Posts Tagged With: God

Losing Sight of the Shore

IMG026“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. – Andre Gide

The above quote has been pinned to the bulletin board above my desk since November 2000 when a former supervisor sent it as encouragement and as his image of me. At that time I was moving from a secure job in business to a doctoral program in literature. Not necessarily the safest move. I did not see the lands in front of me clearly, specifically the job possibilities that would come from this journey. I just jumped in and pushed off from the shore of a 9 to 5 job and I haven’t returned there yet.

However, was I really leaving the shore? Sometimes I think that this is not a true picture of me. Throughout my years I have clung to safe moorings of family, home, and jobs. I may leave one thing, but hold onto the others. Even though I left the one job, I had a secure place to live and a supportive family. Yet, without remaining on at least one familiar shore, I don’t think I would have left at all.

So, losing sight of our shores will look different for different individuals. Still, whatever they look like, they are departures that allow us to open our eyes to new possibilities in life. As I left that job, I found new interests in pilgrimage and literature and eventually integrated them with the Christian faith in my current role in campus ministry – a new land I never saw coming in 2000.

Moreover, sometimes the shores we leave are not always ones we choose. As the reality of my mother’s impending death flooded over me last year, I felt unmoored. Pushed into the ocean with only a small rowboat for safety. I would no longer have the sure comfort of her encouragement and her love greeting me every day. There would be nothing to hold to as I left other shores. It still feels like that at times. But I’m also seeing new lands:

  • supportive friends,
  • blessings of remembered stories,
  • grace of God’s presence in suffering,
  • gift of creating a new home,
  • freedom to leave other shores.

In these reflections I think of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, and others who left familiar places, shores of their lives. Sometimes they knew where they were going, but many times they didn’t, or at least didn’t know what it would be like when they arrived. Yet, they kept moored to a faith in God. In the process of leaving one place they grew in that faith which allowed them to arrive at those new lands with a receptive spirit and a stronger trust in God.

I still don’t know if I fully embody Gide’s quote, but now I can even leave that concern behind. In the coming months, I pray for the courage to leave certain shores from which God is calling me. Not in a reckless abandon, but in a faithful walk expecting to see new lands and secure in the One who is showing them to me.  I also look forward to talking with others who are losing sight of their shores so we can walk (or row) together in this time.

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Moving Out From the Antechamber of God’s Kingdom

IMG_3044Stained glass images in walls of stone reached the heights of the vaulted ceiling, holding my gaze; while, at eye level, Ruben’s painting of The Adoration of the Magi behind the altar moved me into a posture of humility. Sitting down, I touched the worn, dark wood of the choir stalls that carried memories of the centuries of fellows and students who have rested here for worship. The scents of wax from rows of burning candles and of stones from taken from the ground centuries before filled the space. Soon organ and choral music added to the tapestry of this space as voices affirmed the age-old creeds and prayers, and the words of scripture and the sermon spoke of a marvelous story – The Story. Finally, I tasted the bread and wine – the body and blood – that drew together the people in community here at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England.

For an hour and a half heaven met earth here, a safe place to encounter the King and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But these walls of the chapel weren’t the limit of his Kingdom. At the end of the service, ushered back through the choir stalls and under the organ, I looked up. Directly in front of the line of worshippers, immense doors at the end of the nave were open. The light of the evening sun filled the frame and I was drawn to leave this place, this antechamber. These past moments, together with the previous week, had been only preparation to enter the wider kingdom of God – the entire world.

When I stepped onto the grounds of Keble College in Oxford last July to start the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute, I entered a world apart from my normal life of work and family back in Kentucky. A walking tour of Oxford immersed me in college grounds and buildings that were built to inspire and for reflection. The tour ended at Addison’s Walk in Magdalen College. On this circular path C. S. Lewis spent an evening in conversation with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien that drew him closer to seeing Jesus as God’s Son, the historical reality of the dying god myth. As I walked along the paved path, under the trees, and along the River Cherwell I slowed down, moved to reconsider my calling, to break from constraints, and to meet new friends. This felt like a safe place to think dig more deeply into what the Kingdom of God really is.

