The Mess at the Wall

About a week ago, I posted a new piece at the Church at Charlotte blog.

I was recently disappointed. It wasn’t a huge thing, but the disappointment is real and it’s been roiling around in my soul for a while now and I’ve been wrestling with God over it. Around the same time, a friend asked me about my walk with the Lord during a period of time a few years back that I refer to as my “year of hell”—tragedy after tragedy compiled with stress after stress as I walked through an emotional and psychological crisis period. The funny thing, I realized when my friend asked, was that my faith wasn’t shaken during that time. Through it all, I saw God as God and God as good. I continually watched His faithful care in the darkest moments of grief and tragedy.

But something about this current disappointment is different. It’s not that God is not good. Not that He is not on His throne. Not that He is not showing Himself as faithful. It’s just that I’m sick and tired of this stuff.

Read more.

Pieces Go Missing

first wrote this post two years ago. There have been years in my life when I have deeply needed the encouragement to welcome December with tireless hope. Perhaps this is a year like that for you; if so, I pray these words speak to your soul. -Cg-


I was reminded this morning that tomorrow, December 1, marks the day of an accident two years ago that took a beloved and friend and mentor from this earth. It was the start of a hard Christmas season. One where tears held their own against the joy and the laughter.

It was the start of a year of sorrow followed by sorrow—a year that changed my whole life in many ways. A year that I can look back to now with a measure of joy, seeing the hand of the One who shapes all my experiences with His grace and mercy, but a hard year, nonetheless.

There are pieces missing from my life now which were all comfortably settled in place just two years ago.

I could say the same thing about a cold, snowy January day almost five years ago. And another one four years back. And a hot, humid July one sixteen years back. I’m certain many of us can point to those days—those periods or moments—in our lives when everything changed, when the bruises formed for the first time, when we began to carry our burdens, when the cracks fissured our hearts.

And Christmas is a time when those bruises, those burdens, those cracks tend to lose the veneer we’ve washed over them for the rest of the year. Some of us have families who we can honestly share our burdens with. Some of our families are the source of those bruises. Some of us have found communities of friends that have helped heal our broken hearts. Some are still seeking them.

But, somehow, we still enter Christmas thinking perhaps this year will be different, this year will be the year we’re far enough from the hurt not to feel it anymore. We still look to January first as a new page, a new opportunity to try again.

I was struck this morning by the lyrics of Sleeping At Last’s song “Snow.”

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold
But our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow

So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and our glasses are full
Though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
’cause life without revision will silence our souls

So let the bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody surround us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white
New Year’s resolutions will reset tonight

“We’ll welcome December with tireless hope.”

We humans are a people of hope. In light of everything that has happened in the course of human history, it seems a bit foolish. Why would we hope when we know that every lifecycle ends with death? Why would we hope when we see broken relationships all around us? Why would we hope in light of war, famine, nature’s destruction?

We hope because we are made in the image of God. We are a broken, fallen people, and we are offered wholeness and restoration.

We hope because the Son of God came to earth one Christmas and fulfilled His calling:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

–Luke 4:18-21, ESV

He came to this earth to partake in the human condition and to overcome it. He came to share our broken hearts and to make us whole. He came to rewrite the world.

May your December be filled with hope. May you remember who you are: You are unconditionally cared for by One who shares your scars.

Watch Sleeping At Last’s video for “Snow”

Sleeping At Last is offering a Christmas Collection (including “Snow”) for download at Noisetrade. I’m loving listening to it so far this season. Go get yourself a copy and leave a tip!

Though We’re Strangers

I put up a post about a month ago at my church’s blog that I haven’t shared here yet. It contains references to Rich Mullins and oblique references to Hutchmoot, just so you know what you’re getting into.

My first year the weekend missed my expectations entirely, but was one of the best weekends of my life. I found things I didn’t even know I was looking for. Wouldn’t it be great if someone visiting our church could say that?

Soon after attending my second year, I re-encountered the song “Peace (A Communion Blessing)” by Rich Mullins and found that the lyrics came close to describing what the weekend was for me:

Though we’re strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that’s much to ask
But lay down your fears, come and join this feast
He has called us here, you and me

Mullins’ song is about a communion feast: something that happens in church. And yet many people go to church and never hear words like these: “I love you more than your mask,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Sit down; feast with us.”

