Archive for category: Faith

Once Upon a Christ (A Palm Sunday Reflection)

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. We began the service outside, crying “Hosanna!” and waiving palm branches in an empty parking lot. We continued the liturgy inside, engaged in a responsive reading that culminated with the people–with me–yelling “crucify him!”

That service gave birth to this poem.

*****

If once upon again, a Christ came
on a donkey’s colt over river bridge
and into marketplace, capitol square,
or the enormity of Sunday’s sanctuary,
would the rows ring with Hosannas,
the joy of prophecies personified?

                       Or

would there be only dry dreams
of fading green palms waiving in
the brittle memories of old men,
and the fading leaves of recorded myth?
Would the ghosts of fickle faith
hush or be hushed, know their hushing?
Would the powers, politicians, priests
mock their ancestors’ fear-filled charge?
“You see that you are gaining nothing.
Look, the world has gone after him.”*

*John 12:19

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In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the artisanal theology and the Fayetteville Hipster. It’s a little bit snarky, a little bit graceful, a little bit introspective, and a whole lot of fun. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Spiritual Disciplines: The Point Is Presence

“How’s your soul?”

John Ray tosses this inquiry across the table with an easy smile. This is John’s standing Friday morning question, and I know that he will wait in the silence until I answer. He is a patient pastor and spiritual director, one whose thirty years of ministry have shaped him into a sage listener.

I feel the gravitational pull of the question and would rather avoid it. Instead, I choose the next best option and spill superficial ramblings about morning devotions and prayer. John sees through the ruse. “Stop,” he interrupts. “Take a deep breath, consider the question, and try again.” I pause, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. But in this brief pause, my inner dialogue comes screaming into the silence.

 

*Continue reading “The Point is Presence” at The High Calling.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly subscriber-only newsletter), I’m discussing hipster idiosyncracies and artisanal theology. Don’t miss it! And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Bring Them To Their Knees

This morning I woke to the news that 90 Christian men, women, and children in Syria were abducted by ISIS militants in a series of dawn raids. This news comes on the heels of last week’s video showing the execution of 21 Coptic Christians on the shores of Libya.

Lord, have mercy.

I considered this newest group of Syrian abductees this morning, considered how they will likely join the communion of martyred saints, the “souls of those who [have] been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.” (Rev. 6:9) I considered how they will follow in the footsteps of Peter, Paul, and Stephen. And in that moment, I stopped to consider the story of Stephen and Paul, f/k/a Saul.

You may recall Stephen, the Christian convert who was executed by the religious leaders of the day. Saul was there, and the leaders of the stoning committee laid their cloaks at his feet. There is no indication that Saul threw the first stone, but there is no doubt that he looked on with approval. I wonder—did Saul see the light emanating from the eyes of Stephen who did not shrink from death? Did Stephen’s death somehow affect Saul?

Later, on the road to Damascus, Saul was stricken by the light of God–the hope of Stephen–and he was brought to his knees. A voice thundered, “Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” There can be no doubt that Paul considered those he’d murdered, those like Stephen. And you know the rest of the story. The experience led Saul’s conversion, to his name change, and ultimately, to the spread of the Christian faith across the world.

It’s an instructive story, I think. It’s a story about the power of God to transform the heart of the persecuting murderer. It’s the story of human power being brought to its knees by the love of a gracious God.

This morning, as I read the newsfeed, I was struck by the darkness of my heart. “Lord, bring ISIS to their knees; annihilate them!” I might have first prayed. But in light of Jesus words to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” I don’t suppose that my prayers of retaliation and retribution would have been well-founded.

Instead, I stopped and reflected. Do I thirst for retaliation? Do I hunger for revenge? Would I soon see the bloody bodies of every ISIS fighter, every persecutor of Christianity, strewn across a desert valley? Or would I rather see the persecutor brought to his knees under the gracious love of God? I will not try to super spiritualize the answers to these questions. I am vengeful; I am spiteful. Lord, have mercy.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I belong in the body of the “you” found in the passage “pray for those who persecute you.” I live a life of relative ease. My idea of persecution has more to do with losing social media followers because I espouse a particular Christian ideology than it does losing my head for my faith. I don’t think that’s persecution. But for the extended Christian family, for my cousins in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and the like, I pray. I pray for the enemies of the Christian Cross. And in those prayers, I’m trying my best to pray less for retribution and retaliation, and more for the soul-reformation of the persecutors. I’m praying they would be brought to their knees like Paul. Perhaps you would consider joining me?

It’s a simple prayer, one found in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wrote prayer, sure. But today, it’s my prayer.

“O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And finally, if you have a minute today, please visit 21Martyrs.Com and commit to pray for the next 40 days for both the persecuted and those who persecute.

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Parade of Questions

It was a daddy-date, just the two of us. Ian and I sat at U.S. Pizza Company, the home of the non-artisanal, non-organic, thin and crispy crust pizza. This is not your upper-crust fare; instead, it is the stuff reminiscent of the late-night college cramming sessions (of both chemistry formulas and junk food).

Pizza is among Ian’s favorite foods, which should come as no surprise. I don’t suppose I know a single seven year old who does not hang the hope of the world on cheese pizza and chocolate donuts. Couple either with chocolate milk from a square carton and you have a meal worthy of grade-school Valhalla.

