An article suggested by one of my friends caught my eye, and I’m posting a link to it here. This past winter, for a class taught by Scot McKnight, I read the book of Acts multiple times in conjunction with Paul’s epistles, and what jumped out at me most was Paul’s insistence on the point of unity of the church. Christ’s Body was brought into reality through God the Son putting on flesh and crossing the greatest barrier, and this Body must strive for unity; it must actively work against division. This article, posted in Christianity Today Women, speaks to this and makes some excellent points. It’s written by Helen Lee, whom I heard speak a number of years ago (the link is to her personal website, where she writes much about diversity and unity), and the article is titled “Why White-Centered Discipleship Hurts Us All: A Vision for Bringing Racial Equity to the Spiritual Training of Women.“
I have begun Silence (by Shusako Endo) and have not finished it. It is, as Miriam writes in her blog post (reblogged here), an incredibly difficult read. Her thoughts on it–inspired by a quote from Lilias Trotter (and for more info on Lilias, visit Miriam’s “About Lilias” page)–are well worth reading. They make me want to again tackle Silence as well as Fugimura’s Silence and Beauty. Blessings, dear friends. ~Jen
“He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.” Journal 1898
Silence. My copy of this classic novel, by Shusako Endo, remained unopened on our library table for weeks. Never have I approached reading a book with such a mix of emotions: anticipation of a highly acclaimed book; reluctance given the subject of persecution and apostasy.
The story of the 17th century effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan was told largely through letters of the Jesuit priest, Rodrigues, who against all counsel, made the dangerous two-year journey from Portugal to Japan, knowing that his life would be in mortal danger. His purpose was two-fold: to determine the truth about his mentor who was rumored to have apostatized; to be a priest for…
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Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and when I arrived at church, I received a tulip.
So did both my daughters.
So did every woman who arrived at our church yesterday–whether single or married, biological mother or not.
I am glad of this–because every one of us is called to a mothering of one kind or another. My children have several spiritual mothers, and I’m grateful for every woman who pours into their lives. My children need them. I need them. They receive mothering from all kinds of women–from me, from their grandmother, from their female teachers, from the young women who work in their after-school program, from the coaches who lead their soccer teams…
They are challenged and encouraged and pushed and comforted and guided and stretched and corrected–by all these women in ways that are specific to each one.
They need more than one “mother,” and, most of all, they need the motherly love of God, who, though generally referred to as “Father,” also speaks of himself as “motherly.”
I was very blessed this morning to read Mike Frost’s post “The Ferocious Motherly Love of God,” on this topic, and I am so glad to share it with you. May it encourage you as it encouraged me.
Grace and peace this day.
This morning, as the dog ran in the park, I sat on a bench, leaned back, and lifted my face—and then had to squint because the sun hung in the air so bright it seemed to make the blue of the sky and the edges of the young leaves almost pulse with intensity.
It felt too sharp.
Friday night my husband came home from his inner-city school and went straight into our bedroom. I followed him in, took one look at his face, and shut the door behind me. Between tears, he shared with me one tragedy after another he’d learned of that very day. The violence and dysfunction in several neighborhoods had spilled over, and several students and one teacher had endured trauma and loss and setback.
No matter where you teach, there is always hardship. No matter where you live, there is always heartache. But we’re learning that when you teach in an inner-city school, when you live in an under-resourced neighborhood, the hardship and heartache seem to be the norm rather than the exception. The students and teachers at Dave’s school are always going through something, but this past week, there was simply too much. Their young, vibrant principal called a special meeting Friday and, in tears herself, relayed to her staff one story after another after another.
“We have to love each other,” she told them at the meeting’s end. “We have to encourage each other and love our kids and get rest. This is really, really hard.”
Yes, it is.
After Dave told me everything, and we cried together, he lay on the bed and fell asleep. And I went out and explained to our kids and our guest that it was going to be a slightly different evening than we’d planned. And our wonderful guest said that was perfectly all right.
The weekend rolled on. Soccer on Saturday morning and an evening spent with friends; church on Sunday and then, unfortunately, lots of homework. But underneath was heaviness.
So this morning, between sending Dave and the kids off to school and getting to work myself, I took the dog to the park and thought and prayed about the hard things I know about and all those I don’t, and then I just needed to sit down.
And the sunlight was too bright.
How, God, when you know all the darkness, all the sorrow, all the hurt and pain and evil inflicted by humans upon each other—and even on themselves—how does the sun still shine? How is the sky so blue, the trees so green?
If I were you, clouds would hover above the sites of such tragedies; trees would stand bare and stark in sorrow at what they have seen; the sun would hide; and the grass and flowers would shrivel in horror at what we humans do to each other, at what some humans must endure.
And yet, the sight of a tree breaking into purple flower still caused me to smile—just this morning.
I don’t know, but I do know that in the midst of all this, we need gladness in small doses and large, to whatever degree we can take it.
So today I pray that for a few particular students, one particular teacher, a couple of graduates, a student now in search of a new school. I pray that something—like purple flowers, the brilliant blue sky, the squinting-ly shining sun or the gleaming green of the trees—makes them smile today in spite of everything. Better yet, Abba, may a fellow human, bearing your image and your presence, make them glad.
