Monday, January 30, 2017

Planting Gardens

It is only January and my daffodils have already bloomed. Despite them being my favorite flower, I don't think that even the English poet William Wordsworth would want to see daffodils this early in the year. As I am rereading the prophets, studying them and their words, reading books about them, I came across this passage in Jeremiah where he says, "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the produce from them." He wrote these words while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. It was one of the most troublesome periods that came after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Yet here he is, writing to his people, that in the midst of their captivity they should plant gardens and build houses. Make a life in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty and trials. 

How many of the Israelites believed that God had forgotten them?

How many of them only longed to return to their own country?  

Yet here was a prophet telling them to make a life in the midst of this was to plant gardens, build homes, have families. These were not the words they longed to hear from him or God. I daresay any of them were receptive to hearing this and were probably very hostile to such pronouncements. 

How many of us would want to hear that when were experiencing great tragedy or uncertainty?

"Live your life."

Make normalcy. Create beauty.

What Jeremiah is telling them is to live their lives actively practicing hope. When we are in the midst of the wilderness do we?

Another prophet, Hosea, writes how God woos us to the wilderness. "Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her" (2:14). I don't know any of us who thinks of God leading us into the desert, into the wilderness as a kind of courtship but that's exactly what Hosea is writing. As Ann Voskamp wrote in The Broken Way, " . . .God takes us into the wilderness not to abandon us - but to be alone with us . . ." Hosea goes on to, once again use a gardening metaphor, with, "Then I will give her vineyards . . ." A metaphor that Christ will use many times in the New Testament to our relationship though him, in God.  Here, in our wilderness, God will give us the richness and bountifulness of a vineyard. This is not a harsh God but a compassionate and loving one who, even in the midst of our suffering, offers restoration and redemption.  He is offering us His love. Hosea says that God will give her, ". . . the valley of Achor as a door of hope."Isaiah also references this valley. For both prophets it is a way of providing the image of how a source of calamity can become a source of hope and blessing. Joy turned into despair.

How many of us need that right now?

Need that garden of hope and blessing in the midst of our wildernesses? Need to know that we are not abandoned or forgotten but beloved so much that the God of the universe wants to woo and be alone with us?

May we take hope then from the daffodils that bloom in the midst of our winters. May we see, even in the bright yellows and oranges, the very tenderness of God's hand.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Righteous Resistance

When I saw this photo, I wept. And continue weeping. I am a Papa to two sons. when I saw this photo, I saw my son. This child was my child. The deep grief his father and mother were suffering, I was now suffering.  As I went in to pray, I broke down. Weeping. I could barely speak a word from the sorrow I felt. And I thought, "How must my Heavenly Father's heart must be breaking . . ."

Yesterday, in America, there was a March for Life. But were they marching for this little boy? We cannot call ourselves Pro-Life if all life, if this Syrian boy's life, does not matter. We cannot claim to serve Christ if we don't even heed his teachings and commands. Where is love thy neighbor? Where is the Good Samaritan? We cannot say we are obeying His greatest command to "Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and "Love they neighbor as yourself." We must admit that we either don't care or that we are willfully choosing to disobey this commandment.

I have begun rereading the Prophets, as well as reading books on them. What they are teaching me is that love is never silent to injustice, oppression, repression, discrimination, hate, fear, greed, and self-centeredness. Their words break through our self-denial and self-deceit.

While reading the prophet Isaiah, I was struck and convicted by his warnings:

Quit your worship charades.
I can't stand  your trivial religious games.
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings -
meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more!
You've worn me out!
I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go on sinning.
When you put on your prayer-performance,
I'll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I'll not be listening.
And do yo know why? Because you've been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives of your evil doings
so I don't have to look at them any longer.
Say not to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

God is tired of our fake worship of Him. God is sick of our ignoring His commands to take care of the poor, the orphans and foster kids, the refugees, the immigrants, the marginalized, the outsider, the foreigner, the sojourner, the very ones whom Christ identified himself with. The one who Jesus told us that when we did something for them, we did something for him. 

We need to stop saying and praying, "God bless America," and start praying, "God, have mercy on America." 

Our country can claim no moral high ground, can claim not God's blessings but only His judgment by the choices we are making. And much of The Church is either silent or embracing the idols of nationalism, militarism and "America first." Christ called us to be kingdom focused, not nation-centric. 

Scriptures warn us again and again not to pervert justice, not to enact evil statutes, not to deprive the need, rob the poor, oppress the least of these, and to lie. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" has no room in it for post-truths or alternative facts. Lies are lies are lies.

The prophets and Christ teach us that love is not acceptance. Love is costly. They warn of the consequences of our sin and the judgment that is to come if we don't heed their words. They call us to embrace the Truth. They are there to shake and wake us from the stupor of self. 

As the Psalmist wrote, "Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!" Are we not only embracing the "deceitful and unjust man" but becoming him in our decision to protect ourselves, to be concerned only about our own safety and security?

Christ is not interested in our security, our safety or our comfort. 

We are called to move beyond them, beyond our fears and ourselves. We are to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow him. But how many, within The Church, hear this and turn away? Even if it is only an inward turning away, it is still turning. We are the rich young ruler. We are the many who turned away when Christ spoke the Sermon on the Mount. 

God has shown us what is good, but are doing it?

What does the Lord require of us?

"To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). This verse is often quoted but so seldom lived out. Cheap words. The very words Isaiah said God is sick of hearing from our mouths but not seeing in our lives. 

The Church is too busy embracing the politicians and ignoring the prophets. We are not following Christ, but following Caesar. 

"Woe" is the word we must heed. 

The Church must rise up and become The Church, the bride that Christ has called us to be. We have become more interested in being part of the body politic than the body of Christ. But we will never have power if we are rushing to grab it in this world. True power is found only in being a servant. Christ taught and lived this out. We are called and commanded to, but are we? 

We are too busy seeking power and prosperity, but Christ is not found there. He is found among the poor and powerless. James 5:1-6 warns us, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!"

How many in America and in The Church will hear that?

The prophet Amos cried out, "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" 

The Church must do likewise and strive to speak out against injustice or else suffer judgment. 

God desires mercy, not sacrifice. He is wearied by our worship-tainment. Our mega-churches that gather to enjoy performance. God is turning away. He is not listening. 

The Church must step up and speak out. The Church must stop aligning itself with the wealthy and powerful, seeking their favor over the favor of God. We are not called to raise celebrities but prophets and missionaries and servants who understand that all are our neighbors, all are our brothers and sisters, all are created in the very image of God. 

