Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Fourth Watch of the Night

"And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea."

It's almost tempting to leave this without comment. The simple beauty of this verse strikes me deeply, and I think would move me even without knowing the context. But knowing that Jesus went out to meet his disciples, who had been struggling against the wind to get across the lake, who were weary and probably feeling like they'd never make it across, by simply walking out upon the sea to meet them, leaves me utterly speechless.

Isn't it just like him, to show up when hope is on the verge of being lost?

Isn't it like him, to wait until we're spent, we've expended all our efforts against the wind and waves, our arms like rubber from pulling the oars and we feel like we've made it no farther to the shore? Isn't it just like him to show up then, and to show up effortlessly, sauntering toward us on top of the water, making light of the thing we're striving against?

For him it is nothing. For us, it's an insurmountable task. So he waits, till the fourth watch of the night, till we've spent ourselves on the task that's too much for us to begin with, till we're ready to see him coming towards us on the waves.

And from there, well, he calls us to leave the boat, and walk with him.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Light

imgres.jpg

Light doesn't imprison, and yet
That moment
When the animal freezes, it believes itself
Bound
By the photons, the waves, the rays
As surely as if it were
Chained

And so
It cannot flee
Its impending
Doom.

But the light does not bind;
It frees - 
It illuminates the danger, which, 
Were the light not present,
Would strike unannounced,
Destroying without warning.

The light calls.
The light declares the danger, clarions the calamity.

It is up to the animal
To decide what to do:
Will it freeze, unbelieving
That such catastrophe
Should befall it?

Or will it heed the clarion call
And flee
The coming darkness?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Seeing

It takes a practiced eye to see the small moments, to read into them the eternal significance they contain.

It's not the heady, life-transforming speeches, or even the tragedies, the short series of words you never want to hear: "He passed away this morning." "She isn't coming home." "I can't do this anymore." "I've found someone else." 

While those do alter one's course forever, the mundane moments do, too, sometimes even as much as the others. It's just that, without the ability to see, sometimes we don't realize that these small moments have altered us. 

Something changed in me a few weeks ago, and it was a line from a story that did it. A single line, and a wall that had been built up for years began to topple. 

I am an extremely protective and private person, reluctant to open up to others or to pursue relationships with others. I would, left to my own devices, be content as a hermit, surrounded by solitude and only letting those in with whom I felt most safe. And while there's a myriad of reasons for me to be this way, I have not been happy being this way. I know I've been called by God to leave this kind of safety and seek out others, but I've been paraalyzed by my own fear and by no framework for how to do this. 

And then I read this parable, of a boy who, because of a disfiguring scar on his face, never entered completely into any task he undertook, because he always had to keep one hand on his face. He could only ever do anything with the free hand that didn't cover the scar. 

I saw myself. 

The boy was sent on a quest: to face his worst enemy in mortal combat. And he discovered that his worst enemy was himself. He was crippling himself by refusing to use both hands.
     "Uh, lad, said the Woodcutter "you'll need two hands to do this work; two strong hands. The rhythm goes like this: You pull and ease your grip. I pull and ease my grip. You pull and ease your grip. Got it?"
     Hero nodded his head yes. He put both hands on his handle of the long saw. He felt naked, exposed now that his scar was uncovered.
     But the Woodcutter just smiled. He didn't seem surprised or dismayed. "That's a lad. Gotta use two strong hands."
I heard the message clearly: I am going through life only using one hand. I am hiding what I believe to be blemishes I don't want others to see, but in doing so I can only work with one hand. 

And it was as if chains fell off. I felt myself mentally peeling off the hand that had nearly grown into my face, and now I'm stretching muscles I've forgotten how to use, strengthening and conditioning my ability to use both hands again (if I ever knew how in the first place). 

I find myself now, when faced with a choice of whether to enter into an interaction with someone or to avoid, to say the mantra, "Two hands," and the choice becomes easier, clearer. The muscles grow. The habits form. 

We never know when eternity will break through. For Zaccheus, it was that moment when, himself in a tree, Jesus stopped underneath him and invited himself over for dinner. Nothing was the same for him after that. For Peter, James, and John, it was when a stranger told them to throw their net over the other side of their boat. They obeyed, and life changed forever.

The moments He chooses to use can be simple. We don't all have Road-to-Damascus experiences; we don't all get the opportunity to "turn aside and see this great sight." We often need only the eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders of God all around us. We need His vision to hear the messages He sends, and to let those things change us.

