A Poem on Isaiah 40:31

hippogriff3

a hippogriff via here

“Even youths grow tired and weary
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall
renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like
eagles, they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

What does it mean to wait?

What does it mean to wait, God?

because you’ve promised me strength

if only I can do it –

 

strength and divine perseverance,

you promise,

and I need them.

desperately.

 

What does it mean to wait, God?

am i waiting for you

or for the hurting to stop

or am i waiting for strength to come?

 

what does it mean to wait?

because i am ready to ride the waves of the wind

like a hippogriff

to grab at puffs of clouds and blow smoke rings

 

to bask in the sun’s rays from that glorious angle

so what does it mean to wait, God?

is waiting now?

already?

 

maybe waiting is saying

i don’t trust…yet

i don’t completely believe…yet

I don’t have that mary-kind-of-faith just yet

 

but instead of bowing out on account

of all this evidence i lack,

I will wait

hoping against all hope

 

that this promise of strength

of divine perseverance

will come.

eventually.

 

what does it mean to wait?

God grant me the grit

and the stubborn determination

to find out

Advertisements

Just one thing (when I preach)

319784_662891325141_207664160_n

Here’s the disclaimer I wish I could shout out every time I enter the pulpit:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

I’m a people-pleaser who is part of a profession in which women are not generally welcome or treated as equal. I am very welcome and treated fairly in my church, thank God! Even so, it isn’t able to prevent some of the paranoid fears and insecurities that cloud over me as I begin to prepare for and write a sermon.

During this time, I feel an obsessive need to cover all grounds; to give 110%; to prove that I’m competent; to show that I didn’t miss a thing. I feel terrified that someone might think I didn’t stick to the text closely enough or that I was lazy and didn’t notice many of the truths presenting themselves. So every time I preach, I wish I could shout out a disclaimer at the start of my sermon:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

No matter how heavily my insecurities and fears overwhelm my sermon-writing process, I ultimately have to surrender to what I have found to be true for me as a preacher.

The truth is that I have to choose just one thing to focus on. This means being okay with throwing out some really good ideas; this means being willing to leave out some really clever thoughts. This means fighting off the inclination to go on unhelpful tangents. I have to trust that the sermon will be more powerful, more clear, and more likely to be remembered in a week’s time if I hone in on just one thing.

So for me, I steer clear of the pressure to always have to present three points or even three sub-points. I use discernment to decide if a text calls for it, and sometimes it does. But often for me, it just doesn’t. Maybe it’s just “my style”, but I like the idea of giving just one thought, as powerfully concise as possible. Meanwhile, I’m truly hoping that I’m making it easier for the congregation to remember what the sermon was about for a longer period of time. I’m hoping that the ease of recalling the sermon will ultimately have a more powerful impact. I’m hoping that the simplicity of it will illicit even more lingering thoughts and questions throughout the week than it might have otherwise.

So, when I preach I search for just one thing, and my search often involves A LOT of wrestling, with self and with God. Still, even with all this wrestling, I am grateful because each sermon is another opportunity for me to surrender to God. Each sermon is another opportunity to trust that God will use me so that GOD is known and encountered. And it really doesn’t matter if I “get it right”. It doesn’t matter if I were to give a disclaimer before every sermon or not. It doesn’t even matter if people think I’ve done a sufficient job.

All that really matters is surrender. I know that if I surrender; if I trust; if I let go of control, then God will be known. For me, that has to be enough. And really, that in and of itself is a job well done.

Oh Divine Shepherd, How? (a reflection on Psalm 23)

7-novmeber-2011-jesuscarrieslamb

Image via here

Divine Shepherd
how am i to rest in you
when i can’t see you
when i don’t feel you?

how am i to follow you,
when from this valley
i don’t see or feel
much of of anything?

how can i know
your way of peace
your way of rest
your way of life?

how can i let go of fear
and drop these bags
of burdens i bear,
knowing comfort
isn’t always hopeful
nor is hope
guaranteed a comfort?

how do i make
this singed grass sing
notes both
soft and green?

how do these choppy waters
turn quiet and still,
a calming balm
to my soul?

how do i know which of these
grown-up-and-over paths
is right, for goodness sake
or as the verse says
for your name’s sake?
how?

