The neighbourhood I call home is an older one and it has many old homes with a wide variety of styles. I am not that into architecture so I have no idea what they are called but I do appreciate that they are not all the same. One thing a lot of them have in common (not being an architect I have no idea why) is that they grow icicles. Some have them all over and others just a few. Some have grown to the point you can’t but marvel that the roofs don’t cave under the weight, others have grown so long that they reach from the eavestroughs all the way to the ground. They are beautiful to look at, partly because they are temporary and partly because they are strange.
Staring at one particularly large icicle I started to think about how incredible it is that they are formed one little drop of water at a time. Think of it. A single drop, like a tear, and over a period of time large, beautiful, heavy, chunks appear.
If we were to focus on the weight then I would suggest the metaphor of sexual abuse. Something that may start ever so slowly, ever so subtly, a look here, a “joke” there leading to a “minor” inappropriate touch…drips and drabs until the house caves in under the weight. We should all be paying attention to the drips we are doing and the drips coming our way and take very special care to do no harm and to call for dignity (ours and everyone else’s).
If we were to focus on the beauty then I would suggest the metaphor of faith. Built up real slow (much slower than the icicles). A scripture passage that sticks in the mind, a meaningful prayer moment, a godly connection with another person, a hymn that brings you to tears…drips and drabs until one day something magnificent and concrete it present in your soul. Something worthy of noticing, something people will stop and take photos of. Something that can carry the weight of our existential worries.
For now I am a bit tired and so I focus on the beauty of it. The glory of the colours refracting in the ice, the wild unpredictable twists and spikes, and the desire to give thanks to God.
Focus where you will these days, but please focus, and notice the drips, and their ability to add up to something far larger than they let on at first. In faith—as in so many other elements of life—we overestimate what we can do in a day or month or year and underestimate what we can do in 5-10 years. Let’s embrace the slow growth of the soul and submit to processes that lead us to where we want to be.
One of the joys of being a parent these days is the popularity of Lego, that imaginative toy full of possibilities. One of the sadnesses of parenting these days are the Lego kits that are hyper-specific and full of single-use pieces. I much prefer the old school lego: blocks to be moved around in an endless array of settings to make exciting scenes (highways, castles, dinosaurs, whatever). In my day (dang I can sound old sometimes!) I could make a car with Lego without the special pieces of today, just using those old block shaped pieces and the car could be van one minute and a Lambo the next. Lego is losing its creative power and capacity to inflame imagination and spark new little engineering minds as it more and more carefully designs its sets (I get that it must do this because we all already have the blocks but it still weakens the brand and my joy in it) and I don’t like it.
I often find the same can be true of the Christian faith: it was born with beautiful creative power and possibility and it can lose these traits over time. It can be fossilized, the risk is that over time the faith can be rendered flat, over-specific, one-size-fits all, with heavy/burdensome rules. Just as Lego is meant to be imaginative, Christianity is meant to be a living faith, always has been, and thus we must push back against fossilization. If the plethora of denominations teaches us nothing it else, it teaches us that Christianity is not one size fits all. From the beginning people have been encountering God and trying to fit the pieces together for their own lives and families and communities. Paul, Peter, the early church, they were experimenting, experiencing, walking a journey with surprises and wonders. They were finding blocks and organizing them creatively.
Too often today we think we know the whole path, how all the blocks fit together and where every block belongs. We know all the rules and truths, learn them and that’s it, break them, question them, deviate from them? There is no room for that, the pieces fit exactly where they fit, end of story (some story I say as I kick the Lego and leave the room). Maybe there is someone on our shoulder paralyzing our creative impulses, someone we do not want to fail or disappoint. I suspect more often we are not open to the Spirit of God working in us and through us because we are worried about what might happen or perhaps we feel foolish for leaning into the mysterious side of life as people living in a secular world.
