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The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams – visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation – “God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,” Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

So this month’s Synchroblog is an invitation to lighten up. Our faith blogs tend to become so very serious as we discuss theology and life and church and wounds and wonder. But even with all of our ponderings, we know a good belly laugh can minister to us in the deep places far more effectively than anything else at times. It seems to short-circuit our tensions and fears. Anne Lamott says that laughter is carbonated holiness. It knits our souls back together.

A consistent source of laughter for me is my dog. She’s silly, as dogs tend to be. She’s over enthusiastic about pretty much everything. She’s free of shame and conceit – she doesn’t care what she looks like. She only knows what makes her happy. Treats make her happy. Running makes her happy. People make her happy. Toys make her happy. Her favorite bed makes her happy. Her food makes her happy. Our food makes her happy. The cats’ food makes her happy. Learning to master the stairs (a big deal for track-raised greyhounds) makes her happy. Hearing her leash jingle makes her happy. The dog park makes her happy. Someone she hasn’t seen in five minutes makes her happy. You get my drift. She shows her happiness by turning in circles. Zoe’s life is made of circles.

She runs and bounces and races and gets completely distracted (squirrel!) and then pants with her long tongue lolling about, flapping like a wet sheet in the breeze. With ears pinned back behind her head, a panting greyhound looks to be all mouth, like a Pacman with legs. There’s times when she’s had me laughing for 10 minutes straight.

But laughter isn’t just about hilarity, though I certainly enjoy that. Sometimes it’s a lightness of heart that knows that no matter what, all shall be well. It’s a deep sense of rightness and joy that causes us, like Gandalf at the end of the great war in Lord of the Rings, to throw our heads back and laugh as if we’ve seen the end of all things, and we know it’s good. My goofy dog also brings about that sort of laughter. She’s taught me that dog walking is a spiritual practice. I recently posted these observations from a morning walk with Zoe:

1. The Colorado sky is bluer than ever, if that’s possible.

2. It smells like Spring.

3. Birds are really noisy but somehow their voices enhance solitude and meditation, unlike human noise.

4. Dogs are good mentors in mindfulness. They’re always in the moment.

5. Robins are magnificent.

Sometimes life isn’t very funny. But I can’t return from a walk with this simple, happy creature without that that thought in my mind: All shall be well. That makes me laugh out loud. My neighbors probably think I am just laughing at my silly, circling dog. But I also come back with the suspicion that the creator God who, in all his Holy, Glorious, Righteous, Immutable, Ineffable Seriousness created my circle dog, is in truth, hysterically funny. GK Chesterton suspected as much about Jesus of whom he writes: “There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

God laughs, because s/he does know the end of all things. Sometimes we can hear the echoes if we are mindful enough. I think dogs hear them all the time.

*********
Here’s an old post of a book review I did on a book called “Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor”. It’s received a huge amount of hits. I think that might be because there’s something very hopeful about the laughter of God. Click: Jesus Laughed

Our Synchroblog this month explores the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor in our country and others. Reports show that this gap is has reached its highest level in 30 years. One only needs to look at history to see that money equals power in this world. And when so much power is in the hands of a few, the many are disadvantaged. The extremely poor are even more at a disadvantage. Dr. Cornel West says, “Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.”

I didn’t want to be part of this blog. It gives me a pain in the gut to think about these things. I have seen few issues create more anger and divisiveness than this one. I have seen it turn seemingly civil and kind people into raging, snarling foes. Even for those who can contain their anger, there remains a certain unwillingness to see the plight of others who are impacted by their views. And I have no solutions. I do believe that re-regulating Wall St.* and insisting that the very rich and the big corporations pay their fair share in taxes is the right thing to do. That’s just common sense. But I don’t know how to change our love for this beast that ensnares our lives. We need to try. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that reference the poor. That’s a significant clue that this is supposed to matter.

In all honesty, all I know to do is call out to the church, for we are the embodiment of Jesus now. Jesus turns power upside-down. He is the one who takes an axe to the roots of systems that exploit and oppress. Like Jesus, we are the persistent little stream of water that gradually softens the rock hard foundations of the structures of power. I don’t know so much about what to do, but I do think we can explore who we are meant to be.

