Tag Archives: hope

The Gift of Good Grief

“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis in the Problem of Pain

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The Christmas season always stirs up for me a sense of ‘good grief’.  A couple of days before Christmas in 2005, my wife and I received a call in the early morning to get to the hospital ASAP because our almost 2 year old niece had stop breathing in the middle of the night due to a rare strand of pneumonia.  At the time I was pastoring a networked house church community while teaching high school as my day job.  We rushed to the hospital and I remember struggling with my identity as to how to approach the chaos of the catastrophe.  Was I a pastor, brother-in-law or friend?  I was confused and overwhelmed.  We got to the ER and was ushered into the sterile room where my sister-in-law sat embracing her gift of a daughter that had now passed over the veil into the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  The pastor in me had only one goal, it was to raise the little one back to life.  All of the stories in our Scriptures tell us that this can be so, that we have a faith of resurrection.  But by the time my hands touched the bodily forehead of my niece, Kate, my prayer changed.  I was not destined to be there because of a bodily resurrection, I was there to be invited into a long season of ‘good grief’.

The questions that followed were clearly horrifying.  First there was the practical.  It was but 2 days before the Christmas holiday, is the funeral home available and open for planning?  Is there time to find a burial plot before the workers go on holiday break?  With all the holiday planning, when is the right time to have a funeral for a little one?  To have to compartmentalize practical questions in the midst of shock and early mourning seemed particularly cruel.  Then there was the deeply surreal and spiritual questions.  How do we now as a family approach the adoration of the Nativity scene having just lost one of our own dear babies?  The darkness was on the doorstep with the taunts of a destructive bully, how does one respond?  More specifically, how does a community respond?

Here’s what I have learned . . . you respond with ‘good grief’.

Suffering of most any kind can lead you to a place of utter isolation.  I found some hope in Shelley Trebesch’s book “Isolation: A place of transformation in the life of a leader” after this season of grief.  Shelley describes these places of isolation in terms of desert or wilderness experiences.  They are unwanted, unplanned and avoided if at all possible.  Her thesis is that we don’t try just to survive, endure or get past these times, but to begin to see them as the very transformational experiences that may be preparing us for another journey.  Within the crucible of pain, grief and isolation, we can learn and grow in powerful and transformational ways that only suffering can do.  We shouldn’t try and ‘avoid’ these times, but we should embrace them as a kind of ‘good grief’.  The crucible of pain reveals the shallowness of our previously held goals and expectations and we realize that God desires to deepen our life into more of what the truth really is about ourselves and our world.  In this way, the truth very much does hurt.  However, it is also only the truth that sets us free.

What I learned is that every single person that Jesus healed eventually died.  Every person he resurrected, died again.  So what is the point of healing in the Christian faith?  I believe that all healing has nothing to do with the actual act of healing, that’s simply just a re-arranging of sick cells in the body.  Rather, that each divine act against the laws of nature are meant to be a resounding announcement that there is a God and we aren’t him.  In the same way that we have a worked out belief in healing, we also need to grow up and have a mature belief in ‘not healing’.  When God doesn’t re-arrange cells as we wished he would, what do we do then?  I learned that when a spiritual community has ‘good grief’, meaning they grieve with a violent sense of hope, that also is a resounding announcement of a Kingdom that has come.  Healing and n0t-healing are both a primal and rebel yell of hope.

Since these tragic events of Christmas 2005, it changed the way our small church community worshiped.  It was as if our faith wasn’t about making ourselves feel better anymore, but that we were at war with the bully of despair and our cry was one of hope.  We didn’t want to sit still in our little cocoons, we wanted to buck up and have the courage walk through the dark night of our suffering to come out in the end to the light.  As a father, I had to deal with the mortality of my children.  Life needed to be about the precious now, and connecting with them was more important than my selfish ambitions.  Dealing with the loss of their cousin, the death of Kate changed my kids’ worldview.  They see the world and the future somehow more grown up.  They organize their thinking and planning about their bright future around the idea of spreading the virus of hope through their unique giftings and abilities.  Life is short and precious, make it meaningful.  Hope is violent, pick a fight there.

