Soundtrack/Backpack

All of the blog posts have a "soundtrack" listed. I firmly believe we feel things more deeply when we associate a thought or experience to a song. I pray the Spirit will use my words and these songs to draw you in deeper into the love and grace of the Triune God!

Some posts have a "backpack" item. Simply, these are books that I would suggest for further reading on a given topic.

11/21/2015

A Bulldog Theory

My job forces me to engage all day every day with on the job injuries.   i have seen medical documents for some terribly unimaginable life changing injuries.  And I think in some regard that makes me attentive to these kinds of moments in someone's life for both the inflicted and the party that caused the injury.

I have also experienced great and grievous loss in my life.  I understand the weight of moments and circumstances that occurs following unexpectedly and irrevocably change in a life.

This season a Southern University football player sustained a paralyzing injury while he played between the hedges.  Immediately, Dawgnation rallied around Devon Gales.  The honor and integrity with which UGA, the team, and Mark Richt personally reacted and supported this young man is well documented.  It is a tangible reflection of the kinds of things that make me ridiculously proud to be a UGA fan and alum.

Tonight Devon cheered alongside the Bulldogs  to a really ugly win.  And somehow my heart wondered if this moment changed the players and staff in a way that is unspoken or even unrealized. People should be affected when they cause unearned and unimaginable pain on others, regardless of intent.  They should be shaken.  They should be "off their game."  And that should be the case for a while.  You should not be capable of flippantly moving past a moment like that.

I am going to go to bed tonight believing that the shift in confidence that UGA endured this year could be the result of a reckoning of an unfortunate accident.  I'm not saying that they are punishing themselves, but instead that we should permit them to have had a moment at the least or ideally encourage these young men and their coaching staff to take some space to react with less than 100% confidence when their win was earned at the hand of great loss in another.

A few losses in turn for an entire team of athletes growing into better men will be worth it every time.

Win or lose, this is my team.  This is my tribe.  And, I am in.  I like feeling proud of something with greater long term consequences rather than a score.  I will always want the win, but a win is empty without good sportsmanship.  No.  A win is just plain gross without good sportsmanship.

Soundtrack:  Georgia on my Mind; Junkyard Dog; Martyrs and Thieves - Jennifer Knapp

7/05/2014

Red Tum-E Yummie


This is one of my nieces.  She's something special, and at 5 she has not yet learned how to pace herself.  She is intense, competitive, and a born leader.  When she was still riding a bike with training wheels I remember this time we went to ride at a near by park.  We were blissfully riding side by side, and then I couldn't help myself.  I peddled just barley harder so I would pull out in front of her.  The look of fury and determination that crossed her face amuses me still to this day.  I have NEVER seen someone peddle so fast.  Up and down, over and over like a steam engine, until she finaly found the lead.  She peered back at me with such satisfaction!

As I mentioned in my last post, we recently traveled to the Caribbean on a cruise.  On St. Thomas we rented a car and drove to a beach so we could do some snorkeling.  (Again, Melissa, so sorry we missed seeing you!)  We spent several hours in the sun, and as the heat caused the joy of the beach to dissipate into something else, we decided to explore this island a little more.  We stopped to get some snacks and drinks.

The girls all picked out these Kool-Aid type drinks called Tum-E Yummie.  Allie selected red.  The combination of exhaustion, dehydration, and the permission to drink something painfully sweet caused her to drink the 12 ounces in just a few minutes.

You may know where I'm going.  A tummy full of liquid mixed with heat and winding roads can quickly lead to an unpleasant experience.  I think my British friends call it "getting sick," which is much more pleasant than some of the things we Americans call it.  We pulled over and attempted to appease her bruised soul while frantically sanitizing the rented van.

There is something in our sinful nature that finds perverted refuge in the snow-ball effect of indulgence.  An inclination toward self gratification; so what we see in Allie's drink, the very thing, the good thing that could have brought blissful satisfaction becomes harmful and sickening.  We enjoy good things that can become harmful if taken in too quickly and without proper temperment.

This is not to say that extravagance is absent from the Kingdom.  Just look at Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet.  No, there is room for extravagance.  In fact, it's a part of God's nature.  But, godly extravagance and indulgence are two very different things.  I pray you never misconstrue the two.  One is about selfish ambition and shallow satiation; the other is about generosity and mindful submission to others.

