Twin 17-year old girls, friends of a friend, were in a car accident that left one twin dead, and the other hospitalised. Days later, she too, died. As it turned out, the twins had lost an older sister five years earlier, also in a car accident.
A woman who gave birth to two stillborn twin boys went on to have a successful pregnancy and childbirth. She and her husband enjoyed two incandescently happy hours with their newborn before trouble arose. A normally harmless virus had ravaged the baby’s heart in utero, and he died a few days later.
My cousin, whose father committed suicide more than 30 years ago, committed suicide himself, leaving behind two young daughters, just as he himself was left behind at their age.
I have thought a lot about all three events, struggling with the reality that these things happen in our world even though we are loved supremely by Triune God. I wish I could tell you that I’ve come to an earth-shattering conclusion that makes all of these events make sense — but, of course, I can’t. They don’t make sense in any way. The mother who lost her third baby wrestled with what had happened a few weeks later on her blog, noting that when her one living child was in pain, she’d drop everything, and do anything to ease her pain. So where was God when she herself was in agony? When two teen girls could have been delayed just a few seconds in order to avoid the speeding driver who slammed into their car, where was God?
None of it makes sense.
If anything has risen to the surface in all this for me, it has been simply this: if there was no God, would we care about others? Would we be anything better than crocodiles?
What if the very fact that we grieve so deeply when we lose loved ones or see them hurt — the fact that we care when even strangers experience loss — is the best evidence of God there is?
I recently saw a series of images of snowflakes under a microscope. Each one was indescribably intricate. I live in Minnesota, where we live with several feet of snow coating the landscape for months. To think that it’s not just masses of cold, flat, white nothingness out there, but trillions of tiny jewels — not one alike — instead is pretty mind-boggling. Sand is the same way under a microscope — absolutely stunning.
But as humans, we lack the eyes and perspective to see it. Snow is just snow. Sand is just sand.
What if life is like snowflakes and sand and the other countless, nameless objects we don’t possess the eyes to see? What if life, to us, seems long in the face of loss when in our cosmic reality, it is really more like one long, deep breath — or even a single heartbeat?
When the father of now three dead daughters spoke to reporters, his advice — like that of so many who have stood in his shoes before him — was to hug our loved ones and tell them we love them today. Because tomorrow does not always come.
Today is precious.
Karl Bart wrote:
Joy is the rarest and most infrequent thing in the world. We already have enough fanatical seriousness, enthusiasm, and humorless zeal in the world. But joy? This shows us that the perception of the living God is rare. When we have found God our Saviour –- or when he has found us –- we will rejoice in him.
We don’t have to run far to find him. We have only to look at a snowflake under a microscope to know that there is much more to life than that which meets the eye.
But how to live our lives joyfully and not in terror that, even while loved supremely by God, peril awaits at every corner for those we love?
In his TED Talk, Brother David Steindl-Rast notes that grateful people are happy people. Gratitude comes first. Gratitude, he says, comes from seeing every moment as an unearned gift.
The way not to live in fear is to make a practice of appreciating THIS day with my loved ones as the unearned, miraculous day that it is. To make sure I love them today so that if I lose them tomorrow, I don’t have the regret of taking them for granted to add to the weight of my grief and missing them.
The way to live joyfully is to make a practice of slowing down and noticing. Gratitude always follows, and then so does joy. Brother Steindl-Rast’s advice is to stop — look — and then go.
My simple recipe for a joyful day is this: Stop and wake up; look and be aware of what you see; then go on with all the alertness you can muster for the opportunity the moment offers. When I am grateful, I am neither rushing nor slouching through my day — I’m dancing.”
Father, Son and Spirit are always dancing. All of humanity is caught up and included in their dance. Life will bring tragedies and we no more have the minds to understand them than we have eyes to see the full beauty of a snowflake or grain of sand. But we can see a great deal if we just stop and notice.
“All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
~ Jeannine Buntrock
Photo by Alexey Kljatov.
