Posted in Different Learning, Different Thoughts

shortages

As we were living in Hungary, one thing we could not miss when watching international news coverage, was the fascination and humor most of the world watched with as the United States somehow panicked for the last remaining rolls of toilet paper. It was mind-boggling to us, as we’d never seen such a scramble for the white rolls of bathroom tissue. Surely it was just being over-dramatized, we thought. Perhaps this is just happening in the large cities. But as we talked with friends, and checked online, we saw that the strange phenomenon was happening widespread, even as most people confessed to being mystified by it themselves. Even as it was happening, memes popped up and late night talk show hosts made fun of…well….Americans who seemed to find comfort when facing the unknows of a pandemic with the dependable reality of knowing we could at least “take care of business” through it all.

Since returning to the US, it does seem like “Shortages” continue to pop up in the news. It doesn’t even take someone with a conspiratorial eye, to begin to wonder if many of these are simply well-placed advertising campaign strategies. But some legitimate shortages (most recently, Maple Syrup in Canada or Cream Cheese in the US) are still causing people and companies to think strategically, or to alter plans for consumption altogether.

Some might say that the reason Western Culture seems to notice “shortages” in ways that seem newsworthy, is that many of us have grown up or become accustomed to knowing that pretty much every “commonly-used” product we could imagine was readily available somewhere within a drive or an online order. It hasn’t taken long for this to impact our kids as they grow – with Christmas lists that often show no known limitations or boundaries. There are aspects of this we can be proud of – whimsical notions of “anything is possible” that we believe is healthy for our children as they grow. But it can also create a false sense of reality that most of the world still does not experience. Most places in the world continue to live with limitations, (and we do, if we’re honest enough to confess it), and that does not always mean a negative thing.

Now toilet paper is in a very unique category of “things I really hope we don’t have to learn how to do without.” But there is a sense in which limitations, and shortages, should be embraced a bit more readily as a positive path to spiritual growth as they come.

We live in a giant world with changing seasons, shifting climates, varying cultural backgrounds, many geographic features, and challenges as we tend to sowing and harvesting products in ways that justly care and provide for all of those involved. With so many variables, we should have limitations. We should have some foods that are only available in certain seasons. We should be thankful for what we can attain easily, and have a bit of wonder about what they have in other areas.

One of the beautiful aspects of Advent, is that we not only imagine what it was like to anticipate Jesus arriving for the first time, we imagine what it will be like when Jesus arrives fully. When Christ is revealed finally to be Lord over all things, and the Love of God swallows up all the cosmos, bringing together Heaven and Earth like never before – all things are made New. In those days (yet to come), there will be a growing shortage of shortages – as the full provision of God and His Good creation are revealed as enough (and also our hungers and consumption are brought into full alignment with His good and pleasurable ways).

In response to remembering this, we can celebrate in many ways. I would highlight two today:

  1. When possible, we can order/purchase something simple that doesn’t seem like it should be available to us because of season or location. Enjoy it on purpose, and share it with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or child – imagining with them the coming age when all necessary things will be available and provided by Lord Jesus right on time.
  2. Purposefully choose to limit yourself of something. Sure, it may be at the store – but it’s not technically in season, or you’re not sure of the just working conditions/pay for those who labored. Choose something that you purposefully will “go without” this year. If it impacts the lives of others, don’t get all preachy – but if it involves kids – explain to them why you’re choosing to go without. Talk about being purposeful in our anticipation of the day when all that we need will always be provided – and not only us, but those brothers and sisters all over the globe.

No matter how we respond to Advent in particular, may we Christ-followers be leaders of the Way when it comes to responding to product shortages with peaceful confessions of our limited resources. We should not be surprised, and should be among those who generously seek community-beneficial adaptations when such shortages impact those around us.

May the peace of God who has already begun providing everything we truly need, fill and dwell in our hearts – and arrive through us as we share life together in community…both this Advent, and into the new year…

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Posted in Different Scriptures

Elizabeth & Mary…

(An imagining of Luke 1:39-55)

MARY

Mary woke from another sleepless night, drenched in sweat.  The memories of her visit by an messenger of Yahweh still blinded her memory with a blazing light.  What did it all mean?  She was going to be withchild, and “He will be called great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”   The words all seemed to blur together as she pieced together those moments.  She remembers the feeling of sheer terror brought on by the Messenger, but also the feeling of wanting to stay in that moment forever.  There was pure Holiness, the likes of which she assumed were reserved only for the High Priest as he might enter the Holy of Holies.  She’d never imagined such an experience might be possible here…in her home where dust and dirt have stained the walls, and she pulls another wool blanket up to her face – smelling the animals in need of a bath nearby.

