Okay, U2 is a pretty awesome band.

There’s this song by U2 called Where the Streets Have No Name. 

I’ve always liked the song. Lots. I could jam to that song for hours. I haven’t yet, but I could.

Since the first time I heard the song a line has jumped out at me. The line that talks about wanting to “tear down the walls that hold me inside.”

Ever since I’ve heard that line, I’ve connected with it. There are parts of me that cry out for that. They probably always have.

I think in all of us there are parts of us that wait for the Spirit of the Lord to move in our hearts and minds and break the walls that we have allowed to hold us in a space that has grown too small to hold reality, ourselves, or God.

The interesting thing is that this is scary. Freedom is scary. When the chains that once bound us–perhaps quite happily–are broken, what are we left with? A bold, new, and deeply disconcerting sense of freedom. The Spirit moves and then there isn’t a way to go back to where we were before. Israel leaves Egypt and bemoans the lack of the status-quo of oppression on a journey with God through the desert. In the midst of the unknown following the Living God to a land yet unknown.

What will we do without the artificial walls that held us back?  Will we create new walls to encapsulate a slightly larger reality or will we allow the walls to remain rubble and leave them behind as we follow the One who calls us on a journey of streets with no names?

That’s the tension I think U2 is trying to create, or at the very least the one I hear in the song. When the walls break that hold us inside we are left without clear markers. We lose certainty and find ourselves in need of faith.

Here, this might help:

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Poem

There was a time (not so far from now) in which hope was almost unknown,

Quietly flitting through the shadows of despair and frustration,

Showing its face periodically in the words of friends, the light of the sun, and the wind off Elliot Bay,

There was a time (not so far from now) when hope let itself be known,

Mountain, moon, and sky blended together to form a message to my weary soul,

“There is hope,” the landscape said,

I struggled in vain to disbelieve, to look at anything else, because to hope is to incur the possibility of loss,

There was a time (quite recently) when hope showed itself to be something near and unexpected,

Dreams come true, unknown needs met, undeserved and unexpected blessings granted,

“I’m out to bless you,” He seemed to say,

There is a time (now) when I decided to let it be so,

To let hope be my reality and blessings be what I receive,

Bewildered in the face of so many gifts, I open my hands and eyes,

In so doing I find that life and hope are interconnected,

That beauty cannot be had without risk,

That courage must be found in the face of what we fear,

And that Yes…He is out to bless us.

Crossing the street

Here in Washington I used to obey cross-walks without thinking. Recently I’ve started thinking about them.

When I was in Europe this past Fall, I noted something interesting.

The Spanish wait patiently at cross-walks. There may be no cars coming for a long time, and yet most of the Spaniards will in fact stand and wait for the signal to change before walking.

The French choose a different path. The Champs-Elysees is a very busy street. The sort of street that you should just really wait for the cross-walk to let you cross, but I recall seeing several French people cross the road at breaks in traffic regardless of the walk signal or not. This is fairly common in France. They cross the street when the street is able to be crossed and don’t wait for people to tell when to do so.

I’ve been thinking lately about this lately on University Way near where I work. I often cross the street with a red hand looking me in the face. Why? Because there are no cars (or policemen around to enforce superfluous rules). The only reason I care to wait sometimes is because I don’t:

A) want to get hit by a car

or

B) want a ticket

absent these two threats I just cross the street.

I wonder how many areas of life this happens in. Things are just expected of us without us ever having the “why?” explained or even asked.

Why do I wait for the white man symbol to be “walking” before I cross the street when there are no cars or policemen?

Why is the walking symbol a white man?

Why shouldn’t I eat ice cream at breakfast sometimes?

Why isn’t there the option of bacon in my ice cream?

I think it happens in church-related categories too:

Why should we dress up for church?

Why do we believe what we we do about communion?

Why does our church governance structure matter? (or why don’t we have a church governance structure?)

I guess maybe we should think about taking a page from the French people’s book in this approach. What are the cars we should be avoiding? Are there really any policemen? When do we blindly wait for people to tell us to move when we could have crossed the metaphorical street 10 minutes (or years) ago?

Just thinking out loud here…

Red Square Reminders

So, I work at the UW. Sometimes I go out for walks. Well, okay. Every day I go out for a walk or two. It’s a good idea.

Usually there’s a vast mix of things going on at any given moment in Red Square. It’s a giant red bricked space that often features people trying to raise money for things, bros on skateboards and trick bikes, and students eating food. The students are also possibly walking in the rain/wind, or sitting comfortably on sun-warmed brick. It’s more often the former.

In and among all these differing fun people there are some more aggressive types:

There are the shouting “evangelists” (I use the quotations because the good news that this one guy typically brings seems far from good. It would seem that lots of people are going to hell, and he knows who.)

There are the charity folks. They badger you with all sorts of guilt to support children in the third world, donate to the red cross, and a variety of other activities. No matter what they may tell me, I am still not interested in giving random people on the street my credit card information. No matter how persistently they make me feel bad for avoiding drawn-out conversations that center on my failures as human.

Then there are the LDS elders. The Mormons are out there, especially when it’s sunny. They can be seen having intentional conversations with students with the book of Mormon firmly in hand. Students speak with them often. They’re always pleasantly aggressive . I’ve been told to have many a good day by Mormons that I’ve avoided having theological dialog with.

Like I said, they mostly come out with the sun…mostly. It’s a rare rainy day that finds Red Square complete with Mormons.

I walked into Red Square this morning to a strange sight. The Square was full of blue-vested international children guilt-trippers. They flanked every entrance. In the mix wandered Mormons. There were virtually no students. It was like a scene from the Borne Identity. I was Jason Bourne and I had wandered into a closely watched area. If they had wanted to all speak to me at once, they could have. I wouldn’t have been able to escape.

