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If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

So begins William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”, a reminder of the importance of listening carefully to each other and sharing our stories with each other. It never fails to amaze how little effort we make to really get to know one another within our church family. Most of us prefer to keep our masks on, all the while proclaiming that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Stafford closes his poem with these stirring words:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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Lately I have been very restless: in my job, at home, in church life, and just my life in general. Though I rest secure in my identity “in Christ”, there is a deep longing for something more. Part of this restlessness is due to our finitude and our desire to transcend the mundane and connect deeper wtih God; and yet, at the same time, I’m still enticed by and entangled with the cares of this world, and engulfed by the ennui of earthly existence.

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

George Gray
Edgar Lee Masters

 

Grace-full Conversations

It was a full day: Up at 5:30 and time alone with God. Head off to church for weekly prayer time at 8:30 am with a few brothers. Then straight into the theological book club (just me and another brother at this point) session. This was followed by some alone time where I could pray, read and reflect, before heading to the front door to welcome and greet people coming to church. After the church service, some time of chit chat with a few people, dropped in to check out the inaugural Japanese outreach meeting, before rushing home to welcome a young couple and their adorable baby for lunch.

After a brief rest, it was off to a friend’s place to catch up over dinner: we had a leisurely dinner where we went around and shared our lives: aspirations, challenges, and changes. In particular, the wife shared her decision to step out in faith and be more intentional in her passion for leading spiritual retreats. This led to a discussion on the place of art in church life—which largely is largely non-existent in most churches, hindered as it is by current structures and traditions. We shared our yearning for a more authentic and intimate expression of church, a desire that neither of us could fully express in words, but which we both knew and understood.

What a blessed day to spend a day and evening in conversation with brothers and sisters!  Too bad Sunday morning church services don’t allow for such conversations in any depth …

“At its heart are people wrestling with the Spirit and one another to know the truth, grace and freedom of Christ in all the particulars of who they are and what fills their lives. I think of them as ‘grace-full conversations’. Conversations marked by grace. Conversations full of grace. Conversations that bring grace.”

― Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace & Community

I’m thrilled and honoured to be part of the Launch Team for Rachel Green Miller’s forthcoming book, which will be available Sep. 2019!


Looking forward to reading my pre-publication early access copy of the book over the next few weeks!

In the book’s Introduction, Miller writes:

I’ve become increasingly aware of what’s being taught in conservative circles about the nature of women and men and what’s considered appropriate in marriage, the church, and society. It’s troubling, and much of it isn’t biblical. In addition, I see that authority and submission have become the lens through which all of women’s and men’s interactions are viewed—even to the point that some people try to figure out if it’s okay for a woman to write a book that a man may learn from.

Here, she is referring to John Piper’s response to a question submitted by a pastor: “Pastor John, would a pastor who uses a biblical commentary written by a woman be placing himself under the biblical instruction of a woman? If so, would this not go against Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12?”

Piper ultimately thinks it’s OK to learn from books written by women, because “There is this interposition of the phenomenon called book and writing that puts the woman as author out of the reader’s sight and, in a sense, takes away the dimension of her female personhood.”  Read that last part again: reading a book written by a women is safe for men because she is out of the reader’s sight. Out of sight. Erasure. And not only that, taking away the dimension of her female personhood. Wow.

Miller’s book will add to the growing chorus of voices that are challenging the status quo and pushing for a fresh reappraisal of the biblical texts. Women are demanding (deservedly) a place at the table, and this is surely bringing woe to men who view this as a threat. Whoa, men–time to pause and reflect: search your hearts and the scriptures.

I’ll be offering reflections on Rachel’s book as I begin reading it in the coming days and weeks.

Hunger for Connection

“The hunger for a feeling of connection that informs most everything I’ve written flows from a common break in a common heart, one I share with everyone I’ve ever really known.”

