Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Jennie Allen Teaches Us We Have Nothing To Prove

I do not believe it was a coincidence that on the very day the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that it isn't about working to be self-sufficient but about resting in the One who is all-sufficient, that Jennie Allen's book Nothing to Prove arrived. While I am familiar with her previous books, though I had not read them, and with her founding If:Gathering, I had never read anything by her. Yet from the sentence, "The voice has been in my head most of my life. I am not enough," her words rang true in my own. I think far too many Christians suffer from the fear of not being enough, of desperately wanting to please others and God (unfortunately, often in that order), and of constantly striving and falling short. We live in a very performance-driven culture and this has also pervaded much of the Church. 

Yet ". . . to get to the place where God can be enough, we have to first admit we aren't." This is a difficult first step for the author and for many of us. We want to perform well. We want to exceed expectations. Yet too many of us struggle with the insecurities of not measuring up as a parent, spouse, coworker, friend, or follower of Christ. "I am realizing," she writes, "it's not my curse that I believe I am not enough; it's my sin that I keep trying to be." 

In this book Jennie Allen is deeply vulnerable and honest about her struggles of faith and how it's so often easier to turn to Netflix than to Jesus in our day to day lives. All of us constantly second-guess ourselves, doubt ourselves and wonder how we measure up as a parent, spouse, coworker, friend and follower of Christ. We question: 

Am I good enough?

Am I smart enough?

And we measure ourselves not by how God views us, as His beloved, but by other's Pinterest-perfect lives, Instagram-worthy moments, and Facebook facades. We gauge ourselves not by our Savior's love for us but by social media. It often causes us to feel deflated and defeated, just as Allen writes about her adoptive son and getting stars on his behavior chart.

Yet all of us need to hear the truth that she declares, "God doesn't need you, He loves you." There's a big difference and a profound truth in that simple sentence. 

The thing we long for the most is also that which we tend to fear the most: connection. 


Because connection requires honesty, vulnerability and transparency. Most of us tend to shy away from admitting our failures, our flaws, our screw-ups and our brokenness. Yet this is how the Church needs to be with each other. 

"Healing and wholeness," Allen writes, "are found only when we step into the rushing stream of forgiveness, of intimacy, of connection." 

Certainly I find myself drawn to authors who share their stories with such openness: Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist. and Jonathan Martin are just a few recent examples of writers whose books have moved me and deepened my conviction that this is how we, as the Church, need to be with each other. Not just in the pages of a book, but in the day to day of our very lives.

As well as being painfully honest, Jennie Allen writes beautifully. Some of my favorite passages come in the chapter entitled "The Stream of Fulfillment": 

"Again and again Jesus showed up at everyday common occasions and turned them into symphonies. He didn't just teach with words; He often illustrated His hopes for us through unexpected metaphors."


"We were made for wonder, but we've settled for entertainment."  


So much of what Allen had to say, I needed to hear. She reminded me that Christ is found in the ordinariness of my life (as messy, overwhelming or boring as I might think it to be). We are not to live our lives "for God" but "with God."  

Like Shauna Niequist in her book Present Over Perfect, Jennie Allen has written a book for all of us who "feel afraid, broken, overwhelmed, inadequate, stretched beyond your capacities." 

Jennie Allen's official website:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Conversation With A Check-out Clerk

Standing in line at the grocery store, there was another man in front of me who was silent and would not speak to the young African-American woman behind the register, ringing up his items, despite here attempts to make small talk. The expression on his face was one of disgust. And it was obvious he just wanted to get his groceries and get out of there.

All the while, I am placing my items on the conveyor belt.

Once he's paid, the guy mutters a derogatory and racist word under his breath before walking off.

After he's gone and she begins to ring up my items, I greet her and ask her how her day's going - other than the last few minutes. At first she just shakes her head and I understand that she is doing so because of the previous customer. "Ever since Trump got elected," she finally said, "people feel like it's okay to be racist." I listened as she spoke about how, as an African-American woman who's a part of the LGBT community, she feels like she's not wanted in her very own country. "Churches keep preaching about love," she said, "but they sure aren't living it out. How can you preach love and vote hatred?"

I listened to her and wondered why she trusted to tell me her story about how, after coming out, she was kicked out of the church she grew up in. Her words were filled with pain and brokenness over not being welcomed in her church or her country. "I just don't matter," she said and tears welled up in her eyes.

"Yes you do," I told her. "God loves you enough to give His only Son for you and He loves you enough to have put me in this line right after that last guy to tell you this."

That is the grace of God allowing me to be there in that moment. How many of us are given the opportunities to be light and love to someone who's hurting?

How many would have gotten upset with this woman for expressing her pain to them? Would she have even felt comfortable revealing her woundedness to many?

I don't ask, "Why me?" because I pray that God allow such moments to occur in my daily life as a reminder to not only others, but myself of His unending love for us.

As I am meditating and studying The Spiritual Exercises by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, I find myself praying his words:

Love consists in sharing
what one has 
and what one is
with those one loves.

Love ought to show itself in deeds
more than words.

We live in a very politically divisive moment in America's history.  But as followers of Christ, we must see that with division comes disorder. With unity comes understanding. We must move beyond the pathology of racism to the path of reconciliation, restoration and redemption. America is obsessed with upward mobility but Christ has called us to downward mobility. The Church is not to focus on prestige, wealth, and security but in loving as Christ loved, which is costly, and requires us to walk with the hurting, the poor, the sojourner, the marginalized, the lonely, the wounded, the orphan, the widow, the minority and the powerless.

The love of Christ must seize our hearts, our minds, our imaginations, our actions, and our very lives. Part of my prayer life is simply to sit in stillness and silence. With each inhalation of breath, I pray "Fill me with your love" and with each exhalation, I pray, "May I walk in your compassion."

When I pray this, it never fails to amaze me how god puts people in my path with whom I can share and pray and remind them that they are worthy, they are loved, they are treasured, they are desired, that they are why Christ came here and went to the cross. What an amazing gift to get the opportunity to share the everlasting love of God to others on a daily basis. Everlasting love. Love that existed long before we ever did. Has always existed and will always exist. A perfect love.