We cannot be silent. We cannot be complacent and be Christ-like.

"When you put us through the fire to purge up from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke," Psalm 39 tells us and I pray that it is so in the American Church. 

God always sides with the powerless, marginalized people. Why? Because He is showing us the significance of the insignificant in the kingdom. The kingdom of God is an inversion of our own. The last shall be first . . .

This morning I prayed, "Open my heart to your love. Open my heart to your love because I'm afraid of the hardness that is taking root there. I am afraid of the hate that is forming . . ."

Now is not the time for hate. Now is the time for righteous anger. 

Now is the time that we move from our indifference and apathy.

The scriptures show us that the politics of oppression is overcome by the constant practice of pursuing justice and compassion. We must be His Church, His body and live this out with our lives and our love. God is not disinterested in this world and neither should we be.  We are called to be the kingdom in this world, not an empire. We are to take care of all of the least of these.

Eugene Peterson wrote of the prophets, "They contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives: the way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy."

As followers of Christ we are called to not only to pray, "Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come. On earth as it is in heaven," we are to live and work for it. We are to love the kingdom into the lives of others. We are ambassadors of the kingdom, of Christ. But to be an ambassador, we must reflect what we are representing. Are we? Are we truly? 

Do we reflect God, do we reflect Christ, do we reflect the scriptures?

How many of us reflect CNN or Fox News more than we do the good news, the gospel that is found in Christ Jesus?

How many people would know us from our political affiliation before they would ever see a trace or glimpse of the God we claim to worship?

Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in The Prophets:

Why were so few voices raised in the ancient world in protest against the ruthlessness of man? Why are human beings so obsequious, ready to kill and ready to die at the call of kings and chieftains? Perhaps it is because they worship might, venerate those who command might, and are convinced that it is by force that man prevails. The splendor and the pride of kings blind the people. The Mesopotamian, for example, felt convinced that authorities were always right: "The command of the palace, like the command of Anu, cannot be altered. The king's word is right; his utterance, like that of a god, cannot be changed!" The prophets repudiated the work as well as the power of man as an object of supreme adoration. They denounced "arrogant boasting" and "haughty pride" (Isa. 10:12), the kings who ruled the nations in anger, the oppressors (Isa. 14:4-6), the destroyers of nations, who went forth to inflict waste, ruin, and death (Jer. 4:7), the "guilty men, whose own might is their god" (Hab. 1: 11).

Their course is evil,
Their might is not right.
Jeremiah 23:10

The end of public authority is to realize the moral law, a task for which both knowledge and understanding as well as the possession of power are indispensable means. Yet inherent in power is the tendency to breed conceit. " . . . one of the most striking and one of the most pervasive features of the prophetic polemic [is] the denunciation and distrust of power in all its forms and guises. The hunger of the powerfit! knows no satiety; the appetite grows on what it feeds. Power exalts itself and is incapable of yielding to any transcendent judgment; it 'listens to no voice' (Zeph. 3:2) ." It is the bitter irony of history that the common people, who are devoid of power and are the prospective victims of its abuse, are the first to become the ally of him who accumulates power. Power is spectacular, while its end, the moral law, is inconspicuous.” 

The Church must not be blind to our leaders (political and religious). We must stand up and speak out. We must heed the warnings of the prophets and, like them, concern ourselves less with how much we are liked but by how much we love. Christ-like love is not easy, comfortable, or safe. It is costly but the cost is far less than the burdens we bear under the weight of our own hate, indifference, fear and discrimination. 

Social justice is not a political idea, it is a biblical one. What reading and studying the prophets is teaching me is that we must embrace this godly mandate of social justice. It begins individually. We must repent of our own sins, of the hurts we have caused, the silence we have kept over the suffering of others. Then, repentance must be national. As a nation, we must reflect and repent of the sins we have committed in the name of power, security, greed, and the furtherance of our own empire. We must repent of the sins that have bloodied our nation's soil: slavery, the slaughtering and betrayal again and again and again of Native Americans, the old and new Jim Crow, racism, discrimination based on not only race, but gender and socio-economics. We must stand up against those who would seek to profit the few at the expense of the many. We must not allow for our leaders to continue to create a gap between the wealthy and the poor. We must realize that when God created this world, He called it "good" and that we have been poor stewards of our environment. We must realize that the Bible commands us again and again to take care of the foreigner, the sojourner, the refugee, the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed. Either we will heed His commands or we must admit that we either don't care or don't believe them. 

We must, as a people and a nation, let the light of God shine on our sinfulness (our bigotry, our hatred, our fears, our selfishness), repent and act. Our voices must be ones that call for justice to roll down for all. There will be no peace in this county until we do. I only pray that we will.

So what's the answer?

It's simple, as Isaiah stated:

Live right,
speak the truth,
despise exploitation,
refuse bribes, 
reject violence,
avoid evil amusements.
This is how you raise your standard of living!
A safe and stable way to live.
A nourishing and satisfying way to live.

May we live rightly.

May we step up in righteous resistance!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Better Questions

I was born with a question formed on my lips.

Being a questioner has made life both harder and far more interesting. Having grown up in The Church, I first heard the Bible before I could read the Bible. Both at home and at church, I was taught Bible stories and, for as long as I could remember, I found myself perplexed by the story that unfolded. My early questions were:

Why would God create that tree in the first place if He knew Adam and Eve were going to eat from it?
Why didn't he cast Satan to an uninhabited planet instead of Earth?
After Cain kills Abel, why is Cain afraid that others will want to take his life, too? Where did those people come from?
Did God have parents? Then where did He come from?

Both my mother and my Sunday School teachers began to grow tired of my questions, either out of an inability to answer them or because it took time to do so, and they often grew impatient with me asking them. As I have written before, this made me believe that there was something wrong with asking questions in the first place and I began to internalize them, causing me to often (and to this day) feel isolated from the very church I am supposed to feel a part of. It's also the reason why I, as a parent, have been open to hold my own kids' questions and, when I taught Sunday School myself, took each child's questions seriously and never dismissed inquiry.

But why has The Church so often been either dismissive or fearful of those who question when it is clearly a part of the scriptures?

In the Old Testament, there are many figures of the faith who questioned - and questioned God.

Abraham asked, "Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?"
Moses asked, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people?"
The prophet Jeremiah asked, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?"
And then there's the book of Job, which asks the hardest and most penetrating of questions about the nature of human suffering.

