Lent: And the Frogs Will Sing Again

There are two nights in farm life that matter the most every year: the night the frogs begin to croak and the night when the fireflies begin to mate, lighting the whole of our fields with thousands of frantically blinking lights bent on attracting one another into a reproductive orgy. The fireflies dance, usually in early May, and signal with their fervor that summer has officially begun, as far as Mother Nature is concerned. When the frogs cry, Spring has begun. Phyllis Tickle

God is doing something. I feel it in my soul, in my bones.

I recently looked – really looked – at our oldest son, Wyatt. He’s only five (five and a half, he’ll tell you), but I see in his eyes and his expression, hear in the tone of his words, the young man he is becoming. We spent Friday night at the house of friends, and one of our friends asked Wyatt what sports he was playing. Wyatt’s answer was simple, nondescript. “Soccer,” he said. But there was something in the word, the way it came out of his mouth, the way his tall body straddled the bench where he sat, that gave me a premonition, an early glance of the man he will be growing into. It was all so slight, but there are some things only a father sees.

And oh how I want to see. I want to see my son’s passion and fear and energy – and I want to call him to his courage, to his boldness, to his place in this world. And Seth, our youngest, ever bit as much. I want to see his wild dance and his mad, artistic creativity and his easily bruised heart – and I want to call him to his voice, to his dangerous tenderness, to his place in this world.

I want to see my boys. I want to call these truths out of them. And I will. By God’s mercy, I will. But it will take time. It will take patience. I will have to wade through their sin and their fear and their shame and their hesitation and their questions and their rebellion. That’s just what dads who want to give themselves to their sons do.

I also am a son. I also have sin and fear and hesitation and questions and rebellion. And my good Father, bold and generous, sees my passion and panic, my shame as well as my wild dancing, my moments of gritty courage right along with the moments I surrender my true identity and cower in the corner. And my strong Father calls me forth, calls me into newness, calls me to my true self in Jesus. But it will take time. It will take patience. That is what a Father who wants to give himself to his sons and his daughters does.

This is the beauty of Lent – it is a time for time. A long season, not a fleeting day. Over these forty days, we can see God’s slow, steady work. Often, it will not be dramatic or immediate. It will be awakening, morning after morning, to another day of sensing God birthing both fresh and old truths in our heart. It will be a steady (almost plodding at times) re-ordering ourselves, one day after the other, to how truly desperate we are for God.

As we sit in this season of repentant hope, we are purposefully reminding ourselves each day that time is necessary for God to make us into the person he intends for us to be. Lent is a season to wait, to listen, to hope for the Easter that is not yet here. This is why, in many Christian traditions, the “Alleluia” is not prayed during daily prayers. This is not yet the season for Alleluia – that is coming. Indeed, our every hope bends toward that Resurrection moment. But we are not there yet. Not yet. Now, we wait. And we let God do God’s work.

And blessedly, in these weeks when “Alleluia” is denied to me, the frogs are driven to assert it. Out of the slime and wet of our winter pond, they raise their resurrection cry: We will be again.
Phyllis Tickle

waiting peace / Winn

+Phyllis Tickle has a Lenten blog going. It’s beautiful.

Colbert and the Lucifer Effect

{by the way, that title looks kinda eerie in red and black, doesn’t it?}

I saw this Colbert piece today, and it was just too fantastic. Early on, Colbert was in usual character and used his sarchasm (as he does so well) to highlight some of our looney notions on authority. But (it seems to me at least) that about 2/3 of the way in, a bit of Colbert’s ire was genuinely stoked. And that last line…

My Sunday School memories would be a good bit different if I’d had a teacher like that.

Lent: An Awakened Imagination

The brain is the organ of truth; imagination the organ of reality.
{Clyde Kilby}

Many Christian disciplines – and Lent is no different – suffer from a debilitating reputation: that they are activities encouraging us to withdraw from the reality around us, ways of hiding out from the physical, lived-in world. For many of us, prayer is what we do only after we are finished doing everything we can muster. Meditation, we suppose, is for monks who cloister themselves away and who literally have nothing better to do with their time. Even communal worship takes a bit of a rap for being a way the church creates and sustains its cultural bubble.

If ever we use our spiritual practices as a way of disengagement, however, we have entirely missed the point. A constant posture of dependence on God and recognition of Jesus’ sustaining presence (which is simply another way of saying prayer) is not an afterthought, but rather the very oxygen we need to survive, to “breathe and move and have our being.” Gathering with God’s people to retell the Gospel story and to remember that Jesus is with us, redeeming and healing, offers an invitation to more deeply engage God’s work in our world, not a way of distancing ourselves from it.

