Archives For abiding

increase

Every few weeks I’ll tweet the following: “People, pray for your pastors!” I mostly do it because I need to be reminded to do so, but also because I know how much it means to my pastor friends to know they are prayed for by their people. You can look in any direction today and see churches, leaders, pastors, and flocks crumbling under weights of sin, failure, financial ruin, and more. Not only do I not want to see that happen at my church, I don’t want to be ignorant of the pressures on pastors and their families.

But prayer isn’t the only way we can encourage our pastors. Below are some biblical ways we can increase their joy.

Be of the same mind:

Every parent knows when his kids are squabbling, there’s no peace to be had. How much more joy is there when we, out of selfless ambition, decide to be of the same mind? There is a very intentional choice we must make at times to bite our tongues or not prove ourselves right. We shouldn’t ignore injustice, of course, but sometimes family means submitting ourselves to one another. Paul said it would “complete [his] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Count them worthy:

Paul spoke to Timothy about the worth of double honor. Double honor isn’t exactly what our generation likes to give to anyone. We indulge in celebrity, where we drink every drop from their gold-tipped lips, or we fall on the other side, cautious and suspect of every leader. But Paul says these guys labor in word and doctrine. They’re laboring on our behalf, working to see in us a greater hope in Christ and the gospel. So not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

Respect them:

I’m a question asker, rarely do I accept anything at face value, and I’ll chew on ideas until they’re unrecognizable in their original form. Because of that propensity, I can judge my leaders instead of simply respecting their time, study, devotion to the gospel. The truth is I have covenanted myself to these elders, to this body, for this time. I have counted them worthy simply by saying, “Yes, I am a covenant member of The Village Church.” We respect them by making every effort to do as Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” These guys may not always make the decisions that I’d make, but I want to esteem them highly because of their work.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I reached out to a few pastors and wives to ask about other ways we can practically encourage and support our pastors as they “keep watch over our souls.”

“Words are inexpensive but rich. Genuine appreciation, heartfelt gratitude can bring healing, strength, encouragement, and vision.”

“Value the elder’s wife in her unique gifting. Do not confer, by extension, the office and responsibilities of eldership on the elder’s wife. Meaning: she is not automatically the “women’s pastor” or the head of any other department by virtue of her position as the wife of an elder.”

“Offering to take us out to coffee just so you can share what the Lord is doing in your life and how you are growing in grace (i.e. not a meeting where we are expected to give advice or answers, but can just listen and glory in God’s goodness).”

“Let us know you are praying for us and what exactly you are praying.”

“Encouraging family time/ rest time. I’ve heard the joke “Sunday is the only day you work,” plenty of times in my life. It’s funny and I’ve said it a lot but when it’s time to rest I love when people really guard that time and certainly don’t act resentful of it.”

“Everyone assumes the pastor and his family have tons of friends; they seem to know everyone, after all! That said, in my experience, we’re generally the ones extending ourselves and reaching out. Sometimes we just want to have someone spread a tablecloth, light some candles, and offer their friendship through a simple meal and a welcome into their home. Leadership can be a lonely place, in all actuality.”

“Bring a meal over if you catch wind of a season of nights when the pastor isn’t home. If I (a pastor’s wife) feel the strain of ministry ever, it’s in the 12-20 day stretches of him being out night after night after night.”

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments,” and I couldn’t help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go.

I read a quote from William Blake last night, “If you would do good, you must do it in Minute Particulars.” I’ve already quoted it here so forgive me the vain repetition; but perhaps it will not be so vain after all.

Ruth is the heroine I fancy not for marriage advice (who wants to encourage girls to lay at the bed of their desires?) nor for life advice (who of us would be content with the leftovers from anything?), but for these words: “Where you go, I’ll go.”

It is the minute particulars, the 10,000 little moments, the one foot in front of another, the going that makes the difference in our lives. I have been learning, or letting God do the difficult work in me, of the little things, the small life, the life that may make no noticeable difference whatsoever. The life that may only be a hand on top of a roommate’s head, to let her know I am here and I love her, the life that may make the same two eggs and pile of spinach every morning, the life that wouldn’t be missed if it was gone because it pointed to the One who never leaves. The small life.

The small life is made of counting those moments, going where He goes, and this is the life to which I am not predisposed. I feel lost in details, confused, self-shaming and God-doubting. Give me the mountain top and let me run free of cares and commitments and I will shine. But in the valley there are rivers to navigate and trees to see around and torrential rains and hills blocking my view of the light. In the valley the small details matter because there is no way up but around them.

Richard Wilbur used the words, “The punctual rape of every blessed day,” and it catches me every time. Such vulgarity to describe such meniality. But isn’t that what it is? A thousand times a day we feel the scraping of world against flesh and flesh against spirit. We know what it is to be taken advantage of and shamed in every direction. How then do we live? How do we see past the minute particulars?

