Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on Being Saved

Sometimes it can be difficult to make sense of a dark world. I know it has been difficult to sense what God has been doing in my life over the last several months. But constantly, God shines just a little bit of light into darkness, and it stirs hope. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove shares a brilliant story on how he is being saved. I suggest you check it out. I hold onto this:

“But I do know that right here in the midst of the mess that we’ve made of God’s good world, grace happens. And when it does, you’re saved. And when you are, you can only whisper, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” You say it while the tears flow down.

When you catch your breath, you tell the story as best you can.”

“Grace Happens”

 

 

New Hope in the Morning

Lamentations 3.22-25 NRSV

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.”

 

This may be the most boring post ever. Sorry.

I believe in the importance of rhythm and discipline in our journey toward God. Without rhythms and disciplines—habits, you might call them—it is easy for us to get off track. Over the last several weeks, I have worked to develop some specific habits to guide me on my journey with God. Most of these habits are centered around the morning hours. If you’re day starts well, then you’ll be more likely to take advantage of all the day has to offer. And if you’re like me, it can be so easy to get off track in the morning and subsequently derail you’re entire day. Lay in bed a little too long, watch a little too much TV, get carried away in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. It can happen to all of us. It happens to me way too much. So here’s my boring morning routine, that I’ve grown to love. I’m still working on it. It’s still not where I want it to be. But I love it.

It’s mundane. This post is mundane. But I’m coming to learn that God is in the mundane. I need to learn to seek God in the mundane.

It’s a peaceful morning. I move slow. I open myself up to God. I pay attention.

The Mundane Details:

Wake up between 5 & 545a. Shower. Same thing (minus earlier hours) that I’ve always done.

Go downstairs. Turn on our little stove light. Turn on espresso machine. Get out skillet, knife, cutting board, plate, fork, eggs, cheese, peppers, onions, garlic, spinach, olive oil. Lay them on the counter. Pull out the grinder & espresso beans. Grind, dose and pour a shot of espresso. Clean up.

Turn on the stove. Slice up peppers & onions. Cook them with the garlic. Wash the knife & cutting board. Start to pack my lunch. I’ll work on my lunch while cooking and eating breakfast. I never sit down. I sit down all day. I stand in the mornings.

Wash spinach. Add it to the skillet. Put the bag of spinach and veggies away.

Crack eggs in the skillet. Add salt and pepper. Mix it up. Add some cheese. Finish cooking, making lunch. Wash stuff as I finish using them.

Eat breakfast. Take my vitamins & supplements: Fish oil because an informed friend told me I ought to. A small multi-vitamin. Vitamin D (4000 IU) because I had severely low Vit D levels that was making me crazy tired. Doctor ordered.

While eating, make a smoothie for my wife and I to split. Banana, oats, apple juice, vanilla soy milk, strawberries/peaches & blueberries. Using a Magic Bullet. Finish dishes, clean kitchen, pack bags & lunch.

Finish getting ready. Kiss my wife. Out the door, at the office between 7 & 730.

At the office, I get out my bible, my journal, a pen and my Common Worship Prayer Book app on my phone, and go through morning prayer. Taking time for silence, reflection, and writing as I need to.

I’ve gotten good at breakfast, but not so good at praying.

But where is God in this, in the mundane?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I started some of these habits primarily for health reasons. I was feeling like crap physically—which can wear one done emotionally—so I needed to eat better in the morning.

Lamentations has been part of morning prayer recently. And it offers a simple but profound truth. God’s mercies are new every morning. You may not be living the exciting glamourous life you had dreamed of. You might have to punch the clock like you did yesterday and for 500 days before that. But God’s mercies are new. Every day.

When I turn on the espresso machine, I am reminded of God’s rich blessing. When I cook my eggs, I am reminded that God provides. As I clean up, I remember that God made something beautiful out of chaos.

            Everyday, God is faithful.

Every morning, God has new blessings, new grace, new mercies. God is my portion. God is enough. So I hope. As I drink coffee, as I cut peppers, as I wash dishes, I hope. I hope, because even in the mundane and boring, the small things, God is present.

May we learn to seek God in the mundane.

Sunset Over St. Clairsville

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Reflection: Light & Dark Dance

This is the same place, different morning.

