on Belonging…

September 16, 2020 § Leave a comment

“God, then, does not speak through empty abstractions or endless circumlocutions. Rather, in every instance, God’s word was enacted and enacted in a particular place and time in history. In all, presence and place mattered decisively. Nowhere is this more evident than in the incarnation.”

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World

Some years ago, while living in Miami, Katherine and I created a small hideaway under a tree that lined the garden at the entryway of our home. Tiny white Christmas strings of lights rested in the tree that canopied a small bench we shared, alongside a peaceful water fountain I set up for her birthday one year. You could say that we hid in plain sight at the end of each day. That space was sacred. When it was cooler, we would sit with cups of hot chocolate, and watch cars drive by in the dark. Though we knew our neighbors, and in spite of the fact that church members lived nearby, no one ever stopped – because they couldn’t see us. We wanted it that way. Regardless of how difficult or anxious the day may have been, in the evening, we would be there to decompress, relax, unwind, talk and pray.

We have since created a similar space in the little courtyard of our home, between the garage and the house itself. Rather than rest in a tree, the lights now connect the structures, and the fountain is now a fire pit. But it is no less sacred, in fact, as much as we loved that space in Miami, we love this one even more. Through the muscle and know-how of friends, extra time during my sabbatical, and a lot of hard work, it has become our hideaway, our place. Only now, neighbors see us as they walk by – And we welcome them, whether to join us and talk, or to feel free to stop in when they smell the chicken barbecuing or the burgers sizzling.

Everyone needs a place.

In the book quoted above, James Davison Hunter argues that the internet has done a certain amount of damage to what he describes as the gravitational pull that once drew people together in order for them to be present with one another.

Everyone needs to belong.

I always loved the Motel 6 commercial that ended with the words, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

Throughout history there have been moments, in the midst of horror, when Christians were the source of safe passage for the afflicted. In her book, Making Room, Christine Pohl writes of the village of Le Chambon, a “small community of French Protestants” who, during World War II saved thousands of Jews by hiding them from the Nazis, in houses and schools.

The purpose of this post is not to address the problems our Nation is facing now, but it will not be surprising to one day learn how substantially belonging, or lack thereof, fit into the narrative. We tend to reduce belonging to laws and historical moments, but society has a way of communicating the opposite when it wants to – and people feel it.

So, I take heart that in sympathizing with the weaknesses and limitations of a fallen human race, that Jesus chose to experience homelessness, the sensation of having nowhere to belong. He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man [his favorite self-designation] has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).

And it is no wonder to me that his most reassuring words to his friends on the night of his arrest, involved the home he was preparing for them – in his Father’s house. They would deny, betray, and abandon him that evening, but after his resurrection, they would be restored to the friend in whom they found true belonging.

what good news…

grace & peace.

Sanctuary

July 29, 2020 § Leave a comment

“A holy place is where we become aware that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and that the more is ‘other,’ Other. God, who is beyond us, is also at hand.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over A Wall

Not every sanctuary is built with human hands.

The photos in this post were taken from the Oconaluftee Islands Park in Cherokee, North Carolina. Once within its ‘walls’ the bamboo forest is transformed into a sanctuary of sorts. Curiously, this rapidly spreading growth is classified as grass. However, in maturity it manifests as a collective paneling of stalks that line paths and creates glorious corridors. Even more spectacular, this paneling allows light and splendor to infiltrate the enclosure it creates. And if that weren’t enough, the stalks of the bamboo are so tall that rather than grow endlessly in a straight line, at some point, they dovetail into one another, forming a magnificently arched ceiling – as though cognizant of Someone it was created to exalt.

Bamboo Forest, Cherokee, North Carolina

Whenever we consider Jesus’ retreat to the mountains (Mark 6:46), our inclination is to put emphasis on prayer, because that is what he did. But I think there is more – that Jesus used that space of time to recapture his own sense of awe at the beauty of the very creation he sustains (Colossians 1:15-17).

