Monday, March 28, 2016

5 Great Books On Creativity & Faith


In his book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote, "The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out)." His words strike a chord with all of the following authors who have written about creativity and their faith. For any writer, any reader, any artist, or musician the first step must always be for them to get out of the way and surrender to the work itself and, ultimately, to the Creator in whom we join whenever we ourselves undertake to create art or to appreciate art. Art, ultimately, should draw us to God, even when it is secular.  The following books all show us this .


1. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle. This book tops my list and it's the one I go back to time and time again. I love how L'Engle writes that creating in any form (whether it be painting, composing, or writing) is an attempt towards wholeness. She writes, "But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of career." To be an artist means one has to listen, to be aware, and to respond to God's creation through one's art form.


2. Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture by Makoto Fujimura. One of my favorite modern artists, Fujimura writes, "All artists depend on faith. By that, I mean all creativity requires a faith toward something in the future, or faith in communication itself." This work shows how an artist can impact culture. His meditations cover everything from Japanese aesthetics to 9/11 to William Blake to the film Finding Neverland. I love the line, "Beauty often resides in the peripheries of our lives," Like L'Engle, he stresses awareness: both listening to and noticing the world around us to create our art from. 


3. Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers. Although she was best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Sayers was also a poet, playwright, translator and good friend to both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. This book is a mediation on language and it's amazing how Sayers is able to present the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with the three elements of creation (Idea, Creative Energy and Creative Power). When artists are compelled to create this draws them closer to God, the ultimate Creator.  As she writes about why man is impelled to make art, Sayers also answers questions such as "Why am I here?" and "Who am I?" 


4. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor. She is one of my favorite writers and, like Habit of Being, this is a profound work by a writer who focuses on craft, creation, and Christianity. She writes, "There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored." Like all of O'Connor's work, I am constantly amazed each time I reread her fiction or nonfiction and I come away with my faith challenged and strengthed by her insights.


5. Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card. He writes that an artist struggles to take what is unseen and make it seen. Card believes that art can be an act of engaging in a redeemed vision, that this act of creation is at its root an act of faith, and that it correlates to the New Testament faith of "things hoped for." The artists translates these "things hoped for" using words or paint or music. These essays show how God is a creator and invites artists to join in this creation. 

These are my recommendations, if you have any of your own, please comment and let me know.




Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection


"He is alive!"

"He is alive, indeed!"

This is the Truth of Easter Sunday.

It was love that brought the Incarnation. Utterly incomprehensible Incarnation. Both God and man. The Divine and the human in one form. Came as an infant. Helpless and reliant on his birth mother. Mary suckling God at her breast. What must that be like to know that the baby at your breast has been since before time, that this is the Messiah of the world, and knowing what his future holds?

Love that led Christ to spend his entire ministry teaching that Love is the higher law.

Love that allowed him to spend three years teaching intimately twelve men, knowing that one would betray him and one would deny him, and that all but one would flee from him during his hours of need.  Love that had him wash all of their feet so that they might understand that Love is service not being served. Love was breaking of bread and drinking of wine so that they would always remember his great act of Love in two common, everyday items.

It was Love that had him praying in the garden, "If it be Your will" and accepting that will, despite the anguish and pain it would cause both body and soul. Then to accept the betrayer's kiss, call of Peter's violence, "Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword" (Love over violence), and then heal the ear of the guard.

Love allowed him to stoically stand in silence through a sham trial, to take the lashes and the cruel jeers, to submit to a mock crown whose thorns embedded themselves deep in his scalp, and to carry the cross of our shame to a hill where Love, not nails, kept him hanging there and legions of angels at bay, unable to act.

Love took him to death and to hell to show those in Sheol that even they were not beyond his Grace. In the depths, was Judas one who heard and, now, believed that Love was greater than his betrayal?

Love was what rolled away the stone and left the tomb empty.

Love is what overcame death and the grave and our feeble disbelief and doubts, like Thomas, we, too said, "If I could but see and touch . . ."

In that Resurrection, we found that Truth exists.
In that Resurrection, we found that Justice reigns down.
In that Resurrection, we found out that Faith, Hope and Love are more than mere ideas but reality.