Matthew 10:8(b) Freely you have received, freely give.

Be reminded that God wants to give you good things.  He also wants you to want to relish in freely giving of yourself.

Soundtrack:  Royals, Lorde; Be Still My Soul, Trinity Anglican Mission Worship Team.



6/18/2014

Surprised by Something

I love C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy more than any other book in all the world, and I am presently reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright.  (Side Bar, maybe I should start signing my name as J.E. Sims.) I like that somehow pressing in to understand God more deeply often leads to surprise.  Our God is certainly inclined to behave differently than we expect.  Superficially, I also consider it serendipitous that one of my favorite contemporary thinkers paid homage to one of my favorite thinkers of all time.

Surprise is something God does well.  It makes logical sense - he does have a few things up on us, being infinite, all knowing and what not.  I also think that surprise is something that we need in our lives... not just for birthdays and significant life events, but definitely in the mundane and even maybe in a shifting world view.  Unexpectedness can catch us off guard and occasionally provide more valuable or substantive experiences than the ones we plan for ourselves.  For instance, Mom was called on stage recently to participate in a skit while we were on a cruise.  She was not expecting this, and I think you see in her face genuine shock.  But I hope what you can also see is a sense of thrill and exhilaration.

Not long ago a drawer of mine was cleaned out for me, and I found papers from years past.  It's always interesting to look at the things for which you once found great value, but somehow lost track of them.  In that drawer I discovered this little piece of paper that I had typed out:
I am like you.  I have seen plenty done in the name of God that I'm sure God doesn't want anything to do with.  I have lots of reasons for bailing on the whole thing.  I am also like you because I have a choice.  To become bitter, cynical, jaded and hard.  Anybody can do that.  A lot have.  Hatred is a powerful, unifying force.  And there is a lot to be repulsed by.  Or, like you, I can choose to reclaim my innocence.  We can choose to reclaim our innocence together.  We can insist that hope is real and that  a group of people who love God and others really can change the world.  We can reclaim our idealism and our beliefs and our confidence in the big ideas that stir us deep in our bones.  We can commit all the more to being the kinds of people who are learning how to do what Jesus teaches us.  ~ Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis.  
I feel compelled to acknowledge two arenas of surprise that this quote brings to mind.  The first is the potential bitterness causing "stuff" that Rob addresses.  I have been shocked by the dark and disappointing things that people do, think, say, believe, and create in the name of God.  The type of greed, pride, hatred, and selfishness I've met in people preparing to serve the Lord and/or declaring their faith simply astonishes me.  I have heard several people who formerly worked in churches say (in varying capacity and denomination) that the meanest people they ever met were people in that church.  I believe that the Lord used the level of disbelief I experienced to emphasize how significant and devastating this truly is.  God uses our emotions to help us better understand greater Truth.  Here, surprise led to somber lament. 

This persistent grief first struck me years ago and I am surprisingly, but only partially, glad to say that it remains. It is much easier to be jaded because in choosing to do so you quite literally build up a barrier around yourself to insulate yourself from the quite difficult feelings of pain and loss.

And yet, the steady peace that God shares in this grief gives me warrant to both acknowledge the injustice and endure past it.  Because God is bigger.  I believe he works tirelessly to restore those victimized by the church, her agents, the church herself, and the perpetrators that harm people in her name.

One of my favorite movie moments is in Robin Hood - the Kevin Costner one. (Prince of Thieves)  Christian Slater as Will Scarlett cries out to his newly revealed brother Robin of Locksley, "It's not a lie! You ruined my life! I have more reason to hate you than anyone. Yet I found myself daring to believe in you. And what I want to know, brother, is will you stay with us and finish what you started?"

There is something analogous about that scene with my feelings about the church.  Somehow, despite my understanding of what happens (sometimes and in some places) behind the scenes, I can't help but remain "all in."  That is how powerful the love of Christ can be.

And here it is.  The real surprise.  The divine surprise.  I am... surprised by resolve.  Tenacity.  Love.  Authentic Freedom.  And not my own, but instead that which is constant in the Spirit that stirs within me.  Something more.  I don't know what the word is, and I am ok leaving it nameless.  In a world where men and women change their feelings at a whim.  Our Heavenly Father remains constantly eager to heal our brokenness. 