Oh Divine Shepherd
like the lost lamb I am –
carry me.

How I Interpret the Bible

photo

(Image from last Christmas)

I. Why?

I can remember being a Freshman in college and signing up for “this new Facebook thing”. It was such a cool way to connect with other people on campus, and it really did that at the time. However, in recent years Facebook has shaped our culture in so many other ways besides merely connecting people throughout the world. In a lot of ways, it has become a platform for sharing peoples’ beliefs. Unfortunately, it’s the loudest, most extreme voices that are often seen and heard.

As a Christian (and now pastor), I have spent the majority of my young life studying the Bible, both personally and in an academic setting. So when it comes to Facebook extremities, it’s all the bad theology I come across that gets my blood boiling more than anything else. People have so many different interpretations (I’m sure my overall interpretation is a bad one to many people). I don’t think Facebook is generally the place to debate, but I am glad it has got me thinking about how I read and interpret the Bible. After much critical thinking, I think the following sheds a fair light on my personal process:

II. Inspired, not (always) literal

I do see the Bible as inspired and authoritative over all matters of Christian living and practice, but I don’t believe you have to read it literally 100% of the time in order to hold this belief. Just as the Bible is woven together with various literary styles over various periods of time, so am I called to read it and work through the various ways in which it reveals truth to people. And this is what the Bible does. It reveals truth to us about God. It isn’t a history book or a science book; it is a theology book. It’s sole purpose is to show us God through the story of God’s people. It does this in many ways; it does it through narrative, law, poems, parables, song, prophetic word, etc.

Because the word of God is revealed to us in many ways, much is required of us as readers and interpreters of it. We have a responsibility not just to literal interpretation when necessary, but we also have a responsibility to creativity and imagination. Within this responsibility lies freedom, which I believe is harder work than its antithesis.

So, while I may not always read the Bible literally, I do always pray that I am open to the Spirit when reading and interpreting.

III. Studying the Bible

When I study the Bible, I consider the three worlds (Hauer and Young’s “An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds”, 2005). The world behind the text makes me think of context. What social, political, ethnic and economic realities are peculiar to that place in time, and how do they play out in the text? The world of the text makes me consider the structure of the text itself – the writer, the date the setting around the book, the audience, etc. Finally, the world in front of the text reminds me that this is not just a story from the past. It is sacred, and it speaks to all times and all people. So, I wonder: as a living word today, what is it’s meaning for us today? I try not to study the Bible without considering these three worlds.

Studying the Bible this way makes it extremely difficult to read and apply literally at all times, as explained above. It also protects me from any temptation to prooftext, which is taking any part of the text and applying rigid truths to it in isolation. When I read a passage for exegetical work, even if I’ve just done the work over a small part of scripture, I always have to step back and question if it really fits with the overall rhythm of the Bible.

I once heard someone compare the books of the Bible to pearls. Only when holding them together as one are we able to see the pearl necklace in it’s entirety. The full strand is much more beautiful and valuable than any single bead on its own. This is how the Bible can be viewed. We should always remember that holding up one passage can be beautiful. However, it is but one bead on a larger strand and should be treated as such.

IV. Not a fan of Marcionism

I realize many Christians have little appreciation for their faith history. That is to say, there is little value placed on knowing about and embracing ancient traditions that make up the Christian faith. Jewish tradition is one example of this. Many aspects of Jewish tradition are also a part of our tradition as Christians. By devaluing the need of understanding it, our own faith experience is dulled.

Even worse is the tendency for the modern Christian to seemingly disregard the Old Testament. Personally, I feel a special calling to make the readings of the Old Testament more accessible to people who may find little meaning there. This is why I often preach on Old Testament texts. I think we should treat the Old Testament as equal canon to the New Testament, but unfortunately this sentiment is more often ignored.

Even with my love of the Old Testament, when I apply the filter of the three worlds to it, I can’t help but read and interpret it in different ways than the New Testament. After all, it was written at a different time and to different people. Furthermore, unlike the gospels and epistles, most of the books are made up of multiple authors and were edited and reedited again and again over time.

With this in mind, reading these passages only at face value, especially knowing it is impossible to take off our 21st century lenses when doing so, is doing this sacred text an injustice. The Old Testament is packed with redemptive truth for our time, but finding these truths takes serious searching and openness to the Spirit.