One of the great joys in my faith life has been the times when I experience the presence of God, or a new idea, or maybe an old idea with a new emphasis, like a Lego block that was lost under the bed. God shows it to me and then I can pick it up, look at it carefully, imagine where it might fit and then try it. I can move it around to different places, and try employing it in different ways. I am not stuck with man-made instructions of how it all has to fit together. None of this is possible if I am stuck with what I have received from the “authorities” of the faith. And yet at the end of the day I am responsible for my faith—and you for yours—and so we must experiment, we must be open to new ideas and phrases and vocabularies, we must be true and honest and admit when something is unbelievable to us or simply has no meaningful application. We do well to embrace the older freer, mysterious and awe filled religion, powered by the very Spirit of God.
When was the last time you got excited by an idea or experience in faith? When is the last time you tried to move a block from one place to another? I encourage you to try it, the good thing with Lego blocks is you can always rebuild what was there, and the good thing about God is that he is merciful and forgiving so if you discover you have made a mistake, he will catch you.
There is a branch of Christianity (some refuse to see it as such) which ascribes to the idea that blessings (doing well) in this life is proof that things are good between an individual and God. To be terribly 1950s about it, this is the stay at home mom with perfect kids and the dad driving a shiny new car and cleaning the pool in the backyard, who tell everyone God has been so good to them. Or the pastor today with a private jet thanking God for his “platform.” Gratitude is great but the argument that worldly blessing (and the implication that those struggling are somehow not blessed beloved by God) well that is too far.
Around Christmas we sometimes can get into such ideas as we get closer to old friends and family and everyone is thinking about (and talking about and writing letters about) the year that was. Some are just bragging, some are raw and the year has been hard, some are hopeful…it’s a big world with lots of experiences happening at the same time. Part of what this means is that we can compare ourselves or our loved ones with others, or to their protected selves at least.
It doesn’t work and it doesn’t help and it doesn’t lead you to where you want to go.
Even if you think you are ‘winning’ I think this is a painful position for us all to be in because we learn to equate our sense of being loved or belonging with our (mostly material) accomplishments when what we actually want (need???) is to sense that we belong for who we are, that without endless striving we could be hugged and loved and accepted.
This is part of why I love the of the psalmist who writes, “come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul” Psalm 66.16. This is in contrast to showing ones fields and lands and cattle and wives and children and cars, and phones, and vacation pictures. This is saying that what I want to talk about, maybe even boast about, is what has been going on in my soul and where I see God at work in it. Today we might hear this as one speaks of peace after chaos, sobriety after addiction, or reconciliation after infidelity. It gives hope to others rather than speaking jealousy or creating a divide as people get turned off by ones boasting.
How would you describe the state of your soul these days? How have you seen God at work in the world lately? These are far more interesting than the mileage your new car gets.
In order to answer you must pay attention to your soul, maybe give it more attention than you do your bank account. Can you take as little as 5 minutes per calendar event to reflect upon your soul’s wellbeing? How can you witness to God’s work in your life? Maybe you are feeling like the better questions have to do with where you need God to work in your life, that’s ok too. The point is to focus on things that matter and to help others do the same.
We hear a lot about how we may be the most drugged up, addicted, lonely, unhappy people in the history of the planet despite our incredible wealth and ease of life. One memorable version of this, maybe it was Bill McKibben, was the idea that global warming resulting from humanity’s rapacious appetite might not be so bad if we were at least enjoying the party but we are not and that makes the planetary degradation that much harder to justify. I read these sorts of essays and books anyways, so trust me there is a big current of this in our society today.
Personally, I am fascinated that we can burn the planet, and for all intents and purposes, enslave entire nations, and yet not be happy with quality of our lives. Our high quality lives leave us with much to complain about. I am too upbeat to offer an entire article on the rot at the heart of much of our lives (see 6500 dead—7 people for every player— so we can watch grown men kick a ball around at the recent World Cup and you will understand). Of course, it doesn’t make us happy, at some deep rooted spiritual level the blood of our brothers and sisters and the animals we share the planet with cries out into the cosmos and it affects us. God at times says the blood on the earth cries out to him (Genesis and Exodus).