During the next days I encountered a vibrant infusion of talks, art, and food, pointing to the reality of God’s presence in all of life through the focused prism of the conference proceedings. Worship services in the Anglican tradition brought us through God’s story – creation, fall, redemption – as we repeated prayers and verses that others have said for centuries. Speakers challenged us on living the dance of the virtues – courage, self-control, wisdom, justice , faith, hope, and love – by practicing intellectual hospitality in our world, listening to and speaking for those who have no voice, and challenging the status quo. Moreover, they encouraged us to cultivate a renewed culture, a culture grounded in the world changing reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Arts surrounded us through musical performances, dance, and visual arts. I even took the opportunity personally to dive into the art world by taking a workshop on sketching.

Within these places and conversations I became engaged in the community around me, communitas in pilgrimage parlance. Community formed around meals in the dining halls and pubs and over scones in cafes; in workshops and between plenary sessions; even while punting on the Cam. One of the first evenings I sat outside in a courtyard of Keble College with a small group of writers – the Sprinklings. Most of us had only just met. Even so, there was a level of trust that allowed us to read pieces of our writings and provide encouragement to continue. One participant, the head master of a school, shared the stories he used to tell his son, who is now in college. A woman who had only started writing a few years ago is now a frequent blogger and is writing her second novel. Two other women engaged with ideas of pilgrimage in their novels. We were all seeking ways to express meaning through our words of story and felt safe to do so here.

All of these elements – the places, content, and people – wove together a rich time in which to imagine God’s Kingdom. But more importantly to remember that this kingdom is near and now – as Jesus himself emphasizes.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Luke 17: 20-21

And not here as in Oxbridge – those ten days outside of ordinary life – but here as in our every day world. The renewed inspiration from these days away were not to be locked away, but to be shared beyond the safety of worship services and plenary sessions. This time of concentrated richness reminded me that as Christians we have a compelling story to tell. I had walked into a story in which I found great comfort and felt at home. But, like the worship service at King’s College Chapel, it soon came time to leave.

It would have been easy to mourn leaving the place and seek another safe area back in Kentucky. But we aren’t called to remain in the antechamber. C. S. Lewis himself reminds us many times of this, probably most familiarly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Places such as conferences, churches, even our homes are places to start growing, as seedlings in a greenhouse; but as with seeds, our growth as followers of Jesus needs to be planted in the world where it’s not likely to be safe.

IMG_3050Little did I know that I would be forced into a place that was not safe and comfortable once I returned home – the final weeks of my mom’s life. However, the weeks in England helped to prepare the soil for this desperate time. I realized that God’s kingdom was present in the hospital and at her bedside.  Now, as I begin this new year without either of my parents, a part of me is fearful. Nevertheless, I continue to walk towards that open door and hold on to the gift of this time. It is part of God’s kingdom. Even though I’m tempted, I don’t need to hide myself in another antechamber for safety. I can follow Jesus into the world as I “taste and see” that he is the One who is truly good.

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Waiting to Breathe

IMG_1489The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33:4

We all have habits we fall into while waiting for a big event. Mine is often holding my breath – both literally and figuratively. As I prepare for the imminent journey to England, along with fall plans for ministry, anxiety is building within me and I catch myself not breathing. Waiting to finish that next task, I don’t fill my lungs fully. Short, shallow breaths keep me going as my shoulders gradually rise throughout the day. I’m attempting to hold on until July 18 when I can finally let go and revel in the places and stories for which I’ve been planning.

As I hold on, though, I’m in danger of losing the very stories that center me for the pilgrimage ahead. I forget to look around where God has me today and live as if these fulfilling stories can only enter my life during these extreme trips. The rest of life is merely waiting for them to take place. If I continue in this state, I may find myself unable to slow down and change my routine of running from task to task even once in England. So, I’m stopping now to breathe. To consider some of the practices drawing me to travel, but also those that I would like to engage with more deeply when I return.