– Jeff Nunokawa, The Note Book

Since early 2007, Jeff Nunokawa (Princeton English professor) has posted daily meditations in the Notes section of his Facebook page, and 250 of his most popular reflections/essays were collected and published as a book in 2015. What motivated him to keep up this daily practice? The introduction to his book may give us a clue:

The lives we lead together, sometimes in the middle of the night, or of the day, when we least feel like we’re together: when we feel most separated from the lives of others, most separated from the social world that we love and wish to be loved by in return. …

All of us, I suppose, have encountered some form of the feeling of loneliness confessed in Lamb’s bachelor essay, and sought one way or another to address that feeling, by finding some way of addressing others whom we can’t, for one or another reason, face—sometimes writing across distances so long that we can’t possibly expect to know for certain whom we are reaching, or even that we are reaching anyone at all.

I can relate to and resonate with what Nunokawa writes: I too encounter loneliness, often and especially, in the middle of a church service. As I sit confined in my pew, staring at the backs of the heads of the people in front of me and struggle to remain engaged as the preacher undergoes his monologue, often an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness will wash over me. Soon, I think to myself, the service will be over, and people (my brothers and sisters) will scurry about their way. And I may never once have any meaningful interaction with some of them that day, that week, except for perhaps a fleeting hello or good-bye.

Perhaps this is why I resumed blogging again when I came back from exile and began immersing myself in church life again. I had to find a way “to address that feeling”, so I would add my Amen to what Nunokawa asserts: “I know as well as I know anything that the loneliness at the heart of my project is not mine alone.”  Truth be told, that is a large part of why I blog, due to the scarcity of genuine fellowship, though not from want of trying on my part.

The NT contains over 50 one another commands that require a relational and mutual context within a faith community in order to obey them and enact  them. Yet, I find I am largely unable to because of the lack of connection with many of my brothers and sisters.

Nunokawa asks, Why this overmastering desire to communicate with others? yet I’m not sure many of my brothers and sisters share that desire—at least inside the confines of the church building and the church service. Outside this artifical structure of space and time that are mistakenly thought of as church, things are better: I know many of these same people are able to open up more and allow for some connection. Clearly, we need to move from being largely passive spectators to more active participants if we are to have deeper spiritual conversations with one another.

Near the close of his introduction, Nunokawa ponders:

Sometimes I’ve wondered why so many of my morning compositions have felt like small acts of mourning something mildly big. What is the particular loss that generally marks and motivates what I’ve written over the course of our correspondence? Partly it is the loss of a once-crowded social world that I’ve already mentioned. But what I have written also marks the loss of something more intimate than that: the youthful hope (at least it was the hope of my youth) to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole.

There it is: the loss of something more intimate[and the desire] to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole. Yes, yes we come to our Sunday gatherings to connect with God, but to also connect with one another (κοινωνίᾳ). Church is like a jigsaw puzzle with many unconnected pieces, and I seldom seem to fit in. How I long to see all the pieces fitted together in their proper place so that we can all behold the beautiful picture as a result.

“For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. … God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan.  Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? So there are many parts, but one body.”

1 Cor. 12:14, 18–20; ISV

Body Talk

Heart-to-heart conversations have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been trying hard to get my fellow elders to open up and dialogue with each other, but there seems to be resistance and reluctance. If we can’t even talk together, how can we work together to care for the flock in unity?

… our inability to talk together in our churches, and especially to talk with people of different ages and backgrounds, is a cancerous disease that erodes our congregational health and threatens the future of our faith. Recognizing that we belong to one another in Christ’s body, our health and our future depend on our ability to learn to talk and work together …

Following in the way of Jesus, we learn to set aside our personal agendas and to seek the common good of our sisters and brothers and that of our place.

C. Christopher Smith, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church

That peoples can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is not only the most acute symptom of the pathology of our time, it is also that which most urgently makes a demand of us.

—Martin Buber, Pointing the Way

True belonging is not passive … It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

However, on the bright side, I’ve had the privilege of journeying and conversing with a member these past several weeks, and it has been a very positive and rewarding experience. If only others could open up, be vulnerable and experience the joy of authentic and deep connections!

Quote of the Day

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