That is the Truth of Easter: that Love has won and will continue to do so even beyond the edges of time. It is a Love that unfathomable, inexhaustible, incorruptible, immense, and without end.

"He is alive!"

"He is alive, indeed!"

Forever and ever, Amen.






Saturday, March 26, 2016

As A Father Reflecting On Good Friday


As a father there is nothing more that I want to do than to spare my boys pain. There is nothing more difficult as a parent than to watch your children suffer or hurt. One of the hardest things as an adoptive parent is to know that there are so many hidden wounds and hurts that you can never heal. Yet when one of my sons is hurt and they cry out, "Papa!" I run to them. I cannot bear their pain and would willingly take it on me rather than they go through it. When you truly love someone, you would take on their pain willingly. And my love is an imperfect love. 

What is harder for a parent than rushing their child to the emergency room? 

There's nothing worse than hearing the child's cries as he or she cries, pleads, and begs you not to leave them. That moment when you have to let go of their hand as the doctors and nurses wheel them away from you, behind doors where you cannot go. The deep suffering that hurts like no other hurt you have ever felt. Such desperate prayers are prayed as you wait. The waiting. The waiting is part of the suffering. The not knowing. The wanting only for a doctor to come out and say, "It's all right. Your child is fine . . ."

So I cannot even begin to fathom our Heavenly Father's heartbreak at hearing His only son cry out in agony,  "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?) or "Papa, Papa, where are You? Why won't you come to me?"

"For God so loved . . ."

It's a verse that is so familiar that we forget what it really means until we come to remember on Good Friday. This was not some soft, sentimental Hallmark kind of love. It is a brutal, violent, bloody and costly love. 

"This is My son in whom I'm well pleased," God spoke over Christ at his baptism. How much more He must have thought these words as the Word hung there on the cross for us. 


In William Blake's poem "Jerusalem," he wrote, "We become what we behold."  

Are we able to truly behold the cross? 

Are we willing to stare at the scars, wounds, blood and suffering without turning away? 

Are we willing to stare at the human and the Divine up there on that cross because God so loved? 

All anguish. All suffering. A love so deep and so wide that it bore the weight of our sins.  If we are to truly be his disciples behold him there in all of his pain. We must. Why? Because to love others, we must first see what real love is. 

There on that cross, God asks us, "Do you not see what Love costs?" 

You cannot call it love if there is no sacrifice involved.

Sacrifice is not a popular idea in relationships today. If it doesn't feel good, move on. But real love requires a daily sacrificing in a myriad of ways, of putting someone else first. A husband or wife should do this for their spouse. Parents willingly sacrifice for their children. And there is no more painful death to a parent than the loss of a child. 

But what kind of a love willing sacrifices a communion that existed before time?  


"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

Tears must have rolled down Abba's cheeks as He heard His son's lament.  This heart cry as those around him mocked and gloated at his suffering. The Father who runs to embrace His prodigal son cannot even embrace His only Son in this moment. He can offer no comfort, no gentle words, nothing. His love is so great that He can only listen because He so loved the world . . .

And in that pain, the veil was torn. I can't help but think of this as the sorrow of a parent. Certainly in biblical times they mourned by tearing their garments and throwing ashes on themselves. Was this God mourning His son? And in that mourning, the veil was torn so that no barrier stood between us and our Father. 

What must the grief of God be like?

It is powerful enough to let His son die on a cross that we might be reconciled to Him.

Heavenly Father, 

You love as I cannot love nor will ever be able to love. Your love is so much greater and, for that, I am eternally grateful but cannot adequately express my gratitude for no words can reach the depth of the Truth that came at the cost of the cross. Neither height nor depth can keep us from that ever reaching love that was willing to give all that we might be called Your sons and daughters. Yet we could not live unless he died. Such love could never be understood but can only transform those who accept it daily knowing only that all is Grace and can only be Grace. 

As a Papa to two sons, I embrace them more tightly knowing how openly You gave Yours. 

My love can never be enough but may my feeble imitation of love point them to Yours. 

