Holy Covid Week

I came up with a little joke that I thought my husband (and maybe only my husband) would appreciate. I was feeling proud of myself about it.

It was in the early stages of Covid-19 changing our lives; when things were weird and unknown but not as weird and unknown as they are now. Our church had just had our first ‘closed’ service live-streamed. The joke goes like this:

So the angels ran up to God saying, “Oh my God! Easter is going to be canceled in the western world!!!” And God said, “Finally! Thank the Lordt!”

I really don’t hate Easter! I do think what we do on faith-based holidays is often ironic. Celebrations, traditions, extra fancy stuff– none of it is bad. But, along with the liturgy and VBS and extra services and extra devotionals, there is all this energy and hype around candy, plastic things, pastels everywhere, selling and buying and expecting stuff instead of spirit– and that’s the part that really grieves the people who would get my joke.

It’s all too easy on holidays to get caught up in the presentation and the doing and the winning of the egg hunt. Ok, I’ll speak for myself. It’s all too easy for me (cause if there’s an adult egg hunt I’m going to win it). Seriously though, I become a “do-er” instead of a “be-er.” (To clarify I don’t become a beer. However, as a side note, holy week is often so busy that some clergy I know have a habit of gathering to go out for a beer to mark the end of it. I think that’s great, by the way. My point is, the week is a lot for those behind the scenes facilitating all the things).

I’m digressing. Holy week is usually a lot and this year it’s not.

I found it telling (and this is a personal confession) that after the first ‘closed’ service in which I got to be in charge of the live-streaming in the sanctuary with just a few other people, I actually had the fleeting thought: “I really like church with no people.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t love all the people I get to see on typical Sundays. I love greeting at the door. But, it’s being revealed to me just how much I’m used to focusing on everyone else’s experience instead of my own. I’m comfortable with it like that.

We now have held multiple services without the congregation present, and holy week is canceled– I mean– the typical events of holy week are canceled.  I am breathing in some deep breaths. I am considering my motives. I am examining my heart. I’m not doing anything fancy though, so it feels like I’m doing it wrong. But these events were always meant to be an expression of what was already being cultivated inside ourselves. There is nothing that can steal that option.

Today I went out into the church garden, which is also my own garden. I pulled a little tykes wagon with my son and all our stuff in it. My coffee sloshed around in the mug in my other hand as we went down the elevator and out the glass doors, navigating tall grass and ant hills. I sat on this little iron bench a friend recently passed along to me that I moved to the uneven ground by the unruly lavender bush. I sat and counted the things around me that I was grateful for. I felt overwhelemingly joyful about the littles things. I remembered how much I loved the giant magnolia tree. I said thanks for the early morning sun. Ya’ll, I think I even FELT the happiness of the bees collecting pollen from the lavender.

I took a few minutes to examine my own heart. I continued considering my motives for “what I am doing with my life.” I have to say that space from some of my typical “doings” has me noticing some desires bubble back up inside me. It don’t feel fancy but they might just be holy.

I almost didn’t allow myself this slowing down. I almost filled my days with doings– and they were good doings too. The decision to drop the days we are open to feed children from 5 days down to 2 days was hard. I was finding myself envious of people who were bored or had time to do extra projects at home. I was hearing complaints come out of my mouth and didn’t like myself for it. But I also wanted to DO IT ALL.

That compulsion to ‘do’ is not a crisis thing. This is my pattern. And it would make sense to say that a crisis is the time to push through, that you can learn your lessons later. But ya’ll, I was tired. I am tired. Not just “first year with a baby tired” either. I was running on fumes, deeply tired of “everything” and feeling lost (a story for another time).

But there was a small wise voice that I didn’t want to betray anymore. I listened. It worked out. We are giving more food per family even though we work fewer days. We have less exposure and expose families less. We have a sustainable plan.

I think I just might have experienced what it’s like for holiness to exist in less, even when there is a demand for more. Jesus gave us the example of rest, of not solving all the problems, of retreating and even ignoring things. And that was before the internet and texting. That was in the days when you sat around for hours while someone made food… every meal.

