Defiance.

The trees stand like guards of the Everlasting; the flowers like signposts of His goodness—only we have failed to be testimonies to his presence, tokens of His trust. How could we have lived in the shadow of greatness and defied it? (Rabbi  Abraham Joshua Heschel)

As usual, provocative words from the Rabbi.

This morning, I did not pray.

And there probably was just a little bit of defiance.

But the beauty of the spiritual life is that is training, practice in preparation for eternity.

So I can start anytime. I can set aside my defiance and anger, and I can sit an absorb and recognize and give thanks and embrace wonder and surrender and become silent.

When I do that, I can do what all of creation is doing: pointing away from itself to God.

My name is Eric: I’m trying to be a tree.

 

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Thy Kingdom, My Kingdom

When people say, “Thy kingdom come” out of one side of their mouth, they need to also say, “My kingdom go!” out of the other side. (Richard Rohr)

How good is this? 

I always think about the gospels, when Jesus shows up in Jerusalem, and ends up judging and disrupting the Temple.

The Temple represents religion that had turned into idolatry, that had been manipulated into a nationalistic talisman, rather than a beacon of hope for the lost and the outside.

So Jesus shows up and shatters the misconceptions.

I’m forever building my own Temples and talismans and symbols that represent my kingdoms, my agendas, my programs for happiness.

What needs to go in my life?

The kingdom of God supersedes and far surpasses all kingdoms of self and society or personal reward. (Rohr again)

It’s All Grace.

A few weeks ago, I sat in my father’s garage with him and my brother-in-law. In lieu of a front porch, we sat on the concrete as the afternoon sun slowly descended, and we did what men do, which is mostly complain.

(PS When did I become a middle-aged man?)

My father suffered a massive stroke in 2004, and maybe a couple more since then, and at this point he’s rather limited physically. He stopped driving a year or two ago. My brother-in-law’s father was a racecar driver, and is also facing increased limitations, and may have to stop driving too.

We were talking about getting older, and not being able to do the things we used to do.

(Again, men complain quite well.)

Lift things, move, stay up late, etc., etc. Things change and get more difficult.

My dad made the remark, “Yeah but wait until you can’t drive anymore,” and we all nodded our heads and made a couple remarks about how awful that would be, and how it would really wreck us (just like it wrecked my dad, and just like it’s wrecking Tony’s dad).

Driving—at least for my generation and older—does seem to be linked to something essential and basic about life. The ability to move when one wants to. To leave, to have self-determination. To go.

When that gets taken from you, yeah, I guess that would be a real kick in the crotch (as Sting would put it).

But then I had a thought…

Losing like this is really hard. Releasing our grasp on our abilities is almost a crime, some kind of cruel joke that life plays on us.

(What will happen when I cannot play music anymore?)

It feels a crime and a travesty… Unless it’s all grace in the first place. 

If I never deserved it in the first place, what right do I have to rail and rage and complain when it goes away?

And isn’t this the essence of the Christian life? That actually everything is grace? That life is a gift? That I’m somehow sustained by the love of God that is in Christ? (In his letter to the Colossian church, St. Paul said that Christ holds everything together.)

If it really is all grace—and my spirit and beliefs compel me to agree with this—than the invitation is to learn to surrender everything as is necessary. As life comes to me, at me, through me, and then fades away in the distance, most likely I have been (and will continued to be) called to lay down…

  • the place/city I called “home”
  • my ability to play music all day and night
  • the time and space to create
  • my platform
  • my vocation

Eventually, this list will include things like guitar, friends, family… even driving. Even walking.

But if it was all a gift in the first place, then I never had a right to grasp it. It was never mine. Nothing. 

That’s pretty freeing. But pretty terrifying.

 

Wandering and Practicing.

Faith is practice, and practice is faith.

I crave results; I crave life change and restoration and healing. I pray; I worship; I try to serve.

I trust, and I believe.

And I wait. Wait for things (things meaning ME) to change.

But change is difficult, and seems to come ever so slowly, if at all.

I know in my head that it’s a practice of faith, that it’s training, and training is about learning and trying (even occasionally failing and falling).

But I am ready for the day that I see the transformation that I desire.

Hunger for it. Wait for it.

But even in that hunger, I betray another area of my life that is ripe for growth, because I forget how I got into this mess in the first place. I forget how long it took me to establish my patterns and habits of brokenness.

And therefore, I forget how long it may take me to build habits of humililty and submission to God’s Word and His Spirit.

As my mentor and spiritual guide says, “You didn’t walk into the forest overnight, you will NOT walk out overnight either.”

