Tuesday, December 30, 2014

that's what I call 'putting Christ back in Christmas'!

There's no manger, no traditional Christmas carols - no Hark! the Herald or Silent Night. There's not even an inflatable Charlie Brown or Linus, ready to tell us what Christmas is all about.

But this may be the most exciting and faithful Christmas observance I've seen this year.

Wait, what? Nance, this is very entertaining and impressive, but how does this Star Wars light show celebrate the birth of Jesus?
Good question. The answer may surprise you, but it's very simple: this display is a fundraiser, and everything collected supports a meal program for poor and homeless individuals at the local church.

In the information beneath the video on the YouTube page, the man responsible for this light show explains why they do this:
... people say things like, “what does this have to do with Christmas?” In all reality, what do any of our traditions have to really do with Christmas? There were no lights or even a tree to decorate when Jesus was born. I do this because it brings families together to enjoy something for free while raising thousands of dollars for those who are need. Jesus said, “if you love me, obey my commands.” He told us to help those in need - and that’s why I do it and that’s what I think Christmas is really about.

He's doing this, putting on this brilliant, apparently-not-very-Christmasy show during the holidays, to be obedient to Jesus' teachings. That's what I call putting Christ in your Christmas! And he does it in a way that's innovative, fun, and disarming. Even a Scrooge who doesn't want to hear 'Merry Christmas' and sues his city government over a nativity scene would have a hard time turning his nose up at this deeply Christian way of celebrating the holiday.

What if we all focused less on people who don't want to hear about Jesus during the season and more on finding ways to celebrate or making family traditions that honor Christ at Christmas?

Jesus taught in Matthew 25 (see verses 31-46) that whenever you're compassionate to someone in need, giving a hungry man something to eat, providing shelter to a woman with nowhere to go, when you do something like that for them, you're actually doing it for Jesus himself. Every gift you give to someone in need is a gift you give to Jesus.
A Star Wars musical-light show may not mention Jesus' name, but every dime it raises to feed the hungry adds up to a sizable Christmas gift for the birthday boy himself. What better way to celebrate?

Monday, December 01, 2014

learning the lingo: Advent

Like most congregations, a United Methodist Church comes with a lot of church lingo, "insider language."
Maybe you've heard explanations for it all before. Maybe you haven't. Maybe you did... but it's been awhile, and you could use a *ahem* refresher.
That's what this new series is all about - learning, or maybe relearning, the church lingo. What do all of those acronyms stand for? What does that committee do, anyways?  What are they talking about up there? These posts are your secret decoder ring, to help you piece together the puzzle of church terminology.

For reasons that will soon become clear, I thought we'd start the series with the word "Advent" - or you might hear people at the church talking about the season of Advent. What's the deal?

Well, just like a year is divided into four seasons - spring, summer, fall, winter - a year in the church is divided into different 'seasons' too. The church's seasons are: Advent; Christmas; Epiphany; Lent; Easter; and the season after Pentecost. If you've ever wondered why the colors of the drapery in the sanctuary seem to change at random, it's because the different seasons (and some individual Sundays) are represented by different colors.
(By the way, this isn't just in United Methodist churches - Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and a lot of other Christians use the same 'church calendar'.)

Advent is the first season of the church year. It's color is purple (sometimes blue), and it usually starts right after Thanksgiving. In other words, watch for the color purple coming to a sanctuary near you - this past Sunday, November 30th, was actually the first Sunday of Advent for 2014.

But what is Advent? Why do we have this 'season'?
Advent always starts four Sundays before Christmas, because it's a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, a time to make our hearts and lives ready for his advent (coming). Once Christmas day comes, Advent is over, and we enter the actual Christmas season. So, while all the stores are blasting the Christmas music to get us in a generous, spending kind of mood, churches around the world are still technically waiting: it's not Christmas yet; it's Advent. We're taking time to make ourselves ready for Jesus. If we spend weeks (or months, even!) getting ready for Christmas day with the family, buying gifts, sending cards, preparing the meal, why not spend some time getting our hearts ready to celebrate Jesus?