Thank you, Abba.








Friday, March 25, 2016

God Forsaken


"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?)

Jesus' heartbreaking and haunting words on the cross. Words of abandonment. Of sorrow.

They come from the opening of Psalm 22 and were written by David. In both cases the repetition of "My God, my God" reveal the depths of the agony he's in and it is an honestly bold questioning of God. It's a gut-wrenching wondering of, "Where are you? Why have you abandoned me?" This was a moment where David felt alone, where his enemies were seeking to take his life, and it's a desperate cry as he then asks, "Why are you so far from saving me?"

How many of us are this honest when we pray?

In the midst of severe trials (when a marriage is crumbling, when the cancer's returned, when a child has been tragically killed, when battling the depths of depression), we wonder may inwardly wonder but never outwardly cry out these very words.

To be forsaken means to be abandoned or deserted. It means to renounce or turn away from.

Both definitions are harsh, especially at the idea that it is our loving Father who is doing this. How can a loving God not be with us in the midst of our suffering?

Fleeing from his enemies, David cried out in despair.

A darkness covered the land as Jesus cried out those words. This was an anguish of more than mere bodily suffering but a suffering of the soul.

Both were the focus of derision, jeering, cruel taunts. Both heard others insulting them and mockingly asking, "He (David) trusts in the Lord, let him deliver him" or "He (Jesus) trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants, for he said, 'I am the Son of God'."

There may be those in our lives, who, during our suffering, ask, "Where is your God?"

"Why doesn't He heal you?"

"Why did He let your marriage fail?"

"Why did He let your child die?"

The goodness of God is always questioned whenever there is suffering. What they fail to understand is that He is there in the midst of our suffering because He understands it better and more deeply than all of us: as He watched His own Son die an agonizing, excruciating death at the hands of His own creation. A creation that mocked, spit on and ridiculed Him.

Christ understands our suffering, our darkness, and the depths of our pain. When we are at our most vulnerable, when we feel the most abandoned and alone, Jesus is there in our midst. "I understand," he whispers. I am with you always."

On that cross he took on all of our sins, sufferings and our sorrows.

When our spouse walks out the door for good, He is there.

When our child is arrested and we feel like we've failed as parents, He is there.

When the doctor tells us, "I'm afraid the news isn't good . . .," He is there.

When we are in that "night season," as David called it, He is there.

When that friend we thought was so close abandons us, He is there.

When the suffering is so strong that we can feel it in our bones, in the innermost parts of ourselves, He is there.

When we cannot find the words to pray, cannot find solace in church, cannot hear the hymns , He is there.

When our unbelief is greater than our belief, He is there.

No matter what the affliction and  pain, no matter how scared we are, no matter how silent we think Him, He is there.

As one who has watched his mother die of cancer, who has struggled in the absolute lowest pits of depression, I know that this promise is true.

Our wounds are His wounds. All of them. Along with all of our sins, Jesus took on all of our sorrows.

Why?

Because God so loved us. . .

His love is one that shed blood. His love is one that is born in the fire of suffering. Nothing we go through is alien to Him.

Jesus' suffering gives voice to our own.

When we are surrounded, when we feel like the last ounce of us has been poured out, when we feel we have nothing left, when our throats are unable to form words, when our strength is failing . . .

As David wrote in the last part of verse 21, "You have answered me."

And what is his answer?

"My child, I am with you."

No matter what the outcome to the circumstance,  he will say, "I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you."

You are not alone.

Ever.



Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Terrifying Beauty Of Christ's Love


We are approaching Easter: that moment of the most ephemeral and beautiful act of loving sacrifice in the history of the universe. And there it is, all laid out, in the last supper. Jesus spoke of his blood and his body broken and for them to eat it. How shocking these words must have been in a culture that saw blood as taboo and made one unclean. Yet here was Christ telling them that to be clean was to drink his blood and eat his body. 

In this meal, Jesus took two of the staples of their meals (bread and wine) and gave them a deeper, more transcendent meaning. "Lechem" the Hebrew word for bread was synonymous with food. Making bread during the time of Jesus was time consuming (turning grain into flour, flour into dough, and then cooking the bread on the inside of a tannur (a large clay oven). 