We need not seek to avoid these times, we can embrace them.  We don’t like grief, it’s painful, but in the hands of the One who made us, there is such a thing as ‘good grief’.   We can find Hope even in the most grievous of times and circumstances.  In utter darkness, light can yet shine through.  I love these words from Henri Nouwen:

Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business.  Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown.  Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.” (60)  Turn My Mourning To Dancing

 

Listening to the Voices

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 191.

I am in a place of re-invention again.  It is not what I asked for, it is not what I wished for, it is not what I dreamed about . . . but it is where I am at.  I am facing decisions and choices larger than me and with grand consequences.  I am sitting at a table where ‘all’ is on the table and I don’t know how it will all end.  So as I set out on this journey, I have to choose at the get-go what voices I’m going to listen to.  There are voices within and without in life and they speak different messages.

Some voices focus and intimidate on what is not, on what is done and on what is fearful about the future.  It is a voice of negativity and scarcity.  It is a bully of a voice; taunting and shouting accusations and judgments like piercing arrows looking for weaknesses in the armor. This voice can sometimes veil itself in logic and perceived control, but it’s aim is not of freedom, but to a slavery of fear.  This voice wakes me in the night with racing thoughts and pre-occupations of circumstances well beyond my control.  It’s end is destructive, it’s stench wreaks of despair.  it is a foul voice and I don’t want it at my table.

There is another voice, one that is not the shouts of a bully, but the whispers of a wise mentor.  This is a voice that talks about journey, that speaks to battles that have been won, ground that has been taken and pathways that have shaped the very make-up of who I am.  This is a voice that sees the possibility of the future and puts on sunglasses to shade it’s radiance.  This is a voice that when faced with the taunts of a bully steps up to the line to look his enemy in the eye.  This is the voice of a leader; to whom is given the care and protection of many and can look the fiery demon in the face and in the words of Gandalf the Grey, proclaim “You Shall Not Pass!”.  This voice speaks beauty when things are ugly, speaks light when things are dark and speaks freedom when the shackles are nearby.  This is the voice of hope and it must become my cry.

Friend, I don’t know what you are facing, but it is worth the time to stop and consider the voices you are listening to.  It may be the voices that determine the direction of your journey.  Be brave, choose hope.

‘But the fighter still remains’

 

 

The Boxer

“I am just a poor boy
Though my story seldom told
I squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises

 

Then I’m laying down my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone going home
Where the New York City winters
Are bleeding me, bleeding me going home

 

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter sill remains”

This is a gem of a bonus track on Mumford & Son’s new album, Babel.  A throwback tribute to Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting ballad of a man just trying to find his way, but not giving up.  Somehow, some way, the fighter still remains.

This song goes out to all of you who know what it feels like to be cut down, to be set aside, to not get chosen, to find yourself on the ground.  It’s a lonely and dark place, the cold tiles of the floor bring no comfort.  They pale in comparison to the longings of warmth and companionship around the fire of joy and celebration.  But when you are knocked to the mat, those memories seem distant and joy is a difficult value to summons.  But yet, the fighter still remains.

Many of you have lived chapters of life.  You may have a chapter that about brought you to extinction.  A chapter that about snuffed the light out of you but for some dying embers to keep you awake, both in soul and life.  And yet you remain, you are here.  You have not gone down to the depths, you have yet risen to the surface of new hopes and perhaps a craving for a resurrection of sorts.  There is something of life yet breathing within and the figher still remains.

So today, what is the fighter in you saying?  What is that inner voice fighting for?  What do you long to see yet changed?  What anthem is within you that you want to offer as proclamation to a new generation?  What hope will not be dismayed?  What injustice wreaks havoc on your heart and won’t let you go?  What darkness must you stand up to?  What lie must you confront?  Why do you keep getting up?  These are the haunting questions of our heart and soul, it is part of being human.

The fighter in you still remains, come out swinging today.

peace, Chris

The Secondary Evil of the Sandusky Trial

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“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill

So the Penn State scandal with Jerry Sandusky story is raining out headlines with vivid and graphic details given in the prosecution’s testimonies from the victim’s memories of their interactions with the former coach.  They are shocking accounts, gross, inhuman and a description of personified evil.  It is difficult to imagine a world in which children are not safe, let alone a world where they are preyed upon by those entrusted to care and shape their development into adulthood.  The stories make your stomach turn, they are difficult to read or listen to.  If the accounts are true, Jerry Sandusky mis-used his God-given free will to enact evil on children.  In addition, driven by motivations of fear and pride, the administration did nothing to protect these children; they colluded to enact systemic evil in their free-will.  The victims will have a lifetime of recovery and rehabilitiation emotionally and psychologically.  The story is overwhelmingly sad. 

