God is up to something, always – this I believe. God is always redeeming, always bringing hope out of rubble, always forgiving what seems unforgivable, always speaking truth into lie, always mending what is broken, always restoring what has been taken, what has been lost, what we have foolishly given away.
God often does this mending and redeeming and restoring and forgiving in ways and times and places that do not meet up to our sense of how a mending, redeeming, restoring, forgiving God would work. But then, that’s to be expected isn’t, it? We are the ones who are broken and lost, after all, the ones who can rarely make much sense of anything at all. But then – now and then – in moments that surprise us, God sends reminders of what he has been up to all along, that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned. That God is doing what God has always been doing – “putting the world to rights,” as N.T. Wright says. Laughter breaks through our tears. Unexpectedly, the music moves us and we find ourselves dancing. A story takes us into a true world we have neglected. A kiss. A Scripture. A friend. A whisper from God. A glimpse of the moon.
The moon is our monthly proof that darkness gives way to light, endings to new beginnings. — Starhawk
So, numerous churches in our area appreciate the not-so-subtle power of the marquee. The whole medium is lost on me, but hey, I though the ipod would be a bust.
A friend at church told me about this one, and I had to go see it for myself. This was just too good.
The irony is endless.
For starters, I guess a church with “Freedom” in its name is bound (one might say, pre-ordained) to be at odds with ol’ Calvin.
And the pigs fly thing … my friend, that is too stellar. The most ironic piece, however, was the message they had on the back side of this sign critiquing Calvin and all his cohorts: I will leave any editorializing to you, but this had to be a case, as Miska said, where the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.
However, this did give me an idea. I would love to see some of the best church signs from around the country. Snap some shots and email them to me.
I’ll pick a few to post here on the blog – and for the very best one, I’ll send you a free copy of my new book. We’ll say the contest ends in two weeks, November 30th. Send me some good ones.
I recently had an audio conversation with my friend, Nathan Elmore. Nathan guided our conversation toward reflections on faith, life, and my first two books. I’d love for you to download it and take a listen.(it’s the first file on the page)
As an added bonus,one of my all-time favorite indie artists, Tom Conlon, is allowing me to release two free singles with this interview. Enjoy!
Well, sort of. My new book, Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Francois Fenelon is out.
I am excited about this book because it is a collection of letters written by Fenelon to a number of friends, letters where he was answering their questions and offering them spiritual guidance for their life-journey. These letters connected with my own desire for wiser, elder, spiritual guides, and so I modernized them, wrote introductions to help us hear Fenelon’s wisdom in response to the sorts of questions we might ask today, and wrote an opening chapter encouraging us to recognize our need for spiritual guides in our life. So, grab a copy. And, while you are at it — be sure to download a recent interview I’ve done talking about faith, life, and my first two books. Also, there is a special gift – two singles from one of my favorite indie artists, Tom Conlon.
If God is real, why can’t we see him? If God is with us, why isn’t he saying anything?
Simple questions, so well tread that they run close to cliché. Still the questions dog us. Many of us can’t shake them free. Near his death, the apostle Peter faced a similar stinging question. Jesus had said he was going to come back to earth in a blaze of glory to once-and-for-all set this wreck of a world straight. However, several decades (at least) had passed since then, and…nothing. Not a single break in the clouds. Not the slightest sighting of an angel army or a radiant Messiah warrior on a brilliant white steed. Not a whisper of hope.
Rome still ruled. Liberation seemed no closer than before. Violence and poverty and despair were very much with them, growing even. As rebellion and disillusionment slithered in, their accusation took shape. “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” Their sarcasm was heavy. “Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (II Peter 3.4)
Nothing had happened. Nothing was better. The world just kept rolling on…without God. Some began to view hope in Jesus as pure poppycock.
If this question was sprouting decades after Jesus’ resurrection, it is downright colossal today, almost two millennia later. There has been a lot of evil between there and here, a lot of hoping, a lot of hopes left empty. Every human decade has seen its disaster and its genocide, its famine and its plague.
If God is here, what in God’s name is he waiting for? It’s like Jan Eliason, a member of the UN envoy to Sudan, said in reference to the grim realities there: “Time is on nobody’s side.” In the world we see, evil appears to use the time quite nicely, but where is God?
Peter’s answer was salty. The problem wasn’t God’s delay. The problem wasn’t God’s silence or absence. God was always speaking; he had never stopped. His speaking brought the world into existence, and his speaking was now vigorously at work holding evil at bay until it would finally be cut-off. (II Peter 3:5-7) If it weren’t for God’s active presence, there would be nothing left of us. Evil would have consumed us long ago.
Our problem, Peter said, is that we forget the story. We forget how God is always working goodness. We forget that God is rich in patience and mercy. We forget that God has spoken the beginning and will be speaking the end – and he is speaking and working every moment in between.
We also forget that time is an entirely human internment. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (II Peter 3:8). And God spends his days, his years, bringing us salvation. Time might not be on our side, but God is.
