The Paradox of God

December 23, 2014

(published 7 years ago, but adapted for this post)


7 years ago, I was pastoring an eager church. A church had been experiencing significant decline and decided they wanted to change that. So the congregation decided at that time that they must rebirth or recreate the church in order to stop its downward direction, and that is what we tried to do- we attempted to rebuild and recreate the church. While in the end, this particular ministry did not work out, it was a gift at that time 7 years ago to have a church eager to change- no matter how short lived it may have been.

But even the best of gifts can come with challenges. Paradoxes, I suppose. Even as a congregation is eager and ready to do the work of revitalization, it can sometimes be overly eager. Ready to build ministries that once existed- or new ministries entirely- but at the present, the infrastructure and foundation are not yet in place. Ready to move ahead when it seems we might be called to dally in one spot for a few more moments.

So over breakfast with my leadership just shortly before Advent began that year, I brought up this subject of building too fast. The leaders were quite responsive to conversation over such a topic, agreeing that we must not be too hasty to recapture what was at the risk of losing what could be. But there was still an undercurrent of confusing questions running beneath our conversation, “Why wouldn’t God want us to build as quickly as possible? Isn’t he able to do miracles? So would he ever choose to move so slowly and strangely?” The questions hung in the air unanswered. I was too tentative to address them, and so we turned to prayer.

After a long time in prayer, we lifted our heads with a unison “Amen,” only to find that one man had his head still bowed and he was staring at his hands. In silence we waited a couple seconds for him to finish his private prayer. After a moment, he lifted his head and with tears in his eyes told us, “God gave me this picture.” The man lifted his hands, cupping them in the front of him as he spoke, “‘It’s like this,’ God said to me. ‘When you try to light a campfire, and you finally get a small flame, you don’t just heap piles and piles of wood on it right away. Instead you crouch down, get as close as you can and gently blow.’” The man paused, but only for a moment as the image fixed itself in our minds. Then with a shaking voice, the man continued, “That’s what God is doing here- crouching as close as he can to us and gently blowing. It doesn’t make entire sense to us when we want the raging bonfire right away. But it’s how he wants to start.” We were all deeply touched by this man’s vision, and perhaps stunned a bit as well. To us, it only made sense that God would do miraculous things in big, spectacular ways with our little church. And yet, it seems as though he is restraining himself from such power and choosing instead the gentler, slower, softer route for us. A paradox to human minds indeed.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Prison Years

December 19, 2014

The last couple days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph’s story in Genesis. The punk kid in a dysfunctional family whose daddy loved him best and he knew it. He didn’t have any trouble rubbing that favoritism in the faces of his older brothers and he took every opportunity to do just that. Joseph is not just his daddy’s favorite. He also is incredibly gifted. He has this ability to tell what dreams mean, to see the future while he slept. And he took every opportunity to rub that in the brother’s faces too.

I feel for the brothers sometimes, until then they go and do this terrible thing. They kidnap Joseph and plan to throw him into a cistern and let him die there, but then settle on trafficking him away from his home. 20 pieces of silver and kid brother Joe is carted off to Egypt.

While he’s in Egypt, he works as a slave in a powerful man’s house. He does a good job. Because he’s gifted. He’s good at whatever he does. But this man’s wife becomes a bit too interested in Joseph and she seduces him, but when he turns her down, she’s so angry she falsely accuses him of assault and without any hesitation, Joseph finds himself in prison. Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned, huh?

It’s the prison years that have my attention these days. One of the maddening things about the Bible (for me) is that it doesn’t give us a lot of details sometimes. So I wonder about these lives. These people who lived stories that seem so grand and so dismal, so powerful and so mundane. I wonder about Joseph in prison a lot. What did he feel? What did he have to do to survive? Who was his bunkmate? Did he have a bunkmate?  Read the rest of this entry »


December 12, 2014

I cried all the way there, attempting to dry up 10 miles out so no one would know. Growing older has a way of teaching you to put feelings in their place, to be able to do what is needed at the moment. They still live side by side with the to do lists and everyday demands. So 10 miles out I organized my soul and then pulled my old car into the parking lot of the church.