I have come to believe that money stands in opposition to the Kingdom. There is nothing else about which Jesus gave such an explicit warning. He made it very plain in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt. 6:24) Jesus is rarely so dualistic in his thinking. But here He is very plain. It’s either/or.

Money seems to break down the very essence of who we are meant to be as human beings. It disembodies our faith. It quickly divides us into the haves and have-nots, distancing us from the realities of each others’ lives. The money/power thing exposes how one of the saddest questions in the scripture has played out throughout time: “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” With the heart of Cain, our answer is a loud and definitive, no. We do write out our checks to a local charity or dish out food at a homeless shelter. But truthfully, we are the jealous workers in the vineyard, so afraid that someone will get something they don’t deserve, especially when we’ve worked so hard.

We have forgotten that the source of the goods we produce buy and sell were never ours to begin with. We are divorced from the acts of others in our communities that make it possible for us to work at all, to manufacture, create, transport materials, or buy and sell anything. The further away we have moved from tilling the earth to forth food in order to survive, the more disembodied our lives and services have become. Trading stocks and making decisions that affect the lives of millions have become an a-moral acts, truly distanced and disconnected from the men, women and children who are affected. Finally, we have dared to believe that what we have earned is our own. We have hidden ourselves away from any reminder that in truth we all are needy, dependent people because our very ability to think and create and work comes from God from the start.

Christianity involves coming back to ourselves as a whole. Jesus is not just a ticket to heaven, but the means of reconciliation and restoration to a communal life of Shalom, which is a community of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight**. Even the Our Father prayer invokes community. Together we say, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” This Jesus thing is all about being intimately connected with the needs and realities of the other.

In small ways and within small groups, some things are beginning to change. Churches are connecting with those who create community gardens for themselves and others in need. This allows for the dignity of taking part in working for all, as well. Interest is growing in establishing more local, sustainable food supplies. There is a renewed interest in handmade goods and skills. People are simplifying their lives and getting rid of stuff. With less to protect, perhaps we’ll have more to share. With less to protect, we may recover faith in a new way. We might actually remember what it means to trust for our daily bread, trusting God by trusting each other. Maybe we’ll also remember what is means to be grateful.

In light of all this, I celebrate a woman with a level of faith I don’t know yet: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

[*Seriously, how did de-regulation happen? Was everyone asleep? That de-regulation happened was a clear example of the power wielded by those with extreme wealth.]
[** The word shalom is described in “Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin”, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.]

LInks to the other Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in:

Marta Layton - Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …

Kathy Escobar - Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up

Carol Kuniholm - Wondering About Wealth

Glenn Hager - Shrinking The Gap

Jeremy Myers - Wealth Distribution

Liz Dyer - The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

Ellen Haroutunian - Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses 

K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice

Abbie Watters – My Confession

Steve Hayes – Obscenity

So, Ellen, Aram, Ted and Phyllis went to see the indy film Higher Ground last night.

It is one of those films that leaves you wide eyed and blinking. I doubt it will have this effect on everyone but if you were part of a conservative evangelical movement or church during the 70’s you may feel as though the filmmakers had planted a camera in your head.

I think each of us felt as if we were watching our former lives on display. We were quickly submerged in the muted colors, fussy wallpapers, and the kind of furniture and dishes that looked like the innards of every house church we had ever been in. We were engulfed by 70’s hair, modest bib dresses on women, strumming guitars and reverent shutter-eyed singing. There were kumbayas and murmured praises, corrective scripture verses always at the ready, memories of good feelings that came from real concern as well as the tightly measured pressure of towing the line. And as was so often true, pain is passed over in an almost zombie like fashion. I felt gripped, as if I were watching a train wreck happening in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. I had to remind myself to breathe. I think Phyllis needed some EMDR.

