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A Million Dreams…(no spoilers)

As we continue in celebrating the Easter season – it’s great for us to be on the look-out for echoes of New Creation, creativity, and resurrection life.  Recently I found God winking at us through the soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman”, and it made me smile big enough I wanted to share it.

No spoilers here, but there’s a song called “A Million Dreams” that begins with a young BT Barnum, and transitions into him as a man.  He’s singing about his dreams, specifically to a girl who makes his heart race.  As the words began to come, I immediately thought of a young Jesus who had dreams for what Love, forgiveness, and mercy could do to transform our world, as he studied the Torah.  The song takes on even more depth and beauty as the transition happens into him as an adult, and especially as the woman joins in.  Here we have a beautiful metaphor in song – Christ singing invitationally to His bride (the church), and she asking to be a part of what He’s launching into….

This points us with goosebumps toward a New Creation that will blow us away….and we get to join in those dreams becoming flesh today…as we choose to turn away from the systems, powers, & self-centeredness of our world….as individuals, as families, as communities….for the Loving ways of New Creation… (Revelation 21:5….”Look!! I’m making all things NEW!”)   It may cost us everything, but we may gain even more…

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He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

Awake (response to Mark 14:32-42)

It seems like such a simple thing – to stay awake.
With no earth to quake and no preparations to make, but simply to be.
To be near, those dearest to the heart of Jesus, invited to go along
Step away from the throngs and people, and in the stillness of prayer
found themselves feeble.
More feeble than they wanted to admit
Not quite quitting, but not fitting into the dynamic roles of prayer
They thought themselves to be.
And in response the words of Jesus come to you, and to me.

“The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Not seeking their shame, and not calling any names,
but framing the moment in grace
Even while his own death was on the horizon,
he saw through their eyes, and the lies
Of a moment that could never be judged by performance
Because it’s not just about what we do, but who we are.
Jesus knew we were far from the Father
And that distance makes us depraved,
enslaved to patterns of sin we didn’t even begin,
but were born into.
As he went to the garden to pray for relief,
he discovered his burden once more
The Father whom he adored, reflected back the love of a heart broken
Words spoken, “not my will, but thine”, all the time his own heart troubled,
Doubled over in painful expectation,
that launching New Creation would cost him his life
Pain cut like a knife, returning to find his friends asleep,
not keeping their eyes focused Or sharing in his Passion.
Still, compassion in the moment stirred action,
A re-action filled with Love, a statement not shoving their sin before them,
But not ignored then, like a sword dividing bone and marrow
Narrowly escaping into freedom, we gasp for New Creation Life.
The strife and suffering he endured out of love,
opened a way for us to stay near

But it’s still quite clear we are weak, and seek places of comfort and ease
That we’d rather lean up against the trees, than stay on our knees
Even as he frees us to fly, we cry out for better legs,
and he begs us to stay awake,
But when he finds us asleep, he will not keep quiet, but speaks,
Into moments of false peace he stirs an awakening
A quakening of the ground that was never sound enough to stand
The land beneath our feet becomes unstable as it receives new stability
Our ability to fall asleep in such moments should cause us alarm
There’s no harm done by others, of which we’re incapable.

It’s inescapable on our own, but the love of our Father’s throne has come
Has prayed, and has stayed awake on our behalf,
While we were napping, he was mapping out a new revelation of Love
Inviting all of us to not only see, but to be,
the canvas on which he masterpieces
This Master, Jesus, not demanding or coercing, not forcing us to bow,
But allowing us who are still drowsy with drooping heads
Stumble up out of our beds, and see…clearly.

This.Is.Love.

He calls out, bloodied and broken on the tree,
“Come, and follow me.”
Follow me and give your life for others, loving all men as brothers
Even the ones with whom you disagree.Even those who have the power,
for in this hour you see all earthly power stripped bare,
Unable to bear the burden on his sagging shoulders,
boulders will be rolled in place
And their faces will smile as if they’ve won.
But he has not been overcome.
He has loved. He has submitted.
He has been fitted with a crown of life no King could ever earn

And by this we learn True Power. True Love. Truth.

Proof that his words were never empty, he meant every word.
What the world though absurd, he saw as invitation
To not only care for creation, but transform
To reset the norm, and form a path to something new
And all we have to do? Is stay awake.
There’s far too much at stake for us to snooze,

So we choose now as those made response- able,
the child from the stable has unleashed
His love in our midst, his suffering gift signed for us to inherit.
And no level of merit would deserve,
what he came freely to offer and serve.