Thankfully, I was only briefly accosted by an LDS elder who asked me if I had more time would I like to come back and talk about God’s plan for my life. I told him no. I definitely don’t plan to go back and chat with him.

Still, I don’t always think about God’s plan for my life intentionally.

I think it’s important to remember that He does have stuff in store for me. Things to stretch me in love, patience, and mercy. A plan that is for my good, a plan that is as of yet mostly unknown. I have seen bits of it though. Train rides that lead from despondency and despair to hope and redemption, brokenness made beautiful, loving people to support me in and through difficult times.  It has been good. Good is scary sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I get to control it. Blessings are given by God and then received by us. Seldom to we get any more control beyond choosing to accept what we’ve been given.

It’s foreign to me that God gives us such great things. I for one, often wonder if He is just oblivious to how broken and messy I am. I find myself scared that I’ve been given the things He has given me. It’s hard to remember that we don’t have to earn it.

My rejoinder to blessings is often, “Don’t you know how much I suck? Why are you giving this to me?”

I never find that His response is “You’re right. I was mistaken in blessing you.”

Blessings are showered upon us. Deserving or not (always not).

It would seem that in Christ, God is out to bless us. No matter what. His righteousness is our righteousness, His faithfulness is our faithfulness, His love is our love. We are called to participate and receive.

It would seem God can use suited, overly friendly LDS “missionaries” to remind you that you shouldn’t be afraid of choosing to receive blessings.

Just don’t let them talk you into that absurd nonsense about a lost tribe of Israel crossing the Pacific Ocean…

 

 

 

 

Hand Stands

I learned recently that I can do a hand stand. Ok, so not for very long…and yes, I do typically fall right on my back in unpleasant ways afterwards…but, I can do a HAND STAND. It’s a new development.

It strikes me as somewhat childish to be so pumped about this, but I think I am in need of practice in rejoicing in the things that children rejoice in.

I was reading GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy awhile back and he was talking about how we have lost a sense of magic as it relates to life. The sun rises and we say “It rises because it must.” He points out that whilst adults move on children are constantly in a state of “Do it again!!” with regard to life. Adults can be exhausted by playing the same game over and over again where a child will not. I rented the 1986 version of Transformers the Movie every week for an absurd stretch of time.

It might have been years…I still know all the lines…and have the soundtrack…

But I think the point still stands. One of the things that sometimes irritate me about certain expressions of the Christian tradition is a fixation on special miracles. I believe that miracles exist, but certain miracles are easily discounted by particular folks. Some Christians forget about miracles of self discovery, of standard sorts of healing (both physical and emotional), and little things that ought to carry a magical quality like the sun rising. The every day miracles are relegated to a second tier mentality of less-than-special. They’re not any less special. A miracle is a miracle.

God is in the business of doing things repeatedly. GK Chesterton made the point that God’s work in the sun rising is very likely much more akin to delighted child saying, “Do it again!” The things we take for granted in life, our bodies, nature, and relationships are in reality much more of small miracles that blur together into what we like to call existence.

After having spent 24 years not being able to do (or being too scared/embarrassed to try) handstands I am now able to start doing them. I was in Tiffany Loop (in very SPU fashion) and I was practicing my handstands to prove that I could. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but each time I wanted to try again. It was really fun and worthy of some rejoicing.

May we all take time to practice seeing the small things that are happening in front of us that are no less than miracles in our midst.

May we then rejoice in them.

Also, the 1986 Transformers the Movie is still awesome.

The Promised Land

I was reading a bit of Deuteronomy this morning when a thought struck me.

Eventually the Israelites came out of the desert.

They were following God in there for a long time.

The text conveys a time of 40 years. I wonder about the number, but then I think of 40 days of flooding and Noah’s strange boat filled with animals, 40 days of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness…40 seems to imply a sense of fullness. A sense of kairos (mentioned in an earlier post-think “fullness of time”). Essentially they left the desert when God was good and ready for them to leave.

When they exited the desert they were still following God, but they had arrived at the place they were going to.

Interestingly enough, that place was characterized by the same thing as the desert: God’s leading, providence, and presence.

I think that when I think of the promised land I think of a sense of arrival. A sense of “aha. They made it.” I think this is something that honestly comes out of a extended sense of Zionism relating to the state of Israel. That carries a tone of “aha. they made it.” I think that idea of Israel’s arrival to the world as a modern state needs to be separate from an idea of Israel as God’s people.

In the biblical text (at least in the torah and joshua) when the people of Israel arrive in the promised land they have to do work. The text recounts to us many chapters of battles, wars, and all of this serves to imply something that the Israelites periodically forgot “It is the Lord who fights for you.” They were called in Exodus 19 to be a “Priestly kingdom” and a “holy nation.” They were called to the promised land to be the world’s priests. Showing the presence of God in their lives and the life of their nation to the world.

That call was issued to them in the desert. Before they got where God had promised. Their call didn’t change once they got to the promised land. Their physical sense of arrival didn’t imply a spiritual sense of arrival. They still needed God to be able to participate in His work. They were still part of His plan to redeem humanity.

In other words their arrival in the Promised Land appears to have been less of an arrival and more of a next chapter. Maybe arrival still works as an idea for this, but not arrival in the sense that one arrives in some place of permanent static residence. When I step off an airplane in a new place (as my best friend and I will in Nicaragua at the end of the month!) I still have to do things once I’m there, a significant chapter of the journey has come to a close, but there are many more chapters to follow.

I may have arrived, but that means I will be participating in things that the Lord is doing.

I submit that the Promised Land is the new context in which the work of the Lord takes place in our lives. When you get there, you’re still on the journey. You never left it on the way there, either.

Shout out to my childhood. The road keeps going, the Lord goes before us.