Tag Archives: New Year

The Present of the Present…

So, it’s another new year, and I’m looking for something new to say.

It’s my favorite holiday. It truly is. But it’s still completely covered with cliches. I mean, really. How are things going with last year’s resolutions? Did you lose that weight? Did you quit smoking?

Maybe you did. But if you did then you are the exception to the rule.

But still we keep trying. So why do we do that?

Why is it that in the face of almost certain failure, we keep resolving to do better? Why do we keep resolving to change?

Because somewhere, deep down, every one of us is starving for a new start.

You can hear it in the modern myths we tell. It’s often repeated as a fact that every 7 or 10 years every cell in our bodies dies and is remade. So every 7 or 10 years we are a completely new person. That isn’t really true, but our desire to make it true speaks to something deep inside of us.

We want a fresh start. We want to wipe the slate clean, set fire to everything, and start again.

All we are looking for is an excuse.

Because somewhere deep down we realize that we are caught in a trap. We are stuck in a loop of clinging to the past, and worry about the future. We are stuck feeling guilty or nostalgic for things that are long gone. And we are stuck feeling hopeful or apprehensive about the future. And we miss out on being where we are.

Alan Watts says it like this, “If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.”

And maybe that is what Jesus keeps trying to get at. If you look at his teachings you will notice a pattern. He says, “Let go of the past…your sins are forgiven.” And he says, “Stop worrying about the future. Today has enough worries of its own.”

In other words, “Be where you are!”

Every breath is New Years Eve! In the moment that you read these words, you are a unique expression of what God is doing with you. May we not miss God’s fingerprints because we are too busy trying to wipe away the smudge. The Kingdom of God is eternal life. And eternity is right here, right now, in this moment. Your past is reconciled. Your sins are forgiven. Your future will worry about itself. God is breathing life into you right now. In this moment. In this instant. If you need a resolution…resolve to be present in the present.

Love is the Word,

-a

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Are We Still Waiting?

Peter Rollins tells a parable in his book The Orthodox Heretic.  In this story Jesus finally makes his second coming.  When he does he goes largely unnoticed.  Finally he decides to approach a group of faithful people who have still followed his teachings.  He goes into a small church where a group of people are weeping over the suffering in the world and working day and night to bring aid and an end to this suffering.

When Jesus goes in to this church and reveals himself to them the people there greet him warmly.  There is much excitement at his return, but the people are left with one nagging question.  They approach Jesus and say, “Lord, we have but one question left to ask of you.”  Jesus, knowing already what their question is, allows them to ask.  They say, “Lord, we have been waiting and watching for your return for many many years.  We have this one last question for you.  When will you arrive?

Upon hearing this question Jesus simply smiles, and then settles in to working with the people in this church on their efforts and tears to rid the world of suffering.

There is a very real sense in which we must face the teachings of this parable.  We have to understand that there is a sense in which everyone who is right here with us is, in some profound way, still yet to come.  In some way we have to recognize the danger we have in assuming that we fully grasp anyone.  This is especially dangerous when we think we fully grasp Jesus.

In many Christian traditions we speak of salvation and the Kingdom as the “already…but not yet.”  This is a beautiful tension to live in.  But often this same way of thinking does not carry over into our understanding of Jesus.  It does not carry over into our understanding of God.  We begin to think of them as a series of propositions that we can affirm or deny, and if we can just do that with just the right phraseology then we will somehow grasp God in a more perfect way.  So often we replace moral legalism with a legalism of right belief.  It is this sort of legalism that Rollins so eloquently counters with this parable.

But there is an opposite danger.  When there is a tension to be lived in, then we can easily come down on either side, throw stones at those opposite us, and pretend to ourselves that our static position is somehow the tension where the Truth lies.  In other words, if I come down on the side of the “not yet” then I miss the truth of the “already” and vice versa.

In The Stages of Life Carl Jung says it this way,

“Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and regresses to the past falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past.  The only difference is that the one has estranged himself from the past and the other from the future.  In principle both are doing the same thing: they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness instead of shattering it in the tension of opposites and building up a state of wider and higher consciousness.”

I say all of that in order to say this…

My family has just begun exploring the liturgy of advent.  For those who, like me, didn’t grow up knowing too much about advent, it is basically a way of experiencing the waiting for Christ to come.  It is the source of all those beautiful minor key Christmas songs like “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”  It speaks of the pangs of longing for a Savior who will come and set things right.

But then comes Christmas.  And it is in Christmas that we celebrate the coming of that Savior.  In advent we allow ourselves to experience the “not yet” but in Christmas we celebrate the “already.”  It’s so easy to lose that in all of the things that Christmas has become.  But leaving aside for now the critique of modern consumerism as it relates to Christmas, I think this is a far more insidious danger that lurks beneath the surface of our holiday celebrations.  We take this one day, and even if we do it right – even if we truly celebrate the joyful news that in Jesus, God became one of us – we somehow lose it by a day or two later.

We go right back to waiting.

I do not ever want to be guilty of saying we shouldn’t think of God as “yet to come.”  Even the Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God.”  It is an integral part of the Christian faith to acknowledge the fact that we long for the full realization of God’s presence.  There is only the thinnest whisper of a veil between us and God, but that whisper is at the exact same time an iron curtain that is light-years thick.  I do not wish to downplay that.  The health-wealth-prosperity “preachers” will tell you till they are blue in the face that God is so present among us that it must be your fault if you aren’t driving a BMW right now.  That teaching is a lie.

But let’s not be so cynical that we throw away the truth that makes that lie seem real.

Because we can very easily go the other way.  We can spend a day celebrating the arrival of Jesus.  But then we have placed it in a place in our minds where it is so far removed from our lives that it sits right there on the shelf beside of Santa Claus.  It’s a nice story we tell once a year.  There are some shepherds, and there is a baby in a feed-box.  There’s a pregnant lady with a blue thing on her head sitting on a donkey with a very confused carpenter leading her to Bethlehem.

