Thursday, September 12, 2013

The voices in my head

We hear voices all the time. Voices from our family and friends. Voices from the media. Voices from figures of authority--church, government, school, etc. But then there are the voices in our heads. These are the voices telling us that we are worthless. That we are terrible Christians. That our lives will be merely a wearisome slog.

Artist: Donna Mulholland
These are the voices in my head. "You're ugly. You're a bad physicist. You need to work harder at being a better person. Your future looks bleak, but that's what you deserve anyway." These are the voices that subtly (and sometimes less subtly) influence how I live and act. These are the voices which have enslaved me.

Where are the other voices? Why is grace's voice so quiet in the milieu of other voices? Why doesn't she speak louder? Why can't I hear the ones saying, "The King is enthralled by your beauty. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. I have given you gifts and a place in my body--the church. I have started a good work in you and will carry it to completion. You deserve death, but I have given you life and life abundantly. I have plans for you--plans to prosper you and give you a hope and a future." Why is it so hard to hear this message among all the others?

As I listened to these strident voices of failure and bitterness, I found that I was dying. I did not believe in my worth and I could not look my God in the eye. I hung my head and cowered in the corner of His temple. I told Him that He had created filth. I hid behind the bushes and told Him that I could not come out for I was naked.

I want to slough off these voices. I want to silence them. I want to listen to the quiet voice telling me that He died to save me. I want to listen to the voice that tells me I am free. I want to listen to the voice that tells me I have purpose. As someone who is part of my story, help me. Please help amplify the quiet voice of love. Help me hear the strains of grace through the cacophony of critical voices.

I have listened to this sermon from Galatians 5:1,13 several times and each time I am struck by how I have fallen back into slavery, listening to the voices that would keep me in bondage. I don't want this. It is for freedom that Christ set me free!

Pastor Chuck McCullough, White Rock Baptist Church, Oct 2012

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Friends with a deity?

Jesus talking with his friend Mary
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!

I have a problem with this hymn. You see, I don’t understand what it means to be a friend of Jesus.

Most of my friends haven’t saved humanity. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any other friends who are also Creator of the universe, so I have no frame of reference for this friendship. I have a poor understanding of what a friendship with God is supposed to look like.

How does one relate to God and how in the world does He relate to us? Hebrews gives us a small glimpse of how the latter happens. We are told that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). I have read this verse many times and I still don’t understand that Jesus actually sympathizes with my weakness. He lived a very human life. I am not intellectually denying this. I am emotionally denying it. I want to question that He understands my loneliness, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.

Francisco de Zurbaran
In general, I would view a relationship in which one party is bearing all the sins and griefs of the other as a highly unhealthy one. But somehow this is exactly what makes my relationship with God a friendship! If we can trust John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, Jesus showed us his love by laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It was this very sacrifice which made it clear that Jesus views us as friends. Somehow the lopsidedness in this relationship makes it possible.

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?

But what about the other direction? If Jesus is my friend, that means I’m His friend! What could I possibly offer in friendship? We have an idea from James that this probably includes belief and that being credited as righteousness because right after we're told that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness, we are also informed that Abraham was called a friend of God. God wants His friends to believe in Him. Well, that makes sense, I guess. But all through 1 John, we are also told that love means obedience. If I love God, I will obey Him. Here is where things don't look quite like my human friendships. I view obedience as a master/servant relationship, not a friend relationship, but somehow it's part of both?

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.

I am not often despised and forsaken by my friends, but occasionally they are not there for me. It’s not usually their fault; it’s just a fact of life. There are times I feel alone. Yet, I know that God will never leave me, so He's clearly the ultimate friend and yet emotionally, I don't get it. God doesn't give me hugs or send me a glance across the room that lets me know He thinks I'm special. I don't know how to have "normal" conversations with an omniscient God. Perhaps I am looking at externals too much. What is friendship, but knowing each other deeply and loving what we find. Clearly God doesn't have problems with knowing and loving. But how about me? Are my problems with claiming friendship with God a result of my not knowing or not loving enough? Quite possibly.

The one verse that convinces me that this hymn is not crazy in ascribing a friendship label to my relationship with Jesus is John 15:15. These words pierce my heart: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Just typing these words (yes, they’re typed, not copy-pasted) made my heart hurt. I am the friend of Jesus. He does not call me servant, but friend! Whether or not I understand what friendship with a deity means, the fact is I'm friends with the God of the universe (or is it multiverse?)!