In spite of everything, may they sense a love that cannot be explained or seen but which is real, is true.
I tucked the candle and its paper drip guard
in the hymnal rack of the pew in front of me
til we sang “Christ Jesus, light of our hearts, we praise you”
and a young girl made her way down the aisle,
lighting the tapers of those at each row’s end.
My friend Beth’s candle burst into flame
and I leaned mine to meet its glowing tip.
My wick, too, sparked to brightness,
burning fast, flame high, wax flowing.
My weary mind fixated on the flame and flow,
And the shrinking of my candle.
Around me people sang in Spanish:
Nada te turbe/nada te espante/
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta/
nada te turbe/nada te espante/
solo Dios basta.
I translated bits in my mind,
but mostly watched the wax drip, drip, drip.
Melting, lessened, reduced.
Lower, lower it burned.
Then, same song, English words:
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
Those who seek God will never go wanting.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
God alone fills us.
I remembered the Spanish: solo Dios basta
We filed to the front,
placed our candles in sand-filled bowls at the foot of the cross,
returned to our seats.
From there I could not see the candles,
But their collective glow lit up the Christ painted on the cross.
Another song began
and the cross was lifted from among the candles
Placed in front of them, flat on the ground.
Come forward, we were invited.
Come to the cross.
The line was long.
I watched the candles.
Many had burned down to nubs,
their flames low in the sand.
Others still stood tall.
In the flames’ flicker, the painted face and hands
of the Christ on the cross seemed to move.
When I knelt, put my hand on his,
I almost expected them to clasp together.
Around me voices rose.
The final line washed over me.
Love and do not fear.
Hello dear readers,
I’m sharing a post written by the wife of a college friend: “My Child in Pain: A Good Friday Reflection.” It’s beautiful! Please read.
There were a lot of things that had to be “just so” in my son Jake’s life when he was a toddler. Unfortunately he was a late talker, so he wasn’t usually able to tell me what they were. He simply threw himself on the floor and wailed. I had to figure it out by trial and error—and sometimes I never did!
I remember standing in front of him (more than once), yelling, “What Do You Want Me To Do?”
He couldn’t tell me. Sometimes I’m not sure he knew. Things Just Weren’t Right.
Bartimaeus squatted by the side of the dusty road, one hand outstretched. He waggled his fingers when he heard people pass and sometimes felt the weight of a coin dropped into his palm, mostly light ones but every once in a while a heavier piece. One evening, as he sat, his body aching from the hard ground, his arm tired, people gathered around him, jostled him. A parade? Some government official passing by?
“Jesus,” someone told him. “The Teacher. Surely you’ve heard of him.”
Bartimaeus had. Word of Jesus had spread among the beggars in the city. They shared tales of lame men whose legs had suddenly grown strong, lepers whose skin had become smooth, and blind men who’d had their sight restored. Jesus had been part of every story, right in the middle of it. What had Isaiah said the Messiah would do? Proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind.
“Jesus!” It was too crowded for him to stand, but Bartimaus could yell. “Jesus!”
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Shush,” those around him said. A few people stepped in front of him. He was smothered by the crowd.
But Bartimaeus yelled louder.
“Son of David, have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!” Someone slapped his head, but Bartimaeus shoved the hand away. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Suddenly the people around him stilled. He felt those in front of him move to the sides.
“Call him over.”
Who was that? Who said that?
Voices close to him said, “He’s talking to you! He wants to see you! Get up! Get over there.”
Bartimaeus shoved his cloak off his shoulders and jumped to his feet. Someone gave him a push in the right direction. He stumbled forward.
He stopped. He knew he was close. He could sense the man in front of him. Bartimaeus began trembling. “Son of David,” he whispered, “have mercy on me.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” said the voice.
What do you want me to do for you?
Jesus, his King, was asking him, a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.”
But the first thing Bartimaeus saw was Jesus, the Son of David, his King.
And his way was no longer his own.
His way was following Jesus.
Like Bartimaeus, I cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” Sometimes it is loud and articulate; sometimes little more than a whisper. Sometimes, like my then-toddler son, it is no more than a wail, a sob, a plea. And as he did with Bartimaeus, Jesus, the Son of David, King of the universe, my Lord, asks me, “What do you want me to do for you?” He never says it in frustration, and he doesn’t ask because he doesn’t know. He does know. He knows what I want—what I need!—more than anyone else. He knows it far better than I know it myself.
What do you want me to do for you?
I want to see you, Jesus. I want to see you.
(Warning: This is not a normal blog post!) Dear readers, as many of you know, I’m living now on the west side of Chicago, where Dave and I feel God has specifically led our family. Dave is teaching at a high school here that serves under-resourced students, and in early January I went on staff with Greenhouse Movement, a church-planting and partnering organization. I was specifically brought on staff to work with Bible Telling here on the west side of Chicago (I’m SO excited about this! I get to write and teach and connect with people–and all of it’s related to the story of God!).
