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This month the Synchroblog is partnering with Provoketive Magazine once again. We will each explore the implications of Jesus’ words: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

“Take up your cross and follow me.” ~Jesus

As I reflect on the severely polarized and politicized struggles within American Christianity it is evident how little these struggles really have to do with Jesus. Both sides are more interested in isolating an ideology and then vilifying those who hold a different view. And of course, we are all convinced that our ideology is more “biblical” than any other. In all honesty, I think we hold on for dear life to our stances and beliefs so that we may convince ourselves that this is what Jesus really wants from us. It’s like a collective thought disorder. But it’s much easier than following him.

Because truthfully, who really wants to follow him?

He did the very thing that our American worldview does not allow. We are all about being upwardly mobile, successful, safe and prosperous and so we have co-opted God into that belief. We believe that God is all about blessing our efforts and that our success proves God’s favor. Our Christianity has become a prop for middle to upper class comfort and security. That ideal is found nowhere in the gospels. Jesus’ movement was decidedly downward. He moved right into the neighborhood of powerlessness and need.

I think what is most difficult for us is that Jesus, though already fairly poor, chose to become homeless. He claimed all humanity as his family and moved away from his nuclear family, which in his culture was a shameful act. (He obviously needs a tutorial in family values.) But in addition to that, while most good Jewish men of his age would have married and started having children, his singleness aligned him with the “non-procreators”, like the eunuchs, who were considered unclean and inferior. There were no categories of gay or straight in Jesus’ day; people were either procreative or non-procreative. Those who did not or could not produce children for any reason were suspect, or outcast. (See Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:11-12.) He chose solidarity with the most despised.

We know he treated women as full and competent disciples, he welcomed the stranger and the sick, touched the dead, and healed the children of the enemy. In his presence the tight miserly hands that held onto precious silver and gold opened wide. He undermined every structure of religion and empire and really, really ticked off those with power. Let’s just be honest. It’s far, far easier and safer to convince ourselves that being pro-life and justifying the harsh realities of the lives of those with less (money, resources, opportunity), or feeling superior for being more tolerant than thou, is somehow at all like the path Jesus walked.  Instead, Jesus asks us to pick up the instrument of our death and to follow where he goes. Any sane person would count the cost. Any sane person would struggle with it, because to follow Jesus means that we no longer get to co-opt the faith to make our own lives work.

Many of those whom I know that consider themselves to be “biblical” Christians feel that the “dying” that is asked of them means they reject the “world” and its values (hence the dogged political views). However, I wonder if how we have come to understand “the world” has become quite distorted. Blogger and Wild Goose Founder Mike Morrell says, “Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.”

And there it is. What will “kill” us is following Jesus’ movement into the God-blessed and God-beloved world, and receiving those for whom Christ died as we would Christ Himself. That means making a home with them all, in the here and now. That means looking beyond political and doctrinal divisions into the eyes of all humanity, not to minister to them or over them, but to join them and work alongside them. Jesus asks us to do the very thing our religious and political hearts find abhorrent. But by making space within ourselves to receive the other, we are changed by them and ego dies. We begin to become less defined by our certainties and stances, and more defined by love, by becoming “we”. And Kingdom comes. That was Jesus’ prayer for us before he died, and his prayer for us as he continues to live.

It’s much easier to convince ourselves that we are following Jesus by choosing to eat or not to eat at a certain chicken restaurant. It’s much harder to share your table with those whom you have decided don’t belong. It’s even harder to admit that there is only One Table. However, we are going to need each other because let’s face it, Jesus’ path is more than a little crazy. It will cost us our lives.

Links to the Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in. :)

Carol Kuniholm Which “Way” Am I Called to Follow?

Glenn Hager Strange Places

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.

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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

[This month our Synchroblog partnered with Provoketive Magazine. See below for links to other Synchrobloggers.]

Sometimes, ok, perhaps it’s often, I weary of the discipline it takes to stay faithful to the routines of tending life. I begin to skimp on the practices that nurture body, mind, soul and community. Fortunately, every now and then something wonderful comes along to enliven my efforts.

My husband and I met with friends for dinner a couple of nights ago. They are the type of friends with whom you always wish you could spend much more time. We enjoyed delicious food, wine, conversation, and heaping platefuls of hope. Interestingly, we had decided beforehand that we would discuss the end of the world. We were only half-joking. This idea was instigated by the distress of another mutual friend, a very wealthy man, over his fear of an impending world-wide economic collapse. He was ready to liquidate all his assets, pack up and move to South America. (I am not sure why South America would be better if the whole world was in trouble but there you have it.) One of our dinner mates is also in the financial world and well acquainted with the inner workings of the struggling economy. We looked forward to hearing what she might have to say.