Unlike Christianity, Judaism has an entire tradition of questioning. The She'elot Uteshuvot, a classic work of rabbinical literature, literally means "questions and replies."  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote, "In the yeshiva, the home of traditional Talmudic learning, the highest compliment a teacher can give a student is 'You raise a good objection'."  Part of rabbinical training is knowing the scriptures so well that when the rabbi asks the student a question, the student responds with their own question that not only shows they understand the rabbi's question, but that they can expand on it with an insightful and thought-provoking question of their own.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have all the answers."

In Judaism, they even have three types of questioning:
1. Chokhmah (wisdom): this is scientific, historical or sociological inquiry
2. Questions about the Torah
3. Prophetic - questions about justice

And we have to understand that Christ was raised in this very tradition and used it in his own ministry. Jesus often responded to questions with his own:

When the rich young ruler asks, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus asks, "Why do you call me good?"
When Pharisees ask about paying taxes, Jesus takes a coin and asks, "Whose portrait is this?"

Or Jesus starts off with his own question of, "Who do you say that I am?"

They understood that questions are not only healthy but necessary to faith. Questions that are asked because one genuinely wants to learn helps one to grow. These are not questions meant to reject or ridicule, dismiss or doubt, but to go deeper than the mere surface of things.

To ask a question is to trust that there is an answer, that there is meaning to everything.

Science also understands this. Asking questions is the single most important habit for scientists, inventors and innovators. All great scientific thought started with the childlike question of, "Why?"
Sir Isaac Newton asked, "Why does an apple fall from a tree but why does the moon not fall into the Earth?"
Albert Einstein asked, "What would the universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?"

Breakthroughs often come from such deep questioning and thinking. In science, they believe that questions are more important that answers because, if one formulates the right question, then the answer either becomes obvious or can be worked out. Science encourages questioning and knows that to be inquisitive is to expand scientific thought and theories.  Thomas Louis Berger said, "The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge."

Children are filled with questions, which is why, in part, I believe Christ told us to become as little children or that such is the kingdom of heaven.

Who fears questions?

Dictators and authoritarian figures, of which God is neither. God will not get knocked off His throne by our asking; though we may very well get knocked off our own preconceptions and misconceptions by His answer. Don't believe me? Just look at Job. How do you respond when God asks if you were there at the beginning of all creation? Humbling is putting it mildly.

Too often we falsely believe that scriptures were given to us so that we would have all the answers, but I believe it was given to us so that we might formulate better questions. Questions that shape our daily lives and how we respond to the world and to others. "Am I my brother's keeper?" "Am I a good Samaritan?"

To be without questions is not a sign of faith, but a lack of depth.

Yes, questions make many uncomfortable, but Christ showed us that faith is never meant to be comfortable. We are never meant to be settled and sure, but constantly striving and struggling and wrestling towards that Divine Mystery.

"I wish," Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "that we worried more about asking the right questions instead of being so hung up on finding answers."

And I heartily agree. Good questions, better questions, not only "disturb" our "universe" (to quote L'Engle) but it also expands it for us because they make us thing grander, larger, more about the very nature of our Creator and why we were created.  When we do, we will find that, most often, that instead of watching our faith crumble beneath the questions, it becomes magnified by the sheer grandness and grandeur of a God who is bigger than our thoughts and the very universes that we know so very little about.

God does not fear my questions, which is why He often has them in the Bible. He welcomes the spiritual audacity to ask. Why? Because what parent doesn't welcome their children's curiosity when they ask us about ourselves? I love to hear my boys questions about what they heard in church or read in the Bible because it means they are thinking about it and not just ignoring or accepting it mentally without understanding. They are asking, "Who is this God we serve? What does this God want for me? How am I supposed to live my life? How am I to treat others?" Questions are a part of real spiritual maturity. It is growing into the faith.

That is why I pray, for them and for myself, that each day provides the opportunity to form better questions.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My Response To The Inauguration

I was asked this week how I feel about the inauguration today. The person knew how I felt about the newly-elected President. They knew the sorrow and anger I felt at having our 45th President be someone who openly supported racism, xenophobia, sexual assual, hatred and distrust of others. I'm not sure what they thought my response would be, but all I could reply was, "I will actively continue to strive to live a Christ-formed life and to teach my kids to do the same." But what does that mean?

Whenenver I am asked why I believe and talk and write as I do (a question that is also asked by other Christians), I reply, "The Beatitudes."  That is the foundation where I start.

"Seeing the crowds, he went on the mountain, and when hs sat dwon, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisified.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of god.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

This is not empire. This is the kingdom of God which turns everything upside down and completely changes the order of things and how we view power and authority. These words of Christ are not metaphor but are meant to actually be lived out in our day to day lives. 

These are what I will continue to work to live towards and teach my kids to live by. I will continue to raise my sons to be those who speak up against authority when it oppresses or marginalizes anyone. We will continue to love others withouth judgment. We will continue to respond to hate with love, violence with peace, discrimination with acceptance, and cruelty with compassion. I want my sons to not be silent whenever they see someone left out, someone bullied, someone discriminated against for any reason, to practice kindness with all, and to not judge others based on their gender, race, sexuality, or socio-economic level.

If you want to find Christ, then you have to go to the least of these. You have to be a voice for the voiceless. You have to call for justice to roll down like the prophet Hosea did. 

I believe that civil disobedience can look like marching in the streets in peaceful protest, but it can also be in actively loving others as Christ did. It is living out the Beatitudes when it isn't easy, which it never is, and when it can cost you something, including friendships, social status, or popularity. Those things don't matter in the end. When we stand before God, He will not ask us, "How many likes did your post get? How many followers do you have on Twitter or Instagram?" No, He will ask, "Did you love like I love? Did you show mercy, grace and compassion to those who can never repay you for it? Did you help the least of these?"

So our family will stand up and be a power of change in our own home, our community and in our country. We will not close our doors but open our hearts to others, including refugees. We don't believe in building bigger walls but bigger bridges, bigger tables where all are welcome to come. We will embrace the hurting, comfort the mourning, love the unloved. 

Earlier this week our country celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is someone whose life I show to my sons as an example of being a prophet of peace. His words and his actions were rooted in scripture, especially the Old Testament prophets and in Christ. All day Monday, I saw people posting his words online on social media, but what I tell my sons is, "We need to not just post King's words, we need to live them out." So when he said, "I have decided to stick with love , . , Hate is to great a burden to bear," then we should do likewise in how we react to the world around us. 