Greenhouse is a missionary organization, so I am in the very faith-stretching process of finding my team of supporters. I know God already knows who they are, and He’s the one who will prompt them to join the team; my job is simply to share the vision of Greenhouse and the specifics of my ministry with as many people as possible! I decided to put this on my blog because I thought there might be some readers who would want to know more and who might, after talking with me, want to join my team. So if you’re reading this, and you would like to hear more about Greenhouse and what I will be doing, PLEASE email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would love to talk with you!
Most stories related in Scripture are quick—we rush through years in just a few verses. As a result, the emotions we experience as we read these stories don’t follow those of the people within them. We move straight from the “oh no” of the problem to the rejoicing of the climax: with Joseph over his success as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man; with the Israelites over their exodus from Egypt; with Hannah over the birth of Samuel; with Sarah and Abraham over the birth of Isaac; …
And in doing so we often glide right through the waiting period. We don’t recognize and sit in the grief, fear, doubt, and even anger of the loooong limbo that came before the climax.
I think we need to pay more attention to the waiting in the Bible—there’s quite a bit of it! The descendants of Jacob were enslaved for generations before the dramatic plagues that resulted in their rescue. Joseph, imprisoned after his double betrayal, must have eventually accepted his lot—until the cupbearer promised he would try to get him released. Joseph’s heart surely soared—and then descended to the depths when he realized the cupbearer failed him. The waiting years that followed must have been filled with some bitterness and wrestling—and lots of questions. Sarah chose against patient waiting; she worked and connived to get the fulfillment of God’s promise, but when she realized the folly and futility of her own way, she settled, opting for the numb loss of hope rather than the pain of expectant waiting. Hannah endured years of taunting by her husband’s other wife (who probably felt unloved by their husband) while Hannah prayed and cried for a son.
We read these stories and move from problem to answer in words and phrases. From the perspective of those living in the story, though, the climaxes did not come quickly. And often, when a climax did come, it was followed by more waiting.
Much, if not most, of our lives is spent waiting.
And waiting is hard.
A book that is on my summer reading list is The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. In it Alan Kreider argues that the early church saw patient waiting as one of its primary works. After all, the Church then saw itself as being in the already-and-not-yet time between Christ’s inauguration of the Kingdom and its complete fulfillment. We are in the same time! Waiting is an integral part of our lives as believers; it is, in a sense, one of the defining marks of our Christian faith.
Kreider believes the early Church grew and thrived through its focus on and development of patience; patience, he says, was a huge topic among the early church writers. They emphasized the use of prayer, catechesis*, and worship to help the church develop patient reflexes. And they saw that patience not only was work; it did work: good work.
We can and should develop expectant patience in the same ways; and some of our study should focus on God’s story as it wove through Israel’s history, was fulfilled in Christ, and is continuing to weave through the history of the Church. When we do this we realize, as the early church did, that our waiting is not new; waiting has always been required; and waiting does good work in those who accept it with patient expectation in God.
How do we do this? We can reflect on stories that had long lag times between the conflict and the resolution. Rather than gliding over the waiting verses, we can press into them; we can emphasize the in-between period more; we can wonder what sustained the biblical characters during this time.
We can also tell stories of our own waiting more often. Too often we only tell our fulfilled stories, our stories of answered prayer. Maybe we need to share our stories even while we are still in the waiting time; maybe we need to share the prayers we pray that are as yet unfulfilled. And we definitely need to affirm the good work all this waiting does in us; we need to examine it in ourselves and point out the growth waiting has accomplished/is accomplishing in others.
I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. Psalm 40:1-3, the Message (the link takes you to this verse side by side in Message and NIV)
Wait on the Lord; his day is near.Wait on the Lord; be strong, take heart. (These are the words to a Taize song that I often sing to myself when the waiting [for whatever] seems long and hard. The link is to a beautiful rendition of it on Youtube.)
*instruction given to a person in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation—basically, the teaching of the faith.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite books, lawyer Atticus Finch gives his young daughter some advice: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
…climb in his skin
In the incarnation, Christ did exactly that, didn’t he? He climbed into humanity’s skin, walked around in it, and considered things from humanity’s point of view. He became well acquainted with all the emotions, all the temptations, and all the struggles that come part and parcel with human skin.
But it wasn’t just any old skin he put on. Christ chose a very specific skin, and he walked around in it and considered its very particular point of view for 33 years.
The skin he chose was bundled at birth into whatever cloths happened to be at hand.
Because Christ put on the skin of the poor.
It was nearly skewered when it was still infant soft.
Because Christ put on the skin of the powerless.
It was carried off into a foreign country.
Because Christ put on the skin of the refugee and immigrant.
It was shunned by the religious and those highly reputed.
Because Christ put on the skin of the illegitimate.
It grew rough and callused.
Because Christ put on the skin of the working poor.
It lay itself down on the ground and at times grew tight over ribs.
Because Christ put on the skin of the homeless.
It was bruised and torn by guards.
Because Christ put on the skin of prisoners.
It was naked in the sight of all.
Because Christ put on the skin of all those forced to expose themselves to others.
“Then the King (Jesus) will say to those at his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father: Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling you the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—
you did it to me.’