I suppose there will always be a demand for more. That’s why there is no formula or rule for how much is enough. It’s a case by case, person by person, season by season, challenge your human patterns- relationship with the holy spirit- get quiet in order to know- discernment between you and God.

This week I was able to start unlearning and relearning, a little, of what it takes to not muscle through, to examine your heart and motives, to look for holy in the mundane week. And today is Good Friday, the day of death in the Christian calendar that is hard and painful and mournful but redeemed for a GOOD and holy bigger reason.

Today, I am watching and waiting for what is GOOD during a season of death to traditions as we know them, creature comforts, reasons to feel certainty or security, living at warped speed, addictions to control, and doing all the things.

Palm Sunday Livestream

 

A morning gratitude: how the light reflects in these bright leaves

A morning Gratitude: This tree

A morning Gratitude: The huge lavender bush

Getting dirty enough to have to strip down before going inside…at 9:30 am

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hooker baths are for moms too

I’m holding my son in the colic hold and some drool is making its way down my arm. Below me, I hear the loud thumping bass of a happy pop song and the chatter of students filling the gym.

It’s 8 a.m. and the dog still needs to be let out, my husband is out, my left boob is hanging out of my open nursing tank, I’m bouncing because I have to pee but I can hear people in the hallway between my door and the bathroom and I’m unfit to be seen, I can’t find something to wear because my clothes are sprawling out of a suitcase on the floor of which only a few things fit, and on top of all this I have a scheduled client call that I need to be professional and have the baby back to a nap for looming in the near future. The clock is ticking– tick tock. I use a baby wipe on my face and armpits as I catch myself thinking, “hooker baths are for mothers too.” 

I have been mulling over that thought. Yes, they are for mothers. They are for hikers, homeless, travelers, people who live in churches, and me. Humans. No disrespect meant by the term; I think the ol’ wet wipe down is better named a mom-bath. Or perhaps even better yet, a Jesus-bath. 

Lately I’ve been catching myself in ridiculous moments related to church living and wishing a clever photographer was there to capture the scene: Chasing a roach around the room with a spray bottle of castile soap; waiting still and silently in the shower stall (after taking a shower in the men’s room because it’s the only shower with a private stall door you can latch) for whoever came in there to leave so I don’t embarrass them, sweating while wearing a baby who will only nap ON ME and awkwardly leaning over an industrial sink to do dishes, washing bottles and pump parts in the bathroom 10 times a day, my face when answering the inevitable early morning knock on our door that never comes when I’m lonely and always when I’m trying to overcome one of my biggest challenges in life: sleep.

I want to document some of these things partly because my lifestyle is weird, confusing or even interesting to others. But mostly because these are little things that make my moments, days and life rhythms are the heart of my story. They matter to me, and I’d like to think they do to God. And while I admittedly can sometimes (more often than not in the last year) complain in and about these moments they are actually opportunities to learn to thrive. These are holy moments. And in this season right now (and probably every season) these private little inconveniences, chores, tediousness, and burdens may actually be the holiest moments of my life. 

I was convicted by something my pastor, Kate Murphy, said on Sunday: “May we be a place that asks, ‘God, what do you want us to do’ over ‘what do we like, prefer, feel most comfortable with.” It humbles me to reframe things that way. I don’t think it means we can’t make decisions to rest, or care for ourselves, or say no. But for me, the reframe addresses the posture of the HEART. In an argument, my husband recently said to me he was embarrassed by my attitude. I didn’t think it was very nice but I did keep thinking about it. Today, in my world, the question “God, what do you want me to do” most often means the attitude in which I engage the inevitable moments– these opportunities for holiness. 

Oswald Chamber talks about the call of God for each of us individually being an “expression of God’s nature.” He reminds us that when we talk about the call of God we often forget the most important thing, the nature of Him who calls. I believe how I do things is just as important as what I do. I’ve always gotten from the red letters that the posture of the heart IS what this is all about. But I don’t always live like I believe that. I am convicted that I’ve let in some harshness and bitterness into both my how and what.

