hear him. TV would have provided proof that he did exist, that he did die, and that he was resurrected. It would have been much easier for people to believe and there would be less room for doubts. At least that's what I thought then.

Then I read the passage of Matthew 28 known as the Great Commission. This is a passage and a subject that I have heard far too many times to count. Every church that I had attended covered the subject of Jesus sending our his disciples and us to the ends of the earth to make disciples (interesting that he says disciples and not converts). It also made me afraid that I would have to become a missionary to some third world country.  One thing I never heard and was glossed over every time I heard this subject preached or taught was found in verse 17. Verse 16 begins with, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain in which Jesus directed them." It is the next part that astounded me because I had never payed much attention to it, "And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted." There it was: some doubted.


The eleven are standing there with the resurrected Jesus and still "some doubted."

These were not just followers, of which Jesus had many. No, these were the men he chose and shared the last three years of his life with. These were men he taught and loved and shared meals with and poured himself into. These were the closest of the close to Christ. And still some of them doubted in that moment. We are not told what they doubted (Did they wonder if this really was Jesus? Was his resurrected body different from the one they were familiar with?)  just that they did.

When he chose them, he chose men who were deniers, betrayers, doubters, cowards, and prideful to be his very disciples. Now, before he's about to ascend into heaven, Christ is entrusting his Church and this commission to them, even to the doubters. Why?

Because Jesus loves and welcomes the doubters.

This is comforting to me, as I have often felt that my doubt and my questions were unwelcome in his Church. Too often they have been dismissed or dissuaded. My questions were either ignored, discounted, or treated like a nuisance. So I internalized them because I was made to feel they were shameful and wrong. It has taken me years to understand that this is not so. Questions and doubts are not in opposition to faith, but is a part of it, a way to expand our theology and understanding, and to realize that faith often requires us to do, as the poet Rilke wrote, and "live in the question."

Only the Pharisees were smug enough to believe they had all they answers. They were filled with their own rigid self-certainty of what the kingdom was - and then Christ showed up on the scene and questioned them in a way that contradicted their answers. And in their surety, they hated him.

So much of faith is knowing that it's the Divine Mystery and not the Divine Certainty.

Certainly one of the most honest prayers prayed in all of scripture is found in Mark 9:23, when the father of the boy with the evil spirit cries out in pure, raw honesty, "I believe, help me in my unbelief!" He in that moment admitted he didn't have it all together, that his faith was shaky at best and that, even in his uncertainty, he cried out in trust to Christ. Sometimes that is the only prayer I can pray.

The German philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich, wrote, "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Sometimes I think it is my mission to being faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful." Many would balk at this suggestion, but he's correct. It is in the struggle that one gains strength. It is in the question that one learns to trust that, even if there is no answer, it is enough to have the question - or to formulate better questions. To not fear the question because God is big enough to handle any question we have (especially since most of them are already in scripture, as if God were saying, "I knew you were going to ask this. so here it is . . .")

Christ, by knowing that there were, even in that moment after resurrection, still doubted, still had questions, understood that such was the kingdom of heaven because they would be the ones who were not blindly accepting, but were digging deeper, looking harder, inspecting more closely, and pondering the question Pilate asked, "What is truth?" But they grasped what he did not. It is Truth and not truth they were after.

There amidst the charge to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,"  "baptizing them," and "teaching them" is doubt.  And Jesus doesn't tell those doubting, "But not you. You're not ready. You're not there yet." He does not dismiss or reject them. He includes them in this great commission. Why would he do this?

Because only those who know doubt can understand others who question, who struggle, who doubt.

Over the years, I have known many and have friends who are either atheists or agnostics. When they have told me this, they waited to see my reaction. Would I get upset or indignant or question them as human beings and how could they not believe and begin to spew my rhetoric or start an argument and begin citing scripture and theological concepts to counter their statement. But I didn't. I simply asked them to tell me how they came to their conclusion. I asked to hear their story. And I listened. Without judgment. Without waiting to add my two cents. Without interrupting or judging them as they told me. When they had shared their story, I thanked them for trusting me enough to share it. More than one asked, "Aren't you going to try and save me now?"

"No, I couldn't even if I wanted to. I couldn't even save myself."

They are often surprised during our conversations about my own doubts and questions. But you're a believer?

Emily Dickinson (Saint Emily to me) wrote, "We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour which keeps believing nimble." And she's correct.

There are times when I read the Bible and, at some point, scratch my head, "Really?!!?" There are times I wonder: Am I believing because I'm afraid not to? Because I don't want to live with the reality that there is no God and there is no life after this one? If there is no God then what is my meaning and purpose? Was this all mere chance and accident?

But there are more times in my life when I know that there is a God because I can see Him working in my life (both during the good and bad times). I also know that my periods of doubt and struggle have made me realize that we cannot approach the Bible as an idol but that we have to let go of many of our preconceived notions of who we think God is and let Him shatter that so that we form a new understanding. God is bigger than even the Bible. I cannot return to the God and Christ of my childhood that was formed by stories and good intentions. The Trinity is grander, wilder, bigger and more inexplicable than anything any of us can imagine.

Divine Mystery reveals to us that what we think is impossible is possible (Incarnation, Transfiguration, Resurrection). So often we begin in doubt but move to wonder. Wonder, not doubt, is the beginning of wisdom. I have begun to realize that I don't have to and, shouldn't have to, turn off my brain when I read the Bible. It is challenging in all of its contradictions and its metaphors because only through metaphor can man begin to speak of God or the kingdom (that's why Christ told parables using metaphors about what God and heaven were like).

Faith is a balancing act of belief and doubt. It is trusting when there are more questions than answers. It is admitting, "I don't understand, but I'm trusting in You despite that."

Eugene Peterson translated verse 17 as, "Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally" (The Message). And how much of doubt is that holding back? That fear of abandoning oneself totally to awe, worship and the risk that faith requires?

There, at the end of Matthew, is the most glorious promise, "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Christ is with those who believe and those who doubt because they are often one and the same. They are his Church. So I am thankful that Matthew records their doubts (possibly his own in that moment of self-revelation) because it means it's okay. It's a part of the process. It's welcomed and that Christ includes the doubters in his great commission and his Church. It means there is room for me.