Today, I’m feeling really grateful for an acquaintance of mine, Justin Lee. He’s the kind of guy I want to say is my buddy, but we haven’t hung out all that much. We did have a chance to sit a few years ago at the Wild Goose Festival and enjoy some beer and pizza one afternoon… and to offset the anemic feel of our just being acquaintances, I’m throwing in a pic of he and I together last year in DC! =)
Justin wrote the book, Torn, and it’s great. He’s the founder of the Gay Christian Network, and he also recently gave an excellent ten minute snapshot of both the predicament in which LGBTQ Christians often find themselves, and the wrong hurtful ways that straight Christians are responding to that predicament. It’s worth so much more than ten minutes of your time! Here’s the link, and Justin’s ten minute remarks begin at the 41 minute mark of the video. Enjoy!
Click below to jump to Justin’s site with the video, and go to minute 41 for his remarks!
I’m not a big name blogger, I’m a little name blogger. I have a few blog followers and a few friends on Facebook… Twitter is seriously low on the totem pole of life’s values for me, but I will tweet on occasion. And even with such a low potential impact on the world, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the need to be saying something. Lately, I’ve been intentionally sharing some pages from my prayer journal on Facebook. It’s been fun and stretching for me to articulate the ideas I’m praying about in a way that invites other to share the journey.
Yesterday I’m wrapping up some travel to officiate a friend’s wedding, and sitting at Starbucks on the morning of my evening return flight, trying to get through my morning prayers, thinking about how I’m going to burn some time, and wondering what deep insight I can drop on Facebook. Been there? Have you ever been there and been dry as an old bone in the Saharan midday?
I was tired. I was already too amped on coffee. I had nothing to do, my prayers had been rather perfunctory, and was just waiting on when I’d start my drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to catch my flight… and I was trying to stir up something to share. The almighty Share. You know, it’s the burden of modern life in America: You’re only as good as your last share. (To borrow a Hollywood quote “You’re only as good as your last picture.” Marie Dressler.)
I can’t imagine how this weighs on the big name bloggers, the ones who need those clicks to keep the search engines buzzing and the advertisers paying. But yesterday, I remembered that it’s ok to be dry sometimes. It’s ok to have nothing to share. Sometimes, we just are. We aren’t funny, aren’t insightful, aren’t pithy, aren’t edgy, aren’t original, aren’t cool… we just are.
And being is good enough. Jesus called it abiding. He asked us to abide in his love. (John 15) He didn’t say that we should out perform our achievements of the previous day. He didn’t say that we should manage to have a certain quota of Likes or the coveted Shares on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Those things are cool, and they still give me a charge when I get them, but thank God that I have an abiding love to sustain me and am not dependent on the fickle hit or miss of social media affections.
Thank God that you have an abiding love, too. Social media is a tool, a vehicle for connecting to people. It’s a way we communicate. I like social media. But at the end (or beginning) of the day, there’s always a deep well of peace to be found, however your pressures in life may manifest. So take some time and just be. I may not see you abiding, so I probably won’t have a chance to Like it. I won’t see you sitting and soaking up some God-love, but how cool is it that we do still Share it?
I feel like an apology at the beginning of the post might be appropriate… I’m feeling wordy today. This is going to be a little long and maybe even a bit convoluted, even though it’s just some current devotional thoughts. If you can dig that, then carry on. You have been warned. =)
I’m going through a time of exploration again with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I am in wonder at the way familiar verses open up to me in reading, meditation and prayer. Not that it’s magic, or that I’m magical, but the old words find new ways to resonate in my mind and soul.
Ignatius called this resonance and awareness a testing of the spirits when we feel a response rise from within us and we stop to explore that feeling. This is just a way of practicing awareness and allowing God to be heard with more clarity in our lives. Today’s reading in my prayer time was Isaiah 43:1-7.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
This is a repeat passage in that I have already spent time with it in the past seven days, but reading the words this morning again allowed me time to recognize a new response within myself. It was the dual movement of God describe as made and redeemed. In my previous reading I had focused on the beautiful imagery of not being washed away by the floods or consumed by the fires.