The film follows the life of Corinne, a woman who “finds the Lord” and becomes part of a small church community. She faithfully learns their ways, learns the scriptures and learns how not to make a brother stumble by dressing immodestly. She is instructed to stifle her voice when accused of “almost preaching” when sharing her take on scripture in a meeting because that’s not a woman’s place. She learns to accept and obey what she is told in order to receive the blessings of God. Corinne is truly sincere in her belief, doing her very best to comply.

Her haunted eyes belied the smile on her lips. I could feel her loneliness. She had no context to understand what was happening inside of her. She loved literature and beauty, things seemingly disconnected and far flung from her faith life. She was married to a man who was faithful but who could not perceive the depth of her mind and heart (nor his own, as one angry scene reveals). Of course, Corinne doesn’t fully understand them herself. She struggles with her rapidly fleeting romantic feelings towards her husband and turns her face away when he tries to kiss her. He responds, “Try not to.” Everything is a matter of will. We watch the unraveling of the faith of a woman who truly believes, yet cannot find a faith that goes deep enough to encompass her whole soul.

The breaking point for Corinne seemed to come with the loss of her friend Annika, who changed drastically after brain surgery. Annika was the one person in her life who brought passion and humor. She was overtly sexual in a way that would probably be uncomfortable for most of those churchgoers, yet she was never crass or violating. She was always far more likely to value a person over the rules. She was funny and also strangely at peace with her life in this group. The community prayed fervently as she underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumor. They hailed her survival as a miracle from God.

Afterwards, Annika’s husband dutifully brings her gnarled and vacant body to church, praising the Lord and never hinting that he might miss the true and vibrant person she once was. In contrast, Corinne’s grief for her friend was achingly palpable. I had to wonder if she was also seeing a reflection of her own soul– faithful and dutiful on the outside, locked up and shriveled on the inside. I have often felt as though I was an Annika in church at times. I was grateful for the care of church community, yet there was something in me screaming to get out and stretch and I had no way to make them hear.

The film is kind to this little band. They are portrayed and genuinely sweet and sincere people who believe they have the presence and blessing of God and that they are living according to his will. I appreciated the lack of derision and cynicism towards them. I know Christians like them, heck, I was a Christian like them and I know we could be as annoying as hell. But the filmmakers see that they truly seek to bless and not do harm. Even so, looking at them all these years later I have to wonder what was the point of it all. At the end of the film, we see the exterior shot of the same church that Corinne attended in her childhood. It gives the sense that their little band is stuck, frozen in time. Their faith keeps their lives tidy, painting over pain and loss, holding out hope for heaven. Even as Corinne shares her painful confusion and leaves her husband and the church, they turn away. They are not unkind, they simply cannot process what is happening. They go back to what they know. It’s as though they are trying to avoid being fully human.

I have to wonder if the struggles faced by churches today has to do with this very thing. Church provides truths, doctrines, rules and yes, community. Even those who have come from churches that have damaged them can remember some stories of extraordinary kindnesses and love. But “church” has forgotten the deeper human journey. We have forgotten that our purpose is not to answer the questions or avoid the pain of the unanswerable ones. Our call is to live the questions, making space for our souls to expand and take in deeper breaths of life. The “church” is not meant to make enclaves for pleasant living but to walk with each other across thresholds of doubt and pain, trusting that even as our questions take us away from what is comfortable and sure that there is Something More to be found even (or perhaps especially) beyond our borders. We are meant to see the gift in all of the Corinnes and the Annikas, sent to keep us awake and alive, and to create hearts big enough for real faith to be born. We need to be courageous enough to let people grow past our visions of what they should be. And may we all be changed by them too.

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke

 Quote borrowed from the Director’s statement found here.

Why have so many people gotten so caught up in the rapture warnings of Harold Camping and his group? If you have been hiding under a very big rock, Camping and his followers are a Christian group that believes with absolute certainty that the rapture of the church, which is a belief that Jesus will take his followers suddenly up into heaven, will occur today, May 21, at 6pm ET. They have devoted their time and money to getting the message out in major cities in the US.