As I reflect on it all there is an assumption that I run up against over and over at the heart of the secular society we are all a part of. The assumption is that we are free and answer to no one but our own sense of right and wrong. Or put another way: my conscience is always right. We see this when we refuse all authority, reject any notion of expertise on the part of another person, when we generalize and refuse specificity, or when we want our thoughts/desires affirmed ipso facto and a priori and cannot handle any pushback against them. Yet we cancel anyone we disagree with this week, and fear being canceled because staying on top of the political correctness is exhausting. Ultimately the truth of the matter is that we follow certain paths (intentionally or not) leading us to particular ends and as we do we submit ourselves to a vision.
Whatever we are working towards, whatever takes highest priority reigns in our lives. Sure, we might choose it, like finances for those in the financial independence retire early camp, or the olympics for certain athletes. We might be reacting to it: the physical, psychological, family of origin hands we are dealt. Or maybe we just sort of float with whatever is popular or what our friends, family, or chosen influencers suggest. Regardless how we come to the choice, the choice matters deeply because eventually it will make itself clear and its failure will be clear too. Like the early retiree bored of life and lacking meaning, or the athlete (successful or not) who has to hang up their skates and must remodel themselves. Or defining ourselves as victims leads to a dead end place. Most of the priorities will fail us as they cannot deliver on their promises to make us whole. There are simply never enough dollars, awards, prizes, or sympathetic shoulders in the world.
Most priorities are, in fact, what the bible calls idols.
I thought about all this during advent because Christmas with its gatherings, letters, and celebrations has a way of making us more aware of where we place our trust and value. As we gathered together many feathers were ruffled as we rub up against each other and peacock around. Peacocking around in close proximity to each other doesn’t help us fly.
Perfect Christmas that if you do not provide it you will feel crushed and ashamed and like a failure? Idol.
Perfect children you invest everything into who if they fail to thrive you will question how you have spent your adult years? Idol.
Perfect body (ha!) Welcome mid-January doldrums!
Stash of cash that never grows big enough?
Employment going well?
Accepted and promoted idols all around us.
We will try to “justify” the year that has been and find personal successes in the year of which we can be proud. All too often the boasts fall on deaf ears because no one really cares that you won your fantasy baseball league or lost 5 pounds or moved up a rung or two on the corporate ladder (or pickle ball rankings). I do a lot of funerals and I can tell you people always (always) speak of the character of the person, the love they shared, and if they are a person of faith, the faith they had and how it impacted the way they interacted with the world.
Maybe it is just me, but I often find Christmas gets wrapped in accomplishments that are surface level when character growth is far more important.
All of this leads me back to the Story.
When Mary is told by the angel that she is to conceive a child she is promised that he will one day Reign from a throne and his kingdom will will be everywhere and always. His Reign will not fail us but will make all things right.
I know it is not popular to submit, wives do not submit to husbands, children to do not submit to teachers (or parents), and generally none of us submit to employers, and yet as much bluster as we can manage we do submit to something. We don’t like to admit it but we are all like the teenagers who all match as they try to “express themselves.” The question is if that something or someone will fail us (look at any teen photos and you know the failures are real, maybe it’s just me:)
All of which is to say that I know it is a hard question but: who or what are you willing to submit to? What story are you kowtowing to?
Be honest with yourself.
Who is that working for you?
When is the last time you really considered an alternative?
If you want peace, if you want purpose and meaning, if you forgiveness or to be able to forgive, then recognize the King who fulfill his promises. If you need help or guidance there are many kind and generous Christians open to conversation, seriously just ask them.
May 2023 be the year you identify who or what you obey so that you may begin to do so with integrity and intention.
This time of year it feels like everyone is trying to influence me. From vendors to “influencers” and Youtubers, to the endless emails from charities reminding me of their existence. There is a lot of noise right now about how to live, how to spend money, and how to be the best me (of a price, of course).