How many in this world are suffering from the wounds of the imperfect love or lack of love from a parent or partner or spouse and they, in turn, wound others?

Henri Nouwen wrote, "Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us 'Beloved'."

How many people need to hear they are "beloved" of God? How many need to know how dear and precious they are to the very Creator of all things?

How many people need to know Jehovah Rapha (the God that heals)? Or Jehovah Shammah (God is there)? Or Jehovah Shalom (God of peace)? Or that He's El Roi (the God who sees)? This is the God who collects our tears because our suffering does not go unnoticed. He keeps a record of our pain. This is the God who not only knows us but has our names engraved on His palms. They need to know that God is Yahweh Yireh (God who provides). He provides the healing that we need (physical, spiritual, emotional). He provides comfort, joy, peace, mercy, compassion, love and grace unending.

God allowed me that brief window of time to share with that cashier that she was beloved, that God saw her and the pain she was suffering and had placed me there to lift her up and exhort her.

This world is broken but we can show them the beauty that is the gospel, the good news.

I am beloved of God and when I truly realize this and live it out, then I see others not as strangers or foreigners but as those who are dearly loved by God and so often are completely unaware of this reality. None of us can do anything to earn or deserve it. We are all radically loved by God.

Brennan Manning wrote, "The way you are with others every day, regardless of status, is the true test of faith."

How do we respond to people every day? When we are at work? When we are at the grocery store? Or our kids' schools? Or at the gym? In traffic?

Do we see where we are and who we are with are exactly where He has us and wants us so that we are the light, the grace, the love, the mercy, the compassion of Christ in that moment and it can have a huge impact on someone who may be a complete stranger to us.

We must be aware. We must be present. We must be generous and tender and available. We must be rooted in prayer and scripture and love and forgiveness. These moments with others are not meant to be irritations but invitations to show the love of Christ to someone: a family member, a coworker, a complete stranger. But how can we not? Once we have experienced Divine Grace it awakens us to Divine Love.

I pray that we can move beyond being the body politic and be the body of Christ.

I pray that we stop sounding like CNN or Fox News and sound like the good news, the gospel of Christ because there is a desperate, hurting world that needs us to be.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Before I Formed You: Identity & Purpose

When my wife was pregnant with our older son, one of the most exciting moments was the first ultrasound. Despite the fact that the image looked more like a weather map than an unborn infant, I had tears running down my cheeks. This was the first moment that I got to see my son. 

This image came to my mind instantaneously when I read my favorite prophet, Jeremiah, when he wrote, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you . . ." (1:5). How beautiful it is to grasp this with all of your being. What God is telling Jeremiah, He is telling us. "Before you knew, you were known." Meditate on that. Before we were ever formed, God knew us. Before we had a physical shape, we had a spiritual one.

Isn't that amazing?

Before we were ever born, we are spiritual beings. From the time we are born, we are on spiritual journeys. God is found in every particle of creation. All flowed from Him and was formed by Him. God is in our DNA, in the core and substance of our very makeup.  And, as the second part of that verse tells us, ". . . and before you were born I consecrated you . . ." 

Consecrated in Hebrew is qudash and it means: become holy, declare holy, dedicate, keep the holy, manifest, sanctified, set apart, transmit holiness, be hallowed. Be honored or treated as sacred. 

The word was used in connection with the shew-bread used in the temple by the priests.

Before we were ever born, before we were pushed through the birth canal, we were consecrated by God just as the shew-bread was consecrated by the priests. Before we were given our names, before we were cleaned of all the amniotic fluid or the umbilical chord was cut, before our parents set eyes on us, God said, "I have a plan for you. You are mine."

We always think of newborn babies as miracles, but do we ever stop to see them as God sees them? As consecrated? We were not only formed by God, we were not only created in the image of God, we were not only known by God, we (before we ever wailed our first scream or took our first breath outside our mother's body) were consecrated by him.

He declared us holy from before even the moment of conception.

Do we look at ourselves that way? Do we look at others that we come across each day in this manner?

When Moses saw the burning bush, he stood there long enough to realize the bush wasn't being consumed (typically this happens after 5 to 10 minutes) before he grasped that this was not just a burning shrubbery, that this was Divine Mystery in action. Once this beginning to grasp the reality of the moment happened, then God spoke to Moses. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." The place where you are is consecrated.

Do we approach others in this manner?

Do we see that God has consecrated each one of us with a purpose, His purpose?

I know I don't. I barely can register when I'm doing his will.

But it is because we have all lost sight of this truth, that God consecrated us before birth, that we spend so much of our lives stumbling and fumbling and groping through the dark to make sense of who we are, what our purpose is, and why we make such a fallen mess of the very lives that God gifted us with.

"The only true joy on earth," Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contemplation, "is to escape the prison of our own false self and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our souls."

Sin is what keeps us from being the consecrated beings He created us to be. We believe in the false self, the self that is disconnected from the understanding that Christ meant when he said, "The kingdom of God is within you." He was not only referring to himself, but that we were ultimately created to be the kingdom of God here on this very earth. We were consecrated for that holy purpose.

Yet most of us cannot or will not believe this. We will settle for the cheap baubles that our culture dangles in front of us and markets as happiness. If you drive this car . . . If you wear these clothes . . . If you have this job and make this much money . . .

Consecration is discarded to pursue the fantasy that keeps us from the very reality we were created for. It's as if we were children happily eating mud pies outside when our loving parent has prepared us a chocolate cake. "I have better things for you." God says but we just keep ingesting the mud pies.

"Consecrate yourselves," Joshua told the people of Israel, "for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you" (3:5). How many of us need to hear those words in our own lives?