The idea has gone viral. This is due at least in part to social networking. Jokes and pictures have been passed around en masse on Facebook and Twitter. I stopped for coffee with a friend a few days ago where they had placed a sign that said: “The world is going to end so you might as well leave a big tip.” Facebook friends are offering “left behind” parties and invitations to post-rapture looting revelry. Many of us plan to be raptured with Bono at the U2 concert tonight. Some plan to fill blow up dolls with helium and release them into the air at 6pm. I am enjoying the humor and the ways in which people stop for conversations about it all. But I can’t help but wonder if there is something deeper going on.

Are we living in an age that has lost hope? The economic collapse has been an Armageddon of sorts for many who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Multiple natural disasters have taken the same from many, many others. Political unrest is increasing around the world. And always, people become cannon fodder for wars and selfish agendas. And through my years in ministry and in counseling practice, I have observed that the brokenness and dysfunctions in the lives and relationships of so many are getting so much worse. The sheer loneliness that I see is overwhelming.

Postmodern thought rose out of broken promises. Science was to cure all diseases and feed everyone on earth. World War I was the war to end all wars. The American Dream was to become a reality for all, well, at least if you are white and straight and American. A friend of mine once observed that much of what Hollywood is producing these days is based on nostalgia.  It represents a culture that is looking backwards for its source material, as if there is not enough hope to move forward. Disaster movies have increased in number as well. Something about the end of days has planted itself deep within our psyches.

However, the way a belief roots itself in our collective mindset is through images and stories that grab our imaginations. The narrative of an angry, raging wrathful God that will destroy everything in order to rescue just a few is the product of a system of theological thought that has garnered enough attention to solidify itself into fact. This scenario resonates with our experiences of fear and guilt and powerlessness. We project our stuff onto God and conclude that surely his primary posture towards us all is wrath. But it is only one system of thought. The Story of God brings many more images of hope for all, images that overcome. I do believe that somewhere down deep in our Image-bearing hearts, we know that hope that is only for a few is truly not hope at all.

We all know that there’s a whole lot wrong with this world. However, it seems that this world is crying out for something to answer the fear and guilt of the world with something real. They need more than the “accept Jesus or else” and “this world doesn’t matter” claims. People are desperate to know that God is not about creating a Thomas Kincade life that only a few can achieve. They need to know that God is about making all things new. It is time to tell a better story. After all, God has never reneged on his declaration over all of creation: “It is very good.”

Every week in church we repeat the words, “Christ is making peace amongst us right here, right now. Let us share a sign of peace.” Let’s offer what we truly believe. And if Jesus does come for us all tonight, may he find us living out our hope in the many creative ways in which we can help to restore the beauty of his dream for all of creation.

And if he doesn’t, please enjoy the humor of our friends who are releasing balloon people into the air and leaving clothes and shoes on the sidewalks and jumping on trampolines to get a head start. Humor reflects hope, too!

(This month’s Synchroblog explores the topic of growing spiritually by learning to let go of things that may have hindered us on our journeys, even good things. I will add other bloggers’ links as they come in this week.)

I bought into the belief that life must be a certain way to really be successful and happy and full. I felt that if I worked and prayed hard enough, I’d find the secret to get there. That mysterious way seemed to come all too easy for some folks, who then looked disdainfully at what others like me had possibly done wrong to miss out. But I suppose that we all buy into the illusion that we have much more control over our lives than we really do, and that if we have a relationship with God that is just so, we can convince him to do what we want. Even so, housing markets plunge, friends betray, churches split, babies die, dreams fade. I am realizing now that my life will never become what I dreamed it would be when I was in my teens and twenties, when the future was made of possibility.

As I reflect at this point of my life, I realize that I thought my husband and I would have had more children, a bigger quiver to enjoy. I thought I would have my PhD or DMin by now. I thought I would have written many more books. I thought I would be in a very different career or perhaps be writing full time and living on a farm full of greyhounds and cats. I thought I would have shed false selves and false concepts of God and others much more thoroughly. I thought I would have learned better how to live in a way that would change the world around me in more significant ways. I thought I would have found the key to suffering well, and to sustained joy. I thought I would have loved better.