Love is the greatest revolution there is. But it's also the costliest. It can cost a person their very lives to stand up for peace, to stand up for love, to stand against nonviolence and discrimination, to stand up against war, to stand up against a government that serves the few at the cost of the many. 

Now is not the time to mourn or be silent. Now is the time to let love speak loudest. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In The Beginning . . .

In the beginning . . . 

Genesis starts as all great stories do. It's almost like a fairy tale start of "Once upon a time . . ."

In the beginning, God created . . . 

Why does science and faith part ways at this point?  For me science and spirit are not only connected but enhance and expand each other. 

As a child I loved watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos series and, today, I love watching scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku explain physics and the universe. I love programs like Nova or listening to Science Friday on NPR. Does science challenge me? Yes! But, like scripture, it should. Neither faith nor science should be solidified to the point that I become like an insect trapped in amber.

It is thrilling to me that everything began in what they call the "initial singularity" which was everything compacted to the size of a sugar cube. Imagine that? Everything in every universes and galaxy contained in something as small, if not smaller than a sugar cube. Now most scientists cannot go further back than that. They leave it at mystery with a lower case "m." For me, this all points to Mystery with a capital "M." It's not mystery but Divine Mystery. 

Whenever I learn something new or hear that there are not only multiple galaxies but that there may be multi-verses it does not make me doubt the existence of God, but, instead, makes me realize how much greater and infinite that God really is. God cannot be contained in my small box of thinking. Nor do I shrink back from the Big Bang theory because, I would imagine, that when God speaks everything into existence, that is the power of words like we have never experienced. And from that point of singularity, from that point of beginning, all mass and space-time inflated and expanded out.

It means that everything in existence is created from the same basic elements. We are, as my Papa Fred once told me, "Made up of the stuff of stars."  

Now I know that there will be those who will stop reading this blog merely by my even suggesting that the Genesis account of creation is not literal. There are those who will look at me differently, distrustfully, by my being unconcerned that the creation of everything is not exactly how it's laid out in the Bible. Genesis is poetic, it uses imagery and metaphor to unfold the creation story. Just because it isn't fact, does not mean that it isn't truth. I do believe that God created all things, but I do not and will never understand how He did it. With God, I may ask, but I cannot assert. Job learned this. Instead, I can only bow in worship at a Creator who can ask humanity, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand." I don't. God's answer to Job and to all of us, really, is one of perspective. God doesn't owe me answers, but I do, however, owe Him awe.

Two of my favorite theologians understood this.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and a geologist. He was someone who understood both scientific and theological thought and did not think them separated or at opposing ends. As he wrote, "By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers."  Teilhard believed the reality of Romans 11:36, "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever."

The second, Madleine L'Engle, wrote, "When I look at galaxies on a clear night - when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think this is what God is like, then instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged . . . I rejoice that I am part of it." For L'Engle, she understood that one's faith could be expanded not only by theologians like George MacDonald but also by scientists like Albert Einstein. She did not try to disconnect or discount that the spiritual and the scientific are one because they all flow from one source: God.

In glimpses of nature, of creation, one gets glimpses of Truth.

When I heard that theory about "initial singularity," that it all began with everything compressed to the size of a sugar cube, my first reaction was one of reverence and wonder. How miraculous!

I don't attempt to debunk science simply because new discoveries don't fit into some preconceived notion of how God created or how God works. As Saint Augustine told one of his students, "We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God." Science does not make me dismiss or doubt in a Creator; it simply overwhelms me with the realization of how truly infinite He really is.

Finite man only sees the world as though standing at the bottom of a well. Our perspective is limited and we cannot truly grasp the greatness and vastness of creation or its Creator. From my well, I cannot see eternity.

"The most telling and profound way of describing the evolution of the universe," Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "would undoubtedly be to trace the evolution of love."

From love all things were created. By love all things were created.

Both science and faith give us a larger vision. Both open our minds, our imaginations, our souls.

The more I delve into science, the more I'm convinced of a Creator behind all of this great expanse of space and time. It is amazing to discover all the laws, principles, symmetry and structure behind creation. Faith and science allow me to appreciate the extraordinary beauty that God reveals of Himself through the reality of things; God is not an abstraction. God is a reality by which all reality exists.

Creation is an act of love. It's the miraculous gift of the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary. How many of us see but overlook the opportunity to glimpse small glories that are placed before us? Taste and see that the Lord is good. He gave us our very senses to know Him in the very world around us. In the very food we eat. All is touched by the Divine Mystery. That very thought fills me with such reverence.

The growing of grass. The chaning of seasons. The sound and flow of a mountain stream. The reflection of light on a still pond. Children laughing and running in play. The very atoms that make up everything are gifts of divine grace. It is love that created them and love that holds them all together.

In his masterwork The Confessions, Saint Augustine asked, "What exists, for any reason except that you exist?" His words reiterating Romans 11:36.

Love. Behind all things and in all things. Love that casts out all fears. When we begin to grasp and slowly understand this principle, we learn to fear less. Perfect love casts out all fear. We no longer fear new theories and ideas, but we let go of our rigid, pharisaic dogmas which imprisons.

"Creative scientists and saints, "L'Engle wrote, "expect revelation and do not fear it. Neither do children. But as we grow up and we are hurt, we learned not to trust."

I trust in a God that is bigger than my ideas and concepts. I believe in the Logos. I believe in the Truth. Truth is eternal. Facts and knowledge change as we learn more and more about our world and our universe. We cannot mistake the two for each other. Donald Miller said, "I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me."

Both science and scripture remind me: God is not remote. God is not distant. God is ever present.

"Science never threatens God," L'Engle reminds us, "it opens up more possibilities."

That my friend is faith. That is the realization that God is so much greater than ourselves. God is unknowable and that believing requires the same leap it takes to hypothesize new theories and to undertake bold discoveries in the finite to catch a glimpse of the infinite out of the corner of our eye. It is allowing for the question.

The more answers I am given, the more questions I have and that is faith. That is allowing myself to be subject to a Creator who is grander and larger and more spectacular than my mere idol will ever be. It is to walk in wonder and awe and reverence for a Divine Mystery who creates all of this and reminds us, "I did it because I love you."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What's On Your Nightstand?

