30 September 2009

Meditation: "Doubt"

Jesus said to him, "...all things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately, the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24)

"Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves." --Rainer Maria Rilke

"Indeed God is mysterious...In the end, it is not this mystery that keeps us from God. The mystery is in fact part of what draws us to God." --Gregory S. Clapper

*****

Dear Friends,

For me personally, I've discovered an unexpected downside to Facebook. (For those who don't know, Facebook is an internet social-networking site.) I cannot fault Facebook for this one because, honestly, it's my issue. So here it is--visiting the profile pages of "friends" on Facebook stirs up the latent doubts in my heart about my Christian faith.

Why? Because so few people of my generation have anything to do with religion generally, Christianity in particular, and the church even more specifically. I read the Facebook profiles of people from high school and college and very few, if any, appear to have anything to do with a church much less religion. More than a few express negative or even hostile sentiments about religion. I am often impressed with the amazing things people my age have done and are doing--they are educators, doctors, environmentalists. But there's not much there in the realm of religion. Not to over-generalize from my poking around Facebook (although statistics do bear this out), but by and large people in their 20's and 30's don't have much to do with "organized religion" (which is a weird phrase itself--I've never experienced authentic religious experiences as very "organized").

Of course, my life is immersed in the church. As a pastor, not a day goes by when I am not encountering scripture or thinking about God or striving to practice my Christianity. And so I feel a bit like an odd-ball, out-of-step with my generation, kind of a curiosity. That which is central to my life is peripheral, at best, to so many others my age.

And so my latent doubt is stirred up and I wonder: "Am I fooling myself?"

But here's the deal: I just can't let go of this God thing. On a level that my rational brain cannot fully process, I feel in my guts that God is real and that--for me--Jesus Christ is the Way to connect with that God-reality. Yes, I have doubts and questions--more than I care to own up to. Yes, there is unbelief in my believer's heart. There are days when I imagine what it would be like to not go to church, to make decisions in life apart from my Christianity--and it feels exceedingly strange. The sense I have is that my life would be impoverished, less meaningful. And even trying to imagine this is, for me, ultimately a futile exercise. My own being is so inextricably linked with the faith of Jesus Christ that trying to separate them would be like trying to take the red out of red. It wouldn't be red anymore.

The quote above resonates so much for me--the mystery of God, rather than being a barrier, is what draws me to God. In that mystery there is space--for belief and unbelief alike--space for questions and doubt and awe and wonder and passion and fervent prayer. That's a space I can inhabit, where I can make a home. A place where I can be still and know...that God is.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of Mystery, when doubt is stirred in my heart, grant me patience and peace. By your Spirit, lead me "out of the question, and into the mystery."*


* A lyric from David Wilcox's song "Into the Mystery"

24 September 2009

Meditation: "New Every Morning"

"What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark / No longer stings... Because Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things / Grace finds beauty in everything" --closing lyrics of the song "Grace" by U2

"Morning by morning new mercies I see..." --the old hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas Chisholm

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them...and said, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" --Luke 24:2-4, 5b

***

Dear Friends,

Do you ever have a day when you just feel ugly? And I don't mean physically ugly. I mean ugly inside--grumpy, frustrated, angry, impatient--a "slam-the-door and holler" kind of day?

I've had a few of those of late. Not everyone has them, I suspect, but plenty do. For me, when I get to the end of the day that's been lousy, when I've felt irritable and angry and impatient, the temptation is to look back on the day and say, "What a waste of a day," and then feel even *more* ugly inside. Not often enough do I have the spiritual fortitude to look back on it all and take a deep breath and let it all go. Not often enough do I remind myself that God's grace is always moving in and around me, seeking to draw out the beauty and transform the ugly. Not often enough do I remind myself that the next morning, by the grace of God, I'll encounter new mercies, fresh glimpses of God's goodness.

How's this for an affirmation of faith: There is no "ugliness" that, ultimately, will not be transformed by the overwhelming grace of God.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of daily mercy, when shadows fall over me and I feel "ugly", may your renewing grace seep into my soul and reveal the goodness underneath. Amen.