V. Christ is love

Even with all of my appreciation for Jewish history and love of Old Testament tradition, as a Christian I really cannot read any text in scripture without reading it in light of Christ. My understanding of Christ is that he was and is the embodiment of love, goodness and freedom, which is the essence of salvation. In the Gospels, we see Christ go against the grain when anything threatened his fully injecting these things in the world.

This is not to say spiritual disciplines are not important. Jesus was a devout Jew who was extremely well-read in the law. In fact, he was so well read he was able to find his essence (love, goodness, freedom) in it instead of taking it at face value. This is what stumped and infuriated the religious leaders of his time.

Jesus, as the face of God in the world, brought love, goodness and freedom, and he made it accessible to everyone. Jesus showed the world that things of faith are important, but at the end of the day, only one thing matters most. Love. Love of God and love of neighbor.

Someone once told me that there are many gray areas in the Bible (and we especially love to disagree about which areas are gray and which are not). However, there is one area that is almost universally considered black and white. This is the clear call to love. And until we can all truly say we have gotten that one down, maybe we ought to lay off all of the arguing and judging of others who see things differently.

Interpreting the Bible and the applying and teaching of interpretation is important. Spiritual disciplines are important. But love is what matters most (Jesus said so! Matthew 22:36-40). And if love really is what matters most, then I daresay it is love that will ultimately do the trick.

“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:7-8

Let it fall.

photo

Let it fall. This is the Litany Kyndall and I chanted together as we hiked to 6 of the 10 waterfalls found at Silver Falls State Park. As we stopped to gaze at each fall, we considered the various metaphors offered for our lives and for life in general. When we had finished, we would share the words “Let if Fall” before moving on to the next waterfall. 

Let it fall. This is the Litany I recited as I walked the Labyrinth at the Benedictine sisters’ monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon. My bare feet cool against the soft, green, meandering trail, I was reminded of the different seasons and milestones of my journey. Every time a worry or fear or sense of responsibility would rise up, threatening to distract me from the experience at hand, I would chant the words “Let if fall. Just let them fall”.

Let it fall. This is the litany I find myself repeating now that I am home. I am still riding the wave of inspiration from having been away, rested and renewed. Still, I sense the hustle gearing up; I am finding the bustle harder to keep at bay. So, I straighten my posture, broaden my shoulders and declare “Let it fall”!

I carry this Litany with me today, and I pray I can let go of the habits and tendencies also carried within me – the ones that shut down transformation and livelihood and inspiration (and fun). I pray “Let it Fall” in hopes that those barriers will simply fall to the wayside, that I may listen and know the center, my center, my God, once more.

image

A litany for our world

prayer-on-my-knees4

Image via here

My sister-in-law wrote this Litany for her church’s worship service recently. We also used it at my church last Sunday. Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing to be done when it comes to all the injustice and oppression in the world. It is all too much, and I feel like there is nothing I can do. So I do nothing. This is obviously not true. I can give money to organizations working for good; I can volunteer my time to worthy causes; I can sign petitions; I can write my political leaders; I can challenge my local church to be a part of similar things; I can show grace and kindness and mercy to the people in my everyday life, and in this case, I can pray. I’ve been praying this litany each day as one small way to make a big difference in the world. It is my hope that my prayers will not only be heard, but that they will also be daily reminders that spur me to action. Dear friend, may it be the same for you. 

We lift our eyes up to the mountains; where does our help come from?
Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
We pray now for our world, in all its beauty and conflict:
Your kingdom come; Your will be done.
For those in Gaza, Israel, and Palestine…
Lord, have mercy.
For those in Ukraine and the surrounding areas…
Lord, have mercy.
For those in Iraq and Syria…
Lord, have mercy.
For all our sisters and brothers in Christ who are being oppressed and persecuted…
Lord, have mercy.
For those afflicted by Ebola in Africa…
Lord, have mercy.
For children who are victims of violence and political unrest…
Lord, have mercy.
For all those in pain, hungry, and destitute, both abroad and at home…
Lord, have mercy.
May we, Your people, carry Your Presence, Peace, and Love into a broken world.  We look to Jesus Christ as our Light, and to His cross and empty tomb as our Hope; and together we pray:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.