I can get disheartened by how long REAL change takes. I want it now, just like the rest of my microwave culture.

But for me even part of the essence of my growth is to release expectations and evaluations and to simply show up, to every day renew my faith and trust in this God who is guiding me around, through (and eventually out of) my own little desert.

Even to release those expectations and desire to evaluate is, I guess, some sign of maturity and growth.

Keep walking.

 

The Profound Powerless of Mondo Cozmo’s “Shine”

I’m still a sucker for a heart on its sleeve…

(and a good hook…)

I stumbled across this song a few months ago, back in the spring. I was listening to some Spotify “New Music” playlist, and all of a sudden I heard familiar-but-new sounds: echoes of The Verve and other Brit Pop bands that I’ve always loved.

And then the lyrics started:

Stick with me Jesus through the coming storm,
I’ve come to you in search of something I have lost
Shine down a light on me and show a path
I promise you I will return if you take me back…

Did he just say, “Jesus”? Okay, now I’m really interested…

I confess: I’m not above getting pretty excited whenever I hear someone flirting with the powerful intersection of art and faith. I get even more pumped when I hear someone drop Jesus’ name with some kind of sincerity.

So now I’m definitely hooked.

But then the chorus took me back a bit:

Let ’em get high, let ’em get stoned,
Everything will be alright if you let it go…

Hmmmmm….

So now I’m not so sure.

But the verse lyrics! Still so sincere, so out there (and again with the Jesus!)

My friends are so alone and it breaks my heart
My friends don’t understand we are all lost
Shine down a light on them and show a path
I promise you they will return if you take ’em back

And finally, verse 3:

Come with me Mary through these modern lines
Stick with me Jesus til the end of time
Shine down a light on me and let me know
And take me in your arms and never let me go…

Seriously; what am I supposed to do with this?

When the record came out, I listened, and quickly got taken in. The whole thing really paid off the taste that was “Shine,” with more heart, and vulnerability and a lyrical/musical references and touchpoints that I could easily recognize and resonate with.

But, again… what is up with this tune?

Well, though I believe in lyrical mystery, and I affirm the rights of artists to hold their cards close to their chests, something hit me hard on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back, and so I’m going offer up my interpretation of this tune.

I had preached that morning on “Powerlessness“, and what it meant to surrender our desire to control our environment and our lives.

And then I remembered that a huge part of our lives and our environment is people.

Spouses. Family. Children. Co-Workers.

Friends.

Spouses, family members, children, co-workers, friends, etc. who might choose to “get high”, or who might choose to do any number of things that we really wish they wouldn’t do.

And we are powerless to stop them. (Human beings have this sticky way of eluding our efforts to control them.)

When we are confronted with this ultimate test of our desire to control, we really have to choose:

Am I willing to be powerless over the people who are (a) supremely important to me and yet (b) may make choices (in fact, they usually DO make choices) that at the very least I may disagree with, and at most may be harmful?

It sounds impossible but there is a way out, and here’s the deal:

It’s not simple, but it’s easy. 

We can choose to (a) love them, and (b) cling to our faith.

One of the most powerful ideas I cling to is that *God is infinitely more invested in my friends/family/co-workers/church than I am. *

God loves them more than I ever could.

And that means that I can surrender them. I can be powerless over them…

… And “let it go.”

 

As usual: thanks for reading. I’d love it if you help me grow this space, so please help me by:

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Peace and blessings…

+eric

“Give Us (Me) a King!”

The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles. (1 Samuel Ch 8)

That’s a pretty key moment in the long narrative of the nation of Israel. Up until that moment, though they have been “ruled” by men and women called “Judges,” God—YHWH—has been their king.

But then they make a different choice. They look around, at the world around them, and ask the current judge, Samuel, to find them a king.

After all, everyone else has one.

Samuel tells God what they want, and God actually says to let them have one. He knows what this means…

He knows they are rejecting him as their king… 

When I think about this, it makes me pause: what kind of love and security does it take to accept a rejection from someone so dear?

(From my ongoing counseling, I know that these are some very, very healthy and strong boundaries.)

God can take the rejection (though it certainly hurts). What’s more, on top of the shock of knowing that God can allow His people to turn their back on Him, He is also capable of feeling that pain.

There’s a glimpse here, a hint of some deeper reality:

Maybe, rather than God being a distant far off deity who is eternal and unmovable and utterly unlike us…

Maybe, just maybe, God knows what it’s like to be rejected, AND He knows how to feel it. 

HE FEELS IT. 