I have reached my 50’s, an age which for decades I thought impossible. Perhaps I really thought I would be 35 forever! It truly felt that way. I thought I was grown up enough and forever young at the same time. Now I understand writer Anne Tyler when she compared the later years of life to the end of a game of solitaire. At that point, most of the cards in the deck have been played and laid out, and there are fewer options left in order to finish up the game. And even when many of the cards have been played well, the reality is, you still may not win.

While all this might sound sad or heavy, it is truly not such a bad thing. There is much in my life to celebrate, much richness and blessing and much gratitude in my heart. There is fruit born from the past to enjoy and relationships to treasure and new seasons to explore. However, there is both a joy and a gravitas present in the realization that this is a time to “set my face resolutely towards Jerusalem”, as is spoken of Jesus. He set himself on a path of no turning back – to the place of laying all things down, even that of being God.

In Pixar’s beautiful movie called “Up” there is an old man who lost the love of his life to death. He and his beloved Elly had worked hard their whole lives but never were able to fulfill their dreams of adventure to exotic places. They had never had children, having been denied that dream as well. The old man had nothing left but his house and her pictures and unused tickets to far off lands. Finding himself alone in their once joyful home he entrenches himself grimly into the old patterns that had made up the lonely rhythms of his life for so long. He lives in what-should-have-been. He becomes a dead soul in a still breathing body.

A construction company threatens his staid existence and he battles back, winning nothing but a placement in an old folks’ home. It seems that what little life was left for him was also being taken away. He decides to flee. He fills hundreds of balloons with helium which lift his house aloft and away from all that had gone so wrong.

He finds a stowaway on board, a young and earnest Boy Scout named Russell. The natural curiosity and energy of youth messes up the old man’s world. However, Russell’s interference ends up putting them on a path to what was once the old man’s dream destination for himself and his beloved. They arrive at some beautiful waterfalls in South America. The old man wants to plant his house beside the falls and continue his routine of existence, living in the painful shadow of his past.

Of course, as is the case in any good story, more conflict and trouble ensues. (*This includes some hilarious dogs – this movie was obviously written by a dog lover!) Ultimately, the man must choose love for this small boy and other lonely, helpless creatures over his small, numb world. The clincher comes when he must give up his prized home. He pushes all his precious belongings out the door to make it light enough to fly again. He gives up all that bound him to a time long past. He let it all go for love. And he does save the day, gaining both love and his own soul back.

The secret is, life is a journey of kenosis. That is the word from Philippians 2 when Jesus empties himself out –of everything- for love. Life is a constant journey of letting go, of unclenching our fists and letting what we think we must have slip away. We can hold onto old dreams and regrets and expectations and demands and stay tethered to them. Or we can push them out the door and lighten the load for the journey ahead. Without letting go, there is no love possible, for real love does not grasp and cling. And without letting go, there is no more growth into our true selves, because our identity will always be shaped by false images and dreams of what “should” be rather than what is.

My pastor has been doing a lot of reflecting on resurrection life during this Easter season. She reminded us that Jesus came not so we can be good (do it all right) or nice (everyone will like me!) but so we can be made new. And she reminds us, we can’t be made new if we are clinging to the places where we have forged an image of life and God that keeps us safe and certain. Those things keep us restricted and bound to a flat existence – our own creation of reality. And hands that cling cannot open up to receive what is new. But if we choose the courage to begin to let go of what we are sure we know, of what is certain and safe, of what we feel should be, our hearts and minds can be released into in the flowing river of Life that is far mightier than our ability to harness and control. We become people of the larger Story, buoyed by its current and perhaps finding ourselves bumping up into the hope that is greater that what we could ever manufacture. Our emptied hearts just may make enough room at last to become filled and stretched out of size into love. And we just may lose our grip on certainty, watching it fall far behind us as we enter finally, finally, into faith.

Those who lay down their lives for my sake will find it. ~Jesus

Enjoy these Synchrobloggers:

John Martinez – Indiefaith 
Letting go of the Holy me

Beth Patterson “What is passed over is not love”

Jeremy Myers Help! I’m Lost and I Can’t Find Myself!