So as we look to the cross, at the man crucified for treason,
Built into our annual church season,
a reminder of the reason for all that we are
Not settling for sub-par standards, but only that which proclaims THIS Love
Rediscovering our identity as those who’ve been awoken, more than words spoken
Before bed and meals, his grace heals and arrives with every breath,
As we embrace his death, not on our own strength, or simply for Heaven’s sake
But because such passion was offered to re-create us,
Awake…

A Wrinkle in Parenting (spoiler alert)

We’ve just returned from the theater, only to verify once more – the book is always better than the movie.  It sounds like such a great homeschool policy – “We’ll only go see the movie if we read the book together!”  Yet every time – the movie ends up falling flat.  It just doesn’t stand a chance.wrinkle.jpeg

Pushing that aside for a moment, I do love the book and so much of the imagery and themes througout: Light fighting back the darkness. Strength discovered in weakness.  You cannot serve two masters.  Hope even in places where we’ve made mistakes.  There are even direct quotes from scripture used imaginatively throughout.

L’Engle presents a Universe much larger than we usually envision, and the invitation for each of us to become warriors on behalf of light.  This doesn’t mean strapping on our weapons, and polishing our armor – it means offering ourselves in places and situations where we aren’t assured of the outcome.  It means loving the other, even when there’s no visible sign that such sacrificial love will be received well.

One of my favorite scenes is toward the end, as the lead character realizes she has been self-centered in her relationship with her Father:

          “I’m – I’m sorry, Father…(tears came to her eyes, their hands together)..I wanted you to do it all for me.  I wanted everything to be all easy and simple…So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault…because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself–“
        “But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr.Murry said.  “That’s what every parent wants.”  He looked into her dark, frightened eyes….
         “No.” Mrs Whatsit’s voice was sterner than Meg had ever heard it. “You are going to allow Meg the privilege of accepting this danger.  You are a wise man, Mr.Murry.  You are going to let her go.”

So many layers to this.

We love our children, and want great things for them.  But we must remember, for them to grow and develop they must be allowed to experience the mystery of holding Gods’ hand into the unknown.  As John Ortberg has written, “Persons of excellent will, judgment and character are formed by having to make their own decisions.” (Focus on the Family, April/May 2018)

We see this same love as God invites humanity with free will to respond to a crucified Messiah, an image of self-sacrificing Love that doesn’t force, demand, or overthrow.  An infinitely compelling revelation of a path we’re invited to follow, not with the promise that all will go well – but with the promise that this is the path of New Creation Love.  This is the way of proclaming Jesus as Lord.  This is the way of light breaking forth into darkness.

So what is the wrinkle? If we want to invite our children to step forward into a faith-filled unknown – we must be prepared to respond to their obvious questions.  “Really mom/dad?  You’re doing this?”  Where are we following Jesus into areas of unknown?  Where are we trusting Him to do something, without which we would sink into the waves of a stormy sea?  Where are we experiencing this as a home/family?

This isn’t meant to be intimidating, but encouraging/inviting.  This isn’t saying every family should sell all things, move into a tiny home in the bad part of town, or other side of the world.  This is simply saying – great distances can be traveled by small and simple acts of sacrificial love.  Great rifts can be overcome by a humble dependence on a Love that reflects the brightest light that has ever shown.

This is how Christ began the ultimate victory.  This is how we continue to proclaim & establish it, empowered by His Spirit even now.   Not by our own power to Love, but as we are transformed by His…

it (still) exists.

There is an unseen cancer, and with plenty of time to roam
It’s fused itself into bone, not simply in homes but in the structures of our own
Zones divided by race and income are just the surface, and should make us nervous
That maybe we’re not as developed as we thought.
But don’t get caught up thinking we’re held down, instead look around
An honest bit of self aware, will beat the kick and snare to drive this rhythm into
A better tomorrow, though it is not yet ours to borrow.