Today is Thanksgiving, a day dedicated to thoughtfully reflecting on our many blessings. It seems too short, only having one day to acknowledge all the wonders of life we enjoy. With the start of the Christmas season just around the bend, I would suggest that the best gift we could give ourselves is the gift of gratitude.
Many times we think of gratitude as a way of showing appreciation to others for the kindnesses they show us. This is certainly right and true, but the gratitude I’m talking about is our personal recognition of ordinary joys that make our lives worth living.
Right now, I am participating in an e-course by Dr. Brene Brown called “The Gifts of Imperfection,” based on her bestselling book. Dr. Brown gained notoriety through her talks on TED.com where she spoke about topics that no one else wanted to address: shame, vulnerability, and what it means to live wholeheartedly and authentically.
As part of our coursework, we have created a journal, and this past week, our assignment was to create a collage of photos or drawings that remind us of our ordinary joys, the very normal moments of our day that we would miss if we didn’t have them. The premise is that by paying attention to the simple aspects of daily living that bring us joy, we cultivate an attitude of gratitude. You can see from my collage above that my simple joys range from seeing my husband come home from work to my favorite pussy willow lights to a hot cup of tea and watching my dogs sleep in the sun.
When Dr. Brown was conducting her research through interviewing people who had suffered a great loss (spouse, child, or some other trauma), what she found was that the memories that meant the most to them were those very ordinary moments. Further, as she questioned these people, she discovered that their greatest desire was that others recognize the wonder of those everyday moments and appreciate them. It was through this that they felt their loss was honored.
In thinking about this coursework and interacting with my classmates online, I’ve made the observation that the practice of gratitude for blessings big or small gives us a broader perspective from which to view life. As we move through difficult trials and loss, giving thanks for the moments of beauty and joy that we experience reminds us that while one area of our lives might stink at the moment, there is still beauty and joy and love, and that generates hope. That is what makes life worth living.
The psalmist said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1 NIV). We sometimes view this as how we must give God his due, as if our giving thanks benefits God in some way. In reality, the practice of gratitude is a gift that God has given us, enabling us to recognize the simple joys of life and providing a way to give us hope when times are tough. Thanksgiving may only be one day, but I’ll bet you have your own list of ordinary moments of joy to remind you that God has given you one wild and precious life.
~by Nan Kuhlman
Can you imagine a world with no color, or no variety? Can you imagine us all having the same favorite color and object – a yellow pencil? Yes, we’d all be nothing but boring yellow pencils… hehehe…(couldn’t resist)! One of the reasons my favorite season is Autumn is because of the various colors that become prominent and all mixed up together in showers of beauty! Wow! In part, our youngest daughter got her name because of my love for this particular season. As I sat at a stop light recently, I was literally mesmerized by the wonderful red and yellow leaves that fell like rain from a well-ordered row of trees directly across the street and thanked the Father, Son and Spirit, yet again, for sharing such complex and simple iridescence and coloration with us! Wowsa!
This is also one reason I appreciate relating with those in my denomination and local Church congregation. I appreciate and enjoy the rich variety of colors, cultures and accents that make up our genuine and regular relating together as brothers and sisters adopted into the Love and Life of God the Trinity – THE Relationship of all relationships, FILLED with unity AND DIVERSITY – the basis for various colors!
Can you imagine being literally colorblind in such a world of profound and colorific nature? Color blindness ”the inability or decreased ability to see color, or perceive color differences, under normal lighting conditions”(Wikipedia). I sure can’t imagine being deficient in seeing life in color, not to mention the danger of it (how would you know to stop at a stop light if you are the first one to arrive at it? Yikes!) Actually, in a world filled with color it could be downright dangerous to your health!)