There’s a lot going on in this passage… notably, some nations are not just passed over in favor of Israel, but given in ransom for her. To be honest, I’m immediately in cringe mode over the disregard for Egypt, Seba and Cush. They were rejected and became a sacrifice for Israel’s safety and inheritance. It’s important to stop and take a deep breath and place the passage in its historical and original context, which was nationalistic and specific. Israel was threatened by other nations, and in her deliverance, those nations were rejected by God. This doesn’t mean that they are forever rejected or forever out of God’s love and favor. But they were at that time a sacrifice given to save Israel.
So when I feel my very personal reaction to the words, “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'” I begin by realizing that these words are for Israel at a particular time and place. The movement of made and redeemed belong to Israel and her story with specificity and context, and not to me in the same way. And yet I do feel a resonance that God may have made me and redeemed me similarly, God being both my source and resource, my beginning and my future.
I believe that we always want to start with the specificity of a passage like Isaiah 43, and then move to place our own claim of faith on the words. Just as we lay our claim of faith upon the God of Jacob and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Abram, the God of Eve and Adam, the God of Hannah and of Isaiah, we by faith place ourselves into an extended context of messages like this one. We by faith reach for a handhold on the promises and the strength of God being our source and re-source, our making and re-making, our past and future.
This dual movement of having been made and remade (redeemed) give power to next couplet, that God has summoned and called by name. This movement of God speaks of love, intimacy and good things to come. By faith as followers of Christ we place ourselves in that love and covenantal grace existing between God and Israel in these words of Isaiah. I myself, in faith, can hear that God did indeed make me and then has continued to make me, and will continue to summon, call and I believe to even keep remaking me as necessary. I have both source and resource. I am not alone, finished, done or un-summoned. I can look forward and see God making a way for me.
This was a resonance I needed to hear, today. And I trust that I do not place my own claim of faith upon the making and redeeming activity of God in vain. Maybe it’s the Spring tulips outside after a long winter chill in our region. Maybe it’s the sun finally shining warm and my chance to flex some bare toes in my sandals again. Maybe it’s new life of each breath I’m suddenly aware of as I sit and type away here at the coffee shop, but I see God doing these things… I see the redeeming. I see what has been made being remade. I see hope happening all around me, and in Isaiah, and I want to take a satisfying measure of that hope into me as my sustenance and life for the day. If you’re thirsty, Jesus invites you to drink deep and trust that the flow never ends.
I took some time this morning to make a much needed walking prayer tour down in DC. I used to do this a little more often, and I miss the city. I walked near the White House, past the Capital Building and around past the Supreme Court building. We have a lot going on right now in government, and it felt good to move among their buildings and lift them all up, Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
It was stealth prayer as far as everyone else knew. I just walked and prayed. No signs, no banners and no yelling. There was some of that going on around in different spots, and I prayed for them, too. It felt good to move outside of the issues for a bit and just express some love and appreciation for the people in our government, and to ask God to give them wisdom, courage and opportunity to help make this a better world.
I was thrice blessed to catch noon Mass at the Downtown Catholic Bookstore. Please allow me a moment to explain…
1) I had no idea that today is the feast day of Catherine of Siena, whom I love. She famously wrote, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” That was the first blessing.
2) We prayed together, especially for Baltimore and Nepal. They have been on my heart and mind for the last few days, and it was good to beg together for God’s blessings with all the souls gathered there for Mass. That was the second blessing.
3) And when I stepped back into the sunlit street I stopped to admire the flowers by the curb and discovered a duck all nestled down amongst them. This was the third blessing.
There may have been a fourth blessing, but I’m still wrestling with it. After Mass I was cruising the bookstore and looking through the prayer books, as I always do… but today as I looked through the books and thought of my desire to be going deeper with God right now, I was a bit overwhelmed for a moment… my heart beat fast and my breath caught in my throat. I felt hot and rooted to the spot for a moment of frozen time.
