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An Inconvenient God

A word that is being thrown around a lot in the media and conversation these days, in relation to Black Lives Matter, is “inconvenience.” It’s inconvenient when bus lines are diverted to go around marches demanding police transparency and accountability downtown. It’s inconvenient that people have to wait at stop lights for seven extra minutes while the throng of protesters file down the street, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” It’s inconvenient when highways get shut down by human chains demanding justice in exchange for peace. And most recently, it has been inconvenient for holiday travelers to have some flights delayed for 45 minutes at the MSP airport, and shops closed at the Mall of America for a couple of hours so that the protestors could disturb the status quo and remind people that Black Lives are inconvenienced every day. Every day a black person steps out of their house, they must live in fear of police violence. Black mothers fear that their sons won’t live past their 18th birthday without ending up dead or in jail. Schools, places of employment, housing, banks, food systems, and the “justice” system are all stacked against Black Americans. The daily stress of discrimination grates on Black Americans to the point of causing higher rates of depression and anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure. I’d say that is much more inconvenient that a single incident of tardiness for travelers.

Dr. King certainly had similar conversations with city officials, asking him to “move slower and more gently” but they shut down the bridge in Selma anyway. The bus boycott in Montgomery inspired by Rosa Parks was highly disruptive to the city. White Jim Crow shop owners who had their business disturbed by protestors at lunch counter “sit ins” were outraged at the disturbance of business as usual. (Sound familiar?) If things are to change, we must all of us be disturbed and inconvenienced. 400 years of oppression and discriminatory systems don’t just disappear on their own. They will not go away by people being nice.

While these actions are meant to disrupt and create discomfort, let us remind ourselves that they are being done with the greater purpose of equality, peace, and justice, through a motivation of love. Come to think of it, most love is inconvenient. I just got a puppy, and he has quickly become the love of my life, even though he takes up all my free time and has churned my daily schedule into chaos. Having children does the same. So does falling in love romantically. We make sacrifices for love, but never would we consider doing otherwise, because there is such great reward. And it just feels good.

This week being Christmas, with all of creation groaning in anticipation for the arrival of the baby who brings peace and justice to the world, let us stop and consider the inconvenience of his arrival. First, his poor parents had to travel to another city while pregnant, then flee to a neighboring country because the government was slaughtering Jewish babies because Jesus was threatening the throne. As he grew to be a man, his radical love disrupted many people’s lives. The disciples left behind families and jobs. Pharisees and Sadducees were put “on blast” for their discriminatory religion that barred women, children, the poor, and sick people from entering the temple. Through embarrassing confrontations with Jesus, some of those leaders changed their ways. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus was constantly slowing down and changing their schedules so they could play with children, talk with Samaritan women, and feed thousands of hungry people. The disciples were tired. They just wanted business as usual. They wanted to keep their reputations intact, but Jesus didn’t care about maintaining their egos or schedules of sleep. He constantly went out of his way to show mercy and love to those who showed up in his path, to those experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. He asks the same of us.

Black Americans (and other Americans of color) are currently experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. And they are showing up in our path. They are refusing to be cast aside, ignored, locked up, beaten, shot, used, and blasphemed. They are saying that their lives matter. This doesn’t mean that white lives (or any other lives) matter less. They are just pointing out that black lives currently do not matter, according to all the staggering evidence of history and current times, and they should matter.

When people get desperate, they reach out to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak. They cry out “Son of Man, have mercy on us!” They lower family members down through rooftops. They demand loaves and fish. Black America is desperate. Jesus’ merciful hands were so far-reaching that they were threatening enough to be nailed to a tree. His disciples could have gone back to business as usual after his death, had the story ended there. But they saw him resurrected, and with that sight, there was no turning back. What is seen cannot be unseen. What is known cannot be unknown. As the inconvenient prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, we have been to “the mountaintop” and have seen the other side, the Promised Land! With determination, we will have justice and peace! So go ahead, #blacklivesmatter, do your thing. Let’s get uncomfortable in the name of Love.

Chelsea Forbrook

Saturday Morning, 10 AM

Justice and Peace meet at the cafe,

Sit together,

Hands folded around steaming cups,

Heads bent over the paper.

 

They are not taking in

The news of the world

With sorrowing eyes

And the clucking of tongues.

 

They are instead planning their

Itinerary,

Plotting their map,

Looking for the places where

They might slip in.

 

Their fingers touch, release,

Touch again as they read,

Moving with the half-aware habits

That come only with long living

Alongside.

 

They have met, parted,

Met again on countless mornings

Like this one, torn and taken

By turns.

 

They put the paper aside

They brush away the crumbs

They talk quietly

They know there is work to do.