As I walked out my door to head to my office, the sun was just beginning to crest over the horizon, setting fire to the sky. I see the sky-set-on-fire through the bare branches of a tree, between two houses & atop the glowing lights of a plaza. I’ve seen my fair share of sunrises in the last year. Almost every morning I am either sitting at my desk upstairs, taking in this view, or headed out the door. On a normal day, as the sun rises, it floods the sky with light, turning the deep blue of the night into a fiery dance of yellow and orange.

But today, the sunrise was a little different. It was almost as if the fiery sky was trapped—trapped by clouds, trapped by darkness. As the sun rose, its brightness was met by the oppressive darkness of storm clouds. It was eery. I wish I had taken pictures—but in my rush to get to the office, I never thought about it. It was eery because the light, though trapped, would not remain trapped. The clouds did their best to snuff out the fire, but the light found its way out. It wasn’t overwhelming, no. There were still big patches of darkness. Foreboding. Still, the light squeezed past these consuming clouds.

Having snuck past the clouds that would contain it, the light began to gently dissipate. The spread its fragrance across the town. I watched from my office window. It was that kind of dance between lightness and darkness that happens before a summer storm.

That’s the way life is. A dance between light and darkness.

Today is a rainy day.

But light will shine again.

Branches in the Park Sky

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I took this shot while walking around the park with Amanda, and then uploaded via my iPad, to see how well it works. If it works well, I’ll be much more likely to add more photography, which I’d love to do.

Disciplined Pursuit of God — The Spiritual Disciplines

Many of us desire a closer relationship with God. If we’ve come to know God as Creator, Sustainer, and Renewer, then we’ve got to stay connected with God. I have this fundamental conviction that we were all created for life with God, and outside of that life with God, we are not living life as fully as we made to enjoy.

The spiritual disciplines help us enter that life with God. They are not magic formulas that will transform us  into spiritual giants in a night, and they won’t solve all our problems. Spiritual disciplines are essentially about practice. They are habits that build our spiritual muscles. I’ve called them “spiritual disciplines”  here before.

Ultimately though, spiritual disciplines aren’t just about creating warm fuzzies inside of us. They do not exist for our purposes alone. They are not simply about working our way to peace or happiness. They are about equipping us for participation in the life of God for the world.

Henri Nouwen has said the spiritual disciplines are like “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” They are about effort, intentionality, and creating space in our lives so that God can work in us.

Because God is for the world (read Missio Dei), and the spiritual disciplines are about aligning in ourselves with God & being transformed into God’s likeness, the spiritual disciplines have an inherently missional horizon.

Takes some of these practices, and do them on purpose. Work on them, grow in them. Explore new things.

  1. Prayer — prayer is simply conversation with God. It can be a long, passionate conversation in which we share our hearts deepest hurt & desire, but it can also be a one word, one sentence interaction.
  2. Study — getting God’s word into our heads, paying attention to details, background, culture, expanding our understanding of the text.
  3. Meditation — the process of chewing & savoring God’s word. It’s what helps us get God’s word from our heads into our hearts. It’s not about information, but about transformation. Key word: slow.
  4. Fasting — voluntarily going without something for a period of time, in order to fill up on something more spiritually nutritious. It can be anything from food or a hobby or anything in between.
  5. Silence & Solitude — disconnecting for a brief period of time in order to connect with God.
  6. Simplicity — removing physical, emotional, and spiritual baggage & clutter that keep us from connecting with God & those around us.
  7. Service — finding times to intentional put others’ needs above ours.
  8. Submission — yielding our will to God’s & those whom God has placed in authority. We do this, even when it seems silly or frustrating.
  9. Guidance — accepting help and counsel from wise people & friends.
  10. Confession — acknowledging our sinfulness & deep need for help from God and from others.
  11. Celebration — God has blessed us with incredible things, God has done incredible things in our lives, & has won victory, so we celebrate.
  12. Worship — similar to celebration, worship declares God’s goodness, but it is different than celebration, because we still worship while in the midst of circumstances that don’t seem worth celebrating.
These are but a sampling of practices we can use in our lives. These in particular come from Richard Foster’s book “The Celebration of Discipline” and also from Winterfest 12. Foster’s book is a great place to start exploring the disciplines. Tony Jones has a book called “The Sacred Way” that is also good. Foster’s book is pretty hefty. Jones’ is much smaller. Either would be time well spent.