Set yourselves apart. "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). "Offer your body as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." Why? Because that was how He created us. He created us as consecrated and when we live in the manner our Creator meant for us then we will begin to see that He is "going to do amazing things" among us. As Watchman Nee wrote, "Consecration is not how much we can give to God. It is being accepted by God and being granted the honor of serving Him."

Once we begin to see that we were created in this fashion, we will not only begin to see ourselves differently, but others as well. How would our attitudes be towards those around us if we realized they were consecrated by God? That is no less miraculous than a burning bush. Yet we are dulled to the miracle of that reality and we see the brokenness we have in this world because of it. We see the disconnection and lack of community and compassion that our culture suffers from.

That is why we must read a verse like Jeremiah 1:5 and grab hold of it tightly. Cling to the truth that we are consecrated before we are born. We are known by our Creator who has not only formed us but engraved our very names on His palms.

How much different will the world be when we start living in a consecrated manner?

"On earth as it is in heaven."


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Feet, Fear & Vulnerability

Foot-washing ceremonies during church services are awkward and very humbling. Unlike a communion service, I have never looked forward to the Maundy Thursday service of foot-washing. There is something about someone touching my feet or me having to touch theirs that is uncomfortable and something I would prefer to avoid. The root of this practice goes all the way back to Abram when the three angelic guests show up and tells them to rest beneath the tree while he goes to fetch a bowl of water to wash their feet in Genesis 18:4. And it runs throughout the Old Testament. Hospitality is stressed in all three of the religions of the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity and Islam; so much so, that all three stress that mistreatment of strangers brings divine wrath.  

Philoxenia is the Greek word used for one who loves strangers (this group includes refugees, foreigners, anyone who lacked community, or were without tribe). Hospitality meant that a person welcomed the stranger into not only their country, their community but also their homes.  To welcome a stranger into your home also meant that you were to break bread (share a lavish meal), offer protection and a place to rest, and to provide water for washing their feet. To refuse hospitality was an insult and brought great shame on your home.

Foot washing either took place on arrival or before the meal. 

In Middle Eastern custom, hospitality was an expression of morality and obedience to God. 

Then we come to the Gospel of John. 

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end," is how John begins chapter thirteen of the Last Supper.  This whole meal is under girded by Christ's love for his disciples. Even as he's about to go to the cross, his thoughts are on his disciples. 

John then counters the love of Christ with the betrayal of Judas, "During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him . . ." How long had the seeds been planted for Judas' betrayal? Many historians think it began with Judas beginning to become disillusioned with the Messiah he had hoped for in Christ with the one Jesus was when Christ taught the Sermon on the Mount. Certainly, Judas, who was hoping for a Messiah to overthrow Roman oppression and restore Israel, would have been deeply disgusted and disappointed with a message that says, "Blessed are the meek," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, " and to "Love your enemies." 

How long had he struggled with his love for Jesus and his frustration and anger that Christ wasn't raising up an army to defeat the Romans?  

". . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel wrapped around him."

Jesus, the Son of God, the Beginning and the End, the Word made flesh, the one from whom all of creation flowed, was kneeling, humbling himself and washing the feet of his disciples. All of them. He washed the feet of the betrayer, the denier, the doubter and of all those who had been scrambling about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom and would soon be scrambling to get away from Jesus to save their own skins. It is mind boggling to truly think about this servant's act. 

Which disciple did he begin with?

The scriptures don't tell us. I would not have been surprised if it had been Judas Iscariot; after all, John just counterposed the love of the Savior with the hatred in Judas' own heart. These two stand in opposition with each other and, yet, Jesus still kneels and washes the betrayer's feet. Why? Was he still offering love to Judas to remind him, "I will always love you even in your betrayal of me?" Certainly Judas and Peter would betray Christ in their own ways, but the betrayal was not the greater sin. The greater sin was that Judas believed his sin was greater than the grace and forgiveness of Jesus. Judas would feel remorse, but only Peter would feel repentance. Only Peter realized that the love of Christ is greater than his own failings, that Christ is faithful even when he is not.  

How would Judas have reacted to the Messiah doing this? Was he disgusted? Confused? Could he meet the eyes of Jesus? Did he look away? Did he want to run away at that moment? 

This is an act of love towards those who had claimed to love him, claimed to be willing to die for him, and in whom Jesus had poured himself daily into for the last three years. None of them would stay awake and watch as he prayed in the garden. All of them would scatter and flee. Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him three times. Yet, in this upper room, filled with the knowledge of what was about to come, Jesus lowered himself yet again and showed that the least of these was the greatest, that the deepest act of love one could perform was one of service to another. As Pope Francis has said, "Christ washing the the feet of his disciples was an act that spoke louder than words."Christ silenced their bickering and jockeying for power and to sit at the right hand of Christ in his kingdom. Christ was showing through action that the kingdom was not built on the power of serving over someone, but of out serving someone. 

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter was Peter and misunderstood yet again. "Lord, do you wash my feet?" He must have been shocked and incredulous at his Master taking on such a menial and demeaning task as washing his filthy feet (covered in dust and probably sewage that was in the streets). 

What kind of a king would do this?  

Well, until 1689, monarchs did. After Christ, they honored this faith tradition by washing the feet of the poor. Then, under the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702), this tradition was changed from washing the feet to giving the poor a coin that was especially minted for this Good Friday tradition. Like many, they chose giving money over lowering themselves to an act of service. 

Yet here was Christ, the Savior and Lord, kneeling in an act of submission, supplication and humility. He was, as he had always done, mirrored how they were to act in this world as his followers. "You will know my followers by their love." He was showing them in a way that would have been shocking and unsettling to them. That's why Peter is taken aback. Jesus is showing what he was teaching, "But I am among you as the one who serves." But Peter pulls back from this act and says, "You shall never wash my feet!"  It was a boast of unworthiness and misunderstanding the very mission Christ came for. 

Did Jesus sigh and look at Peter with sadness? Did he think about the acts of denial Peter would soon commit? Was there love in Christ's eyes as he looked at this man, this coarse and rough fisherman, when he replied, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me"?  If you cannot understand what I'm doing, Peter, if you cannot see that to this is the very kingdom I came for, then you cannot be a part of it. 