But there's a double-meaning there. We're getting ready for Jesus' birth in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, but we're also getting ready for Jesus' coming again, his Second Coming, when the dead are raised, history as we know it wraps up, and God's new world begins. During Advent we're doing some introspection, making sure there's 'room in the inn' in our hearts for Jesus, so we can celebrate Christmas meaningfully and rightly, and trying to make sure we're people who are ready for Jesus' return, people who will hear him say "well done, thy good and faithful servant."

So, over the next few weeks when you hear people mention the Advent candles or say "this is the 3rd Sunday of Advent," or something like that, remember what it all means. These next few weeks are our chance to very consciously examine ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit's transforming power, so that we can make ourselves ready for the Christ Child and ready for Jesus' coming again.
That's Advent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

West Wing Christianity

Emily and I have noticed that it seems like there haven't been many strong, admirable Christian characters in mainstream TV in recent years. Usually you end up with someone like Kenneth on 30Rock or Angela on The Office, characters with an extreme and quirky, comedic sort of faith. Ned Flanders on The Simpsons may or may not be an exception. (And there's always Shepherd Book from Firefly!)

Martin Sheen as Josiah Bartlet
But one Christian character from just a few years back who stands out in my mind as intelligent, likable, well-written, and just real, is President Jed Bartlet from The West Wing, played by Martin Sheen. Here is a character who struggles to be faithful amidst the burdens and ambiguities of his work and the tragedies and hurts of life, on a show that consistently and ably addresses some of the most pressing and divisive social issues of our time.

If you couldn't tell, I'm a fan.

Well, at the Hixon home we've recently begun watching The West Wing on Netflix, from beginning to end (the show premiered in 1999 and wrapped up in 2006). I haven't seen an episode of this in years, but as I'm getting reacquainted, I haven't been disappointed. The show, which is consistently ranked as one of the best-written shows in television history, is smart, witty, full of great performances, thoughtful, and powerful when it raises the important questions.

Last night we watched an episode from season 1 that raises one of those questions: "Take This Sabbath Day," where the President and White House staff wrestle with the question of capital punishment as a man's execution hour draws near.
There are characters on all sides of this debate: a Jew and a Quaker who object for religious reasons (Quaker Christians have consistently opposed all violence since the group emerged in the 1600s); 'bleeding heart liberals' who reject the death penalty; apathetic characters; others who feel this is simple justice for a man convicted of a double-homicide; and a character who passionately supports capital punishment because his mother was a cop recently killed in the line of duty. President Bartlet himself is a devoted Roman Catholic, and so he is opposed to capital punishment (the RCC is resolutely pro-life - anti-abortion and anti-death penalty).
The episode isn't meant to settle the debate on capital punishment, just to get you thinking. They debate the Torah, talk about the limits of executive power, and consider the writings of St. Augustine. In my opinion, it's really excellent television.

But why am I bringing this up?

At the end of the episode, the President is in the Oval Office talking with an old friend, who is a priest, about the situation and how he struggled with his decision. Then the priest asks him, "Did you pray?"
President: "I did, Tom. I know it's hard to believe, but I prayed for wisdom."
Priest: "And none came?"
President: "It never has. And I'm a little pissed off about that... I'm not kidding."

Have you ever felt that way? I've prayed for wisdom, I've prayed for direction, and nothing came. It never has.

What comes next is powerful. (The whole scene is worth watching, but the part I'm talking about begins at 1:35 on the video.)

If you don't have a few minutes to watch the clip, here is what the priest says next:
You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town, and that all of the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, 'I'm religious, I prayed, God loves me, God will save me'. The waters rose up. A guy in a rowboat came along, and he shouted, 'Hey, hey, you! You in there! The town is flooding! Let me take you to safety!' But the man shouted back, 'I'm religious, I prayed, God loves me, God will save me!' A helicopter was hovering over head, and a guy with a megaphone shouted, 'Hey you, you down there! The town is flooding! Let me drop this ladder, and I'll take you to safety!' But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him, and that God would take him to safety. Well, the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. 'Lord', he said, 'I'm a religious man. I pray. I thought you love me. Why did this happen?' God said, 'I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?'
He sent you a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker, Mr. President, not to mention his Son, Jesus Christ. What do you want from Him?

It's an old, familiar joke. When the priest started to recite it, I thought this would ruin the end of the episode, honestly. But it worked. You prayed for wisdom, and God sent you a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker - not to mention Jesus! What do you want from him?

