Flying home today, the start of Holy Week, and I want to cry. I did not want to hear about dead babies in shoeboxes today, a woman losing her father and son, the riots and turmoil in Ukraine-----and there it all comes, intruding upon our lives, the hellish mess we are.
And I think----did you know about us, Jesus, that week 2000 years ago, when you set your face resolutely toward Jerusalem? This is near the day you told your dearest friends, “I am greatly distressed . …” as you entered that pitiful city. Did you know these millennia later, in the week of your death, we would do this---kill our own babies, shoot other people’s babies, invade cities and swallow up whole countries just because we could? Did you know we would be mad with greed, riddled with disease, possessed by hate----still? Did you know you would “so love the world” and die, staked out naked before God, dear lamb of God slain for the sins of the world----and we would keep slaying each other hell-bent as if you never came?
And in this news-bombed state, I know the holy cynic's answer, the saddest truth (and yet, the gladdest):
Our evil will never surprise you. There is no evil beyond our imagining that you have not already seen. There is no wickedness nor atrocity that you have not already carried, you who felt its entire weight upon your smothered heart that day. You know us entirely, and still, you went. (You trembled, yes, and agonized---but you also went with joy. Joy!)
And You told us it would go this way: wars and famine, oppression and disease. The moon will turn to blood, the mountains will melt and the strongest hearts will give way----until what You finished on the cross is finished---finally, fully, completely (Joy!)
Until then, “do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good,” Paul tells us. And do not be overcome with despair, because Jesus died not to fill us with despair and fear, but with peace.
“I’m leaving you well and whole,” he said to his dearest friends, who are also surely us. “That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught."
"My peace I’m giving to you. “
Let us do this now, overcome evil with peace and good this unholy week made holy by Him, the Lamb of God,
and now by us,
who will go out and bless instead of curse,
who will love instead of hate,
who will speak peace instead of despair.
My peace I've given to you.
For all of us who get up and go out into the world each day, quaking sometimes, fearless other times .. I bring simple words, the kind you write in the midst of travel---again. The kind you write when you have stood up in front of a lot of people over the last months and you still don't quite know why . . . When people have listened to what you say and write, and you still don't quite know why . . . . and when more lies before you.
Rapids, Michigan.) To hear some of the brightest writers I know of. Famous people. Smart people. (But not all are such. I am speaking too.) I may write about them, about what happens when you gather 3,000 people from around the country and beyond who love words, books, poems, plays, stories, God and one another.
Here are two prayers for us, for all of us who crawl from our beds each day to go out into the world, scared yet faithful enough to speak a word of good, of truth, of love, of Christ, toward another. A prayer for anyone who falters; for anyone who does not trust her own words; for anyone who trembles with her own unworthiness. For anyone who has seen into her own heart and found darkness there and pride. For anyone who believes that God Himself can yet overwhelm us with His Spirit and shine light through our inky blackness.
From Bishop Daniel A. Payne, an African-American AME clergyman from the 19th century.
Lord, You know my weakness;
be my strength.
You know my ignorance,
be my wisdom.
that I may not be a blind leader of the blind,
but a scribe well instructed about the kingdom of God.
Oh, let not the people see me;
let them see You in Your vesture dipped in blood!
Let not the people hear me;
let them hear You in your voice of saving truth!
adapted from The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
And this one I write now, in this shuttle on the way to the Festival:
The only Kingdom that exists is You,
3. *”Noah” depicts a man who cares deeply about ALL of “The Creator’s” creation. Yes, I have read the complaints, that the movie has been hijacked by a PETA sensibility (I think Noah probably picked flowers and killed animals and smacked his lips over the taste of their flesh---so there, Darren Aronofsky!!) But his preachy environmentalism must not overshadow the fact that Christians have missed the boat on this for too long: that God placed man over all the works of His hands that we would so nurture this garden of a world that all creatures would be blessed by our care, that they too could “be fruitful and multiply”: the birds, animals, fish . . . Is it not logical to suppose that if “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time,” that this unrestrained evil would extend to man’s relationship with creation? Are we to suppose that man, consumed by evil, corrupt, kills, rapes and plunders one another but treats God’s world with love, honor and respect?