Peter in all of his brash "I'm all in" attitude, he goes full throttle forward and overboard with, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Peter is never a less is more kind of guy. He acts and reacts without even considering or contemplating what he's saying. 

Yet only Peter vocalizes his misunderstanding. The rest, as it is recorded in the gospels, are silent. Were they embarrassed and did not know how to react or respond? Was it awkward? 

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place . . ." I love that last part "resumed his place." It meant not only at the table but as their rabbi. And, indeed, he was about to teach them what he just showed them. "Do you understand what I have done to you?" Clearly the answer was a resounding and unspoken, "NO!" "You call me Rabbi and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

How would I have reacted if I had been one of the disciples? How would I have reacted at Christ holding my naked, dirty foot in his hand? Would I resist, like Peter did? Would I tell him "Never, Lord"? 

Often it is easier being the one showing love than the one receiving it. Often we feel more uncomfortable when we are on the receiving end of a compliment or getting a gift or being loved. Psychologists have studied this and have come up with five reasons for why this is (according to Dr. John Amodeo):
1. Defense against intimacy: to the extent that a person fears intimacy, they disavow the moment of connection between another person who is showing them affection
2. Letting go of control: When we are the giver, we're in control. When we are on the receiving in, we are more vulnerable and have to surrender ourselves to the moment of someone else's generosity
3. Fear of strings attached: We begin to question the motives of the other person and wonder what they want from us.
4. We believe it is selfish to receive.
5. A self-imposed pressure to reciprocate: We don't want to be in someone else's debt. 

Yet to follow Christ, we must have intimacy with him. To acknowledge him as our Lord and Savior is to let go of control and cry out, "I surrender all!" He was teaching his disciples that, yes, they were to reciprocate, but not with him. Instead, they were to go out and love and serve and wash the feet of others so that they might be drawn to Christ through our loving acts. 

Certainly, I am one of those who are uncomfortable receiving attention or compliments and would rather be left alone to fade into the background. I balk at the mere notion of washing the feet of another or having someone else wash mine (this also stems from being ticklish). Yet Christ bids us to do the same.

Could I have washed the feet of others who I knew were going to betray me, deny me and abandon me in my greatest hour of need as he did? No, not at all. I couldn't even find the love to wash the feet of those I consider dear and closest to my heart. 

And Christ is calling me to love more than those I would choose to love, but those I cannot even tolerate. If I'm being completely honest, I would cringe at the notion of washing the feet of Donald Trump or Steven Bannon. Yet the Christ I claim to follow would. 

How many others would think this way of washing the feet of Barack Obama? Or Hilary Clinton? 

How about someone of another race or religion?

How about a spouse that has betrayed you through infidelity?

Or a friend who stabbed you in the back? Or lied to you? 

Or a parent who abandoned you?

How many others would want to get out of washing the feet of immigrants? Refugees? The poor? Drug addicts? 

Self-abase myself for a homeless person? One who smells and reeks of alcohol and urine and earth and sweat? One whose feet are filthy and whose toenails are hard and brittle and emit a powerful stench? 

Just the idea makes me uneasy and unsettled.  I struggle to see this act as Christ sees it: as a pathway to him, to God, to Divine love, Do I see the feet of others as Christ's feet? 

The poet and author, Christian Wiman, was correct when he wrote, "We should be suspicious when God's call conforms so neatly to our own inclinations." Indeed we are most often called to the hard and holy way. Certainly there is no better way to see this than in feet washing. Who among us would say that we want to be called to wash the feet of others? Of our enemies? Of those we dislike and are disgusted by? Or even those people we call friends? 

As he washed the feet of Judas, even in that moment, Christ was still offering him his love and grace. And he would do the same for us. And when we have experienced this love and grace, then, we, too, should do likewise. 

The Divine Mystery of Incarnation is vulnerability. Vulnerable to love enough to be wounded and hurt. Vulnerable enough to stoop to wash the dirty, disgusting feet of others. Vulnerable enough to die on a cross. Yet only that kind of vulnerability offers us the power of resurrection and redemption.

I would like to end this piece by saying that I have gotten over my discomfort, but I haven't. 

Perhaps, like Judas, this is not an issue of washing feet, but of washing the heart. Perhaps I fear the idea of Christ stopping to wash my feet because, deep inside myself, I fear intimacy with him? 

"Lord, no," I might say, "you can't. You don't know . . ." 

Know what? 

The pride, the lust, the fear, the anger . . . .

But he does. 

Just as he knew what each of the disciples were feeling inside. He knew Judas' fear that had turned to hatred at being disappointed, because we often find that Christ isn't the Messiah we wanted but the one we desperately needed. He is the one who washes the feet of the least worthy and, in so doing, makes them worthy. Just as he called the disciples to him, he is reminding each of us, "I choose you. You are mine." This selfless act of love only pointed to the greater one to come by way of the cross and the grave. As he broke the bread and had them drink the wine with, "Do this in remembrance of me."So, too, he washed their feet. And he went to the cross and hung there to remind us, "You are worth this." As John 13:1 reminds us, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." He loved his own, which is not just his disciples but us. "To the end" is not the cross but to the end of all time. His love for us is without limit.     

The son of God wants to humble himself to clean the muck and filth from us by, first washing our feet as tenderly as a parent would a newborn, and then through the cross. God in man kneels before us to clean us. It is an act that is without shame, without pride, without concern for dignity or authority. It is the Father running without a thought for his social standing in the world but caring only that his prodigal son is returning home. In embracing and kissing that son, the Father pays no regard to the stench and filth of the pig sty that covers his boy because this is his boy.  Think of that, the God of this universe runs to embrace you as you are because he wants to restore you to your status as son and daughter. That is why Christ kneels before you to wash your feet and why he asks us to wash the feet of others so they, too, might return home to the Father that loves them.   

"As I have done for you," Christ speaks to us, "I ask that you do for others."