This is why it is most insidious that the word imagination has become synonymous with detaching from the “real world.” Imagination suffers under the unfair indictment that it is the realm for children who have not yet grown up. However, the constant witness of our best spiritual teachers, from St. Ignatius to C.S. Lewis to Eugene Peterson, insists that the redeemed imagination is actually one of the ways we ground ourselves in real, solid, spiritual truth. Our redeemed, Christ-immersed imagination allows us to see with spiritual eyes and to hear with spiritual ears what is real, what is true, what we might miss if all we relied on was our analytical brain or our five senses. So, in Christian theology, the imagination is neither divorced from or subservient to our physical, rational realities. Rather, they all work in harmony, our whole person engaging all God has for us.

This is why, for me, Lent is a season where God uses my physical experiences to connect my heart and soul to spiritual truth. And, let me tell you, if ever I needed my heart and soul to envision and hear and obey spiritual truth, it is now.

I need to be caught up in a fuller, truer, more alive story than the one I have been living in. My mind has grown dull with shame and fear and the tyranny of a mind locked-in on all that is small and stifling, all that is in opposition to God. I need to be re-awakened. I need prodding. I am a physical being, and I need something tangible, a physical jolt, to blow a little oxygen on the embers of my soul’s imagination.

Today, I do not need a doctrine or a principal or a theological idea (all good). Today, I need the hand of God, the whisper of the Spirit. I need my brother Jesus to walk beside me. Today, I need a fresh vision of what God is doing in my heart, in my family, among my friends and my church. Today, I need to hear God tell me what he truly thinks of me. Today, I need the Spirit to allow me to see another story, a story quite different from the one the Deceiver has been peddling.

Today, this second week of Lent, I need a physical reminder that God is with me, that Jesus is all around me, that the Spirit of the Living God is the one truth-teller. I need the Word of God to again “become flesh.”

So, today, as I pray the Hours, I hear these words: Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. And hope fills my heart. My imagination turns from my small self and hears another truth, another reality. I fast over a meal, and my physical hunger turns my attention toward my deeper craving for God’s redemption. I turn off the computer earlier than normal, and my mind (rather than being distracted by virtual realities or the constant possibility of more information) engages the very present fact that I am a father, a husband, a son of God. Here. Now. In this space. In this moment.

I want all God has for me, all God is for me in Jesus. I want my mind and my heart and my soul and my body to be fully alive, awake to my world. I pray that this Lenten season would offer me another opportunity to see Jesus do a fresh work, a fresh awakening.

It takes imagination to live in God’s world. {N.T. Wright}

hope / Winn

Lent: Mighty to Save

Well, Lent is here, for sure. Almost on cue, this past week, the hammer dropped. I’ve experienced spiritual dearth, oppressiveness, shame, fear, loneliness. In the words of my new friend Kade, “this kind of shit gets old fast.” Amen, brother.

If you want another perspective on the state of things in my house this past weekend, you can peek over at what my wife Miska had to say about it.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all suggesting that Lent = gloom, doom and the need for a large bottle of Prozac. I am, however, suggesting that Lent, if we are courageous enough to allow it, can be a season where we truly open up our heart and provide a wide space for God’s Spirit to do deep work in our soul. Over these weeks, we can allow God the place to do what he is always longing to do: to fill and heal and bind up and reshape – basically, to make us more of our true self, to wipe away the grime and the gray shades of sorrow that have covered our true glory. If we need hope, hope is what God will work to give us. If we need faith or joy or laughter, God’s Spirit, we can be sure, will be moving there.

Unfortunately, however, what I need is a size 13 shoe to the backside. I’ve listened to lies too long. In some places of my soul, I’ve waffled and wavered and basically pranced daintily around when I ought to be standing on two firm feet, staring evil down and telling it to go to Hell where it belongs.

I don’t want to be a wuss anymore. I want to be wide-alive. I want to be a reckless man, reckless for my wife, reckless for my boys, reckless for all the truths I believe in. However, I know this is beyond me. I need God. I want God. In the wreck I’ve made of things, in the dark places where evil and weakness and plain ol’ foolishness have cornered my heart, I need God. I need the God who is, as older generations liked to say, “mighty to save.”

We prayed this Lenten prayer on Sunday. I think I’ll pray it again:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lenten peace / Winn

Day of Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. On this day, we embark on a journey toward redemption, a journey toward Easter.

Lent spreads over forty mornings and evenings, beginning today, the day of ashes, and concluding with that beautiful sunrise when we proclaim with loud and joyous voices, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” For these forty days (excluding the six Sundays we will encounter because each of these is a “mini-Easter”), we renounce evil (sin that binds us or distractions that pull at us or lies we have believed) by a physical act of repentance. We give something up (chocolate, sex, TV). Or we take on a discipline (praying the Hours, serving in a shelter). Essentially, we allow Jesus, physical God, to meet us in physical ways.