Those who know me, know that I am an avid reader (to put it mildly). I have a very Rory Gilmore (for reference see the episode entitled "Like Mother, Like Daughter") way of reading: meaning that, I tend to read numerous books at once depending on what I'm in the mood for. Typically, I am reading a book that is a biography, one that's theology, one that's poetry, and one that's fiction. So voracious reading keeps my mind nimble and always working, always considering, always pondering and dreaming. It also makes me open to the view-points of others because reading forces one to see things from the perspectives of not only the authors, but, as is the case in great fiction, from the point-of-view as the characters. Years ago, when I worked in a bookshop, one of the other clerks commented that she was going to begin reading in the same manner that I did with fiction. "What's that?" I asked her, unsure of what she meant. "I notice that you will read a work of modern fiction and then read one of classic literature," she replied and, to tell you the truth, I didn't even know that I was doing this.  I guess that's why I love authors like Dickens and Dostoevsky alongside Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson.

When I was asked by someone, "What's on your nightstand reading?" I decided to answer the question by showing you.

The books are either ones I am currently reading or are next up to bat, so to speak.

It should come as no surprise that, since I am a voracious reader, that I love books about books and about reading (Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helne Hanff and Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford are two of my favorites). Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior is all about loving words and ideas and stories, but also about how those books can both shape who we are and help us to understand who are or are becoming. Like Prior, a Professor of Literature, I love reading and some of her favorites (Charlotte's WebGreat Expectations and Jane Eyre) are some of my own cherished books.

Now, let's go through the rest of the books . . .

On the top of the pile is Georges Bernanos' novel The Diary of a Country Priest. While I saw the film by Robert Bresson in film school, I had yet to read the work that it was based on. Like all of the books in this pile, it was one of the many books I received as a Christmas present from family and friends.  This work of fiction deals with a young Priest who is sent to a provincial parish. Written int he form of a diary (something I have always enjoyed reading), it tells of his struggles with failure, insecurity and, ultimately, faith.

Beneath that is The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius translated by Anthony Mottola, Ph.D. This book is part of my spiritual reading that I undertook when I started this blog to understand the different forms of Christian thought and practice. It is broken into four weeks worth of reflections and four key meditations. I plan to undertake each one as if I were part of a retreat.

This is followed by Walter Brueggemann's monumental work The Prophetic Imagination. I love that Brueggemann, who is a leading scholar in the Old Testament, approaches the prophets as also being poets. 

Frederick Buechner's The Eyes of the Heart is part of a memoir series that he's written. What drew me to this particular one is that he invites us in to his library and writes about his beloved books, his friendship with the poet James Merrill, and about his family. It is part reflection, part meditation. 

One of my favorite theologians is Eugene Peterson (who's translation of the Bible, The Message, I am also reading daily along with my ESV translation). His book Run with the Horses should go along nicely with Brueggemann's since Peterson is writing about the prophet Jeremiah. 

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen is a collection of letters written by Nouwen over the course of his life on subjects ranging from vocation to solitude to prayer to suffering.

Words Under The Words is a collection of poetry by  Naomi Shihab Nye.

An author I have loved ever since I read her novel The Patron Saint of Liars is Ann Patchett. This past summer, when our family went to Nashville, I had to make a pilgrimage to her bookstore Parnassus Books. Unfortunately, Ms. Patchett was not there but I did find a lot of great books. This is her latest and is currently up for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Those are the books currently on my bedside table. What's on yours? 

Please share and let me know because I am always looking for new ones. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Praying Dr. King's Prayer

"Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am,
who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it
for a purpose greater than myself."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

To say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a hero of mine is an understatement. He was a modern day prophet of God whose words rung like a bell throughout not only this land, but throughout the rest of history. I have read his sermons, his speeches, his journals and his letters and they have never failed to inspire me as to how he lived what he preached with the very blood of his life and faith. 

Everything he said, he lived and he loved even understanding the costliness of love. Hate, retaliation and revenge are natural; but love and compassion and nonviolence are spiritual. The Christ he served preached and live this to the cross. Dr. King preached and lived this to a hotel in Memphis. They both understood that love was the higher law. This shines forth in his sermon entitled "Loving Your Enemies":

Now there is a final reason I think Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they'll hate you a little more at the transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

Unlike Dr. King, how many of us have read Christ's words "Love thy enemies" or "Blessed are the peacemakers" and do not take the most important step and live them out in our daily lives? How many of us are truly transformed to the point of willingly being ready to give our very lives to live them out?  

When we honor his legacy, we need to not only remember how far we have come, but also, and, more importantly, how far we have to go? 

We are at a point in American history where it appears we are moving backwards. Our government may be, but the people of this country need to not only speak up, but rise up and fight any injustice or oppression for anyone in this country (regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexuality). We need to heed King's words, "We have before us a glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of civilization." And we do. But will we?

A question he once asked reverberates deep within me, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

Too often we quote his words but we don't live them out. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day should not only be a day to acknowledge the work and legacy of this great prophet of God, but to continue to work towards ending injustice and driving out darkness with light, hate with love, to work toward bringing about "on earth as it is in heaven."

So when I read Martin Luther King, Jr.'s prayer, I prayed it. And I will pray it daily. And I will work towards living that prayer out. I will not be silent. I will not ignore the suffering of others. I will not overlook the racial inequality that our country still faces. I will not react with bitterness and hatred, but with the same love and righteous anger that infused the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King. 

"The time is always right to do the right thing," he said. And we must. We cannot choose to be silent or comfortable within our homes when we see the rise of darkness and bigotry. If we do not, then, "Not only will we have to repent for the sins of the bad people; but we will have to repent for the appalling silence of the good people."

I do not want to be one of those silent good people because that is not good. Silence to injustice is to side with the oppressor. We must stand with those who understand that there is no power without peace. We must not choose division, but stand for the dignity of all. Power, real power, is rooted in love and peace. Power is not arrogant and boastful, but is found in humility and service. We must also face that, as Dr. King said, "Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle . . ." Are we willing to be those tireless individuals now? Are we willing to step out of our comfortable lives with courage and inner resolve for what we truly believe in?

I hope that this is a day of not only reflection, but action. To understand the fight is not yet won, the battle is not yet over and that the dream is still just a dream. 

I pray Dr. King's prayer, I pray that others will pray it, and I pray that we will all truly live it out in a world that desperately cries out for us to.

Book recommendation:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Nature Of Stones

Cities are the dreams of man. Mountains and rivers and oceans and sky are the dreams of God.