We agreed that the mutual-friend-turned-conversation-starter is very bright and very rational man. This reaction seemed very out of character for him. But this sort of thinking is entrenched in our collective psyches and probably has been since the beginning of time. We are all afraid of what we cannot control. We are all afraid of loss. This fear is amplified through the lens of round the clock disaster movies and documentaries, and the Mayan, Nostradamus and Left Behind theories that all seek to interpret many world events in catastrophic terms. In response, there are survivalist websites selling packaged food and gear. Self-protective instincts run deep.

Our conversation moved to what if? Specifically, if major calamity does strike, how do people of faith respond? How do we create safe space for ourselves and how do we care for our neighbors? How do we share meager supplies with those who have run out? How do we offer the hospitality of God?

And, what would it be like? Would desperation finally push us to the faith that we have not grown into yet? You know, the kind of faith that feeds 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes, the faith that heals sickness and that finds the coins we need in the mouths of fish? We had no answers. These probably weren’t our real questions anyway. We have not been asked to live this way, not yet.

It was in this context that one friend brought up the idea of spiritual eldering. Spiritual elders are the folks who have been around a while. They have seen suffering and they have seen great beauty. They have seen heart-breaking betrayals, and they have seen love and sacrifice like that of Christ himself. They have seen faith fail and they have seen grace overflow. These are the ones who have “set their faces towards Jerusalem”, that is, they have set out finally on the journey that is Christ’s. They have seen Kingdom and can do nothing else but live in a way that brings it forth. They have let go of what brings only fleeting hope here on earth. They have learned what is truly important.

And there we were, the four of us, each moving into our sixth decade on earth. We recognized that we are entering the elder stage. And of course, none of us felt ready or adequate. My friend then asked, “So, when will we be old enough to give it all away?” It became apparent that while we are not old enough yet, our shared conviction was to move in that direction together as community. This is never a journey that we need walk alone. In that realization, we felt the growing potential, desire, and joy of the possibilities held between us.

Therein lies the hope. We were sitting in communion with friends who hope for Kingdom. Their hearts were for the left behind, the people in need. They were not thinking about preparing for disasters as much as much as learning to be good shepherds. They were concerned about growing into the people we would each need to become in order to bring forth the equities and the sweet, inclusive shalom of Kingdom life, no matter what happens. We all felt caught up in a quiet thrill at the thought of this communal dream. And just for once, the cost didn’t seem to obscure the prize.

None of this stuff would be surprising to my dear mentor nun, Sr. Marilyn. She is a spiritual elder in the truest sense of those words and she is helping to grow us up. She once told me a story of a priest whose South American monastery faced apocalypse when it was invaded by gunmen. The humble priest greeted them with open arms. They shot him. “It was the practices,” said Sister, “that prepared his heart to meet them that way.” Indeed, it was the practices that prepared him for anything.

Richard Rohr notes that in our younger days, we typically use the type of prayer posture that we feel will help to build our careers, fill our coffers, and create a life. As we move towards eldering, we need the kind of prayer practices that help us to let it all go. We need what will bring us to the place where being emptied enough to truly open ourselves to the reality and need of the other, becomes as compelling a desire as any other we have known here. Then, instead of grasping and protecting what is ours, we can begin to walk this earth with arms held open wide.

How do we get there? “Do the practices,” says Sr. Marilyn. “The practices will get you ready.” And the hope birthed by good friends does, too.

[The practices she refers to include regular engagement with faith community, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, the daily Examen and others.]

Synchrobloggers at Provoketive Magazine :

The Trouble With Hope: John Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x Imagination: Wayne Rumsby

Little Reminders: Mike Victorino

Where Is My Hope: Jonathan Brink

Hope for Hypocrites: Jeremy Myers

Now These Three Remain: Sonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still Hopeful: Carol Kuniholm

A Hope that Lives: Amy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations Go: Adam Gonnerman

Demystifying Hope: Glenn Hager

God in the Dark: On Hope: Renee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope Alive: Maurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?: Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and Fear: Laura Droege

Adopting Hope: Travis Klassen

Hope is Held Between Us: Ellen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively Maladjusted: Mihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and Revival: City Safari

Good Theology Saves: Reverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will Be: Kathy Escobar

Better Than Hope: Liz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the Future: Wendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on Hope: KW Leslie

Content to Hope: Alise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!: Deanna Ogle

Jesus came, did you get what you expected?

