“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelations 7:9-10)
I live in one of the most segregated cities in the US.
The is a street in one area of St. Louis that literally divides the white section from the African American section. The area North of Delmar is 98% African American and the South of Delmar is 73% white. There are huge disparities between the two areas. On the North side, the median household income is $18,000 whereas on the South side it is $50,000. On one side of the street you will see beautiful houses and on the other boarded up windows and abandoned houses. The BBC did a short documentary of this area in 2012.
While most people know about our issues from what happened with Michael Brown, we have here a long, complex history of race issues. Many areas of the country do.
I learned recently that at some point, hospitals were desegregated. I didn’t even realize that there was segregation in hospitals. I have a lot to learn. But as they were desegregated, African Americans were still only allowed to be treated in the hospital basement of the “white hospitals.” The basement.
What recent happenings in Ferguson and around the US tell me is that we still have a long messy walk ahead of us towards racial reconciliation. A movement that can only be powered by grace and love.
There are so many other ways in which our world doesn’t reflect the Kingdom of heaven as well. I choose this particular issue because it has intersected my life and awakened me to question and wrestle.
With all that is going on in the world, we can’t engage in or put energy towards them all. But we can take small steps towards those we feel tugging at us and calling us forward.
We have an opportunity to learn, repent, and move in the opposite direction. A direction towards sacrificial love towards all people. A direction of asking hard questions and sitting in them for a while.
Being prepared to enter into the messy work of God’s Kingdom for the long haul. And not just when it feels good.
There is no quick fix. It’s a long stumble of trying and making mistakes. It’s absolutely covered in grace.
I’m not always sure of the best way to walk into it. I just know that again and again, God calls us to work for justice and to fight oppression. He calls us to make the world more like His love.
We have inherited in our own beautiful, creative, and unique ways the words from Isaiah that Jesus spoke in the Temple:
“The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
“Be free from your imprisonment!”
(Isaiah 52:12 The Voice)
“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
There is a tendency within the church to adopt values of the culture it lives in.
As church simmers in the stew of country and culture it is inevitable some of the flavor will seep in.
Not all of that is bad by any means. I’m not for promoting fear of common culture.
However, there are times to prayerfully consider and question whether our faith or church looks more like our roots in Christ or the current stream of thinking. And the same with our personal goals and life.
I can think of many instances in the history of the church that such a prayerful stepping back could have prevented some blights in our heritage.
A while back, a phrase I kept hearing in online Christian circles was the idea of having a “God-sized dream.” And it raised questions in me, because I heard very little about these God-sized dreams being about simply pursuing things that God was passionate about: living in peace with our neighbors, loving selflessly, having less and giving more. Very little about simple, unglamorous lives. Nothing about striving to “lead a quiet life and work with our hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).
Instead I kept hearing these dreams and stories about what “I” was going to do. How “I” had a big purpose or dream. They were visions of book publishing, public speaking, huge blog platforms, starting heroic non-profits. . . I began to wonder if these “God sized dreams” were really more about making “me” god-sized, instead of just playing our small part in God’s big beautiful story.
And as I sat in my own “dreams,”, I felt the grossness of self-promotion and self-importance sticking to me. It felt a little like individualism taking root. (Hello. I currently own a website with my name as the title).
There has been much buzz about what individuals are going to do for God.
It didn’t sound much like Moses who was called by God in a burning bush and said, “No thanks” several times before God audibly convinced him to go.
Or Deborah who didn’t propose to go and lead Israel’s army, but conceded to Barak saying he was going to lose notoriety by bringing her as a good luck charm.
Or David who didn’t assume he was made to be something big and important and just remained faithful to his job as a shepherd.
Or Jesus, who, knowing that the people wanted to force him to be king (even though he was already King) got the heck out of there.
I heard so much encouragement to get bigger, and very little encouragement like James gave “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Sometimes, as I read about the prominent figures in the Bible, I think about how for every prominent person mentioned there were thousands and thousands of nameless people in that same generation. I have a strong affection towards those nameless multitudes that kept messing up in the history of the Old Testament, because I keep messing up too.
I love those thousands of nameless people that sat before Jesus just to hear his words because I sit before Him and treasure His words as well.
Though we don’t know who they are, they were not nameless to God. Every moment of their lives is recorded in His memory, as much as every moment of our lives He has been beside us. We are neither as important nor as obscure as we think we are.
