Archives For abiding

I take a Puritanical view of holiness. Wrestling, fighting, warring, every method and every hope that what I long for will materialize if I am disciplined enough, good enough, kind enough. Isn’t there a little something of Jacob wrestling with God in all our stories?

This morning I am listening to Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me and I realize all this effort to prove my love for God is really just an effort to prove his love for me—and I can’t make him love me.

I can’t make him love me if he already doesn’t.

And I can’t make him love me if he already does.

For some that might seem a cruel joke, but it felt a brief comfort to me today. Maybe you are someone who is surrounded by those who love you and it is a continual proof and evidence of His love, but maybe you are like me, and fear every glimpse of favor is fleeting because it always has been.

I understand a bit of Jacob wrestling today: “I won’t let go,” he said. Never mind the blessing part, but first “I won’t let go.” There was something in Jacob that feared if he let go, God would too.

The truth is I cannot make Him love me and I cannot prove my love for him, no matter how puritanical, orthodox, measured, or full my expression is toward Him. He is love and therefore owns love, even my love.

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

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“I was born fighting the status quo,” I told a friend earlier today. My parents have stories of my infant rebellion and it never really stopped, just grew quietly into a mistrust of authority, a silent questioning of every demand, and a bristling fear of boundaries.

I can mask the stubbornness and strong-will in many ways, namely by giving lip-service to whatever will cause the least amount of damage in the end. I am no masochist, I crave peace and mutual consent, but I protect my own opinion even if no other shares it. I care little for going with the flow, but I do because I care more about not making waves.

This propensity has been my nemesis long and hard. Outwardly I am kind and sweet, but inwardly I am mistrustful and suspect. I am positive everyone means harm to me in the long run and my kindness aims to keep that harm as far away as possible. Kill them with kindness, the saying goes.

Today, all day, I have felt the pressing of submission. It comes in the form of people wanting my time and energy. It comes in the form of demands I cannot satisfy. It comes by email, by text, and by face to face. Everyone around me demanding I bend my will and desires to their will and desires. At one point I asked the question: “Why must I bend here? Why can’t they bend here? Why can’t they, for once, see their sin for what it is and serve the greater good here?”

And then I think of Ephesians 5 and true submission.

Before Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about loving and submitting, he gives instructions to all persons everywhere, ending with this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I have learned to submit, not out of reverence to Christ, but as a tool to secure my own safety. I want to keep the peace, not rock the boat, to be seen as docile and kind, for the good of others instead of myself. It is a twisted manipulation, but those are the best and most poison kind.

It is out of reverence for Christ, though, that Paul says we ought to submit.

When I think of revere, I don’t think of my friend Jesus, my brother, my Kinsman Redeemer, my wonderful counselor, or the prince of peace. I think of King Jesus, the one with a sword in his mouth and his face shining like the sun. The awe-inspiring, fear-inducing King Jesus, the one with whom you do not mess.

Submitting is not something we like or enjoy. A pastor friend of mine says, “Submission begins where agreement ends.” In other words, if we agree on this point, it is not mutual submission we are practicing, but common vision. But Paul wasn’t talking about common vision, he was saying, “In fear and awe of the King on His throne, submit to Him by submitting to others. Take the crown off of your head, the expectations out of your heart, and by doing so, you proclaim what you truly worship.” We preach the Kingship of Christ when we practice submission to one another.

Nothing in my day has gone according to plan and I confess, the frustration that was a mere simmer eight hours ago has steadily turned up higher and higher. I’m asking King Jesus to put a burning coal in my mouth, to rend me silent in my own defense, in my own will and preferences, to be sent and to go where He leads, pressed up against those “one anothers” with whom I will eternally worship our King.

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In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

You and I know what it is to long for, to wait, but I wonder whether we have ever felt the heaviness, the belly of anticipation, like Jonah who could not know whether he would be there for three days or three years.

I am gauging out a timeline for something and I can only promise one year, maybe two, but the truth is, I can’t see further ahead than one day, maybe two. Was this how Jonah felt while stomach acids corroded his hope? Making plans and feeling eaten away at all at the same time?

He must increase, I must decrease.

I wonder sometimes whether we who understand the decrease, also understand that God is not against blessing us with every good thing under heaven?

Did his people understand this when Isaiah spoke? This is not it, he says over and over, there is more to come. I would have grumbled and shown him the timeline of my life, of my father’s life, and of his father’s. “What is the more?” I would have asked, and I do, every day.

. . .