All these thoughts have crossed my mind lately as I have heard, for the umpteenth time, a person in my presence say “When I see you and everyone else in the room, I don’t see color!” What?! How is that possible when we are such a rich variety of people with different colors displayed in the blazing glory of God the Trinity in our present humanity?! Grrrrrrrrrrr…….makes me wanna scream…ahhhhhhh… hahaha… Okay, okay, I DO KNOW what the person saying this to me is trying to communicate, so I give them a break, but, to be honest, in trying to help me know they are more accepting of people of other colors and not as prejudiced as they perhaps once were, they sure sound, and give me the feel of, an awful prejudice…just saying….
In the Light of the Union and Diversity of the Father, Son and Spirit (the Son even now claiming Jewishness in His very real humanity Luke 23:38!), how can we any longer look around a room filled with diverse people and colors and TRULY proclaim to be color-blind? In Jesus we see our various colors and races dignified! The problem I am pointing out is kind of like taking Gal 3:28 out of context. It’s not that Paul is saying that we no longer see people for who they are as Jew, Gentile, Black, White, Brown, Male, Female, Child, Elder, etc. It’s that we actually see IN CHRIST all of those diverse children of the Lord as our brothers and sisters, in union with us and as equally loved, liked and included in His family! Yay! (Again, I can’t help but exclaiming joyfully at such a fantastically colorant Gospel!)
I am not making a huge complaint here because I AM THANKFUL that somehow in the far-reaching love of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, all of humanity and every human person is embraced and included in His Life and Love including every single person who struggles with the various prejudices of every type (Me and each one of you! hahaha) Prejudice is exposed as a true sin and relational problem because even those who are prejudiced against lighter skinned people seem to enjoy the white sands of a warm beach without complaint , and those who are prejudiced against darker-skinned folks still seem to love playing with black or red mulch in their flower beds. And, in fact, we exalt these colors in these moments and don’t say “I went to the beach and never saw any color! Yay” or “Look at my colorless flowerbed and mulch! Wheeeee!”…heehee…
If I am complaining (cuz honestly I have heard this kind of thing overmuch in my circles! Yikes!), it is a complaint to see more clearly that we can be so bold as to think/voice what we see in Jesus the Jew (and Good News!) Himself – that our skin color matters and is something to celebrate and speak about encouragingly! Prejudice makes people disappear and seem not to matter. Claiming to see no color can do the same thing – besides the other person IS your [insert color] brother or sister in Christ, even as you are theirs! Ha!
You have to use good discernment, and it may or may not be proper in certain social circumstances, annddd I KNOW the situation is COMPLICATED, but every once in a while feel free to express the glory of God in a diverse friendship/fellowship and say something Gospel and “simple” like “When I see you, and everyone else in the room, I see a noble and diverse member of God’s family and my brother or sister in Jesus, including the colorific, chromatic, colorful, luminescent, tinge, tinctures and skin pigmentations that make the skin complexions stand out and blend together in His unity and present glory so beautifully!” Hahahahahahahahahahaha…
“…he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” – Acts 25b-26 TNIV
Recently I have found myself inside out, upside down, and in many ways dismayed.
You see often we who write and preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus fall into the trap of thinking we are further along in our freedom than we are really. You see, throughout our lives we make judgments about ourselves and others that may or may not be right or even healthy. We may decide “I’m too fat”, and then live out of that judgment to such a degree that we develop an eating disorder. We might hear that from school yard bullies or just come to believe it because the celebrated ones in our society are often extremely thin. But in any case the judgments we make are often rooted in lies. The trouble for us is when we live in agreement with those lies. We hurt ourselves and we hurt others both emotionally and too often physically.
Recently my mentor prayed for myself and three friends as we embarked on a three-day canoe trip/ sabbatical. He prayed that Holy Spirit would reveal to us where we walk in agreement with lies and that the dams we erect in our souls would begin to be torn down so that the River of Living Waters might flow through us with greater ease.
The process of healing sure is uncomfortable. Maybe it is painful mostly at the beginning. Maybe the pain gets worse. I’ll have to get back to you on that one in the next few months. In any case I am sure that when the Father, Son, and Spirit lead us to a place in our lives where healing can begin it is for our liberation not for our torment.
