The expected and yet not so expected storms

This might not relate to any theological topic, although it might eventually while I write.

For a long time now I have had food allergies. Perhaps you didn’t know, well, I do. I’m allergic to legumes. That means beans, peas, peanuts, and soy. There are good things about this and bad things about this.

Good thing: I can’t be a successful vegetarian. Nice. In your face soy-milk. You sound gross anyhow.

Bad thing: Matador nachos, while being delicious inevitably hurt me.

In response to my partaking in various foods that I’m allergic to my body gives me a migraine.

When I was a kid it was terrible. I mean terrible. At the time I was also allergic to wheat (which I think has gone since I’ve been an adult. I am very thankful for this.). I would eat something off the contraband list and within several days–if not the day after–I would have a life-altering migraine for a day. The sort where it hurts too much to sleep and the only solution is waiting until your body either accepts the children’s tylenol (one of the most useless pain-killers ever) or ejects the contents of your stomach into one of many possible locations. I have vomited in many a school-room garbage can and have spent many days/nights of lying in bed trying to find various positions in which I might make the pain stop for a moment.

My dad has these allergies too. His have always been worse than mine. Minus the vomiting. I reckon going to Vietnam as a gunner on a river patrol boat gives you a better control over your gag-reflex. My brother probably has them.

As an adult my experience with my allergies has changed. The migraines don’t always follow directly afterwards. The time frame can be once in a month or even less frequently. At times I remind myself of Clark Kent. Mild mannered regular human for most of the time, then I transform into captain food allergy once in awhile. Sadly, my only super-power is to get a migraine and hurt. The vomit inducing migraines are thankfully few and far between these days.

I suppose I tell you all this because as we speak I am just recovering from one of those unpleasant migraine experiences. The fact of the matter is that I ought to have known this was coming, but I’m in the habit of merely choosing to ignore this constant fact of life that I have experienced since I was a lad.  It is at the same time one of those unpleasant things that I know will come in time, but something that I didn’t really hope/want/choose to think about in terms of the eventual payout that follows so many plates of delicious nachos at the matador.

Can I draw a theological conclusion from this? Probably.

It’s still Christmas and so therefore I choose to make a statement related to our current place in the church calendar. Christmas is about the incarnation. The church’s Christmas celebration is about Jesus coming to us in the midst of our humanity and bearing it. He comes among us as the one who owns the full extent of human brokenness on behalf of those who cannot do so themselves.He takes our sins upon Himself and becomes our righteousness.

If my approach to eating foods I shouldn’t is anything like many choices we make during each and every day regarding our relationship with the Lord and other human beings…then I’m glad that Christ came in part to be my righteousness, because I’m always in need of redemption especially when it comes to the strategies I use in life.

The “blatant disregard for the facts” strategy is getting old. Christmas = the beginning of the redemption of humanity by the incarnate God. Maybe we should ask Him to start our individual redemption with the way we look at things. That way we can be led by the Spirit into healthy strategies for life. Even if that means taking no strategy other than being led by the One who knows what’s up.

PS: I’m still planning on getting nachos. The point was theological in nature.

the worst shave ever

I suspect that I might have inadvertently given myself the worst shave I have ever had. Not only was I bloodied, but there’s still patches of stubble on my face. After eleven years or so of this you figure I’d be better at it. Nope. Not the case.

Christmas was a good time for me. Midnight mass was lovely as usual, and for the first time I can remember I found myself actually participating in worship at a catholic mass as opposed to watching and trying to guess what they we were doing the whole time. It was a refreshing time–also a very sweaty one…no idea why–and yet, at the end of it I was glad that I’m a protestant. I know that’s very denominational of me, but while I really do appreciate the catholic mass…I guess I know where my home is theologically.

This was the first year where there was a storm of small children present. Okay, there were two…and they were really cute little girls.  Still, it was difficult to find the time for reflection and thinking that I usually get when I’m in the trenches of the job search in Seattle. I ended up going for a long walk Christmas Eve to sort out a few things in my head with the Lord Jesus. I didn’t feel like I really got any solution beyond talking to God about my problems, but I reckon that it was not wasted time by any stretch of the imagination.

My nieces got some really absurd gifts. My sister’s daughter is five and is SUPER into these things called Zhu Zhu pets. You may see that and think “That sounds awful…” You’d be right. Zhu Zhu pets are toy hamsters. Whatever the excitement regarding toy hamsters may be to you, I was not amused by them. I asked my older brother at this point if I got this sort of absurd nonsense when I was a kid. He responded with a very matter of fact nod and the commentary of, “Yep.”

I still think the toys I got were better than zhu zhu pets…but I suppose that’s just a matter of opinion.

