Saturday, September 26, 2009

embracing the heart of God

i have spent years praying that i would know the heart of God. somehow, i imagined it would be a warm, pleasant experience, full of love and compassion. but the word of God that has come to me repeatedly in the months following the bridge's closure is paul's proclamation in philippians 3:10, where he says, "i want to know Jesus, not only in the power of his resurrection, but also in sharing his sufferings." to be misjudged, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, and betrayed -- these are the sufferings of Jesus, yet his love -- even towards those who occasioned his suffering -- does not waver. this is the heart of God. could anyone really want that?

looking at God's heart from a different angle, our church has been reflecting together on the book of james, which has some pointed things to say about how people of faith should live, especially with regard to the poor and the vulnerable. many of us have also been reading the hole in our gospel, a book written by world vision president richard stearns -- a man who dared to ask God to break his heart with the things that break God's heart. and if you take a good look at the world, it's not hard to find those things. the brokenness caused by sin is everywhere. millions of women are sold into sex slavery. children are 'recruited' into the lord's resistance army and forced to see and commit murder, rape, and other horrible atrocities. 15 million children have been orphaned by AIDS; a growing number of households are headed by children after both parents have died from AIDS, with the predictable consequences of poverty, lack of education, and lack of health care. almost half the world's population lives on less than $2.50 per day; 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. dare we imagine that God isn't moved by any of this?

some classic theologians, notably augustine, have argued for the impassibility of God, leading some to conclude that God does not suffer or feel emotions, at least not because of anything that anyone else is doing. but does God not grieve over the sinful disposition of humanity (genesis 5:6-7)? is he not pleased when we choose wisely (1 kings 3:10)? does he not delight in us and rejoice over us with singing (zephaniah 3:17)? does he not have compassion for the afflicted and oppressed (judges 2:18)? all christians believe that God loves the world (john 3:16) -- surely that's not a love without any kind of feeling?

whatever one calls it, it is not always pleasant. in fact, when faced with even the palest shade of it, i can feel myself shrinking back. yet his voice persists: do you really want to know my heart? loving, it seems, is a painful business. "you risk tears if you let yourself be tamed..."

you have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' but i say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus, in matthew 5:43-44


God's Broken Heart (by Michael Digby Foley, aka Midifo Yearns)

The heart of God is torn and broken
a tear rolls down the mother’s cheek
a cry of anguish breaks the silence
the pain disrupts the longed for sleep.
Fist is raised with flashing eyes
pain explodes and snuffs the cries
as wires attached to body parts
tears at the darkness, brings the sign
of horrid thoughts and cruel design
that forces urine down as wine
and makes him lick and slugg and slobber
like pig today and skunk tomorrow.

The heart of God is torn asunder
when empty heads, inhuman acts
distort the truth, unravel facts
and silence those who dare to say
a word of peace, a cry of justice

Then silence breaks the growing thunder
of stench and pain and heartless plunder;
raping virgins, killing life,
breaking bones and causing strife,
in order just for some to prosper,
while others must be quiet
offer up their hurt and name
for freedom to emerge, to claim
a place, for all around
a prayer for mercy and for sound
of voice that’s gentle and affirming

The heart of God is moved and pained
his face is moist, his body strained.
With outstretched arms
he calls and cries
his breath of life reduced to sighs
of strained pleas and spoilt love
that speaks a language from above
and enters in to stir the heart
and move the evil to depart
and so bring life and healing care
to banish darkness and despair.
He comes to conquer pain
and kindle hope that snuffs at evil
brings the rain of mercy sweet
of victory deep,
of joy both simple and divine...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

now what?

a recent sunset from our doorstep

a couple of days ago, the bridge website finally went away. i knew that the closure was in the works, but it still caught me off-guard. i didn't realize it had happened until someone told me that their e-mail to me had bounced. much like the church it publicized, it was there seemingly functioning one day, then gone the next.

looking back over my recent blog posts, i was reminded that i haven't written much in this space about what i've been thinking in the wake of the closure of the bridge. i've covered a wide range of subjects -- race relations in america (yes, imo, christians need to be actively involved in that discussion), family celebrations, a speech i gave at toastmasters... i even took a stab at political satire (on health care and the ever-increasing breadth and power of the federal government). but i really haven't said much about what my family calls 'the collapse' of the bridge.

there were all kinds of reasons for this. first of all, it involved others, and i didn't want to say too much about them. my sense, both then and now, is that it's better to address my part in things and let others deal with their own issues before God. moreover, it's taken time to sort through the criticism of me (both as a pastor and as a person) and to know how to respond constructively. finally, as to why i didn't write more in this space, i think that somewhere in there, i kept wishing that i had something wise or insightful to say about it. for the most part, i knew i didn't and that mostly left my raw feelings, which, while important, were better expressed in other venues.

one such place was marble retreat, a christian counseling center in colorado. i found our time there in early august very helpful. high in the rockies (elevation over 8000 feet/2400 metres), out of cell and internet contact, we had a chance to rest, work through issues with a counselor and in a group discussion with others in a similar situation, and soak in the rugged beauty of that part of the world. good food, fellowship with some wonderful people, and time to reflect, read, pray, and even play a little bit -- all of these were therapeutic in their own way. and in the midst of all of that, the Holy Spirit was able to push through in some needed areas, including some issues that long pre-date the bridge yet still shape my relationships with people today. i recently told some folks that while i know that healing is a process, i felt like i (and we) took a big step forward there.'

celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary

after we returned from colorado, we set aside some time to process everything as a family
. i hadn't realized how much this situation affected our girls. to both of them, but to n especially, this was a costly move and time investment. the largely unspoken assumption, i think, was that the 'trade' was supposed to be our lives in exchange for a new ministry that would bring people to Jesus and make a positive difference in their lives. that would be worth the cost. but what do you do when the ministry not only ends, but does so amid acrimony and blame? surely that's not what God intended. how do you own your feelings (vs. suppressing them) and still stay soft-hearted toward God and others? during our time together (with b via video conference -- thanks skype), we took the better part of a day to reflect together on scripture, to speak openly of how we are doing, and to share our unfiltered feelings about all that has happened. we also took unhurried time to open our hearts to the Spirit in prayer and to ask for his blessing on those who used to be our church family. it was a very powerful and uplifting time, and as a friend recently observed, a real gift from the Lord. i came away both hurting for my daughters and impressed with them; as i shared in a recent prayer update, i was reminded again that they are not babies anymore but young women with their own observations, insight, and understanding, and that i need to accord them the proper respect. we saw that time as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of one, but it was an auspicious beginning.

i have rejoined the staff of lighthouse christian church, our mother church, for a year-long 'pastoral residency.' i will have responsibilities in the small groups ministry, with the emerging compassion and justice ministry, and in helping lighthouse re-evaluate its church plant framework and be part of the discussion about future ministry expansion plans. as i said at a recent ministry community meeting (the core group of lighthouse), i hope to contribute to the ministry of lighthouse and move the ball down the field in some significant areas, while benefiting from the best that lighthouse has to offer in helping me to gain experience and skills as a pastor.

the future is wide-open at this point, and i would greatly appreciate your prayers for God's leading and blessing as we begin our discernment process.

i was and am so appreciative of the e-mails, cards, phone calls, and even visits of so many of you, who came alongside to offer a listening ear and to speak some much-needed truth -- about me as a minister, a leader and a person; about our situation with the bridge; about success and failure in God's eyes; and about our prospects for the future. you are one of God's most precious gifts to us!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

a modest proposal

it's the latest facebook craze. "___________ thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. if you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day." i don't blame people for posting this as their status. what compassionate person would want someone to die for lack of finances or go broke paying for health care?

but why stop there? i would assert that there are things that are even more critical than universal access to health care. how about universal access to fresh, nutritious food and clean water? some 36 million americans are food insecure. they experience hunger and involuntary lack of access to food on a regular enough basis that it can lead to malnutrition. in one of the richest nations on earth, this is not just a tragedy; it's immoral. as with most other resources in america, access is generally dictated by financial ability. are we really okay with people starving just because they can't afford food?

moreover, there is clearly a lot of waste in the system; even middle class americans eat at ridiculously expensive restaurants or frivolously spend on unnecessary luxury items like starbuck's coffee or any kind of alcohol. and some -- both rich and poor -- are clearly eating too much and the wrong things, as obesity is spiraling out of control. a staggering 33% of americans are obese, and obesity is still on the rise.

clearly, the public and private measures that we've taken are insufficient to address this most critical of needs. the 'system,' isn't even a system -- it's a patchwork quilt of hundreds of ways people access food, and too many people are falling through the cracks or getting lower quality foods that are far too high in fats, sodium, and sugar. it's time for food distribution and nutrition reform.

i therefore propose that we adopt a national food plan in which all americans, regardless of income, get access to the same exact food, both in type and amount (adjusted for a person's size, of course). everyone would eat from the same national menu, designed by our foremost experts on nutrition (perhaps something along the lines of the well-regarded south beach diet). with all americans adopting the best nutritional practices, we'd no doubt see a decline in obesity and consequently, obesity-related diseases and obesity-related deaths, which now top 300,000 per year. it's a win-win.

for those of you who think a full-on government takeover of food distribution and nutrition sounds too extreme, i am willing to compromise by suggesting that we offer a public option. those who are currently food insecure or who are overweight or who would just prefer to have the public option could go in. those who like their current food access could continue to access food through their usual channels, as long as they meet certain federal guidelines (e.g. the diet practices laid out in any of a number of approved diet programs or limitations on how much dinner or coffee can cost).

some of you are probably wondering about the overall cost of the program, but first of all, aren't we dealing with an issue of right and wrong here, no matter how much it costs? and secondly, i honestly can't see financing being a problem. there is so much waste in the current system; with all of the money we save from avoiding expensive restaurants and luxury food and drink items, everyone could be fed easily.

in fact, i'm guessing that we'd have enough left over to spend on other critical needs, like housing. you do know that an estimated 3.5 million people are homeless every year. the current 'system' is a hopeless mishmash of single family homes, apartments, condominiums, townhouses, houseboats, and who knows what else. access is, once again, dictated largely by financial ability. and think of the waste and inequality in the system -- wealthy people owning multiple homes or remodeling their homes while others are literally dying in the streets or living in shelters. perhaps it's also time for a national housing program -- or at least a widely available public option...