Flipping the switch: on becoming light this Advent

3335CDD9-5825-4509-B4E5-C4C66CECDE4BAdvent feels different this year, and not just because I actually started holiday shopping before December 22 for what seems like the first time ever.

Normally a season of quiet, wistful reflection for me, the time of waiting for the birth of a baby once reminded me of what I wished God would do for me in my infertile state. This year the infertility story isn’t a trigger or focus for me, and instead I’m more focused on God breaking into the world.

How does God slip into this dark, broken place?

As I read news stories, I feel overwhelmed. The world feels dark, and I find myself anticipating impending doom. Is anything good happening out there?

Plus, since we learned our cat has lung cancer, I spend days waiting and watching this cat’s every move, wondering when a coughing fit might be his last, or which cuddle nap will be my last with the warm fur ball.

I want the god who sweeps in to fix things. I want a snap your fingers, wave your wand instantaneous magic.

But, that is not what I got this year. This Advent I find myself hooked by Isaiah 61 and the parable of the talents (or the bags of gold or the three servants, all depending on your translation) in Matthew 25:14-30.

I read Matthew 25 back in November, and it lingered in my thoughts. Driving to work. Sitting at my desk. Sipping coffee at local cafes. Everywhere I went I meditated on it, whether I wanted to hear it or not. For weeks now, it simmered in my brain, bubbling and distilling.

I found myself troubled as I read the first time. I carry a Jekyll and Hyde image of God, and I hadn’t realized the duality of these pictures. I wait for God to kick me to the curb ruthlessly for reasons I don’t understand, and yet I’m also convinced that I’m loved and warmly welcomed. God wears two faces for me. What scares me perhaps the most is the thought of an arbitrary God.

And so, I stewed and stewed on this passage. Fearfully. Angrily. Nervously.

Light flickered. I want a god who magically fixes the world outside of me. In my timidity, I want to sit passively by waiting for God to act. I want the god who doesn’t expect too much from me. But, perhaps, none of those are actually true of God. Perhaps those are idols I created.

In the parable of the talents, the master distributes the money according the ability of each of the servants (Mt. 25:15). The first two act with faith in the one who invested in them. The third, gets scared of losing the little he was granted, and buries it (Mt. 25:24-25). In that time, burying valuables was a common way of protecting an investment. But the master was less interested in hedging bets, and more interested in those who acted with faith.

I wanted to be like the servant who successfully invests the greatest amount of money and is publicly praised, but in reality, I think I’m most often like the servant who buried the money. I’m scared of epic fails, and so I’d prefer to play it safe and hide.

What would change for me if I acted with faith, trusting God to bear fruit — instead of withholding in fear of making a mistake? What if I trusted God actually gave me gifts and talents he confidently thinks I can invest? What if I placed my faith in God, instead of resting on my ability (or inability, for that matter) to make things happen?

Because the truth is, I am not helpless or useless. Neither are you. We are flush with capability, you and I. The question is: whether you and I will place those gifts and talents in faithful service to Jesus.

The practice will vary for all of us; we all have different calls and vocations. And the beauty of seeing these work together astounds me these days as I watch my church community work together in living out their passions.

As God acts throughout the Bible, he acts through human hands. Paul. Deborah. Peter. Huldah. Isaiah.

Isaiah 61 reminds me, too: God acts through human hands. Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Is. 61:1).” Isaiah speaks a word of hope and good news.

And this message is repeated by the incarnate Jesus as he proclaimed these words at the start of his public ministry in Luke 4. Jesus entrusted his followers with this same mission: to carry on the work of becoming good news for those to whom good news is a far-off, seemingly impossible thing.

This season instead of personal comfort, I find myself challenged in a different direction.

Instead of waiting for light to come to me, I wonder about glowing with the light of Christ for others. A switch in me has been flipped. I wonder what it means to become one who is good news to the downtrodden and hopeless? How does the overflow of who Jesus is to me spill over into the welcome I have for others?

In the darkness of this Advent instead of waiting for God to work magic outside of me, I find myself asking Jesus to transform me to be more like him.

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Top Five Books Read in 2017: Second Quarter Edition

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Just a few of the library books I’ve been reading my way through…

Hey friends, it’s good to be back blogging! I finally caught up on completing my paid gigs and family commitments — just in time to write my second quarter reading highlights. I need to get back to a once a week posting schedule around here.

What’s your favorite book or blog right now? Or what’s on your bookshelf that you’re waiting to find time to read?

I could use some fiction recommendations, as I need a bit of a break from serious reading! Also, if you’ve got a favorite (or least helpful) parenting book, particularly on raising infants, I’d love to hear it.

Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go by Richard Rohr

Some books soothe my spirit and calm my anxieties. Others shake up my assumptions, forcing me to take a good look at myself. I expected the former, and I got the latter. Turns out, the voice of challenge was what my soul actually needed. Yet again with Rohr (just like when I read Everything Belongs), I filled my bullet journal with quotes and reflections on his words. I wanted the god who will protect me FROM pain and sorrow, and I’d forgotten Jesus who sits WITH us in pain and sorrow. I’d looked for escapism rather than solidarity, but that is not really the way of God.