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's All in the Mind (...and in the legs and lungs)

Green is the colour of my true love’s curves… Er… What I mean to say is that I have been embracing the slopes of the Los Alamos ski hill. Literally. Well, almost literally. It looks something like this:
Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. Those slopes are deceptive.
Don't be fooled into thinking it's an easy climb!
I get out of my car, cinch on my waist pack, and grab my poles. Both waist pack and poles serve to make me feel more legit than I would otherwise. I set out at a steady clip and approach the first green slope. I pause, look up at the green expanse, and say, “That’s not TOO steep. We’re feeling pretty good today. Let’s go.” The plural subject is not because I am hiking with anyone, but because it feels much more like an epic adventure when there is a full party conquering the mountain. And about one third of the way up, there are multiple voices anyway:
“Just keep swimming walking.”
“Emergency Alert! There is pain, fatigue, and thirst! Abort Mission. Abort Mission.”
“Look. Just get to the little green bush there. You can do it. A few more steps. Then, you can take a break.”
“Made it! Took a few more [gasp] steps. Water break!”
“What are you doing?!?!?! No breaks! That was barely three steps. Up and at ‘em. Hehehe. I tricked you. You thought you were going to get a break. I’ll give you one when you get to that tree up there. No, not the one in five paces, the one up on that ridge.”
“But I can’t make it THAT far!!”
"I repeat. Abort Mission."
And somewhere along the way, I tell Nazi Exercise Voice to shut up and I fold over at the waist, lean on my poles, and gasp for air. It’s a very attractive sight.  They really ought to put me on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Just the other day, I was walking up Wildcat. I thought it was Daisy Mae. I would have preferred Daisy May. Somewhere about a quarter of the way up, I was huffing and puffing to put the big bad wolf to shame and I realized, “This slope isn’t easy!” I was very indignant. And to make matters worse, there was a deer complacently watching me for a good ten minutes as I stumbled my way up the slope. He seemed amused by my slow progress. I, needless to say, was not amused. It was only when I got to the top that I saw the slope was a black diamond (translation: much steeper than a nice and gentle bunny hill). Dear reader, there is a price to confusing a blue diamond (Daisy Mae) with a black diamond (Wildcat): you leave your dignity trailing behind you on the slopes.
I decided to take the jeep trail down. No, it wasn’t that I was a chicken. Well, maybe partially. It had gotten dark by then and the moon wasn’t quite bright enough for me to see my feet, so I figured I would be less likely to roll my ankle and die if I took the jeep trail rather than careening down one of the slopes (That's the way of things, you know. First you roll your ankle, then you lie there in pain, and then you die). As I was walking down the jeep trail in the dark, I realized that the pain wasn’t over. You use different muscles for descending than ascending. My quads were complaining about the volleyball I had played earlier in the week. I told them I had enough of complaining. They continued to grumble.
There is no winning...until you have showered, changed into warm, comfy clothes, and curled up in bed to celebrate another physical feat of exercise. Then, and only then, can we recall the green slopes of Apen or Wildcat or Daisy Mae with fondness.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Love Child of Java and the BCP

What would happen if the Book of Common Prayer collided with some rudimentary Java programming?

A mashup of audio and text, I am finding this interactive form of the Book of Common Prayer highly useful. 
Of course, the program doesn't yet *look* pretty, but it's mostly functional. I still have to add the correct readings from the lectionary (which will require some serious database manipulation), but it's at the "useful" stage, which means I can use it for my personal prayers!

Some worship God through art. Others worship Him through writing. I worship Him by programming.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reading a Stranger's Diary

The internet is a strange place. Some places are stranger than others, but in the last week I have been on a journey with a woman whom I know nothing about. Jennifer Harris Dault's baby died in her womb and Jennifer chronicles the pain, emotion, and grief of the miscarriage. As of today, her story is not over because her body has yet to expel the baby and where most people bury the pain of miscarriage deep within, Jennifer has chosen to share it and I have entered her word cautiously. Cautiously, because I was unprepared for the flood of emotion. Cautiously, because I have no similar experience with which I can relate. Cautiously, because this is a sacred place--a place of faith and loss and motherhood--and I am not sure what to do in this space.

