#callingmeout

Oh, hey Lent devotional on the first day of Spring. #callingmeout

Our consumerism is rooted in a lack of faith. We are worried about what others think because we are not convinced that God delights in us (Psalm 149:4). We are anxious because we do not believe God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:32). We vie for attention because we do not think God rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6). We compare ourselves to others because we forget that Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). A consumer is self-seeking because he is preoccupied with building his own kingdom in order to meet his own needs. During Lent, Jesus especially calls us to re-right our lives, to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Spring is here, officially. That’s what the calendar says, anyway. I want so badly for winter to be over – to emerge from all the caves we’ve been hiding inside. But when I read this paragraph this morning, I realized winter cannot be the scapegoat for a wayward heart.

I am a worried, anxious, attention-seeking, comparison complexing, self-seeking consumer. I can blame it on winter, but I would be wrong. Because I can lack faith in the middle of the best blooming Spring the same way I can lack faith in the wake of a forever winter.

This is the beauty of Lent, in the “re-righting” of our lives, God invites us to believe that He is full of miracles to overflow every season. Every season, miracles. Every season, faithfulness. Every season, provision. Every season, righteousness. Every season, abundance.

Every season, always joy.

I may not feel like pastel colors and singing in the rain, but God’s offer of abundance is not based on my feelings or my willingness to accept it. God’s offer of abundance is based on His goodness and I am missing out to believe in anything else. I am missing out because nothing else will fill me up and nothing else will give an overflow I can pour out in service to others.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Instead of demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others.

*Excerpts from this Lent Devotional, Journey to the Cross.

and the sun plays on my knuckles

I purposefully unplanned this day so I could enjoy the sunlight crawling up the windows and an entire New Yorker article in one sitting, accompanied by the lazy folk sounds of Wild Child.

Six pages is a lot to read in one sitting, maybe too much, but not when it’s in The New Yorker and not when it is written by a witty, thoughtful ninety-three-year-old man. I hope I bump into him, but I am afraid we run in different circles and Central Park is not the most convenient place for me to hang out in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll write him anyway because, who knows?

I am one of those people who tries to boast an “old soul,” so maybe we would get along just fine. I could sit for hours and listen to his tales. I once wrote several stories for a local paper about an assisted living home. I sat down with real people who had lived real, lengthy lives and just listened. It was definitely my favorite work in “advertising,” because it didn’t feel like I was trying to convince anyone to buy anything. It felt like I was having coffee with Glenda and Bob and Ruth, because that’s what I did.

The sun is making it almost impossible to see my computer screen now, but I refuse to move from my spot by the window. The golden glow on my little clicking fingers is too wonderful a feeling to abandon quickly.

Sooner or later, I will crawl out from under this purple flowered afghan my Gram gave me because I have plans to meet a friend for coffee. I will face ordinary things like watering apartment plants and attempting laundry and cleaning a manageable corner of this living space. Sooner or later and in a few minutes, I will pull away from the screen and just sit a bit before this whole glorious Monday slips away in underwhelming presidential celebration.

But I’ll first let the sun play on my knuckles a little, teeny bit longer because I imagine these are the moments Roger Angell would tell me to appreciate.

solitude is an OK thing to need

The Atlantic did not have to be the one to tell me.

I did not, necessarily, need to read it from the pen of artists who have already ‘made it,’ but I suppose I believed it more easily. I was quick to let the words resonate – to make my solitude-seeking legitimate and unselfish and regular. Maybe it was just that title, “What Great Artists Need: Solitude” that made me first click through to the lengthy article. I want to be a great artist someday (everyday) and I will gladly take all pieces of free, expert advice.

And so Dorthe Nors tells me she learned about needing solitude from the creative genius of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. In addition to having a very interesting name, Bergman is known for directing somewhere around sixty films and documentaries. But Nors points to his writing in The Atlantic article.

All of it resonated, but some little bits are still haunting me almost two weeks later. Because I do battle with solitude. Every time I plan a party or agree to a coffee date there are moments (and sometimes many) when I want to cancel. I want to turn inside myself because it is easier and because I’m out of energy and because there is no way I can attempt all the creative things on my to-do list if I am never alone. Let’s be honest – forget creative… I won’t get to the practical things either like cleaning out the fridge or fixing our bathroom door so it closes or worrying about the baby mouse I have seen scurry across our kitchen floor twice.