Working for a toy manufacturer, I spend a lot of time in the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us) and it can become depressing to be around retail and materialism day in and day out, especially during the holidays. It's hard to be in the midst of consumerism and not feel disconnected from reality. This is not reality. This is not the world God created, but the one built by man, just as unholy and hollow as any Tower of Babel.

Back when I used to have to travel both Carolinas and Virginia for the last toy company I worked for, there were times, when I found myself pulling my car over by rivers (especially when I was in the mountains) so that I could simply go and sit by it to breathe and be whole again. I needed natural sunlight as it sparkled on the gurgling waters as they moved over stones. The water was fresh and cool to the touch. It brought me back to what was real and needed. It was by such streams and rivers that I found solitude and an inner silence that gave me peace. A peace I cannot find in a store or in traffic or in cities.

I would close my eyes, just listen to the sound of the waters and breathe in.

Breathe in that air. Fill up on it. Let it rise within you. Become whole again.

This is the world God created.

We are, all of us, exiles. We are all refugees from Eden. And, deep within us all, is that desperate longing to return. That's why we clamor to the mountains or the beach. We long for the awe and wonder and peace that only nature can give us. It is, in its own way, a call to worship.

When we look out over a valley from a mountain peak, we feel it: awe. It's a prayer. It's gratitude. It's an understanding that there is something greater than ourselves. It is a reaching upward so that our souls soar like red-tailed hawks.

It is when we are knee-deep in a river stream or standing on a rocky cliff, gazing out at the world below, or the ocean waves are pounding against our chests that we realize we're alive. Really and truly alive. Alive in the way that God meant us to be. We are not trapped within our man made constructs of skyscrapers and highways and traffic.

Sometimes, these experiences make us feel so alive that we lose our breath, we find tears welling in our eyes. That is why we hate leaving, feeling an infinitesimal sense of the regret Adam and Eve felt as they were thrust out of the Garden.

Here, in the mountains or at the ocean, we feel the forces that are greater than ourselves. We return to the very world that made our ancestors look with both wonder and fear at what lay around them. It was a world of both greatness and terror. Imagine a night with no electricity. Where the canopy of stars and the light reflected in the moon was all that there was? Abram was probably knocked to his knees at the thought that these stars would become his numerous ancestors, a promise from God that life was as sacred and varied as the very constellations above him. Oh to feel that magnitude . . .

But then we return. "Back to reality," we say, perpetuating the lie that this is how life is supposed to be.  Something in us breaks each time we leave. Each time we give up the very creation of God for those of our own making.

That is why I collect stones from rivers and those from oceans from places I have visited over the years. I have a basket of them. And there is one that I keep in my pocket, wherever I go, to remind me that this is reality, not the stores I'm calling on or the traffic I'm stuck in. That small, smooth stone from a mountain stream with its purplish color is a talisman for me. Whenever the pressures and the stress and the anxiety of this "modern" society becomes overwhelming, I can simply reach into my pocket and feel that stone and know that wherever I am, that is not reality. This simple stone is. I can concentrate on that stone and all else falls away. I can reflect on the mountains (my favorite places in the world always have mountains and streams and lakes) and the very stream it came from. I can be reminded that this is the beauty and the grace that God gifted us, made us stewards of and I am thankful for. I can, for a moment, leave the frayed and broken and fallen world of man, and, spiritually return to a small semblance of that Edenic place where we were meant to be.

So if you are like me and feel like a wanderer and sojourner among the world made by men, rush to the mountains and stand in the cold of a stream. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply. And be still. Then, before you leave that place of nourishment and peace, find yourself a small stone. Find one that is smooth and weathered by time and the movement of that water. Pick it up and hold on to it for dear life. Let it remind you of how the world is meant to be and, will, one day return to when it really is "on earth as it is in heaven."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

One of the loneliest places I have found to be is the Church. As a kid, I found that my questions were found to be unwelcome and, therefore, I began to stop asking and to simply internalize them. Feeling that there was something wrong in asking what I did not understand (and, to be honest, what they may not have understood but did not want to admit that they didn't), I began to grow tired of Bible stories, which typically focused on subjects like Noah's ark presented as if it were merely the story of a floating zoo and not of a God who wipes out all but one family from the face of the earth. I struggled connecting this wrathful Old Testament God to the one of Christ in the New Testament. What someone needed to understand was that my asking questions have always been less about doubt and more about comprehending more deeply what I am being told is Truth with a capital "T." Since my questions were unwelcome, I felt the same and, when my parents allowed me to walk to the class alone, I discovered a small room that was a library of sorts. Being an avid reader, I was delighted to find that the door was not locked. I looked around, saw nobody, opened the door and popped inside. not wanting to get caught, I did not turn on the lights. 

Browsing the shelves, which were filled with mainly theology books and some old hymnbooks, I was happy to find a copy of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. Seating myself where nobody could see me through the thin window of the door, I would read with great glee, Silverstein's irreverent poems. I had to stifle my laughs so that I didn't dare get caught.  Whenever I could each Sunday, I would ditch class and spend my time reading alone, which I always preferred anyway. Why the Sunday school teachers never asked my parents where I was made me think they were probably relieved when I didn't show up. 

It was with great disappointment that I came to the end of both books and I hoped to find another like them. But no such look. I did spot a thin volume that, to this day, I have no idea why it drew my attention or why I took it down from the shelf, but it was a selection of poems by Emily Dickinson. Now I had never heard of her, but when I sat down with this slender volume in my lap, it fell open to the lines, "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

I was hooked. 

This was exactly how I felt to most of the world. I was shy, introverted bookish kid who was lousy at sports and even worse at socialization. So I felt like I had a bosom friend and a companion of spirits when I continued reading:

Are you - Nobody - too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!

I somehow knew what she meant and understood that this was a secret between me and Emily (or Saint Emily as I would later call her). 

How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog - 
To tell one's name - the livelong June
To an admiring Bog!

As I grew older, Saint Emily never left me; in fact, it was as if she were my closest friend. Like myself, she struggled with the Church. We were, both of us, at best, believing unbelievers (coming from one of the most honest prayers in all of scripture, "I believe! Help me in my unbelief"). "We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble," she wrote. Our believing must be very, very nimble after all these years.

Yet it remains a struggle for me to not feel the greatest loneliness in the place where I am supposed to feel the deepest communion and fellowship. Most of the time, I still feel like I am a pebble in many people' shoes. 