I grew up in a tradition that didn’t celebrate Ash Wednesday or Lent (or Good Friday or Advent or anything else that might align us with those “Christians with the smells and bells”). Like any good thing, these practices can of course be abused, tempting us to flex our spiritual muscle or to try to earn kudos from God. However, I’ve found that I need these physical reminders, these sacramental encounters, to guide my mind and my heart and my body deeper toward Jesus.

A friend of mine who is Anglican priest told me (in flabbergasted tone) how put off he was by a fellow pastor who complained that Ash Wednesday was too somber, too focused on sin. Out of 365, he wanted to know, can’t we have just one single day to repent?

These practices are certainly no end to themselves. They aren’t intended to focus on us: our rigor, our righteousness, our devotion. These sacramental practices intend to turn us toward Jesus, to stir our heart toward our desperate need for a long redemption.

This, then, is the question for us to ask these forty days that will follow: where do we need God’s redemption? Where do we need resurrection? Where is the broken place that – unless God heals us – we are truly without hope?

For me, I want to be released from myself, from my fear. I want to turn away from all the noise I allow to distract me from the work God wants to do in my heart. I want to truly believe that Jesus is life, my life. I want to embrace my full salvation in Jesus. To do this, I need the ashes, the reminders that I am marked by Jesus. I need these concrete actions: turning off both the computer and my appetite for food each night at 9 (the discipline Miska has chosen for me – each of us choose for the other). I need my community to journey with me these days. It’s too long to go alone.

I hope to continue this Lenten conversation with at least one post each week of the journey. I hope to share more of what God will be stirring in my heart. Join me these forty days of hoping and waiting and repenting, these days of believing in Jesus and moving toward resurrection.

We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ. -Thomas Merton

Defiance

Today, my dcf pastor-partner Nathan Elmore and I went to see There Will Be Blood. I had quite a reaction to the film, and you can read about it here if you’re interested. However, for me, one of the best parts of the experience was seeing the trailer for Defiance, a movie releasing this Fall and chronicling a true story of a few brother’s heroic attempts to save the refugees of an entire Jewish village from the Nazis. This is one I can not wait for.

I’m very ready to be immersed in a story about true heroes.

peace / Winn

The Cougar and the DJ

My friend Brandon Loy has long been known as a slambang movie producer. In recent months, he has entered the cluttered world of podcasting to offer a truly distinct, beautiful gift. Every month or two, Brandon offers a feast of new music, taking 45 minutes or so to introduce us to a wide assortment of artists and tunes we might otherwise miss. True to Brandon’s euphonic tastes, his choices provide us with musical and lyrical artfulness. Even better, knowing how Brandon connects with music, his podcast gives us a little glimpse of his soul.

You can download his podcast here or, even better, search for “Brandon Loy” or “notmybrother” on the itunes podcast directory.

If you don’t understand the cougar reference or the “notmybrother” moniker, get to know him. You’ll be glad you did.

peace / Winn

Obama and Simple Christian Truthfulness

First, three rules for those who like to regularly forward mass emails offering sensational or conspiratorial or rumorish info to the rest of us:

1. Don’t.
2. If you must, please refer to rule #1
3. If you still must, please take 30 seconds and google. You’ll find that most of what you are about to send is a load of hooey.

*****

I received an email forward last week. My guess is a number of you did as well. Essentially, it was a fear-mongering piece drawing out (again) the familial connections between Obama and Islam. To begin with, many of the assertions were simply not true; and for every legitimate historical fact included, they added an interpretive layer on top that was nothing short of imaginative conjecture based on a whole boatload of prior assumptions.

It sent me over the moon. Really, it did.

And my reaction was not because I’m an Obama supporter. I like the guy. I appreciate much about his way and ethos, and I cozy up to some of his ideas. However, my political impulse and my convictions about the common good and social justice, etc., will most likely move me elsewhere. We’ll see… But that’s just not what this is about. This is about basic issues of Christian honesty and fairness, of integrity and baseline respect for our fellowman.

I was angered because of this: the subtle under-text of this vastly distributed email was that the patriots initiating it were somehow protecting our Christian nation from the infidels. One of the most egregious claims was that Obama had joined a Christian church for the sole purpose of political expediency. Please tell me how could one possibly know such a thing? Didn’t Jesus have something to say about subjective human judging – on the issue of one’s soul, nonetheless?

I read this email. And I grieve. I grieve that it seems we care about political maneuvering more than we care about the simple Christian discipline of truth-telling. I grieve that we sell out our subversive voice because of our infatuation with a cause (a cause other than God’s Kingdom, no less). I grieve because such things tell us where our loyalties truly lie. I grieve because it signals we want to win more than we want to live in the Jesus way, speaking what is true and honest and just.

