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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

What does forgiveness cost? What is the currency that’s expended in trade for the words, “I forgive you?” The coin of the realm we must relinquish is legal tender backed by the things we hold dearest: our pride, our patience, our time… To forgive costs us our pride. It costs us the right to be the one who is right. It costs us our patience and our time, because to forgive means to step down from our hard won high place and stand on level ground where we might have to give again, might have to sacrifice again, and might even have to bare the indignation of being wronged again.

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Of each other, that is.

These excellent thoughts, along the lines of my recent musings, from Valerie at Kyriosity:

The Church is not the spirit of Christ; the Church is the body of Christ. The Church is a physical manifestation of Christ. Therefore the members of the Church need to be physically present to one another. Trying to live by faith that Some Intangible Entity out there (the Church) loves me isn’t enough. It isn’t right. It isn’t what the Church is called to be. The physical presence of the Church is supposed to be the tangible reminder that Some Intangible Person out there (God) loves me.”

Couldn’t have said it better. Read the whole post here.

Along those same lines, THIS sermon by John Piper speaks of the same intentionality of “being there” for one another:

What a difference it would make in our church if, when all of us woke in the morning, we would PLAN to strengthen someone’s hand in God! Jonathan did not accidentally meet David in Horesh (though that happens at times!). He PLANNED to go and strengthen him. The mark of Christian maturity is that you build into your life the intention and the occasions to strengthen someone’s hand in God. Whose hand are you going to strengthen in God today? This week? Do you have a cluster of comrades committed (intentionally!) to helping each other fight the fight of faith in this way?’

Finally, this morning, at prayer time at my church, I opened our time with a bit from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons (His Name – Wonderful!) that spoke of the Incarnation.   It’s worth the read, especially as we approach the Christmas season (though Spurgeon apparently preached this good message in September!)    Isn’t the Incarnation ultimately where we must look, when we consider what we’re to be for each other in the church?  The Word BECAME FLESH and dwelt among us!   Incarnation is ultimately relationship (persistant, pursuing, relationship!)… with skin on!

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My friend Angie, from Bloggin-Dazs, posted a cheerfully curmudgeonly response to the Advent Conspiracy video. It’s worth checking out, because there is probably some good balance pointed out there. (Don’t you love the world of blogging just for that reason?) Her response reminds me, among other things, to keep in check any help-the-less-fortunate-by-being-sacrificial righteousness I might be subtly tallying up points for… Oh how very much I love to try to add just a smidge of my own goodness onto the righteousness of Christ….

Still, as I told Angie, I’m experiencing a pretty profound pendulum swing in my own life right now, away from the “freedom” I have to indulge in all the best things, particularly when that indulgence blinds me to the brokenness around me. I confess: I’m a 21st century American and I’ve anesthetized myself with “stuff” and I idolize comfort and pleasure (and really good red wine and expensive new watercolor brushes and not thinking twice about buying a four dollar cup of coffee and… you get the not so pretty idea, I’m sure.) So I’m standing by emailing that video to most everyone I know (sorry for those of you daily readers who got a double dose of the Advent Conspiracy) and I’m still chewing on how to make my family’s Christmas look a bit different this year.

The GOOD news is, Christ came FOR our tendency to imbibe OR abstain for wrong motives. He came FOR our neediness, because ultimately, we don’t “get it right” in anything we set out to do. Only clothed in the righteousness of that surprising Savior can we stand at all, and celebrate, enjoy, give, receive, relish, crave, laugh, weep, hunger, indulge, share… All to the glory of a God who accepts us as perfect.

Years ago, when I was a potter and not a painter, I used to write poetry for my Christmas cards. (The ceramic arts don’t lend themselves to multiple mailings, but now that I’ve started painting and printing, my Christmas cards usually have something of my year’s work on them.) One of the first Christmas “poems” I sent out was this one that follows, and I thought of it again today as I pondered how we deliberate even about how best to celebrate Christ’s birth. While we’re “trying to get it right,” it seems He’s busy doing what He always does: showing up for unlikely people in unlikely places with unexpected grace.

 

Happy Advent, dear friends. May you find Him beside you in unlikely places.

 

A Savior Unlikely

Once we were looking for Him in a palace

He came in a stable, His advent among us

Now we are looking for Him in a quiet place

A church all in darkness away from the fast pace

 

But Christ is among us now born in this madness

Of gay garish garland and glittering sadness

Once in a stable where cattle must lie

Now in a mall where what’s holy has died

 

What shall we call Him, our Savior unlikely?

Lord of the shopper and Lord of the donkey

Lord of what hardly appears to be holy

Lord born among all that’s showy and gaudy

 

If stars called to stables would wise men still follow?

Only Love’s birth can the unholy, hallow

In Advent midst tinsel and bauble and bead

A Savior unlikely comes born for our need

 

©H. Stevens, 1995

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Nathan suggested that maybe defining community involves defining friendship.  I couldn’t agree more.  What we’re longing for, most clearly, when we’re longing for “something more” seems to be truer and deeper friendships.  I believe that’s what most of us sense is missing from our overscheduled, overcommitted lives.

Even those of us who feel like we have good friendships (I do) can wrestle with prolonged times of feeling disconnected and “unknown.”  I work in a tremendous community of believers, but it’s seldom that any of us slow down enough to have meaningful conversation, let alone the sorts of daily meaningful conversations that build into the truest and deepest sorts of friendships. 