So my desire and commitment to myself and to my community are to 1) ask the question of what God would want me to do and remember cultivating his nature within me is always a part of the answer and 2) turn back to gratitude over and over; if not at the moment then as soon as I can. This gratitude practice is what I teach my clients and yet I need to continually teach myself. Gratitude can turn frustration, hopelessness or self-pity into something rich: holiness.

 

 

 

Tension between Christ & Culture: the best chapter clip

When I read something that resonates, I want everyone I know– no, everyone in the world– to read it too. It’s not possible nor likely that even my recommendations would, or should, reach very far.  But this excerpt I typed out to share as an attempt, just in case it resonates with you also.  It comes from The Pastor, a memoir by Eugene Peterson.

About the third day after entering first grade, Garrison discovered me and took me on as his project for the next year. He gave me working knowledge of what twenty-five years later Richard Niebuhr would give me a more sophisticated understanding of—the tension between Christ and Culture. I have been taught in Sunday school not to fight and so had never learned to use my fists. I had been prepared for the wider world of neighborhood and school by memorizing “Bless those who persecute you” and “turn the other cheek.” I don’t know how Garrison Johns knew that about me—some sixth sense that bullies have, I suppose—but he picked me for his sport. Most afternoons after school he would catch me and beat me up. He also found out that I was a Christian and taunted me with “Jesus Sissy.” 

I tried finding alternate ways home by making detours through alleys, but he stalked me and always found me. I arrived home most afternoons bruised and humiliated. My mother told me that this had always been the way of Christians in the world and that I have better get used to it. I was also supposed to pray for him. The Bible verse I had memorized (“Bless…” and “Turn…”) began to get tiresome. 

I loved going to school—I was learning a lot, finding new friends, adoring my teacher. The classroom was a wonderful place. But after the dismissal bell each day I had to face Garrison Johns and get my daily beating that I was supposed to assimilate as a blessing.

March came. I remember that is was March by the weather. The winter snow was melting but there were paths of it here and there. The days were getting longer—I was no longer walking home in the late afternoon dark. Then something unexpected happened. I was with my neighborhood friends on this day, seven or eight of them, when Garrison caught up with us and started in on me, jabbing and taunting, working himself up to the main event. He had an audience, and that helped. He always did better with an audience. 

That when it happened. Totally un-calculated. Totally out of character. Something snapped within me. For just a moment the bible verses disappeared from my consciousness and I grabbed Garrison. To my surprise, and his, I realized that I was stronger then he was. I wrestled him to the ground, sat on his chest, and pinned his arms to the ground with my knees. I couldn’t believe it—he was helpless under me. At my mercy. It was too good to be true. I hit him in the face with my fists. It felt good, and I hit him again—blood spurted form his nose, a lovely crimson in the snow. By this time all the other children were cheering, egging me on, “Black his eyes!” “Bust his teeth!” A torrent of biblical invective poured from them, although nothing compared with that I would, later in life, read in the Psalms. 

I said to Garrison, “Say ‘Uncle.'” He wouldn’t say it. I him him again. More blood. More cheering. Now my audience was bringing the best out of me. And then my christian training reasserted itself. I said, “Say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.'” And he said it. John Garrison was my one and only christian convert.

Garrison John was my introduction into the world, the “world that is not my home.” He was also my first introduction to how effortlessly that same “world” could get into me, making itself perfectly at home under the cover of my Christian language and “righteous” emotions.

How easy it is to forget, as Derek Webb once sung:

“This world has nothing for me, but this world has everything. All that I could want and nothing that I need.”

During this political and cultural season of strong opinions, taboo topics, and lines being drawn in the sand but then misinterpreted and spread like fire over the internet, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed, or cloudy. It’s a lot easier to spend my mental time on all those cloudy thoughts and expect something other then this to be true: “this had always been the way of Christians in the world and that I have better get used to it.” (not fight fire with fire or defend my rightness). There is supposed to be tension because this is not all there is. And we have a very important responsibility to talk to the holy spirit on a regular basis and let him evaluate our hearts and make us aware of the places untruth “make itself perfectly at home under the cover of christian language and “righteous” emotions.” 

