Vacation to LA

I was preparing for an announcement I hoped to give during our worship service last week and found the following reflection written close to six years ago. I am now on the other end of this, planning and recruiting Seattle folks to join in a week of service and kinship with Church of the Redeemer. This was a good reminder for me of the many ways God uses outside groups to come alongside and bless an existing community.

On April 14, 2005 I wrote the following post, titled “My Burden Is Light”:

I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.

With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.

This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.

I have been close to tears many times this week:

-leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;

-standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;

-sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;

-walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.

I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.

But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.

This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”

“Now Show Me Your Glory”

Moses went up the mountain, early in the morning

To see the glory of Yahweh

“Come alone” God had instructed

“Leave Joshua, Aaron, and Hur below”

not even goats or sheep could graze within sight of this meeting

only his two feet, two hands, two slabs

the basket boy of Nile birth

slow of speech and tongue

the “who am I” who met the “I AM”

and took command of the sea

His climb was harsh, the way hidden

leaving light and friends and flocks behind

level ground and tents and food abandoned

for this trust-walk into darkness

Believing, following, expecting Voice and Presence

Found in fearful, fiery cloud

He had begged to see that which should strike a man dead

A showing of glory that would kill

And Yahweh agreed to the meet-up

Promising mercy to the one whose staff had split the sea

A way would be made, a space would be given,

And so this man stood atop the mountain, protected

Death again pressed back by the hand that summoned him

A fissure of rock prepared

A chasm of stone holding the holder of stone

Carved embrace crafted by covering hand

And so a man pressed into mountain cleavage

Allowed to catch a glimpse

of the back of the Presence passing

And hear the Name declared:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

The promise spoken:

“I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.”

The union sealed:

“Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

Moses’ climb met God’s descent

Union, reunion, communion,

Glory of God come near to one alone on mountain rock

for forty days Moses feasted there

Tasting neither bread nor drink

Only Presence, Glory, Word

The two empty slabs he carried up

Once lifeless stones now invited to become flesh

Words binding one to another

A promise chiseled that would endure rejection

Generations of rejection already begun in tents below

Tablets declaring a lover’s faithfulness more powerful than any wickedness

And a promise to walk together

Faithful, obligated, entrusted, promised

a people belonging to the beautiful name

The abounding, maintaining, forgiving Name

Whose every right it is to punish

Whose glory deserves to kill

Is it any wonder Moses’ face was flushed

With the unbearable radiance of such a meeting

And the weight of goodness declared in a name

that is at once a promise and prophecy

Mercy ever new, unfailing

Like a widow’s oil that cannot run dry

Compassion hounding, chasing, searching

Coins and lambs worth dying for

Love that lifts up its skirts and runs

Majesty that stoops and scrubs

A king whose borning cry screams hope to every nation

This is the Presence we too long to see

this One who could have withheld or struck down

but reached down instead and joined

This is the Name we speak aloud

Or wrestle in dark silence

Or flee from altogether

This Mercy, Compassion, Forgiveness we cannot exhaust

This summons to meet and see and taste

Glory shown, heavy as stone, tender as flesh

God with us

Crucible

A few weeks back I posted a quotation from Joanne Heim, a woman I have never met in person, but whose blog I have enjoyed reading this past year. She and her husband attended Whitworth while Doug was there, and I found her blog because of a profile in Whitworth’s alumni magazine that featured her writing. Last week, Joanne suffered a major stroke and I join the thousands who are lifting her and her family up in prayer. Her husband, Toben, has been writing updates and reflections on her blog, and he said something last night that I found very much worth repeating:

Audrey came to visit her mom and we were walking down the hall at the ICU she said “Dad, this sort of feels normal.” And she’s right, but it’s also so bizarre. How can something so messed up feel normal? I have only one answer that makes sense to me: a peace that comes from God that passes all understanding.  That’s all it can be. This may seem like over-spiritualization to some. I’ve had one conversation in which I articulated these thoughts only to have that person say, “But how are you really?” Like somehow these are just words that as a believer I am supposed to say, but that I don’t really mean.

But Joanne’s stroke is the crucible in which what I have articulated all my life as a believer is tested. Do I believe in a peace that passes all understanding? Do I believe that God’s provision is enough for today? Do I believe that God’s glory can shine through in the darkest of times? Do I trust? Do I have faith? Is God really even there?

October 22nd

Ten years ago they took you
Past the place where any of us could reach you,
We could not pull you back to where you belonged
With us

I never saw the blood-covered seats
Or met the girl they murdered beside you
But I saw your shoes
And paid for the flowers
And sat for hours in that funeral hall

I kissed your tight cheek
As cold as your smile was warm
before they took it
Thieves and killers wearing courage
like a bad Halloween costume

My kids know your name
They know stories about you
You smile down on them from our refrigerator
My Elijah William, he’s three
His smile and charm remind me of yours

Ten years later
My heart’s hands still hold you
Tightly, fiercely like a mother
Grieving, like a mother
Who should never have to bury her child

Jamar, you knew the Jesus I preached about
And I know that same Jesus loved you
My son, Aaron, caught me crying today
And said with confidence:
“But Mommy, he will be alive again on the New Earth”

May it be so.