She wanted so badly to tell Joseph.  To try and make sense of it all.  But she was so afraid he would think she was crazy.  She’s seen how others have been treated.  People who lost their grip on reality.  She would be labeled “unclean”, and at worst case “possessed”, and cast out to live among those others who have made outrageous claims about experiences no one could, or would want to, ever verify.  Surely Joseph would laugh, and might even consider himself released from any commitment to marry her.  What would he really think?  Would he believe a messenger from God visited her, and told her she would give birth – as a virgin – to a child who would be called the “Son of God”??!  

The sun was just beginning to rise, and the sounds of a new day were drifting through the windows.   She was just so tired.  She wasn’t getting any sleep.  She needed to do something.  Nothing was going to make this easier, and she couldn’t keep it to herself.  Then she remembered – a caravan was leaving for Jerusalem that morning!  She had an old cousin there, a priests wife, one that the messenger of God had mentioned.  Elizabeth, Mary was pretty sure that was her name.  She remembered meeting her at least once before.   An older woman, she and her husband Zechariah were both so warm, and seemed to love gently with God’s own Love.  They had never had children before…there were all sorts of rumors as to why this might be.  But the messenger had told Mary that Elizabeth was now pregnant?  Maybe the messenger mentioned her for a reason.  She suddenly felt the urge to join this caravan in order to travel down and visit them!?

It was a 3 or 4 day journey, and they always needed extra young men and women to come along.  Young men could care for the animals, and young women could help with the food and meal times.  Her parents would surely allow her, as she was already getting close to marrying age.  She was right, and within a few hours – she was helping load the supplies and preparing for the journey.  She didn’t have time to tell Joseph, but her parents knew – they could relay the message.  She was going to check on a relative near Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices of thanks at the temple, and would be back within a week or two.  

The journey seemed to take forever.  The sun was hot, and the stench and noise of the animals being so close together made her long for quiet places.  She saw the young boys running alongside the animals, laughing and playing.  She loved watching their joy, but also loved wandering to the edge of the caravan – where she could hear her own thoughts, and see the beauty of the landscape.  She imagined what life as a mother might be like.  She imagined raising her son to embrace the quiet places as well, that way she would have someone nearby.  But then she shook her head, laughing at herself.  Of course, she had no idea what motherhood would be like – from what the Angel had said – this was no ordinary child.  Could this really be?  She was going to help bring the Messiah into the world – the one who would establish the Kingdom of God?  As she had these thoughts, the men of the caravan shouted and everyone left the road, pausing while a group of Roman soldiers and officials passed by.  Was God really going to bring freedom from the Empire…through her child???

After a few days journeying south together, they finally approached Jerusalem.  Her relatives lived just south west of the city, so as the caravan slowed – Mary found a group traveling on, and joined them to go a bit further.  As they approached Ein Kerem, she found herself heading toward the well.  She needed a drink, and it would be the perfect place to find someone who might know where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.  

 

ELIZABETH

Elizabeth sat in the silence of another slow morning.  Waiting to see what would happen with her day. Waiting.  That’s all life felt like anymore.  Always waiting to see what was going to happen, and so far – it didn’t seem like much.  As her hand rested on her belly, she smiled. At least now, she could see and feel evidence of the incredible promise they’d received by an Angel over 6 months ago.  She sighed, as she remembered those moments.  She’d been so worried when Zechariah first came home from what was a proud moment.  He’d been chosen by lot, to actually enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense.  A priest usually was only able to do this once, so she knew her husband was soaking in each aspect of the moment slowly.  But when he came home that day, his eyes were filled with tears.  She couldn’t even ask what was wrong, before he rushed over to her, and drew her close as he sobbed.  She remembered her heart sinking in that moment. What had happened?  What had Zechariah done? What had gone wrong?  She smiled, as memories are always funnier after time passes.  Those moments of her husband trying to communicate with gestures.  He touched her mid-section, and a giant smile broke through his tears.  He pointed at her, and without words he tried so hard to communicate.  He stuffed a small pillow up his own tunic, and pretended to be withchild, and pointed at her.  He made grand gestures, and wrote the word “Messenger of God” on a small piece of parchment.  

