Category Archives: Deeply Loved Series

On not being afraid

This time of year, Advent transitioning into Christmastide, is a time in which we frequently hear the words, “Do not be afraid.”

Depending on what Gospel you are reading, an angel shows up to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, and begins with the same words, “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid. Some conclude that this is the greeting, many times, because angels appear frightful. Others, because they would likely be surprised when someone is standing in their bedroom or wherever they may be.

I wonder, however, if there is something more broadly applicable about this opening line.

Do not be afraid. Perhaps this comes because whatever the angel is going to say is going to be out of the ordinary: a virgin is going to become pregnant, a woman beyond child-bearing years is going to bear a child, a dead person has come back to life.

Perhaps this comes as a continual reminder of what God desires for us: to have confidence. After all, we have much to fear.

Every day when I wake up and turn on the news I hear of at least a couple shootings that have happened overnight in my city, a streetside memorial reminds me that even walking two blocks can be fatal. The unemployment rate reminds all of us that our jobs are not stable, and that any of us are just a few paychecks away from homelessness. We have been reminded that places of worship and schools are not safe, as people with firearms can wreak havoc on adults and children. These are not new developments, however, as the ancient world was no safer of a place.

It is in the context of much to fear that angels show up and tell those they visit, “do not be afraid.” It is in this context that we are reminded, as well, do not be afraid.

As I have grown, my fear and worry has increased exponentially. As a child I had relative certainty that I would have a roof over my head, that I would have clothing and food. I had relative certainty that I was safe at school and that my base needs would be met. As those needs are shifted to one’s own responsibility, fear increases. I have to be concerned with putting food on my table, I have to be concerned with paying the rent to ensure that we have a home, I have to be concerned with the provision of clothing, I have to be concerned with my safety at church, or while walking down the street.

Or do I?

While we are never called to be lazy (work was created by God) or dumb (everyone knows that walking through dark alleys at 2:00am is a terrible idea), perhaps the command to not be afraid is indicative of how God desires for us to live.

When I am continually afraid, I shut myself off. When I am afraid of losing those things that I need to survive, I stop giving financial and material things to the work of ministry, and to provide for those who lack. When I am afraid of rejection, I don’t speak out or stand up. When I am afraid of losing my job, employment seems to transform into a prison. When we live in fear, we listen more to our survival instinct and less to God.

Not being afraid is an incredible act of trust. The ability to trust, ultimately to trust in the fact that God is in control and takes care of us, is something which is immensely difficult to do when we face all of these fears.

A question that I need to ask myself, is this: do I actually trust? Do I trust that God has some sort of a plan, that God is in control of things, that God cares for us and provides for us? Do I trust that God is truly with us? Do I trust that God is bigger than the bogey man, and that God will not lead me astray?

“To trust is to admit that you are not God, that you cannot control the outcome of situations, that you will show up, listen hard to your calling, do the work, and open your hands” (Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeply Loved, Ch. 28, para. 18).

“Do not be afraid” is one of the concepts I have been reflecting on this Advent. I am a person of great anxiety and of great fear, and this fear speaks loudly into my life. What does it mean to not be afraid?

What does it mean for you, dear reader, to not be afraid?

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Hurry as an Enemy of Faith

I’m back!  It has been a busy week, pastorally speaking.  We had a sudden death in our congregation and the pastoral tasks that go along with something of the like are great. My days (and nights) have been so consumed with work that I have not been able to even think about my blog which has been sitting sadly idle.  I, however, am back to regular life, and I am back to writing.  I try not to make too many extended absences, but alas, pastoral life is often unpredictable.

This past week, despite my resolution to slow down this Advent, was not able to slow down. I was logging thirteen to sixteen hour days, my mind was always consumed with the details of the memorial services, details of the upcoming and regular worship service, details with some of the Christmas activities at church. How was I going to get everything done? How was I going to get both sermons done? How were we going to have enough space to hold all of the activities we need to do?  On top of this, we are having guests visit the church, who grew up in the Presbyterian church to which our building formerly belonged, and I don’t want them to think bad things about me, or us, because our building is cluttered and with so much deferred maintenance.