Winning at any cost is not a Christian virtue, no matter the cause, no matter the spin.

peace / Winn

p.s. I must add this. One of the mistruths in the email was that Barack refused to be sworn in on the Bible but rather insisted on using the Koran. Regardless of what one thinks about such things in a pluralistic nation, the plain fact is that it is a lie. Barack was sworn in on the Bible, and the hilarious part is that there is a picture of Dick Cheney right beside him when it happened. Again: 30 seconds. Google.

Winter Joy

Around here, it happens only slightly more often than leap year: snow.

Last night when Miska told the boys there was the possibility of white weather, Wyatt informed us that when he grows up, he wants us all to “move to Florida where it snows all the time.” We tried to let him down gently and move his compass either further north or further west. The boys stayed up a little late and went out on the back deck trying to feel and catch the first flakes dropping from the sky.

This morning, we woke to a wide blanket of snow, the leaf-bare trees draped by white velvet. It was beautiful. Of course, Wyatt and Seth insisted on sprinting outside, needing (for the first time) their gortex winter ski gloves. Giddy with excitment, Wyatt blurted out, “This is the best winter ever.” Outside, Seth jumped in head first, the first to make a snow angel, the first to test our makeshift rubbermaid sled, the first to make a snowman.

Today, feeling snowflakes on my tongue and hearing Seth’s raucous laughter as he slid down the hill…Today, enjoying Wyatt’s wide eyes as he crafted the perfect snowball and concocted his best odds at launching it square between my eyes, my heart opened. I felt God alive in my boys. I watched and learned. Now, I repent of my callous heart that is often slow to be given to the moment, enraptured with the passion of where God is stirring life.

It takes me to a portion of Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent Miska read to me last night:

I guess we’re all, or most of us, the wards of that nine-teenth-century science which denied existence to anything it could not measure or explain. The things we couldn’t explain went right on but surely not with our blessing. We did not see what we couldn’t explain, and meanwhile a great part of the world was abandoned to children, insane people, fools, and mystics, who were more interested in what is than why it is.

joy / winn

Undone

Yesterday, I was undone. It was Sunday. Resurrection Day. But Resurrection was a long way away. My heart was dark and shifty and felt like it was drowning, being held under swirling, grimy water by an unrelenting, evil hand.

But we sat among friends. I heard the Gospel reading from the lectionary for the day. Miska led us in a contemplative prayer, helping us to “image” our prayer rather than “word” our prayer. We sang this refrain: “Oh, how he loves us.” Tears came as I realized I don’t really believe that line. I believe it factually. I believe it theologically. I would pick that answer on a test. But I don’t believe it, not in my gut, not in the places that matter most. But the words kept coming, from the screen, from the voices all around me. And I cried.

And then we passed the peace. In our church, we hug or shake hands (usually hug) and say something like “Peace to you” or “Peace of Jesus to you.” One and then two and three and four and five people came to me – Miska first. Only Miska knew where my heart was, but each physically offered Jesus to me…in a touch…with their voice. And the tears came again.

Next, I was supposed to teach. From John 11. The story of Lazarus’ death and Mary and Martha’s deep agony and disillusionment because Jesus refused to come when they had pleaded with him to do so. This is a strange story of bewilderment and disappointment and a God who doesn’t do what we expect. A God who lets Lazarus die. Who allows Mary to weep. A God who grows angry and then weeps himself. And a God who, when all is said and done, truly was (as he said) “the resurrection and the life.”

I was a mess. My story is no story of spiritual victory. Just spiritual brokenness. The Gospel (through friends and text and music and touch and sacrament) broke through, spoke to me, breathed hope into me. But I was still undone, still wounded, still wondering. My choice was whether or not I would give from that place. Whether I would weep and tell the truth. Or whether I would lie.

Thankfully, God didn’t really give me a choice. I stood, and the tears came. It was pretty humbling, but if church truly is community…If God truly is center stage…Then what we bring to the moment should really just be ourselves, hoping for the Gospel, desperate for Jesus. God wasn’t going to let me wiggle free yesterday. When you’re standing in front of your church blubbering, it’s pretty hard to hide or pretend or tell a cutesy story and move on. Left to myself, I might have chosen a safer, more dishonest path. But God wasn’t going to have it.

Resurrection only comes in ways God chooses. For Lazarus. For us.

I don’t entirely like these words that follow. But I’m beginning to believe them. I’m beginning to hope God will give me the courage to let loose of myself (my reputation, my leadership, my image) and embrace them:

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. Henri Nouwen

Jesus’ peace to you,
Winn