Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Falling Down and Getting Up

At SoulFeast a couple of years ago, I remember hearing Trevor Hudson, a South African pastor say, “We fall down; we get up.” He was making the point that our lives are a journey, and that even when we think we have progressed, we still fall down. Our whole lives will be a process of falling down.

The key is the getting up part of this phrase. Falling down is part of our human condition, but getting up is what transforms us from the realm of miserable failure to that of hopeful saints. In getting up, we affirm God’s mercy toward us, and we live in grace, confident of our forgiveness.

I am being reminded of this because I had a recent, and still tender, fall. Not a physical fall, but an experience of selfishness where I hurt another. It is tempting to wallow in my wretchedness, and yet, if I choose that course, I turn away from God into my own self-centered guilt.

As much as I regret my behavior, I more regret the hurt I caused. My asking the person for forgiveness does not guarantee that they forgive me, and they are under no obligation to do so. Like Peter, when he denied Jesus three times, I’ve wept bitterly. But also like Peter, I get up and keep moving ahead.

We don’t like to see the ugly parts of ourselves. We would always rather think that we are “good” people, comparing ourselves to ax murderers and other folks who do heinous deeds. The reality is, though, that there is much junk within, and every now and then, it comes out and we fall. It’s why we need forgiveness. It’s why we need a Savior. It’s why grace is so transformative. Our ability to admit and not excuse our falling helps us to recognize that we are not so different than the ax murderer, and grace is available for us both.

Peter and Judas both betrayed Jesus, but while Judas could not get up from his falling, Peter did. Christ’s grace and forgiveness got him up and going. May it do so for me, and for us all when we fall down.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Distortion of Being on Top

I’m reading a book called Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Writings – Annotated and Explained. Rev. Mary Earle has written the annotations. The book covers a variety of themes prevalent in Celtic Christian spirituality, and includes both poetry and prose.

Recently I read this quote from Pelagius: “No one is more ready to pity the exile or the stranger than someone who knows the effects of exile. No one offers lodging to a homeless guest so much as someone who has themselves been dependent on the generosity of others. No one is more likely to feed the hungry or to give a drink to the thirsty than someone who has themselves suffered hunger and thirst. No one is so ready to cover the naked with their own clothes than someone who knows the pain of nakedness and cold. No one is more likely to come to the aid of people who face troubles, misery, and hardship than those who have themselves experienced the misfortune of troubles, misery, and hardship.” Earle’s annotation on this passage includes this observation: “The danger of wealth is not the wealth itself, but the isolating effect it may have on the one who holds the riches. It is easy to forget what it is like to be hungry, homeless, thirsty, or naked when we never have to worry about the next meal, our child’s health, or having adequate housing.”

Most everyone I know well fits into the category of ones holding the riches, myself included. I am convicted by the remarks of Pelagius and Rev. Earle. When I read them, my first thought was of the young people at our southern border and the families that are struggling to escape the violence of gang activity, if not for themselves, at least for their children. How can I make a sweeping statement of judgment when my own children grew up in safety and security?

My viewpoint is that of one holding possessions and power. It’s a distorted view of reality, and it endangers me because the temptation is strong toward self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice. God must surely be crying—for the families who believe the risk of staying home is greater than the risk of leaving, and for those who believe the risk of compassion is greater than the risk of comfort.

I pray that I will move from the safety that endangers me to the sacrifice that leads to wholeness. Jesus said “I am the Way.” May I be part of the Way for others by following the Way down.

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
   he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
   by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
   he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

                                                                                (Philippians 2:5-8)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflection on Psalm 42

Here is a link to the reflection I wrote for the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church newsletter on Psalm 42, the fifth Sunday of our summer sermon series on Psalms.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflection on Psalm 46

Here is my latest reflection, considering stillness, written for Mulberry Street UMC's newsletter as part of our summer sermon series on Psalms.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reflection on Psalm 51

Here is the link to the reflection I wrote on Psalm 51 for our church newsletter as part of our summer sermon series on Psalms.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Seeing God in All Things

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
                                                                                                --Meister Eckhart

This past Sunday afternoon I had made blueberry jam and two loaves of multigrain sandwich bread. As I reflected on Meister Eckhart’s quote above, I thought about how I saw God in these two activities.

Baking bread is always sacramental for me. As I dissolve the yeast and add flour to it I think about Jesus’ statement about how the Kingdom of God is like yeast that permeates a whole batch of dough. Seeing the dough rise I reflect on the risen Christ. And whenever I smell the bread baking, I am taken back to my experience in the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation, where the aroma of freshly baked bread filled our worship space when we gathered to celebrate Eucharist each afternoon.

My jam making also gave me opportunity to experience God. The fruit itself is gift, a reminder of how God bountifully provides all we need. As I crushed the berries, I thought about how we most often come to deep devotion to God by being broken. We have to know our own insufficiency to embrace God’s sufficiency. As I saw the blueberry pulp where once there were individual berries, I thought about the contrast between self-focus and giving oneself to the community for the sake of God’s kingdom. Just as jam is not possible without broken berries all mixed together, so the Church is not the body of Christ if we do not give our whole selves to each other.

Is it possible to see God in all things? In unpleasant as well as pleasant instances? When things don’t go the way we would choose as well as when we are in our happiest moments? I believe that our ability to do so depends on the expansiveness of our view. Can we rejoice in the success of another, even if we have experienced failure? Can we see that it is better that we do not demand our rights so that another’s rights can be honored?

I am challenging myself to look more closely at the mundane and the marvelous, and the joyful and sorrowful, at the painful and pleasant—and to see God. Maybe this is something you try for yourself.