Playing  The child in me wants to break out and play. I’m looking forward to spending time on this upcoming pilgrimage learning to sketch, sharing writing with others, visiting sites, attending concerts, and taking in the new places. All of these activities come without expectations that they need to be finished by a certain date, reach a certain number of people, or be judged. I want to encounter each of these activities with wonder and willingness to enjoy each moments and try new things.

Feasting  Associated with the play, I want to feast on words, places, and food. Instead of worrying over budgets and living in scarcity, I’m eager to thoroughly enjoy the abundance of each day – even within limitations. First feasting in the mercy and love that God pours on us, then in the other gifts that he graciously shares from his creation.

Creating  I can’t wait to sit, draw, write, imagine, and weave stories. I’m looking forward to being in a space that honors creativity and those who express it through various media. I like to think that I have a spark of creativity in me that needs to get out, even in the midst of administrative tasks. If nothing else, I am eager to see the creativity of God expressed through his people.

Gathering From a young age I’ve yearned to gather with people of similar interests. To laugh and learn together. While I’ve always been surrounded by a loving family and friends, there have been a few significant times that a group has coalesced around a shared experience – whether that’s at a camp, at college, or through travel. These times and people have been key turning points in my life. Maybe this coming pilgrimage will be another one.

Worshiping  In, through, and under all of these practices I long to see God in the midst of all molding a story. Ironically, even though I work in campus ministry, it can easily become an array of tasks instead of a space in which to worship and see God. Stepping away from the weekly routine I look forward to engaging with God anew.

As I prepare for this upcoming pilgrimage, I want to be open to the stories in which I find myself. To be looking for the ones I expect, following the ones that have drawn me, but also to welcome all that I encounter. This journey isn’t about designing a comfortable story in which to hide. Instead through these practices I want to be challenged to honestly engage with God’s story – and return with a renewed experience of flourishing in God’s grace and sharing this with others.

Even now I’m starting to breathe more freely. I’m entering a space outside of the daily task-driven routine. This isn’t necessarily an ideal place, but one in which I can meet the reality of life on a new level, to rework deep stories, and to return to provide space for people to play, feast, create, gather, worship – and breathe.

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Seeing (and Living) the New Life in Front of You

I’m walking through a new building on church grounds – furnished classrooms that are ready to welcome students, a well-lit atria with places for people to gather and share meals, a stage area for musicians and others to perform, and there must be a well-stocked library behind one of the doors.  This is the perfect space for ministry.

However, it took me at least a week to go in once I noticed it on the property of an older building.  You see, I had been so focused making programs and activities work in the old building that I hadn’t seen the other building front of me. I had been struggling to put new wine in old wine skins, when the new were already there waiting to be filled.   Why?

Then I woke up back in my bedroom.

This may have been only a dream, but the images in it have been weighing on me. At first I thought that the dream affirmed a tendency to get everything in order, whether in ministry or other areas of life, before going on to the next thing.  But there was something more.  I had refused to see the new building for over a week, wasting time and energy on bemoaning the struggles in the old building because I did not see the opportunities in front of me.

How many of us do this?  Refuse to see what’s before us and really live into it.  Or maybe it’s not an active refusal.  Maybe it’s not having the eyes to even see because of fear, laziness, or simply lack of imagination.  There are many excuses for not entering the new building when staying in the old place is so comfortable and rearranging the furniture can make it seem as if something is happening.

Furthermore, it’s easier to complain and critique rather than walk into the new house. When I hear of friends and acquaintances setting out on a new project, I often wonder why do they have this opportunity and I don’t.  How were they able to finish all their work before starting this new activity?  They entered the new building before they should.  At this point I will often find a comfortable place to hang out in my old building and feel sorry for myself.

As I was immersed in this path of self-criticism and envy once again, an e-mail popped up from on of my favorite places, Southborough L’Abri.