One friend recently described how his home feels like an outpost – a fort way out on the desolate frontier.  This can be a great image at best: our homes should be places of refuge on the frontier of the world – places where the line gets held and our children find refuge.  But in the worst sense in which we might use that image, an outpost can be a place where you barely hang on by your fingernails, and no one much knows whether you’re still alive or not. There may be occasional trips into civilization to get “resupplied” – the Sunday feasting on Word and Sacrament does nourish us in our frontier living – but the vital connections during the “inbetween” days are painfully missing. 

Another good friend (someone who I’d say has a vast sphere of relationships) recently wrote of the feeling of isolation that comes with holding a postition of leadership.  I’ve been at loss for how to respond, though everything in me has wanted to say “It’s REALLY OK!  You can be our leader and be totally broken at the same time!”

How can so many feel so alone so much of the time?

What ARE we to be to one another?   Those “one another” statements of the New Testament would seem to be a good place to start… Off the top of my head, I know we’re called to:

  • bear one another’s burdens
  • encourage one another
  • exhort one another
  • forgive one another
  • be tenderhearted toward one another
  • serve one another in love

…what else?  Each of those bullet points (and the many I’ve forgotten) deserves digging into.  And if these “one another”s aren’t just referring to our favorite friends, what is it that distinguishes the committedness of friendship and deeper communion from average everyday decency to those around you?

We think we know that such things exists: we know that marriage, for example, is something mysteriously more than the sum of its parts because it exists by God’s decreee.  Yet no one would deny that healthy marriages take work: we counsel, exhort, teach, and encourage those who are entering into that union.  Is there a corollary mysterious greatness in the union with which Christ knit together His people?  He prayed that His followers would be one, even as He and the Father were one… Doesn’t that imply there’s something pretty big that’s supposed to be going on in our connections to one another?

So why, I’m wondering, do we expect healthy community to just “happen”?  Why don’t we have “community seminars” (or “friendship seminars” if you prefer) in the same way we have marriage seminars?  Why do we think if we throw people together in a church building or some other location where a bunch of Christians gather, that most everyone there will experience fine fellowship and that the few who don’t will simply catch on as they go?

And I’m not JUST wondering this on behalf of the slip-through-the-cracks-of-lonliness set.  I’m equally wondering it on behalf of the “I’m fine and don’t particularly need anything and don’t particularly care to invest myself” crowd.  How do we respond to those who see giving of themselves as something optional: who only assess friendship and fellowship in terms of whether or not they feel they need it, and don’t think of those things in terms of something they might be called to give.  Is there a place for exhorting the busy, the preoccupied, the self-sufficient to get in there and “one another” a bit more vigorously?

I spent time with a friend whom I deeply appreciate today: one who listens, affirms, challenges, encourages – and in the past has soundly rebuked me when I needed it…  Spending that time was the best part of my day, and renewed a right perspective in me about a lot of things that were not even discussed in our conversation.  Spending that time reminded me of why this stuff is important: community, friendship, connectedness – whatever you want to call it – is energizing!  Right relationships are a foretaste of heaven.  Peace with our fellow man reminds us of the peace with God that we’ve been given…  

Musing musing musing.  And of course, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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A couple of you have asked about what has prompted my musings on community lately.  I hope it’s sufficient explanation to say I’ve been pretty significantly discouraged in that area.  My chief discouragement has been not just that I perceive that we, in churches today, so often do a poor job at cultivating community, but that there has additionally been a backlash of “We’re fine just the way we are!” when the challenge is made that perhaps we should be caring for one another better.

And so, I’ve tried to take seriously the repeated exhortation that “something deeper” is just something I crave and that either 1) others out there don’t really need it, or 2) others out there already have it, and the problem is chiefly with me.  I’ve tried to believe its “just me.”  But I keep running up against evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, enough posts about mushrooms: this one is more serious.  I have questions for you.

What do you think Christian community should look like? Do you think that community/connectedness automatically takes place (as, for example, a bi-product of excellent Sunday worship,) or is it something which must be pursued/cultivated? 

Can/should connectedness within a particular body be encouraged, or even exhorted, from the leadership of that body? Or is it just something that either happens – or doesn’t.  Can community be “taught” or must it only be “caught” – or is it some combination of the two?

I’d appreciate your thoughts/honesty.  Obviously I am longing for something more, but if it is “just me” then that’s part of the answer I need to hear.

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I’m trying to decide which “growing mushrooms” metaphor to settle on. There’s clearly one waiting to be called into being right now. I don’t hesitate to find the metaphorical lessons in life around me, even when they border on banality. I’m well convinced that creation is to be one of our chief textbooks in the Christian life.

This morning, for fun, I’ve listened to the book of Ecclesiastes on CD three times. (OK, maybe not really for fun: it’s part of an assignment. But there’s something about hearing Max McClean say “He has made everything beautiful in its time'” that makes at least chapter 3 delightful…) It’s hard to top the total tonnage of metaphor in Ecclesiastes, and maybe that’s part of the reason that my simmering thoughts about my mushrooms are starting to roll to a slow boil.

But I’m torn. For those of you who think of fungi as one of the distinctive signs of the fall, and shun their consumption in all forms, it might seem appropriate to think of their growth as a kind of cancerous symbol of the persistent, recurring darkness with which I wrestle. But, for those of you who share my affinity for these white wonders, a sort of Isaiah 61 (“beauty instead of ashes”) interpretation might be in order.

I’ll continue to think on that, but meanwhile, here’s a photo update. Note the growth (for better or worse, depending on your bias as described above) in just three days!

Forget turkey, I’m having steak and sautéed mushrooms this Thanksgiving.

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