There are many ways to draw from this chapter clip. Did anything resonate with you?

I loved

How does your garden grow?

Since last spring, The Grove garden has been a place of sanctuary for me. On that holy ground I’ve sweated out sadness or frustration. I’ve sung to God while digging, trimming & picking. I’ve had ‘aha’ moments, social moments, quiet moments, moments of generosity & selfishness, moments of silliness & perseverance, early morning coffee strolls & physical labor. Food has been shared with strangers passing by, church members & friends, neighbors & children in our programs. It’s been a source of ministry, personal pleasure, & learning.

Gods been teaching me through the dirt. Here are just 3 of the simple pondering’s from my heart during this summers gardening:

1. “Mary Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow…”

Some serious hard work! I have the upmost respect for farmers now. I cringe at wasted produce. I feel the importance of caring for the earth. I believe in the physical & mental benefits of time outdoors (preferably hands in dirt) & I can’t wait to have more structured ways to get others involved. Ok, Call me hippy dippy, but just remember God himself was the first to be into this stuff: “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Genesis 2:8

I am continually reminded of the metaphor & promise in Galatians 6:9

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

The garden ground is a great metaphor for the heart. We reap(receive) what we sow(plant). This is true on a basic, common sense level; what we see, speak & ruminate on are all acts of planting within ourselves, which grows into our character & therefore the way we interact and are interacted with. But this is also happening on a internal spiritual level, in the places only God can see, in ways that don’t make sense to the naked eye- like my attitude at home, or private moments of obedience or giving (or not).

2. The roots of weeds can be deep, especially some of the common ones like grass or clover. They’re like the “respectable sins” of self-righteousness, pride & judgement. They don’t look so bad- maybe even ok in some places. But those precious seeds will be choked up if you don’t pull em’ out. And you gotta get sweaty loosening up that hard ground, and you get dirt under your finger nails pulling up those weedy roots, even with gloves on. Sometimes you don’t get all the roots and they come back. And If you don’t regularly pull them up, if you ignore the small ones here and there; they quickly take over. They’re strong, they go deep, they travel far and connect to other roots. They are maddening, yet a necessary battle. You win much easier when you fight daily. Consistency matters. I suppose it’s as simple as “you reap what you sow.”

3. No matter what, I’m not God. But If I’m honest, I act like I am sometimes… As if I can build my own security or control the next moment of my day.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7

I was so thoughtfully given a gardening book early on in the season. I excitedly settled in for an evening with it. I had a lot to learn, but after awhile I remember thinking: “these plants are like kids, there are a thousand ways they can be messed up!” I wanted to grow organic & realistically or not, I was truly feeling defeated before even started. So I prayed for that garden. A lot. I dedicated it go God in my heart and on paper. I tried to be faithful if he gave me an idea. I worked hard. But I had to be careful to not let it be an idol in all my zeal- it’s never been mine. So, I remind myself that we are the same way. We can serve, love, work our butts off or royally screw up, but it’s God who softens hearts, changes our friends, enemies, & governments. He’s the one who gives us growth.

Thanks to many who encouraged, donated time or supplies, or just acted excited with me over a zucchini! It’s been fun. Thanks to the Grove for entrusting me with the space. And thanks to God who gives good gifts & growth to those of us who ask & believe.

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Homesick for Eden

The garden was green, the air was clean.
The animals came without names & love was a girl who walked through a world where passion was pure as a flame
In the back of our minds is a time after time
And a sad irreversible fact:
We can’t seem to think why we left there, and we can’t seem to find our way back
For all of us are homesick for Eden
We yearn to return to a place we’ve never known
Deep is the need to go back to the garden, a yearning so strong for a place we belong, the place that we know is home.

-unknown author

Turns out, turning 30 wasn’t about me.

The day was quite dreadful. I feel shame saying this- because of the parts that were my fault, because of concern my husband will feel a certain way. Yet I can’t get away from the truth of the horribly, really bad, rotten day. It bothers me that it still bothers me.