Two weeks ago I stand by the synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah, rolled the scroll, and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” I think to myself, “I did not live in that today, but I live in this today and it has still been fulfilled in my presence.”

This Advent I am full of today. The punctual rising and intermittent falling, the motions and the movements. Today is what I have right now, I cannot hold tomorrow, I can barely see into tomorrow, and I cannot gather enough of anything to sustain tomorrow. I have this. Today he has fulfilled his word in my presence—and that miracle itself is enough and does sustain and will fill.

“What would take you away from Texas?” he asked and I paused. It’s a good question, but it isn’t the right question. “The real question,” I said, “is what would make me stay?”

And I can’t answer that.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have been my home the past four months. I have traveled thousands of miles, had my affections stirred by mountains on the east coast, the southwest, far countries, and from airplane window seats. I have laughed hard, lived well, come home for short spurts of time, and it has been good. But tomorrow I go home for a long time and I cannot wait.

One who knows me well, who has survived my transient feet and wandering heart, said to me recently, “Lo, sometimes I think the thing that would make being in Texas okay is for you to just decide you’re going to be here for a long time.” Those words, and the question above, have been constants in my mind the past few weeks.

Zack Eswine, in his book, Sensing Jesus (which you should buy right now and buy for everyone you know), says, “The quickest way to get home is to stay there.” Zack isn’t making a case for staying when God says “Go,” but he is making a case for staying still in a world full of reasons to leave.

The past five months, since the signing of the lease, I have been begging God for a reason to leave. The list is long and the opportunities many, but the longer the list grew, the more my love for here grew. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it was sweet of God to give me that love as a going-away present. “You’re terrible at putting things where they belong,” she said while laughing at me. What if that love is God’s call to stay?

I can’t ask that question without feeling an overwhelming sense God’s love for me. It has been a long, long time since I’ve felt His love—I can mark the date and time when it started to unravel for me and it hasn’t stopped. Lesser loves, golden calves, little foxes, and craven images: these crept in with aggressive and deceptive stealth. Always seeming to be good and always falling short.

For a long time I have felt the withholding of good things in my life, feeling as though God would give me a fish or bread only when I could not be sustained without them. That he would only give me necessary gifts, but not just-because gifts.

Charles Spurgeon said, in this morning’s Morning & Evening,

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy’s door, O my soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord. Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when such blessings are to be obtained.

Generous Lord, I’m knocking. I’m knocking for a great many things, but I’m knocking most of all for the belief that you are not only a God who gives what is necessary for life, but a God who gives what is abundantly beyond what is necessary.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to fly home from these New Mexico hills. I am homesick for my home in Texas—and that is a miracle, a secreted blessing I’m thanking Him for. But even more, I am homesick for Texas, for the people I love there, the church I can’t believe calls me to it, the coffee-shop where I belong, the small pockets of joy, the conversations that bring me life and the life I can bring in return. That is abundantly beyond my expectations from late July when I only resented Him for making me stay.

I am learning the beauty of stilled feet.

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Look right at me, my pastor says in every sermon at least once. Look right at me.

. . .

Here is what I know about looking:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

. . .

When I meet someone, I am desperate for them to know I come in peace, a white flag flown above my head, no judgement, no notions, just me, simple, honest. I am not correcting their grammar or parsing their theology. I am not gathering ammunition for a future war. I look them in the eye, hold their gaze.

Once a week, sometimes more, someone tells me my eyes are intense, piercing into their soul. I feel ashamed of my eyes in those moments, not grateful for them. They are so blue, people say, and I can’t know my own eyes, but so blue eyes in others seem to see straight through—and I see nothing straight through.

I love that you look me in the eye, a friend said. So many people, they look away, but you don’t. You look.

But that’s when I look down, because the truth is I will look at you until you speak something beautiful and true, or difficult and true, and then the beauty is too much for my eyes to hold.

. . .

I am thinking about God today and how He keeps watch. He looks. He holds our gaze when we cannot because we are ashamed or fear-filled or angry. He looks when we are sad or tired or frustrated. He looks.

And more than that, and I am just getting this, He wants us to look right at Him too. The fullness of us looking right at the fullness of Him.

Do you know what I feel when my pastor says, “Look right at me?”

I feel loved. I feel seen. I feel known. I feel like he’s saying, “Hey, look at me and let’s look at the Father together.”

God, help me look at people today, not so that they look back at me, but so that we look at You.