But that is not where the story ends.  The stories are not just public record, they are broadcasted in vivid detail on radio, television and print news.  There is a secondary evil in the Sandusky trial.  Every person, particularly children, who have been abused in their past re-live their abusers mis-use of power over them through the power of memory.  Some victims have never come public with their stories of abuse and it is particularly painful for them.  The power of the secret typically manifests itself in obsessive behavior and keeps them trapped in a destructive pattern of silence.  Other victims, even after having experienced years of emotional and psychological healing, now living productive lives of freedom, can still experience moments of re-lived trauma just in the listening to the story of abuse from another. 

As the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape reports  :

“For survivors of sexual assault, the details of the alleged child sexual abuse and the continuous buzz about the story have the potential to prompt a different kind of fallout — triggering or reliving the trauma of their own assault.”

I’m just an individual, but I wanted to just express my human sorrow for victims out there who are re-living their trauma through the re-telling of the Sandusky story.  I just wanted to say that it’s not your fault, you are not alone and there is real hope and freedom for your future.  I stand in solidarity with you, you are not a victim, you are free. 

 “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope” – Henri Nouwen  

This is the prayer I pray for those formerly victim friends of mine who are experiencing a re-traumatization.  Go through it fully, on the other end is the freedom you seek, that is our shared hope.  You are not alone.

When Hope is your home, and not your home

Tragedy in La Limonada

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I can’t shake this story from my friends in Lemonade International.  I just want it not to be true.  This is not the created intention for this 15 year old girl wanting to escape the clutches of evil.  Deep, deep loss.  My heart saddens for her family, friends and community.  Christ have mercy.

What do we think of hope in a time and place of such darkness?  As followers of the Christ, we have only one thought in regards to hope.  Hope is our home, and moment to moment we realize we are not home.  We long, we yearn, we wait . . . we hope.  Our Hope is in a Kingdom that has come, and a Kingdom that is yet coming.  Hope is our home, but we are not yet completely home. 

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity puts it this way in his chapter on Hope:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. . . . If I find in myself a desire in which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. . . . Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. . . . I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find til after death; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”  (p. 136-137)

Today I mourn with La Limonada, and today I Hope with La Limonada.  We are not home, but we don’t leave this world as it is. 

What do we do against such heavy darkness when hope feels like a faint echo?  What do we do when the stench and sting of death pierces our senses?  We do what we have always done, we follow the Resurrector.  We do what is written in our soul, we read words of life.  We in no uncertain terms, RISE AGAIN!  We know no other way, we are people of the Resurrection.   

So hear is my prayer today for my friends serving in La Limonada, go in the Spirit of the One who created it all and proclaim your hope this day.  Proclaim the Hope of the One who is Resurrected.  Serve, love, give mercy, sing, dance, worship, feed, educate, clothe, persevere amidst long suffering and all in the name of the Hope that has come.  Show the children what Hope looks like.  They long for the ‘other’ country, a place where it is as it should be.  Reveal to them the Hope just on the other side of the veil.  Let the light come in and pierce the darkness.  God as you once did, I pray you push away the stone in La Limonada and release your Resurrection of Hope. 

When I have no more words to say in this regard, I fall on the words of my brother who has passed on to Kingdom fullness who knew this hope full well.  These are some of Mark Palmer’s final words and I pray them over La Limonada this day:

“When it seems that hopefulness is the least appropriate response in this situation, let it rise up even more. Whisper your hope when you lie down at night; scream your hope when you wake in the morning. Live your hope as if it is the one and only thing that sustains you in this ravaged world. You will not be disappointed.”

