Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Ian Schneider

Photo Thanks to Ian Schneider

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Henri Nouwen (Life of the Beloved, 67):

It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! This is so apparent wherever you go. No one is brought to life through curses, gossip, accusations or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction and death. As the “blessed ones,” we can walk through this world and offer blessings. It doesn’t require much effort.



Advent Post #12

 “…Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)

Mary must not have known of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I could imagine Elizabeth and her husband keeping it to themselves. It was high-risk.

Why share such news if the pregnancy could fail? Why bring all those people, who’d definitely be awestruck, into the business? Perhaps Elizabeth’s body wouldn’t cooperate and be a hospitable container for the developing baby. Perhaps God wouldn’t allow Elizabeth’s pregnancy to succeed. Perhaps it wasn’t true in the first place, her expectation.

These are real wonderings. There are false hopes. Our bodies don’t always cooperate with our dreams. Miscarriages happen, especially for those who hope at higher risks. And when they happen, they bruise parts of parents which most never see. Linger over that and make your connections prayers.

You see Mary rushed to her relative after hearing Gabriel’s words. They would share. Apprehensively or not, they would develop a bond around the amazing things God was doing. I can hear Mary rehearsing her terror, her wonder, and her praise. I can imagine she’d nearly trip over her feet to run to her loved one.

Imagine the gift of Elizabeth, who at six months is already filled with a growing baby, now being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is language I’m fairly used to because I’m Pentecostal, even if it’s an experience that makes me shudder with gratitude and light and humility. She was filled.

The Spirit fills us. The Spirit (a feminine word which we never allow ourselves to utter enough), she enters us and resides with us. She is present during moments of greatness. For Elizabeth who has likely been uncertain, I imagine there being a new calmness, a resoluteness with Mary’s entrance and with the Spirit’s coming that some things are definite. Her baby’s eventual arrival, John’s eventual life, was certain. Is that the evidence of the filling? More certainty than before. Perhaps not total but more.

I believe that Advent is a season where we rehearse to ourselves the steep, enduring promises of God. We tell ourselves–and each other by entering our homes and hanging out–and we embody for ourselves the real truth that the world as we know it is undone. We embody the message and the messengers who will tell the world the truth it needs to hear. We live that truth each day, and in our living we change the world.

Might this be the spilling which we need this season? I pray that you are as Pentecostal as the next believer, as filled with the Spirit as Elizabeth and, later, those first kind followers in the upper room. May this season bring us a new quality of faith, a trusted assurance that God is working in us to bring the world grace.

Advent Post #6

“Do not be afraid…you have found favor.” (Luke 1:30)

At some point I started fearing the rain. I never consciously feared it, but my body (like most people’s) would begin to crouch and clinch when waters started falling from the sky. My shoulders would turn in and down. I’d almost tighten at the back as if there was something wrong with the water. “Like I’d melt,” it used to go when I was a child.

I noticed this years ago when my pastor remarked about my mother taking a walk in the rain. She’d met us at his home after having walked. He was joking and he said something like, “Your mother walks in the rain. Both of you all are strange!” I can’t tell you all the context that makes that comment fun and acceptable. If most people called my mother strange, I’d find several ways to hurt them, but when Bishop Trotter said it years ago, it opened up something to me. It showed me 1) that someone else noticed how much my mother could enjoy a walk and 2) that I didn’t enjoy walking in the rain for some reason.

After that, I began to question myself in little bits about my scrunched shoulders and tight neck. I took deep breathes when it started to rain and tried to relax my back. I started being aware of my body’s fearful response. And then I, too, started to enjoy walking in the rain.

So what of this angel’s message? “Do not be afraid…you have found favor.” We live between Gabriel’s words, between the stern encouragement (Is it a command from this divine being?) and the description of what we’ve been given from God.

We live responding to old wounds which have turned us against ourselves and against others. We respond to those crises in our yesterdays, and they leave us cowering in the face of God’s future. We need the angel’s first words: Do not be afraid.

We need them because, despite our best efforts, we fear. Maybe not the rain but something. Sadly, it is as natural a response to life as any, even if it’s unnoticed. But, thankfully, it’s not the only response available to us.