As it turns out, turning 30 was not about me.

I have always downplayed my birthdays & felt rather awkward about them. Yet, I quietly looked forward to this mile-marker. I thought of it eagerly 10 years ago as when I would finally have it “together.” I thought of it 5 years ago & had a steadfast plan for how awesome it would be, or maybe it was how awesome I would be. (I was going to be in the best physical shape of my life- something similar to Jessica Biel). I thought of it 1 year ago & thought maybe somehow I would be able to get some of my scattered & haphazardly different circles of friends together & we’d shoot each other with paintballs or magically all be somewhere at the same time & have an evening of laughs & everyone would have the best time ever, even though they’d never really get along otherwise (especially if they saw each others Facebook feeds).

None of that happened. It snuck up on me. When I realized it was just around the corner of the calendar I became overwhelmed & discouraged but I couldn’t place why. It fell on a really inconvenient weekend. I hadn’t planned ahead, no one else did either. I was 2 years and a personal trainer away from Jessica Biel. I was broke. I was tired. I didn’t feel together. I wasn’t feeling awesome.

I was. I wasn’t. I didn’t. i. i. i.

And then, I woke up on my birthday in disappointment; the little secret hopes I had whittled down to were just not going to happen. I had a terrible attitude and felt entitled to it- that’s bondage, by the way. I argued with God in my head. I wanted to be a sweet, perfect wife & step-mom even in disappointment. I wanted to be gracious. I also wanted someone to feel sorry for me. I also wanted to be angry, to disappear, to start over, to fast forward out the discomfort.

The day didn’t get better; It was awkward & lonely, it was never redeemed, I gave into feelings I felt entitled to & they did me no justice.

Throughout the rest of the month I contemplated the deeper issues of what went wrong: warped belief systems, baggage, misunderstandings… all the while I felt bothered that I even cared at all; it was just a day, why was I so selfish? Yet during this time of grappling I also had begun a running habit- I was liking it for the first time ever. I began this devotional centered around gratitude & it was(is) rocking my world. I was excited for lent & made lots of intentional changes, for the right reasons this time- so excited I started them early. I opened my eyes and saw where I am compared to where I was, I saw what I was saying yes to in my life & how good it was. Then, somewhere in those wrestling new & old thoughts, God whispered. Once when my hands were dirty in the garden, once when I was breathing deep on a run. He whispered: “This is your mile-marker year. I’m changing you. Celebrate it, but I will get the glory.

Then I understood. I understood that God is using even these unfortunate circumstances (that I’m so quick to want to fix) to shape me. I remembered. I remembered I had asked for change & freedom- and this freedom costs, it costs only because of the grip I have on feelings, things & beliefs that put me in bondage & loosening that grip can hurt. I rejoiced. I rejoiced in letting it go. I rejoiced in my heart because I had eyes to see the bigger picture & in it I wasn’t in control. For a moment there was no “i” – with God this is freedom.

Here are some quotes I remember reading in the last few years. I wrote them in my journal and turned them into a prayer for who I wanted to be one day. Sometimes I’m hesitant about these kinds of prayers, for the process is not sexy. But mostly I’m hopeful & expectant, because the result is nearness to God. It’s like being turned into a sunset. Sublime. Worth it.

“Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on & plunge into eternity, there to be made forever what we have made it.” -St. Frances de Sales

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest things right, and doing all with love.” -St. Therese of Liseux

“Man is created to praise, reverence, & serve God our Lord, & by this means to save his soul. All other things on the face of this earth are created for man to help him fulfill the end for which he is created… Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in so far as it is left to the choice of our freewill & not forbidden. Act accordingly, for our part we shall not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short one. And so in all things we should desire & choose only those things that will best help us attain the end for which we were created.” -St Ignatius of Loyola

“Understanding is the reward given by faith. Do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe in order to understand.” -Saint Augustine 

“Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, his Lordship. The cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the hearts truth. My heart, I knew, would be forever a lonely hunter unless settled ‘where true joys are the be found.’“-Elisabeth Elliot

“It’s astounding how ignorant we are about ourselves” -Oswald Chambers

 

#WeLiveInAChurch #thehow

#thehow

This foggy idea was presented to us one day. It was blurry & vague with mostly unknowns but it centered around one thing: move into a room in a church & do stuff for the community in God’s name & commit to live for a year in a sort of modern monastic rhythm. Although I tried not to move a muscle in my face, truth be told I felt mostly horror within me. Mostly, but there was a teeny tiny spark of interest & hope & peace, a dangerous flicker that needed to be snuffed.