Because sorrow and tears filled years of history,
it’s no mystery that the health and wealth
Of so many including myself are not the same enjoyed by all,
even though all have sinned
It seems opportunities for redemption have thinned if you live downwind
or have the wrong type of skin,
and no one wins when race sets the pace for how much grace
One is allowed. And so, lifting heads bowed,
or coming down from the clouds of denial
we can confess that even if we didn’t make the mess,
it’s ours to offer healing.
There is no sealing off the past
In Ziploc bags and counting them as waste,
no hasty retreat from the racism our feet were born standing upon,
it’s one thing to recognize it’s wrong, and another to want it gone,
and still another take action,
gaining traction as one hand joins another,
sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers,
Pulling back the covers of injustice and schisms,
including all the -isms we’ve been sold as healthy rhythms.
Racism – not just blacks and whites, but a systematic fight for the right to thrive,
and we agree that all lives matter, but to scatter our attention with such chatter
is to lose sight of a brighter light
One that shines on both sides of the tracks, and the fact remains that no matter how much we strain
to prove we treat all men the same, the game hasn’t changed – just the rules,
and fools can see the tools are made for certain hands,
and so we stand and ask for something new.

We move from I believe, to I do.

And the shoes we’re wearing are better suited for old paths,
so in this aftermath we may be asked to walk barefoot as we discover
just what it feels like to press skin to such a ground as we found
we’ve been surrounded by this entire time. It’s a higher climb than we may have thought,
but the fight has already been fought by plenty who came before,
and to ignore their words would be an absurd mistake of the grandiose,
to come so close and look away would be to play dress up,
but our grandchildren ask us not to mess up, they need more than this.
They ask us not to miss a chance to plant seeds,
and dance swiftly toward a healing that must come, and can not from legislation alone,
but starts in our home, as we reach out of comfort zones
to share in the cares of those we were previously unaware.

As we stare deep into our own cares and desires,
we continue to light the fires of selfish ambition that we’ve been wishing
our nation would be rid of once and for all. So we answer the call,
and look up from our own cup, striking up conversation and demonstration
that goes further than the greed of immediate need, but plants seeds for a new tomorrow.
The sorrow of a trampled population set free by compassion of a New Nation,
not simply elation but a joy built on solid Hope
that when we’re at the end of our rope – we are not alone.
We’ve been shown a better way, and offered a brighter day.
It’s not somewhere floating in outer space, it’s right in front of us, and labeled as race.

We may not know exactly how to remove the cyst,
But we know the first step is to admit it exists. Relaxing clenched fists, to open palms
Reminded by the Psalms of a deeper scene,
And pointed there again by a man who had a dream…

May I have your attention, please?

I’ve been reading The Attention Merchants for fun between classes, & as everyone is posting “New Years’ Thoughts/Resolutions”, I thought this was an important time to share the surprising insight from the author…

“If we think of attention as a resource or even a kind of currency, we must allow that it is always, necessarily, being ‘spent’. There is no saving it for later.” (pg.20)wesley.apple

“(speaking of developments in political advertising) With its combination of moral injunctions as well as daily and weekly rituals, organized religion had long taken human attention as its essential substrate.  This is especially true of monotheisms, whose demands for a strict adherence to the one true God naturally promote an ideal of undivided attention.  Among early Christians, for example, total attention to God implied ceaseless prayer.  The early Church father Clement of Alexandria wrote of the “Perfect Christian” as one who “prays throughout his entire life, endeavoring by prayer to have fellowship with God.” Likewise the desert monastics of the fourth century took as their aim “to maintain there as near as possible a ceaseless vigil of prayer, punctuated only by the minimal interruption for food and sleep.”

“Such an aspiration to monopolize the attention of believers was hardly abandoned after Christianity’s early days.  Some 1700 years later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prescribed various means for keeping the mind attuned to God, such as the practice of thinking of him immediately upon waking, right before falling asleep, for at least an hour during the day, and before taking any important action.  (This discipline shares some similarity with the Jewish practice of offering brachot, or blessings, at various routine moments, such as before eating or drinking, or more exceptional ones, as when thunder is heard, among other practices codified in the Mishnah in the third century CE.)”