For several weeks, I’ve been buried in the first three chapters of Genesis. It truly is the ultimate story: aching beauty, tragic deception, carnage and ruin. However, I find strange glimmers of hope in places I would not suspect, hints of redemption imbedded in the very place where the devestation is the most severe. Here are a few, with only first thoughts. I’d like to leave the commentary to you.
// Adam and Eve ate, and their world immediately shattered, a fissure rippled through creation. Their soul must have taken a harsh jolt. Immediately, they hid and began to snatch leaves in a frantic attempt to cover themselves – and God’s first action was to come to where they were, to pursue them with a question, “Where are you?” God would not leave them in their hiding.
// Adam and Eve’s fig-clothes were sad attempts at modesty. Worse, they were the very symbols of their rebellion, of how they gave God the finger. Yet God met them in this dire place they had made for themselves – and gave them better clothes. God would not leave them naked.
// Strangest to me, the more I look at what has classically been called “the curse,” I see mercy (a severe mercy, to be sure) even there. God actually did not speak a curse to Adam or to Eve. God only used the word “curse” against the ground and the serpent. It’s as though God would not use such language against his own image. What God did level against our father and mother seems to me to be -not a curse- but a redemptive judgment. God’s judgement infected Adam and Eve’s primary roles, their primary place of strength and competency (Adam working the elements of the earth and Eve nurturing life and relationships in her world). Was this hardship and struggle necessary for Adam and Eve to realize (in stark contrast to the lie that led them to their destructive choice) that no, they were not God, that no, they could not manage life on their own, that yes, they actually would be dependent on God for life and purpose and relationship and joy. God would not leave them in their delusion.
Pascal said that two things pierce our heart: beauty and pain. God’s first choice had been to flood Eve and Adam with beauty. And he had. Beauty everywhere, in everything. But they did not listen to the beauty. Perhaps, now, they would listen to pain. A strange redemption.
I love coffee. I like the aroma, the texture, the act of grinding beans and the sound of my pot sputteriung and spewing as black liquid goodness drains down into my stainless steel carafe. Now, I’m no coffee snob, evidenced by how my friend Nathan (who most certainly is a coffee snob) rolls his eyes and turns up his nose whenever he catches a whiff of me pouring the latest International Delights flavored creamer (Caramel Hazelnut Swirl, Vanilla Toffee Caramel, Southern Butter Pecan – the more words the better) in my steaming cup. Frankly, it feels therapeutic to get that out in the open. I’ve been outed – Yes, world, I pour flavored creamers in my coffee…and I like it!
But I like coffee numerous other ways too – that’s the point. I like it hot and cold, flavored and unflavored. I’ll drink from a pot that’s been sitting on the burner all day, black-tar stains singed at the bottom. I’ll even drink coffee with Splenda.
This is not to say that I believe all coffee is created equal. It most certainly is not. Some coffee is high quality, and some coffee…not so much. More importantly, some coffee companies takes unjust advantage of the farmers while some coffee companies build equitable partnerships.
Recently, I’ve made a new friend, and I’d like to introduce you to his company. About eight months ago, Scott Hackman and several partners started a new business, something they call a “missional venture,” a for-profit company that seeks to make a superior product and then use their leverage for just causes within their sphere of business. One Village Coffee has quickly built a reputation as a boutique roaster providing premium coffee and a vibrant social ethic.
With each of One Village’s roasts, you are not only receiving excellent coffee at a modest price, you are also helping to do good in the world. While all their coffee is (at a minimum) fair trade, for their Kenyan roast, they pay the famers close to double the standard fair trade price. With other roasts, they support the Mama Project, a group serving as vocal advocates for malnourished children in Honduras. The focus of this campaign is to give back $1 per bag to support one child in one village for one year during the Mama Project’s 2008 deworming initiative.
And now, for the next several weeks, One Village Coffee is partnering with our blog to help care for children in Cairo, Egypt, through the work of Stephen’s Children, a group that has begun over 60 schools in the middle of the urban garbage dumps where these children live. With each bag of their Smart Blend coffee we purchase, $1 will go directly to help send one of the kids to a Stephen’s Children camp where most will recieve their first bath, along with food and rehabilitating education on how to cope with (and protect one another from further) sexual abuse.
One Village intends to be a storyteller, telling the narratives of people and places that are forgotten, neglected, and oppressed. And they intend to do business well, using their enterprise to fund good causes. There are many noble causes. There are many coffee companies working to promote justice. This is one, and I love what they are doing.
Why don’t you hit this link (look on the bottom left hand corner for “Relevant Magazine Choice”) and consider some early Christmas shopping. Fantastic coffee. Great price. A just cause.
…and it doesn’t need any flavored creamer added. It’s good straight.
My wife is the most voracious reader I know. Fiction is her first love. The good stuff – Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby, Madeleine L’Engle, Buechner, all things Dickens. Recently, when she rifled through War and Peace, I began to feel a little intimidated.