“. . . Thankfulness to God begins with an awareness of our complete dependence on God. But a sense of dependence on God is only the beginning. It also requires that we stay awake and aware enough to notice what God is doing in the world and to not forget about it. Those areas of awareness are blocked if we have a strong sense of our own victimhood, if we feel an entitlement that our expectation of a “good life” is owed to us, or if we are confident that we can meet all of life’s challenges with our own resources. It is no secret that our consumer culture invites us to focus not on our blessings, but on what we lack, yet desire. All of these attitudes displace the consciousness that our life itself is a gift. We can usually do pretty well with occasional gratitude but the challenge is gratitude as a more basic attitude or assumption, an anchor beneath our lives.”  Dick Keyes, Southborough L’Abri News/Prayer Letter January 2013

These words spoke directly to me.  It was time to wake up.  Awareness of God’s working in the world is blocked when we focus on our own victimhood.  How true.  This is exactly where I existed as I pitied myself for staying in the old building for too long, for not having opportunities that others seem to have handed to them. It is easy to look at the world and blame some one or some thing else for my problems. To claim someone else has kept me out of the house, when really it’s been me.

Eyes of gratitude help us to live into the life before us within God’s kingdom now.  It stops us from holding onto the world’s ways of security so tightly that we miss God’s work right in front of us.  But it does require letting go.  Stepping into the new house.  Leaving behind the comfortable old belief that we or anyone on earth can create the good life ourselves.

In the old building I’m under the illusion that I’m in control and need to make things work.  In the new, God is, and I can rest in the work he has prepared for me to do, even in the midst of struggles.

It’s time to walk into that new building today.  Or maybe just move towards the front door as I pray for God to guide the way.

 

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The Relief of Lent

The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature.  To be conformed with the Incarnate is to have the right to be the man one really is.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over the past weeks I’ve been to retreats, cooked meals, met new people, planned ministry events, been invited to dinners, made phone calls, spent time with friends, celebrated . . . and read, wrote, cleaned, organized finances . . . the list could go on.  It doesn’t take long before days, weeks, and months are overflowing with tasks.

It’s in the midst of such a hectic schedule that Lent is such a relief.  It’s a gift to have an expectation to give up something, slow down.

Time to reflect. To return to God.  To breathe again.

At the same time I also wonder how to describe Lent to people outside of the church – as well as to many people within.  It’s not a practice or festival that is in the Bible.  It also seems to run counter to the picture of hope and abundance that is often central to Christianity.  Does Jesus really want us to go around looking sorrowful and depriving ourselves?

No, but throughout his words there are many messages about repentance, carrying our crosses, and persecution.  These are not the jubilant voices of preachers on a Sunday morning or the comforting words of a friend.  They are the earnest pleadings of God wanting us to look at reality.  To see what is really before us, in all its brokenness, instead of painting false pictures.  A God who yearns to heal us.  In current western society that admires image, wants to create a better narrative no matter how far it is from reality, we need this call more than ever.

This is lent.  It provides a time to recalibrate the stories in our lives.  To remove the false versions of ourselves and others.  To see God as God is and ourselves as his creatures.    To step out of the daily routine.  It’s a time when it’s okay to reflect.  It’s okay to remove our masks as we hear we are ashes, we are dust.

What we each give up or take on isn’t as important as the practice of doing so – and Christ breaking into this time to reveal the Truth and to set us free.  Free to be broken and to step into this mess with Jesus in the midst.

How will you find relief and break from the routine in your life over the next weeks to open yourself to God’s calling to repent – see reality as it is and turn to Him?

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Living Scrolls

So small.  So fragile. So tangible.  Scraps of paper connecting people across millenia.

Here is a fragment from the second chapter of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures.

 “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
     to whom belong wisdom and might. 