May Hope be your home today in La Limonada, even though you are not yet home. 

darkness is his covering

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“9 He parted the heavens and came down;   dark clouds were under his feet.10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;   he soared on the wings of the wind.11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—   the dark rain clouds of the sky.12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,   with hailstones and bolts of lightning.13 The LORD thundered from heaven;   the voice of the Most High resounded.  Psalm 18:9-13

If you are prone to believe in and listen for the voice of One who is the creator and sustainer of all things, sometimes it is just flat out hard to hear it.  Our preoccupations, our anxieties, our muchness, our manyness, our unbelief, our rebellion. . . we are a people who tend to stray.  And when the darkness comes, when it seems all hope has passed, when it feels as if the walls are closing, when light has left the room of your heart; you perceive that you are alone in that darkness.  Reading this Psalm today raises a new question for me:  What if darkness is his covering?  What if he is cloaked in that dusk?  What if that lonely place is actually the canopy of his  presence?  Often when we least expect it, often when we think all hope is gone, often when we come to the end of our rope . . . we find there is more.  Look to the clouds of your heart, your mind, your soul;  see if there is not a radiant light waiting to break through, see that you were never alone.  Listen for that voice in the thunder, for darkness is often his covering.peace,Marshall

Fighting for life

 

“Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.  One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”  – Norman Mailer (American Novelist)

Which of us is immune to life’s waves crashing on our shore?  You choose your metaphor, but life is just sometimes hard . . . really hard.  Being overwhelmed has got to be one of the most de-motivating emotions in our experience here.  It threatens to squeeze the life out of us.  It is a bully that says change is not possible.  That the way things are is what will always be.  These kinds of voices and this kind of bully is the enemy of Hope.  Hope is a rebellion down deep within us that contends with these voices.  Hope is about life, a fight for real life.  A fight for the things you care about.  A fight for the things you want to see changed.  It is never too late to change.  It starts with a decision to fight for life, to get busy living. 

peace,Marshall

Pick a fight

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“I’m going to pick a fight”  – from the movie Braveheart

Steven:  Fine speech. Now what do we do?William Wallace: Just be yourselves.Hamish: Where are you going?William Wallace: I’m going to pick a fight.Hamish: Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.

 Tonight’s topic for class is in direct contrast to last week’s topic on suffering and the problem of evil.  Tonight’s topic is, “now what”?  So the world is full of pain, suffering and hate.   The waves crashing on our shore are both systemic and personified evil.  So what, what is our response?  Should we give up?  Should we shut the windows and lock the doors?  Should we lie on the canvas and wait to be counted out?  Perhaps we should do what the Christian bookstore new release titles tell us, hunker down and wait for Jesus to come back.  Dream of escapism and waith for glory in the by and by.  I mean its all just too hard, right?  Sit in fear and tremble in a dark corner?   . . . this is rubbish

John 20:1, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”

What do we do?  We frickin’ get up.  We get up off the canvas.  We rise to the darkness of the early morning.  If our enemy is riding out to meet us, then we give him the pleasure of our company.  Why?  Not because of us, but because of the One we follow is the Resurrection.  When things are hard, when times are dark, we have a nasty habit of RISING again! I encourage you to pick a fight.  Pick a fight with the cause that is written on your soul.  Whatever it is, whoever you are, for the sake of Christ, pick a fight.  Love and Hope is our rebellion.  Scream it into the places that seem lost, rage against the systems that are dehumanizing, resist the tyranny of inequality.   I’m choosing to get up today, I’m choosing to pick a fight.peace,marshall

a future already prepared?

 

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I daily use Celtic Daily Prayer from Northumbria Community.  It is a monastic community on the north shore of England bordering Scotland.  I stayed there on a personal retreat a few years ago and it continues to have a hold on my thinking and my living.  They organized a prayer book and I’m a pretty big fan.  I have long been interested in Celtic Christianity and the legacy of St. Patrick.  I would say St. Patrick has influenced my spirituality as much as the Apostles.  It must be the Irish in me. I read this in Celtic Daily Prayer from today’s Aidan reading and it hit me between the eyes:

“I know the plans I have for  you, says the Lord, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)  God can take events of the past and weave them so skillfully inot a new plan for us that not only do we find there is a future for us after all, but it is as if there have been no wasted years.”Christ Before MeHe forever goes before us to prepare a place for us.  He is on the road we tread.  Where life is leading us, He has gone before.  Perhaps we have no clue about what lies ahead; we know who is ahead of us, so the future is not quite unknown.  – David Adam, The Edge of Glory

peace to your future,marshall