This Is My Story

“In biblical Hebrew, there is no word for ‘history.’ Instead of ‘history,’ the word ‘memory’ is used. The idea is that history is someone else’s story, but memory is your own.”
–Heidi Johnston

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

Story, story, story. The word echoed through my weekend, shaped by various tongues. Once or twice it might have come out as “narrative,” a slight variant on the form, but the same essence.

“We tell stories from the image we hold in our hearts,” Jonathan Rogers said as he spoke of honoring our place—our hometown or family. We tell stories to support the thesis we have of “home.” We love our hometowns and our families, he reminded us, not because they are great, but because they are ours. “Remembering this lends the story to universality. Every human place has mythic experience.”

“Baseball is such a multi-purpose narrative tool,” said Russ Ramsey.

“The best way to tell someone you love them is to listen to them,” Michael Card said.

“This is not forever,” Heidi Johnston said. “We are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” She challenged us to be so immersed in the Bible that what we write tells the story of Scripture. If we speak only from our imagination without being anchored in truth, she said, we are only giving empty hope.

“Stories name our hopes we’ve hidden away and didn’t know we had,” said Doug McKelvey. “A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” Telling your story is throwing out a line and hoping that it connects with someone, he said. You’re inviting that person in as a third part of the creative process when they grip the line you’ve thrown out.

“Story is an invitation into a house that becomes a cosmos,” said Walt Wangerin. “What makes the story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.”

He reminded us of Deuteronomy 5, when Moses tells the story of Sinai to those about to enter the land. The generation who were there at Sinai are all dead, but Moses spoke to the generation before him as if the story were their own. His words echoed Heidi Johnston’s from earlier in the day, “History is someone else’s story; memory is your own.”

“Beware the man who makes himself the hero of his own story,” said Russ Ramsey in his sermon on Sunday morning. He combined the warning with this, “May we try to be brave, believing that trying to be brave is being brave because the author of life controls the narrative, and we are in his hands.”

On Saturday night, as the Settles Connection sang “Blessed Assurance” they invited us to sing along.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

“This is my story…” My story.

My story is that of a bride adorned for her bridegroom.

My story is that of a people whose God chased after their wayward hearts like a lover.

My story is that of a hard-headed disciple who betrayed his best friend and his Lord, only to be restored over a coal fire on the beach.

My story is that of a servant, entrusted by his master with five talents and turning them into ten.

My story is that of a king who took what he lusted after and killed to keep his sin hidden.

My story is that of a man who took his son to the mountain to sacrifice him, only to learn that the God he served would never ask such a thing like the gods of his past did.

My story is the story of a group of people who came together to discover the strangers they’d met were already their friends.

My story is the tale of a people made in the image of God who once turned away from him, but found him a gracious God with mercies new each morning, who shows steadfast love thousands of those who love him and keep his commandments.

These stories are my own, so deeply pressed into my soul they’ve left a mark. That mark, when watered, will become the seed of new stories. And I can throw out those stories into the world like a line, awaiting a hand to catch them and tie them to the hand’s own stories. And the line will go out again and again, so that strand after strand after strand all lead back to the truest story of all: that of a God who loved his creation so much he lay down his own life to save it from its brokenness.

Post-Moot

We are post-Hutchmoot again, and I am certain I will have many things to say in the next few days, but I’ll begin with a few quotes:

“A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” -Doug McKelvey

“This is not forever, we are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” -Heidi Johnston

Hutchmoot 2015“What makes story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.” -Walter Wangerin, Jr.

“Beware of the man who makes himself the hero of his own story.” -Russ Ramsey

(and for a bit of fun, please imagine the following in a Northern Ireland accent)
“Have you ever been at a conference with so many references to Deuteronomy?!” -Heidi Johnston

Three New Twitter Followers

You know it’s a big week when you get three new followers on Twitter. Fine, sure, I know that some people get follows in mass quantities regularly. I’m not that cool.

But this week I must have been brought to the attention of some fine folks and they managed to find me in the Twittersphere and therefore I now have my ego stroked enough to last me for a couple of weeks, I’m sure.

Why did I come to people’s attention?

Well, it may have been this recent blog post at the Church at Charlotte blog, “When Everything is Broken, Remember”:

There is something wrong with this world.

We know it, deep in our souls. When we see a 24-year-old young woman on hospice care, we know it. When we hear of refugee children drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to find a safe home, we know it. When a marriage falls apart, when a child dies, when a man is beaten on the street—something inside us says, “This isn’t how it is supposed to be.”