Because he loves us, he gives us a choice. Love is always vulnerable enough to give us the choice to turn away or accept him, to do as he asks or to rebuff him . . . He stands at the door and knocks. Not kicks it down or bangs heavily against it. 

He asks.

He knocks.

He washes our feet.

Now what will we do for him?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Five People

Question: If you could have a small dinner party with five people (living or dead) who have impacted your faith deeply (who aren't from the Bible) who would you invite?

It's a trivial question of no lasting import and, yet, when I thought of it, I began to ponder just who would be the three I invited. This was difficult since there have been so many writers, poets and theologians who have impacted and shaped my beliefs. There are the saints (Francis, Therese, Teresa, Ignatius), then there are the great minds (Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Soren Kierkegaard,Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Simone Weil, Abraham Heschel), poets (William Blake, George Herbert, John Donne, T.S. Eliot), authors (Wendell Berry, Walker Percy, Dostoevsky), artists (Van Gogh), singers (Rich Mullins, Sara Groves, Audrey Assad, Sandra McCracken, Carrie Newcomer), spiritual writers (Dallas Willard. Richard J. Foster, Walter Brueggemann) and so forth. Like setting out a table on who should sit next to whom, I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again the list in my head. 

Yes, I would love to invite Emily Dickinson, but she wouldn't come and would it be right of me to even ask? Because I love and respect her privacy so much, I would never dare intrude upon her. (Yes, I literally thought this as I composed my list of imaginary invitations).

Would G.K. Chesterton or George MacDonald be invited? Henri Nouwen? Frederick Buechner? Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (language would not be a barrier for this dinner party because, at this imaginary one, all would be able to understand each other as if we were inside the Doctor's TARDIS). Kathleen Norris? Social justice activists like William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dorothy Day? What about Anne Lamott? Eugene Peterson?

What if I could make the list more than just five? Why not? It was my imaginary dinner party, right? But if I do that, then will I continue to keep adding new names as they occur to me? And you know how much stress you feel when you invite people to your home as it is . . . 

No. Five is the number. It stays at five. 

But who would my five be?

Here is my list and the reasons I chose them:

One of the greatest Christian minds was that of C.S. Lewis. His works have had a huge impact on so many and one cannot cite influential Christians without him being on that list. Yet, I chose Lewis for a more personal reason: The Chronicles of Narnia. I cannot stress how important that series was in creating a love for reading in me. I read and reread those books repeatedly as a child. I recall the absolute disappointment I felt when I discovered that the closet in my house did not lead to another, more magical world no matter how much I called out for Aslan. Nor did it abate as I pestered my mother to buy me an actual wardrobe so that I could at least have a fighting chance to test and see if that would open to Narnia. It was Narnia where I discovered that theology could be deftly worked into literature and that he made me long for a world beyond this one. It was Narnia that would open the door to his other works like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and Till We Have Faces. I also hoped that he would add his intelligence and his humor to the conversation as he once did with the Inklings. 

It should come as no surprise then, that the second person I would invite would be another author I discovered in childhood but who has never ever left me. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time had nearly as big an impact on me as Narnia. This work made me see the universe as something bigger, grander and more miraculous. She opened me to the theology of science. Like Lewis, L'Engle's children's literature would be a gateway into her adult works, especially her Crosswicks Journals. All of her writing has a gentle wisdom that has strengthened my faith. She is a person of questions and, more importantly, the insight to realize the answers weren't as necessary. 

My next guest was someone who's work I didn't discover until I was in college. Flannery O'Connor's short stories were like nothing I had ever read before as she dealt with the "Christ-haunted South." If anyone understood "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" it was Flannery. Her short stories, her novels (Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away) and her nonfiction (Mystery and Manners, Habit of Being, A Prayer Journal) have deepened not only my appreciation of her writing ability but also my faith. I appreciate her honesty, her sly wit, and her insights on faith that show how theologically sophisticated she really was. I know that she could be both shy and sharp-tongued, so I definitely think she could bring a lot to this dinner party.

I was completely unprepared for what I encountered the first time I read A Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek after a friend recommended it to me. This is one of those books that profoundly changed how I looked at the natural world around me. Since then, I devoured everything that Annie Dillard has ever written. She is the only one on this list who I have actually met and had a short conversation with.  She is a theologian, naturalist, and a deep reader and thinker. And it shows in her writing which can cover a wide variety of subjects: literature, geology, natural history, poetry and theology. How could I not invite someone with that kind of intelligence and breadth of interests? 

Last on my list is an author and essayist whose work I did not encounter until well after I was out of college and was working in a bookstore and a customer suggested I read Housekeeping. Yet it was Marilynne Robinson's trilogy of books (Gilead, Home, and Lila) that blew me away with her ability to work theology (Calvinism, no less) into novels in such a way that was beautiful, profound, moving and real art. I would, even later, discover her essay collections (The Death of Adam, When I Was a Child I Read Books, The Givenness of Things) that I saw what a brilliant mind she had and the persuasive intellect that she brought to her work. If all of this wasn't enough, I read the interview that President Obama did with her (Robinson is one of his favorite authors). Here's a link to that interview:

It was only after I had completed my list that I realized I had only invited one male (Lewis) and, while it would not bother me in the least, I wasn't sure about ol' Lewis. Since it was my imaginary dinner party, I knew that it wouldn't and that all of my guests would bring a lively discussion to the table. Each of them has expanded my thought process in terms of how I see the world, others and God. All five of these people are questioners, thinkers and damn fine writers. Each one would be a great person to share a meal and a conversation with. I only hoped that I could keep up, though at such a dinner party, I would be thrilled to just sit there and listen. What would they say if all five of these people were in a room together?

Someday, in heaven, I hope that I really can have these five people over for a dinner party. The reader in me believes that to spend time in the company of such splendid conversationalists and writers would be heaven.

That's the five people I would invite, but how about you?  

Who would make your list and for what reasons? 

