18 March 2010

Meditation: "Holy Disruptions"

"It's a difficult business, being human." --Wendell Berry

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." --Matthew 10:34

"Perhaps we are more attentive when life is hard." --Jean Blomquist

Dear Friends,

In a blog posting a few weeks ago, I expressed the desire to live a focused life, a life attuned to the presence of God in and through all things. I concluded that posting by suggesting the possibility of "fasting" from electronics for a day as a way to limit distractions and regain focus on things that matter to me.

Well, as many of you know, I went for it.

During the season of Lent, our family is practicing what we are calling "Digital-Free" or "Technology-Free" Fridays. Friday is my day off each week, and on this day we do not turn on the computer or TV or iPod or DVD player. We turn off the cell phones. We are fasting from all of these digital devices, consciously making an effort to not let them distract us. But here's the key...we're doing it not just as a practice of self-denial, but so that we can focus on what matters more deeply to us--time together as a family, relationships, listening, paying attention.

It's been harder than I ever thought it would be. For goodness sakes, it's just one day a week! But countless times that day, I get a little twitchy, wanting to turn on the computer and check email, Facebook, and the like. In the mornings, I find myself--without thinking--moving to flick on the TV and stick my kids in front of it so I can read the paper in peace. (Coming to an awareness of how impulsively I do that to my children really hits hard.) I look at that cell phone and feel a little flutter of anxiety--who has needed me and can't reach me? I go out for a walk or a bike ride and I feel out of sorts without my iPod in my ears to occupy me. Allison and I often end the day watching something on a Netflix DVD--but not on digital free Fridays. And it throws us off a little.

We humans are such distract-able creatures, so prone to routines and habits. Sometimes it takes a little "holy disruption" to help us clearly identify where we crowd out space and time for God, for family, for ourselves--including our own thoughts and feelings. I think Jesus is this kind of "holy disruption" in the lives of those who encounter him. His way of being and speaking knocks things off-kilter, forcing us to see things from a new angle. For some of us, it's annoying. For others, it's liberating. For the rest of us, it's a little of both!

So, even though it's just one day a week, these "digital free Fridays" have been extremely illuminating. Because it has been harder than I anticipated, I am noticing things I wouldn't have otherwise. God has shown me how distract-able I really am. But God has also helped me glimpse what it's like to be a little less distracted. We've experienced more time paying attention to each other as a family, intentionally, on these Fridays. I've had the blessed discovery (hardly earth shattering) that the world does not fall apart while I am away from my email and the cell phone is turned off. Talk about getting put in your place!

What I feel called to next is to take into the rest of the year what I am experiencing and learning during this Lenten fast. The danger is that I will too easily fall back into past patterns of behavior. So, while we are still in Lent, I'm already thinking what happens after Easter. New life, I hope--a life lived a little more fully, more attentive to God and to those around me.

What about you? What "holy disruption" might help you see your life in a new way?

Blessings on your week,


Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for those "holy disruptions" in our lives which reveal to us new opportunities to love you and reach out to those around us. Amen.

03 March 2010

Meditation: "When Faith Bears a Cost"

"When they heard [all that Jesus had to say], all were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill...so that they might hurl him off the cliff." --Luke 4:28-29 (how the crowd responds to Jesus' first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth)

Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." --Luke 14:26-27

"Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dear Friends,

Last week was a tough week. It's a long story, so I'll keep to the very short version. Our local ministerial association was largely in agreement that it felt called to help provide transitional housing for men being released from prison into our community. Every year, men are released from jail on parole into our community--but they have no place to go, and so end up homeless on the streets. Seeing this need and truly believing that men trying to get on a better path after being in prison would benefit from housing and support, our ministerial association wanted to help. A rental house became available and the landlord really wanted the house to be used for this kind of purpose. So our ministerial association began to move forward with plans to utilize this house as a transitional home for men being released from prison on parole. Last week we had a community notification meeting to let the surrounding neighborhood know about the plan and to hear their concerns and questions. We knew it would be contentious. What we didn't realize was just how contentious.

It blew up like a 2-liter of shaken soda pop. Only it wasn't funny and lasted 2 hours.

The hostility of many in the crowd was intense and vocal. Questions could not be answered because of shouting and name calling. People did not listen and only heard what they wanted to hear. People leaped to wild assumptions: "If we let this transitional house go in, our children's throats are going to be slashed" (no joke, one person made that connection) or "If we these people move into our neighborhood, then my kids are going to be exposed to drugs." More than one sentence began, "I'm a Christian, BUT..." More than one sentence ended, "...BUT not in my neighborhood." You get the idea. Though several people asked excellent questions (and actually listened to the response) and others raised very valid concerns, by and large, the tenor of the crowd was extremely hostile and fearful.

I left that meeting shaken and greatly disturbed in Spirit. I've had many thoughts swirling around my head and heart since then. And the question that I have had to ask myself over and over again is this: "Would I want seven men just released from prison to live next door to me?" (To be clear, this proposed transitional house was not in my neighborhood.) On the one hand, like others I would want to say, "No way!" And I'd use the same reasoning: the safety of my children, property values, and all the rest.

But on the other hand, as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I need to think about this differently. I can't just say "No!" Jesus made it clear that being his disciple would bear a cost. That it wouldn't be easy. That it would involve sacrifice. The quote from Luke 14 above is a very hard saying by Jesus--maybe the hardest for me right now. What he seems to be saying is that absolutely nothing, not even family or our own safety, ought to get in the way of being faithful to him. It might just be that faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ means that I must be very careful before I stand in the way of this kind of a project. Should I raise concerns? Yes. Should I ask tough questions? Yes. But I cannot oppose a project that is at its heart a compassionate ministry to people on the margins (the kind of folks Jesus had a special affinity for) without any acknowledgment that my Christian faith may require a different response from me--even if it bears a cost, so to speak. In this case, that cost would be a lower property value and a decreased sense of safety for me and my family.

This gets taken to another level, though. Not only do I think that we can't oppose something like this without considering the cost of discipleship, but I think we also need to consider how we can respond in a more Christ-like manner. So, for instance, if the house next door to mine is used as transitional housing for men being released from prison, the question isn't just, "How do I keep these guys from harming me and my family?" but "How can I offer Christian hospitality to these men--no matter what they've done in the past? How can I reach out in ways that will contribute to their success in getting on a better path in life?" That's the harder question that Jesus-followers must consider.

Too often we forget that living as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ may demand something from us that is truly costly and difficult. That's tough for me--and many others--to accept. But at the same time, there's something profoundly satisfying and deeply meaningful about living our lives without compromising our faith commitments--living utterly committed to the way of Jesus Christ. That's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "costly grace."

During this Lenten season, I pray that God will instill in you the courage to live out your faith commitments to the max.



Prayer: God of Power and Might, grant us courage and wisdom to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, and help us to remember that--in all things--you are our refuge and our rock. Amen.