So I encourage you to ask for eyes open to seeing what He sees, and ears open to hearing from Him. His Spirit is breaking through - look and listen for what He is saying to you today. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bonhoeffer's Legacy for Today

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since I heard his story, and especially since I read his work The Cost of Discipleship, I have not been able to stop thinking about the man. Much of this comes from parallels that I can see between the American church of our era and the German church of the National Socialist era, and I desire for men like Bonhoeffer to rise up and confront the temptation that the church faces today. I daresay I harbor a desire to be like Bonhoeffer myself. 

The parallels I see between the German church of then and the American church of now lie specifically within the homosexual movement and what Bonhoeffer called the “Jewish question.” But there is an inverse: the German church was being asked to exclude Jewish saints, and the American church is being asked to include practicing homosexuals. And this is what makes the issue so tempting: if it were a compromise of exclusion, we as an enlightened culture that prides itself on eradicating racism and hatred of all kinds, would not find it as tempting to give in. It is fairly easy as a church to say no to exclusion. But to say no to inclusion? That’s a different matter. 

Bonhoeffer stated, in response to the German church’s proposal of creating separate churches where converted Jews could worship, that a church which excluded Jewish brothers and sisters would cease to be a church. He went further and said that any church which did not stand with the Jewish people, converted or not, was in danger of apostasy. Many churches fell away, accepting the Nazi rule and capitulating to state pressure. 

We see the same happening today, with a growing movement in the American church of embracing same-sex marriage. Beginning with mainline denominations and now even moving through evangelical churches and conservative denominations, there is a wave of pastors and church leaders who are caving to social pressures and affirming homosexual relationships. And there are many American Christians would find it less damning to do so than for a church to say it didn’t accept non-whites into its membership. Both, of course, are enough to make a church cease to be a church. 

My point is, the time is soon going to be upon us where the American church will find itself in a similar situation to the German church. The state will soon no longer allow freedom to disagree with the rule of law. Churches who refuse to affirm or perform same-sex marriages will first lose tax-exempt status, then soon be forced to close doors. The American church will be forced underground. We need to understand exactly how crucial it is to continue to hold the line, because it’s soon going to cost us quite a bit to do so. 

Let me be clear: I am not totally comfortable with this issue being “the one.” It would be far easier for me if it was an issue like Bonhoeffer was faced with. I’d be much more comfortable standing against racism in the church than standing against same-sex marriage. “LOVE WINS” as a battle-cry is a hard one to oppose. It makes me feel mean, small-minded, hateful, to say I so strongly and vehemently oppose same-sex marriage, on the same lines as saying I support killing puppies. But here I stand; I can do no other. I believe God, and I believe that His Word is true, and is the only source we have for knowing and relating to Him, and I just can’t see any way around what He says about homosexuality. And as such, for the church to deny a truth, even one so seemingly inconsequential as this, is to erode the whole of Scripture. To quote Buffy Summers, “It’s like the little boy with his finger in the duck.” We allow the crack to grow, and the whole of it will crumble. We deny a part, then we can no longer accept the Bible as the Word of God.

I have nothing but compassion for those who suffer from same-sex attraction (and I choose those words intentionally, because it is an affliction, as surely as an eating disorder or compulsive lying). I believe it to be something out of the control of many who are afflicted by it, due to what I don’t know. And on the one hand, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have desires that God has given me no recourse to fulfill, especially in a culture which elevates sexual gratification to a human right. I understand, and fully affirm, how difficult a position it is. And I can only say that I am glad it isn’t me, because I don’t know what I would do.

But I know what must be done. I am fully convinced of what must be done. The truth must be proclaimed, and Jesus Christ preached, and the only freedom for all people must be held firmly in view. There is only one way to be free from sin, and that’s through the blood of the Savior. The law of God shows us our sin, the blood of the Son of God covers it, and the Spirit of God leads us in freedom out of it. 


We must hold this in view. It is not merely the redefinition of marriage that’s at stake; it’s the gospel.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shadows Shot Through with Light

Sometimes I can see it: great and ugly, the squatting creature that dirties the world, that spreads its stink on all and covers everything in its dark slime. There's nothing it doesn't touch, nothing that remains unsullied by its presence. 

And I hate it. I hate the way it chuckles as it releases its filth, spreading it so seemingly indiscriminately on the world. I want to kill it, murder it and begin to wash the world. 