The biblical character Bildad asks, ‘How long till you put an end to words?’ Which is a great question. Sometimes we Christians can get too wordy, our worship services so full of noise that we can rarely ever hear God amidst them. Sometimes we argue until we are blue in the face over some refined theological point. We can write entire books on the smallest of teachings. All of which brings me back to the wonderful question ‘How long till you put an end to words?’
There are several places in the bible where it is very strongly suggested we try to speak less and listen more. The proverbial truth that we have two ears and one mouth was not missed by the biblical writers. Of course we love a good talker and sometimes we are in painful socially awkward situations and we give real thanks to God that there is a talker. Sometimes though what we need is some quiet.
The great mystic tradition of Christianity is often ignored; partly because it is hard to understand and hard to replicate, and partly because a lot of the mystic-type folks can’t be bothered to even try to convey what is happening to them, they are simply enjoying the moment and thanking God for the experience of life.
Bildad is arguing that we need to listen. Sure he may have wanted to be right and wanted Job to listen to him particularly but I think the practice of trying to listen is extremely helpful even if Bildad’s word were a bit untimely.
In our church we have been practicing journalling of late and one of the greatest comments I got was from someone who noticed how in putting pen to paper (we do it analog) more and more ideas come, links and associations percolate in the mind and a single idea can generate a lot of insight. On the one hand this is us making noise (silent as writing is we are sort of talking by writing) on the other hand sitting quietly with nowhere else to be and nothing else to do opens the space for us to hear from God and perhaps (optimistically) what we capture on our pages is God speaking to us, like we are students in class taking notes.
When it is noisy out there (or inside our skulls) how do you listen to your life? Will words come to an end? Can you embrace quite, and, if so, how?
I suggest journalling but there are many options and they are worthy of your attention and experimentation.
If the bible is anything to by (and I think it is) you might be surprised what happens when you do.
The seminary I attended had a very small student population, but it nevertheless managed to bring together a diverse group of people together for the journey. One of my classmates had a bible that many of (ok, me) were jealous of. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t the best translation, and it didn’t have excellent study notes. What made the bible so attractive was the worn out look. Here was a bible that had been well handled. You could look at it and see the mark of the years and you just knew that this bible belonged to a serious christ-follower. Only a genuine student of Jesus could have worn a bible out so thoroughly.
This was the second time I have experienced this “bible envy.” As a teen I attended a small youth group that went away on a retreat. The retreat leader was maybe 20 and his bible was covered in duct tape. He claimed he had read it so much it began to fall apart and that it was way cheaper to buy a roll of tape to rebuild it than to buy a new bible. Whatever the truth is, the prop was memorable and the point was made.
Many of us have seen such bibles. I imagine many of us have desired to be the sort of person who would have such a bible. These bibles suggest a sincerity of faith, devotion, diligence, and self-discipline that is admirable. The world, the church, and our own souls need us to be that sort of deeply-formed-by-the-word-of-God people who carry worn out bibles.
They say the best way to get started at something is to break it into the smallest steps. I even read of a very overweight guy who went to the gym everyday for 3 months to do a 5 minute work-out, just so he could convince himself he was the sort of guy who went to the gym everyday. 5 minutes was not enough but it started the habit and eventually he started staying longer and ultimately lost (and kept off) over 100 pounds and regained the freedom to go on many an adventure.
How does a bible get so worn out?
There are a few surprisingly obvious and simple and (most importantly) small steps we can take.
1- For a bible to get worn out and used it needs to be handy, that is to say, close at hand. Leave it out somewhere that is “high traffic” in your home, maybe where your phone charges, or drink sits, or keys are found. It will get a bit beat up this way even if you never touch it (though this would require a remarkable amount of time and not likely get you exactly the beat-up look you are hoping for, like letting your jeans rip rather than paying someone else to rip them just-so:)
2- Pick it up. The analog to the 5 minute work out might well be to simply handle the Bible everyday, without actually reading it. Pick it up, feel the weight of it until you are comfortable with it instead of scared or intimidated. The idea is that you might go from thinking “that is just way too big of a book for me to read” to “sure I hold books that big all the time” and suddenly find the confidence to begin tackling the thing. Seriously, consider picking up a bible and holding it for a minute every day without reading it, maybe pray for that minute, or listen to a hymn.
