Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Experience Eclipsed

A "free hand" time lapse of the creation of the Richmond eclipse banana by
my dear friend and colleague, Jeremy Cannada. This photo was captured
on Monday in Richmond, Virginia between 1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m. EDT. 

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth” Joel 2

I tried to be the cool kid this past Monday—you know, the dude who wasn’t going to be impressed by the eclipse.

I mean, come on. I saw one in ’92. Chances are, I’ll see one again in 2024 when I’ll be 39.

Also, the Lincoln area would only see a 90% eclipse not even the full thing. So what was the point?

I had better things to do. Really, I tried to be the cool kid.

But I failed. I failed miserably.

About 1:00 p.m. I got a text from a friend asking me if I was outside. Trusting her judgment, I went home, pulled the shades down in all the rooms (so the pups wouldn’t look into the sun) and went out to my patio.

Initially, I was a bit disappointed because the storm clouds were rolling in, preventing clear skies, and blocking a clear viewing of our partial eclipse.

As I stood texting my friend back, with my head bowed down to the glow of the phone, I felt it:

I felt the world go still.
         I heard the birds go silent.
         I watched my shadow disappear.
         It became something special.

As the moon sashayed in front of the sun for but a couple hundred seconds, I felt small. There was something happening that no one can control. We were all part of something greater—much greater—than any of us. The universe danced and played this past Monday, and we were fortunate to watch.

Standing in the stillness and silence, I couldn’t help but think of our ancestors in faith and what such an event must have meant to them. Was this pause in time and sound what Moses experienced as he stood before the burning bush or on the mountain receiving the Torah? When Elijah was in the cave did he feel the same awe and wonder I experienced while the eclipse was at its peak? Could have an event like an eclipse been what inspired the psalmist to write prose about the splendor of creation and the profundity of our being?

I can’t speak for them, but I will speak to my own experience; I cried. As I watched the shadow disappear, it felt as though a oneness between myself and the world was born. At that very moment, as I stood alone in the confines of my home, gone was the false self, and for an instant of my life, my only awareness was the existence with which God gifted me—myself.

If I have lost you with the talk of false self versus true self, I apologize. What I intend to communicate is this: in that moment of total eclipse, my heart felt the totality of God’s love. As I witnessed the universe move at its own speed, there was an assurance warming my heart and a promise shading my despair. In all of this, the Creator of the Universe, the one in whose image and likeness I am created, was, is and shall be a part of it all.



So no, I didn’t actually “see” the eclipse because

1. I didn’t have the sunglasses and chose to listen to the expert advice that suggested not looking up without them, and
2. There are times when we can’t see God but can only feel Her.

It has been my experience that the times when I’m most reluctant to welcome something greater than myself, that’s when I most needed God’s presence like on Monday, when I wasn’t going to sing that annoying “Total Eclipse of the Heart” song, nor was I going to write a blog post about the imaginative nature of the Divine Dance.

But here I am. I’m still contemplating the absence of light in the middle of the day—an event that had geese flying in circles, wolves howling at noon, and many of us pondering the vast mystery of the universeand our faith.

So though I wasn’t being kitschy by singing Bonnie Tyler’s hit, another song did come to mind, and it is a childhood classic:

God’s got the whole world, in Her hands.
She’s got the whole wide world, in Her hands.

And this, friends this is our invitation to forget any vain cares and enter into our own hearts, which God has set aside to be God’s paradise and our own. God’s not only got the whole world (or sun, or moon, or stars, or space) in His hands, but he also has you.

Rest in that celestial good news, trusting the Divine Dance will continue to woo creation—and us—into being!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-the Alt L...

Despite being born in 1985, if I am honest, I am a child of the 90s.

You can see this played out in a couple different areas in my life, some twenty years later.

Musically, I still prefer the alternative melodies of bands like the Wallflowers and the Counting Crows to Justin Bieber and Toby Keith.

My style of dress definitely embodies the alternative grunge-look made famous in the 90s. Okay, maybe I don’t wear flannel shirts two sizes too big, like the musical legend, Kurt Cobain, but you won’t find me in a pair of skinny jeans or pastel polo shirts with my collar popped.

I still prefer “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “How I Met your Mother,” and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls will forever be the greatest dynasty of all time. (Yes, even over the G.O.A.T, Tom Brady.)

Yet, over the last few years, I’ve noticed how this ‘alternative’ lifestyle has penetrated deeper than my entertainment and fashion choices.

It has shaped my understanding of my faith.

Let me put it as plainly as I can and proclaim it as boldly as I am able: God in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has called us—as the church—to provide an alternative way of life in the world.

We must work at all times and in all places to exclude sin and establish God’s reign.

To establish God’s reign and to embody the prayer we pray every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer means to stand in mutual relationship with God. Culture is built on movements toward empire, toward equating success with rugged individualism, and toward a homogenous way of life. Through scripture, which is the story of God, we yet see that God’s people stand in direct conflict with this system of being (and culture). This is the radical and alternative meaning we are supposed to get when we read the word “world” in the New Testament. Friends, human systems are the ways we structure our reality, and they are almost always going to be diametrically opposed to the mystery of God—to the Trinity.

Our systems say racism is okay. God says diversity is cherished.
Our systems say sexism is okay. God says “blessed are you among women.”
Our systems say you must check one of two boxes. God says you are beloved just as you are.

After all, Jesus did say something like, "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." 

At Christ's table, there is no room for hate. 

Only love.

When we fail to live as this alternative community, sin prevails.

Again, to put it a bit more plainly: sin is every refusal to move in the direction of our deepest identity as love.

No matter how many times you have heard me say this or have read my words, I will never stop enjoying any moment to remind us of these radical truths: Love is our destiny. Love is our name. Love is our true reality.

Love is the alternative to how culture often encourages us to exist. When we want to grasp for power via our salary or job title, God tells us true power comes when we embrace humility and patience. One system says peace will never be achieved. But God says it can and will be if we but commit ourselves truly to become and to be the alternative community we have been gifted to be.

Let’s be honest; these are grim times for our country, during which the God of our fondest dreams seems nowhere to be found. Yet, below the darkness of despair and underneath the suspicion of doubt, there is still reason to hope. One preacher says this place of disillusionment isn’t so bad. After all, “Disillusionment is the loss of illusion—about ourselves, about the world, about God—and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth.”

God does not conform to our expectations. Rather, God invites us into God’s power, which is not controlling but is redeeming. It is a power best felt when we are awakened to the capacity to love other people.

This is what it means to be an alternative people—to embody an alterative faith. Jesus teaches that a person can neither move inward nor find peace with any depth unless and until the person diminishes in service to others. Our ability to love and serve depends upon our willingness to think less of our self-estimation and the estimation of others, and instead, rely on the deep wellspring of God’s life within us—each of us and all of us.

To live the alternative lifestyle of God is a daily choice. On most days, my efforts flop, kind of like the band, Hanson. But thanks be to God that when and where I see failure, God sees an alternative action: resurrection.

And that promise is truly what moves me.