By Little and By Little by Dorothy Day

I’ve respected Dorothy Day as an influential figure in 20th century Christianity, but I had only read minimal pieces of her work. As I read By Little and By Little, I wept. I learned. I found myself inspired and challenged. Her stories about living in community reflect both the profound beauty and deep challenges of seeing Jesus in others and herself. Her connection to a faith lived out bodily resonated with me, who great up with a more cerebral faith. Last, her writing about poverty and social justice made me feel less like a lone weirdo, and I found a sense of solidarity with her. And now, I’m eager to read more of her work.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

I saw nuggets from this book popping up over social media on Facebook and Twitter, and after a bit of a wait at the library, I dug into this book. I couldn’t put it down. Oxenreider and her husband took their three young children on a journey around the world, and this book contains reflections on their travel experiences. Oxenreider’s description of meeting with a spiritual director in Thailand was particularly poignant. She wrote of concerns, fears and struggles that resonate with me as I work out my own mid-30s identity issues. A note she wrote to her future traveling self in her journal before leaving on the trip stayed with me, and I wrote it down and colored it in my own journal.

“But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”

I needed that reminder. As I keep leaping this year and trying new challenges, I needed the reminder: I actually CAN do hard things, and hard doesn’t mean wrong.

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix is not for everyone; if cussing puts you off, then perhaps skip over this one. Reading Accidental Saints reminded me again of what I love best about church and the liturgical calendar; Pastrix reminds me of what I love about Jesus and how Jesus works through unlikely people who show up. Bolz-Weber has a way of reinvigorating the Jesus  I already love, and she points to Jesus in people and stories I might otherwise overlook. And as I work on my perfectionist tendencies, I needed her reminder:

“New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. … New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway.”

And this happens to be paired with Oxenreider’s quote in my journal, and I still keep coming back to these words a month after I wrote them.

Ruby & Custard Crochet by Millie Masterton

And for a completely different kind of book, I loved Ruby & Custard Crochet! Full of cute patterns I would make as gifts (or, let’s be honest, I’d wear myself), I loved the bright colors and whimsy. I’ve got plans to make some mittens and owl hats for kiddos!

Hungry for mercy: thoughts on comparison, prayer, and Luke 18

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Fear settled in like the rain clouds this week. Not a torrential downpour, but a misty trickle that has me wanting to pull blankets over my head and hide. Like a scared dog, I want to tuck my tail and slink under the couch waiting for the threat of thunder to pass.

I want to hunker down and armor up, praying God will somehow vindicate me. I play the me vs the world game.

It’s bananas. It’s unhealthy. I know it.

And it still took me about twenty-four hours to find a bigger perspective while my feelings roamed all over the place and the lies weighed in heavier and heavier.

I consulted Jesus. What I wanted was vindication.

What I needed was grace. Continue reading

A feast for the beloved betrayers

bread and juice for communionEvery year in the week leading up to Easter, I read the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels. After so many readings, I know how the story ends.

Even so, I find myself wishing for an interruption in the story. I’m like Peter in Matthew 16 who wants to deny that suffering will happen to Jesus. I want Pilate to stand up to the religious leaders. I mutter to myself about the folks eager to get Jesus crucified, and somehow I pray each time they find some hidden capacity for grace and love over fear.

Resurrection — yes, please! But this crucifixion part, I struggle to look full on in the face. Continue reading

Love (not unquestioning obedience) is the goal

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Words are like rocks. We can build with them, or we can break things with them.

As I’ve said before, stories matter. And the stories shaping our perspectives on obedience and submission matter, too. These stories impact the way we communicate, and the baggage others carry with these words matters, too.

Reading news and social media the last few months, submission and obedience are trigger words for me — regardless of the position supported. Whether it is government or religion, I flinch. They are power words.

Too often, the act of obedience and submission dominates the conversation, while ignoring critical questions like obedience to whom and for what end. Continue reading

The more, the merrier.

Earlier this week I posted on the importance of stories for shaping the way we live. As an exercise in conscious storytelling, I’m sharing stories influencing my views on immigration, refugees and discipleship.

Essentially this post explores three questions:

  1. How do I understand myself as an American?
  2. How do I see refugees?
  3. What are the expectations of a disciple of Jesus?

As we explore together, my point is not converting you to my perspective, but the process of open and conscious storytelling. These stories frame the way I approach the world, and rather than having you agree or think I’m neat-o, I hope the stories encourage you to consider your own life, reactions, and core values.

Agreement is not required, but respect is. Continue reading

Rediscovering the importance of story

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When I challenged my home congregation to read Luke in the month of February, little did I know that challenge would leave me reading the whole book in the first three days of the month. I saturated myself in Jesus’ words the last couple of days.

I needed it.

The last couple of weeks, for me, feel like waking to some nightmarish alternate reality. Each day brings news reports that violate my core values.

I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs. The salient point about my personality: I delight in seeing the world through other people’s perspectives, and I hate conflict. Right up to the point where my core values are tripped, and then I am a rampaging tiger with roaring feelings and little logic.

I can handle disagreement and questions. I do not react well to shame, control or folks who bully or ridicule others, especially those who are marginalized or are weaker than them. I lose my mind. Poof. Out comes the tiger from normally placid me. Continue reading