Eugene Peterson says that pastors should read fiction as part of their spiritual regimen (wonderful advice I was never once offered in seminary). I think every Christian should heed this wisdom. Listening to the story. Being captured by the narrative. Discerning truth as we are tugged through the plot. “Every good story is a retelling of the gospel,” says Chesterton. If that’s true – and I believe it is – then we need to read more good stories. God knows, we need as much of the gospel as we can get.
Here is a quick hit on four novels that have told me much truth:
East of Eden, John Steinbeck The Chosen, Chaim Potok ‘Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
I have spent a lot of time recently conversing with a Biblical prophet named Amos. He is tucked away in the often neglected corner of Scripture known as the Minor Prophets (the designation – minor – is unfortunate and misleading). My time with Amos has been difficult. My first hurdle is simple: my three-year-old son Seth has a stuffed monkey named Amos, and it is just hard to hear the gravity of a prophetic voice when I imagine it coming from a wide-smiled 18 inch chimp. My main difficulty, however, is that Amos is true to his calling. Amos is a prophet.
The word prophet conjures up other images and associations for me. I might think of the guy we saw on the edge of the street last Saturday wearing a “Fear God” shirt and preaching (loudly) to everyone unlucky enough to pass by. I might think of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules, quoting Scripture before a hit job in Pulp Fiction. I think of crazed eyes, wild voices, strange words.
In part, it’s all true. Prophets have a wildness to them. They could never be called mainstream. They don’t ask permission to speak. They don’t spend much time trying to convince us to listen or to persuade us that they really do know what they are talking about. Walter Brueggemann has said prophets are God’s uncredentialed spokesmen. A prophet – a true prophet – is only a messenger. From God. God speaks, and God’s prophet passes the word along.
How then could a prophet’s words not be a bit wild, a bit strange?
Prophets aren’t particularly concerned with balance or with getting across the whole story. They aren’t typically big on nuance or subtlety or quiet ponderings. Those things are for another time, perhaps another person. A prophet speaks because something is drastically wrong. The moment is urgent. It is not time for deliberation or dialogue. We must listen. God is speaking. Our very life depends upon it.
When Amos spoke, urgency pushed along every word. Humanity had forgotten God, and as a result, humanity was cannibalizing itself. They had crushed and robbed the poor. They had perverted the systems of justice so the marginalized had no recourse. They had enslaved whole tribes and villages. They had violently abused the most helpless: the underprivileged, the pregnant, the elderly, the children.
This would not do. This was not the world God had created. God was angry. In fact, Amos puts it plainly: “The Lord roars.” (Amos 1:2) What’s a prophet to do when the world has gone mad, and when God will not gently let it be? What’s a prophet to do when God roars? What are we to do?
The problem with a prophet – a true prophet – is that they have little raw material to work with. Their scope is limited; their creative license is small. They can only speak what God says. And in a precarious time, when humanity is sabotaging itself and defacing all that is good, what God has to say will rarely be docile or sweet. It will “thunder from Jerusalem,” causing, as Amos says, even the mountains to wither. (Amos 1:2)
I see the destruction in my world, the pain and the violence and the evil. I see it all, and I long for God to get angry. I long to hear God roar – and to hear a strange prophet simply pass it along.
I think some of the most beautiful words in the Bible are found at the end of Genesis 2 where the author paints the stunning description of humanity during that short pause between creation’s completed wonder and the disastrous Fall: The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame. (Gen 2.25)
In an age where our body image is god, where we nip and tuck and incessantly pluck and flex, where even the most gorgeous among us refer to themselves as a “fat pig” (as I saw a sex icon refer to herself on a magazine cover this past weekend), where we are forever judged by Madison Avenue as well as by our own mirror, these words seem impossible. This physical exposure was not only in moments when Adam or Eve were prepared to be naked (and most all of us have varying comfort levels for this), but all the time, at every moment. There was no covering, ever.
The Genesis story, however, obviously speaks of more than physical exposure. The narrative vividly describes human relationships as we have never seen them: wide-open, unreserved, entirely unguarded. In this first sacred couple, love was better than you or I have ever known it. There was never a reason to hide a thought or to silence a voice. There was never reason to wonder if the other person was a safe place to pour out our soul. In our relationships, we must constantly battle the urge to hide, to guard ourselves from the harm we suspect might come our way if another truly saw all the grim, sordid places inside us.
But with Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, their body and their soul were entirely bare, not a stitch of cotton or a speck of emotional distance to hide behind. I fear this shorn, unshrouded life because I can’t imagine someone seeing all my ugly spots and not pulling back in revulsion. Contrasted to our experience, however, in the Garden, there was “no shame.” Perhaps no more beautiful words have ever been spoken. What would a world be like if shame were completely removed from the mix?
I think I’m pondering along these lines because this week is Miska’s and my tenth anniversary. Our marriage is quite imperfect, and we certainly do not know the intimacy and emotional safety Adam and Eve enjoyed. However, we want to. We are hoping and moving that direction. Every one of us needs a friend (a spouse, a father, a sister, a soul friend) who sees who we truly are, who helps us see what Jesus is crafting in us, who speaks against the many shaming voices in our life.