“To be sure, it isn’t as if before the twentieth century everyone was walking around thinking of God all the time.  Nevertheless, the Church was the one institution whose mission depended on galvanizing attention; and through its daily and weekly offices, as well as its sometimes central role in education, that is exactly what it managed to do.  At the dawn of the attention industries, then, religion was still, in a very real sense, the incumbent operation, the only large-scale human endeavor designed to capture attention and use it.  But over the twentieth century, organized religion, which had weathered the doubts raised by the Enlightenment, would prove vulnerable to other claims on and uses for attention.  Despite the promise of eternal life, faith in the West declined and has continued to do so, never faster than in the twenty-first century.  Offering new consolations and strange gods of their own, the commercial rivals for human attention must surely figure into this decline.  Attention, after all, is ultimately a zero-sum game.” (Pgs.26-27, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu)

Translation?  The things we purchase, and technology/apps we use may be affordable or even free, but there is always a cost involved.  When that cost involves our attention during moments previously available to contemplation, quiet, prayer, & offering ourselves to discover the needs/desires/joys/pains of God & others – we may benefit from asking if we can/should really afford the price.

Question for conversation: Is it more redemptive to abstain from creating/posting content – helping spread subversive critique on consumption of social media, or to sparingly & creatively post content that points those who consume toward the Love and Truths of God?   How have you seen either – done well?

In any case – may we be people who invite our children & young people to think about these things.  May this be a year where we realize there are always prices unlisted.  May we seek redemptive ways to interact, create, and live together.  May we not be defined purely as amused consumers, or anxious responders, but discover new ways to offer Faith, Hope & Love creatively as New Creations ourselves…

 

Advent.

Advent, an event meaning “arrival”, no rival strong enough to keep this weakness out
Setting down clout and power, vulnerable as a flower
In a field, a creation to be healed, as his life peeled back the skin of what appeared,
It’s what the powers had feared, as his birth cleared paths for what could be.
Just when we thought we were knowing
Words became full and overflowing
Showing just what God meant when he spoke His love
What it looks like when down below is interrupted by up above
As the dove delivered hope to the ark, so this child embarked with hope
to stark lands flooded with sin
Revealed dry grounds of New Creation, where new life could begin
Where women and men, enemies and friends, poor and oppressed,
and those not well dressed
Where meek and overlooked, and those shook by the quakes of those in power –
would know now is the hour, now is the time of their release.
When strivings can cease, and peace arrives in moments mild,
a child too wild to explain, would be given the name Jesus.
Because he would save his people from their sins.

And so begins the story that breaks all mold, as it was told to shepherds and kings
And the truth still rings loudly in ways that offend the ear, God coming near,
Don’t Fear! Cried the angels, scaring those who gathered, as light shattered the darkness in ways unexplainable, the unattainable submitting to be contained,
as creation strained to hold in the divine

Lives like yours and mine still shutter at the mere uttering of
something so offensive
Apprehensive to understand where this could all be heading,
palms sweating as we know this child Mary is begetting is the one who calls
“Follow Me” to we who were once a stranger,
From the manger the call of the Son has begun, not waiting for us to understand,
but launching fully His Fathers’ plan. Not filled with demand,
but filled with invitation. Not mapping out implementation, but offering a heartbeat to echo, as we let go of our own rhythms, and discover the tune of New Creation.
A clear signal station broadcast in full surround,
seeds sown in the fertile ground of His Spirit.
We press into the crèche and begin to hear it.
Calling us to examine privilege and power,
the towers we’ve built remove us from those he loves
As we shove for views, or find more comfortable pews, we’re cruising right past
the injured brother, the least of these, the “other”, and as baby cries to mother
we realize this swaddled child inside has flung wide the gates,
we don’t wait long to deduce, that all Heaven has broken loose with what could be – the same word that spoke all things into being, now being held in the arms
of his creation. As this season offers to be more than vacation, and becomes a pause for all creation to remember: the day God became weak. Earth inherited by the meek, and the Word enfleshed can speak into our lives still this season.

What is the reason for His arrival this year?

Not that we fear falling short, for all have sinned and there’s no way we could ever begin to earn what was given by free grace, but place your arguments on hold, and let go of the bold claims you may have on what will be….to ask yourself with Mary – why me?

Why might God be keen to break from routine, and make a scene in the midst of your plans? To what lands might he call, and would you stall or fall in step behind, as he reminds you of the love with which he leads, the ways he intercedes on your behalf, the laugh of tiny baby – engulfed in manger, open to danger, knowing exactly how you feel. The connection is real. And so is his call – follow me.
Step out of comfort and power, step into the hour of shalom –
for the sake of your home becoming,
As drummer boys drumming remind you of the heartbeat of this season,
remember the reason.
May advent be more than just a word, but an absurd time of divine climbing into creation through the womb of your heart, and may it be the start of something New, as the Kingdom is proclaimed through you.

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