Bread was a primary source of nourishment in their culture. "Give us this day our daily bread" is about giving what is necessary for life. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus said, "I am the bread of life?" Bread was sacred and that is why it was broken and not cut (That's why a meal is referred to as breaking bread together). Jews would even pray, "Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem, min ha aretz" (Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has brought forth bread from the earth). 

Yet here is Christ, at the beginning of their Passover Seder, giving thanks and saying, "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me." 

Did his disciples hesitate? Did they fully grasp the meaning of Jesus' words or where they baffled by this like they were so much of his teaching? 


Traditionally, in Judaism, wine or "oinos" was symbolic of joy. Blessings are said before drinking wine either in the home or in synagogue. But wine, in the Passover Seder, symbolized freedom from bondage under the Egyptians.

During the meal, Jews drink four cups of wine:

1; The first cup is called the cup of sanctification. 
2. The second is the cup of plagues.
3. The third is the cup of redemption.
4. The last is the cup of completion.

Here Jesus is saying as he holds the cup, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." 

After the meal, did the disciples still misunderstand? Probably. Inside, they might still be wondering which of them is the greatest, still trying to get why Jesus was talking about his blood being shed and body being broken if he was the Messiah, and yet, even in thir lack of understanding, the Truth was planted and would dwell within them. 

"When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

What hymn?

Jesus and his disciples would have sung the Hallel or praise Psalms, 

Psalm 116?

"The snares of death encompassed me, the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: O Lord, I beg you, save my life." A Psalm that would very much be like the agonized prayers Jesus would pray in the garden. "If it be thy will, take this cup from me . . . " 

Psalm 118? "The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation."

"Take eat." "Take drink." Simple words but with such profound and eternal meaning. Lost on those who actually celebrated passover with Jesus. Christ did what he always did and took the common and revealed the divine with them. 

Bread and Wine. Symbols of a meal. 

Blood and Body. Symbols of our salvation. Symbols of  sacrificial love. Love by violence. Horrific violence that continues to reverberate in its shockingness today. Yet it was the shedding of his blood and the breaking of his body that would bring about the διαθήκης or new covenant. 

When we break bread, time is broken. Commonplace becomes sacred space. The table is an altar. Bread and wine go from merely filling a stomach to filling a soul with the terrifying beauty of Christ's eternal love for us. In that moment time and eternity meet as we do in remembrance of him. 


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Blessed Are The Peace-Poets


In the Beatitudes, Jesus states, "Blessed are the peacemakers . . ."

Peacemakers in the Greek is "eirenpoios" or "peace poets."

I love that idea: peace poets.

When I read that phrase, I immediately thought of the poet Mary Oliver's writing the lines, "Wage peace." Blessed are the peacemakers for they will wage peace. Oliver adds, "Wage peace with your listening."  How much more peace would there be in this world if we did less of the talking and more of the listening?  In Greek the word for listening is akoúō which means to comprehend. That is more than a passing listen but to truly hear someone with the intent of understanding why they are saying what they are saying or not saying. Often we can hear more in a person's silence than in their words, in what they don't say. The poet Anne Sexton said that to write a poem, "Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard."

To "listen hard" to one's soul requires discipline because one has to be still, be mindful, and to actually listen. All of these things are spiritual acts. "Be still, and know I'm God" scripture tells us. The Talmud also says that "Peace" is one of the names of God. He prizes peace so highly that it is one of His very names. That's why Jesus tells us that, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God." When we work for peace, we are striving to be like our Father Peace. To be in peace is to see the world as beautiful, as others in the image of God. Peace is God's vision of well-being for creation.


A poet is someone who distills a moment, an image, or a feeling into such preciseness of words that the reader must also bring to the poem their own selves so that the spirit of the poet and the spirit of the reader co-mingle into meaning. Poets are keen observers who tells us: Pay attention! Take notice!