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

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For as long as I can remember I have wakened to guilt. It is a pulsating thought with root in no particular sin or crime, just a carried burden that I have done the world, and the Lord, an irreparable wrong. It is not a quiet guilt, but a raging one. It consumes me on some days and on the days when it doesn’t, it reminds me it is coming soon for me again. I remember Augustine’s, “For what am I to myself without You, but a guide to my own downfall?”

Guilt is my roadmap to repentance—even when I’m not sure what it is I’m repenting for.

. . .

This morning I woke with my aching friend, I stretched my legs and he stretched himself alongside me, making sure to not leave any part of me untouched. My head first, then my heart, down to my burning belly, and my weary knees. He is not a good friend, his only aim to buckle me before I’ve seen the sun. Some mornings I cannot even fight him, we have grown accustomed to our daily ritual.

That I will disappoint the people in my life often and daily is no surprise to me, I find apologies falling from my mouth more than any other words. But that I have disappointed a God who makes unrecognizable demands—this is what frightens me the most. What is you want? I beg. I’m holding my life to him in trembling hands, leaving no part untouched, no part unsubmitted—and he is disinterested in all my small offerings.

“I want you.”

. . .

The guilt I carry stems from the inability to tell the difference between being wanted for what I can do and being wanted just as I am.

I know what I am just as I am and there is nothing good or desirable or holy or clean enough to stand before a Holy God.

I know what I can do, though; it is a list a mile long and growing—always in an attempt to be found desirable and wanted.

The besetting sins of perfectionism and comparison are, I am learning, the roots of this bedfellow of mine. But it is not just simply perfectionism and comparison in regard to men and women—though it works itself out to be that—it is the deepest, rawest, most fearful part of me that cannot stack itself up to my Father. I fail, miserably, every time.

This morning I am reading Romans 5 and tears spill over on verse six:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

I stay there for a while. Thinking of the timeline of my salvation, the present help in time of trouble, the future hope of glory—but thinking, mostly, of the before the foundations of the world. When I was at my weakest—my near non-existence, that I was chosen. Not when I was at my strongest, my most helpful and helped, my shining moments, crowned with achievement and success. He stooped, condescended, reached down, and plucked me from the mire that is my mind and my will and my emotions: including my persistent guilt. He loved me like that.

I may go to bed with guilt and wake with him for the rest of my days, and in my less than optimistic days, I am certain I will. Perhaps it is my thorn, but perhaps it is my mercy. My severe mercy, like Vanauken wrote: “A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.” Perhaps it is God, who is love, loving me by showing me the weakness of me reveals the strength of Him?

Coffee with a friend this morning. She’s a bold and beautiful Bostonian wife, confident, kindred, and a blessing to my soul. We talked about the complicated question of attraction—how much it matters and how little. We unravel insights and decide that it still matters—like good Yankees, as though we are the final arbiters on the issue.

We hear often, “Confidence is the most attractive quality in women,” and I envision a thousand women twisting themselves into pretzels trying to eek out the appearance of confidence, because actual confidence is a nearly impossible feat. My pastor taught this past week on hurdles for women (as part of a series on design and intention for the sexes). Our great hurdles? Perfectionism and Comparison. A thousand women were not turning themselves into pretzels in our sanctuary hearing that—they were melting off the defenses because, yes.

The attractiveness of confidence has become, in some circles, just as damaging to a woman as the unattainable perfection of her legs or breasts—a mere commodity intended to woo and win the affection of a man. A man, who will, ironically, find that once married, her veneer of confidence falls to reveal mountains of insecurity and valleys of poor character. Beauty or confidence, it matters not which, if the use of them is to acquire legions of male attention—or even only one male’s attention—the span will be short.

We love to talk about love, the necessity of romance and the viability of attraction. You’ll find singles paging to Song of Solomon often for our defense on what is important in finding a spouse (conveniently contextualizing for our day: The curves of your thighs are like jewels—but better have a thigh gap; Your navel is a rounded goblet—located beneath tight abs; Your waist is a heap of wheat—with no extra to spare, please, etc.), but we forget the lament of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes:

When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark;
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree.
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.

I know I write often in these places of fleeting beauty and the wasting of our bodies, but I think it is because it is so important that we remember this: Solomon opened this passage with, “Remember your creator while you are young.”

I imagine Solomon delighting in the buxom pleasures of his bride and then finding a quiet place, away from her delights, and pacing back and forth, again and again, reminding himself of the fleeting time and the Maker of all that is good: “Remember your creator, Solomon, remember Him.” He has to discipline the remembrance of his God into his head and heart because the godessness of his wife is before his eyes, unintentionally enticing him to worship her over his Creator. He has to discipline his eyes, not before the beauty of all the women around him, but to turn again and again to the Maker of the beauty around Him. “Remember, Solomon, remember who truly lasts.”