I gave myself a shave because I had an interview today. It’s for a tutoring job in Capitol Hill that works with hispanic kids in an after school program. I think it’d be a good job, but I dunno if I’ll get it.  Having an interview is nice because it shows that I’m not a complete chump in application town, but it’s also the added frustration of the possibility of rejection. Which I suppose is nearly always a possibility in most places in life…

I’m not feeling terribly full of theological thoughts. At least not ones that are original. I’ve been reading my Dietrich Bonhoeffer devotional (as usual) and he’s been talking about how God’s plan is revealed to us in a step by step fashion. I dunno what your experience in life is, but this does a good job of reminding me of mine.

There’s a song that Rich Mullins writes called “Step by Step.” It talks about this idea of being led by God a step at a time. ” There’s this part of that song that sticks out in my head “Sometimes I think  of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me, he was a stranger in this land and I am that no less than he…” It’s interesting that despite the fact that we’re in Christmas tide (all 12 days) and that we’ve celebrated the coming of our Lord, we’re still strangers here. We’re still the ones who don’t belong to the world (read the book of John) being led on a step by step journey with a destination whose end is beyond our understanding.

While this makes me uncomfortable, I’m glad that God is with us in it as the One who knows the path in which we walk and guides us upon it.

The incarnation is the best thing about Christmas.

I am legitimately almost giddy about going to midnight mass tonight. I look forward to it for an entire year, and then I get to go and love it (despite not being catholic.)

I like rolling somewhere at 11:30pm and then getting to wish my friends and family who decide to brave the early morn a very Merry Christmas. We will have celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Rejoicing will both ensue and will have ensued.

I was thinking about Advent, and appropriately, this will be the last time it’s likely to be mentioned until next Advent. I was thinking about all the capacities that we wait for the Lord’s coming. There’s a echatological waiting, as in waiting for the second coming. There’s some sort of temporal waiting, as in waiting for a job…but when I thought more about it I realized that I was confused as to the immediate spiritual sense of waiting. In what way to I see the Lord coming today, for me, in a way that strengthens our relationship?

It’s easy to fixate on these other things. I do it, but the fact of the matter is that today is of great emphasis in life. You only get today. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. So, if the second coming of the Lord Jesus  doesn’t happen today…do I simply remember the coming of the Lord? or is there more happening?

I was reading this book that my friend Jason recommended that I read (he actually bought it for all the leaders at my church’s youth group). The author was talking about the incarnation, he spoke of the manner in which the incarnation is like a wedding. The ceremony is  in the past, but it affects everything since then and in the present. It doesn’t stop being a marriage. I think this is a really fantastic way to think of Christmas.

The Lord came and now everything is changed. The new creation has begun. We’re a part of that through Jesus, in the Spirit. I guess when we celebrate Christmas in part we’re owning the reality of the world. It’s not just remembering passively, but it’s a remembering in which a past reality is seen leading up to now. The course of the church through history leads to us, the ones who have accepted God’s calling to be in relationship with Him through His Son.  We’re a part of something beyond understanding, enmeshed in the plans of the Lord who came to bear our burdens, alive in His life, and participating in His work.

So you might say, that when I think about God coming today, I am led (by the linear nature of the way I think or by the Spirit…or both…you decide)to see that God’s coming today in this last day of Advent is marked by one thing with many meanings: A celebration of the Lord’s full participation in our humanity in which we own the fact that His coming means that He comes to us every day through the Spirit. He is born in us anew every day as we live in relationship with Him, heralding as the angels once did the eternal love of the Living God who does not leave us to fail, sin, and die alone. We celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s plan for man.

The fact that the Lord came makes today–in the midst of my last day of giddy waiting–the last day of the Advent reminder that for the last day this year we wait for the celebration of the One who has already come to us. We wait to sing, pray, take communion–unless you’re not catholic at midnight mass 😉 — , and hear the glorious news yet again. In so doing, I submit that we must arrive to a point where we realize that the Lord’s coming at Christmas nearly 2000 years ago means that He comes to us and walks with us today and every day from here onward.

Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all today, and especially tonight as we celebrate His coming to the world. Amen.

 

Hello Bellingham.

I am now back in the lovely town of Bellingham, WA for Christmas with my family.

I was struck just a moment ago by how beautiful it is here. Most of the time it might not be terribly obvious because of a depressing grey sheet of rain, but today…oh today.

I went and picked up my car after an oil change and looked at the sky. Then I drove to my favorit park ever to take a picture of it. The clouds had taken on a spectacular vibrant yellow-orange like that of a flame and were set against the backdrop of a patchy blue sky with some other deep purple clouds and undergirded by the majestic mass of the bay. The surrounding hillsides were catching the last few rays of the sun near their summits and in the distance some even were dusted with snow as one dusts cakes with powdered sugar.