One person, who knows me and has read what I've written over the years, and they said, "I think you love the Lord . . ." with such unsurety. I am often viewed with everything from distant politeness to open disapproval. I am a puzzlement to some because of what I express, especially in regards to the poor, refugees, social justice, egalitarianism, and even that it's okay to doubt and question because that is the only way one has a living, breathing faith and is not a dead idol of dogma. 

"I dwell in possibility," Saint Emily said and I agree. May my life be one of holy expectation. Of unknowing because God cannot be God if I can truly understand and comprehend Him. He must always be more infinite than my finite mind and questions can possess. 

There is much of me I hide from other churchgoers, who are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. Often, like Emily, I think, "I am one of the lingering bad ones," though she and I both ponder and wonder and contemplate and reflect on God, Christ, scripture, The Church, and eternity probably more than most of the good ones do. We cannot and do not take any of the doctrine lightly or simply. Not to question, but to merely accept, is not faith. It is merely acquiescence. 

"The Soul selects her own Society," Saint Emily wrote and, "shuts the Door - to her divine Majority." And she stopped attending church with her family, but kept the Sabbath at home. 

Unlike Emily, I joined a church and have been a member of it for a good many years and, yet, even now, I still feel like an outsider in it. I have grown up in very Conservative Pentecostal or Evangelical churches where they spoke of the Bible as "The Word" (which is incorrect since it is Christ who is The Word, as In the beginning was the Word . . . ) and speak of it in terms that, and I have heard pastors and preachers say this, that "even the punctuation is inspired by God." 

Faith was very, very personal for Emily and I understand that, though I also know that we are meant to be a part of a church for koininia (communion, fellowship), for corporate worship and to be a part of the body of Christ. It is a real and deepening struggle for me. More often, I find my mind drifting. I often have more connection to theologians and pastors that I read (Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard) and listen to on podcasts (Brian Zahnd being one of them or Seminary Dropout) or online through blogs or social media. 

If only I had a friend,one friend, like Saint Emily to confide in and who could confide in me with our struggles, doubts, and questions. The poet Marianne Moore said of Miss Dickinson, "She saw no comfort in refusing to question that about which she wished most to be sure." And I heartily agree and holler, "Comrade!"  

The Bible is a sacred text so often rendered lifeless in the preaching and teaching of it. There is often such surety and certainty in its meaning that so many no longer wrestle with its depths or struggle with its paradoxes and contradictions or meditate on the metaphors, which is the only way one can speak of God. The Bible has been cleaned up and made into applications instead of allowing the dirt and grit and sharpness of it to truly awaken one to Spirit and psalter. Passages have been neutered by over familiarity and we stop really looking and see, instead, what we want to be there, instead of being stunned and shocked by what truly is. The kingdom is not just meant to be some distant, future place we go after we die, but is meant to be lived out here, that we are to strive for "on earth as it is in heaven." 

There is no stillness. No silence. No allowing of God to speak. 

Too often our churches are filled with noise and contemporary worship songs that are often shallow theology. Too much worshiptainment.

Why don't we approach worship as Saint Emily wrote, "The soul should always stand ajar. Ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." 

Where is the awe and wonder in our worship?

Where is the song of our salvation sung from trembling lips of gratitude and humility as if coming before an all consuming fire or river?

"Where Thou art," Emily wrote, "that is home."

I have often heard people speak of biblical figures they want to meet in heaven (David, Isaiah, Peter, Paul), but I long to find that diminutive "chestnut haired" girl with amber eyes. I imagine I will find her in a garden - where else would she be? And I will smile and we can both say, "Despite with others thought, we are both here. We are both home."

Until that day, like her, I will continue to "Tell it slant" and, in the telling, remain solitary. Poets and prophets are lonely people, though I would never dare consider myself to be among the company of either. Too many people think themselves prophets when all they really are is a pain in the . . . I'll leave it at that. But I will continue to struggle in The Church, to find belonging, but maybe I'm not meant to. Maybe being the outsider, the Nobody, is a gift. Outsiders are the ones who remind us that it is in the margins that Christ is found. And, ultimately, what matters is that I belong in Him.

Book recommendation on the subject:

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Before my morning prayer, I read my daily Psalm. "The Lord is the light and my salvation," the 27th Psalm begins, "whom shall I fear?" After having read the Psalm, I closed my eyes and in the silence began to reflect on light. There is a beauty to light as it breaks through leaves on trees in a forest or dances in motes through the window and creates a patch on the floor, which is usually where I will find one of our dogs so that they can be bathed in its warmth. I am fascinated by light, so much so, to the dismay of my family, I will watch documentaries like Forces of Nature: Color that deal with color as a complex array of light. It's incredible to think about how light not only affects color but is composed of colors. The color of the light depends on the length of its wavelengths. And both determine the energy of  the light, with violet waves having the most because it has the shortest length. Sunlight contains all the colors of the rainbow.

I love light and the shadows cast by light. It is one of the things I most enjoy taking photos of (along with clouds and the sky) much to the puzzlement of my family.

But as I sat in the quiet solitude of my morning prayer, my mind reflected on that verse in Psalm 27 and how the God who spoke light into being is so often compared to light. My favorite book of the New Testament is the more mystical one of John. "In him (God) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (1:4). Certainly the darkness of night always gives way to the light of morning each day. Years ago, our family went to Linville Caverns. At one point, when your surrounded by the porous limestone with the water trickling down, deep in the cavern, the guide turns off the light. It is unsettling to be in such darkness. No one can see each other. One cannot, quite literally, see one's own hand in front of one's face. People tend to laugh nervously at first. There is the shuffling about of anxiety as a group of people stand there in complete darkness with absolutely no light present. Then there's the laugh of relief when the guide turns the light back on. I always think of that whenever I think about Bible verses about light and darkness.

When I was a small boy, my family went camping along the Outer Banks on the North Carolina coast. One night, my grandfather, Papa Fred, led me by my tiny hand to the shore. It was night and it was darker than what I, having been raised in a busy city, was used to. I could hear the sounds of the ocean, the night tides coming in and out. The air is salty and I can taste it on my lips. Overhead were more stars than I had ever seen in my life before. A canopy of stars brighter than they ever appeared in the city with all of its streetlights.  It was breathtaking. As we stood there in awe and wonder, Papa Fred leaned down to me and whispered, "You are made up of the stuff of stars."

