Election Day Communion

Election Day Communion 2012

Over 500 churches across the nation are gathering on election day, November 6, 2012, to hold communion.

We gather to remember that whoever wins, God is still in control.

We gather to remember that whoever we vote for, we are all still one in Christ.

We gather to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, who don’t get to vote, who don’t get to gather publicly.

We gather to pray for our leaders, whether we voted for them or not, that God will give them wisdom and compassion.

We are gathering at South 28th Avenue Baptist Church.  We may be few in number, but we will gather.

It’s not too late for your church to join the communion, to remember our unity.

Remember, we are all one in Christ – liberals,  conservatives, independents, Evangelical, Reformed, Mainline, Catholic.  We are all one in God’s love, all saved by the same Son, the same Redeemer.

Learn more here, at http://electiondaycommunion.org

 

What I Am Sure Of

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about questions, writing about the push and pull of mysteries of the faith, things so many people take for granted.  It may be frustrating to some of you that I don’t always come to a conclusion.  To borrow a phrase from Donald Miller, I don’t “resolve.”  But please bear with me.  There are some things I do believe…

The charge has been leveled that evangelical Christians, and conservative ones in general, can’t stomach ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  And surely bumper-sticker catchphrases like “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” only add to that image.

But the truth is, people aren’t great with ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  That’s why, once we choose a political party, we ignore almost any horrible deed by our side, because it’s “better than the other guys,” whether it’s torture – I mean, “enhanced interrogation” – or drone strikes on Pakistani civilians and U.S. citizens abroad.

Similarly, when we settle on a religious framework, we tend to stick to it, minimizing or exceptionalizing its problems, from ‘crack that limp wrist’ to ‘build a fence so they’ll die out‘ to the ongoing abuses of complementarian fundamentalists.  But much of the time the problem isn’t the theology so much as the certainty itself.  None of us is immune to confirmation bias.  The problem comes when we don’t fight it, but instead sanctify it.

It’s true that we go through times of transition, mostly as young people, when we examine our parents’ beliefs to see which ones are really ours.  The children of conservatives may become socialists, the sons of hippies, Young Republicans, the daughters of butchers, vegetarians.

Of course, times of change and transition aren’t only for adolescents. Sometimes having children sparks a new period of wrestling, brought on by sleepless nights and the awesome wonder of new life.  Sometimes age and approaching retirement, with its distant rumblings of mortality, sparks yet another time of change.

But beyond this?   Most people don’t have a stomach for uncertainty.  As human beings, it’s our nature to prefer flawed, even wrong, answers to rightful questions.

It’s far too easy to stop wrestling, struggling, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  We get comfortable, and soon we find we’re no longer following Jesus across dusty Judean roads, over craggy mountains, and into the land of the half-breed heretic Samaritans.

Instead, we’ve set up our comfortable seats at the temple (always the same pew, every Sunday).  And the sad part is, we don’t even really expect Him to come to us.  We think He has come to us, and we’re good.  We’ve got it.  We got our inoculation, we’re right with God.  We’re all right.  “I’m not a sinner.  I never sin.  I’ve got a friend in Jesus…

And that certainty makes us hard.  It calcifies and ossifies, grinding our compassion and empathy to a halt.  Outsiders become, not the ones we seek out (like the woman at the well), but enemies of the faith.  Our approach is not genuine interest and sacrificial compassion, but alarm and hostility.  We cry “persecution!” from our well-cushioned pews in our air-conditioned churches every time something in the outer world slaps us in the face.  But persecution isn’t a slap in the face; it’s a bullet in the head.

There’s a reason we call it wrestling with a topic.  Wrestling is hard.  It’s sweaty.  It’s physical.  It’s exhausting.  Working out our salvation with fear and trembling requires a lot of energy.  More than that, it requires pain.  Fear and trembling.  This is going to hurt.

Wrestling with God is going to hurt.  And it should.  The Marines have a saying: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  If you can’t stomach the pain of questioning, you’ll have to accept the weakness.  But please, don’t claim that weakness to be a stronger or truer faith.  Shouting heretic and TYPING IN ALL CAPS doesn’t make you right.  It didn’t make me right when I did it, either.

This is what I believe.  I believe that Jacob didn’t wrestle an angel.  He wrestled God Himself, a pre-incarnate Jesus.  And though he wrestled all night until his arms ripped and his lungs raged like fire, though he almost lost his leg, Jacob wrestled.  He held on, and in the end God blessed him.

And I believe God still waits to wrestle with us all.  It won’t be pretty.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be painless.  But it will be worth it.

Amen.

“Jesus’s Wife”

Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 1838-1842

Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 1838-1842

I’m sure by now you have all heard or read about the fourth-century Coptic manuscript fragment that includes a section in which Jesus says, “My wife.”   This has led to fact-checking and theological debate from scholars and clergy, a chorus of “whatever” from average believers, and a humorous hashtag on Twitter.