3&4- to get a bible well and truly worn two more practices are needed and they really go together: you must read it and mark it up while you do. You can read as little or as much as you have time and interest for each day. Reading it everyday may or may not get you through it in a year, that’s not the point, the point is to read it everyday. For it to be well and truly worn out though, for the pages to really crinkle and pop, for it to be the biblical envy of another person, one must write in the bible, stuff little notes into the bible and generally abuse the physical bible: highlight, underline, annotate, crack the spine, whatever, mark it up and make it yours.
If you do these 3 (4) simple practices you will eventually have the perfectly worn in bible, the sort other church-goers, seminarians, and the like will look at and be inspired by. You would be doing them a favour because maybe they will pick up their bible and abuse it and the cycle can continue on, generation to generation.
Importantly, the well worn grooves of that bible would have made similar well worn groves in you, in your soul and character, in your sense of faith, hope, and love. I am trying less to convene that you need to read the bible, and more to lay out just how easy it is.
In the book of Job, as his friends try to convince him of the way the world works, the (much maligned) friends are not always wrong though they often apply the truths they discuss to the wrong context. It is an example of the difference between data wisdom. Bildad says, “For inquire, please, of the former age, and consider the things discovered by their father.” This is almost always good advice as there is much to learn from the writers of the past. Of course, they were often patriarchal and/or racist and/or misogynists, but that likely doesn’t mean everything they ever thought or sorted out was useless drivel.
I think it was C. S. Lewis who noted that many of us do not believe we are ‘smart’ enough to read old texts so we settle for interpretations that make them more approachable, like rather than read Plato we read ‘Plato for Dummies’ and rather than approach a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, a Hugo or Dumas, we read what we expect will be more “approachable.”
How sad it is—and how poorly we treat ourselves—if we fall into this. Imagine if someone said this to you: “don’t read that you are too stupid for reading that” you would almost certainly read it to prove them wrong (after responding to them using the biggest words you know, of course).
Or maybe you don’t have that sort of pride. What if a teacher told your kid or grandkid not try something hard just because it is—you know— hard and because the student is dumb and weak and should avoid hard things…we would never accept that, yet we do it to ourselves all the time.
This can apply to any part of life “too old to run? Too fat? Etc. etc.” too old or tone def or lacking the beat to learn an instrument, too shaky a hand to paint/draw, too limited a vocabulary to write or unpoetic a mind to rhyme…on and on we can go being rude and mean and putting ourselves down in ways we would never accept outside our own heads.
We pay a price for all this negative self-talk. We forget where democracy comes from, how it works, and our responsibilities within it, we forget how civility is better for all of us (especially the cashiers and other lower wage earners), we forget how to prioritize the important parts of life and shake our heads as our lives don’t turn out how we thought they would, we fail to reflect on what the good life is for us and how to pursue it and are surprised when we do not accomplish the sorts of things we thought we were capable of. We are like kids who refuse to listen to their parents when it is -28 outside and they tell us to wear big mitts, we assert our independence, but much to our own detriment.
So why not pick up something hard in 2023? Many have found spiritual practices such as daily meditation, prayer, journalling, bible reading hard but helpful habits. Some are diligent enough to learn to sing hymns or play them on instruments, this too takes daily work. Maybe it is a weekly rhythm of sabbath (this is weirdly hardest of all!).
What I have found most beneficial is to read the bible daily. I read lots of other stuff too, but only after my bible reading has been done for the day. Maybe you are not there yet and you prefer to read something uplifting or spiritual every day.
In 2023 Do not read about CS Lewis unless you are also reading CS Lewis (even he would have agreed to this) and do not read about the bible or cute little devotionals unless you are also reading the bible itself because when you do so it is a disservice to CS Lewis (or whoever), to God (the bible) and to you.