You might argue this is no different than reading a book and entering that world, but I would argue there is a fundamental difference. This woman's story is unfolding in real time and I am entering her world as it unfolds. This is not the same as reading Anne Frank's diary because when reading her diary I am aware that those events have already happened. In this story, I enter Jennifer's pain as she is living it. I can pray for her because her story is ongoing. I am a part of her world in the present. She is my sister in Christ and we meet at the Father's throne. She doesn't know me and I don't know her, apart from a series of blog posts, but it doesn't matter because for this week at least, I have heard her voice and listened to what she has said and my heart breaks with her for baby Avelyn Grace.

Jennifer's eloquence and raw description of the darkness have moved me indescribably. Reading this woman's diary has been a rare privilege afforded by the internet and I am humbled and dare I say changed by it.

Our prayers are with you, Jennifer Harris Dault.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons from a Harmonium

The gentleman who let me borrow a harmonium.
The sacred musical instrument of India has taught me several lessons and I've only had it for two and a half days. Yes, you heard that right. This instrument is teaching me.

The first lesson might be considered a bit of a stretch because it concerns the circumstances of acquiring the harmonium, but just roll with it! My housemate is Sikh and I was curious as to how the Sikh worship, so I asked to go with her to the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) one Friday. There I heard a harmonium being played for the second time in my life and I fell in love all over again (the first time I heard it was at a Houghton Chapel service when the mystical group Mandala played). I determined right then and there as I watched the kids play during the service that I wanted to learn! I talked with my housemate and she said I could ask the leader. So, a few weeks later, I went to the gurdwara again and before helping the women in the kitchen with the cooking, we asked about the harmonium.

And he said we could borrow one of the harmoniums to take home and practice on for a week! So, I came back on Sunday and did just that. Now, I have to wonder. If some strange person came into your church and asked if he/she could learn to play guitar, would you lend them one? "If someone takes your coat, do not withold your shirt from them." I do believe that this particular group of Sikhs have shown me what this looks like!

The second lesson I learned was that a 10 year absence from reading music is painfully felt! I only remembered my notes between middle C and G. Everything else required me to count up or down from those! And forget about remembering any keys other than C Major!

A gorgeous harmonium with lots of stops!
My loaner one is not nearly as handsome.
The third lesson is closely correlated. If one wants something badly enough, one will work at it! I never enjoyed piano lessons and hated practicing, but I have been practicing for an hour each day since getting the harmonium... and I printed up scales to practice. Yes, I am voluntarily subjecting myself to practicing scales!

The fourth lesson was one I was hoping I wouldn't have to learn. I am still incapable of doing two different things with my hands. The pumping hand wants to pump with the same rhythm as the notes, rather than providing a steady stream of air to the inner bellows... I will be working on that!

The last lesson I have learned is that even while learning to play an instrument, it is possible to lose yourself in the music. I am currently learning to play five taize songs and after the first few times through, I am able to sink into the music and pray the words as I sing them. Mandala combined Gregorian chants with the harmonium, and I am combining Taize music with it. Either way, the instrument is truly well-suited for devotional music and I am so excited to continue learning it and learning from it!

Friday, May 17, 2013

That Dang Mammon (Part 2)

[And he speaks again]

So, I was thinking about “mammon”.  A weird word . . . not a typical occupant of our everyday vocabulary; but such a great word . . . foreign, exotic, mysterious.

“Mammon” is Aramaic in origin (actually, it has an uncertain Semitic root, meaning “wealth, property or profit”.)  We know it only in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus. Obviously His hearers knew it well enough because He did not have to explain it to them.

To us, however, the term sounds a mysterious, even sinister, note—I mean, remember when your mother would inveigh against “the evils of mammon”. (No? Well, maybe she should have.)

Anyway, the very fact that this word is remote and impersonal renders it safe and non-threatening; i.e., the absence of familiarity allows us to treat it as something to which we need give little attention.

The fact of the matter is, however, the business of “mammon” happens to be pretty serious stuff. Jesus drew a very stark line: “Either God or mammon. One or the other. You can’t serve both.” In this text, Mt. 6:24, money is personified as an object of worship.  “Wealth in itself is not bad—but if you serve it as a slave serves his master, then your professed loyalty to God is a sham and you are fooling only yourself.”