But the remark that brought the most clarity came in a single sentence comment from a poster known only as Eric:  “Maybe I’m off here but doesn’t Jesus refer to his wife (aka his bride, aka the church) quite frequently?”

Indeed He did.  Matthew 9:15.  Matthew Ch 25.  Mark 2:19-20 (same statement as Matthew 9:15), Luke 5:34-35 (ditto),  and, if you count the Revelation to St. John, five more places.  That I could find with a quick search or remember off the top of my head.

What embarrasses me is that I didn’t think about it until I read Eric’s comment.  We are (collectively) the Bride of Christ.  It’s an insanely powerful image, one that (especially as a guy) is almost impossible to get my head around.  I don’t know about any of you, but I think I don’t spend nearly enough time praying and meditating on the really strange, glorious truths of our Lord.

So, yeah, whenever the fragment was written, and whoever wrote it (maybe Dan Brown found a time machine), we already know Jesus has a wife.  And that wife is us.

Crazy, eh?

Prayer For September 11

World Trade Center Memorial by Derek Jensen

Memorial by Derek Jensen, 2004

Father, in Heaven, Holy One,

As we remember that terrible day, we pray

Please bring your healing to all those who lost loved ones

On that day, in the battles that followed, and in the wars to come

Protect us here, and protect our soldiers abroad

Be our shield, our strength, our portion, our vision

That no more buildings may burn

That no more towers may fall.

Holy Father, give restraint and peace to my countrymen

So no more mosques or gyro joints will burn.

Give wisdom and grace to us, as Christians

So that we may say, “not my will, but yours be done,”

So that we can pray for violent hearts to turn,

So that we can pray for souls and lives to be won,

Lord, we pray for America and Americans.

Force us to our knees,

So that we can learn to pray

For Iraqi, Afghani, even for Taliban

Even as they seek to shed our blood.

Lord, give us strength to offer those prayers genuinely

For we know that saying prayers for our enemies is easy

But meaning them is hard.

Just as loving them is hard.

Yours is the power.

Yours is the glory.

Help us belong to your kingdom,

Forever and ever,

Amen.

The Art of Vulnerability

Nietzsche Quote

As Christians, we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, something I’m not very good at.  I’m not a naturally outgoing person.  I tend to prefer books and numbers and art and ideas to people and social gatherings.  Of course, I get as lonely as anybody else if I do not get enough social interaction.  I’m incredibly thankful that I’m married to a woman who not only understands this, but feels very much the same (though she’s more focused on music than on books and numbers).

But I think that going outside our comfort zones almost by definition means doing things we’re not so good at.  Don’t get me wrong: I think God made us the way we are for a reason.  I think our talents and temperaments are not accidents, but gifts.  And so I will probably never be called to lead a Billy Graham-style crusade, preaching to millions, or even work as a pastor, dealing with an entire congregation in groups and one on one settings.  But if I ever am, I know I’ll have to step up and do it, trusting that God will give me the strength to fulfill His call.

So, what does that mean here, in the written word?

I think, for me at least, it means vulnerability.  Nietzsche famously said, “of all writing, I love only that which a man has written in his own blood.”  I think that (if I may be so bold as to speak for Him), God may feel the same way.

Vulnerability goes beyond honesty.  A person may be completely honest, as far as it goes, while writing about topics that never require him to lay himself bare, to intentionally make himself look weak or foolish or flawed.  But only by appearing weak and foolish and flawed can we really glorify God.

And this goes for fiction as well as blogging and memoir (those who know me know I’ve always written fiction, and I’ve always struggled with being truly happy with what I create).  It’s hard, when trying to juggle plot, character, character voice, and prose style to really be vulnerable.  It’s not easy to let an ugly, doubt-ridden, questioning, disappointed, vulnerable part of myself spill out into the characters, especially not a character I like.  It’s not easy; in fact, it hurts.  But it is, I believe, necessary.

So what do you think?  Should our brokenness before God show through in everything we write?  Is there a place for confident, even didactic prose?  What about didactic, prescriptive fiction?  And are we ready, as Christians in an often-sanitized culture, to confront each others’ vulnerabilities?

Hurricane Prayer

Twisted Tree in a Storm

(Original Photograph, 2012 Tim Dedeaux)

As the storm comes: Abraham’s son, Jacob’s father, Isaac,

As the wind lifts, and the air hangs heavy,

Announcing its coming while it is still far away.

Father God, I won’t ask you to spare us from the storm.

That storm’s got to hit somewhere, and I won’t wish destruction on someone else.

I will ask that you calm the winds, as you did in Galilee so long ago,

But I know you may choose not to.

And in that case, I merely pray for your mercy:

May we be prepared,

May those in the most danger choose to evacuate,

May they find means, even if they don’t own cars,

May the shelters stand,

May the generator-fueled refrigerators keep the insulin cold,

That no life would be lost.

And in the aftermath,

As the sun shines across broken cities,

May our hands be extended

Not grasping as looters or closed as enemies

But open, as neighbors.

Amen.