My Identity Vis-à-Vis My Brother

 

None of us are truly human outside of our relation to the other; true humanness comes from relationship.

There are certainly other ways of understanding humanness and human identity, but I’m a sociologist. This is how I understand it. It is not our problem solving ability or intellect that make us uniquely human. It is our relationship, our otherness in togetherness.Our relationships are fundamental in forming our identity.

This is no clearer for me than when I consider my identity in relationship to my brother, Matthew. For as long as I can remember, I have been known as Matthew’s “big-little brother.” He’s almost four years older than me (with a birthday this Sunday), thus me as “little brother.” But I’m also a good foot taller than him and probably 75 pounds heavier than him (used to be more…he’s gotten a little round over the last several years), thus “big-little brother.”

You see, Matt does not fit the standard definition of “normal.” He’s an incredible human being, but he is certainly unique. He has a form of mental and physical retardation known as Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CDLS), a condition he was born with. CDLS is a fairly severe form of retardation, much more so than the more common Down’s Syndrome. Matthew has a moderate form of it—which means he’s only about 4’10”, can’t talk, or run, and needs assistance in most everyday tasks. But he does have all his fingers and toes, is completely mobile, and can do many things on his own. He has a bubbly personality (most days), and is just a lot of fun. Opposite his bubbly personality, however, he exhibits some personality traits common to CDLS that are more difficult to live with. Despite his inability to talk, he usually expresses himself well, but in those moments when he can’t communicate something that is bothering him, he engages in self-abusive behavior. For him this means smacking the side of his head forcefully and repeatedly. It’s the way he communicates a range of negative emotions from distress and frustration to sickness and anger. For a period of a few years, as he was becoming a teenager, this kind of abusive behavior was about all we saw from him. It seemed that no matter what we did, Matt was frustrated, angry, sick, or sad — all of which would manifest itself in this severely self-abusive behavior. It was taxing on all of us. There was nothing we could do.

Matt laughing on the couch, at Christmas a few years ago.

He has since stepped out of that phase. A combination of medications calmed him down, but for a while it cost us his gregarious personality too. He’s since grown out of that as well. He still smacks himself when he’s upset, but the smiles have come back too. He still has health issues. We still have to give him loads of attention, but I am deeply aware that I would not be who I am without my brother.

Some of my personality traits are directly related to my experiences with Matthew. Being Matthew’s big-little brother has made me into a person of compassion, commitment, and attentiveness. It’s given me a sense of responsibility and love.Personality traits are one thing…but what about identity? That’s a question on an entirely different plane. On some level, the traits I have because of Matthew have given me my identity in Christ. He’s made me attentive to the subtleties of God. He has given me a

passion for the God who looks after the little guy, the God who is present in suffering.And here’s where I think the intersection lies between my identity and Matthew: God – Matthew – Suffering.

My identity has been formed because of my shared otherness with Matthew in the face of the God who is present in suffering. Yet I don’t know exactly what it is. My guess is, 23 years hasn’t been quite long enough to figure this out.

Trying to take a picture with Matt at Christmas a few years ago. He doesn't always like taking pictures. We're having a good time here!

 

Volf: Solidarity in Sin & Salvation

“Solidarity in sin underscores that no salvation can be expected from an approach that rests fundamentally on the moral assignment of blame and innocence. The question cannot be how to locate “innocence” either on the intellectual or social map and work our way toward it. Rather, the question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable noninnocence that often parades as its opposite. The answer: in the name of the one truly innocent victim and what he stood for, the crucified Messiah of God, we should demask as inescapably sinful the world constructed around exclusive moral polarities-here, on our side, “the just,” “the pure,” “the innocent,” “the true,” “the good,” and there, on the otherside, “the unjust,” “the corrupt,” “the guilty,” “the liars,” “the evil”-and then seek to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect, guided by the recognition that the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts. Under the conditions of pervasive noninnocence, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because, at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it.”

Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace (pp. 84-85)