But the most I can do is try to clean up after it. It's not my job to kill it - as a matter of fact, I have it on good authority it's already dead, and its activities now are simply the death throes, like a chicken thrashing about when its head's been removed. So I clean: I go through the motions of what often seems like futile labor. I scrub a spot clean here, only to look and see that the spot I scrubbed moments before has been rubbed with the creature's excrement again. I go to work. 

Sometimes I can see the progress. Occasionally I'll be able to look up from my cleaning and see the behind me the sparkling trail I'm leaving. But most of the time my head is down; I'm focused in on my work; scrubbing until my hands bleed. It's amazing, actually, how effective blood is as a cleanser. 

Not my blood, though. His. He poured it out, in the battle with the beast where His death sealed the beast's own. He poured out His blood on His people, making them clean. And while the stains remain, I soak in His blood to get them out a little bit more every day, and I keep going back to that blood to scrub out the stains that beast leaves on everything. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent



I get a little wistful this time of year, a little bit more each year.

As I live and serve here, on this reservation, on this earth, I long for the hope of Christmas more and more. I long for the realization of what Jesus started when He came the first time; for the completion of His work in the Second Advent. I long for His return, when all will be made new, and the wrongs and the hurts and the pains will be done away with.

This year has seen a lot of hurts. A boy I love and care about deeply is losing his grandmother, who's cared for him best she can since his parents passed. A little girl I came to love as my own has been moving from home to home since she left ours, and I don't know if she's safe, and can't keep her safe. A boy told me the other day at youth group he'd been thinking about hanging himself. And that's only some of the sorrows I've seen in our community. There are other sorrows, too: young black men getting shot by police, a school shooting on another reservation in the state, the deaths and beheadings of Christians and Westerners by ISIS. Our world is sick with sorrow, groaning with the pains of childbirth. Can we look at all of it and endure?

There have been moments where it's been too much. It has seemed like evil is winning, and all of it is futile. The little we can do is surely not enough to stem the tide, not enough to redirect the current. Why persist? The war is lost.

And yet.

And yet, there is Christmas.

There's a baby. Powerless, helpless. A very little thing, infinitesimal, born to lower classes in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, not even registering on the radar of anyone who mattered. It surely couldn't be enough to stem the tide of evil, could it?

Yet that baby was. That small thing was the one thing that could do it. It was the lynchpin, the cornerstone. It when that baby came into the world that evil lost, albeit it has taken a couple thousand years of the devil thrashing around with his head cut off.

I'm ready for the devil to stop his death throes. I'm ready for the job to be finished. I grow so weary of seeing the devastation sin and evil still is able to thrust upon this world, even after the head's been cut off. I'm ready for the triumphant return - so ready.

My favorite Christmas song remains still "White Horse" by Over the Rhine. Their lyrics of the triumphant return of Jesus on a white horse, come to set all things right, recall the language of the Old Testament prophets who made no distinctions between the First and Second Advents. May we remember always that He didn't just come and die and rise again. While that is certainly the root of our hope, the full realization of our hope and the consummation of our hope is in the Second Advent, the White Horse, the Flaming Sword. He is coming again to finish what He started! While we can remember now what He began as a baby, in humble beginnings, and allow that to give us hope that the small efforts in which we partake now will indeed work His will against evil, we can look forward to the grandiose way in which He shall return - riding in the clouds, sword in hand, to do battle with the devil for the last time.

It'll end. He will win. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reflection on a Sunday

There's a church in White Swan, a haven of rest and safety for the many who have neither. A playground unequaled on the Rez, where the kids run and play and get fed and wounds are treated and shoes are given and Bible stories are told.

Three are here who have been gone for some time. I ask the middle one where they've been staying. "With our mom," he tells me. 

"In Totus?" I ask. 

"No," he tells me, and clarifies where they've been. "But we've been moving every day." 

I murmur that this must be hard, and he nods. "We used to live in Totus for  a long time." There's a bit of sorrow, a bit of a shrug in his tone, like at 10 years old he's seen enough of life to know it's just hard. And I know enough of his story to know he's seen some things in his time. 

But here, he tosses another ball through the net and smiles. Here the sorrow and burden can be lifted for awhile, and he and his brothers can hear about Jesus' love and shoot some hoops after. 