I pray that the answer is no.

I realize how strange that sounds. When I wished my friends and family Merry Christmas, I truly meant it. I wished for each one a season of peace and enjoyment and that each would experience life-altering moments of kindness and love. I wished everyone could be a part of a gathering in which they felt a sense of belonging. I hoped that each of us could offer that to others as well, especially those with no place to go. I wished that everyone would feel noticed and known through the gift giving, and that each one would feel as though they matter.

I confess I love the beauty and ribbons and lights and music and anticipation of it all. It’s all too easy to get caught up into the commercialism and sentimentality that has taken over the holiday season and that causes so many of us to rack up big bills and stress in order to make it all happen. Let’s be honest, that stuff is just as alive in the Christian world as it is in the secular. But sentimentality is a cheapened version of true celebration. It tells a lie that what our hearts most desire can truly be found here, through our money and our parties.

Therefore, even though I truly wished you all Merry Christmas, I hope you were blessed enough to leave the holiday unsatisfied. I hope you all enjoyed a lovely holiday as did my family and I, and, I pray that none of us would be satisfied with so little ever again.

My prayer is that the Christian church would have to courage to begin to grow up. May we become less afraid of the mystery, the great paradox of our Christian lives which is the reality of the already/not yet. Christ has come and shown us the way of His Kingdom. Alleluia. However, Christian celebration on this side of heaven must always carry with it a morsel of grief. That is why three of our Advent candles are purple, the color of penitence and suffering. We must outgrow the Jesus who, as my pastor says, is too often viewed as our “bearded girlfriend who wants to be our lifecoach.” We must outgrow our “religious narcissism”. May we dare to follow God to places far outside of ourselves.

Those who walk in the footsteps of Emmanuel may not forget that the world aches in pain, oppression and need. We ache because even though we enjoyed a feast day with all the trimmings, many of our children in West Africa passed away from hunger. We are troubled because though we are free, too many of us are still in chains through sex trafficking, dictatorships or the selfishness of others. We ache because we do not yet know how to die enough to our own fears and greed to allow Kingdom to be birthed fully alive and full term everywhere.

If we lose our sense of ache, of longing for something better, we lose who we truly are. We are made for something, Someone, far better than what the pretty, sentimental holidays can ever provide. And, we are meant to begin to realize that truth in context of community. Theologian Miroslav Volf says that when we “receive” Christ, we receive all who come with Him. We cannot fully know and bring Kingdom without those whom we have left behind.

May the awe that we feel at the coming of God Incarnate jar our hearts awake to this exquisite longing. May this Holy Discontent drive us to the Story to live as deeply liturgical people, people who live with rejoicing and ache, all while figuring out a bit more of what it might mean to love God and love others. And if you have been fully satisfied and your life is near perfect, may you be blessed enough for God to come in and mess it up enough so that you are not left behind in slumber. Amen.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
(Quaker Blessing)

Enjoy the Synchrobloggers:

Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas

Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus

Tammy Carter  – Unstuck

Jeff Goins - The Day After Christmas: A Lament

Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide

Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated 

Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption

Kathy Escobar – Pain Relief Not Pain Removal

Our world is unraveling. We are seeing the deterioration of civil society in many ways. This holiday week alone has been an embarrassment of aggressive consumerism with shoppers resorting to pepper spray and robbing each other at gunpoint. Black Friday is extending back into Thursday, threatening to diminish the one day we have set aside to pause our frantic lives and give thanks that some of us actually have money to spend. And that’s just the news on the small scale.

I just had a long conversation with a friend over the meaning of Christmas. It began around her assertion that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. When you look at Walmart at midnight on Thanksgiving, you can see that that has become very true. But the conversation was more about how many choose to celebrate Christmas either in a secular fashion or with more ancient ties to the pagan rituals that were the inspiration for the choice of December for this observance. I agreed, the holiday was birthed from engagement with other traditions and has taken on many more dimensions, much of which have nothing to do with the remembering of Jesus and the Christian story. I also agreed with her that people should be allowed to celebrate how they wish without harassment. In her insistence that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus, I assume she wanted to show support for the millions who celebrate Christmas in various ways but have no Christian affiliation.