“You have found favor” is the other statement from Gabriel. There is a negative command, and there is a positive affirmation. You have found favor. You have achieved, insofar as grace can be achieved in any literal sense, favor. Consider that: favor.

I think of favor as what I most need from God, what I most search for even when I’m not consciously searching. Favor is what my spirit wants and craves when I’m doing nothing at all. Another word in the neighborhood of favor is grace.

My spiritual director asks me regularly, “Michael, what’s the grace that you need?” What is the favor you’re craving? What do you most need? For all those questions, we have found answers in this season. They’re around us, waiting for us to notice and choose them and live through them. May we do so.

A Prayer About Cancer For Three People Particularly

You know that we care for our mothers, whatever their ages, and I bring these three mothers to you in prayer.  You know their diagnoses, the particulars of their medical histories, their prognoses, and their feelings about it all.

Give them your closest ear as they whisper their questions, their prayers, their dreams, and their pains through the courses before them.  May you collect their every word, gesture, and ache, translate them into beautiful, powerful speech, and may you be moved by them to act gloriously.

Grant them your company through what may feel like both a crowded and lonely time.  May they sense you in glances, in whispers, in surprises, in meals, in quiet.

Heal their bodies through any means necessary, using doctors with their medicines, nurses with their many touches, technicians and their tests, and friends and family and children and strangers, making every single interaction a strong movement of divine healing.

Rebuke death all the way through, like you did in Jesus and reset their bodies to be increasingly vessels of health and glory.  Fill them with reminders that you have conquered death and all its effects, and keep them in that peace when all seems opposite.

Endure with them the broadness of unanswered questions, occasional doubts, hard-uttered gratitude, resentment, wondering, knowing and not knowing, and waiting.  Bless their efforts and their attempts to restore themselves while giving love to others.

Make them laugh.  Make them sit and stir and run in joy.  Make their evenings filled with splendid memories and their days cracked with blessing upon blessing.

Open before them and us your future, and make us to find our destinies in you.  Our collective future is in and with and for you, and may you grant us daily a proximity to that tomorrow.

Give them and us such generous spirits that we pray for the best, seek the good, and persist in the suffering along this way.

Empower every person in their path to be loving, gracious, good, faithful, and persistent even when we don’t know how such things come through us.

Grant us silence when words falter.  Grant us strength to submit to a redeemed life that ends and doesn’t end in you.  Equip us to be a supportive, fiercely loving, vulnerable and weak and bold and steady community of witnesses to what you’re doing.

In every way, remember Grace, Rob’s mother, and my mother.

In the name of the One who Heals all our diseases.


Something I Read to the Men in Church Today


I want to tell you

That you are beautiful and brilliant and beloved.  No matter what you do, what you’ve done, what you’ve left undone or how terrible of a man you’ve been—your beauty, your brilliance, and your belovedness—these things have been true, are true, and will be true.

I want to tell you

That the world is not only against you; it is against every good that can come from you, so equip yourself with a power greater than yourself and find the grace of God that has a track record of defeating the strongest enemies.

I want to tell you

That the greatest thing you can be is a gift to somebody else.  So wrap yourself up in the hope that you can be that generous, that you can turn your desires toward another, and make sure somebody else has the things you have, gets the things you get, and will have a fraction of the life you’ve had.

I want to encourage you

To stay with the best ways you’ve been taught to love.  We don’t usually learn to love so when we find little ways, we need to practice them so we don’t forget them, hold them while learn to love better, and appreciate our growth in the process.

I want to encourage you

To keep to some goal in your face, to be careful who you share it with, and to be relentless in pursuing it because even if you fail, you will succeed at a behavior that is more Christian you know, more formative than you can imagine, and more enriching than success.

I want to encourage you

To enjoy yourself at least once a day, which means you’ll need to find joy in your work, in your home, in your leisure, and in your nothingness.  Slowly inspect these spheres of life so that you always, every day, find joy.  It’s there.  Whether it seems hidden, when it seems altogether gone, joy is underneath the parts of your day, and it’s waiting for your discovery.