Quotation of the Week

Years ago, the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote one of my favorite biblical articles titled, “The Costly Loss of Lament.” In it he says the reason that we can lament is that when God created a covenant with us, God made us partners. Both sides have responsibilities and things they must uphold. Without lament, our interaction with God is reduced only to praise and celebration. God is then surrounded by yes-men and yes-women. The contemporary Church is one that has lost the discipline of lament and it has hurt us. What happens then if life is not praise-worthy or events that cause us turmoil should not be celebrated? Should we celebrate cancer? Should we praise earthquakes? Without lament we have no way of being honest before God when bad things happen. And the God we see in the Bible wants us to be honest.

From Tyler Watson

A little afternoon eschatology from the four-year-old

“Mommy, do you know Molly has a new, big, three-hole puncher?”

“Yes, Aaron, I saw that.”

“Mommy, when I become a baby again and get bigger and have to learn how to poop in the potty again, will you buy me a three-hole punch like Molly’s as a prize?”

“Sure, Aaron, I’ll do that. But I don’t think you can become a baby again!”

“Mommy, of course I can. When the new earth comes and I am born again.”

Quotation of the Week

This ‘heresy’ has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a “vampire Christian.” One in effect says to Jesus: “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.” But can we really imagine that this is an approach that Jesus finds acceptable?

From “Why Bother With Discipleship” by Dallas Willard (HT Leah Klug)

My time is more valuable than this…

“Life’s too short to clean your own home.”

The words on the brochure accompanied a sweet, domestic shot of a mother and daughter cuddled on the couch in front of a laptop and a father and son playing together. Inside the shiny brochure were package and pricing options for hiring a national company to come and do your dirty work.

It was ironic that I found this while doing a major sort/clean of stacks of papers that had accumulated in and around our kitchen and eating area. We spent our holiday weekend in deep cleaning mode: we are preparing to welcome a new addition to our family and needed to reconfigure our downstairs rooms. If anyone could read this brochure as gospel, good news, it would be us.

Life is too short…that declaration screams a set of assumptions about what is “worth” our time, nowadays.

I was reminded of two things I read recently that I think address some of these assumptions about our time. The first was from a minister discussing how well members of the clergy take care of themselves, and she wrote quite pointedly about how the basic acts of preparing and eating food have become expendable in our daily schedule: “And you know what you’re supposed to do for self-care, but you just don’t have time to do it because your schedule is so stupid that it’s a big special deal to do something like cook a meal…”

The second was from a college professor who has small children who wrote a great reflection on how what is right before us, our real life, can be the last thing we want to embrace, choosing instead whatever set of ideals and distractions seem so much more appealing:

The breakfast dishes (the ones that have to be done by hand) gave me opportunity to practice awareness – when you’re doing the dishes, just do the dishes. But, many of us say, it’s impossible with young children (“it” being growth, progress, enlightenment, meditation, awareness, focus, and so on)! I spent nine minutes washing the dishes and was interrupted at least six times to settle a conflict, wipe a bum, admire what someone did in the potty, find a battery, comfort an owie, and help get a shirt on. I saw anger arise – “Hey kids – get the hell out of my way so I can practice serenity!!”

But it wasn’t the kids that were interrupting – it was my mental formations. On top of all I already have to do, how do I manage to add worries (I’m mismanaging my career), ruminations (I should have picked a different major years ago), plans (need to buy steel cut oats and milk), regrets (I’ve doomed the children by not signing them up for swimming lessons this summer), and judgments (what kind of human being wants applause for going in the potty?).

I was trying to do the ideal dishes – the ones that need to be done in a sunny kitchen in a quiet house.  It’s true, I can’t do those dishes, but I can do the dishes I have – the ones in this messy, loud house where there’s always a child’s needs squeezed between the bowl I’m washing now and the knife I reach for next.

Both of these women speak of a gospel that differs from the good news announced by the national housecleaning company. As I gently unpacked the remaining pieces of my Grandma’s everyday dishes this past weekend and set them out on the dining room table, I thought: is life not sometimes found exactly in the act of sifting flour, spooning ingredients together, setting a pretty table, and scrubbing the dishes after it’s all over? What does it say about us when those acts become obsolete or a luxury or something to be “free of” in our daily lives?

Last night I clicked on a friend’s blog and read a gripping entry where she described how a beautiful, laid-back day with friends turned into her worst-case scenario with her special-needs son involving extensive poop clean-up and later a bed full of vomit. I was struck by a realization: when we believe that life is too short for time-consuming tasks, mundane chores, and messes, this has consequences that reach for beyond our housekeeping. The “life is too short for this task” list can become a “life is too short for this person and the work it requires to love and welcome and care for them” list, and woe to us when that becomes our ideal. Because there will always be someone to hire to spare us from doing it ourselves.

Quotation of the Week

What can a parent do then?

Get “radical,” Dean says.

She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips. A parent’s radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.

But it’s not enough to be radical — parents must explain “this is how Christians live,” she says.”If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people,” Dean says. “It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots.”

From Kenda Creasy’s new book, Almost Christian, via CNN

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.