10 September 2009

Meditation: "Indestructible"

"People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'" (Mark 10:13-14)

****

Dear Friends,

I am regularly struck by the vulnerability of my fifteen month old daughter. "Well, duh, Jeremy!" you may be thinking. But there are times--when I am changing her or bathing her or even just carrying her down the street--that I am particularly aware of how vulnerable she is. She is so helpless. Without a protective, caring person in her life all manner of terrible things could happen to her.

In my own mind, I tend to distinguish myself from her. She is a baby and vulnerable. I, however, am a grown-up and strong--I can look after myself! (Again, "Well, duh, Jeremy!"). But what I think I fail to appreciate is just how vulnerable I am, too--in different ways than a baby, but vulnerable nonetheless. I may not be in my 20's any longer and so have shed my youthful notions of being "indestructible," and yet sometimes I still have this sense that bad stuff won't happen to me.

But heart wrenching things happen to people of all ages every day. No matter what illusions we have, the truth is that we are all vulnerable and none of us is indestructible.

When Jesus gathers children around himself and tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to them, what I think he is reminding us is that it is in our vulnerability that we can fully appreciate and grasp the nature of God's love for us. It is not through our illusions of strength or power, but in our vulnerability that God is revealed. And so if we wish to have a deeper, fuller experience of God, then at some point we must be willing to acknowledge that we are indeed vulnerable and that it is only by the grace of God that we rise to each new day.

So when I become aware of my daughter's vulnerability as I care for her, it is for me a little glimpse of God, a small reminder that it's OK for me to be a vulnerable, fragile human being--because that is how God created us and where God meets us.

Prayer: God, welcome me, a fragile human being, into your presence just as Jesus welcomed children into his embrace. Amen.

Blessings, Jeremy

02 September 2009

Meditation: "Living with Incompleteness"

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

"Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope makes you see God's guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

***

Dear Friends,

There are many aspects of serving as the pastor of a church that I appreciate very, very much -- the privilege of being invited into people's lives at moments of vulnerability, the blessings of being in community with other people seeking to love and serve Jesus, the awesome desserts at church potlucks -- to name a few. But there is one aspect of serving as a pastor that does not match my personality well at all. The job is never, ever finished.

You see, I am a linear-thinking, list-making, "concrete" kind of a guy. I like closure. Nothing gives me more pleasure than having a task before me, tackling it, finishing it, and then stepping back and looking at what I have accomplished and saying to myself, "Nice job! Check it off the list. What's next?" This summer I built a retaining wall behind my house. It was a huge job, but I felt an equally huge amount of satisfaction when it was finally done.

As a pastor, there is always more to do. The "job" is never done. There is always another sermon to write, another class to prepare to teach, another step to take when pursuing the mission of the church. Sometimes it feels like I'm always "on the way" and never "there." Come to think of it, this is how I feel about parenting as well. As my children grow and develop and move through their unique stages of development, we never arrive at some final destination. We're always on the move towards the next stage and it will be a long time (if such a moment ever comes) before I can step back, look at my children, and say, "Raise well-adjusted children? Check! What's next?"

Spiritually this is an important thing for me to know about myself. Because if I want to "arrive" at a destination -- spiritual maturity, deep wisdom, "perfection" (in the words of John Wesley), whatever -- and I never do, then frustration isn't far behind. And frustration leads to either anger or apathy--both of which lead to a kind of hopelessness and are destructive in their own way.

The invitation to me is to grow in my capacity to be comfortable with "incompleteness," to understand that the process of "becoming" the human being God calls me to be is never over. And so I pray that God will grant me the patience--for patience is what I need--to let all things unfold in their own time, in their own way. To be right where I am instead of always restlessly wanting to move on to some imagined "destination". To be patient with others in their incompleteness, too, so that they are free "to become" and my love will be unconditional. To trust that all the incompleteness in my life and this world will be, one day, fulfilled and brought to glorious completion by God.

Blessings on your week,

Jeremy

Prayer: Ever creating God, please give me patience with all that feels "unfinished" in my life so that I may experience wonder and joy at what you are doing, right here, right now. Amen.