This little passage of scripture also says something powerful and poignant about us—or, let’s be honest: about me—and that is simply this:

Kings are always the easy way out. 

Samuel tells the people what a monarchy is going to bring: among other things, standing armies (institutionalized violence) and taxes (economic disparity).

But the people say, “Bring it on.”

And so do I.

I recognize something of myself in Israel’s response, namely that it’s always easier to opt for systems and rules rather than the radical grace and love of God. 

It’s always easier for me to turn my back on God’s radical love and on the idea that everything is grace and instead embrace a subtle tit-for-tat existence with God:

… When I “behave” my life goes well; God makes good things happen.

… When I “sin” my life goes badly; God punishes me by “making me” lose my job, or my relationship, etc., etc.

Why do I do this? For the same reason Israel wants a king: because it’s always tempting to want to be like the world around me. 

The world works this way: when you do well, you’re rewarded; when you blow it, you’re punished.

But, just like in this story, God doesn’t work like the world does:

… When I “behave”, God loves me, but I’m not like a star pupil that gets to sit at the head of the heavenly class. God loves me because His essence is to love. He can’t help it.

… When I sin/stumble/fall/mis-behave/etc., God still loves me. He doesn’t punish me by withdrawing His love, or “making bad things happen” to me.

(This is not to say there aren’t human, real consequences to bad decisions: this is just to say you can’t attribute these things to some kind of heavenly system of justice and scales.)

By the way: this “being like other nations” comes out whenever we post something like, “Got a new car today #blessed.”

Because whether you got a new car today, or your car got re-possessed, you are still #blessed.

All of life is a blessing. We just don’t often see it.

Because that’s the way the world works.

And we want to be like all the other nations.

I woke up this morning to a #blessed reality.

My breath, right this very minute, is a blessing.

It’s all grace.

 

Maybe what you can do, right now, is to pause and acknowledge the ways that God is blessing you.

Your home or apartment? Blessing. 

Your friends? Blessing. 

Your job? Your school? … You got it: Blessing. 

Your life? This moment? 

Sure: the world might think you’re crazy to think this way. But guess what?

You don’t have to be like the world. 

 

Under the mercy,
+e

 

As always: thanks for commenting, sharing, etc.

 

The Spirit Gives THAT Too?

Hey everybody … Just FYI I’m thinking about changing the rhythm of my publishing, from Fridays to Wednesdays. I’m going to experiment with it for a couple weeks, but feel free to let me know if you have a preference or any thoughts. 

I was listening to my friend preach recently, and something struck me about one of the Bible texts he used.

In a message about going out to do something in the world to make a positive impact, he used 2 Timothy 1:7 to talk about our tendency towards fear. Paul wrote to a young leader, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives up power, love and self-discipline.”

The thing that stood out to me was the last phrase: “a spirit of self-discipline.” The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that in this one little sentence Saint Paul sums up virtually the entire purpose of spirituality (at least, when spirituality is lived out practically and thoughtfully).

First of all, I think it’s easy for us to understand the need for the Holy Spirit to give us power and love: that seems like a readily identifiable need for most of us. Besides that, Paul is contrasting the gift of the Spirit with timidity and fear. Most of this should be “old hat” for any of us pursuing the spiritual life: we want supernatural empowerment for courage, love and power.

But then Paul curiously adds that last statement. Why would we need a spirit of self-discipline?

Maybe I’ll write it this way: Why would need a spirit of SELF-discipline?

If the whole point of the Holy Spirit is to empower us from “outside” ourselves, then why does Paul turn it back on to us at the last moment and seemingly put things back in our lap?

Paul is hinting at something that is mostly passed over in discussions about faith, particularly in our modern western context (our ancestors in the faith had a lot of this figured out, fortunately), namely that our spiritual growth depends, in a much more substantial way than we realize, on us arranging our lives in such a way that we can “make room” for God’s Spirit to work in us.

Otherwise why would we need the Spirit to give us the gift of “self-discipline?”

We need the gift of self-discipline to put patterns and habits—like prayer, service, generosity, worship and confession, to mention just a few—into our lives. These patterns then “make room” for the Spirit to move (and, consequently, to give us the power, love and freedom from fear that we crave and need).

So two questions:

  1. In regards to your spiritual life, what’s your level of self-discipline? How diligently and consistently do you pursue habits of prayer and worship, service and generosity?
  2. Have you ever considered asking God for the gift—not just of love and power (or whatever else we tend to ask for: jobs, healing, relationships, provision, rescue, etc.)—but of structure and discipline?

 

Thanks for reading; as usual, please feel free to share and comment.