Jesus used “mammon” in the cryptic story of the dishonest manager. Now, this guy was not held up as an icon of virtue, but he did reveal that he was teachable. He took quick action with the mammon at his disposal to cut some deals and prepare for the crisis that lay ahead of him.

You see, the sneaky, conniving steward eventually realized that he was going to have to face his Master. In the end, what he did with the money (which, admittedly, was less than stellar) showed that he understood the power and authority of the Master and the scary fact that a personal accounting would be required of him. The Master was impressed that the steward wised up and took care of business before it was too late (Lk. 16:1-8).

In the first part of this three-part series, we explored briefly the relationship between our central theological touchstone, the resurrection of Jesus, and the practice of “taking up an offering” (Paul made the connection first!)

In this second part, we want to press a little further into the utterly radical nature of Jesus’ view of money. His teachings on the subject are hard precisely because they run against everything we have been taught about growing wealth, being successful, preparing for the future, etc.  

Indeed, Jesus’ portentous take on “mammon” grabs us by the nape of the neck and gives us a good shake. He was not kidding around. Though He did not apparently advocate vows of poverty for everyone, He did promote eternal Kingdom values that simply don’t allow much room for building earthly empires.

(Parenthetical interjection: This discussion is not really about spending and saving and debt and credit and insurance and preparing for retirement and all that. I gladly leave this financial stuff to Dave Ramsey . . . who does a very good job with these important issues.

This is also not about whether Jesus was for or against capitalism or socialism. In spite of the claims of some, His ministry was not about setting up any sort of economic system.)

Jesus hit the money issue hard. He knew full well how easily it takes His place in our hearts. He knew how easily swayed we can be by the allure of wealth and all it promises. He knew that the condition of our heart and the status of our faith are revealed in the way we handle money.

He knew the lies that human society perpetuates; i.e., namely, that money brings power, promises security, and buys prestige—chimerical temptresses that lead to destruction.

The quintessential countercultural radical, Jesus simply did not share the priorities of the world He came to save (imagine that.) He came to seek and to save the lost, not save for a rainy day. He came to make disciples, not make wealth. He came to establish a Kingdom beyond this world, not build an empire.

Here are a few more crazy things He said . . . .
“Money won’t buy you everlasting comfort . . .” The “I Got Mine and I’m Good” outlook just doesn’t work very well (Lk. 16:19-26).

“A great retirement plan will not get you into heaven . . .” Actuarial tables do not account for eternity. The “Bigger Barn Retirement Plan” won’t get you there (Lk. 12:16-21).

“Invest your treasure in things that last . . .” Saving and spending wisely are good practices, but at some point you’ve got to put your money where your faith is (Mt. 6:19-21).

“Manage your money wisely—then God will know He can trust you really valuable things . . .” (Lk. 16:9-13).

“Stop worrying so much. Do you really think it all depends on you?” Really, where is your faith?   (Mt. 6:25-34)

“Trying to be good is ok, but it is pointless if you’ve made your stuff your god.” (Lk. 18:18-25)

“I want your offerings, but I want more than that.  I want everything you’ve got.” I want you, and your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I want your trust, your commitment, your loyalty, and your love . . . everything (Lk. 21:1-4).

“There is one thing that is more valuable than anything you can imagine” (Mt. 13:31-32; 44-46). Not one of us will find greater worth in God’s eyes because we had a lot of money or cool gadgets or the admiration of others. He will know His people by the fact that they seek His Kingdom above everything else.

But, of course, all of this is so strange, foreign, exotic, and unreasonable. Could it be that Jesus simply did not understand the economic exigencies of we face today?

What do you think? Was He simply out of tune with the realities of our world? I mean, He was on earth only a few years. He did not have a family, career, debts, and other responsibilities . . . and He lived a long time ago. Don’t you suppose He would change His advice if He were here now?

It comes down to a simple choice: either we take seriously what He said and figure out how to apply His teachings to our lives . . . or we carefully excise those parts of the Bible and dismiss them as archaic and irrelevant.

My sense is that He is hoping that we will wise up before it is too late.

Drawn by the ideals of the Savior—yet still a struggling captive of a broken world, I am, as always,