 

It took a long time of back and forth that night, but she finally realized her husband’s voice had been quieted by God’s messenger, because Zechariah had failed to believe the message that was given.  Elizabeth was going to bear a son….a child….she was going to be a mother – something she’d given up on many years ago.  Not only a son, but a son filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way as Elijah, who would help prepare people for the Lord.  So much excitement, and she didn’t dare doubt – as she’d seen what such doubt had accomplished in her husband.   She smiled as she remembered the excitement, but then her eyes began to water as she remembered the pain of trying to tell others.  No one seemed to believe.  There was talk about Zechariah trying to stir up something to distract people from the temple.  They were glad Zechariah was finally able to offer incense, but didn’t want to hear anything about God promising an old woman a child.  She couldn’t understand.  All of these people who were supposed to be her friends.  Her loving community.  She decided it would be easier to stay inside. She was so hurt, that even when her pregnancy began to show, she continued to live silently – staying indoors and away from others.  She felt set free from any worry about what other people thought.  She could sense the life growing inside her, and knew she was valuable to Yahweh – offering all she could toward what He had in store.  Others would eventually celebrate, she knew this.  But for now, she wanted to sit quietly, intimately seeking the Lord  in whom she had found favor.  Zechariah would still go to the temple on most days.  They’d let him come around, but she sensed by his spirit each evening, it just wasn’t the same.  He couldn’t fully participate, and join the prayers and the psalms, as his voice was no longer with him.  The house was quiet, and filled with expectation.  But after a few months, it seemed just mostly quiet.  

So it was, 6 months into her pregnancy, that she sensed a stirring.  She was restless and so, it seemed, was the life inside her.  She heard the sound of travelers outside her window, and looked out to  watch the people for a bit.  That’s when she heard the sound of a young woman, “Cousin?  Elizabeth?”  The voice sounded to be coming closer, and her baby seemed to jump at the sound, so much that it startled her.  That sounded like…..she rounded the corner and sure enough she was filled with warmth and excitement – Mary was here!  

But there was more than warmth and excitement.  As time seemed to slow down, she was filled with understanding and felt like she could see through into the reality from which all things exist.  She was filled with the glory of God as she looked on her young cousin, and sensed a holiness growing within this girl that was the Son of God.  This was it.  This was the purpose her own son was growing to prepare the way for.  She didn’t know how all of this came to her, but at once she was overwhelmed with the Love of God.  She was swallowed up by the mystery of this moment, the Truth that seemed so filled with love – it became all too much for her to handle.  The Love of God – revealed in His action of becoming an infant.  All the holiness of God – touching humanity like never before….and all happening here, through her cousin Mary…she cried out, “

 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 

She looked deep into Mary’s eyes, and saw herself.  She saw an expectant mother, who had no reason but faith – to believe what God had declared would happen.  She held Mary close in greeting, tears welling up in her eyes.  Here is someone who understands.  Here is someone who has believed, and God is doing something New as we offer Him ourselves.   She began to relax her grip on Mary, and her young cousin stepped back.

 

MARY

Mary took a deep breath, as she received the blessing that was just spoken over her.  How did Elizabeth know??  She wiped her own tears away, as she felt completely undone.  Here was a God who not only knew her deeply, but invited them both into depths of loving relationship she never knew possible.  There was no reason to pretend here, in His presence. There was no reason to wonder.  In this moment, she felt like she could finally process the truth that had been spoken over her by the Messenger.  The Holiness of God would be born through her as a child who would be King on the throne of David, to reign over the house of Jacob forever.  It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t need to. It was true.  The Son of God, the true King would come as an infant – and boy would that surprise the Emperor, and even the priests.  This was the kind of thing her people had whispered about for years, always praying and believing that one day – it might happen.  The loving kindness of God proclaimed by her ancestors, was doing something new – and changing everything.  As the truth of this sank deep into her bones, she realized this was not just going to transform her life…it really would transform everything…she wept as she began to sing a new song…

 

