My Desert Journey…

In the Gospel of Mark, the narrative of Jesus being compelled to go to the wilderness has a very different flavor than it does in Matthew or Luke’s Gospel. In Mark, Jesus is said to have been “Driven” into the wilderness. The others use more gentle language for this event. For many of us, Lent is a time of willing pilgrimage into the wilderness we are being gently invited into. For others, the wilderness is not a place willingly entered, nor is it really confined to this season.

One of the common threads between the 3 Gospel accounts is the voice of God speaking over Jesus after His baptism and before His journey into the wilderness. God declares a delightedness for Jesus, informing us (and Him) that He is deeply loved.

As I journeyed through Lent this year I did my best to lend an ear to this voice of God speaking words of delightedness and love over me as I was led (or driven) into the wilderness. I practiced this attentiveness by looking for one thing each day that struck me as beautiful for one reason or another. I hope you enjoy the photos that came out of this experience. I also hope you are able to remember God’s voice of delight and love as you will no doubt find yourself in the wilderness from time to time–sometimes by force.

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Holy Week and the Powerless Jesus…

crucifixion

Well, Holy Week is upon us. This week is one of the 2 weeks (also Christmas) when nearly every Christian will find themselves inside of a Church at least once. We spend this week thinking about Jesus’ last days leading up to His execution, and eventually, His resurrection. In that way, it’s a very unifying time. It is also humbling and beautiful to see just how diverse the Body of Christ is as we interpret the story being told to us in so many (often drastically different) ways.

This year I am thinking about my tendency to “over-spiritualize” the story of Jesus. Sometimes it is humbling and deeply enlightening to remember that Jesus was a very real person, living within a very real political atmosphere, pissing off very real religious and political powers.

I realized that I hadn’t really thought much about what Jesus’ followers must have felt when He told them He was going to die. It actually makes sense that Peter would rebuke that very notion whenever it was presented to him. Jesus, I suspect, was actually a huge disappointment to most of the Jewish community that followed Him. They had dreams of everything that was wrong finally being made right! They had dreams of Jesus leading them into a time of prosperity and power reminiscent of the legends they had been told regarding their rich history. They had placed Jesus at the heart of this revolution…and then His Grand Finale was getting Himself killed–and not killed as a valiant soldier in the heat of an epic battle, but as a shame ridden criminal void of anything that slightly resembled power and even dignity.

That must have been truly disorienting for those who followed Jesus. Imagine if you were convinced that a presidential candidate was the only hope for the future of our country. Imagine that they rallied all sorts of support and got everyone pumped about their “plan”. Then imagine that, at the end of the election, they revealed their plan was to let the other candidate win. Somehow this move was part of the beautiful story being told by this person, but to those who supported them, gave up time and money for them, it would feel like a betrayal and a shameful defeat. They would probably think, “Well, that was a waste of time”. They would probably be deeply grieved that they believed in this person so much only to see them willingly give it all away. Of course, this example shies in comparison to the reality of what Jesus’ followers must have felt.

Somehow, the act of letting the opposing power “win” in such a dramatic way was a deep, painful and beautiful part of the message Jesus was trying desperately to get His followers to understand. It was a message that spoke peace in the face of power. It promoted togetherness and love as opposed to ruthless ‘ladder climbing’ and competition. It exalted the least, last, and lost–and it seemed to make a bit more sense to the women around Jesus than to the men. It seems that the women who followed Jesus never left His side, regardless of the danger. Perhaps the men (except for John) were still too disoriented by this extremely counter-productive move to be present. Instead they were trying to figure out where to go from here since their leader has apparently led them to defeat.

I wonder if the disorientation of the Disciples would be very different from our own disorientation if Jesus were to stand before us and teach us the same message in our own context. I wonder if we, just as the Disciples, are too wrapped up in the belief that God is coming in power and might to destroy our enemies and lead us into prosperity. I wonder if we would also deeply grieve Jesus’ actions if we were to see Him willingly be defeated, in such a public way, by the very powers we saw as the enemy.