Smiles, songs, intense conversation over theological matters, that internal cringing that happens in many of us at particular phrases that don’t fit right, the warmth of seeing human interaction blossom into love. For me, it is the regular inner whiplash of being part of this group of friends and colleagues one moment, and then not being part of them the next moment. I text my husband and then message with a friend, realizing my multi-tasking skills have grown exponentially with age but thinking I really shouldn’t be multi-tasking at all. And I decide silently that I am not up for lunch today after the meeting, pining instead for the safe and lonely confines of my car seat and the open interstate ahead of me.

The conversation dwindles and the clock tells us it’s time to break for the month. Except… he turns to me. This kind weathered face that has wept tears of his own when burying a child. This gentle voice, the man who runs these meetings- the man who tenderly loves the pastors in his region and under his care, the man who restored my faith in church authorities- turns to me. And I outwardly cringe, because I know he will ask. He will peek through the professional exterior and ask what I don’t want him to ask today. “How are you?”

I’m asked those questions so much. Because we are trained to ask “How are you?” in this culture. I ask them too. But we are not trained to hear the answers. And we are not trained to always give the answers. The real ones. There’s something incredibly safe about not having to answer that question in any sort of way that betrays how weak, broken, sad, scared, enraged, aching, closed-minded, frightened, indifferent we really are. In some ways, the formality of asking it protects us from the realities of having to share our lives.  Read the rest of this entry »

That Christmas Spirit

December 11, 2014

I’m having a difficult time getting into the Christmas spirit. It’s not really a “bah-humbug” sort of funk. It doesn’t stem from an ungrateful heart. It doesn’t come from a place of self-focus. At least I don’t think it does. I will pray about that.

I feel quite heavy-hearted this Advent. Sure, the tree is up and I get to watch the lights twinkle in the eyes of my son. And yes, we are wrapping gifts and planning the big family meal. Yes, we are moving through all the plans and rituals of this season, but for me it feels other-worldly. I can drum up a strange sort of happy if I work hard, but this year, I am not humming carols in my quiet moments.

Instead it’s a heavy time for me. I realize sometimes that my throat feels so tight as I plod through a child’s recovery. I realize that hopes of my future are harder to hold when a life calling grows stronger with age, but the doors open and close and I have yet to walk through. That there are moments when prayer even seems too hard. When the anxiety that we so often pray away breaches the levees destructive and big. At night in the dark I realize the truth of the proverb when it somberly declares: hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

Heart sick.  Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Son (and this is a long one),

I did something recently that I would not have done a few years ago. I stepped into the fray of controversy. You see, this past August, a kid was killed. Shot to death by a police officer. He was unarmed. And the way in which events occurred caused many people, not simply around this country but around the world, to raise their eyebrows. The kid did some things that were very wrong. But the fact that death was his apparent punishment for mistakes he made is questionable at best.

Then the hopes of a trial where questions could have been asked and answered were dashed when a grand jury failed to indict this officer on any charge. I’m not convinced that the charge should have been murder, but I do think there should have been a charge. Yet that hope was destroyed when a grand jury refused to send it to trial. Of course, now the news is that the people who carried the responsibility with prosecuting the case and getting it sent to trial were possibly out of bounds ethically. That they may have misled the jury in order to not get a trial.

So, the country erupted into pain and anger. There were riots where this boy had been killed and many people were harmed by that. The thing is: it appears many people were more concerned about the riots than about the injustices of a system gone wrong. The riots were and are grievous- though protesting peaceably is encouraged- but it seemed many of your parents friends and acquaintances were more focused on how bad those riots were than on the reason those riots happened. This is a problem; one you will run up against early in your life.

Then yesterday. Yesterday, another grand jury decided to not indict another police officer who choked a man to death… on camera. The coroner even named it a homicide. Everything about the situation demanded a trial. And he was not indicted. And that man who died? A black man. Another terrible injustice.

Read the rest of this entry »