A trim waitress with bright eyes and blond hair brought the pizza to the table. She bent down to Ian’s eye-level, and with a smile said, “will this work, buddy?” He stared only at the steaming cheese, oblivious to her striking beauty, and with eyes big as pizza pans gave an elongated, dramatic “yeeeeeesssss….”

We sat in the joint and talked about school. I asked him whether he was enjoying it, and he said mostly. “Some of the kids are starting to cuss,” he said. “They’re trying to make me do it, too.” I asked him whether he had joined their attempts at grown up language. He stopped eating, gave me the furrowed brow of surprise and said, “are you crazy?!? Those words are bad!”

That was that. I am raising a rule-boy.

Half a cheese pizza and three cups of Sprite later, we sat talking, when I overheard one of the waitresses saying, “the parade is starting!” She was standing by the large windows in the front of the restaurant, and looking out toward Dickson Street, where I could see candy and beads flying through the air. Ian was letting his food digest, so I asked him if he’d like to take a peek at the parade. “There’ll be candy and beads,” I said. Innocent as a lamb, he said, “candy? Sure. Let’s go.”

Outside, the folks of Fayetteville lined the street, stretched their arms upward and said “beads here! Beads here!” The parade processional was just making its way down the street, and a Little Guys Mover’s truck was at the head. It was adorned with shiny, plastic beads on the passenger side mirror, and a woman from inside was tossing candy and stringed necklaces to the crowd. She threw me two tangled strands and I offered them to Ian. He recoiled. “Necklaces are for girls,” he said. I put them over my head.

As the parade rolled on, a float came with a sign denoting it was the “Love Shack.” A structure had been constructed on the back of a trailer, and women danced under it while throwing goodies to the crowd. A public address system blared, “the love shack is a little old place where we can get together.”

Ian looked at me, confused by the bawdy dancing women and asked, “what is that daddy?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older, son.”

Float after float came down the street, and we watched them pass. This was the family-friendly Mardi Gras parade our town holds every year. It’s a small parade, boasting no more than fifteen floats, and the candy and beads flow like milk and honey. A gang of roller-derby girls skated behind a float of purple-headed fairies in matching tutus. A vintage Ford truck cruised, blaring Willy Nelson. A trailer hauled a local band that played an old Doobie Brother’s tune.

Beads, beads, and more beads, the floats were generous with the crowd. Finally, Ian asked, “what’s all this about?”
“Tuesday,” I said, “is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. It’s the last day before Lent, the day that we feast on whatever it is we will fast from so that we can draw closer to God.”

“What’s Lent,” he yelled over the band.

“It’s the season where we remember our need for repentance; it’s the season just before Easter!”

Ian stopped and looked at me. “So this parade–they’re having a big party because they’ll have to give up parties soon?”

“Something like that.”

“Daddy?” He paused. “Are they throwing a party for sin?”

I stood on the side of Dickson and held the tenderness of his question. Sometimes, I think having childlike faith means asking the most uncomfortable questions.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’ll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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The Hymn of Invitation

1.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about returns. When we were children, we were who we were–trusty and true. Do you remember how easy belief was in the days of felt-board Jesus, Goldfish crackers, and cherry Kool-Aid? John 3:16 leveled the playing field, taught us that we loved God because he first loved us. That was that, and many of us believed.

Somewhere along the way, though, the lusts set in and we began the metamorphosis. We learned cynicism, violence, and greed. We learned to cheat (whether on tests and girlfriends), steal (whether candy bars or lusty glances at our neighbor’s wife), and kill (whether the farmland or our children’s spirits). This was the intoxicating brokenness of adulthood, and we created clothes from the poison and shards of glass, tried them on and called them the fashion of the day.

Stop. Examine. You know this to be true.

2.

There’s a lot of talk about systemic sin and oppression, these days. The conservative crowd (whatever that means) laments the sin (mostly sexual) that seems to be permeating the culture at an alarming rate. They preach, and the hellfire fills their cheeks as they call an entire nation to repent.

The progressive crowd (whatever that means) points to other cultural indicators, shows how the market beats back the least of these. The classes aren’t on a level playing field, and widows,* orphans, and poor have their rights trampled. This is the sin of ancient Israel, they say, and their cheeks fill with a different sort of hellfire as they call an entire nation to repent.

If I’m honest, on most days my right cheek is filled with the conservative fire and my left with the progressive one.

3.

It’s important to talk about systemic sin and oppression; let’s make no bones about it. But is there a point at which all this calling for societal change leads us away from personal examination, from personal repentance?

4.

This is not a piece to point out anyone’s particular fault. It’s not a piece to point out systemic sin, either. This is a simple piece to remind myself of the days of childlike faith, the days before all that lusty, greedy, violent fear filled my noggin.

Do you remember your own similar days? What happened to them?

Put away your thoughts of society for a moment. Turn inward and remember. Is there a turning that needs to happen in your own spirit? Do you need to come back toward that child-like faith? So often, I do.

“If all that you are is not all you desire,” says Damien Rice, “then come.”

And former-Baptist that I am, here is your hymn of invitation.

 

*In the original post, “widows” was “windows.” My friend Erika Morrison believed this to be a typo, but I indicated that no, actually, everyone is always trying to save the windows. She thought it made more sense with the substitution, though. She’s a good and right life-artist, so I changed it.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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 *Photo by Williams, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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