 

But they order

one more cup:

there is savoring they must do

before the saving begins.
They lean in,

Barely touching across the table

For a kiss that makes a way,

A world

 

Rev. Jan Richardson

Dear Subscribers

I’m sending you a few bonus Christmas messages this year. One is my now annual essay called “Are you going home for Christmas?” I’m happy to say that I’ve found home more deeply, at least for now!

Tomorrow I will send a poem about peace and justice and how they share a cup of coffee together! Sunday I will have a guest blogger (Chelsea) sharing more about God. May God gently invade whatever plans you have for these two days and drop in a few memorable surprises. Janet

 

Are You Going Home for Christmas?

 

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, told a story of a Christmas sermon he heard that moved him to tears. The minister used the most common question of the holiday season; “Are you going home for Christmas?” This question moved Buechner because he was longing deep in his soul to know where home was.

 

This question has haunted me for years, too, because it raises a painful recognition; I don’t go home for Christmas because I have no home to go to. My parents have been dead for years, and my stepchildren and my other “adopted” family members all have other places where they celebrate Christmas. So all the usual images of home are not relevant for me. Not relevant, yet painful. Over the years I’ve learned how to redeem Christmas in a healing way but the cultural pressure to belong somewhere still arises whenever I hear that perennial question, “Are you going home for Christmas?”

 

I’ve become aware of a larger sense of home, of belonging, that I’m also missing. I feel it in a variety of ways in my life. In my work life I am involved in a number of endeavors; teaching, connecting mainstream people with people in the inner city, spiritual direction and writing. These are all vital and life-giving but it’s not the same as going to one place every day and being part of one consistent community.

 

Then there is my spiritual side, which is central to my life. I need a lot of support and collegiality to maintain balance and to stay grounded. I get that through spiritual direction, small groups, supervision and close friends. I go to two churches because I’m called to be a bridge between a suburban church and an inner city church. So my spiritual support life feels a bit splintered.

 

Last, but not least, my living situation is not fixed. I am planning to move some day to a smaller and simpler place, so my sense of home will shift. But as yet, I have not moved and I am in limbo in this aspect of my life as well.

 

I do not feel totally homeless. I feel more homesick. At times I long for a cozy home, a committed community, a place to really belong. But it does not seem to be part of my experience anywhere in my life. It may seem strange but I sense this homesickness is God’s calling in my life. It’s not a fluke, it is part of a plan. All of the aspects of my work and spiritual life are life-giving. So it feels like a paradox that none of them feels like “home.”

 

So where, really, do I feel most at home? This is my burning question. Where do I feel at home, if not in any of those places that are the most obvious and the ones I long for most fervently?

 

I asked God this question.

 

The truth God brought to me, the truth that rings in my soul and brings me peace in this conundrum is this: I feel at home where God is. When I really listen for God, I feel at home with whatever God brings me, wherever God sends me as long as God is with me. I make my home in God. I will spend my Christmas Day in God’s presence as a retreat day. And I feel most whole when I am in communion with God.

 

So, whether I am in my condo or a café, God is my nest. I carry this nest with me wherever I go. When I feel homesick I can go to this new home. I can stop looking outside of myself for God and home. God brings me belonging, joy, courage, love and healing. God also surprises me with loving friends who seek me out during the most traditional family times in our culture; they make sure to call me, go to movies with me on Christmas night, and email me all throughout the holidays.

 

Home, for me, is not a physical place. It is my state of mind—at least on my good days! Home is ease with God, trust in God’s provision, intimacy and humor. My model for this relationship with God is Jesus. Jesus was an itinerant. He had no place to lay his head. He depended on strangers and on those he loved. And he spent a lot of time with his father in prayer—in the mountains, in boats, in the wilderness. He was in almost constant conversation with God.

 

I began this essay with a story from Frederich Buechner about a question he hears in a Christmas Eve sermon. As soon as he hears the question he knows the real answer for him. In his words, ”I can almost see Buttrick (the minister) with his glasses glittering in the lectern light as he peered out at all those people listening to him in that large, dim sanctuary and asked it again–”Are you going home for Christmas?”—and asked it in some way that brought tears to my eyes and made it almost unnecessary for him to move onto his answer to the question, which was that home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel. Home is where Christ is was what Buttrick said…”

 

And he goes on to say that when we experience the life-giving power of Jesus alive within us we come closest to being truly home.

 

Home, for me, is my inner nest filled with the presence of God.

 

 

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

The Buechner quotes are from his book, Longing for Home.

 

Reflections on this essay

When you hear the question, “Are you going home for Christmas?” what emotion comes up for you?

 

Have you ever been homesick, even when you were with family? Homesick for what, whom?

 

What is your sense of home? Who, where, why?

 

What does it mean for you to hear that home is in the manger?

 

How is God or Jesus part of your sense of home?