Please comment or post it on your own blog and then add a link in the comments.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading: A Spiritual Discipline

Reading is a spiritual discipline. This is not limited to reading only the scriptures or theology, but can encompass all reading that causes us to think more deeply, consider other points of view and opens us to better questions. All great writing should cause us to move beyond ourselves and our own perspectives. This means that novels or poetry can expand our theology just as much as apologetics.

Typically, I read half a dozen or more books a month. I never engage in those challenges to read more and more books each year that sites like Goodreads promotes because, for me, reading isn't about quantity but quality of my reading and what I am gaining from the experience that could shift and alter my beliefs or at least cause me to ask questions and not look for simple and easy answers.

Currently, I am reading Eugene H. Peterson's Run with the Horses and have undertaken The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

The exercises of Saint Ignatius are something I have wanted to explore in how I can integrate them into my own daily practises. It is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practises developed by Saint Ignatius to help people to deepen in their relationship with God. The book tells that the process can take about four weeks, although I am not going to rush through the exercises but will allow God's Spirit to direct me as to when it's time to move on from one exercise to the next. Ignatius wrote them in terms of four weeks but that these are not meant to be seven days but a spiritual journey and so I will view them as such. The four "weeks" are broken down as follows:

Week One - exercises focus on God's love for us. I will reflect on how my responses to God's love has been hindered by sin. One is to face one's sin so that it frees me from them and I can respond to Christ's call on my life.

Week Two - Meditations and prayers are focused on what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to truly follow him. There is a reflection on specific scripture passages, such as the Sermon on the Mount. 

Week Three - I meditate on Christ's Last Supper, passion and death. The Eucharist and his crucifixion are seen as reflections of Christ's love for me. 

Week Four - I move from the crucifixion and death to resurrection and Christ's appearances to his disciples. By meditating on the risen Christ, I am to contemplate how I can walk with him in my own life and how I can best love and serve him in the world. 

All of this will be a time of silence, meditation and contemplation. 

Eugene H. Peterson is one of the theologians I most respect because he is not only scholar but a poet. I, like many, discovered him first though his translation of the Bible: The Message. His A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is among my favorite books and one of the ones I most often return to. In my scripture readings, I have set camp among the Prophets again. They, like the Psalmists, are my people. They are great questioners and their writing is deeply metaphorical and poetic. Having just finished Walter Bruggemann's classic work The Prophetic Imagination, I decided to follow this with Peterson's classic on the prophet Jeremiah.

Peterson writes:

The Puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly. There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities but not saints. Famous entertainers amuse a nation of bored insomniacs. Infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists. Petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators. People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle had a profound impact on me as a child and was one of the first books to truly make me think about the vastness of the universe and the God who created it, as well as how what we view as our weaknesses can often be the strengths that help someone else. This is a book I have read many times, including to my older son, and now to my younger one. Each time I return to this classic, I gain not only new insight but it continues to make me rethink the Divine Mystery at work in the world around us. Hopefully, in reading it to my sons, this book does the same for them.

One of my favorite passages from the book illustrates this. It's a conversation between the protagonist, Meg Murry, and her mother:

“Do you think things always have an explanation? 
"Yes. I believe that they do. But I think that with our human limitations we're not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist.” 

I have always loved poetry ever since I read Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses and the work of Shel Silverstein. Poets have had a huge impact on my faith: from the Psalms to William Blake to Emily Dickinson to T.S. Eliot to Mary Oliver. Naomi Shihab Nye describes herself as a "wandering poet." She is of Palestinian-American heritage and this dichotomy plays a role in the ruminations her poems can take. She is acutely observant and she can find profundity in the daily work of a Palestinian broom maker to a man preparing Arabic coffee for his guest. She is able to bridge the worlds between Palestine (her father was a refugee) and America in a way that is not only necessary in this day and age, but the oppositional textures she uses provides deeper layers to her poems. She is lyrical and spiritual. I love lines like "hands are churches that worship the world" or "find holiness in anything that continues." Nye's influences include another of my favorite poets, William Stafford, and Gary Snyder. Words Under The Words is a mesmerizing collection.

Charles Dickens remains one of the greatest authors because of how masterfully he weaves his tales and brings seemingly disconnected stories and characters together in a way that amazes and delights the reader. From the time I first read Great Expectations, I was hooked and have devoured his books. My favorites being Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Bleak House. This novel will be no different as Dickens hooks me in with the opening line of, "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else."  Facts over fancy. Facts over imagination or wondering. Facts over questioning. Hard Times is a blistering portrait of Victorian England amidst the Industrial Revolution told in a way that only Dickens can. Like all of his writing, he masterfully is weaving in all stratum of English society with his keen eye and his talent for creating remarkable characters with even more remarkable names. 

James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain is one of my favorite contemporary novels. An autobiographical story, it tells of  John Grimes, a teenage boy growing up in the Pentecostal Church and struggling with his faith and his sexuality. "Go back to where you started," James Baldwin wrote, "or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came."

Now I am reading his collection of essays entitled The Fire Next Time. Though written in 1963, it is extremely relevant in its focus or racial injustice to "both the individual and the body politic." Baldwin discusses the central role that race has had in American history and the role that society, government and religion has played in that.

Baldwin writes:

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” 

Along with reading this, I hope to see the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which is a meditation on race using Baldwin's work.

C. S. Lewis is attributed with saying, "We read to know that we are not alone." This is partially true. When I read, I read to not only find myself among the books I read, but to question and challenge what I know of myself and what I believe. Why do I believe what I believe? If I were born to another family in another country, would I still believe as I do?

Books shape and form me. They make me reconsider and to, as Atticus Finch suggests, to put myself in the shoes of others. Why? So that I begin to understand their point-of-view. This may challenge mine and it may either change or affirm it. Reading always provides me the opportunity to see. See the world as bigger and grander than what my narrow perspective is from when I was born, where I was born and have lived and who I am around.