He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Two months ago I was leading a discussion on this section of Daniel.  In particular, I was drawn to how Daniel practices what Ignatius may term indifference – his focus solely on God and not the created things and circumstances around him.  In this poetic interruption of narrative, God is vividly shown to be the center of everything in the world and Daniel’s life.

thStanding before the earliest known copy of this prayer at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, the emphasis on God was before me again.  This time it was on a torn, faded bit of parchment – the writing of a scribe 100+ years before Christ.  On this fragment was the praise of God preserved and continued to be used as a prayer to this day.

It was part a display that sets the scrolls within the history, the culture, the world in which they were written.  The display itself emphasizes the importance of these fragments.  The cases holding the fragments are arranged in a large, circular table in the center of the room.  Other cases containing pottery, mosaics, and tools from the same era and region, surround the main exhibit.  No one can get too close to the actual scrolls.  Under glass, shielded with dim lights so the decaying process is minimized, these 2000 year old fragments are well-protected.

Yet, the importance of these fragments rests not in their fragility and age, nor in the scholars working on them, but in the wisdom, comfort, and truth contained in God’s Word on which people have leaned over centuries and throughout the world. As the prayer from Daniel attests – all these circumstances and created items surrounding the scrolls are nothing compared to the God to which they point.

Furthermore, the words on these scrolls live yet today – not on fragments of paper – but within people as God’s ultimate Word, Jesus Christ, lives through them.

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Opening up to Wonder

IMG_1118Wonder.  Is this a dying concept in our world today?  Looking at myself, I don’t want to wonder – I want to know.  I want to be in control and not be caught off guard by the appearance of something miraculous, something I may not understand.  No one can put something over on you if can see behind the curtain.  So true wonder lies dormant.

Yet, during the Christmas season, we are asked to believe in wonder.  Isaiah prophesied that the coming messiah would have the name – wonderful.  The One people would look at in awe, as miraculous. Whether from the Christian story – a virgin birth, angels, God becoming human – or from the secular world – Santa Claus, children opening gifts, the Nutcracker ballet – elements of wonder are all around this time of year.

In many ways I protect myself from wonder during Christmas – at least I have for many years.  I have kept myself distant from this uncertainty so I wouldn’t be disappointed once again.  When I have opened myself up to wonder-filled expectations for the season, they always seemed to crash – appendicitis, loneliness, parents’ cancer treatments.  But maybe the problem hasn’t been in the wonder itself, but in my expectations of the wonder needing to take place in the world I desire.

This year I decided to step out into wonder.  First I watched. The excitement my nieces had at seeing gifts under the tree was contagious and I started to look forward to giving and receiving them.  The awe that international students expressed at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights drew me in.  Usually I just want get to the next exhibit.  But they stopped – took pictures with the snowman, walked through the candy cane forest, and watched the dancing lights on the lake.

Slowly I started to see wonder in more places.

  • Children looking at a display of moving elves.
  • Lighted Advent candles
  • Friends sharing a Christmas concert
  • A marathon shopping experience
  • Christmas lights on neighborhood homes
  • Lyrics of carols – old and new
  • Children laughing at puppet play

My natural instinct throughout the past weeks was to put up a barrier and watch from a cynical stance.  However, I soon realized that in a posture of wonder I am not wrapped up and fearful – having to know everything and figure out what’s behind it.  Instead I can be present with others.  As the angels come and declare fear not – they are asking us to be open, and not hide in the small, safe spaces we create for ourselves.  Fear not, come and wonder at God, at the Word he has to share. There is a freedom in wonder.  An opening of creativity.  An opening to God.

I want to continue to stand in awe at creation – and in the miracle of the people around me.  I want to relish the Christmas stories – especially the coming of God to earth.  Really – this is something to insight awe.   With each ‘wow’ I sense a deeper peace.  Not because everything is going how I want, but because I’m finally opening up to the larger reality, good around me – the God of Wonder.

Where have you seen Christmas wonder over the past weeks?

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A Better Tabernacle

Where is God’s tabernacle today?