Because of Wordsworth, I cannot pass by daffodils and not think of his poem, which I memorized in school and had to recite in front of the class. I will even recite part of it whenever I see them. Usually it's my favorite lines:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Read that wonderful poem and see if you cannot think of it whenever you see daffodils; in fact, it will make you notice daffodils. Poets do that. They draw our attention to something common and make it transcendent, so that every bush is a flaming one if we only really see it.


One of the best at doing this is Emily Dickinson, my patron saint. Diminutive Miss Dickinson with her chestnut hair and amber eyes looked out at the world contained in her garden and she saw what no one else dared to see. She encapsulated deep truths at a tiny desk that was only seventeen and a half inches across. From there, in the span of six years, she secretly composed 1800 poems. In those poems she showed herself to be an acute observer who saw minute, momentary events that most would not have seen and saw in those brief glimpses the divine contained in them. She could do this with a slant of light in a room, a bumblebee, a fly, or a hummingbird.  It reminds me of Jesus telling us all, "Notice the flowers of the field . . . Notice the birds of the air . . ." Most of us nod and forget, but the true poet hears that call and sees it as one that reveals the kingdom of God. 

By giving anything our closer attention, we are enriching our own spiritual life. We are seeing the handiwork of a poet God who creates all through Word. The Word even takes on flesh to dwell with us. Incarnation as poetry. What rich poetic images those are. Jesus even asks us to look more closely at him with, "And who do you say I am?" or "How do you see me?" This means pay attention, don't take for granted, and that it is not enough for us to just look but for us to see. 

To notice something is to give it value. To name it, is to give it worth. The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen understood this when he wrote, "The task of the poet is to make clear to himself, and thereby to others, the temporal and eternal questions which are astir in the age and community to which he belongs." 

Why?

Because when the poet does they are creating  poems that reverberate and resonate deeply within the reader who senses the truth behind the words. It forms a kind of communion between the poet and the reader. Most of the poets I cherish are ones who mingle science, theology and life in their poetry. Often it balances between faith and doubt. 

Poetry is what I turn to when I find myself in a place where I cannot pray and cannot read scriptures. So many times in my life when I could not go to the sacred it changes shape and comes to me in the form of poetry. In poems I find myself coming into contact with and being drawn in by the holy mystery of the Divine within the poems themselves. Why is this? Because the poet strives to get at the mystery and meaning of a thing; be it themselves, another person, or something in nature. The lyric poet William Blake was obsessed with God and adored Jesus. It was he who wrote:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wildflower
Hold infinity in the Palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour

There is such beauty in such theology. This could have been written by a Psalmist or prophet. The images Blake writes connects us to something greater, our Creator. It fills us with humility, yearning and awe. Great poetry does that. As Mary Oliver wrote, " . . . holiness is visible entirely." 

When I cannot pray, I read poems aloud and find that they are prayers.

When I am in doubt and full of questions, I find that being in such a state is not only okay it deepens my faith because it requires more trust. I like how the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves . . .
Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it, live along some distant day
into the answer.

I love that! We can live in our questions, love them instead of fearing them, and trust that one day we may get those answers. God doesn't give us the answer then because we are not yet ready for it because we cannot live it yet. 

In Hebrew the word for peace is "Shalom" and they use it as a greeting of hello and goodbye. Shalom means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, and tranquility.  That is the art and craft of poetry. Poetry finds the sacred in the secular. A great example of this is how the Psalmist gave us the image of God as a shepherd. He took the commonplace, the lowliest of jobs, and raised it to the divine nature of God. How much this must have delighted God, who is the lover of words? He must've laughed with joy and cried out, "YES! David gets it!" Is it any wonder then that David is called a man after God's own heat?

Mary Oliver said, "Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable." That is great advice for all us, from the poet to the theologian to the mother or office worker to the teacher to the student. In the unimaginable we find God. He is beyond our understanding and we cannot look on Him directly, but we can find the transformational power of God in the world that was formed by His words. It is to be like Jacob who found that in the ordinary landscape of the desert was the sacred: a ladder of angels ascending and descending from heaven to earth. How many of us miss such things because we are too busy to be still and pay attention?