The last three Sundays I've been averaging 1.2 shoeless kids per week. It's not the same children every time, and usually it's in a frantic effort to get ready and they can't find their shoes. It's a symptom of the larger problem: neglect. The kids are on their own, parents and family caught up in their own addictions, too wrapped up in their pain and avoidance to care for their kids. Everyone is giving up. Holding on to hope has become too difficult.

But these kids still have it, to my wonder. The God of hope has granted it to them. They have been told - and have begun to believe - that there is hope for them, and that God cares about them, and that they matter not just to Him, but to us. To me. They matter to me.

And who knows how it starts: do they matter me because I care about what God thinks, or do they matter to me because they matter, inherently, and I can see it? I don't know. It doesn't make a difference where the source is. The crux is that my eye is now trained to detect the evidence of God's plan and purpose in creating each person here; in hunting out the beauty and the stamp of His image even in those who seem the furthest gone. We have hope. We have a God who is the God of hope. His Spirit is the source of hope. We know what He can do, because we've seen Him do it. We can trust that He will continue to work out His plan, and that He'll bring to an end all that He wishes.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Questions for Heaven

Father, when you used to
    Meet Adam in the garden
    For an evening walk,  how much
    Did you miss him when he left?

Father, when you looked down
     And saw
     Only one family left
     Who remembered you,
     Was it your tears that covered the earth?

I can see you now: rushing the remnant
     Onto the ark, holding back
     Just long enough
     To get the door
     Closed.

      And then you wail.
      And everything
      Dies.

Father, did a sob
     Catch in your throat
     As you stayed the hand
     Of Abraham, knowing
     That someday
     What he was just spared
     You would not be?

Father, sometime I wonder
    Sometimes I just wonder
    Sometimes I just cry and I just wonder

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Was Both Amazed and Left Stunned and Speechless By What Happened Next.

"You won't believe what happened next."

I just about hate those words now. Scanning through my Facebook feed, I almost lost count of how many times they popped up.

At what point did the internet decide collectively to begin to use this formula centering around the three words "what happened next"? The formula consist of a) a situation introduced ("This mom surprised her high schooler at lunch"), b) a "power adjective" (stunned, speechless, amazed, etc) and c) "what happened next." I'm sure you've seen it.

It evokes a visceral reaction in me, and since I've noted its arrival, it has guaranteed that, no matter how intriguing the subject material is, I WILL NOT CLICK ANY LINK WHICH INCLUDES THIS VERBIAGE. I just won't.

It's probably my issue. I have a deep-seated fear of being manipulated, and I think I may react strongly to anything I see as a possible attempt to coerce me into a certain action, no matter how innocuous it might be. But really, my objection is that it's simply a cheap way out. If one can't think of a creative way to hook people in to watch a video or peruse a link, one can fall back on a formula which (assuming from its over-usage) has success.

I admit, I feel a pull on my curiosity when I see the words. Who doesn't want to know what happened next? Isn't that why TV season finales always end on cliffhangers? The power of curiosity and the desire for closure and resolution is so strong. But it's that very pull on my curiosity that makes me despise the words. I despise my own reaction to them, wishing that my natural desire to know "what happened next" could be curbed. I hate being manipulated. Don't trick me into watching your cat video by tempting me to find resolution. I was happy without knowing "what happened next" five minutes ago; I will be happy not knowing "what happened next" five minutes from now.

There's my curmudgeony moment of the day.


 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fight



Madness sets in like
         Doubt
Like, you can't
        Know
        Anything
is true because, who are you just you're just a little
        so-and-so and who do you think you are to think
        you can tell you what's what

And the funny thing
        Is
you start to believe it firmly.

But madness gotta be
          Fought,
Gotta fight it, gotta tell it where to go and where to get off, I got Truth on my side, you old so-and-so so you
 Better, that's right, you better run

Gotta go to Jesus, man - go to Jesus, He got, yeah He got the Truth:
          Tell the madness what's what
And that
You can KNOW
(Are you LISTENING? Can you HEAR ME?)
You can KNOW!

freedom. love. family. forgiveness. honor. respect. love. grace. love. grace. love.

and the end
of
madness.


I'm not sure where this came from. I started writing and this is what came out. I haven't changed a single word to it, so you can take that for whatever it's worth. I can give no real commentary on it other than it came from thinking about the problem of wallowing in guilt and isolation, a place I would find myself in frequently if I did not embrace the denouement of the piece. I'm not sure why I feel prompted to offer commentary on the piece, either, since I wrote it with no real intent in mind other than to see what came out. Still, here the commentary is, and I suppose it shall remain.