It seems that the disorientation of the crucifixion and resurrection transformed the Disciples. It seems that the message that Jesus worked so hard to teach them finally started to sink in. I wonder what assumptions about God are keeping me from truly getting this message of radical (and ridiculous) love. I wonder what disorientation I need to experience in order to allow a little more of that message to sink in and transform the way I see. This Holy Week I am reflecting on the very human reality of Jesus’ willing execution and all the radical confrontations and acts of scandal that led to it. Perhaps in allowing myself to be placed in the shoes of those following Him I will experience some of the transformation that changed everything.

Life, Death, Resurrection…

lentblog

A few years ago I encountered the idea that the pattern of Life, Death, and Resurrection are found everywhere within our world. It was an idea that I hadn’t really given much thought to until then. A few years later, I am much more aware of the pattern and see it played out in at least 3 ways in my own life.

My Natural Life

This one is pretty straight forward. I was born, I am living, one day I will die, and I believe that I will experience some form of resurrection after death. As simple as this example is, it is humbling to know that our own lives will follow the very same pattern as the rest of creation. It helps remind us how connected with all of Creation we really are despite our best efforts to deny it.

Stages of Life

Each of us, when we look back a few years, can find ways that we have changed. We have experienced growth, sometimes painful growth, and have in many ways become completely different people from those in old pictures that bear a striking resemblance to us.

A significant personal example is my journey into Fatherhood. When Nicole and I found out we were expecting in September of 2010, my life as a man with no children of my own began to die. As most of you know, we miscarried only a few weeks later. Through our miscarriage and the dark days that followed, there was significant struggle, nourishment, and enrichment that was happening below the surface–as if the soil of my soul was being enriched with the nutrients born out of deep and painful loss. In November of 2011, when Emery was born, I began experiencing the resurrection of something from within that same soil. My old life was completely dead and the new was beginning to be born. As time continues on, my new life is becoming more and more evident, as is the story with all of Creation experiencing resurrection.

Seasonally

As I have begun to pay more attention to what goes on below the surface, in my soul, I have noticed that much of my inner work follows the seasons. Fall often leads to a sort of dying to pieces of myself that have been exposed as unhealthy or too attached to my ego. The darkness and solitude of Winter often provides a space for deep introspection and meditation. This tends to feel like nourishment–though not always comfortable nourishment.

This is where Lent comes in. This period of spiritual reflection and practice ushers us into Spring. Days get longer and signs of life begin to take shape around us. Lent offers us the space to reflect on what, within us, has died during our Winter and what is being resurrected during our Spring. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to join with the rest of Creation and allow this pattern of Life, Death, and Resurrection to be fully experienced.

My own understanding of the Lenten Fast, is that it’s a simple reminder to pay attention. It’s a reminder to pay attention to what God is leading us to let go of (to allow to die) as well as what God is raising up within us. It seems that fasting from something you thoroughly enjoy is the best way to make sure this reminder happens often. It’s a good way to ensure that we are awake enough to not miss the very natural, and good process taking place within each and every one of us.

I pray that this season will be one that draws us into a deeper awareness of God as well as a deeper awareness of ourselves.

 

The Line Between Good And Evil…

 

Yesterday I read a few of the stories that were deemed “Headline Worthy”. Among those was the story of a U.S. soldier who decided, for reasons unknown, to senselessly murder civilians in the early morning hours in Afghanistan. I also read about a massacre in Syria and even more deaths in Gaza. On any given day I suppose that you could read about dozens of violent crimes which were committed in every country on Earth.

My first reaction to these stories was anger. I was angry that someone could be so heartless as to kill innocent children for no apparent reason. I was angry that national leaders were so wrapped up in their own selfish agendas that sustainable peace for Israel and Palestine seems beyond impossible. I was angry that so many “bad” people inhabit this crazy world.

However, I have started a new discipline that I hope to continue long after Lent. If I feel the desire to react quickly, I have been trying to intentionally slow myself down and ask a few questions. 1. Will I regret making this statement public? 2. Do I have even the slightest idea of what I am talking about or am I just talking? 3. Does my reaction to this issue carry with it the potential to be needlessly offensive?