In 2023 choose to honour yourself, even to respect your mind and your ability to read, to seek answers, to discern truth, you are neither too young nor too old for this. If you haven’t done it in a while this might be hard, you might feel vulnerable, that’s ok, push through and read something hard this year anyways.
You can do it! God himself left behind endless breadcrumbs for us to follow and he has given us the ability to follow the trail.
It’s that time again, the time when we think about our lives and set intentions for the coming year, and then promptly re-familiarize ourselves with why we were living that way already.
There are many articles about the best way to set intentions, or to keep resolutions, what sort of resolutions are likely to stick, and which are less likely, and how many days it takes to set patterns.
I want to suggest a very simple question for anyone seeking to live a little bit more intentionally this year. It is a question that if we ask it more often we will make simple, subtle life changing decisions, with ease!
When you think of who you want to be, or who you are becoming, and you want to change the path this question will help.
When you are already on your right path and striding confidently into the future this question will act as a compass keeping the wind at your back.
The question is:
Why am I doing what I am doing?
Whether you are sitting down to watch Netflix/Crave/Disney+/Youtube videos/pornography, ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes you will be able to watch guilt free (well maybe not the porn). And sometimes you will do something else, something more productive.
When you reach for a drink, or want to place a bet, ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes you will go ahead and pop the cork other times you will make tea.
When you reach for cake/cookies/chips…ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes you eat it and enjoy, other times you make a smoothie.
Colossians suggests that whatever we do we do to the lord, and maybe that is a helpful filter to us.
For many of us that is a reach. If we can gain a level of self-mastery that might lead us to submitting better to God’s good intentions for us.
For now, can we do what we do in the name of who we want to be.
Do I want to be the person who eats cookies everyday and never works out?
Do I want to be the passive recipient of entertainment or one who creates value?
Whatever images and questions will drive you, when it comes to how we act in 2023 asking why am I doing what I aim doing will lead us down better paths.
I suggest writing that question at the top of a page, think about the most important actions in your life, and take the time to write an honest answer to it.
I don’t mean watch Netflix (or whatever you watch).
I don’t mean sitting staring at your phone.
I don’t mean binge eating nor working out.
I don’t mean hanging out with friends or family.
I mean REST, like really rest?
Sabbath, a full day of rest is, sadly, not likely what I mean.
How often do you find yourself sitting or lying down doing nothing, not trying to fall asleep, or talking with others or listening to music.
Just sitting still.
Maybe it is because of the age of my children (6-10-12) or maybe it’s the age of my knees (40) but lately I have repeatedly found myself resting like I haven’t rested since before the iPhone was invented.
Seriously, I have been sitting and doing nothing, not meditating or praying, nothing, like I haven’t done since I was a bored teenager too dumb to appreciate such rest.
Starring out the window, watching a cat, looking at an old familiar painting on the wall. Resting, still, calm in body and mind. I like it.
Resting is a form of pushing back against the culture of business, muchness, moreness, biggerness…
The bible tells us God rested and it was good. It also tells Jesus went off alone and rarely hurried which I take to mean he at times rested too (on top of the Sabbath rhythm he surely followed), and that we are commanded to rest and make sure everyone and everything associated with us rests from time to time.
When is the last time you rested?
Sat still doing nothing and with nothing to do?
When (if ever) have you created a space for others to do so?
It has been a habit I am slipping into gently, not intentionally. Maybe I am tired or just have more time on my hands, or am less ambitious than I have been. Whatever it is, it is winter and I am happily wintering.
As the Big Holiday Week approaches I encourage you to let rest happen (after going to church services, donating to your favourite charities, eating great food, and helping others, of course:)
I don’t think you need to force it or schedule it. My experience lately is that the act is merely to notice it when you are resting, embrace it, and when you must move on with the turkey cooking, gift sorting, cat litter cleaning, maybe say a prayer of thanks for the moment of pause you have enjoyed.