Even so, it’s important to remember that the shaping of the Christmas celebration (long before secular commercialization) was intentional and beautiful. Early Christians brought their story to the celebrations that they had already been observing such as pagan solstice rituals, or more likely, the Roman solar celebration. Since the beginning of time people had observed that light returns to the world as the world revolves around the sun, renewing and enlivening as it comes. The Christian story, the gospel story, is about the Light coming into the world, bringing life and healing to hurting souls. What was already observed and celebrated in rhythm with creation was then seen to hold a deeper meaning in the minds of these early Christians. As a result, the season of waiting (Advent) and the celebration of the Incarnation of God, Emmanuel, was born. Eventually, the season became known as the Feast of the Nativity or Christ’s Mass. So on the level of tradition and history, the evolution of Christmas as a holiday (holy day) is indeed about Jesus. The whole point of the discussion was that there’s no need to diminish Christian tradition to make room for other traditions, just as there’s no need to diminish other traditions to make space for the Christian.

But that discussion isn’t the true issue. I understand that there is a lot of anger towards Christians who have been offering judgment instead of the Good News. I understand that people would then choose to diminish the Christian Story as a result. That’s what people do. That’s why the world is hurting. We all diminish and deny the traditions, beliefs, needs and feelings of the other in order to make space for ourselves. However, in doing so, any empathy for the other is also lost. Lack of empathy for the other is the human heart in its most desolate state. The particular case above was about diminishing Christianity. But the way of thinking that essentially diminishes or eliminates the other, any other, has become the norm worldwide as each of our hearts shrink and pull back into self-protective bunkers. This is what our broken and hard-hearted system of justice does.

So, we live in a world in which empathy is a rare gem. More than ever, this has become a world of every man or woman for themselves, whether it be about grabbing the last waffle maker at Walmart or blocking job creating bills because you don’t like the politics of the party in power, or insisting that every conservative Christian is hate-filled and every liberal one is immoral, or that every Muslim is a terrorist. We no longer seek to listen, to know, to honor and respect each other. We no longer see the Image in one another. The idea of being our brothers’ keeper has become laughable, even amongst Jesus followers. We cannot compromise and work together because whatever the other represents is simply too offensive, too threatening, too inconvenient, too irrelevant to our personal lives. In this sense, we indeed have truly lost Jesus.

We do not need to create a “let’s take Christmas back” mentality. That is not what this post is about and it’s only another way to diminish those with whom we disagree. We do acknowledge that millions of people who are not Christians celebrate “Christmas” in various ways around the world and can remain unthreatened by that. However, the most important thing we can do is to reflect to the world the Light that has come to us. The incarnation of God-as-human is an act of ultimate empathy. God, who is Wholly Other became the other in order to love fully and to reconcile, to heal, to save. This is what love does! Love enters the story of the other. This world that has become more cold and hard and cynical than ever is desperate for a love that enters in.

Remember the Story. May we remember and act accordingly and thus bring true empathy back into the world, whether it’s at Walmart or in congress or towards Wall Street protestors or in trying to be politically correct (or not).  The world says, “Your needs and pain don’t matter to me” as it steps on the heads of the weaker brother to move upward towards bigger and better. Jesus calls us back down to our senses, back down to being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, back down to a life of love. And when we listen to his Story, we find that he has shown us how.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. John 1:9 RSV

Definitions of Empathy:

1. The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it (perhaps incarnates it? – my addition)

2. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

More Synchroblogs posts will be added as they come in:

ron cole at the weary pilgrim –  advent: reimagining everything

liz dyer at grace rules –  expect the unexpected

sarah styles bessey at emerging mummy –  in which i’m expecting something from advent

miz melly at perchance to dream –  parousia

kathy escobar at the carnival in my head –  present, humble, vulnerable

David Perry at Visual Theology –  Advent As A Mirror of Possibility

Christine Sine at Godspace –  Jesus Is Coming What Do We Expect?

Liz VerHage –  Living Theology

Glenn Hager –  Antithetical Advent

Sally Coleman at Sally’s Journey –  Come Spirit of Advent

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes –  Jesus Is Returning Today

Tammy Carter-  His Gift: The Way of Escape

Wendy McCaig-  Re-expecting a baby

Jon Reid-  Undiscovered Advent: The Second Coming of Christ

(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



Years ago, I attended a church that avoided beauty. They met in a little white steepled building with a wood paneled arched ceiling within it that I just loved. However, the rest of the furnishings in there were worn and sparse, making it look like a forgotten and neglected room in an old house. I happened to mention to a friend once that the sanctuary would look so beautiful if it only had a carpet with a rich, deep color to set off the earthy tones of the wood. My remark was met with a terse, “It’s not that sort of church.”

Being new to the faith and having not yet discovered my own voice, I recoiled in embarrassment. I had obviously missed something important or perhaps I was engaging in the dreaded sins called lust of the eyes or the pride of life. I learned to believe that beauty was something that should be suspect, and that my love of beauty could be a character flaw. I learned to not trust my inner senses.