We, like Ruth, say,” Where you go, I’ll go,” and then we do it. One foot in front of another, one painful lift of atrophied muscles after another, one stalwart look after another, 10,000 times until we have arrived on eternity’s shores and look into the blessed face of our Kinsman Redeemer.

photo (10)

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. ‘If you would do good,’ wrote William Blake, ‘you must do it in Minute Particulars.’ When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived ‘on the economy,’ not aloof from it, not superior to it.

The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names – Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida – these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, ‘more of a challenge’ or ‘a larger field of opportunity’ has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are ‘spiritually deep,’ attuned to each other, and quoting a cabal of experts.

The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor’s continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored: this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, ‘a particularizing love for local thing, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

From Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 128-130.

photo (9)

 

The Cloak of Righteousness

September 8, 2014

My theology does not allow for a God who changes his mind regarding my salvation, and I pray yours does not either.

I had breakfast/brunch/lunch (well, we began at 10am and didn’t finish until nearly 4pm, so what am I to call it?) with a friend yesterday and we talk for a moment about how the fear of losing our salvation gripped us for years before the gospel—and all its branches—rooted itself in our hearts.

Last night I read these words: “The Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide,” or “to make sufficient.” I have not learned Hebrew for myself but I will trust here the editors did their due diligence and this translation is correct.

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

This astounds me when I think of the minute sins, the every day, the strains of gossip, the nibs of fear, the ebb of doubt, and the flow of envy that wreak themselves through my heart and life. He made wide to fit me in. He spread out, to the ends of the earth, east to the west, a never ending, never failing cloak of righteousness through the death of his Son. To fit me into salvation’s plan.

When I begin to question my salvation, or, more articulately, to question his choice to save me, I want to remember that cloak of righteousness, whose edges would astound us if we could see them at all.

Poets of People

August 26, 2014

A friend told me that he and I are farmers at heart, driven by seasons and weather, but that right now we’re called to cultivate people instead of earth. I cried when he said that because people are made of earth too, but it’s hard to tell with all the concrete around.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago I met with one of my pastors who stared incredulously at me when I listed all the things I’m doing and how spent by it all I am.

“Lore,” he said, “that’s because you’re a poet. You need time for reflection and perfection. And all this doesn’t seem conductive to that. You need time to sow.”

I nearly wept right there. It has been a long time since someone said those words to me and I had forgotten.

“You are a poet.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mondays are roommate nights in our house. We finish whatever chores are in our envelopes, cook dinner, set the table, sit in our respective chairs, and spend the next few hours being together. There is no agenda apart from that. We sow into one another with laughter, knowledge, prayer, questions.

The candles drip wax on our tablecloth, proof that dinner goes long and we are in no rush.

After the meal is finished we read the bible aloud. Last night we add some poetry (Walt Whitman) and the birth of Cain as told by Madeleine L’Engle. Then one pulls out her guitar and we sing. Not spiritual songs and hymns, but whatever comes to mind. We end the night going to separate rooms, but not before saying, “I love you,” to every one. Because in this home we are working the ground of Already and Not Yet.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’ve been reading in Genesis this week, the creation account. Thinking about design and flaw, disobedience and animal skin, craftiness and provision. God gave his people what they needed, even after they chose exactly what they didn’t need. But before all that, he blessed them and gave them something to cultivate.

And God blessed them.

And God said to them,
“Be fruitful
multiply

fill the earth
subdue it,
have dominion
over the fish of the sea
over the birds of the heavens

over every living thing
that moves on the earth.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction,” and I think of rows of tilled soil whenever I think of that quote. Eugene Peterson used it as a title for his book on discipleship. What is discipleship if not cultivating the earth by cultivating people? And how do we cultivate people if we do not do the slow work of farming, working in proper seasons and times? Perhaps discipleship is the work of poets, those “holding onto the mystery of faith with clear consciences?” Poets are the the seers, the nuance holders, and the farmers.

“God, make me a poet of people.”

longobedience

The Questions God Asks

August 24, 2014

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?’” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

dillard

Jared Wilson taught me that writing about God and theology doesn’t mean being pedantic and dogmatic.

Tony Woodlief taught me that writing about the deepest angsts of life doesn’t mean being gratuitous and salacious.

Madeleine L’Engle taught me that writing to children doesn’t mean writing down to them, but writing up to everyone.

Annie Dillard taught me to collect stones and tree branches, and write about the ordinary things. That the whole earth groans.

Frederick Buechner taught me to write things as they are and sort through them after.

Andree Seu taught me to write the bible into everything and that we are written into the narrative before the foundations of the earth.

Lauren Winner taught me to write about the wrestling and not just the wrestled.

Wendell Berry taught me about peace in the wild things.