And those real, flesh and blood people that Paul wrote his letters to? Who couldn’t figure out how to do this new thing of church and kept messing up and bringing the parts of culture into it that didn’t belong? They are our brothers and sisters of faith, and our great cloud of witnesses. I’m sure they empathize lovingly with us as we continue to do the same.
(by John O’Donohue in his beautiful book of blessings To Bless the Space Between Us)
Blessed be the longing that brought t you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants to take.
May the forms of your belonging– in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
Coming back from a retreat last weekend, I have had a hard time getting back into the routine of writing. That and I’m a million years behind on housework, meal planning, and it turned into a busy week quickly. So, I’m just posting this today.
One of the things that the retreat reminded me of is the beauty of worship.
So, here are a few songs of worship I keep returning to in this wild week.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.”
Following God moves us past glamour and trend and into the trenches of long-suffering.
I was in a yoga class recently and we were holding poses for longer periods of time. The instructor said that if there was a sharp pain, than we needed to move out of the position. But if it was a dull ache, then we were doing the right thing and we needed to just be present to that. That there was work being done there.
Life has a tendency to carry a dull ache sometimes. And leaning into that ache requires an uncommon faithfulness.
We are blessed with mobility. We can move anywhere in the world, and then move again. There are many church options within most of our communities. We are taught from a young age that we can “be anything” or “do anything.” And then when we tire of those options, we can move on in search of something else.
I am so grateful for the opportunities that we have today that people seventy five years ago wouldn’t have dreamed of.
But we also have a tendency to let our gift mobility get in the way of letting us really put roots down. Faithfulness is hard, and we have so many opportunities to get away.
When I think of faithfulness, I think of my friend Heather and the work she does through at Treehouse.
Treehouse is an organization that works with “at-risk” youth, but as Heather says: “Really every teenager is at-risk. I hate putting that label on them. They are struggling with one or more of issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal, or oppression. But they are also normal teens.”
Heather and I started working at Treehouse as interns the 2007. We shared an office and debriefed together on the roughest of days.
(We also dressed really classy when invited to fancy dinners).
It was a wild year full of full schedules, long hours, and walking alongside kids carrying heavy emotional loads.
At the end of the year, I moved on to an organization that was more focused on elementary children.
But Heather has stayed on at Treehouse for the past seven and a half years. I know that in the grand scheme of a life that might stretch near one hundred years, seven years doesn’t sound that long. But knowing the work that is done and what is required of Heather, that’s seven and half years of an intense ministry and pace of life.
When I asked her what it was that kept her going strong.
“Well, the easy answer is Jesus. That this is a call on my life, and I have accepted it. But really, I feel like I couldn’t not be here. After knowing the kids and going through life with them for 7 years, and after seeing how their lives have changed. I know I’m where I need to be.”
Heather’s daily work gives the gift of showing up: “one-to-ones” (which is an opportunity to take one of the teens out for a snack or coffee and really talk about what’s going on in their lives), support groups, trips, and other structured parts of her schedule.
But she also shows up for emergencies, suicide attempts, families falling apart, and when pieces of life shatter for the youth.
“One thing I have learned of God from the kids is to see the greatness of God’s love, mercy, grace. That it covers everything. It’s not boxed in, it’s not too small. God’s love still extends to this kid who is a prostitute. And this kid who is socially awkward. If I could teach these kids just one thing, I would want them to know, first and foremost, their identity comes from God, from Christ. I think a lot of their problems stem from not knowing where their identity comes. And of course, as we always teach them they are each Lovable, capable and worthwhile, they are loved without strings, and they are never alone.”
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Sometimes the best thing I can do is pull away from it all, and bask in the gaze of the One who delights over me. To let all the noise fall away. To ignore the to do lists. To quiet everything else and listen to that still small voice.
I spent this past weekend at a retreat. My phone was away in my purse. Social media wasn’t touched. And Saturday’s portion of the retreat was a whole day of quiet.
The world went on without me. Facebook, instagram, twitter, and everything else didn’t feel my absence. My house stayed in one piece. My kids were delighted for extra time with their grandparents.
I remembered, I was loved. Broken and foolish one that I am, my deepest identity is Beloved.
I remembered who God was. My All. My Healer. My Redeemer. My portion.
It was a reset button for my soul. A chance to see where I’ve been living compulsively instead of intentionally. Where I have been rushing and grabbing instead of trusting.
Truly, “in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. . .” (Isaiah 30:15)