The Holy Spirit forces me to confront, acknowledge and even embrace Hope.  When something is true in an way that deserves a capital "T," there is no mistaking the source.

May you be reminded that the good God who governs the Church in grace and justice is in the business of surprise and restoration.  Do not let the sinfulness of man keep you from the joy of salvation! 

Soundtrack:  Today, Enter the Worship Circle.

5/21/2014

TrainTracks and Slavery

Last week I visited my brother and his family in Germany by myself.  I find it particularly rewarding to find your way around an unfamiliar place, not knowing a language, and doing all of that on your own.  It forces you to pay extra close attention to details that you might not have noticed if you were sharing the work load.  In the midst of traveling you are forced to be more available to your surroundings because you do not have someone distracting you.  Once I arrived in Dusseldorf, I took a train to Hamburg, which is where they live.  As the newness of traveling by train faded and I tired of my book; I started to pay close attention to the world whizzing by me outside.  I noticed the obvious things first: the farms were eerily similar to those in the States; the cities were not.  All of the buildings looked old.  I don’t know if that says more about the American unhealthy extreme value of the new or about the rural German lifestyle.  

Then I began to look at the specific things in the landscape: a llama, a cool red truck, windmills and yellow flowers.  (Side tangent – I later discovered that these flowers are named Rape… #worstflowernameever.)  As the hours ticked by, I felt my eyes wander down to the tracks. An instant overwhelmed me with a sense of awareness of my locality.  It was the rocks beneath the railroad ties.  They were worn.  They had been there a while; a long while.  Probably nearly a hundred years.   As the thought began to cross my mind; my breath was knocked out of me.  People were led to death here.  Probably right here.   And I felt changed.  But, I began to really process what I was thinking because, let’s be honest, I had the time.  I realized that no one around me seemed affected by the reality that we were blissfully traveling a track that once saw unthinkable pain. I felt myself judging these Germans for being so blasé about the Holocaust… even though I had not engaged anyone in my thought pattern, and I would have no way of knowing the struggle to absorb and process the state sponsored genocide that occurred less than a century ago.  I don't mean to say they actually are blasé so much as I struggled with projecting that on to them in the midst of my reflective moment.  And then the thoughts turned toward my own birthplace and lifestyle.  I realized that there MUST be tourists that travel to the South - to Georgia who feel a similar heaviness about the sins of the land on which I live my own life. 
This Oscar season brought a rare occurrence for this movie-snob.  12 Years a Slave marked the first time in a long time that the movie that won best picture was both my pick and my prediction.  Most years my prediction wins, but my pick is much less frequent.  I have high expectations for the movie I consider the best film of the year.  I want entertainment, of course; but in addition to that, I expect the movie to exhibit masterful acting, directing, and cinematography.  I want the whole of the movie production to be excellent: costumes, score, set direction, casting; everything.  But, even more than that, I need the content to matter.  I want the audience to be driven toward processing something significant, not necessarily something difficult or unfortunate.  For instance, Invictus was once my pick for best picture.  I think the movie that wins the Best Picture Oscar marks the year and should reflect the people, culture, priorities and values of the time.  Well, at least the culture, priorities and values the people of the time should have. 
12 Years a Slave pushed all of those buttons in the best way possible.  So powerful.  As a white woman from the South who comes from a family that has been in Georgia for hundreds of years, I am forced to wrestle with the blood soaked land I travel every day.  I am compelled to navigate a terrain on which my ancestors owned people.  I sit here struggling with whether or not it is appropriate to discuss the knowledge I have on the degree to which this was true of my family.  It just feels like justifying the unthinkable.  One is too many.  Thinking about oppressing another person in that way is too much. 
This experience of pondering the rocks beneath the tracks that once led men, women and children to unthinkable pain, loss, and death forced me to remember the visceral experience I had in the theater watching 12 Years.  At the same time JD Walt’s words about remembering and re-membering and the cross, the table, and the empty tomb flood my mind.  There is something in our createdness that craves marking powerful events, especially the destructively painful things that dishonored God’s design, His Beloved, and the imago dei.  We can’t let ourselves forget the things that break us.  I can’t help but wonder if it is the part of us that hungers for reconciliation, for wholeness, to be made new. 
May you find renewed hope that God is working to make all things new each time a broken world forces you to grieve and ponder the pain of the past. 
Soundtrack – Brand New Day, Tim Myers; Whatever Thing, Enter the Worship Circle. 