Marta Layton On Burdings, Blessings, Babies and Bathwater

Kathy Escobar Letting God Off The Hook

Alan Knox at The Assembling of Church – Where Did I Go? 

Crystal Lewis – What Happened When I Let Go

Pam Hogeweide at How God Messed Up My Religion – Letting Go of a Church-Centered Me 

K.W. Leslie at the Evening of Kent - Legalism, Anti-Legalism, and Anti-Anti-Legalism

Ryan Harrison  at How We Spend Our Days - Scraping the Barnacles 

Christine Sine at Godspace – Giving Up For God, What Does it Cost?

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – What Do You Do When You Are Not Sure

Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Letting Go for a Greater Good

Elaine Hansen – Recovering Control Freak – Let Go?

Wendy McCaig at View From the Bridge - Embracing the Grey

Chris at The Amplified Life - Seasons of Life 

Kerri at Practicing Contemplative - Synchroblog 

Jeff Goins What You Get From Giving



Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell.

Well, there’s nothing like a good controversy to increase blog posts and book sales! Like many, I am saddened by the way the controversy is being handled. I chose to blog about this because it hits at the heart of something very dear to me: the oneness of the Church. Many who haven’t read the book (and probably some of those who have) may assume that Bell argues for an easy universalism, a cheap devil-may-care-and-nothing-matters-because-we-all-get-in sort of thing, and that there is no hell. Not surprisingly, many are on the warpath and are drawing dividing lines. I am simply hoping that we may foster some respectful consideration of one another.

Just to catch everyone up, the gist of the book is that the ideas Bell addresses have more to do with the nature and heart of God himself and the belief that “God is reconciling all creation to Godself” and that there is good reason to believe that he will succeed at this (hence the title, “Love Wins”.) Hell is a place we create for ourselves as we continue to resist and reject the life that God offers. I believe that opens up the door to larger ideas to discuss than just cheap grace.

To sum up this blog post (tl;dr): Relax everyone, and listen to one another.

Please consider:

1. This is not new stuff. This topic has been under discussion for 2000 years. Debate amongst Christians is not new either. Plenty of important issues such as, what is the exact nature of the atonement and what is hell and who gets to go to heaven and what does it mean to be saved and even how do we decide who is in the church have been discussed and debated zillions of times. There remains plenty of disagreement and we have survived and God still loves us.

There was a time during the formation of the early church in which the Apostles and others needed to keep the tightest reign on “sound doctrine”. This was particularly focused on what was understood about Jesus and the essence of the Good News. I can imagine Jesus’ followers standing around scratching their heads after he ascended back into heaven thinking, “What on earth just happened?” The early church leaders recognized that preventing confusion and lies about big, core issues like Jesus’ divinity and his death and resurrection were crucial to the budding life of this new entity called the Church and to the Kingdom Jesus had spoken about. They had to guard things carefully. And for them, it was truly an issue about for what and whom they would be giving up their lives. That’s a tad different than “my theological camp is superior to yours.”

Beyond the basics about Jesus, there has been and will continue to be much debate and questioning and rethinking doctrinal ideas within our ranks, just as there has been for 2000 years. It’s ok. Let’s use it for good and not for evil.

2. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. We no longer have to sentence someone who disagrees with us to death or cover them in honey and push them onto an ant hill. This is probably what is most distressing about this whole kerfluffle. Christians are treating those who disagree with their stance badly. They judge and demean and slander. They feel proud of their “correct” position, and use it as a measuring rod as if it means anything about themselves and their relationship with God.

I honestly do not believe that when we stand one day before Jesus he will look at us and say, “So, I am concerned about your stance on the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. Tsk. Tsk.” Or, “Were you dispensationalist or reformed?” No, I think he will be more concerned about how we treated the brother or sister who thinks about things differently. That truly seemed to be more important to Him. Oneness comes from making space for one another, not demanding conformity. And it also seemed to be his desire about how we are to show up in this world. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jn. 13:35 That sounds like evangelism to me.