That's why we need poets: to remind us to notice that the world is full of miracles. Is it any wonder then that "Blessed are the peace-poets?"


The painting at the beginning of this post is entitled "Golden Fire" by the artist Makoto Fujimura who is in the video.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Leaving Evangelicalism (And Embracing The Gospel)


Recently Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote tin an article for The Washington Post that he no longer wanted to be identified as an "evangelical." His reasoning?  "The word 'evangelical' has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ." He went on to say that he wanted to be called a "gospel Christian."  And I'm with him.

The word "evangelical" has now become too closely entwined with a political party to the point of, for lack of a better analogy, "damaging the brand." Evangelicals for too long have been so identifying themselves with Republicans to the point that it has become their message instead of that of Christ. First and foremost, we should be about a savior and not a political leader and the kingdom over the country. Certainly I have found myself an independent who doesn't feel connected into either the Republican or Democratic parties. I am too liberal for many conservatives and too conservative for many liberals. (Though I think there will be those who will use words like those to dismiss what I'm about to write). 

What do I mean by this?

I am a strong believer in social justice as it is a thread that runs deeply from Old to New Testament. God has so closely identified Himself with the least of these (poor, widows, orphans, refugees, immigrants, outsiders, and outcasts). Biblical social justice has two components: personal and national repentance. First, we admit our own sins and then the sins of our nation. We live in a country and culture that does not want to do either. 

Too often I hear about how our country is no longer a "Christian" nation, but if one takes an honest look at our history we have never fully been. Instead of embracing the truth of Christ and living out his gospel, we have often chosen our comfort over our convictions. Thomas Jefferson is a prime example of this. He could write "All men are created equal" but he could not live this principle out. Why?  Because he understood that his wealth was built on the backs of his slaves. We cannot call ourselves Christians when we cannot face the sins of our country: slaughtering of Native Americans, bringing Africans over as slaves, internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, segregation, inequality for women (even in the church), racism, and a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor.  



As Christians, we should not have a strident nationalism that is unconcerned with the welfare and peace of other countries. We cannot keep using up resources and wealth in pursuit of the American dream at the cost of others. As Gandhi once said, "We must live simply so that others may simply live." We are called to be disciples not consumers. We should change our mindset from "have" to "be.' We must be wary of our interpretation of scripture being skewed by our own western entitlement. We must ask ourselves, "Would believers in the Third World find our gospel to be true? Would they even recognize our Christ? Or have we remade him in our own image?" Are we simply enforcing the status quo of the elite?  To be true priests of Christ, we must abandon our privilege. 

Americans make up only 5% of the world's population and yet we use up 20% of the world's energy, eat 15% of the world's meat, 15% of the world's sugar, and produce 40% of the world's garbage. While in many Third World countries people die from unclean drinking water, the average American family uses 552 gallons of water each day and we waste 11,000 gallons each day. In Africa, their uses for water are 85% agricultural, 10% for household use, and 5% for industry (in the U.S. that is over 50%).   If everyone in the world consumed like Americans do, we wouldn't survive. How does this show the world the gospel? How can we speak of the love of Christ when we are greedily consuming and are unconcerned about others throughout the earth? How can our over consumption of food speak of a loving God when 250 million people die of hunger related causes every day?


I am pro life. By this, I not only mean in terms of the life of an unborn child, but also I don't believe in the death penalty and I am a pacifist in many cases of war. There are times when we must fight (World War II is a prime example of this), but we have become a country where war is big business. 

God has called us to be good stewards of this earth and I think too many Christians do not want to own up to the responsibility of this. Too many of them willfully deny any scientific claim that we have an impact on global warming (according to numerous scientific polls 97% of the world's scientists believe in it). 

Why are we only concerned about the impact our country's debt will have on our children and grandchildren but not the earth we are leaving them?  Why does it not concern us whether or not we leave them an earth that's sustainable for life?  This is not some liberal environmentalism but simple good stewardship of the creation of God that He called "good" and left for us to tend, not destroy. America has had a 51% negative impact on the environment, which is greater than that of 5 of the other top countries.