Not only were my early mornings and late nights consumed with these concerns, so were my dreams.

I nearly forgot that it was Advent, I nearly forgot about Advent as a season of preparation, and as a season of repentance, a season of hope and expectation. I nearly forgot to stop and listen to God.

I am eager to blame everything that is going on, I am eager to blame all of the things that I have to do for this. I am eager to point to the fact that I have so much to do, and this is the reason why my own experience and my own formation as a disciple of Christ had been pushed to the back burner.

The culprit, however, was not necessarily busy-ness, but rather hurry.

Hurry is an interesting concept Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, defines “hurry” in many ways, among them: “to carry or cause to go with haste” and “to perform with undue haste.”  Noticeably absent is the mention of outside forces, that the problem of hurry is outside of us.

Hurry is a state of being, it is an outlook, often times, it is an orientation to life.

Hurry is the insidious enemy of delighting in God. I think of Mary and Martha — Martha so busy and frustrated at Mary for not helping, and Mary who simply sat at the feet of Jesus — and it was Martha who was admonished! (Luke 10:38-42). I think of John the Baptizer, an individual who must have seemed crazy at the time (and if we saw him today, we would be certain he had a psychiatric disorder), who preached in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 3:1-18; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8).  When asked for particular ways to repent, John told them that if someone had two coats, to give one to someone who did not have one, if someone had food, to share with someone who did not.

It takes an unhurried worldview to listen to God, to travel out into the wilderness to listen to what may seem like rantings of the insane, to share with those who lack because it takes time to notice them.

How many times have I passed someone on the street, sometimes even without noticing, because I was hurried? I dare not even guess a number.

Keri Wyatt Kent uses the image of a jar of river water, all shaken up, to speak about a hurried life. River water contains all sorts of sediment, particles, minerals, and murky, when it settles, the water is able to become clear (Deeply Loved, ch. 25). The problem with Martha is not that she was busy, it was that she was living in a state of hurry, so much so that she was unable to experience and enjoy the gift that she had with Jesus in her home.

Last week, I was busy, that is to be sure. however, the bigger problem is that I was hurried, and this hurry is something we must always work against, because hurry pulls us away from God, away from the experience of God, and distracts us from the fullness of what we are called to: love for God and love and care for others

This Advent, I will begin to remove hurry from my life, even when I am busy, and I invite you to do the same.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Advent in Tension

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso

Many of my parishioners walk to church, as most of my congregation does not own a car for financial reasons. One of these was walking the two blocks from her home to church. In that short distance she was struck by a car and died as a result of the impact.

All of this while she was walking to church.

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Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for Christ, not only the first coming, but also the second. Advent is a profoundly conflicted season, and a profoundly conflicted orientation for life. For those of us who have wonderful memories of the holiday season, Christmas is a wonderful time. For others of us who have bad memories of the holiday season, it can be incredibly painful.

Advent is a time in which we can understand most clearly the tension of the in between in which we live. We celebrate Jesus’ birth but we also look forward to Christ’s return.  We sing about the coming of Emmanuel and this is a cause for rejoicing. Yet we also face the stark reality that redemption is not yet complete.

A perfect example of this is a mother in her 40’s who gets killed because a car ran her over.

The already-but-not-yet is a difficult place to live. It is hard to sing “Rejoice! Rejoice believers,” while at the same time grieving the fact that life continues to be but a shadow of what it was intended to be.

In her book, Deeply LovedKeri Wyatt Kent bravely takes on the aspect of the walk of faith that few Christians dare speak of: depression and its relatives. Although “‘happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time,;” is popular in religious talk, it is often not rooted in reality (Kent). The good news, that she brings out, is that when we express our depression, our melancholia, our blues to God we follow in a long line of the faithful. Kent notes, “The Bible is full of stories of victory, but also of struggle” (Ch. 15, para. 12).