While the Israelites were in the wilderness, God wanted to have a place to be in the center of his people.  So, in addition to detailing how they were to live, he provided instructions about creating a tent where he would dwell – from the dimensions of the structure to the colors of the decorative thread.  Bezalel, who God had filled with his Spirit and skill, led many artisans to create this tent and its accompanying furnishings.  This was a holy, sacred place.  When it was finished, and Moses had made sure it was set up as God dictated, the Glory of the Lord entered.  Never before, since sin had entered the world, had God been so present in the midst of his people.

It was easy to see this was a holy place.  Set up in the center of all the other tents, it had special rules surrounding it.  Not just anyone could enter, especially the place where God resided, the Holy of Holies.  For the average Israelite, God remained distant.  All they saw were the structure of the tent, the rituals, and the priests.  It was beautiful, but inaccessible.  Eventually God became lost for the people, locked away.  They worshiped the external forms instead of the God to whom the forms were pointing.

The celebration of Christmas has taken a similar turn. The ideal image is beautiful – if you can get it.   If you want to have a good Christmas you better have a properly decorated tree; a well-dressed, happy family around the dinner table; and the latest toys and clothes for gifts.  This is when the Christmas spirit will come and fill your lives – or at least is evidence of it.

However, what happens if your Christmas is spent in the hospital, or with a father who is dying, or with your family on the street?  What if you are in a barracks a world away from your family or you have no money for any gifts?  Where is Christmas?  Only priests could enter God’s presence – and it seems that only the privileged people today can have the full Christmas experience today.  The trappings of the first tabernacle that were to provide a way to God eventually became a barrier to really knowing him; and the trappings of Christmas can be a barrier to people knowing God today.

Fortunately, another tabernacle entered the picture just over 2,000 years ago.  This time God did not require a structure built by human hands.  Human flesh became his tent, his tabernacle.  God’s glory, the same glory that filled the tent in the desert, now filled an infant in a manger.  An ordinary birth.  Later on this living tabernacle moved among people, and not always in the best places.

If we really want to celebrate Christmas, it’s not about making a winter wonderland, but going into the places where people’s lives are torn just as this infant, Jesus, would do. Jesus enters the hospital and sits by the bed and stands with the soldier away from home.  Amazingly we don’t have to go to this tabernacle.  He comes to us and we are changed.

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The Wise Indifference of Daniel

The ultimate story is that of a return home – The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings.  Protagonists in these stories often leave home in order to protect it and to live out the purpose of their lives.  Even as they meet the challenges along the way, they continue to desire home, and it is this desire that keeps them going.

But how do you live life in a new place when it is one of exile?  When the  journey and trials before you are not bringing you closer to home?  When it’s likely you will never walk the road home again? It’s tempting to give up. To despair of ever returning.

It’s in this place of exile where we meet Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures who has been taken to the court in Babylon as a prize of King Nebuchadnezzar.  However, there is something a bit strange about this man.  In his narrative we don’t see him pining for Israel or fighting against his captors. There is an odd restfulness about his actions in this strange land. One could say that this is an attitude of detachment or indifference.

Ignatius of Loyola speaks of such indifference in his Spiritual Exercises:

It is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than sort life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. 

So much of our lives in the twenty-first century is built on creating an identity and tying ourselves to it.  If I’m not a graduate who am I?  If I don’t have children?  If I’m not a member of this church?  If my team loses?  We grasp our desires, our identity, our home and hold on at all costs.  We are restless. But as Ignatius tells us and Daniel shows us, there is another way.  Indifference in this view is not apathy or unconcern, but a detachment from things in this world that would keep us from following God first and foremost.

Chapter two of this book takes place a year or two after the narrative leaves Daniel and his three friends in Babylon, having gained recognition in the court of their captors as being wise and God-fearing young men.  They excelled in their education and found a place in this foreign land even while keeping true to their God.  At this point we enter further into this court tale. This story is similar to that of Joseph who was also an exile and rose within the Egyptian.  Yet, there are twists in these biblical stories that make them unique.