All of this is why I so dearly love reading. It affords me the opportunity to go whaling the great white whale or to go on a raft down the Mississippi or tesser across space or find myself in exile in Babylon. I can see though another's eyes and think as another thinks. My world expands and allows me to embrace those who are different from myself, whether or not I agree with them.

Reading is a spiritual practice that draws me closer to God because it allows me the chance to get a wider perspective and to approach questions that, while bigger, still cannot comprehend a Creator grand enough to create the universes.

These are the books I'm reading. How about you?

What are the books that are challenging you? What are the novels or collections of poetry or works of theology that are helping you to ask better questions?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Glorious Gift

This morning, on my commute into Charlotte, I prayed before I even started to have the right heart as I drove in very slow and often stopped traffic. I prayed that I would not find irritation but invitation to commune with God while I commuted to work. Instead of allowing the frequent sitting still a frustration that would build into anger, I opened my heart to the very sunrise God was providing that morning. The golds and yellows and reds and oranges were subtle and gorgeous. How many great artists' masterpieces would pale in comparison to the Creator's handiwork. Yet how many other drivers around me were unaware, focusing their energies on the delays and stops and starts? 

I began to pray.

I prayed for those who have asked me to pray for them daily. It has truly become some of the favorite parts of my day to engage in lifting them up into the very presence of God like a sweet smelling aroma. I hoped the incense of my words and my silence would not only soothe myself from my circumstances but would manifestly and tangibly be felt in the lives I was praying for. The list has grown since I first started. 

Yet as I was admiring this beautiful sunrise, I felt that this day was a glorious gift. One of the women I pray for daily just had a baby. She held the very miracle of creation in her hands and understood, once more, the words God spoke in Genesis, "It is good." But how many of the other people on my prayer list weren't? How many might be struggling through this day and slogging through the wilderness?

I prayed that wherever they were and whoever they were with, that God would open their eyes and their hearts to the miracle that being given this day, this life to live in this moment, was, indeed, very much a gift. How easy it is to forget when we are stuck in traffic, or in a doctor's office, or in a classroom or boardroom or washing yet another load of laundry. 

How many of the people in the cars around me were missing out on this?  

How many of them were ignited by the ineffable that was so miraculously before them in the sky?

"Holy, holy, holy" Isaiah writes, "the earth is filled with His glory." There it was in the very skyline before me. This was a reminder of His holiness, His glory, and His love for us. "His mercies are new every morning" and this sun slowly and gently peering through the clouds was hinting at this bountiful merciful God who lets us see grace in such tender ways as a sunrise or sunset or the birth of a child. 

If only those around me understood . . . .

If only they saw what was there offered up before them right now, in this moment, in this place, on I-85 North into Charlotte. 

I prayed for their hearts to break open to the beauty and in that breaking open for the light to penetrate and change them. That those who felt loneliness would feel love. For those who felt fear, would feel hope. That those who were uneasy would feel peace. I prayed this for everyone I pray for daily, I prayed this for those in traffic around me, I prayed this for my family, I prayed this for my community, my country and for the world. 

This is all a glorious gift. Our quotidian routines and schedules and tasks and responsibilities too often reverberates louder than the soft reminders of God in nature. We, who are caught in the dreams of man, lose out on the very dreams of God that are there to announce to our spirits: I offer you peace. I offer you rest. I offer you refuge and safety. I offer you acceptance and forgiveness and mercy. I offer you beauty. The beauty around you and before you is but a tiny glimpse  - a foretaste of the feast to come. 

Most of my commute was in complete awe and silence.  

When I finally did turn my iPod on, the song that began to play was Sandra McCracken's "Come Light Our Hearts." The lyrics of this hymn-like song resonated with this morning perfectly. It, too, was a gift from God.

For you, O Lord our souls in stillness wait
For you, O Lord our souls in stillness wait
Truly our hope is in you
Truly our hope is in you

O Lord of life, our only hope
Your radiance shines
On all who look to You in the dark
Emmanuel, come light our hearts

Oh joy above, all other loves
In You we find, more than enough
We come as we are, O heal and restore,
Come light our hearts.

I sang along. This song was a prayer for those I was praying for. And when the song had ended, I simply turned off the music again and said, "Amen."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Inverted Kingdom

Years ago, when I worked seasonally in HR for Samaritan's Purse hiring people to work Operation Christmas Child, it never failed to amaze me how the energy in the office changed whenever the phrase, "The Grahams are in the building" was heard, especially if it were Franklin himself. I simply went about doing my job as I would any other day. Others seemed baffled that I never got caught up in the frenzy of excitement that I might meet him or any of the Graham family. Nor did it change my day or work habits whenever a politician or well-known Christian was there. It has always puzzled me that there exists "Christian celebrities" considering we are told that "God is no respecter of persons."  While working for Samaritan's Purse, I didn't think of myself working for the Grahams so much as for God.

I have been a part of many faith traditions within Christianity (Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Word of Faith, Baptist, Southern Baptist) and see that it happens within all of them. There are leaders within denominations for whom everyone speaks of as if they were the Apostle Paul. For the record, I also don't think that we are supposed to put the apostles or biblical figures on spiritual pedestals, either. I worked at Heritage USA during the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker scandal. I have met many well-known television preachers (too many of whom are more celebrity than Christ-like).

Why are we drawn to celebrities, athletes, politicians, performers, and the wealthy and attribute to them more than mere person-hood?  I have been in restaurants or on planes or in some public place and someone famous shows up. The atmosphere suddenly changes. People become more interested and curious. Everyone from actors and actresses to athletes to singers to authors. Not long after his bestselling autobiography Angela's Ashes came out, I met Frank McCourt in an airport. We spoke briefly, but what stuck with me was how he talked of being the same person he was when he was a teacher yet, now that he was becoming well-known as an author, society now placed more value on him and what he had to say; when, before, few listened to him at even a dinner party.