I recently bought a new journal, not because I have already filled my 2015 journal, but because I was moved to make some room for a freshness in my prayers and journaling. I just began using it a few days ago. Did God’s Spirit touch my heart? Did I feel a tangible touch of nearness with our God about whom Catherine of Siena says, “You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea. The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.” I don’t know. But I had not had lunch yet, so it wasn’t indigestion.
For now I’m just going to thank God, to express my deep appreciation that I was able to walk a few miles and lift some prayers and at the end of it, be touched in so many ways for the time spent. I have read that my Father Ignatius also saw visions which he didn’t understand, mystical moments that he treasured even without understanding them or ever interpreting them to a specific meaning. If it’s good enough for Ignatius, it’s good enough for me.
It is most definitely a whole new thing when you’re praying for peace in a nearby sister city, thinking of friends, family and colleagues who call it home. It’s important we are praying. And it’s important we are being peacemakers, even in the distant roles we may have as spectators and commentators. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a few reminders…
Our judgements aren’t needed. I see a lot of judgmental statements flying around social media, accusations and generalizations that are more damaging than healing. As a people of faith, I would ask us to hold to the admonition of James that we “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (From James 1:19-20) As prayerful and concerned people viewing the hurtful events in Baltimore, our indignation and anger does not further the reconciliation and healing that God desires for the city.
There are peacemakers on the streets, support them! Pray for the peacemakers, talk about the peacemakers, encourage them and share their work. It’s too easy to be angry about looting, and far more difficult and helpful to give support to those in the community trying to be reconcilers. Pray for the family of Freddie Gray as they ask for peace. Pray for local clergy as they march for peace. Sometimes, for us not in the city, this is how are to be fellow peacemakers. If our words and commentary simply incite feelings of division, anger and judgment, then we are working against God’s will in the world. Jesus endorses a reconciling view of life saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (From Matthew 5:9)
Pray the ones you feel least like loving. And while we’re talking about Jesus and about prayer, we are clearly taught that our prayers are not just for the ones like us, or the ones who like us, or the ones we happen to like. Who do you feel least like loving in Baltimore, today? It is the police? Is it those looting? Is it a racial distinction or an economic distinction? Is it a political distinction? Those you feel least like loving should be the target of your prayer, concern and love. This is the way Jesus taught us to live… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (From Matthew 5:43-48)
Finally, maybe a try a new way to pray. I often begin my devotions with some centering around the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I will repeat the prayer, meaning it, hearing it, believing it and wanting it. And when I begin to feel the rhythm of the prayer, I’ll start to make some changes. Once the humility of being “a sinner” is rooted in my prayer, I’ll change it to “your beloved.” I’ll make claim the love that is promised to me by God in Christ. Then, I’ll change “Son of the Living God” to something like “my truest spiritual friend and teacher.” Eventually, after various shifts and changes, I’ll be praying for others instead of myself, claiming for them the love of God and presence of Christ. It may eventually sound something like “Jesus Christ, divine hands and feet bringing peace to the world, bless the streets of Baltimore through people of peace.”
Above all, love and pray. Love and pray.
it was like the birds waited in ambush
to wake me some from my walking slumber
breaking in on my morning
to startle me with beauty, and
surprise me with gratitude
for their song
for the creation happening all around me
and i had to give thanks
This is a day and age when we are openly speaking of care and concern for all the earth, and compassion for the lost beauty and lost goodness of an ill-treated creation is an appropriate response to destruction of habitats, litter, oil spills and human negligence.
As an individual, does my stewardship of creation reflect my love of people? Does my compassion for the hurting extend to animals as well as humans? Have I allowed my compassion to be stunted and limited?
I believe that these are the kind of questions that would drive St. Francis to give us such a warning. I can ill afford to let my compassion be stunted or bounded or restrained. If it is to be a ready gift to my own species, a blessing to other people, then I must allow it to be growing and ever-expanding for each and all.
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours,
all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High,
do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant
in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which
you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom
you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful,
and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits
with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who
endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds
doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.