The king’s court is now a place of rising tension. In this place of earthly power, King Nebuchadnezzar can not sleep because of a troubling dream. He calls the wise men in his court to reveal and interpret it.  Three times he asks, and three times they declare the impossibility – only the gods could do such a thing and they don’t dwell with humans.  If the king would reveal the dream first, then they would be able to interpret it. Nonetheless, Nebuchadnezzar is determined to hold onto his identity as absolute ruler and the wise men insist that this request is impossible.  At this impasse, anger overtakes the king and he orders all the wise men killed.  There is no path out.

In contrast, when Daniel hears the sentence, he doesn’t just accept it, wonder how the king could be so irrational, or even ask why God brought him here only to die.  He merely asks why the king is so hasty in his decree and then states that he will reveal the dream if given time.  What comes next is not a frantic attempt to shore up his identity as a wise man and solve this enigma on his own.  No, he returns to his friends, shares with them this dilemma, and asks them to join him in praying for God’s mercies.  He turns not to his ability.  He turns, with his friends, to God.

What an amazing response.  In this era of extreme angst about politics, economics, and so much more, what would it be like to have more Daniel’s around us?  To be a Daniel? Remembering that we are in exile as we live in the now and not yet reality of God’s Kingdom.  Having faith in God alone.

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The Serious Matter of Play

Play.  How does it to connect to following Jesus or to graduate school?  Both are serious matters, right?  We don’t want to mess up with either, so play should be the last thing on our minds.  Or should it?

UC Christian Grads started their series of monthly table talks with a conversation on this topic.  Not because I play well and have a lot of wisdom to share, but because I’m pretty bad at it.  I’m often putting off seeing a movie, contacting friends, or just taking time to rest and read because work needs to be finished.  It turns out that several people around the table also admitted to not often including play in their lives – or feeling guilty because of it.

Our jumping off point of discussion was David Naugle’s short essay on “A Serious Theology of Play” along with Marilyn Chandler McIntyre’s chapter on play in the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.  Both writers explore how play is a natural part of life.  We see it in God’s act of creation, in the actions of children, the practices of Sabbath and festivals, and even Jesus’ lifestyle.

Throughout the conversation we attempted to define what play is – does it have to be separate from work, does it need to include a purpose?   Or, maybe play is play because there is no end goal?  We also mentioned how play can be and is abused in society as it becomes a cathartic event following pressured work patterns.  Anything is acceptable as long as that steam is let off.  Of course, students mentioned how difficult it is to play in the world of the academy – though some did see part of their work as play.  In the end, everyone affirmed that play and some type of rest is a vital part of life’s rhythm.  Though, because it can be difficult to practice, several students  affirmed that it’s necessity to plan time for play and rest.

Looking back on it, this conversation was its own form of play.  Sitting around, enjoying a meal, and relishing community, it was an evening to rest after a week of work.  It was also a place at which participants could trust one another and throw out ideas without the fear of needing to be right.

As we closed we shared what we were looking forward to this weekend and then read Psalm 98 together – providing yet more images of play within creation.  Without formal prompting many in the group even planned a time of play for the following day – frisbee golf and walking in a local park.

Naugle ends his essay stating

“If God is a God of play, and if human play is, indeed, rooted in divine play, then we, as humans, ought to develop our abilities at play and cultivate a spirit of playfulness. This is both our gift and our responsibility in a often-serious world. Whatever forms of “play” you may pursue—whether it be music, reading, sports, furniture restoration, gardening, photography, or drag racing—do it heartily unto the Lord, as a reflection of a rarely recognized aspect of the divine nature. Your life will be an answer to H. L. Mencken’s stereotypical puritan who worries about people having fun, and your example will testify to the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world that, indeed, there is—and that you know—a God who dances.”

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that UCCG danced that evening, recognizing and sharing in the life of a God who does the same – and it was a real joy.

Where and how do you play?  Is it part of following Christ?

 

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