I wondered how it was that I could live amidst this my entire life and be so unable to appreciate it.

I knew I loved Zuanich Park, but today was the first time I’d been there since I left for Europe. It’s still my favorite park. Isn’t it odd how some of the most constant and obvious things in our lives are somehow also things of hidden glory. I grew up seeing the hillsides of Bellingham everyday for 18+ years. Now however, I come home for a moment and am surprised by how beautiful they are. Did I waste my entire childhood marveling at how good I was at Super Smash Bros. Melee instead of looking out my door into the glory of the Lord manifest in His creation? Maybe…but I think I and perhaps you do this with many other things.

The constant “go go go” of what it is that we do regularly leaves us bereft of the ability to see what’s right in front of us. When we pause and just look, we allow our eyes to be opened to the things that may have at one time just been clouds but are now fiery sky-borne emblems of the creativity and beauty that is shown by the Lord in creation.

Christmas might be one of those things. I’m sure it can be like that in the rush of buying more useless crap or meeting with family in a manner that makes life less restful. Though, I don’t think it’s meant to be like that. I was reading my Dietrich Bonhoeffer devotional recently and he said something like this, “God became a child. Wait! Stop thinking. Try to let this sink in deeply.”

In and amongst all the things that smack of triteness and absurdity and flock like the salmon of capestrano to our holiday-filled lives we have this thing called Christmas. We have thousands of images and songs of a child in a manger, but it is more than that. The child is the Lord. He is with us. I think that what happens to me regarding Bellingham’s beauty can be something that happens to us all regarding the Lord’s birth. It becomes taken for granted.

This must stop.

Dietrich regularly challenges me via my devotional to think long and deeply about this fact that the Lord came to us as a baby. The everlasting God took on human flesh and came to us in the midst of our brokenness to bear our burdens. I want that fact to be something that every Christmas brings to life for me like the golden glory of the clouds over Bellingham Bay bring this city to life. I want to look into the scriptures and rejoice as the shepherds did when they heard the angelic proclamation. I want the Living God found in a child in a manger to leave me speechless. I want to be brought to my knees in thankfulness because the Lord has come.

As we draw nearer to Christmas I am hoping to be left with the ability to echo Isaiah and be completely awestruck by the reality that the words represent when I say that: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

An early Merry Christmas to all of you out there. I may blog again before then, but no promises.

The God who loves us came to us as a child. Rejoice!!

Salt and Purity…and Grace.

Last one today. I promise. Really though, after this I have things to do.

I was reading a commentary as I sat in church today before the service started. It was on the book of Matthew. Maybe you already know this, but I didn’t.

Have you ever wondered what that “if the salt loses it’s saltiness it must be thrown out…” passage means? Me too. Whilst reading, I noted the author of the commentary say something along the lines of salt doesn’t go bad by a magical chemical reaction, it goes bad when it becomes mixed with things to the point that it isn’t salt anymore.

That was a profound statement when connected with the same commentary’s thoughts on the passage in Matthew where Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Now, I’ve had beef with people’s interpretation of this passage for years. For some reason certain folks want to make this passage about sexual impurity. I submit that this is not what the passage is about. I’m sorry Philip Yancey. I disagree. Purity of heart means that your heart is not divided. To quote Zoren Kierkegaard “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

The commentary pointed out that the passage means not serving two masters. It means knowing who you are called to be and staying faithful to that calling. In one of the Psalms that says  “a Psalm of David”, the king prays for an undivided heart. That’s the idea.

Interesting background tangent. The beatitudes are pointed out to be indicative. This is a grammatical word meaning simple present tense. They are not commands. They are not “hey, come on guys let’s do this!” statements. They’re eschatological descriptions. They are proclamations of the reality of what following the Lord means for those who are doing it.

Putting all this together I walked away with some good insight. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God: Blessed are the ones who desire God above all else…they get to see Him. In the process of desiring other things our salt can become mixed with other things that render it not-salt. Not-salt is not useful.

Interestingly enough, I guess that we need to pray for these things. To be salty and to want God above all else are strongly related. In the meantime I assume that you, like me, are somewhat put up against the wall by these statements. The “Oh balls…” factor builds and you feel like either working harder or giving up.

I don’t think either of those are the point though. The Lord Jesus came to be our Righteousness. Grace was given to us without regard for our understanding or worthiness of it. It’s a hard tension when we read these words from the Lord calling us to the highest standards of faithfulness and at the same time fulfilling those standards Himself on our behalf…I guess our task becomes to participate in the work that’s already been and is being done. Honestly, if I try to be pure of heart on my own steam I will fail. I cannot work hard enough to get that.