We think of the ‘good’ pronouncements in the creation narrative as declarations of perfection – and they are. Nothing could ever supersede the unblemished handiwork of God – it was good because He is perfect. But is it possible that God was also thrilled with the beauty that He sculpted out of nothing?

Normally, this is the time of year that Katherine and I return to the beach we have enjoyed with our family for 20 years – To soak in the sun and get lost in the sound of crashing waves, where cell phones cannot be heard. But this year, with COVID-19, and our home state a hot spot for all the wrong reasons, we decided to hide in the mountains. With few exceptions, we stayed to ourselves and were reminded of the grandeur of God.

The Bamboo Forest, Cherokee, North Carolina

Though not a substitute for the gathering of God’s people in worship, it is difficult to stand on top of the world, so to speak, and not be filled with wonder. A breathtaking view completely redirects one’s attention from the immediate to the eternal. It is a holy interruption of the noise and chaos of daily routines.

Sanctuary.

Whenever we enter into sanctuary, we are transported and dwarfed by the majesty of God, whether a physical church locale, a walk by the bay at sunrise, or a mountain vista that swallows us in its grandeur.

This is a good thing.

Entering into sanctuary makes us no larger, and no more capable of managing the universe. It rescues us from the delusion that we can. And lifts our gaze from the immediate to the eternal, transforming our fear of lesser things, into renewed faith, in the eternal God who came near, and became immediate in His Son Jesus – for us.

Friends, this is our good news.

grace & peace.

Find Your Sanctuary

February 21, 2015 § 2 Comments

Prayer “A holy place is where we become aware that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and that the more is ‘other,’ Other. God, who is beyond us, is also at hand.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over A Wall

If you know anything about my work habits, you know that my sermon prep is a crazy time of prayer, solitude, music, study, distraction, desperation, and more prayer. It begins in my office on Thursday, and ends there early Sunday morning, with hours at ‘my’ Starbucks in between. This is my groove.

And when it is interrupted my world tips off its axis.

All of which leads to early last Thursday morning, when our daughter Emily called. She had a flat tire on a major highway leading into and out of Baltimore. Long story short, I ended up spending most of Thursday in a Firestone with a manager who reminded me of Newman on Seinfeld, in a community known as Reisterstown, just beyond the city. The store was situated on a loud, busy road. So there I was – no books, no office, no playlists, no groove!

Instead I was confined to a crowded room with strangers – you know, the people types. One lady was a night guard who worked the night shift. Another loudly cursed into her phone, enraged with a family member, while simultaneously giving us the play-by-play. Another changed her baby’s diaper on the chairs in front of the television beside the coffee maker that smelled as though it had been brewing for weeks. Game shows gave way to talk shows, and finally soap operas.

Somewhere around Noon I was expected on a conference call, and for an hour I walked around the store, in and among people, tires and furniture, and sometimes outside, in 14-degree weather. At meeting’s end, the leader asked me to pray. So, there in the Firestone, I got into a corner (pictured above), and prayed.

And when I opened my eyes, I was in a sanctuary.

Eugene Peterson writes of God’s people and how simple elements like rocks and animals, water, fire and hills were employed in worship when gathering and temples were not options. I think of Jesus, who worshiped early in the Temple, on a mountain in the morning, at the banquet of His betrayal, in the garden, and even on the Cross. It was never about perfect circumstances, and always about the very present God.

It turned out that I needed that place and those people and our daughter’s crisis more than I needed my office. The Father was at Firestone and He wanted me there.

It was in that Sanctuary that retail chairs transformed into pews, garage workers served as priests, customers became fellow worshippers, the seating arrangement, our confessional, our stories the liturgy, and the smell of new rubber combined with burnt coffee, the incense of our shared need.

Free from the ordinary, the world appeared a little clearer, and my sermon a bit less daunting. A letter I intended for a friend took shape, and heart. Texts with my wife, sermon notes, and thoughts of God’s protection over our daughter, songs of thanksgiving and praise.

Friends, find your sanctuary.

And discover once again, that it is the Father who has found you.

What good news…

peace.

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