3/01/2014

Notably New York


Yesterday Jackie and I ate lunch at Gray’s Papya.  They sell these buttons – “Polite New Yorker.”  Obviously, I bought one, duh.   As we walked around the city killing time until we went to the taping of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, it will come as no surprise to anyone that we engaged in conversations with people everywhere we went.    Almost immediately when we would talk to people they would turn to me and say something like, “So, where are you from?”  I am proud of the fact that I have little to no accent.  And none of them mentioned anything about an accent when they asked me.  No, it was evident that actively engaging with strangers is not typical New Yorker behavior. 
 
God wants us to live alongside people from every age, color, race, ethnicity, language, and worldview in a space where creative expression bursts from the seams of the concrete… where the desire to create is nurtured and valued.  The opportunity to love people, to understand them, to see them, to be loved by them and to move in a rhythm of shared experience
is simply spectacular.  That is realized nowhere else on earthy more acutely than right here in New York City, the city that never sleeps.

It grieves me that most New Yorkers don’t appreciate the valuable resource at hand.  But this dissonance is familiar.  Every day I meet people that don’t recognize the climate of the Kingdom around them.  As my hair blows back in the wind, and my cheeks flush from the radiant heat, they stand still and cold. 

The spirit stirs inside of me; as though I can feel the focused attention of our Creator’s love for the 8 million + presently in my proximity humming within.  It washes over me, and I celebrate.   This city is sacred, and I am thankful I have the opportunity to take my shoes off on this holy ground. 
Revelation 21:23
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its light.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  On no day will the gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 

It all belongs to God.  It’s all sacred.  Be reminded it can all be yours too.    May you have eyes to see.  Go on; take the red pill.  You might have to fight an agent or two, but you also just might meet the Savior.

Soundtrack - New York, New York – Frank Sinatra, King of New York – Newsies; God of this City – Bluetree/Chris Tomlin.  

1/06/2014

I'm closer to God

The summer between my third and fourth years of college I was on a traveling youth ministry team:   Crossfire from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia.  This experienced shaped me in ways that I am still discovering.  There were 3 boys and 3 girls, and we spent the summer traveling between UMC youth groups in all parts of Georgia.  We would drive hundreds of miles cooped up in the Wesley van which smelled like a college ministry van should.  We know things about each other that none of us would like to admit. Even though I don't talk to them very often these days, I love those 5 people as much as I love my own family.  There is just something special about joining someone in ministry that engraves them into your soul.  And, if that ministry occurs through sweat (Effingham County in July), tears, flat tires, late nights and enduring the chaos of hormonal teenagers; then, you find a bond that can never be broken.  These are some of the finest human beings I have ever known, and I would do anything for them. 

That being said, these people are also some of the craziest and funniest people I have ever known.  One night after an evening service with a teeny tiny youth group in rural Georgia; it may have been during a lock-in, we were discussing how things went and what we needed to pray over for the remaining time there.  This was close to the end of the summer, so we were sleep deprived, and serious prayerful moments turned into silly joyful moments without much warning.  Two of the boys began to debate who was "closer to God," jokingly.  And then, they started taking turns standing up, stating that they were closer.  Even as I type this now, I realize it is ridiculous.  But, in the moment, it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.  We were rolling. 

I often replay that moment in my head because it epitomizes the fellowship that we shared and the tone of the group.  We were zealous in our faith, committed to sharing the love of Christ with teenagers, but we didn't take ourselves too seriously.  More abstractly, I think this humorously brings to light something less than beautiful in church culture.  We compete with one another for depth of holiness.   Have you ever observed a difference in reverence given to the peer that served in the middle east rather than going on a domestic mission trip.  Or, have you ever looked at someone's tattered Bible and felt ashamed that you weren't reading the word as often as they must?  Or, have you ever explained (or expected an explanation) from someone because of a church absence.  How odd is that?  As though we somehow can take credit for our righteousness.  Even though we say we don't believe in a works based faith, how often do we live as though we do?