And Mary said, 

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

As they embraced again, and spent the entire afternoon sharing all that was on their hearts, the home was once again filled with expectation.  As hours turned to days, Mary loved the time they spent together.  Here was someone who understood.  Here was someone who had already endured the responses of others. Here was someone who was willing to serve God – no matter what the cost, and no matter how it changed her life forever.  Days turned into weeks, and 3 months later – as Elizabeth was about to give birth, Mary knew it was time for her to head home.  Even though she’d sent word home with other travelers, she knew her parents would be concerned.  Joseph must be wondering by now too.  She still wasn’t sure how to tell him about this child, but she wouldn’t be able to hide it for much longer.  She was beginning to show, and these 3 months with Elizabeth had filled her with such hope and excitement for being right in the middle of what God was doing.  The faithfulness and love of God was being revealed through these moments – and she was overwhelmed with Joy, and humbled to be a part of it all.  She prayed as the caravan set out for Nazareth – “Lord…prepare Joseph for what is about to happen.  As you have spoken to my heart, speak also to his.  Not only his, but our whole community and all of your people.  Prepare hearts, and invite others to be aware of what you are doing.  You, Lord, deserve so much worship and adoration.”  Her heart began to race, as she was unsure where to direct her words and thoughts.  Should she turn toward Jerusalem, or should she whisper to the Holiness of God that was stirring within her?  She wrapped her arms gently around herself, keeping warm in the cool morning, and simply whispered… “Thank you, Lord.”

 

We join with Mary this morning in whispering, “Thank you, Lord.”

 

Posted in Different Thoughts, Spoken Word, Uncategorized

Advent.

Advent, an event meaning “arrival”, no rival strong enough to keep this weakness out
Setting down clout and power, vulnerable as a flower
In a field, a creation to be healed, as his life peeled back the skin of what appeared,
It’s what the powers had feared, as his birth cleared paths for what could be.
Just when we thought we were knowing
Words became full and overflowing
Showing just what God meant when he spoke His love
What it looks like when down below is interrupted by up above
As the dove delivered hope to the ark, so this child embarked with hope
to stark lands flooded with sin
Revealed dry grounds of New Creation, where new life could begin
Where women and men, enemies and friends, poor and oppressed,
and those not well dressed
Where meek and overlooked, and those shook by the quakes of those in power –
would know now is the hour, now is the time of their release.
When strivings can cease, and peace arrives in moments mild,
a child too wild to explain, would be given the name Jesus.
Because he would save his people from their sins.

And so begins the story that breaks all mold, as it was told to shepherds and kings
And the truth still rings loudly in ways that offend the ear, God coming near,
Don’t Fear! Cried the angels, scaring those who gathered, as light shattered the darkness in ways unexplainable, the unattainable submitting to be contained,
as creation strained to hold in the divine

Lives like yours and mine still shutter at the mere uttering of
something so offensive
Apprehensive to understand where this could all be heading,
palms sweating as we know this child Mary is begetting is the one who calls
“Follow Me” to we who were once a stranger,
From the manger the call of the Son has begun, not waiting for us to understand,
but launching fully His Fathers’ plan. Not filled with demand,
but filled with invitation. Not mapping out implementation, but offering a heartbeat to echo, as we let go of our own rhythms, and discover the tune of New Creation.
A clear signal station broadcast in full surround,
seeds sown in the fertile ground of His Spirit.
We press into the crèche and begin to hear it.
Calling us to examine privilege and power,
the towers we’ve built remove us from those he loves
As we shove for views, or find more comfortable pews, we’re cruising right past
the injured brother, the least of these, the “other”, and as baby cries to mother
we realize this swaddled child inside has flung wide the gates,
we don’t wait long to deduce, that all Heaven has broken loose with what could be – the same word that spoke all things into being, now being held in the arms
of his creation. As this season offers to be more than vacation, and becomes a pause for all creation to remember: the day God became weak. Earth inherited by the meek, and the Word enfleshed can speak into our lives still this season.

What is the reason for His arrival this year?

Not that we fear falling short, for all have sinned and there’s no way we could ever begin to earn what was given by free grace, but place your arguments on hold, and let go of the bold claims you may have on what will be….to ask yourself with Mary – why me?

Why might God be keen to break from routine, and make a scene in the midst of your plans? To what lands might he call, and would you stall or fall in step behind, as he reminds you of the love with which he leads, the ways he intercedes on your behalf, the laugh of tiny baby – engulfed in manger, open to danger, knowing exactly how you feel. The connection is real. And so is his call – follow me.
Step out of comfort and power, step into the hour of shalom –
for the sake of your home becoming,
As drummer boys drumming remind you of the heartbeat of this season,
remember the reason.
May advent be more than just a word, but an absurd time of divine climbing into creation through the womb of your heart, and may it be the start of something New, as the Kingdom is proclaimed through you.