If the Christian life eliminates a place for sadness, suffering, and mourning, then the gospel ceases to be good news for real life. If God is only present with us in good times and not in bad, then God ceases to be good. If God forbids us from expressing emotions and thoughts from the shadow side of life, then God is not a refuge for us. If the Advent focus is too much on Christmas and not enough expressing a longing for the kingdom of God, we do ourselves and our spiritual formation a great disservice.

I always take Advent seriously, but this year, my Advent is more than simply sober, it is also somber. It is a time in which I can rejoice because Christ has come and I can mourn because the restoration is not complete. I can hope because the Kingdom of God is at hand, and I can despair because there is so much to the world which is in need of redemption. I can look back to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and I can look forward to Christ’s return.

This Advent, I am living in the tension of in-between the two comings of Christ, the tension of joy and sorrow, of hope and despair, of celebration and mourning.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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A Fresh Start

hatching

By Sarahluv on Flickr (cc)

The lure of a fresh start is ubiquitous. The idea that we are not tied to our past, that we are not destined to repeat the mistakes we had made, the idea that change and redemption is possible, and if only we could make a fresh start without our past following us, we could live into who we are supposed to be.

This is why we make New Year’s resolutions. A new year is a fresh start. The image for the old year is an very old man, with a long white beard, slumped over a cane. Conversely, the new year is a small child who has their whole life ahead of them, no past to follow them. So we make resolutions to do things, to be better people. Resolutions that will help us to be the people we want to be. We make resolutions because we can, in a way, start afresh. Like many people, this year I will resolve to lose weight (again), and I will resolve to stop procrastinating (again), and I will resolve to be more organized (again).

I like fresh starts, and I will guess that you do too.

This is the beauty of Advent. Advent provides a time for the church year to start over, but also for each of us to refocus our lives, both individually and as a body. Advent, of course, is more than simply a season in the church year, Advent is a orientation of life in which we are always standing in the already (Christ has already come and redemption has begun), looking forward to the not yet (Christ has not yet returned and redemption is not yet accomplished). It is fitting, then, that the first season in the Church calendar is one that models what the rest of the year is to be — always living in the tension that the reign of God has come, but has not yet fully arrived.

In Deeply Loved, Keri Wyatt Kent discusses the practice of “Review of the Day” which is a recovery of the ancient practice of the Examen of Consciousness. Far from simply ruminating on our shortcomings, a practice of retrospective remembering where God was faithful even in times in which we were not; where God showed up even in times when we did not. This daily look on the past day solely exists to help us tomorrow. We only have a future because we have a past.  Several times in scripture, we are told to remember. We remember the past because it illumines the path before us.

Advent is a season of repentance, which requires looking back, but looking back only so that we can move forward. It is so fitting that Advent is a time in which we examine the past year, not only individually, but corporately as well.

I look back at my past year and I can see God working, but I also see places where I didn’t realize that God was working.  I see times in which I was faithless, times that I would love to do over. I can see times in which I was so wrapped up in the hurry of life, that I have forgotten to pay any attention to God, and I can see where, regardless, God continues to pay attention to me.

I am sure I am not alone here.

Advent is about new beginnings. Advent brings a fresh start. We look back so that we can move forward.

We live in the already, and we remember the already because it points us toward the not yet, and this is where the good news is in all of this.

So this Advent, not only am I slowing down, I am also looking back, because this is the only way that we can look forward.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Hump Day Hymns {Advent Edition}: Comfort, Comfort You My People

Hymnal

Comfort, comfort you my people,
Tell of peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Bowed beneath oppression’s load.
Speak you to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell them that their sins I cover,
And their warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is calling
In the desert far and near,
Bidding us to make repentance
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

Make you straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token
That God’s word is never broken.
-Johannes Olearius (1611-1684), Trans. Catherine Winkworth 1827-1878)

During a children’s sermon on Sunday, I asked the children if they knew what special day it was in the church. One of the children eagerly raised his hand and after I called on him, he said with a smile, “almost Christmas.” He was right, and I told them that in the church we call almost Christmas Advent.