Be reminded that God is so close he is breathing on you.  You can't get any closer, so you can stop competing for his attention.

Soundtrack - Breath of Heaven, Amy Grant; Closer, Charlie Hall.

10/30/2013

Already. Not Yet.

I could simply rename my blog this, and it would make sense.  If you read back through previous posts, you will discover this is one of the few abstract concepts to which my brain defaults.   The more I understand the Lord and his wisdom, the more I see the world this way.  The more I let him change me from the inside out, the more I am drawn into a life of both/and.  All of the grievous societal sin, even most of the personal sin can be traced to an absence in the understanding that the Kingdom of God is here.  Available.  Now.  If this were preached more...  If this were understood better... If this was genuinely believed... what would our world look like?  I think this is the root cause to the European post Enlightenment exodus from the church.  I see it in the crusades, I see it in slavery, I see it in women's suffrage, and I see it in America on a daily basis.

We do not live a life right with God today in the faint hope to have eternal life later.  No.  We get to love and be loved by our creator today in order to be made whole and restored to His designed goodness now for the sake of ourselves and others.  Ah-mazing.
__
One of my family's favorite stories to tell of my grandfather was how he would load them in the car, head to the mountains to look at leaves.  He would take video of the leaves.  The only problem was that this was the 1950's, and he had a Super 8 that only captured black and white.  We have hours of black and white leaves.  Ridiculous.

He was not alone.  My Facebook news feed tells me that this many believe Fall to be their favorite time of  the year, and the beauty of leaves changing colors has a lot to do with it.  We are at a particularly special moment in the fall, and I found myself marveling at the beauty while having an ah-ha moment.

And so, for those of you that are visual learners, our God has not forgotten you.  Behold:  Already, Not Yet.











Soundtrack:  All Creatures of Our God and King, (as performed by David Crowder) St. Francis of Assisi/William Draper.

6/25/2013

Hope Floats



A version of me once existed that was grossly optimistic.  I use that term both to mean an overwhelming abundance of optimism and to mean as a disgusting amount of optimism; a cheerleader known for her big bows and energetic facial expressions.  I was far from dark and twisty.  I was bright and shiny.  There were mean girls who made fun of me because of it, which made me a little less bright and shiny.  

But along the way, I continued, no I continue to experience pain and loss and death, some seasons worse than others.  It's foundational to the human condition.  It's the rust, the corrosion, of Sin with a capital s in the world.  I can't hide from it, and neither can you.   

To be clear here, I am grateful for every ounce of dark and twisty that I've encountered in my life.  I carry the scars that the pain from those events caused like badges of honor.  I am a better person for having felt pain.  I am a better Christian because I know loss.    

I know darkness: the depths of darkness.  And I know how when the tide is flipping you upside down, you feel hopeless.   I happened to have a handful of conversations over the last couple of weeks with some people walking through or just having walked through some devastating loss.   And the relationship between pain and hope continues to return to the forefront of my mind.    

In the times that I felt like I may never be me again, I remember having two very distinct thoughts about hope.  OK, they may actually be feelings about hope.  First, I simply feared that I may never feel hope again.  And for a believer, this can be more disorienting than the pain itself: fearing the loss of hope.  Secondly, a much deeper current of assured peace ran through my soul.  I knew hope would return despite my blindness to its presence.  And here I am, today.  My grandmother, who is slowly losing grasp of so much, can't stop saying how happy I am.  She can't see much, but she sees that.  

I am perplexed by how that happened.  But I know how that happened.  

There's that scene in the first Men In Black movie where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones go to visit one of the aliens, and Tommy Lee Jones shoots the guys head off.   And immediately it grows back.   It's kind of gross, but undeniably interesting.   It really confronts our whole understanding about death.  His head regenerates.  It grows back.  Regeneration: something growing back from seemingly nothingness.  It's simply a term that we don't understand very well.  

That's hope, for the Christian.  