I had never heard such a thing before but it sounded magical. I looked up at the stars and him, doubtful but thrilled by the idea. It definitely made me see myself differently. I kept looking at my hands to see if they would glow like the light of the stars. He and I sat on that sandy beach and watched for shooting stars. I would never forget that moment. I was made of the stuff of light.

Many years later, I was a chaperone on a school field trip my older son's school took to Camp Kanuga in the mountains of Hendersonville. One night, one of the camp leaders led us on a midnight hike up one of the mountains. At first all of the kids were nervous and said, "But it's too dark!" The counselor smiled and led us up the path. It was amazing to all of us how our eyes adjusted to the lack of light and how we began to not only see more clearly, but hear more clearly too. It made me think of the Theodore Roethke line, "In a dark time my eyes begin to see." They were also enthralled by the bioluminescence of Foxfire, a fungi that grows on rotting logs, and glows with a dim green light.

Light is the first thing God creates. "Let there be light." And there was light. What was that moment like? What was it like to see the very creation of light itself? We cannot even begin to imagine a universe without light, that light was not in being.  "Let there be lights in the expanse of heavens to separate the day from the night."

God as light creating light. And then, throughout scripture, asking that we join in this by being light ourselves, light in the chiaroscuro of this world with all of its light and darkness and shadows. We are called to be the light in the darkened world to help others to see, to draw them to the light, to the love that we are reflecting, Christ's love.

The Dutch painter Vermeer was an artist who utilized light to great effect in his paintings, using light to draw the viewer's eyes to the subject, to the focal point. He used light and shadow to create space and dimension like no other artist before him had. Creating reflections in glass. Vermeer was able to do this by using a camera obscura (a box with a hole to look through. The inside of the box is painted white and there are a series of lenses and mirrors that reflect the exterior image within and intensify the light and shadows with the reflection, so he could notice the finer details on objects made by the shadows and light on them). One cannot help but be amazed by such details when looking at one of his glorious paintings.

Psalm 119:105 says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light on my path." Amidst the darkness of the world, it is the very scriptures that are meant to illuminate how we are to live so that others will see and be drawn in by our light and our love. As that famous and oft-repeated passage in the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (5:13-16). 

Everyday I pray that, as I go about my day, I am a light to others in all that I say and do and write. I pray that the choices and decisions I make are based in light (love) and not darkness (fear). I strive to live this out by hopefully choosing kindness, mercy and compassion in my interactions with people instead of being guided fear because scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear. Love, like light, is radiance and gives glory to God. This is critical in a world that is filled with so much distrust and fear. We have no problem sending missionaries to dangerous parts of the world, but we shrink in fear at the notion of refugees from Middle Eastern countries coming to our own homeland. We choose security over servanthood (being light) out of fear of the cost to ourselves and our family and our comfort. 

Yet we forget that we are, all of us, refugees: exiled from Eden and from being the people God created us to be. Christ came to show us the light, that we had gotten lost from the path, from being the people we were created to be, to remind us of the reality of who his Abba was, and to let us know that to be light was to work daily for "on earth as it is in heaven." That means we are not to focus on a someday kingdom after this life, but work to be glimpses of that kingdom in the places where we are now. That means we have to move from self-serving motives to serving others, from darkness to light. 

The world is in the darkness of night and we are to go about, like candles being carried in the dark, showing the light of Christ through our acts of compassion, mercy, grace, love, joy and peace.  This is not easy or natural. Today, I heard another story on the news involving an act of violence in which one man sought to kill many others. Whenever there is such violence in the world, I pray that there isn't retaliation because it always lead to escalation. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." This means that, like children, we are open and vulnerable to loving others, being a light for others amidst violence and terror. It takes more strength to respond in peace than it does in violence. Violence comes naturally. Peace comes spiritually.  How many who heard Christ say those words turned back in disappointment that he was not offering a call to take up arms and overthrow Rome. They wanted a militaristic and nationalistic Messiah. How many of us today still want that? Yet Jesus is telling us, "That's not the way of the kingdom. You are to be light. You are to be love. You are to be peacemakers." I pray that I can be a peacemaker in my home, in my neighborhood, in my community and that what I do brings peace and wholeness. 

One of my heroes, Archbishop Desmund Tutu, said, "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." 

Christ is our hope, our light.

With Christ in us, we are to offer hope, to offer light.

Too many in this world, including those who call themselves followers of Christ, are moved by fear and not light and love. To often, Christians shrink back in fear when they see the violence and acts of terrorism that appear to occur daily. It frightens so many. Fear is one of the deadliest hindrances to faith because it exists in the "What if . . .?" What if something happens to someone I love? What if I lose my job? What if someone opens fire on my child's school?  Like the characters in Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time, we see the great darkness in the form of a great dark cloud, known as The Black Thing, overcoming so much of the universe. It is a personification of evil. Then they are shown by the Happy Medium how Christ and artists and philosophers have come to fight that darkness through beautiful acts of creation and self-sacrifice. 

When I thought about this section of her Newberry Award winning novel, I was reminded of the Quaker leader, George Fox's saying, "I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness."  Christ was and is that light. We are called to be that ocean of light and love in this world darkened by fear and death and violence and cruelty and discrimination and hatred. 

How can we do this?

Returning to Madeleine L'Engle, "We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

We must do act accordingly. This world that appears so darkened and dimmed desperately needs to see the light of Christ in us. We can offer them glimpses of the kingdom through every act of compassion we perform. Let love speak loudest in this world that is too frequently drowned in words of hate, anger, distrust, fear, and hopelessness. Just as we cannot move mountains by ourselves but can move one rock at a time, we cannot change the world by ourselves, but we can affect the world by simply choosing to interact with each person who comes across our path with kindness, with love, with mindfulness. Let them be surprisingly dazzled by the light of our tenderness, our vulnerability, by our peacefulness. May any cold heart be thawed by the light of our love towards those who would not either ask for nor welcome it. May they catch glistening prisms of the light of the Lord out of the corner of their eyes when they see us about in the world. Let mercy, like light, touch gently on their shoulders. 

Lord, may this begin with me. 

I am reminded of one morning when I had gone in to work very early. It was still darkness when I entered, but as I came out of the store to go to my car, I was greeted with the most magnificently bright sunrise I had ever seen. Despite my exhaustion, coming out into this sunrise filled me with new life, with warmth, with gratitude. All I could do was gaze upon it and utter, "Thank you." My heart was filled with gratitude and love for a Creator who greeted me that morning in such a manner.

"Let there be light . . ."

Let us be light.