As I look back at many of the conversations I have participated in, through blogs, facebook and one on one interactions, I see a distinct pattern of ignoring those 3 questions. So, rather than reacting in anger to what I read yesterday I decided to pray. What I began to feel was not so much anger as it was remorse. I also felt the need to repent. I believe in the old saying  that the line between good and evil runs through all of us. This means that if I lived in a different context and was raised with a different set of morals, I would probably be capable of the same evil that angers me today.

My lack of violence does not make me a better person than the man who slayed those children in Afghanistan. The image of God that exists within me also exists within him. Rather than becoming angry at his blatant disregard of that image, I believe that I must further allow God to remove the layers of falseness that covers His image in me. Through this journey I pray that I not only become a more compassionate and loving person, but that His image in me becomes more visible to others who then see it more and more in themselves.

The Last Shall Be First…


Yesterday I spent some time thinking about the “Good News” of the Kingdom of God and how to some folks it feels better than to others. At our Mile High Ministries staff meeting yesterday we looked at Galatians 3:26-29. We focused on the promise that was given to us, that if we are in Christ we are heirs to the promise given to Abraham. The part of that passage that really stuck out to me though, was verse 28.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The boundaries which are broken down in this passage are substantial. Among Jews, the Greeks were definitely considered a separate people group. The thought of the two being one would have been incredibly offensive to faithful Jews during this point in history. The breaking down of these boundaries would have definitely excited some of the people involved. But, when I look at this list I see the possibility of some offended parties who would not see this as “Good News”.

Slaves would have definitely been seen as less important than free men. Women did not hold positions of power over men. And faithful Jews would have been thankful that they were a descendant of Abraham and not a Greek. I see many people who stand to lose a great deal of status in this Kingdom.  The dividing lines that set them above the other, less important, people around them were being stripped away and they were painfully becoming one with people who were seen as lesser in their society. I wonder how difficult it would have been for these people to consider this “Good News”.

I also wonder how much any of us have accepted this part of being ‘In Christ’. Are there still people that we would rather not consider ourselves to be ‘one’ with? Maybe a modern reading of the passage from Galatians would say; there is neither CEO nor Janitor, there is neither homeless man nor financially wise business man, there is neither successful nor un-successful; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Seems like pretty good news for the Janitor, homeless man and un-successful person, but what about the CEO, financially wise business man and successful person?

Do our lives reflect that in Christ we are not separated by these statuses or do we cling to those statuses as the very thing that gives us value? I confess that I often find myself in the game of looking for a status to define who (or at least how successful) I am. This Lenten Season is bringing with it great opportunity for reflection into the mysterious and sometimes depressing motives that drive me. In the spirit of Lent, I pray that I experience growth and a sort of resurrection out of these vein ambitions that sometimes lead me to points of intense selfishness. With every passing day I realize that I am a painting that is far from done. God continues to work out the imperfections as I try to simply embrace Him as well as the true me that becomes more visible with each stroke of the brush.

Babies And Rebirth…

Nicole and I are on vacation visiting family throughout Kansas and Nebraska. This trip is reminding me of the transformation that has taken place within our family through Emery’s birth. It’s pretty amazing how the birth of a child can impact so many people so dramatically.

From making the commitment to quit smoking to taking progressive steps toward ending a multiple year gambling addiction, Emery is sending life changing waves through her family at a mere 3 months old. It is so humbling to see how such a little person can impact people for the best. It just goes to show you how much we, as humanity, value new life and are inspired by it.

My experience as a parent has ushered me into a reflective posture. As the Lenten Season quickly approaches, I am excited and nervous about what will come from my new found desire to focus on presence. Presence with God. Presence with myself. Presence with  my family. Presence with those I encounter daily. I have not been very disciplined in the art of reflection in the past. It seems like my intentions are always good right before Lent, but the practice often
seems forced, inauthentic and eventually fades away.

Facebook is a social network that has been a gift and curse in my life. Sometimes I find myself spending an embarrassing amount of time “stalking” other people and portraying an image of myself that is, at best, a performance. It has also been a true blessing; making it easier than ever to connect with friends and family regardless of their location.

Blessing or curse…or both, I have felt the desire to fast from Facebook for Lent. I am excited to see how this season of reflection and fasting will impact the way I view facebook, my family my spirituality and myself. I will do my best to share some of my reflections in this blog as the season progresses.