And this is where we have to talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Even when we think our ability to love, to hope, to feel joy are dead; the Spirit within begins to bubble up.  And He renews us.  He replaces the hopelessness with divine Hope.  It's not something we can work towards.  We have to get out of His way, and be honest about where the death is so he can seed and grow new life again.  But there it is.  Growing.  Regenerated.  New.  Bright and shiny from where dark and twisty used to be.  Amazing.  

This is Gospel, deconstructed: God going to the place of death, and bringing new life.  And He does it every single day.  And He wants to do it for every single person.  Is there anything more beautiful?  

I don't mind being optimistic again because even though I have scars, I've had a front seat view to the love of a pretty awesome God.  

Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)  - Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
May you be reminded, or experience for the first time, God's love being poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.  

Soundtrack:  My Hope is in You, Third Day; Behold the Lamb of God, Mylon Lefevre; What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger), Kelly Clarkson 




3/23/2013

Swinging Chandelier



The image of Jesus you carry around defines how you perceive Him.  I don't mean the figurative image, I mean the literal one.  The image that you have seen the most, pondered the most, or even just the one that you filed away as, "THIS is how Jesus looks."  Most people carry one of two images around with them.  As a Protestant, I have seen this portrait or one very similar in most church vestibules and more than a few homes.  He is stoic and composed.  He is regal and reserved.  Very "WASP"y.  He has blue eyes.  He looks like "us" so we can believe our assumption that Jesus thought like we do is true.  He is the Jesus that we have watered down to represent a God that is all knowing and all powerful, but ultimately disinterested in our day to day lives. 


Then there are the people that primarily think about Jesus on the cross.  He sacrificed his life for our sake.  We owe Him everything.  I think this image has a lot to do with the phenomena that people call "Catholic guilt."  He is tortured.  It's hard to relate to this Jesus.  I mean, really, what do you have in common with the guy who takes on the sin of all the world, is beaten within an inch of his life, and defeats Satan in Hell?  He is smack dab in the middle of an experience that no one else can ever share.  

My sister-in-law particularly likes this picture of Jesus.  It's called "Jesus Laughing."  She is a pastor, and she has a particularly intimate relationship with the Lord.  Once you know Him as friend, you revel in seeing him in the same way that you experience Him; loving, free and joyful.   This Jesus represents the person of Christ that  hung out with his friends.  He went fishing and made jokes.  He loved his mother, and he spent hours in the workshop with his dad.  He planned dinners for his followers.  He wants to hear about the mysteries and joys of life.  He lived a big life, and he loved every moment of it.  

When Ricky Bobby's wife in Talladega Nights explains that it is off putting that he always prays to baby Jesus, Ricky tells her that she can pray to  "grown up Jesus, teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus."  He would continue to pray to baby Jesus because Christmas Jesus is his favorite Jesus.   He goes on, "Dear eight pound, six ounce, new-born infant Jesus; don't even know a word yet.  We just thank you for all the races I've won and the 21.2 million dollars.  Woo."  

This movie moment speaks more to the American perception of Jesus than most church goers would like to admit.  We don't want to deal with a grown up Jesus.    We want to keep him sweet, angelic, peaceful, and ultimately controllable.   We want to be able to have the security of an afterlife and yet continue to live as we see fit in this one.  This mindset is why Buddy Jesus became such a big deal when it came out.  We collectively acknowledged that we have reduced Jesus down to a plastic figurine.  We no longer want someone to whom we can relate.  We want him sitting on a shelf like a trinket- a memory of something we once valued but for which we no longer have use.    

When I was younger they didn't have Children's church or coloring pages on the back of the bulletin.  So we just sat in the pews with our families.  It's why I could say the Apostle's Creed in my sleep, and I know the lyrics to most hymns in the UMC hymnal.  I vividly remember sitting in Sunday morning services at Conyers FUMC.   I had a fantasy of what I would do if I was a master gymnast and the physics of it would work.  I would jump from the balcony and catch the enormous chandelier.  I would swing a few times and then drop perfectly to the space in front of the altar.  The gymnastic fantasy would end with me doing back-handsprings all the way across the front.  Later, in my adult life, I discovered that most of my friends were thinking about something similar at the same time.  When I wasn't inside my imagination, I  also spent a good amount of time staring at the stained glass window above the choir loft.  The image is a modified version of this picture of Jesus in Garden of Gethsemane.  He is hopeful, devoted, tortured, burdened, but peaceful.  He is actively seeking the Father, but resigned to the steps ahead.  He knows what must be done, and he hates it, but he is clearly prepared to go to the cross.  