Confidence in a woman—and a man—is a beautifully attractive quality, but not for its own sake, no. The most endearing beauty of confidence is one that remembers her creator, remembers his dust-likeness, remembers her fragility, remembers his frailty. It is a confidence that comes through discipline and active recalling, “I am not my own, I was bought for the ultimate price, and for that I present my body as a living sacrifice to Christ.”

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We sat last night in our living room, under blankets, eating warm applesauce and baked sweet potatoes—fall’s bounty. The candles are lit and we are talking sin. Not as some ethereal theological concept, but the sin that darkens the chambers of our hearts and the crevices of our minds. The idolatry that crumbles us and rebuilds itself over and over again. We are the sin eaters.

Yesterday our church mourned the loss of a brother. He has not died, but he has turned his face from the ever drawing kindness of Grace’s throne. We collectively ache, lay hands on his family, pray God would buckle his knees beneath the weight of what he was never meant to bear and that he would turn his gaze to the one who bore it for him.

The world tells us it is arrogant to call this or that “sin,” to give a heinous name to following our hearts or heads or flesh. But Paul calls us arrogant if we do not.

. . .

Five words in chapter five of I Corinthians have been stuck to my gut all year: “Ought you not rather mourn?”

Can you see Paul’s agony in the asking? Not the disappointing look of a domineering father, but a painful plea for his children that they would ache over their sin—and the sin of their brother?

We moderns are no good at mourning. We give people seven stages of grief and wonder, sometimes out loud, when they’ll get over it. Death or taxes, it matters not. We want the cut to be quick, painless, without reflection. Life calls and mourning is in the way. Our ancestors wore black for an entire year, a social state of sorts: “In mourning.” Earlier ones wore sackcloth and ashes, wailing for weeks and months on end. Physically emptying themselves of tears, questions, and aches.

Sin, though, when it comes sneaking in our hearts and midst, we ignore, we bargain, we bribe, sometimes we give in, sometimes we repent, confess, anything to get the horrid beast off our backs.

But mourn?

. . .

Christ is our savior, this we know and in this we rejoice. We look quickly to the cross in the repentance process, boldly approach the throne of grace, confidently break the bread and drink the wine—entering into the promises of God for his children. But have we forgotten to mourn?

A friend of mine has had a hard few months. She keeps apologizing for the length of time it is taking to walk through this season. I want to take her face in my hands, let her tears fall instead of wiping them away, I want to let her mourn. To feel the fullness of what it takes to let the Lord gut her of her and fill her with Him. He is in no rush and neither should we be. If we are sealed before the foundation of the world, what is six months or a year or three years of the valley that brings us to vision?

Ought we not rather mourn?

Edit: this is a video I saw today that resonates so much with this idea of mourning. From Brene Brown. 

I tell a friend yesterday that I miss liturgy, but the truth is I have never had it.

I was raised on the hard pews of a stucco church in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our only liturgy was the blessed quiet life we lived. My first communion was in a house-church when I was seven, the bread baked fresh, the grape juice drunk from small glass tumblers. This was before the Big Baptist church with its plastic cups and small, round, salty oyster crackers. There was a brief pass through an old Catholic sanctuary, our services were non-denominational though and we only rented the building. I have never forgotten the stained glass. In college I had a brief fascination with the Episcopalian church across from campus, mostly because when I left church, church didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the motions, the liturgy, the order, and the smallness of it all.

What I really mean when I say I miss liturgy, is that I miss the order. I have never had order, but I long for it.

A friend of mine has converted to the Orthodox church. He told me once the confession, prayer, and fasts remind him he is human and needs someone to expect more of him than he expects of himself.

But isn’t grace so much more beautiful? I want to balk. Wouldn’t it be better to see Christ as the fulfillment of those rules and boundaries, instead of something you still have to do? I think my friend would say to me that every time he presses against those boundaries, he is reminded again and again that Christ has fulfilled them. I think it’s a beautiful thought, but I am a recovering legalist and rules of any kind are my Jack Daniels and my pain pills, so I have to say no-thank-you, and move on.

. . .

What I miss most about liturgy is the community of it. Community means to “Gift together,” and I miss the gift of gifting together. Gifting to one another, to God, and, in some ways, to ourselves. We are saying words, rote and memorized perhaps, but the same words forming on our tongues. We are asking the Lord to hear our prayer—not just my prayer, but our prayer, because if only my prayers are answered and never yours, what have we gained, any of us?