There's more he got right----and there are 30 other things I wish Aronofsky had done differently, but I'm glad I went. It is my desire and my hope to "bring into captivity every thought to the Lordship of Christ," which means I am looking in all the God-haunted corners of this world for what I might learn about Him, about us, about this world we inhabit together. I don't expect a biblically accurate movie to come from a self-described atheist, but here is one thing I do expect: I expect my fellow Christ-ians to extend grace and wisdom, and to applaud whatever is good wherever it can be found. Yes, call out error, but be just as quick and hungry to find grace and good.
Should you go to the movie? Am I a heretic or misguided? Some will let me know. That's okay. Whatever you decide, don't stop loving your neighbors, all of them. Even those you think don't believe. Even those you think may have gotten it wrong.
No matter how you are feeling today, would you take four minutes and see what happiness can do to a soul, body and face?
But how far away, how foreign this can feel! Why Can't we dance?
Sometimes we are too sad to dance. I meet friends when I'm out shopping, and I see their heavy faces, and soon we are emptying our hearts into each other, and the weight sinks us down to our feet, and we can hardly walk out of the store . . . . And I know not what to do except pray. (But I cannot dance.)
Sometimes we are too angry to dance----or even to go to church. (Shall I tell you how angry I was the morning of the Sabbath? The words, ohhhhh, the words and the hurt! A gift wasted. And then we slink off to Church together, wondering how we will sit together . . . .) We will not be dancing together this day . … yet.
And sometimes we are just plain ugly on our feet, you know? I believe in grace, God's wondrous grace, but my body cannot always live it out, uncoordinated mess that I am. How fair is this, that some move like water, some curl and swirl and lift like steam, and some move like chunks of ice? Why did He make us so different?
Sometimes we can't hear the music. We hear only the thud of our own heart and it carries no harmony, no sweeping melody that lifts our feet higher than a shuffle. We have no ears to hear beyond ourselves.
Sometimes we don't believe in Dance. Or joy. We think God wants us to stay sad, and broken and imprisoned. That happiness is for fools and children. Who can lift their heads and hands and feet and sway and leap when wars are roaring, the mountains collapse, and planes disappear? How then do we dance?
It comes even to penguins.
Because of Him, we have so many reasons to dance. And though I am pathetically awkward, I want to grab your hand and kick up a shoe with you. Or at least, can we watch others together? Here, even those who do not know Him or name Him, dance because of Him---because He himself is Life, and Love and Joy and Strength. Can you see it?
I am headed home to Alaska right now, leaving the California desert and returning to snow, rain, storms and two more months of winter. I'm glad to be going home. I've been on the road with my family for 3 weeks, blending work, speaking/ministry and vacation. When I occasionally felt survivor's guilt for lying like a lizard in the sun this week in California when friends back home were shoveling snow, I remembered Mike Doogan's words, "In winter, Real Alaskans do not go outdoors. Real Alaskans go to Hawaii." (Or California.)
But I have discovered recently that some people hate living in Alaska. I did not know.
I stumbled upon these words online today:
I hate living in Alaska! I love my husband and I have begged and pleaded with him to leave but he will not. . . . He makes good money and he loves it here, so he will not leave. It does not matter that I have a very bad back and the long winters kill me, that I get severely depressed all winter long. I cry all the time . ..
Another wrote this:
The first two years of Alaska are great lots of new things then you wake up and realize that winter is once again upon you. You spend all winter trying to stay awake and keep from freezing then all summer the whole 3 months of it getting ready for winter.
Alaska has been nothing but a nightmare for me, too. I loathe it with every fiber of my being. I hope you are out by now. My "prison term" in Alaska, as I have come to call it is up this summer. I am out of here and will never look back.
Nor did I know that many people feel the same about Kodiak. I was shocked to learn this while speaking at another town in Alaska this winter. Women took me aside and expressed concern that I lived in Kodiak. One woman was shaking with her own traumatic childhood there. She was so kind---she wanted to pray for me.
I appreciated their concern, but I am grieved as well. I'm sorry for others' misery. I understand it. And I have fallen deep into numbness through long winters, I have lamented isolation, I have struggled raising my children on this island . .. Yes, all true. But no one is entirely alone in this.
Many of you have had terrible winters this year. I'm sure you hated parts of those months, and are even now longing for sun and all things green and growing. But-------can we afford to hate? Even a place?