Everything is broken.

Or it might have been this story up at Story Warren this week, “A Man Named John Smith”:

A snippet of Jamin Still’s amazing illustration for my story.

Once upon a time there was a man named John Smith. When Mr. Smith was little, he was very concerned that with such a plain name, he would be lost to history, forever forgotten in a sea of John Smiths down through the ages. If you make it to the end of this harrowing tale, you shall discover that young John’s worst fears were realized. Do not worry, though, I haven’t given the whole thing away—there’s still a surprise or two waiting for you just down the page.

When Mr. Smith was a little boy—(How little, you say? Well, littler than me. And probably littler that the eldest among you, but certainly older than the littlest ones.)—Anyway, when John was a boy, he lived on a farm—(Where was the farm? Indiana. But that really doesn’t have any bearing on this story at all. Now hold your questions to the end or we shall never get through this.)

Or maybe it was the exciting news that I get to present this year at The Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot 2015. I’ve written about Hutchmoot before, and The Rabbit Room has certainly been formative in my life for the past few years, so I’m utterly honored and grateful to be speaking this time around. And getting to do so with Russ Ramsey on the topic of baseball? Yeah…so cool. I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(See what I did in this post? I turned a “catching up” post into a real one. Tricksy. I may just attain the level of coolness my Twitter followers expect of me someday.)

Catching Up

I have, again, been remiss in posting here, but I do have some recent posts elsewhere. Here’s a bit of a recap:

Saturday: Sabbath

Wondering what the day between the crucifixion and resurrection sounded like.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my small town had a Chabad- Hasidic Jewish synagogue at the top end of State Street. Newtown was full of historic buildings where George Washington had slept, and most along State Street—the main street of the town—had been converted into boutique shops and restaurants. I lived at the bottom end of State Street, and on a Saturday afternoon, the street and sidewalks between my apartment and the synagogue were crowded with chatting shoppers, hands full of bags and Starbucks beverages.

Every Saturday afternoon, quiet in the midst of the bustle, families, dressed in their finest, their heads covered, their prayer shawls showing from beneath their coats, walked slowly up State Street to worship.

Community and Compulsion

A baseball game and John 14.

And here’s the thing, the risk doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes the person you were vulnerable with proves untrustworthy, sometimes entering into another person’s mess leads to getting taken advantage of.

Earlier this season, in a Detroit Tigers baseball game, Victor Martinez (a.k.a. V-Mart) scored a run from second on a single from Yoenis Cespedes. V-Mart was never the fastest runner, is now in his mid-thirties, had an off-season knee surgery, and had just tweaked the same knee a few days earlier: speed is not his thing. He only made it home because J.D. Martinez, another player on the team, got caught in a run-down between second and third and the opposing players didn’t have time to throw V-Mart out.

I’m Not the Queen

Discovering what it means to be a part of the Body.

A few weeks ago, I sat reading over breakfast at Panera. I watched a woman come in and strike up conversation with the employee behind the register, looking up at the menu to determine her breakfast choice. She paused every few sentences and sipped from the beverage already in her hand: a coffee from Starbucks.

I posted the observation on my Facebook page. I considered commenting on it, but decided to simply post it as a statement: “There’s a woman standing in line at Panera drinking from her Starbucks beverage while she orders.” I had my own opinions on the matter, but I was more intrigued to see what people would say in response.

Writing with Light

photocampLearning about photography and the Author of Light with a crew of teenagers.

On Monday, David Johnson, the Director of Silent Images, presented some initial thoughts on photography to the students. Two of the things he noted stuck with me particularly. He began by asking us to think about the meaning of the word “photography.” I’d never thought about it before, but the root words are “photo”—light and “graph”—writing. Photography is, David said, “writing with light.” One of his rules for the week was “look for the light.”

The second thing David noted which stood out to me was the idea that a photograph tends to be seen as an objective witness to events. He asked us to think about how cameras on our phones have in recent days impacted the course of history. From showing the abuses of corrupt governments to recording a sequence of events in a conflict, a camera in the hands of an individual standing on a street can have tremendous power.

Perception and Grace

dressI seem to have fallen off the wagon here again with the writing thing…but once in a while I write elsewhere, so here’s a glimpse of what’s in my head. I’ve got a new post up at the Church at Charlotte blog, in which I address “The Dress” and talk about Andy Gullahorn. So it can’t be all bad.

