As they were walking…

After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples left Jerusalem and were returning home to a village called Emmaus.  Sad.  Broken.  Lost.  Angry.  I wonder what was going on inside of them as they walked this seven mile journey back home.  Dreams broken.  Plans changed.  Hope scattered.  Trust abandoned.  Humiliated, perhaps?  Betrayed, even? Their “Savior” had just died. They built their arks but the floods never came. Now what were they supposed to do?

Sometimes I wonder if every Christian, if every person, doesn’t discover themselves in a similar place at least some point in their lives.  And it’s not like we’re ever fully prepared for it when life does decide to strike us down.  What do we do when our Savior is no where to be found, when life falls apart, when dreams don’t come true and we’re forced to make a change of plans?

As a pastor, I have the profound privilege of entering into peoples’ lives during such seasons.  For some reason or another, people still trust their pastor…or at least the ones who’ve earned their trust.  I’ve been learning more and more how fragile the currency of trust has become, and how sacred we must treat it.  For to whom are people supposed to go when their child is born in such ways that no longer make them “normal?” Whatever dreams they had dreamt while awaiting their child’s arrival seem to no longer be possible.  Or how is a young couple supposed to digest a miscarriage in a world that doesn’t like to deal with uncomfortable conversations about death and the messiness of childbirth?  How about those whose lives and faith are at the crossroads of irreconcilablity and crisis?  Then there are those parents’ whose son comes out gay and they don’t know how to process their new reality.  And, of course, are those who are blindsided by diagnoses of disease.  How are we to go on living now?

Broken dreams.  Scattered hopes.  Changed plans.

Along the way, a man appeared and began walking with the two men from Emmaus.  He listened to them and retold them the stories of scripture – the stories of their people, the stories of their God.  Stories of life happening, in all of its pain-inducing brokenness. But also stories of God continuing to show up.  Stories of God never letting go.  Stories of God leading the lost through valleys and wildernesses.  Stories of God providing, however meagerly, to get them through.  Songs are written about these stories.  Songs that remind us “Great is Thy faithfulness,” even when we’re not sure the Story is still true.

The stranger left after they had all eaten together.  “Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.”  As they were walking…

May we all be so fortunate to have others walk with us and eat with us through these seasons of life.  They are seasons.  They come; they go.  We are to go through them, and linger no longer than we have to.

And here’s one of the most beautiful aspects of this story: the two who were hurting, were walking together.  Sometimes the suffering are the only ones who can truly understand each other.  And, perhaps, in our walking together, we will recognize Jesus walking alongside us too.  Perhaps we’ll be reminded that he has never left us and that he’ll never forsake us.  Perhaps we will learn that there’s more to our story.  Just like that fateful Easter morning so long ago.

Grace and peace my friends.  The LORD is with you.

Come be with me, tell me what hurts…

I’ve got a few drafts I’ve been working on, so you can probably expect two blog posts today.  This one is a break from the “Because I am a Christian…” series, and has to do with a conversation I recently had with my spiritual director.

“Imagine Jesus sitting on a log or a chair – somewhere familiar and comfortable,” she began.  “And hear him inviting, ‘Come be with me; tell me what hurts.’

I wonder if this isn’t one of the first moves God makes toward us: Come be with me, tell me what hurts.  Such an invitation is one that welcomes vulnerability, honesty, and trust.  It is a far different fundamental position of God than the One who sits on the judgment seat.  But it isn’t very different from the one who hangs on the cross either…

The bible is full of stories and parables and poems and metaphors and similes and pictures of God.  God is, of course, beyond the scope of our imagination and exceeds the limits of our understanding.  There is mystery with God, and I think that’s what the cross invites us into.  Come be with me, tell me what hurts.  Mystery.  Honesty.  Trust.  Vulnerability.

God just wants to be with us.  The more I read and reflect and converse, the more I believe this to be true.  God is love, and that love is inherently a relational one between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks to Jesus, we are invited to be participants in that relational love – to receive and to give.  Come be with me, tell me what hurts.

May we sit with Jesus and tell him our hurts.  And may we then share what we have received, sitting with others and inviting them into conversations of trust, love, honesty, and vulnerability.  For in those moments, we might just discover God…

Because I am a Christian, I grow a garden.

There are certain practices I “take on” because I am a Christian.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more with you about some of the things I do and don’t do because of my faith.  This week I’d like to talk about a new practice my wife and I are embracing: gardening.