There were many aspects of my life crossing roads at the time: figuring out marriage, shift-work & it’s consequent schedule that no one gets, just moving into my mini-dream house, personal struggles with Gods calling, & the fact that my husband was immediately all in this idea while I was reaching my hands out trying to grab onto everything, anything that would keep me feeling a sense of control & comfort.

We had a small closet in our house meant for a laundry system. My husband had insisted on making it a pray space- just big enough to sit in & look around at pictures to pray for, cork board to post prayers, journals to write in; a place in our house set aside to host God’s presence. So I went in there & told God what was up, for a good hour. I cried out my concerns & fears. I reasoned with Him. I reminded Him of all the unknowns and ways things could go wrong. I asked him to change my heart if this was really Him presenting something to me.

And He did.

Now, I know my heart (not as well as my Father), but I’ve learned to recognize it’s hardness in the flesh & my slow human process of change. This change wasn’t me. It was gentle & it was humbling. Before long I was free of all my reasonable, responsible concerns. I actually believed, without doubt: “God knows better then me. He’s been taking care of me. He knows whats good for me. He’ll work out those details (is there mold there? why did he just give me this house I love to take it away? Do I even like church people? What will we actually be doing there anyway?) Period.”

I wouldn’t have been able to tell myself that, AND MEAN IT, if I hadn’t been talking to Him so much. If I hadn’t gotten quiet with him & allowed Him to show me where He was in my day-to-day strife the past year. If I didn’t have the husband I do who lives like he believes communing with God in any moment is actually the best-thing-ever. If I didn’t come to Him with my honest & earnest feelings and distress instead of trying to mull them over and figure it out myself.

But I did, & He did.

SONY DSCSome young new friends playing music in our in church apartment early one sunday morning.

Soon to come #thewhy & #thewhat

valuables lost

I caught my breath as I read these words this morning:

To consider Jesus better than everything else in the world is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  

And at the recommendation of the writer to read them again slowly, I did.

To  consider  Jesus  better  than  everything  else  in  the  world  is  at  the  heart  of  what  it  means  to  be  a  Christian.

As I reflect on what it means in my life to:  “count gains as loss for the sake of Christ” as Paul talks about in Phil 3 I am shocked and humbled. While listing some things I value I began to understand that I do not count these as loss. I count these things and privileges  and valuables to work for, watch over and even fight for. And it begs the question: What do I do when something I value is lost or taking away? Or threatened? Or asked for? Do I respond this same way to Jesus?

loss

Paul’s life consisted of much suffering and his attitude about it all is something I can barely wrap my mind around if I’m being realistic. I pout when people ask for money from us; for their needs, even when it’s family asking, even when my needs are already taken care of. This is a real confession; I’m not proud about my inner thoughts even when my actions seem “good.” To be prepared (and I like to be prepared in all my earthly wise ways) to handle suffering, even in the expectable trials that come with life, we must count our things as lost. I must. Not only to handle life graciously and gracefully, but to gain Christ and what He’s promised. The two are intertwined.

These reflections and confessions were all inspired from the Desiring God Blog: How Christians Prepare for Suffering. I recommend checking it out for a deeper reflection.

stoned to death : because words mean more then words

I read a story recently, one I have read before, however, this time I was deeply moved. Tears seemed to pour out from my belly.

I’m not sure where the story starts (or ends) but the bible is like that; so deeply interwoven it continues forever, enlightening itself. I’ll begin at the end of chapter 6.