I remember as a child, that Advent was a torturous time, as I could not wait until we tore into the secret things which resided below the tree. I would sit in church each Sunday of Advent, hoping and praying that the candles would hurry up and light so we could get on with it.

We speak of Advent as a time of preparation, a time of waiting, a time of expectancy. In my mind, when I think of preparation, good things do not come to mind. I think of preparing for an examination by studying for hours upon hours. I think of preparing for a performance in which I practice the same things seemingly endlessly. Every week I prepare for Sunday, which can be joyous, unless the sermon is not coming and it feels like I am running in a hamster wheel.

However, preparation can also be exciting. Last year at this time, I was feeling Advent in a very personal way. When I moved here to Milwaukee, my beloved stayed behind in Michigan for over two months to wrap up her employment. She would move here for good two days before Christmas. For me, then, Advent 2011 was not just waiting for Christmas, not just waiting for the return of Christ, but also waiting to be reunited with my beloved. This was a time of preparation. I tried to organize our flat so that it would be welcoming when she would arrive. I tried to work ahead at church so that we could have a few days together when she came. I planned what I would say when she walked in the door, and more. This was a time of joyful preparation, eager anticipation, and waiting.

The most difficult thing associated with preparation and waiting, for me, is to slow down enough to do it. In order to prepare for something we have to stop rushing and hurrying with other things. Without slowing down we forget the anxious yearning of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the gloriously haunting minor key in which the common tune, VENI EMMANUEL, is written. Without slowing down from the daily grind to take note of the world, of ourselves, we can miss the fact that the world is desperately in need of redemption, we are desperately in need of redemption, and that the needed redemption has arrived and is continually unfolding.

In her book, Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus, Keri Wyatt Kent discusses the importance of slowing down because, “you cannot experience [the deep love of Jesus] in a hurry” (Ch. 3, para. 3) Unfortunately, Advent is an incredibly hurried time for myself (as well as clergy in general). I have to make sure the decorations are up, that I have enough ornaments for when folks decorate the holiday tree in the narthex. I have to organize and run the Christmas Store, which is a program that we have so that low-income folks can purchase gifts for their family. I have to plan the Christmas Eve service, as well as get things ready for the next Sunday when I am annually out-of-town with family. In the meantime I have to continue checking up on the high number of my parishioners who are in the hospital/rehabilitation facility/just out of the hospital, write thank you letters to donors, and write fundraising letters so that our church might be able to stay open.

All of this is some sort of preparation, unfortunately it is not the preparation that Advent calls for; this is the hurry that distracts us from experiencing the deep significance of Advent, it is the hurry that does not allow us to experience the “deep love of Jesus”, and it is the hurry that pulls us in other directions away from the comfort that today’s hymn celebrates.

Can I hear the herald’s voice calling? Am I taking this time to make repentance? Am I preparing a way for God? Do I even know how to? Am I allowing myself to be caught up in the raptures of the love of Jesus?

If we are sprinting through life, cell phone in one hand, cappuccino in the other, we cannot ‘lay hold of that Life and power’ that comes when we know we are deeply loved. We cannot experience the healing power of Jesus in our lives. Hurry injures us. (Kent, Ch. 3, para. 10).

Similarly, hurry hinders us from seeing that “the kingdom is now here”, and places an obstacle to obeying the “warning cry”, and stops us from experiencing comfort given to we who “who sit in darkness, bowed beneath oppression’s load.”

This Advent will be one in which I am intentionally slowing down to experience the eager anticipation of waiting, while I invite others to experiencing the love and comfort that comes from God’s reign being at hand.

Slow Down! It’s Advent.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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