Donald Miller taught me that every church kid has a story, a lens through which we see the church, and a choice about what to do with both.

Flannery O’Connor taught me to be a student of all people, their stories and surroundings.

As I look over this list, I do not see the names of people who will go down in history for their theological correctness, their practiced wisdom, or even their verbal acuity. They are not men and women for whom the Christian life came/comes easily, seamlessly, or without glaring sins and sufferings. They are men and women not unlike those we see in the Bible—broken sinners using what was or is in their hands to navigate faith in a world that groans for its maker. These are the writers and thinkers who did not teach me what to think, but how to think, and I pray I am better for it.

I write this because if you want to be a better thinker (and writer), don’t read the ones who have their thoughts all thought out, bound in leather with gold inset; read the ones who are still thinking out loud as they write. Learn to fish, as the old adage goes, instead of feeding on another’s catch.

To Trust in Men

August 13, 2014

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Have you been disappointed by leadership? Are you of Jesus and not the Church because pastors modeled for you less of Christ and more of self? Do you press against authority because it has failed you again and again? You are in the company of many, including myself.

In the evangelical world there are so many reasons to be disappointed by leaders, men and women who fail us, whom we fear or find fault with, who do not take seriously the responsibility to care for our souls, or who allow wolves to run rampant among the sheep. If you have felt that searing disappointment of broken trust, you are not alone.

Recent weeks have brought a deep sadness to my heart as I view the expanse of Christian leadership. Blog wars, tit for tat, volleying back and forth, exposing, naming, calling out, “standing for truth.” I feel like Elijah standing on the edge of the wilderness saying, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left.”

Do you feel alone? Do you know the bible says to obey your leaders, submit to them, but do you just feel the betrayal of life and all it holds. Do you want, like Elijah, to find the nearest cave and create for yourself a monastery (1 Kings 19)?

You are not alone.

You suffer from the same plight that attached itself to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the enemy before them, and every one of us born after: the inability to trust authority.

When the rebellion in me, innate as my blue eyes and proclivity to melancholy, rises and makes itself known once again, I know one thing to be true in those moments.

It is not that my earthly authorities can be trusted. It is not that all things will work together. It is not even that my rebellion is idolatrous witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). The one thing I know is God is the author of all systems and order. He set lights in the sky and seas on the earth and grass on the fields and called it good. He ordained these times and these days for me, and I can trust him. Not because all things work together, but because even when they all fall down around me, He does not.

What I Pray For My Pastors

August 11, 2014

Every few weeks I tweet this: “People, pray for your pastors.

I do it because I need reminders that the men who lead my local church are faithful and godly, but still human and fallible. They hurt just like we do. They struggle to build systems just like we do. They need to repent just like we do. They aren’t superhuman. They’re fully human. So I pray for my pastors often. Not just my lead pastors (although I recognize they are more in the public eye more often), but for my groups pastors, our recovery pastors, our resource pastors, etc. I love the men who shoulder the pastoral responsibilty for my church. I respect them. I entrust myself to them. And because of that, I want to be invested in their fruitfulness. One way I can do that is through prayer.

Here are some things I pray for my pastors:

Pray they would love God above wife, wife above children, children above church, and church above their own life.
Pray they would mourn over their sin, instead of getting lost in busyness.
Pray their mourning over sin would lead to repentance and not death.
Pray they would set a watchman over their time, words, and family.
Pray they would not buckle under culture’s sway.
Pray they would lead with humility and gentleness, boldness and wisdom.
Pray they would ask for help when they need it and that we would give it quickly.
Pray they would rest.
Pray they would work hard.
Pray they would play.
Pray they would have minds that sharply divide the word of truth, and hearts that vulnerably discern the hearts of men.

Pray they would seek only God’s glory and not their own.

Here’s one more important thing I pray for them.

A Prayer for a New Home

August 1, 2014

I hand over the keys to our old house today, a final walk-through, the shades drawn, the wood floors shined and bare. I am not sad to leave, do not need one final wistful look behind me. The door closes and I pray the new occupants would banish every ghost we left behind.

It was a hard year in that home, one sweeping, rushing, crashing wave after another. Every time relief seemed near, another wave broke, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

I pray one prayer for our new home. Turning the words over in my mouth like communion bread, I let them dissolve on my tongue until I believe the truth they offer.

“Please, God, let our home be a place of peace. Please, God, let our home be marked by kindness and humility, gentleness and quiet, yes, quiet. Let it be a haven to the stranger, but even more, let it be a haven to those who live within.”

God answers prayer, I know this to be true because I have seen him do so. But I also know this to be true because he says he hears and comes and answers. Jesus said, “if you cannot believe in me, believe on the evidence of me,” but I think we know what his preferences would be.