One of the best Christians to read on this issue of our needing to go back and be connected to our land and the food we grow and eat is Wendell Berry. I love what he wrote in his book The Art of the Commonplace:

I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always towards wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God. 

So if our world was created out  of love, then we, as followers of Christ, must also approach the earth with the utmost of care, with personal and national responsibility (thinking generationally and not just immediate needs and wants). We must foster its renewal. 

We must be a voice for the voiceless. Speak up and defend the fatherless, the widow, the refugee, the immigrant, the sojourner, the poor. These are the people embraced in the prophetic imagination of the Old Testament and of Christ because they are at the heart of God. He has a special place of tenderness for them, for their suffering, for their brokenness. That's why Jesus said, "Whatever you've done for the least of these, you've done for me." As Messiah, as Savior he identified himself not with the rich and powerful, not with the mighty and successful but with those at the bottom of society. He accepted the rejected. He embraced the unwanted. So, too, then must we if we are to truly call ourselves his disciples. Nor can we support companies that exploit the poor in Third World companies.


We must be good listeners and not just good talkers. The novelist George Eliot wrote, "It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view." Are we? We should stop and consider what others have to say. Hear their questions (and not take all questions as doubt or confrontation) and not dismiss them. Hear what and why they believe or don't believe what they do, and to understand that conversations can be great opportunities. This is where the Church can go from being wound makers to wound healers. Our faith should be marked by mercy, compassion and honest vulnerability.


We must move beyond the mega church mentality. Our faith should resemble that of Jesus and not TV preachers who promote a message centered on God serving us instead of us serving God. Our passion should be driven by a love of him and not of possessions. 


The basis of our actions should be rooted in and shaped by scripture and not social media, political pundits, or Conservative or Liberal news outlets. We also sound theologically juvenile when we refer to the President as "Satan." How many dismiss our faith not because of Jesus but because we come across as harsh, strident and adversarial? 


We should ask ourselves:


How often do we complain about our political leaders?

How often do we pray for them (of both parties)?
Which are we called to do?
How much different would our country be if we did pray for them more?

The Church should be at the forefront of social justice just as it was during the time of Acts. Just as William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to end slavery, so, too, should we do the same today when slavery and human trafficking are even more prevalent. I see this in the work of Gary Haugen and International Justice Missions. 




Jesus affirmed the ministry of women, so why doesn't his Church? We should be championing gender equality. Look at the role of Tabitha or Dorcas as a disciple, Phoebe (who Paul refers to as a minister at the church in Cenchrea, Lunia as an apostle, and Apphia the leader of a home church. Women were very much a part of Jesus' own ministry. Mary Magdalene even helped fund him.  

Some may ask, "What does all of that have to do with the gospel?"


I believe that we do not have to work for grace, but once we have experienced grace from that will flow works.  As James 2 tells us, "Faith without works is dead." When we embrace the gospel, we will then embrace others. We will be stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. Never once does Jesus put up a wall between himself and others, so how can we?


In 125 AD, Aristides wrote to the Emperor Hadrian, who had commissioned him to find out why Christianity was spreading so rapidly. Here is some of what he wrote to the Emperor:


. . . they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not; without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in . . .


Does this sound at all like the modern Church? Especially the Evangelical church?


Now, whenever I've had this discussion with another believer, I tend to get, "You are not a Southern Baptist!" And, in many ways, they're right.


I can often feel disconnected from those around me. 


You see, I grew up Presbyterian, then in the Word of Faith movement (don't get me started on that one), and then Pentecostal. Yet I have often found my faith strengthened, enriched, and deepened by those who are Catholic, Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Quaker among other traditions. I have found much to gain from their liturgies, rituals and ways of worshipping (including the use of silence - something many modern churches are truly afraid of embracing).


I have been impacted by the long rich history of the Church. The men and women who have shaped and breathed the Spirit of God into it century after century.  I have been impacted by Saint Francis and Francis Chan. I have gone to the spiritual well and drank of the Spirit from the works of Saint Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Simone Weil, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Madeleine L'Engle, Richard J. Foster, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Brennan Manning, Walter Brueggemann, Lauren Winner among others.  Along with the traditions I grew up in, I also love embracing others (centering prayer, lectio divina, meditation on the word and nature of God, being still, silent and mindful, of understanding cultural context for scriptures and striving to get at the heart of them so that they can continue to change me more into the likeness of Christ).