Gardening has been a budding (get it?! ZING!) interest of mine the past few years.  When we were living in an apartment during my seminary years, my wife and I discovered Square Foot Gardening thanks to our church that was introducing community gardens.  We built a small 2’x4′ garden on our porch and reaped the most delicious 14 green beans we’ve ever had in our lives!  And those tiny carrots that tasted so good we couldn’t wait until they grew to respectable sizes? YUM!  ahhh #memories

Since those days, I’ve gone back to my roots (man, I’m on fire today! thanks, Afternoon Coffee!) and embraced home gardening.  This year we planted green beans, three types of peppers, four types of tomatoes, summer squash, a host of cuttable flowers, brussel sprouts, and pumpkins!  We mostly do the Square-Foot and container methods, aside from a few items that are growing around our house.  It’s been a lot of fun and each year we are learning more and more, even embracing “heirloom” seeds after having read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – a book I HIGHLY recommend.  I’m always proud of my little plots of land and remember my great-grandparents “Victory Gardens” that they tended to up until their deaths.  I remember picking flowers, weeds, and vegetables from my grandma’s garden as a little boy, and I still remember just how good those carrots tasted out of my mother’s garden too.  Gardening is part of my family’s story.  And it’s part of yours too.  Part of what it means to be human is to be people of the soil.

I was introduced to Theological Anthropology during my years in seminary, and it completely revolutionized how I see myself and the world we live in.  Anthropology is the study of humankind, and Theological Anthropology makes the bold claim that our Christian faith teaches the world what it means to be human.  Early in the bible, in the very first book in fact, we learn that humanity is earth-based.  Adam (the “first” human) and adamah (Hebrew for ground, land, earth, dust, etc) are intimately related.  We are reminded later in the Scriptures that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.”  We are people of the soil.  And we are entrusted with its care.  

We realize this innately.  There is something within us, a pull, that draws us to nature and soil and growing things.  That’s why, at least in part, my great-grandparents grew gardens and why apartment complexes are adorned with flower boxes. We are earthy people.  It’s in our blood.  Our connection with the soil is part of what it means to be human.

Expositions have been written about Creation Care and how to faithfully interpret the opening chapters of Genesis (as well as a whole host of other scriptural passages), and Ellen Davis does an especially good job of this.  Read anything of Ellen’s that you can get your hands on; she’s absolutely amazing…and an even better person!  My point isn’t to go deep into those issues in this post, but rather to share how the scriptures are shaping my life and how I understand what it means to be human.  We are meant to be in tune with the earth.  And we’re growing increasingly less and less so…

Speaking of…do you even know where your food comes from?  How far did it have to travel to get to your local supermarket?  We didn’t know.  We still don’t know.  And that’s a problem.  I did find out, however, that the flowers in our church’s sanctuary are flown in from California, Canada, and South America.  That’s a problem too…

As a follower of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, I have to do something.  Clearly I am a part of the problem, but I also want to be part of the solution. And so, because I am a Christian, I grow a garden.  Does it really do much good?  Probably not.  But at least it’s a step in the right direction.  It’s a step toward becoming more human.  It’s a step toward Jesus.  And that’s the direction I want to be heading.

See you next week when I might discuss why I refuse to eat foie gras, and why you shouldn’t either 😛  But seriously though.  Don’t eat foie gras, especially if you are a Christian.

Because I’m a Christian, I…

Last week I reflected on the question, “What’s the Church going to do about that?”  The next logical question – because I am a Christian – is, “What am I going to do about that?”  And that’s the question I can’t stop thinking about.

Yesterday I preached on the Prodigal Son text in Luke.  Jesus tells a story, a parable, about a father and his two sons.  “Prodigal” isn’t used in the text, but rather was ascribed to it sometime later and it’s an appropriate description of the younger brother.  A “prodigal” is someone who spends resources freely and recklessly; it’s someone who is wastefully extravagant.

As I thought more about the word prodigal, I began thinking how freely and recklessly we in America spend our resources.  The average American, according to NerdWallet.com, has over $200,000 in debt(!) – a combination of credit card, student loan, and mortgage debt.  The CDC reports that over 1/3 of Americans are considered obese and another 1/3 are overweight.  That means two in three persons is overweight in America.  Talk about prodigal living…Moreover, the continued water-shortage in the Western United States is intimately tied to current water use practices that are absolutely ridiculous, even sinful.  There should not be lush golf courses in the deserts of Las Vegas and retirement communities of Arizona.  No wonder water is running out; we are freely and recklessly spending it on extravagant, wasteful living.  We are prodigal sons and daughters, not the stewards of creation God intended for us to be.

So…what’s the Church going to do about that?  What am I going to do about that?  How am I going to be part of the solution and not just name problems?  That’s the motivation for my next “series” here on the blog.  In the coming weeks, I am going to reflect on some of the things I do “because I’m a Christian” and I hope you’ll join me in having a conversation in the comments section.  What do you do because you’re a Christian?  How do you spend your time because you are a Christian?  Where do you spend your money or how do you save it or invest it because you’re a Christian?  What do you eat or refuse to eat because of your faith?  I’m looking forward to learning from you in the coming weeks!

Next week’s topic: “Because I’m a Christian, I have gotten into home gardening.