Alone time is good to get things like your kitchen and your bathroom and your soul in order. Solitude should not always get the leftovers because many times it is where we do serious business with the demons in our lives. Nors writes,

“Solitude, I think, heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful. When you sit there, alone and working, you get thrown back on yourself. Your life and your emotions, what you think and what you feel, are constantly being thrown back on you. And then the “too much humanity” feeling is even stronger: you can’t run away from yourself. You can’t run away from your emotions and your memory and the material you’re working on. Artistic solitude is a decision to turn and face these feelings, to sit with them for long periods of time.

It takes the courage to be there. You run into your own pettiness. Your own cowardice. You run into all kinds of ugly sides of yourself. But the things that you’ve experienced in your life become the writing that you do. And there’s no easy way to get to it, if you want to write literary fiction.

And that’s what Bergman and other Swedish writers have taught me—to stay in that painful zone, discipline myself through it to get where I want.”

This is what Swedish authors are teaching Nors and what Nors is teaching me. It does take courage to be alone – and not just for the baby mouse that needs to be caught in my kitchen. I am a petty person and cowardly and all kinds of ugly. If I’m never alone, I never really feel the weight of those things I am. Nors talks about something Bergman wrote in one of his journals, compiled in a book called Images,

“Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.”

It’s not even about creating the kind of literary fiction that will be remembered like Bergman and Nors. It’s about having the imprint of eternity on our souls… and knowing that the eternal imprint is never contained by a body or inside a day.

It’s a too much feeling that not all the words in all the world could explain. But it is a tension that doesn’t need explanation as much as it needs space.

Rest. Tension. Time. Space. Struggle.

All this, my solitude-seeking, could also be related to my search for Sabbath rest. Artist or not, we all need that.

It was a jumble of reasons that landed me in the middle of reflections on solitude and Sabbath as I read the lessons Dorthe Nors learned from Ingmar Bergman. But, I guess I get it. It is good to be with people, but it is good to be alone – to fight against the too much pushing free of my chest. It is good to do battle with the space between my silent face and an empty ceiling. It is good to sit with the painful, weighty bits of humanity inside that remind me I am weak and poor and ill-equipped for everything I try.

It is good to make space enough for a full swing of the only sword fashioned to win against such a mighty weight, such a mighty too much.

we are chance creators

There is this thing in soccer called “chances created.” It’s a statistic that tracks how many times a soccer player has created chances for plays. I heard about it yesterday at church because our pastor’s favorite soccer player is known for his “chances created” statistic.

And this matters because the friends of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8 were about creating chances. They knew that carrying their friend to the door of the home where Jesus was preaching was not enough. The crowd craned their necks from all windows and doorways to see and hear the teaching; there was no way to get their friend to the front where Jesus stood.

Oh, sure, they could have turned back and no one would have asked why. But they were about creating chances – they were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus because they thought something unbelievable could happen.

There was no guarantee, just a chance to witness something beautiful.

And that belief was big enough to motivate their deconstructing a roof and their Macgyvering a lowering system to interrupt Jesus’ teaching with the presence of a disabled man.

The presence of Jesus was that important.

They created a chance for their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus because they believed it could change his life forever. Even just the chance was worth the sweat and trouble and questioning stares. Worth it.

Do I think getting uncomfortable and awkward and tired is worth the chances it creates for others to meet Jesus?

Good question.

Sometimes I waste time weighing out my options. I wonder if the invitations will be received well and if the conversation will be offensive. I wonder about future conversations and wonder if I will keep or lose friendships. I wonder about looking silly and feeling ashamed. I wonder about how much the other person even wants a chance to meet Jesus.

But these guys, they were relentless. And when their paralyzed friend finally got lowered down with the Bible times version of duct tape and WD 40, Jesus surprised everyone.

He looked past the paralyzed man’s obvious and most debilitating physical need. He looked past the years of struggle and got inside his heart… and what He saw needed forgiving. Whatever it was, we can all relate. We are all the paralyzed man, inside. We all need to get to the foot of Jesus so He can expose what is dark apart from any physical anxieties that knot us up on the outside.

So, this was the man’s chance at the feet of Jesus – his chance to experience something that would transform everything else about his mat-constrained life. And then Jesus healed this paralyzed man of sin. He forgave him for all the darkness hiding out in his heart. That was the magic and that was the mystery – the play that happened as a result of the chance created.

After the crowd backlashed and questioned, Jesus also healed the man’s physical body so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is Lord over the spiritual and the physical. All of it, everything.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper

This is why we are chance creators.