It’s a cute story, but if it’s just something that happened a few thousand years ago in the middle east then I’d rather watch “A Christmas Story.”

It is only in so far as we don’t really believe it that we treat it as a history lesson.  Of course there is a place for understanding that there was a historical person named Jesus.  He was born in a barn in Bethlehem to a teenage girl named Mary and her very confused but supportive teenage husband Joseph.

But we make a fatal leap.

We jump straight from that history into the waiting for the second coming.  And in doing so we treat this entire life as a giant waiting room.  There’s boring muzac on the speakers.  There’s some dull and lifeless conversation between some people who aren’t too introverted to avoid eye contact with strangers.   But the whole point is the waiting for something better (or possibly worse) than what we’re in right now.

So, the point of all of this is to ask you, and me, and everyone else to please, don’t lose track of the point of the story.  It is important to see that this thing happened historically sometime two thousand years ago.  But the point is not the story.  The point is that the baby who was born in that feed-box grew up and said, “I have come to preach the good news to the poor…”  That baby was God come to set things right.  That baby grew into a man who taught us to love each other, and who said that the Kingdom is already here!

If that doesn’t make you want to grab the person next to you by the collar and scream, “Hey!  Have you heard this?!?!” Then maybe the problem is that we keep moving from waiting to waiting, and skipping out on the point of the waiting.  Christmas is about New Year’s!  It is about the coming of the one who starts things over fresh!  We don’t have to wait till next year to start living like the Kingdom is here.  The Kingdom is here!  God is with us.  Love wins.  Death loses.

Now, if you want a New Year’s resolution, let it be this:  Live the rest of your life as if you believe this is true.  And when you see suffering and pain and disease and sadness; expose those liars for what they are!  Work and weep and sweat and pray.  This is your sermon when you go out and preach the good news to the poor.  The Savior has come, and is here.  That pain is real, but when it tells you it will always be, it is a liar.

Love is the Word.

Believe.

Love,

-A


i won’t fly away…

So, today is the day.  It’s a day I’ve been dreading for a while now.  It is one year since my mom passed away.  It’s strange the things that you think will be impossible are not so bad, and the things you don’t even consider hit you like a truck.  I expected Christmas to be hard, and it was worse than I expected.  But I didn’t expect it to be so hard to see the snow.  I didn’t expect it to sting so badly to see my son enjoy his presents.  I mean, I love it that he enjoys his presents, but to think how much she’d enjoy him enjoying them…

Or how about this one…I’m eating spaghetti tonight and I break down in tears remembering an argument we had when I was in college.  I was heading back to school from a weekend away, and she sent me back with a tupperware of spaghetti.  I was so mad that the second I got out of my car, I tossed it across the road into the woods.  It’s stupid the things that set me off, really.

Anyway.

I don’t say all that to wallow in the hard memories.  I say it because today I feel oddly hopeful.  I am incredibly sad, but in some strange way all the stuff I tend to intellectualize about God feels more real today.  It’s easy for me to talk a big talk about how God will make everything new.  I can run off at the mouth for hours about how God really does understand our suffering, and that all things work together for good, and death is not the end.  But how often is it really real?

There are things you know, and things you feel.  And at least for this moment, these Truths are both.

One of my pastors is a guy named Dave.  Dave has been talking a lot lately about the fact that God put on flesh.  The thing that has grabbed Dave, and which is in turn grabbing me, is the fact that this was not just a momentary thing.  The Creator of the universe didn’t just put on flesh for 33 years and then go back to being Spirit.  This same Creator, the Word, Adonai, is still in the flesh.  He is eternally in a perfected human body…exactly as we will be…

Exactly as my Mom is now.

That is exciting!  It’s revolutionary.  It goes against everything that anyone has ever thought about God.  It goes against our cultural idea that says that this life, the matter that makes up everything around us, is worthless.  It goes against the idea that says that we don’t have to care about this world because “some glad morning I’ll fly away.”  Because this world is not being destroyed.  It’s being renewed.  Matter matters!  It matters so much that the Creator who is Spirit took on matter as a part of his identity for the rest of eternity.

And there is the hope.  When I think of a reunion with my mom, it’s not some disembodied spiritual thing.  I will walk barefoot through the grass and meet her at the top of Max Patch in Madison County and give her a huge hug.  We’ll have a giant family reunion with grandparents and aunts and uncles who went before, and babies we never got to meet.  We’ll pet our old dog, Butch, and our old fat cat Weezer.

And she’ll introduce me to a God who knows this pain.  She’ll introduce me to a God who wept over the death of his friend Lazarus.

There’s a scene in the movie “Fight Club” where Brad Pitt (Tyler Durden) kisses Edward Norton’s hand and then dumps lye on it.  As it creates a chemical burn, Brad Pitt tells him to stop trying to escape the pain and just feel it.  Edward Norton says, “You don’t know how this feels…”  then Pitt holds up his hand to show him a lip shaped chemical burn.  After that Norton settles into the pain and learns to live within it.

God has a chemical burn on his hand.

The cross is the great universal “me too.”  God knows exactly how bad this feels.  And while that doesn’t make the pain go away, it does help me to settle into it.  And God offers something that Tyler Durden never could.  God can and will actually take that pain away.  And until he does, he can use it for good.

Christmas was terrible.  With the exception of this time last year, Christmas was the hardest time of my life.  But as the reality of today sinks in for me, I am thankful that Christmas was so hard.  I am too tired to be as low as I could have been otherwise on a day like today.  Having already been into the blackness, I can now see the rays of light.  That is a beautiful thing.

And through these tears I read the words,

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”