One of my favorite modern examples of what a Christian should be like is Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers was an educator, puppeteer, Presbyterian minister, author and activist. He was a man of authentic gentleness and compassion. "Love isn't a state of perfect caring," he once said, "It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." That is precisely what Jesus did when he walked the earth. He loved people and he loved them into the kingdom.  In many ways, Mister Rogers has been a role model for me in how I handle Cava.  To calm him down, I have to be calm and speak in a soft and soothing manner. In my head, I hear Mister Roger's voice and try to mimic it. It's amazing how much that works.

While we were watching Mister Rogers' show one day, Cava said, "I wish  he was my neighbor."


"Why is that?" I asked.


"Because he makes me feel accepted and special just as I am even when I don't feel that way." he answered.


That's how Jesus made others feel and that's how we should be responding to those around us. There is great strength in loving. Jesus drew sinners to him. The Greek word for this is
eggizó which means to bring near, to draw someone close to you, like a mother does her child. They are drawn to him. They approach him. 


But do we see others being drawn to us? 

Do they approach us? 



Does this mean I always feel like I fit in in my own church?

No.


Yet despite this, I feel tethered to my church.


I love the community. I love the people. I love how they love the Bible and long to live it out in our area, in our nation, and in our world. 

Is it perfect?

No, but no church will be.


Why?


Because imperfect people will always be in them (I chief among them). 


But to make an impact in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our world then there must be authenticity. Our theologies must impact our biographies. That means we have to live out the gospel in all areas of our lives. We cannot say, "Not my problem. Not my concern. Let somebody else deal with it." Like Christ, we must go to the hurting, the lonely, the unnoticed, and the unloved. They may not look like us, they will most certainly not act like us, but we must not see them through our narrow perceptions but with the eyes of our Lord who embraces them with open and loving arms. 

All of what I've written may ruffle many feathers, but please note that I am not trying to anger of offend anyone. My goal is not division but contemplation. To make us reevaluate just where our faith lies. We are in this world not of it. Our faith should be grounded and rooted in Christ alone.

I long to be more like the savior I claim to follow. I want to be motivated by faith and not fear, to choose joy over judgment, and brotherly love over bigotry. I long to get at what is the very basis of Evangelicalism to begin with. Evangelical came from the Greek word "evangelion"meaning "good news" or "gospel." 


Is that what we're focusing on?


We should be as Psalm 106 says, "bearers of joy." Why? Because we have joyously good news to share. How can I not want to share who Christ is, what he has done for us, and how deeply he loves us?  Like the angels declared to the shepherds in the field, we should be shouting out, "Behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy!" In this world of hatred, of drawing lines, of building walls against, of exclusion, we have news that breaks all this down and says simply, "For God so loved..." 


And once we have truly experienced that love, it transforms us so that we, too, love as Jesus loved. 

Did I also add that I absolutely love Jesus?


He is first and center to my faith.


Every time I read the Bible, I come away in awe and amazement. I find myself challenged and changed by him.


Even when I have found myself tired of the Church and the trappings that often come with organized belief, I find myself drawn back to Christ again and again and again . . .


He alone is the reason for my faith and the sustainer of it.


When I become frustrated with how the Church responds and acts (or doesn't act) in the world, I shift my focus back to him and how he ministered to the broken, the needy, the lost, the lonely, and the forgotten. And it makes me want to be more like him.


His love cannot and should not be sentimentalized, sanitized, or watered down. 


He will not fit into our misconceptions, our misrepresentations, our simplified descriptions, our boxes our our back pockets. He is greater than our understanding and more encompassing than our own predispositions, predilections, or preferences. He alone should be the basis for our motivations. In that, I will, as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians, "Rejoice, yes, I will rejoice!" 


And, like Russell D. Moore, I want to truly be a gospel Christian.