Maybe sometimes the answers to our prayers are right in front of us, but we refuse to see them. Maybe sometimes the wisdom we need is right there, but we just don't want to listen to it. We wait for God to zap us with lightning from heaven or send a golden shaft of light and an almighty voice to answer our questions, and we ignore the answers God actually sends.
And the greatest irony is, in Jesus God actually did miraculously come down from heaven and offer us some direction, but so often we won't even listen to that.

Usually TV shows just use Christianity for an easy laugh. But sometimes they preach.

Have you ever recognized the answer to a pray that was right in front of your nose? Do you ever struggle to listen to the wisdom and guidance God offers you?
Are there other likable, faithful Christian characters you've seen on TV?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

the #1 factor in teens keeping their faith

Christian Smith is a professor and researcher at Notre Dame who's spent years studying the faith of American youth and young adults. The Church has owed him a great debt in the last decade for his books detailing our youth's views of God, how their faith is changing over time, and the factors affecting their religious commitments, among other things.

Last week the latest findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion, which has interviewed and re-interviewed over 3,000 youth periodically since 2003, were released, and the media is starting to report on it. The Huffington Post has a clear, helpful summary of the new findings here.
When this study began in 2003, the interviewees were between 13 and 17 years old; today they're in their mid-to-late 20s. I hope you'll read the article on the study's latest results, but let me share the big takeaway with you. The biggest factor effecting these teens' continued religious activities as young adults is their parents. Christian Smith is the lead researcher on the study, and as he put it, no other influence "comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth." As the Huffington Post report highlights, "82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults."

Young adults in America today have been dramatically affected by the faith of their parents. There are exceptions to every trend, but it's a clear trend nonetheless.

You can learn more about the National Study of Youth and Religion here, and, again, you'll find the Huffington Post article on the study here.

Is this surprising to anyone? Parents, what does this information mean to you?
I hope that anyone concerned about their children's faith and the future of the Church in America (particularly the mainline denominations: Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists) will read over this and take this data seriously. What kinds of examples are we setting? What do we need to do differently?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

animal blessings

St. Francis of Assisi

October 4th every year is the feast day of St. Francis, a day set aside to remember and celebrate the life of the beloved Christ-follower and patron saint of animals. (A "feast day" is the formal term for a Church holiday; for instance, Easter is also known as the Feast of the Resurrection. For more traditional churches there are feast days all over the year, commemorating dozens of saints and events.)

At Grace UMC we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis each year with our annual Blessing of the Animals service, a fun, unique service that's held near or on the feast day, depending on how the weekend falls. For this service, folks are invited to bring their pets (or other domesticated critters) to the church for a little prayer and singing, followed by a chance for each animal to receive an individual blessing. In the United Methodist Church, we generally say something like 'Bless, O Lord, this creature, and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for its life'. We just had the service this past Saturday, and you can read a bit about it and see some pictures here.

While I was getting ready for an afternoon of asking God's blessing on these animals, I couldn't help thinking of how, so often in scripture, it works the other way around: God uses the animals as a blessing to us. Elijah would have starved without those ravens (1 Kgs 17:2-6); Jonah would have drowned without that big fish (Jon 1:15, 17); Balaam would have been toast without his famous talking ass (Num 22:21-33).
The circumstances may be a little less dramatic, but this is really still the case today, isn't it? The Lord frequently uses animals to bless us. And that's something to celebrate and give thanks for. So I'm wondering: how have you seen animals be a blessing to you or to others? Please share - don't keep God's works hidden from the rest of us!

I stumbled onto a story of animal blessings last week that really is of almost biblical proportions. In Tanzania, one organization is training rats (yes, rats) to sniff out old land mines. You read that right. These rats are busy detecting the lethal explosives in places like Mozambique, where there are still innumerable land mines unaccounted for after a 15 year civil war that ended in the early 90s. The rats can clear a 200 square-foot area in less than an hour - a human working to detect the mines in the same area would be at work for about 50 hours. There are some pictures, as well as details on how rats are being trained to identify people who test positive for TB (!), in a news article here.