Come Holy Spirit of renewal indeed and reveal to us all where we have accepted the lies of the Evil One and where and how we live in agreement with those lies. Work in us to heal and not to harm. “Steal behind the watchful dragons”* of our souls” and heal us where we are hurting, ashamed, and most afraid. In Jesus’ name Amen.
*see C.S. Lewis in The Window in the Garden
Though yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, it has gained popularity and new expression in the United States within the past thirty years. Yoga also has many critics, and some of those critics are Christians who feel that participating in an exercise that has its origins in a non-Christian culture is an idolatrous activity. I know this because I was one of them.
For many years, I felt that participating in a non-Christian (or “pagan”) activity would potentially displease God, as he might mistakenly think I was worshiping Hindu deities. I couldn’t risk that, so it was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to even attend a yoga class. When I finally did, my view of a yoga practice dramatically changed, mainly due to the simple gesture of Namaste that my instructor taught us that first class.
The gesture Namaste is performed usually at the end of a yoga class by lightly pressing the palms together in front of the heart and bowing the head. Though this gesture by itself signifies deep respect, in our culture the word Namaste (pronounced nahm-ah-stay) is usually spoken while bowing, and it means most simply, “I bow to you,” or “The Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.” Though some may furrow a brow at the use of the word “Divine,” I see that as another way of acknowledging “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27 NIV). This makes sense to me, as our inclusion in Jesus Christ places us in the lap of the Son of God, as the Holy Spirit woos each individual into the fellowship with the Father.
This connection that we have with each other by our adoption into the relationship shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit is often forgotten in the busyness and ordinariness of daily life. Someone cuts in front of us in traffic, and we get angry. Another person gets a promotion at work that we know we deserved. Politics divide, and our respective cultures separate us, at least on the surface where our egos tend to get the better of us. As long as we only look shallowly at our lives, we will never recognize that Jesus is constantly seeking expression through all cultures and in all circumstances.
For example, Jesus has placed his love in the Hindu or Muslim mother for her child, just as he has placed his love in a Christian mother for her child. Though the source of that love might not be known to the participant, God is still glorified as each mother lovingly cares for her child. In the same way, an atheist who works to feed the hungry or simply shows kindness to his or her dog is unknowingly permitting the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit to flow through him/her. When we recognize that any love in this world ultimately started with God, we begin to see that God is no respecter of persons or cultures, and that despite many people’s efforts to keep him out of their lives, the divine love finds its way in.
The word Namaste symbolizes to me this recognition of God’s love and inclusion flowing to and through all of humanity. When we stop thinking about our differences and instead choose to honor our connection through the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, it changes the way we see others as well as ourselves. By honoring our brother, not because we necessarily agree with him, we are reminded that we are part of a much bigger picture.
This change in perspective permits us to acknowledge that we each are on our own journey toward understanding the fullness of God’s love for all humanity. Some may be further along than others, but all are being drawn toward a deepening relationship with their Creator. Namaste sums up this change in viewpoint, from one of “I’m right; you’re wrong” to “We’re all in this together.” By showing respect to those who are very different from us, we honor the connection of love that flows from God through and to all of humanity. Namaste.
~by Nan Kuhlman
Grace Communion International Regional Superintendent, Greg Williams, recently visited New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Maryland and took them through various stories of prayer in the book of Acts. These stories demonstrated how the Church can and does experience the Father, Son and Spirit in relationship through prayer and the importance and encouragement of relating with God in this way! Greg concluded the message by leading the congregation in a prayer gathered around on of its seriously sick teens, Autumn Brassell, who looks to be suffering the symptoms of Lupus.
“Sin is not a problem with God. God solved all his problems with sin before the foundation of the world, in the beginning—and it’s done. The iceberg that lies under the surface of history is the Son of God; redemption is the mystery behind all history. Sin is a permanent irrelevancy. And God is the one to say, “Look, I have taken away the handwriting that was against you.” ~ Robert F. Capon.