The tempest rises and circumstances swirl around us, leaving us in tailspins: what went wrong and how? But one thing we know for certain, He does not change, he cannot change. He cannot deny himself—so even if I feel denied what I want and what I think I need, even if I am not comforted by the ways he has been faithful to me, I know he is being faithful to himself.

That may not comfort you, if following a God who is jealous for his own glory seems distasteful. But I cannot help but be comforted by it because I know all the ways I want his faithfulness to me to come would not be for my good, not really, not in the way I want them to be.

Please, God, let this home be a place of peace, of gentleness, of service to you and others. Please let it be a home where you prove your faithfulness to you. And when we cannot believe you are who you say you are, please give us evidence because we are made of earth and breath and are so fragile still.

earth

A Two-Part Invention

July 29, 2014

I have forgotten how to imagine. This year snuffed out my belief in the possible, brought me face to face with reality and it stung, over and over and over again.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I wake this morning in our new home, my bedroom at the back of the house cool, still dark, and quiet. The sound of a closing door, feet padding across carpet, the smell of coffee. These will be our morning rhythms now, the same, but different.

I believe.

Plans have changed and I find myself planted for another year in Texas. I’m grateful to have people wiser than I, and with better counsel, in my life, but cannot deny the panic I woke with yesterday, on moving day. I think I love our new home already, but want to imagine that imagination hasn’t gone the way of hope this year.

Help my unbelief.

Jesus is better than we imagine, but if we imagine nothing, then what is He better than? I feel soul-sucked and dry, that is the honest truth. Lonely and thirsting for things I love that he hasn’t promised me, not ever. But I want to imagine he’s better than all the mountains and seasons and people and clear air I ache for.

I believe.

The thing about mountains I love the most is not standing on top of them, though it is beautiful, to see so far, so deep. What I love more is standing beneath them. When the clouds part and the peaks show and I gasp. Who can imagine the time and folding and faulting that brings them to their full glory? I cannot. There is scope on the mountain top, bringing with it a grandeur. Here at the bottom, though, I am only small and inconsequential. Unimportant.

Help my unbelief.

He must increase, I must decrease.

I believe.

mountain

Liberty for All

July 23, 2014

My family isn’t from America. We’re Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn’t this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn’t matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don’t know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn’t home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

liberty

The Loser’s Circle

July 9, 2014

art-846692376-620x349

We’ve known each other since high-school. She the pretty and popular one, I the frumpy and foolish one. She laughs large and lives large and everything she does is punctuated by drama and publicity. We were opposites and friends. Our friendship ebbed and flowed through the years; we have never been close, but we’ve always had a pulse on the other’s life, known a bit of their struggles and joys. We’ve wept and laughed together and occasionally been angry with one another. I love her.

We’ve shared something, too, that united us in more ways than one. There was a pattern that every time I liked a guy, she liked him too. The difference between us was that the guys liked her back. As soon as I knew I would have to compete with her for their attention, I stepped back, gave up. I knew I couldn’t win. And indeed haven’t. She dated the guys I liked, and eventually married one, while I just watched, my heart mourning in silent.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

My name means Laurel Crowned, or Victor, so you would think competition would be normal and natural to me. I am built of candoitiveness and a serious determination to never fail. But whenever countered, I become a palms-up, shrugged-shoulders, give-over sort of loser. The victor who is happy to come in last.

For a long time I thought this was because The First Shall Be Last and other proof-texts we use to make the good guys still feel good, but I’m coming to see it for what it is: pride. The girl who doesn’t mind coming in last doesn’t mind as long as someone crowns her Victor of Coming in Last.

But there is a kind of losing that can put you in the winner’s circle too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s a new ad circulating called Like a Girl. Whatever you think about the ad or a culture that encourages girls to be like boys, there’s one line in it that gives me chills: “I run like a girl because I am a girl,” and then she knocks it out of the park.

What she is saying is not that she loses to what she is, but that she relinquishes the demand on her to be like something she is not. She is a girl and so she runs like one—and she runs fast and free, unbridled by stereotypes and caricatures. She is herself.

The other night a group of friends and I stayed up too late for a bunch of 30 somethings. We talked about personality types and calling, and one commented that too often we want to be something we are not: the introvert wants to be the extrovert and the thinker wants to be the funny one, and so on. That wasn’t me though. I have never wanted to be the opposite of me. I just want all these knots and knolls in my heart to be better, faster, stronger. For most of my life that meant I competed against myself, but within the gospel’s context, I simply want to be conformed to the likeness of Christ—to proclaim Him just as He made me.

Christ didn’t make me my high-school friend and he didn’t make me a fast runner or an extrovert. He knit me together with these gifts and proclivities, these inclinations and drives, this body and these ideas. Those were his gifts to me and it’s not losing to be them, fully and wholly conforming to him as I embody his image.

When I lose to the world’s expectations of me, I win to Christ’s design for me.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:24-27