It is the Lenten Season now---and almost Spring, both speaking to death and resurrection. How can this matter---the place we live---when we consider the walk to a cross of death, a hollowed emptied grave, the re-birth and melt of the earth toward fresh life? Does it matter, where we live?
"Take up your cross and follow me" were the words Jesus spoke. And we do, all of us. No matter our address and geography, we all bear seasons of darkness and light, of immobility and unwanted speed; of danger and play. We lament April snows and year-long droughts. We are stuck on our islands or stuck in speeding cars on freeways. We don't have enough time or joy, and everywhere else seems better, brighter, happier. And surely we too would be brighter, better, happier people if we should live there instead of here. I have thought this many times. I have known this many times.
But part of the work of the Lenten season is the work of reconciliation---to be reconciled to the state and the places we live, to the people who live with us and around us, to the incompleteness of our lives and the sure presence of paradox---of loves and hates and disappointments who all take up residency within us. Even here, especially here, there is goodness to be found.
"As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like it or dislike it. It is God's own gift to you . .. . " writes Anthony Bloom.
When I get home, it will be gray and gloomy. I will not see wild flowers for almost 3 more months. There is no other town I can drive to on Kodiak Island. I live in a 3 mile universe.
But I choose to see it all as a kind of grace. These weeks especially, moving toward the Cross, I hope we will recognize
that all that comes to us is holy and chosen
and finally, good.
And I believe we will be given the strength to lift
whatever cup is given to our lips,
if we ask.
Please. Do not lament any longer.
And drink. . . .
Animals fall from the sky sometimes.
The Modern Farmer assures us that this is all true (though this photo is from a Grade D sci-fi movie "Sharknado.") Tadpoles have fallen over Japan; spiders over Brazil; frogs over Serbia, ancient Egypt and Kansas City; brown worms over Indiana; scarlet worms over Massachusetts; red worms over Sweden; snails over England; a shower of raw meat (thought to be venison or mutton) over Kentucky; blackbirds over Arkansas; eels over Alabama; snakes over Tennessee and fish over Australia, India and Honduras.
It's all a matter of record. Find out how and why here in "The Science of Animal Rain."
Life is so strange.
Last night I had a bad dream. I dreamt I couldn't sleep. Then I woke up----so-----the dream wasn't true?
I am so confused sometimes. When I think I have this world figured out----for a moment---snakes drop from the clouds, it blizzards in May, I dream about insomnia, and I am a stumbling beginner all over again.
Today, I began again. I beat back tears reading these words by author Trevin Wax. I wanted to start my life over. Or, maybe just the last 10 years? This is what we are missing, dear friends, readers, and anyone confused, hungry, weary with themselves: Repentance. We are not a repentant people. We run from guilt. We don't want to forgive. We don't want to submit or prostrate ourselves before anyone. We fear all of this will rob us of our power. But here is power.
Listen to these words. they are Trevin's. The images are mine. I promise you, you will feel bathed, cleansed, weakened, and restored.
-------------Christians, We Are Repenters---------
We are repenters.
We repent of all the good things we have failed to do, and so we ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities for us to shine His light in a dark world.
We are repenters.
We repent of serving ourselves and our own interests, and so we ask God to empower us to serve others in the name of His Son.
We are repenters.
We repent of making God out to be more like us, and so we ask God to change our hearts and make us more like Him.
We are repenters.
We repent of our silly attempts to justify ourselves before God and make ourselves pleasing to Him through our own efforts, and so we ask Him to save and sustain us in His unwavering grace and help us rest in Christ’s work on our behalf.
We are repenters.
We repent of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and so we ask God to deliver us from doublemindedness and help us seek His righteousness above all.
We are repenters.
We repent of valuing most what other people think, and so we ask God to help us value most what He thinks.
We are repenters.
We repent of withholding areas of our life from God’s command, and so we ask God to invade and overcome every part of us – our hopes, our desires, our dreams, our thoughts, our actions – and show us how to love Him and love others from a whole heart.
We are repenters.
We repent of seeking a life of ease and comfort, and so we ask God for the courage to pick up our crosses and follow Christ no matter the cost.
We are repenters.
We repent of taking pride in our own repentance, and so we ask God to remind us that salvation is all of grace and to humble us before the cross.
I am a repenter. Of all these things.