There’s a lot to talk about in response to this wonderful observation, but what really jumped out at me was the analogy of Jesus to an iceberg.
As is commonly known, as much as 90% of an iceberg exists below the surface of the water.
I don’t know about you, but it comforts me to know that I simply cannot know everything about Jesus — not even close. I consciously exist in the world above the surface of the water. To me, it looks like it is all that there is.
The analogy of him as a solid iceberg is also comforting because often my faith seems the opposite of anything so solid as an iceberg. It feels unstable, vaporous, changeable.
In a very interesting book called Code to Joy, I learned that human consciousness is also like an iceberg, with the conscious mind being the part rising out of the water; the unconscious mind the much larger part beneath the water. This carries enormous implications for our human experience.
All that we know — all that humanity has ever consciously known — of Jesus is just the tip of the iceberg. All that we know consciously of anything at all is also the tip of the iceberg.
So if your faith feels unstable, vaporous and changeable at times too — while at other times, your heart, body and soul throb with resonance of truth — could it be that the much larger part of who we are — our unconscious — sees, knows and experiences more than we are aware of consciously? Science tells us that it does.
If you look out at the world and it seems incomplete, what you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. It is incomplete — but only the part of it that we consciously see.
If you look at the earth, spinning slowly and alone in an unfathomably large, black universe and you get a chill, what you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. We are not alone out there.
If you look out at the world and you see incredible beauty, what you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. What we see, as glorious as it is, is merely a dim shadow of what is.
If you look out at the world and you see pain, suffering, injustice, horror and hopelessness too much of the time, what you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. Hope, justice, and healing lie beneath every situation, even if it is never to fully materialise in this life.
If you read the Bible and it confuses you sometimes, what you are reading is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s solid, because what lies beneath it is solid — but it’s not everything.
Unlike the famous iceberg against which the Titanic broke itself, Jesus once and for all time allowed himself to be broken against humanity so we could see consciously that he loves us. (It may be that every human knows it unconsciously.) He is pure love. Father, Son and Spirit are pure love.
The kind of love we have only ever consciously seen or experienced the tip of its iceberg. There is nothing unstable, vaporous or changeable about it.
It’s a solid rock.
~ Jeannine Buntrock
I recently saw a sign outside a church that said: “Prayer is hand-to-hand combat.” This placard represents a common view of many Christians that we must pray diligently to keep Satan and his minions at bay, and that any slacking on our part could turn events for the worse. This attitude says that God’s plan for the world is resting squarely on our shoulders, and that if we mess up, Satan will wreck it.
I have a number of problems with this saying. First, I think prayer is a conversation, a back-and-forth, between us and God, and it’s the type of conversation that invokes change in us without guilt or “shoulds.” It’s the kind of conversation that affirms who we really are, loved and accepted despite our flaws. I don’t see prayer as a fight or even a wrestling, though any wrestling I’ve ever done in prayer has not been with God, but with my own ego and misperceptions.
Next, the idea of fighting against Satan and his minions gives the evil one more attention than is really needed. Many Christians live their lives as if the fate of the world is still hanging in the balance, as if Satan could still possibly snatch all humanity from God’s hand. The fate of the world, of all humanity, was sealed in Christ, and nothing that Satan could do would ever change it:
2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:2-9)
Christ trumps Satan and has included us all in himself, and we are seated with him at the right hand of the Father. While we may still be influenced or tempted by the evil one to see ourselves as unworthy and unacceptable, our fate and the fate of world does not hang in the balance. Before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit determined that humanity would not be destroyed but restored into their fellowship. We can rest in knowing that the salvation of the world doesn’t rest on our shoulders, but on the strong shoulders of Jesus Christ, and our prayers do not need to be a “fight,” but a simple giving of thanks for what has already been accomplished.
~by Nan Kuhlman