The Interior Castle (a book by Teresa of Avila)

illustrated by Michael and Isaiah Bischoff

Sweet Surrender

by Barry A. Thomas

 

In the first statement of the first chapter of the book Follow Me, Jan David Hettinga writes: “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.” In the book he describes the tension between living in the Kingdom of Self and living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a reference to a place with territory and boundaries. The Kingdom of God is referencing the reign of God – God’s lordship.

Often times the Kingdom of Self is the chief competitor to the Kingdom of God. Yes, there are times some external evil is the main problem, but most often it is us. I am what gets in the way of God fully reigning in my life. Jesus taught that a person cannot serve two masters. A person must let go of the Kingdom of Self in order to fully experience the Kingdom of God. The key word that best describes this process is: SURRENDER.

It is impossible to experience the Kingdom of God without surrender. I must let go of me: the things I cling to for value, significance and identity. Jesus showed an example of what surrender looks like when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified. Three different times He asked God to take away the responsibility of dying on the cross AND each time Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He surrendered His own will (and body) in order for the reign of God to be fully present in Him and in this world.

The Locked Door

Several years ago I had a dream or a vision or a mental picture (whatever you want to call it) that had a major impact on my life. I pictured myself walking with God down a long narrow hallway with several doors on each side. We squared up in front of one of the doors. God tried to open the doors, but it was locked. I looked up and read the sign on the door. It said “Career.” For the first time in my life I realized that my career was off limits to God.

Up to that point, God had blessed me with a good career working for a good company. I had always rationalized my job by saying, “God has blessed me through this career and because of it I will be a blessing to others”. And I was. I gave to church, I helped support missionaries and I had financially helped under-resourced people. What I did not realize was a fear that was running in the back of my mind – a fear that God would take it away. So after saying “God you have blessed me through this career so I am blessing others.” I would mentally whisper to myself, “So don’t mess with it.”

Through this picture of a locked door, God was making it clear that I had not surrendered my career to His lordship. Now He wanted the key and He wanted control of that part of my life. So I gave Him the key. I surrendered my career over to God. I didn’t know what the implications would be, but I didn’t want anything to be off limits to Him. Except for my baptism, it was the most meaningful act of surrender in my life.

The Surrendering Process

The surrendering process involves three simple steps:

  1. Surrender everything you have to God – everything.
  2. Listen to what God has to say about it.
  3. Do whatever God says.

Very simple, but not easy. Maybe surrendering everything feels too overwhelming. If so, take surrendering one step at a time and start with one area of your life, or one decision or one day. Journaling has not been one of my strongest disciplines, but for a period of time when I did journal I would start out every entry with this simple prayer: “Dear God, You are Lord of my life, every part of it. I will follow wherever You lead.” There were some days those words were hard to write, but it was important for me to surrender one day at a time.

There are two primary movements to surrendering. The first movement is letting go of something – letting go of self, letting go of control, letting go of a dream, letting go of what I cling to for worth and significance. The second movement is submission to something – trust, faith, God’s promises, God’s love. Letting go of the Kingdom of Self and submitting to the reign and Kingdom of God.

Often times surrendering involves not knowing the outcome. When I gave God the key to the locked door labeled “Career”, I did not know what the implications were. Was God going to ask me to stay on my career path or instead ask me to sell all my possessions and go live in a grass hut in Africa? I had no idea what was going to happen.

Grief and Surrender

Last week in my blog post I talked about embracing the grief process, what grieving has looked like for me and some of the lessons I have learned along the way. The graphic below illustrates what stages of grief look like.

(Sorry graphic did not transfer). It is a large V shape with words describing the various ways grief is expressed, getting darker and harder as one goes down into the V and then lighter as the grief is embraced to reveal wholeness.

 

Here is the Big Idea: The surrendering process is a grief process. When a person surrenders, he or she will most likely go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, isolation, new strengths, new patterns and hope. Surrendering is a process of letting go of control and giving that control over to God. Grieving is the stages of emotions one experiences after any kind of loss. Both of them are processes of letting go of the old before experiencing the new or even knowing what the new looks like.

 

Here’s the next Big Idea: The surrendering process is a death, burial and resurrection. It is a letting go of the old even before I know what the new may look like. Going back to my locked door vision, I was afraid of what would happen once I gave God the key to that door. I didn’t know if God would go in the room and simply look around or if He would go in the room and remodel the place. In the middle of the process I felt disoriented, confused and depressed.

Here’s the last Big Idea: The surrendering process is a transformation process. This surrendering business is not just a one-time conversion experience. For Christ followers, surrender is a way of life. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As Christ followers we are called to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Surrendering is be a rhythm of life for those living under the reign of God.