Because God is the best at unearned surprises – the eternal and physical, the now and future, the simple and complex kinds. He is the best at surprises and we must be about creating chances for friends and neighbors and strangers to sit at His feet.

We don’t know what will happen, but it will never be bad.
God will always be glorified and it will always be worth it.

Definitely love your local church, but if you want to be encouraged by mine, listen to this sermon from Sunday by Vito!

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don’t walk directly towards someone running in your direction).

I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as “joy.” It was an excitement that fluttered with a “heaven-like longing” that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis’s writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in “Surprised by Joy,” his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

Well, anyway… as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn’t catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment – knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn’t be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action – all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day – the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I’m on my way to a staff meeting, but I’ll first be dropping off these little love bundles for “every day in May” creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending
blessings, stamped and ready for sending

 

admiration for existence

Cover of "Gilead: A Novel"
Cover of Gilead: A Novel

Oh, the mysterious power of story.

We look at life differently when we step into worlds where anything is possible – where things are upside down because that’s how the storyteller is telling it. We don’t look for any other explanation because we don’t need one. The story unfolds and we sit on the edge of our seats (or whatever nook where fiction is best read) to follow the narrative.

I’m so tangled up with the characters of Marilynne Robinson‘s Gilead that I may already think of them as real people in my life – the way some people think about celebrities I suppose.

John Ames is a brilliant man, but the least presuming man I know. He is coming to the end of his life slowly and carrying very little resentment, at least that I can tell. He wants so badly for his young son to know things – things about his heritage and stories he was told as a boy. But John doesn’t just say things in the pages he hopes his son will one day read. This aging preacher admires existence by stringing words together and then invites his son into the wonder with him.

This is what the preacher’s writing is doing to me, anyway. I have so many things highlighted in my kindle edition that I could sit for hours and write the inspiration that comes from a few words, a phrase, a sentence, an analogy. He is genius in a way that isn’t self-promotional and my creativity kind of balks at that. He chooses words carefully, even though he knows that by the time his son reads the letters it will do him no good to sound impressive.

And do you see how brilliant Marilynne is as a storyteller? I am engaging directly with her characters, who I’ve decided are brilliant. When we can crawl inside the story and learn from the characters, the author has achieved a very fragile beauty. Her characters are teaching me, inspiring me, and creatively challenging me to look at the world differently – to see wonder in the way the light dances on the moon and to notice beauty in routine human exchanges.

In one of his letters, Ames wrote,

“I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly.” (Gilead, p. 64)

What does being that full of admiration feel like and how does one know when proper enjoyment is just out of reach? Could it be that when we are enjoying fully we understand our enjoying to be a truer glimpse of what is to come (and that a proper enjoying will last forever)?

I know part of the beauty of Ames’s character is that he is near death and so finds freedom for transparency and for love in a way that we’ve constrained ourselves against (though we are all just as mortal).

Maybe there is a way to shake some of the constraint – to live a little less encumbered by this mortal life and thereby being freed to full admiration for its existence.

battling for dancing feet

Normally, we speak about battling in combative terms.

I guess that makes sense. But sometimes I wonder if we forget why we are engaged in battle. Why do we wield the sword of the Spirit? Is it to conquer enemies, to show mastery, to be victorious, to make a name for ourselves, or to be king of the mountain?

Why do we put on the armor of God and train ourselves for the trenches? Why? Is the main objective in doing battle with the evil forces of the world to do battle with the evil forces of the world?

The glory of the Gospel story is not that we do battle for battle’s sake.

We do battle because God has asked us to dance.

Yes, God is asking us to step out with him on the cosmic dance floor where Satan is crushed underneath His feet. After describing the eternal dance of the Trinity, Tim Keller closes out chapter one of Jesus the King,

“[Christ] has gone before you into the heart of a very real battle, to draw you into the ultimate reality of the dance. What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: ‘This is my beloved child-you are my beloved child, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.'”

If our excitement in training and armor wearing and sword wielding is about the battle, then we must ask the Lord to examine our hearts. Because the daily battling is not eternal. The temptations are not eternal. The struggle is not eternal.

The dance of our God is eternal – it existed before Adam’s lungs held air – and this perfect dance is what we are invited to, what we are rescued into, and what we are made for.

Now, let’s do Tuesday battle for dancing feet.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Jesus the King (previously published as King’s Cross) by Tim Keller. It is a great book to go through with new believers or old believers who want to dive into the Gospel of Mark with new believing eyes.