Grace is challenging for me because I can’t work to get it and I cannot fully understand it. I have to ask for help just to receive it like a child. That Jesus is pretty salty.

Storing up the thoughts, so I guess I’ll make more than one post.

It turns out that I’ve had a lot to say and I don’t want to overwhelm just one blog post with my thoughts. So I’ll break it up into three for tonight at least.

I had a thought while I was talking to the pastor at church. His sermon really prompted that last post. Great stuff. He pointed out that Advent is a time of yearning.

I had never thought of that before. I had thought of it as waiting. Sometimes hopeful waiting, but mostly a sense of waiting that becomes an unpleasant slog through the bitter mud of “Are we there yet?”

Just thinking of Advent as waiting really doesn’t cut it I’ve decided. In some ways it does, but when I think of waiting inevitably I think of traffic or the doctor’s office. Waiting that is really boring, tedious business. Either that or I think of waiting as a small child for Christmas morning gifts. That one misses the mark too, for what I hope should be obvious reasons. Mostly I find it to be driven by stuff and I don’t think that’s Advent.

As I talked with my pastor I thought about what yearning meant. The idea that I want something meaningful. I don’t yearn for stuff. I yearn for fulfillment, love, relationship, justice, etc…It’s easy for me to put Advent strictly into a “I want and am waiting for a job” sense, and I’ve talked about this before, but I just thought this was worth sharing. Yearning. A conception of Advent that pushes it out into a deep seated struggle to wait for something that is coming that seems to be well past due. A state of being even. A place where the thing I want is just out of grasp and will only come on its own terms.

We yearn for the coming of the Lord. We yearn for things to be as they should. We are uncomfortably waiting in the hope of the coming King. We yearn for it. That’s Advent. The strange thing is though we have this dual sense of Advent that stretches Advent into the whole year. Do we ever stop yearning?

Sorry about the pause.

Periodically I find that I take small hiatuses from the land of blogs and informing you all of what I’m up to and thinking about. Mostly it happens when I get to busy and when my commitment to the blog fades around 1am. I’ll try to be more regular (tee hee…poop joke.) in the future.

Okay, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christmas songs and advent related things that I want to share with you. Firstly, I was thinking about proclamation. A lot of times in the Christian faith one encounters statements that declare what reality is. In the OT a prophet will get up in front of the people of Israel and describe the way things really are even if everyone around them fails to grasp that reality. A proclamation states the way things are, but in a bold fashion.

I think that this is what we do with Christmas songs. Example: Come All Ye Faithful. First of all, I love this song. Super pimp. Moreover though it could be thought about as a sung form of the proclamation that the angels made to the shepherds.

“Come and Behold Him, born the King of angels.”

This is what we sing. The thing is though, the King of angels was born into poverty and there was no place to put Him except for the same place that the barn people put the animals hay. The One that we sing about, that we desire to behold stuck such fear into the heart of the puppet king at the time that he killed all sorts of babies about that age in the “hope” that he might kill the One who was foretold.

It’s beautiful and wonderful that we sing about this. The first Christmas did not take place in a shiny snow-covered village flooded with elvish workers who also baked cakes. It took place in a dirty cow barn sort of place. In our time we sing of the coming of Jesus into the midst of our humanity and in some Christmas songs we proclaim at some level the reality that death, poverty, sin, and oppression do not have the last words. We remember when all of our most absurdly hopeful dreams were made tiny and blown out of the water by the amazing providence and gift of the Lord coming to us in Christ Jesus.

I guess I point this out because for a long time I have just sung the Christmas songs because I like them. I like the theme, it’s an appropriate time to be reminded, and so on and so forth. This is the first time that it struck me though that singing Christmas songs is in some sense an act of faith and cosmic defiance. We sing of the Lord’s coming, of His victory therein in the face of the powers and principalities that seem to hold sway in our world. We look into the face of all the most horrible things that we can imagine and in an act of faith in the work of our the Holy One of Israel we sing His praises. We know that the darkness of night must end with the coming of the dawn, He has come and is coming again. The victory is already the Lord’s. And so we sing.

“Go tell it on the mountain.” We sing to ourselves to go tell the world that they have hope. Tell it to all of them. To tell it to everyone, the Lord has come for us. He will come again. Let us rejoice. I mean it though. If this Christmas proclamation in song and otherwise doesn’t merit our actual excitement about the work of the Lord, then perhaps we must seriously wonder if we have dropped the ball.