I want to remind you

That you will be greeted by hell every week, that you will be visited by enemies every day, that you will be undone by the hour, that you will be deconstructed at personal and systemic levels, so if you are not serious about finding your sustenance outside of society, you will find death without life.  If you are not serious about finding strength in the source who is God, you will find brokenness without hope.  If you are not serious about placing Mystery in front of you, you will never be covered from back to front with the power that is undefeated.

I want to challenge you

To love every woman with such skill that she will respect you, with such honor that she will speak well of you, with such care that she will trust you, and with such admiration that she will feel safe with you.

I want to challenge you

To sit alone, with yourself, for 10 minutes a day, sitting in silence, sitting and listening to the voice of God as it comes to you even if it sounds scary or strange or welcoming.

I want to challenge you

To find the people in the world who make you feel like yourself and spend time with them.  They may be the truest, rarest gifts from God you have.

I want to challenge you

To be someone’s father this year, biological or not.  Be a man who some child can look up to, call when she needs you, question when he wonders something, claim when no one else steps up for them.  Be the man who stands in the gap for a single mother or who stands alongside another father.  Be the support, the presence, the strength, the weakness, the shoulder, the legs, the backbone.  Live all year and hear this greeting in some form regularly: Happy Father’s day.

And may your children love you.

Name the Reality

One casualty of that frantic schedule has been the Christian practice of prayer before meals, a practice often referred to, appropriately, as “giving thanks” or “saying grace.”  Christian parents honor the vows they make at their children’s baptisms to nurture their children in Christian faith in a variety of ways.  Some try to teach their children, with at best mixed results, how they should understand themselves and their world.  But whether they recognize it or not, all parents teach their children by how they themselves live.  Surely one of the most important things Christians do is teach their children to name the reality of God’s grace in their daily lives and to express gratitude for that grace and for their life before God by praying before meals.  It is one thing for a child to grow up in a Christian home and church in which the language of Christian faith may occasionally be heard.  It is something else altogether for a child to hear and learn how to speak not just about Christian faith, but the language of faith, the language of God’s grace in reference to the realities and events of their daily lives.

From George Stroup’s Before God (pgs. 160-161), a solid book that’s hardly about parenting and very much about parenting

Jumping In Sin & Looking For Grace That’s Gone

Bruce Robertson sent me something on Facebook that, coupled with the unrelenting reports about David Petraeus, got me thinking specifically about leaders who fall in and around the Christian community.  The post pushed a basic question: What’s the role of that community to those leaders who fall?

These sentences provide a sense of the post:

Sadly, in many cases, when it comes to restoring a fallen leader, the offender’s depiction of evangelical denominational or church discipline, feels more like John 19 where the Jewish leaders request for all the men next to Jesus on the cross to “have the legs broken [as well].” This is a far different response than Jesus’, saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

The result of this law-driven approach to sin is not pretty. Because of this, the evangelical culture dictates that when our worse moments befall us, we must hide. There is a real doubt that we will be lead home safely through our struggle.

I come back to this concern every year or so.  Unfortunately the experiences of leaders keep the question before us.  How do we respond as a Christian community when leaders in that community fail?  Is there a difference between the church’s response to a leader who fails and to a non-leader who does?  I keep thinking that there is a clear answer in the scriptures about this, but there isn’t.  To be clear, this is because when scripture handles the matter of sin and sins and sinning, it doesn’t split the responses to those who are in leadership roles from those who are not leaders.  If anything, there is a pervasive sense that every reader who takes up the dangerous documents of our scriptures is in for it, is a sinner, and is eligible for the free, audacious, and incredible gift of grace and all that comes with it.

There are mentions of how to handle people who have sinned, but those instances are not focused on leaders; they’re open for everyone.  There is a clear implication that sins should be addressed, faced, confessed, repented of, and turned away from.  There is a reasonable expectation within the scriptures that the consequences of sins live well beyond the times of confession and repentance–again, for leaders like Moses and for hardly named people in crowds.  There is also a long theme of forgiveness, and that theme would certainly include the leaders and the non-leaders within the church.