I realized this Sunday that when I sing "In the Garden," and when I pray... this is the Jesus that I see in my mind's eye most often.  He's legit.  He's the real deal Jesus.  This dude gets it.  He's got power, but he's also so human in this moment.  I always feel assured that the Lord knows the depths of human suffering and can empathize with the burdens I bring to Him.  I can expect that the faint smell of wine would be on his breath, and he has the residual peace one has after having been to a dinner party with the people that you love.  This Jesus is fully God.  He's preparing for something beyond what any of us can imagine, but he's also one of us.  

Let's be honest.  Jesus is a complex living person with many facets still unknown by us.  There is some truth to each of these perceptions, and there are significant limitations to boxing him into just one of them.  May you continue to encounter the living Jesus who is looking for a way to reveal Himself to you. 

*Note - throughout this blog entry the word "we" is used often to reflect a general societal collective "we", not necessarily a specific "we" or even a church "we." 

Soundtrack: Picture of Jesus, Ben Harper; In the Garden

2/19/2013

Creative Grace

Recently I had occasion to state that I believe the ability to reason and create are the two things that separate us from the animals and thus reflect the imago dei.  We should regularly engage in both.  It's something I've thought for a long time.  And I've been processing this idea since declaring it to this person.

A related thought, but not in a necessarily obvious way, I also often think about the wide range of Christians/denominations and, therefore, Christian beliefs that presently coexist.  I'm particularly interested in just how many ways we understand the same truth and how we find so very many ways to disagree with one another.  I choose to believe that most of it is simply a reflection of how great, complex, and deep the Father's heart really is.  I think we; in our temporal, limited abilities to comprehend His awesome and completeness,  must focus on what we are able to see.  Like standing an inch away from anything that could be considered overwhelming.  A man at the base of the Niagara Falls may describe it as white.  A woman tipping over the peak may call it high.  I would argue, they are both right.  I think most theological debates could be answered with the simple answer - yes.  Both/And.

We Christians debate the significance of grace and justice like it's either/or.  And, even when it isn't being debated... you hear it in the way people talk about God and how they behave toward one another and how they think about themselves.  We become preoccupied with that which is in front of us.  I believe we naturally gravitate toward one or the other, and that some people are haunted by both.  I freely admit I may believe this because I am one of these people who can't ignore either.

Driving home today, listening to a story about the potential stay of execution for Warren Hill, I associated these two meta questions in a way that will never disassociate again in my heart.

In my own life I see a pattern and a relationship between them.  As a younger woman I lived in an academic world that prioritized reason and thinking and logic.  I excelled in these areas, and remember thinking in a very black and white terms of justice.  I remember being so grateful that Jesus took my place on the cross.  My sin deserved punishment, and I understood that.  Inwardly I needed to organize my thoughts on guilt and consequence around the basic tenants of justice.  Outwardly, I was judgmental and legalistic.   As an adult, I look back on those days and I am thankful for the protective cushion my legalism created in my own life.  I avoided countless mistakes because of my strict understanding of right and wrong.

As I grew older, I realized that I both have a natural inclination and deep interest in the creative process and creating things myself.  And not surprisingly, my understanding of grace and disdain for the pride that lingered around my sense of justice have grown as I have given myself room and permission to explore my creative side.

Are these related?  I think so.

Do creative people understand grace in a way that logicians never will?  Are the free spirited cursed to never recognize absolute truth?

Regardless, all of this brings once again to the forefront the mysterious nature of the One I adore.  And for that, I am blessed.  The joy of worshiping a God so big, so good; so interesting can overwhelm in the best way possible.

I leave with the words of Karl Barth  - We are forbidden to take sin more seriously than grace, or even as seriously as grace.

If this great thinker can find satisfaction in the tension between grace and justice, may you too find a way to value both equally.

Soundtrack - Amazing Grace (um, duh); We Will all be Changed, Seryn