I have since come to understand that those church folks were simply afraid, for beauty can be a perilous thing. It sparks the imagination and moves it beyond safe boundaries, carrying the soul away with it to uncharted and unknown places. If we don’t protect ourselves, we become caught up in it, far beyond the mind and beyond the words in which we have always felt at home and so confident of what we know.

Many others have described to me their experiences of transcendent beauty, whether it be on a mountaintop in the Rockies or during a sunset on the beach. And so often, when they have described their sense of awe, wonder and encounter with sheer Presence, it was tamped down quickly by a well meaning Sunday School teacher who wanted to protect them from those new age-y ideas. Like my little church, they felt it best to keep this experience of beauty reined in.

However, an essay about creativity and Christianity is, in effect, an exploration of beauty. Beauty inhabits the cutting edge of creativity, says John O’Donohue. He proffers the idea that beauty speaks of things beyond words and rouses memories hidden in the depths of our hearts- memories of things both ancient and beyond time. Beauty reveals the wholeness and holy order of things. Beauty infuses our creative acts with meaning.

Frederick Turner adds that beauty enables us to go with, rather than against the deepest tendency or theme of our universe. It calls us back to something deeply ordered and good. In other words, beauty leads us to truth. It speaks of God. Therefore, the church is the right place to develop eyes for beauty; to learn to truly see. For in our relativistic world that is embroiled in either polarizing arguments or apathy in regards to what is good or true, beauty is able to transcend.

Beauty calls forth from our hearts the capacity to love and gives us sight to find the sacred anywhere on earth. It sees beyond exteriors, even the loveliest ones that tempt us to get caught in measuring a person’s worth by their physical attractiveness or charisma. It also sees beyond off-putting exteriors and actions that offend those who only have eyes to see failure or sin. O’Donohue says that beauty creates in us a reverence of approach for each other. Beauty does not allow us to see a mere human being. Instead, it gives us eyes to see sacred space, a container of the Holy in the other. We are led to draw near to one another with quiet astonishment.

Beauty gives us eyes to see God in the most distressing of disguises. Years ago there was a huge kerfluffle about Andre Serrano’s photograph, “Piss Christ.” It is a disturbing portrait of a plastic crucifix submerged in a vial of the artist’s own urine. Many people were deeply offended at this, feeling that the photo was an act of blasphemy. It became a prompt for all kinds of philosophical arguments and meanderings.

I cannot say what was in the mind of the artist when he made it. But my first reaction was “Oh my, he got it.” For isn’t this idea the essence of the gospel? On the cross Jesus submerged himself into the depths of what is dirtiest and darkest about us, plunging into our refuse, our shame. The unabashed and unhesitating descent of God into our garbage is love in its most powerful manifestation. The cross is that scandalous and it is that beautiful. Typically, our religious eyes want to claim only what is most clean and acceptable as a fitting receptacle for God. Yet God came not for those who are already well, but for those who are in most need of healing. Eyes for beauty will illuminate the presence of God in those whom we are very certain are offensive to him. Eyes for beauty may also help us to see God in ourselves.

What is probably most surprising about beauty is that it is enhanced by flaws. O’Donohue says that the beauty that emerges from woundedness is a “beauty infused with feeling; a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold beauty of perfect form.” This sort of beauty can compel us to cross the threshold of our separate selves into the experience of another in the form of compassion. It is the beginning of healing in the world. Some of the most amazing gifts in my life are my friends who are lifelong members of alcoholics anonymous. They trod along day by day, trading their thirst for the vine into thirst for the divine, carrying each other’s burdens and teaching the rest of us how to do it as well. Their lives have taken on a lovely Eucharistic shape. They exude beauty in a way that too few may ever understand.

Beauty illuminates the gospel story. It reminds us that the gospel is not a piece of theological doctrine to be apprehended, but a love story that tells of God breaking down walls of separation and then joining together God and man, heaven and earth, neighbor and enemy. Beauty “mediates between the known and unknown, light and darkness, masculine and feminine, visible and invisible, chaos and meaning, self and others.” Beauty transforms.

Ultimately, the question we must ask is not what is beauty, but who is beauty. I think it is right to say that God is beauty. To quote O’Donohue one more time, “When we claim that God is beauty, we are claiming for beauty all the adventure, mystery, infinity and autonomy of divine who-ness. Beauty is the inconceivable made so intimate, that it illuminates our hearts.”

Amen, church. Teach us to see.

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Links to Synchrobloggers below. More will be added as they come in!

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