When I sat down and thought about the recent tragedies I have been close to, I came up with a list of 5 serious issues that have presented themselves in the past month for people I know personally. For their privacy I will not list any details but suffice it to say you are happy to not be facing what they are. As a pastor this is always true, that is why Christians mark the longest night of year, because there is a real sense in which every year is a long year full of trouble, not for everyone and yet every year has been a tough year for some.
Psalm 119 is probably the longest single piece of writing in the bible. It’s ornate and special, an acrostic which in this case means that it has a section for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet and in the section each line begins with the letter. It is a poem that would have taken an incredible amount of time to craft and it has been read by millions of people over the years, it has been a comfort and an inspiration to many.
Not quite in the middle of it, but pretty close, are these words, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?””
In other words, the person who so excellently and carefully crafted the poem knows what it’s like to turn to God’s word looking for comfort, and to not find it quickly. That desire to be comforted, and the recognition that literally nothing in this world can offer us the sort of comfort we need, is a timeless reality and one the bible knows plenty about. If you are reading this and the pains of the world lead you to struggle in faith, you are not alone, even biblical writers went through it.
The prophet Isaiah fulfilled one of the major roles God gave the prophets by reminding people of where they were falling short, as individuals and as community. Prophets didn’t leave people there though, they lead them to hope in God. Here’s a passage full of promise and hope because the world has ever and always needed to hear promises that this (whatever personal tragedies we face to say nothing of global ones) is not all there is and that a brighter day is coming,
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
It’s a famous passage that we often hear as promise, but we rarely remember the desperate desires behind it. The realities of oppressive governments, war, famine, illnesses and the like. Hiding in the promises are the needs of the world for comfort and peace.
Christians have come to believe that in Jesus of Nazareth we have found the one spoken of in the promises. This doesn’t mean everything is great, that God has snapped his fingers and made everything perfect, but rather that everything is assured. We pray every week, many pray daily, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” because we trust, or want to trust, this truth. That despite how things are looking at any given time there is hope to be found in the one who was born in a cattle stall who was destined to be King.
I have been thinking lately about how his is a kingdom of belonging. I’m not an expert but from what I can tell, there is a growing belief amongst psychologists and psychiatrists that some of the anxiety and depression our society struggles with represents an appropriate response to the challenges of living today. They think that this is rooted in a lack of the sense of belonging. We need to belong and that is getting harder.
The church in the world is a place to belong, when we are at our best at least, and that includes everyone struggling this season, struggling and pained as we are.
Sometimes we can already see Jesus at work in the world, sometimes we even see him at work in the church.
His kingdom is not just for the happy clappy christians or the healthy christians, or the supposed “blessed” wealthy people. No, it is a kingdom of mercy, compassion and justice, a kingdom for those who weep, those who write laments, those who struggle, a kingdom of belonging.
I recently read an article by a woman struggling with mental health and especially her sense of belonging. As we come out of covid she has found it very hard to be in social circles, even a family gathering can create debilitating panic attacks in her the make it hard or even impossible for her to get out of her car. As Christmas approaches she writes,
There have been many lonely holiday seasons when I yearned to join in the unifying nostalgia and fondly recollect memories that I did not even have, but I felt outside of the group. If I walked through the twinkle-lit streets and felt a pang of sorrow well up, were those lights still for me?I’ve come to conclude: yes! Perhaps they are especially for me…For those who are feeling lonely around the holidays, those twinkle lights are not insensitive to your ache but graciously beckoning you into the collective.
I hope we can feel the same way about faith in Jesus, that as we celebrate the birth of Christ there is room for everyone, no matter what 2022 looked like or what they fear 2023 will look like.
One thing I agree with that woman about is this: Frequency of contact with people we care about is one of the key indicators of well-being, worldwide. And so we do well to make a point to be in touch with one another, to belong to and with each other.
When Jesus was dying on the cross his beloved student was there, so was his mother, and in his great pain, and theirs, he brought them together, bonded them, even in their grief, Jesus was acting.
May he act, may he bring the comfort the psalmist and each of us seek, in outlives during these long nights.
For now, may we feel we belong just as we are.
And “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”