Our culture and society has placed an enormous amount of worth in somebody's financial circumstances, their power within business or the shaping of culture, in notoriety and fame, in athletic prowess, and in beauty. The famous are admired and even worshiped. How many long to be well-known for any reason. Look at how we have this instant celebs from social media - YouTube sensations who get millions of dollars in endorsements for some of the most superficial and trivial of videos. This country is full of people who crave attention and making a name for themselves. There is the false assumption that if one achieves fame or wealth or power, then they will be loved and accepted. Yet, this is a false idol. The late Carrie Fisher understood this better than many because she saw what fame and then the sudden loss of it did to her parents Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She saw what this did to their marriage and their family. She never wanted to be a celebrity. To her, celebrity was obscurity waiting to happen. Carrie saw first-hand the damage it does on a person who goes from being told they are the greatest, the best, the most-talented and from being sought after to being unnoticed and unwanted in a business that spits out people because they seem them not as people but as products. Fame is not love. Celebrity is not acceptance.

This culture of celebrity, this desire for power and wealth is wrapped tightly within the American dream and, unfortunately, the American Church. Yet this stands in stark contrast to the kingdom of God, the inverted kingdom. The kingdom of God is an inversion of our own in that He finds significance in the insignificant. Those whom we do not see, who are invisible to us, are those most prominent to our Creator. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," is so overly quoted and overly familiar that it's truth is too often lost on us. Yet how many of us will be shocked by who we see in heaven? We, who are too enamored of the rich young ruler and the wealthy man, but neglect the poor man Lazarus.

How many of us brush past this passage of scripture in the gospel of Luke?

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day," this story begins and probably everyone hearing it, either knew someone like this or longed to be this man. Jesus continued, "At his gate laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat from what fell from the rich man's table." In this culture, Lazarus was impure and unclean and as low as a human being could get. This was the bottom rung and stood in stark contrast to the rich man. No one listening envied or longed to be Lazarus whose only contact was the dogs licking his sores. 

But Christ is not like us and when he tells a story or parable, it, most certainly, will turn on us, our expectations, our desires, our dreams and our vision of what a kingdom was meant to be. "The time came when the beggar died," Jesus said, "and the angels carried him to Abraham's side." How many hearing this were shocked to hear that this lowest of the low, this impure and unclean beggar was taken to the side of the very father of their faith? This was not what they expected and I would imagine that a great many were already offended and dismissive to the point that I wonder how many heard all of this tale? 

"The rich man also died and was buried," Jesus continued further and, I wonder if he paused before saying, "In Hades, where he was in torment . . ." Now the crowd must have been murmuring amongst themselves. "How could this rabbi possibly be saying that an unclean beggar was with father Abraham while this rich man was in Hades?" Their concept of the afterlife was being turned upside down by this and, yet, Christ persists in his story by having the rich man, still viewing Lazarus as beneath him in status, because he calls out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire." He still sees Lazarus as inferior and treats him as if he were still no more than a mere servant. He still holds to the earthly hierarchy of his former life. It's as if he is calling a waiter over to refill his glass. Even in Hades, the rich man does not grasp that his concept of kingdom is not the reality of God's. The rich man still remains in his pecking-order. 

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things" (I cannot help but wonder how many in the crowd Jesus was speaking to and continues to speak to in our own day and age?), "while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place . . ." (By whom? Our Creator or by the choice the rich man has chosen. Even in death, he cannot see the reality of God's truth that there is neither rich nor poor, that status and social standing do not matter). " . . . so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." The rich man is now stuck in both the literal Hades and the man-made class divisions that creates a hell on earth for the have-nots.

Now the rich man has concerns, not about the mistreatment and callousness he has had towards Lazarus, towards the poor and powerless, but only for his own kind, his own family. "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus," the rich man says, still viewing Lazarus as inferior, "to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."

And how does Abraham respond? Does he reconsider this man and his standing in the former world? Hardly, Abraham answers, "They have Moses and the Prophets" (both of whom tried to show people that the God of heaven was against the very kingdoms we build up. Moses took the Israelites out of bondage from Egypt and the Pharaoh, but they longed for it and even began to build a nation of their own based on the very structures of the land of their bondage).  "Let them listen to them."

"No, father Abraham," the rich man pleaded, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." 

Abraham answers, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." And Jesus will prove this by raising a real Lazarus. Or in his own resurrection. 

Christ showed that the kingdom of God is inherited by those who have been disinherited by the world: the poor, marginalized, the persecuted and vulnerable. He embraces the last: the beggars, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the Samaritans. Christ lives out that God is no respecter of persons. 

Yet how many churches would be far more happy to have the rich man enter their doors than poor Lazarus?

How many desire to have their pews full of refugees? 

Would we become more excited to see Tom Brady or Bill Gates came in to our congregation than a Muslim woman? Or an African-American teen wearing a "Black Lives Matter" t-shirt? Or an unmarried, pregnant teen mother? Or a drug addict? A homeless person?  

How many of the invisible enter our churches and remain so?

Woe to us if this remains so. We cannot be Christ's Church, his Bride if we stand in opposition to his will in regards to how we treat the least of these. How can we read that whatever we do for the least of these, we do to him and, yet, not practice it? 

Why are we indifferent to the plight of the refugee? The condition of our poor? How unloved the foster child is? That there are people enslaved around the world in many forms of human trafficking? That so much of what we buy is made or harvested by them? 

"When a poor person dies," Mother Teresa once said, "of hunger it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed."

We can no longer only offer lip service and claim to follow a Christ who identifies himself with those we too often willingly choose to ignore in their suffering and poverty. If the American Church does not change, how many will hear, "Depart from me"?  

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you dis nor clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me" (Matthew 25:44).

Oh, how this words sit within me. They leave me uncomfortable and without excuses - which is exactly what Christ wants them to. But will I listen and act or, like the rich young ruler, turn away? Christ leaves us the choice. He leaves his words like a question asking, "What will you choose to do this day?" May we both follow him and be more like him to those he identified himself with. 

Change me. Change my heart. 

*Art used at the beginning of this blog is Christ of the Bread Lines by Lauren B. Davis