3. Dialogue is good for us. I recall a seminary professor from years ago who told us to be careful what we read because “there’s a slippery slope”. In other words, do not read anything that disagrees with our theological stance for to do so is dangerous because you might actually be changed by it. Back then, I never thought to ask what was at the bottom of the slippery slope. Now that I am older and wiser I have visited the other end of the slope, and you know what? Jesus is there, too.

If we do not allow ourselves to seriously engage thoughts and ideas that are different from what we hold, we stagnate. We also begin to believe we have actually apprehended and captured Truth, as if it all fits in our puny human minds. It creates a subtle shift in belief – right doctrine begins to trump the Person who is the Source of it all. Those who seem to be holding the “there is no more truth to be found” line seem to hint that to not agree with them means you follow a different Jesus. (Some don’t merely suggest it, they state it outright. Seriously guys, stop it.) Sometimes it is expressed that to disagree with them puts your eternal security and even the quality of your personal character in jeopardy. That’s a lot of faith to be placed in doctrine!  And it follows that the issues at hand would become dividing lines in the church.

I must add though, that as much as the truth-as-doctrine folks frustrate me (but they won’t take my blog seriously anyway because I am a woman so I can say whatever I want – ha!), they are certainly not the only ones guilty of dividing church and community over a doctrinal position.

Perhaps we can try to value one another over being right?

4. Don’t you wish this were true? Why would any Christian not want there to be a way for all to be saved and go to heaven? Why is there resistance to believing that the work of Jesus on the Cross and the redeeming love of God could be that powerful? What does this say about us?

I think it might reveal something about our own smallness of heart. Our sense of justice often has much more to do with retribution and spite than with the desire to see all things set right. Admit it, often we need the idea of hell in order to feel that those who have hurt us will pay. There is something in us still that gets a smug satisfaction from seeing those who have hurt us stuck outside while we get treated royally.

I count myself in here. I do not have a heart that can forgive without some struggle. I don’t know that anyone does, really. I need the help of God to forgive. But I am drawn to the idea that God can make my heart a big enough space to receive all who come with Him –a heart that might actually be able to tolerate heaven and the magnanimous mercy and grace that is its essence.

I am not saying I don’t believe in hell- quite the opposite actually. I’m just saying that what we think about hell may say much more about our own issues than about God.

5. Won’t this belief kill evangelism? Perhaps it will, if selling a free ticket to heaven is the only reason to evangelize and if that is the full extent of the Good News. If there is more, which I would argue there is, those who hearts are passionate for it will continue the work of evangelism.

There is plenty to do. There is a Kingdom to co-create and usher in. There are mountains to bring down and valleys to fill. There is outrageous love to be offered.  There are outcasts to befriend. The message as we do these things is the same: This is Jesus, Son of the Most High. Hear Him!

Our love for one another as we do these things just might shine a light on what he is like for others to see and embrace. Whether you believe God tortures non-believers forever and ever without end or if you believe God allows us to create a hell of our own choosing, there is still work to be done.

6. Let’s face it, all of our theology is a “bottom up” effort. Theology is the product of our good and necessary attempts to make some sense of the mysteries of God. However, the only lenses we have is to try to comprehend God are our tiny, foggy selves. Therefore, all of our theology will have something of ourselves projected onto God, even with the Spirit’s help. God doesn’t seem to be too disturbed by that, being accustomed to our cute arrogance. I often wonder if he feels similar to how I feel about my cat when she believes she has caught the laser pointer beam in her paw. Her concept of reality is too limited to know that it’s made of light waves and not matter and she can’t possible catch it. But I let her enjoy her victory for a moment – and then I move the pointer.

I don’t know about you, but I am hoping that my concept of God continues to grow and expand and with it, my theology. For each of us, may God continue to “move the pointer” out from under what we think we know so we don’t get caught up in the lesser things that divide us. (Lesser than Jesus, that is.) God is far more good and loving than we can imagine and may it never be that we think we have him all figured out. In that light, may we humbly choose each other over the arrogance of thinking we know anything.

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