. . .

In my church we read the same bible version, and if we don’t have a bible, we use the one in the seat-back in front of us, which is our gift to you if you don’t have one. (These words are said every weekend at every service because Baptists have liturgy too.) We collectively open to the passage, read together, and then listen. Sometimes we are reading from a passage in the lower right hand part of the bible and something beautiful happens, I hold my breath and wait for it:

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

I forget to turn my page sometimes because I love the sound so much. That is the sound of my people. We do not have the liturgy of confession and repentance built into our service, but we do have the liturgy of turning pages. The collective confession that we are literally on the same page and going in the same direction. These are my people, and I am theirs, I say in my head. This is what it means to gift together, to community.

This is our liturgy.

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Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.

I told someone recently it is my nature to trust easily, but, like Mr. Darcy, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” That is not the posture of a disciple of Christ, this I know, and I work hard on this aspect of my nature. Forgiveness is not the problem, trust is.

The bible doesn’t command us (ever) to trust people. We’re called to trust the Lord, and to honor others, to, as much as it’s possible, be at peace with all men. But trust them? Trust is nothing less than a miracle, astounding wherever it rises.

In the discussion on marriage, homosexuality, and the gospel happening at the ERLC Conference, it occurs to me how the rhetoric the two sides of these subjects use are so often similar: take off your masks, live transparently, be who you are. In some ways we are fighting for the same thing, but instead of using the words to administer healing, we have flung mud-clods at one another.

I think about the blind man, blind through no sin of his own, but for the sake of God’s glory. Jesus knelt, spit on the ground, and placed mud on his eyes. Who of us trusts mud will do anything other than soil us further? Especially a blind man, who lived on the same dirt that would heal him?

We are all a little bit like Mr. Darcy, aren’t we? Hoping all things, but losing our good opinion once we’ve been on the receiving end of a particularly wicked clod of dirt. How do you have a conversation, though, with someone you cannot trust?

We are mud-dwellers, like the blind man. All of us. Doing our best with our portion, our history, our nature, our blindness, our prejudices, our limited scope of the dirt in which we live. It can be tempting for all of us to place the blame of our circumstances on so many things—but, Christ, sweet Christ, the second Adam—made of dust—takes the blame off of all that, points to His Father and says, “For Him. For His sake.”

And then he kneels, mixes spit from his mouth with dust from the earth, and does the unlikely thing: presses it to the blind man’s eyes. He makes what is dark, even darker. Makes what is dirty, even more dirty. Covers what is closed, even more closed. Good hope, once lost, now seemingly lost forever.

Darkness.

And then.

Light.

It can be tempting when we speak about polarizing subjects to use mud as a weapon instead of a healing agent. To use rhetoric and lost trust to increase the divide instead of close it. But Christ is a reconciling agent and nothing is beyond his ability to change and heal.

Let us be healing handlers of mud.

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I’m disciplining myself today to not click on a trending Twitter hashtag. The hashtag is #ERLC2014 and the irony is I’m using it myself. Some of you might have muted me already. I understand. I would have muted me. I wish the mute function worked as well in the world as it works on Twitter.

The Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission conference is meeting this week in a Nashville Opryland ballroom. The subject? “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” You might understand now why I’m hesitating to click on the trending hashtag. Partially I don’t want the trolls and travelers to interrupt my mojo (live blogging/tweeting the conference), but partially this subject is a heated one and I don’t like conflict.

The writer of Hebrews cautioned their readers to “Pay careful attention to what they had been taught, lest they drift away.” I remember this short line often because I want to be a listener, a hearer—not only to the word of God, but to the people its truths aim to flourish. It is important to not only listen to what is being said, but to remember what has been said before—Scripture, historical movements, early church writings, even recent history. We all need to be better listeners, better hearers. Not just the conservative Baptists in this room, but all Christians, including those who identify as gays and lesbians.

The causality of the the same-sex marriage movement is the past—biblical, historical, and, yes, personal. More and more we are talking past one another on both sides of the issues on the table, forgetting what men and women gave their lives to for thousands of years, forgetting what men and women are laying down today in an effort to follow the gospel, and forgetting how painful the cost is either way.

Twitter is a tool, but it can also be the mouthpiece of tyrants.

I’ll be writing a few pieces over the next few days from the press table of ERLC and I’m asking the Lord to help me hear the nuance, the gaps, the places where we’re not hearing or not listening—both in scripture and in life.

And I’m not clicking on that hashtag.

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