Stephen was sitting in front of the Sanhedrin. I picture this to be like a religious court (and I shudder at the thought). Stephen was in trouble. The religious Jews opposed him and his message but because Stephen was full of God’s grace and power they couldn’t seem to shut him down. They secretly stirred up lies and rumors to be able to accuse and bring Stephen to the Sanhedrin. They went as far as to bring false witnesses to lie about him. The Sanhedrin looked to Stephen intently to explain himself and his face was like the face of an angel. Stephen began to talk and he retells their own oral history, starting many generations back with Abraham. At the end of it all he tells them what he has showed them through the history of their forefathers: that they are stiff-necked religious men who have wasted their lives, have it all wrong and have betrayed, murdered and resisted God. Of course they were outraged at this disrespect and they “gnashed their teeth.” I am imagining a room full of prideful men who consider themselves godly, in the right, and upholders of the law. Men who cannot stand to be humiliated to the point of becoming an emotional, reactionary, mob.

Stephen tops it off by looking up to the sky. The Holy Spirit has filled him(something they can’t understand) and he sees what they cannot. He tells them (probably shouts) that he sees heaven open up and Jesus (who they killed) is up there. This is the stuff our best stories are made of… this is like when Bilbo Baggins puts the ring on for the first time and becomes invisible and escapes from Golom, except this is better. These men are so enraged to their core at Stephens mere words  that they cover their ears and scream. They rush him, drag him out and stone him.

I was so into this story I was balling my eyes out. Maybe it’s because I was remembering a gruesome scene from  The Stoning of Soraya M. A film about a woman being stoned in Iran who was also plotted against and falsely accused. Maybe it’s because the relationship between Stephen and the Sanhedrin is so similar to the relationship between Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserablesand that is my favorite story/play that recently moved me again with the release of a new film. But I think the serious affect of this story has to do with the fact that it is the living, breathing, word of God. And when I read it as such, it changes me without any effort on my part. I happened to read this randomly, in the middle of the night, after I had been in prayer and worship during a 12am-6m night watch.

And I saw a different angle then ever before. This story is often known in relation to the story of Paul (one of the guys who wrote a lot of the bible) because before Paul was performing miracles and doing all he did… he hated Christians too, so much so, he was into killing them. He was at this stoning (he went by the name of Saul at this time). He in fact held the clothes of the men who did it so they didn’t get ruined with blood. But that’s not the part I’m focused on this time.

Stephen has been dragged out of the city by a angry mob of men who are now hitting him with stones, intending to kill him. He prays to God to take his spirit, and then, on his knees, he cries out: “Lord, do not hold this against them.” He immediately falls asleep. That capacity for forgiveness is inhuman and I can only understand it as grace from God. Yet, what moved me to my knees was more then this.

God’s love. God was with Stephen through this whole process. Reading this with my own eyes and understanding I could easily ask, why would God let that happen? Yet it doesn’t seems to have bothered Stephen. He was FULL. While reading these words I saw that he was more content then I’ve ever been.  He was transformed early on, when his face was “like an angel”. He was completely freed from fear of man, of earth, and all it’s threats. All that mattered was God’s love for him and for the people so much so that he had to tell the truth even if it wouldn’t be heard at that time. He had to be obedient even though he would die just for being the messenger. But none of that mattered because he believed fully, and felt fully, God’s love and presence. He was changed  so completely by a peace that passes all understanding that he could be being killed by a mob and peacefully say: “Lord, do not hold this against them.” And God had this happen to him, because he loved him. Stephen left life by falling asleep. Even if you don’t believe in the bible or God or any of this, you gotta admit that if there is a God, an infinite power that is the only true love, falling asleep in his arms while feeling his peace and protection during chaos might be the best feeling ever. The feeling of Love.

Acts 6:8-7:60

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snobbery and truth

Sometimes I joke about my snobbery. coffee snob. movie snob. chocolate snob. But today, I’m not laughing. Pulling up to the prayer room with Carl we could see a small huddle of people by the door. You could tell there was homeless among them. I’ll be bluntly honest here. While walking up to the door … Continue reading