(P.S. Though this post vauguely indicates otherwise, I actually do see the dress as blue-and-black.)

On Thursday evening, I got home late and before going to bed I hopped onto Facebook to see what had happened in the world in my absence. My newsfeed was filled with debate and discussion about the color of a dress in a photo that seemed to take over the internet with surprising rapidity.

Because of the lighting in the photograph, and the way the human brain perceives color from visual cues, some people see a blue and black dress and others see a white and gold one. It’s a bizarre little phenomenon and probably no more than a two-day’s wonder.

What I found so fascinating, though, was the passion behind the arguments put forth by everyone from Joe-on-the-street to celebrities and politicians. Those who saw the dress at blue-and-black thought the white-and-gold folks were crazy—and vice versa—until they spent some time looking at it. Then, more than one of my Facebook acquaintances changed their position. “I originally just saw white and gold… But now I can see both. So weird,” one of my friends wrote.

I was reminded of a song by Andy Gullahorn, “Line in the Sand,” in which he begins by saying how offended he was as a child when his father would mix up his name with his brother’s—he thought that if his dad really loved them equally, he wouldn’t mix up names. But now, with three kids of his own, Andy says, he “loves them and confuses them just the same.”

Read more.

New Post at Church at Charlotte Blog

I’ve got a new post up at the Church at Charlotte blog today, some thoughts on what I learned when I visited Auschwitz. Last week was the 70th anniversary of that camp’s liberation. It’s likely the last commemoration that many of the survivors will make it to. I read a piece that talked about how remembering Auschwitz will change–by necessity–as the survivors are no longer with us.

It reminded me of our tour guide the day I visited, and her story:

Agnieszka responded by telling a story. She had gotten the job and started the training and—understandably—been overwhelmed by the horror of it all. So she considered quitting. She turned to a friend for counsel, an older woman who was a psychologist. Agnieszka laid out her case to her friend. It couldn’t be emotionally healthy, she argued, to learn all those stories and tell them over and over. She should quit, right?

Read on.

 

Second Christmas

I’ve been listening a lot this Christmas season to The Oh Hellos’ 2013 Christmas EP, which—despite my earlier protestations—I love even though it is full of unabashedly rambunctious and joyful moments. The EP has four movements, which take the listener through the story of Christmas, from the longing for Emmanuel to the joy of Christmas morning. Each movement brings together familiar carols and tunes in new ways. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” becomes a medley with “The Coventry Carol”; “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” combines with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” And, in the final movement, two songs come together that thumped two ideas up against each other in my mind and made me quick-gasp and shiver with a bit of excitement when I heard it in the car the other week.

“Mvmt IV, ‘Every Bell On Earth Will Ring’” begins with “Joy to the World” and then, to the tune of “We Saw Three Ships,” come the words, “Every bell on earth shall ring/ On Christmas Day in the morning! Every soul on earth will sing/ On Christmas Day in the morning!”

DSCN8205I’ve often heard it said that “Joy to the World” isn’t a Christmas carol. That makes sense to me, and I’d agree—not that we should stop singing it, but that “He rules the world with truth and grace” and “Fields and floods,  rocks, hills, and plains/ Repeat the sounding joy” don’t really seem to match the world we live in. Jesus came, yes, but His coming did not restore the world to Eden. He was not the conquering King Israel was looking for in a Messiah. Instead, He came to suffer and to die—to pay the price for sin and bring salvation. “Joy to the World” is about another advent: when Jesus will come again and rule the world with truth and grace.

What struck me, listening to The Oh Hellos’ rendition, was the idea that in the New Heavens and New Earth, we’ll have TWO Christmases. We’ll have the first one—because without the first Advent, salvation would not have come into the world and allowed us to be renewed, but we’ll also have the second one—the day when Jesus came again. Second Christmas.

I mentioned this thought to my boss, Tim, and he said, “But will we still celebrate it, when Jesus is there with us?” Of course, I said. We still celebrate birthdays don’t we? Especially when the person is with us. And besides, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be ready to party at any excuse in those days.

So, I’ve decided to start calling this holiday we’re currently celebrating “First Christmas”—if only from time to time—and if somebody asks I’ll tell them about Second Christmas, the one with no stress, no family drama, no darkness. On Second Christmas morning, every soul on earth shall sing.