But it fascinates me that people who are led often require that leaders be exploited and punished, even when those leaders have spent themselves 1) protecting those they lead from such ungracious behavior and 2) promoting a Person who gives grace to the sinner.  There is this weird and intense curiosity with a leader’s sins, like in Petraeus’s case or in the last preacher to fall, and this continual pressing into the details of what happened, right before there is a slicing off of any chance that leader would have to rejoin the community.  There’s an insightful psychological treatment in that, one I can’t give, but it has to do with pedestalizing people in positions a) they don’t belong in, b) we’ll never really get into ourselves, and c) which are properly designed for the Divine.

Sometimes I think we should describe the Church as place where people jump in sin, where leaders never ever ever get up to speak or preach or inspire without the strings of sin attached to us.  Sometimes I think that we should wear signs that say “Fire me now because while I didn’t do the big three or the big five or the big seven, I definitely sinned at least sixteen times before I stood up in front of you.”  At least it would open a conversation about sin and grace and leadership and restoring everyone to relationship with God.

Sometimes I wonder if churches and faith communities are really communities of grace.  When the people who lead them, be they paid staff or not, cannot truly receive “grace to help” in our times of need, then what’s happening in our gatherings may not be graceful at all.  Sure, that doesn’t mean that anything goes.  It’s never meant that.  To think that is to read a different Book.  Indeed a place of grace is a place with clear expectations about the gift offered.  But would you agree that we are pushed to look for grace and to tell the truth when we don’t find it?

For Really New Dads

Several of my friends are brand new fathers, several of them at my church.  I started blogging at Intersections when I became a new father.  I wrote a few posts over those first few months which I think are relevant for fathers and the people who love them.  So, I’m adding these older entries to the pile of recent posts on this blog.

I’d love to know what you think after looking through some of these.

Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death

I am open to your comments.  Even if you want only to comment on the title of this post.  I hope you’ll think with me, though, about something that is fundamental, basic, and at the ground of the Christian faith.  It’s a long and hard word–forgiveness.

Two quotes are guiding my thought, two quotes and all the words behind and around them.  One is from Jesus Christ when he was teaching about what life is like in the kingdom of heaven, scripture’s language for the realm where God controls things.  The other is from Miroslav Volf, reflecting on the words and teachings of Jesus.

You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you.  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven… (from Matthew 5:43-45a)

Now, Miroslav Volf.

Because Christ died for all, we are called to forgive everyone who offends us, without distinctions and without conditions.  That hard work of indiscriminate forgiveness is what those who’ve been made in the likeness of the forgiving God should do (from Free of Charge, pg. 180).

Christians love enemies.  We don’t celebrate at their deaths.  If anything, we mourn their deaths because we mourn the deaths of those we love.  At the heart or the bottom or the ground or the starting point (whatever you choose) of Christianity is the person of Jesus who told his disciples to live in this way.  He told us to forgive.  Indeed, he told us that being part of his kingdom meant, among other things, the sustained and hilarious and long practice of forgiveness.  There are other things which come from Jesus about his Father’s kingdom.  There are doctrines that the Church throughout the centuries has developed in response to those teachings.  Forgiveness is first.

It is first because the event of Jesus’s coming was an event embodying God’s decision to forgive.  God forgave the world and all that was in it when Jesus came.  And not only then but before then.  The biblical story is a story that begins before the incarnation, the thick word signifying Jesus’s birth.  Throughout history God has been pulling creation back to God.  Throughout history God has been forgiving, practicing what life is like where God controls things.

God doesn’t celebrate our collective or our individual destruction.  God does something else–forgives us, hopes for us, invites us, and works for us.  As people of God, Christians should not celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death.  Just as we should not have celebrated the deaths of the people he was responsible for murdering.  We were horrified then.  We mourned then.  We complained then.  We pressed our political and military leaders then.  But we did not celebrate.  The hard truth about Jesus and what he teaches is that there is no difference between the life of an enemy, like Osama bin Laden, and the life of the people we love.  Indeed to Jesus we love the family member we lost to a murder and we love the murderer.

Tomorrow’s post is about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.  And the post after that will be about what Christians should be celebrating, namely justice.