The Rest of the Story

Within a couple of months of giving God the key that day, I considered making a career change into full-time ministry. There is no way it would have been an option as long as that door was locked. Within five months God opened up an opportunity for me to make that change. Many people have asked if it was difficult to make the change from an engineering career to full-time ministry. I tell them the change was actually easy. God made it clear this was the direction He wanted me to go. The difficult part was surrendering – giving God the key that day. Once that was done, the rest was easy.

 

And because I gave God the key that day, I have been blessed in immeasurable ways. I would not have experienced Kingdom living as fully as I have if I hadn’t surrendered. I agree with Hettinga’s declaration: leadership is the ultimate issue. I believe surrendering is the secret to living in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

What do you have difficulty giving up control of in your life?

Is there an area in your life that is not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?

What step can you take to begin to surrender that part to Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

by Barry A. Thomas

 

2005 sucked. There is not a much better way to describe my experience of that year. In the beginning of that year I was leading a small group and using the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazerro as curriculum. When we got to the chapter titled “Embracing Grieving and Loss”, I told the group, “I don’t think I know how to grieve, much less embrace it.” Within a few weeks of saying those ill-fated words, I was hit with a series of losses: my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I resigned from serving in a ministry I loved and my spiritual mentor moved away to another state. It felt like big parts of my world were falling apart. This happened during a period in my life when I was doing some intensive soul work. Before this period I would have stuffed my emotions, stayed busy and got on with my life. I would stay calm and carry on (as the Brits say). But not this time. For the first time in my life I was learning to pay attention to my heart, so for the first time in my life I gave myself permission to be sad. I didn’t try to hide it or deny it, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness. This may not seem like much, but for me it was a huge step. I didn’t try to make myself sad; I simply acknowledged the sadness that was there and created space in my calendar to experience it.

So here is what grieving looked like for me:

First, I blocked off time in my calendar for solitude – time to simply get away to think, feel and be with God. This too was a new area of growth for me. I’m a “do-er” and have a difficult time being a “be-er”. Often times I would (and still do) approach a time of solitude asking, “How do I do solitude?” I was nervous at first. I wanted to “do” solitude right. It got easier and I got more comfortable the more times I practiced. I took whole days of solitude several different times. I read. I journaled. I prayed. I slept. The solitude gave my heart the space it needed to feel the sadness, anger and confusion of the grieving process.

Second, a friend of mine recommend I read a book by Sue Monk Kidd called When the Heart Waits. In it the author uses the analogy of a cocoon, the transformation phase between a caterpillar and a butterfly, to describe the dark and unknown experience of grief. She explains what it looks like and feels like to go through times of darkness. God used this book to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was huge. Without reading this, I would have been full of fear. Instead I was able to okay with grief. I didn’t like it. It was not enjoyable, but somehow, deep down, I knew what I was going through was good.

Third, I was given the opportunity to get angry. This was a big deal for me because I usually stuffed anger. I have learned that if anger doesn’t get expressed in healthy ways, it will get expressed in unhealthy ways. I had some men teach me how to express anger in a healthy way and gave me the opportunity to let it rip in a safe, controlled environment. This was the lynch pin for me. By letting the anger flow I believe it propelled me through the grief cycle.

So that’s what it looked like for me. Eight months from the time I told my group that I didn’t know how to grieve, I had taken one full trip around the block.

 

So here are some of the things I gave earned about grief over the years:

  1. Any kind of loss is meant to be grieved. Obviously, the loss of a close friend or loved one is meant to be grieved; however, less obvious losses are meant to be grieved too. Losses that are not so obvious can be: a change in job; a change in season of life; loss of health; or a change in a relationship. In fact, any kind of change brings some sort of loss.
  2. The amount of grief to be experienced is proportional to the depth of the loss. Big loss – big grief. Small loss – small grief.
  3. People grieve differently. Some are very open about it; others are very private. Some need support; others need space. There is not some recipe book or formula on how to handle grief. It looks different for different people. I have seen several sets of parents who have lost a child. Most of the time, the mother and father have grieved the death in completely different ways. Friction can occur when one spouse expects the other to grieve the loss the same way. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate for parents who have lost a child is near 80%.
  4. Grief is experienced in stages. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from 3 stages to 12 stages in the grieving process. If you were to ask ten different counselors to label the stages of grief, you would probably get twelve different answers. However, the stages look something like this: denial, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, void, hope, imagination, action and order.

The first benefit of embracing grieving and loss is that I have experienced God’s love and favor in new ways. I know what it is like for Him to walk with me through dark times and to have peace in the process. The second benefit is that I have much more compassion for other people. I am able to mourn with those who mourn. There is no doubt my heart has become more alive.

Yes, 2005 sucked. And because it did I grew by leaps and bounds. I now see grief as a good thing and my life and relationships are much richer as a result.

 

 

 

What are some of the losses you have experienced recently?

Which loss feels like the biggest one on the list?

What emotion are you feeling in regards to that loss? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

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