You'd be surprised at the stories about gorillas and pigs I heard this week too. But what stories have you got to share? How has God used his creatures as a blessing in your life or the life of someone you know?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

is faith obsolete?

We were sitting in a sea of nerds.

Dressed up like superheroes, elves, Jedi, and Hogwarts students, they were all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the five panelists, actors and actresses from the recent hit TV show Battlestar Galactica.
'We were all eagerly awaiting', I should say, because Emily and I were just as excited as the rest. We weren't in costume, but we did wait in line an hour and half to get good seats, close to the stars. That's what you do at DragonCon, Atlanta's annual, Labor Day weekend convention celebrating all things nerdy and geeky.

Some of the stars of Battlestar Galatica at DragonCon.

This particular panel was meant focus on faith and religion in the sci-fi series. On the one hand, that makes sense, because God/the gods and faith are huge issues on the show. On the other hand, it seemed a little silly that we were expecting these performers to have an hour's worth of thoughtful things to say about religion, and they didn't seem all that comfortable with the task themselves.

In a room of about a thousand, mostly-younger folks, many of whom are deeply engaged in science and many of whom spent the weekend going to panels and discussions about skepticism or atheism, in that room it wasn't really surprising when the question finally came: 'do you think the major world religions might soon be obsolete, in the next 100 years or 200 years?'

After a brief silence, one of the actors, in his characteristically gruff tone just said, "... Pardon?"

The question was passed to another actor, who is a pretty thoughtful person, and he spoke for a minute about how, he hopes, the adversarial, us-versus-them, character of some religious beliefs will disappear in the coming decades and centuries; everyone clapped; the panel moved on.

But the question stuck with me: are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are these faiths soon going to be obsolete? The young speaker seemed to be assuming the correct answer is 'yes'.

I think the idea that these faiths will prove obsolete and just disappear is ludicrous. And I think this man's question and his assumptions about the future of faith are based on some equally ludicrous and sadly uninformed notions. Of course I can't read his mind, I don't know exactly what he was thinking, but these questions and these ideas are all over the place - and if he wasn't thinking this, plenty of people in that room were.
You see, it seems like a lot of people expect faith to go away because they're confused about the role it plays in a person's life, and they're confused about the foundation it's built on. 

Some people think faith mainly plays an explanatory role in someone's life, like 'Q: where does lightning come from? A: angry gods'. Of course, now that we know more about the meteorological phenomena behind lightning, you don't need gods to answer that question any more. Faith is an answer, and now we see it's a bad answer, so it's obsolete.
Some people also think that faith - say, Christianity - is built on a foundation of claims that are obviously and demonstrably wrong. Christianity is all about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; science and history disprove all of that, therefore the faith is wrong and obsolete.

Of course the problem is that this isn't really true.

I don't know anyone who is a Christian only because, or even mainly because, she needed an explanation for rainbows, or even an explanation for why the universe exists at all. No doubt some people fall into this category, but not very many.
People follow Jesus for a lot of other reasons: because we think the Christian message about God and the world and sin and redemption is true; because we think it's compelling and beautiful; because we've experienced the Holy Spirit's presence and work in our lives; because we decided the church is a body we wanted to be a part of; because we've seen things we can only attribute to the hand of God. People believe in all of this because they've developed a meaningful relationship with this Jesus - he's helped us find meaning and hope in life. You might as well say spouses or friendship or life aspirations are going to become obsolete.

And anyone who has actually studied the history of the New Testament can tell you that history hardly 'disproves all of this stuff'.
I love this radio interview with historian Bart Ehrman (who is himself not a Christian), where he struggles to make the atheist interviewer understand that Jesus was a real, historical person. Check it out if you have a few minutes:

The young man takes for granted that history has done away with Jesus, but it's simply not true. Unfortunately, most of the people who periodically declare to the internet that Jesus didn't exist have never actually read or listened to any of the historians and experts.

If faith was just a set of outdated explanations for the weather or the seasons, if it was built on a slab of superstitious legends and myths, then I'm sure it's days would be numbered.
But what if it's not? What if faith has a future, and it's not going anywhere?

"Obsolete"? ... Pardon?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Christian perfection

Rev. John Wesley
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:48


Several years back, while I was gathering books for the LSU Baptist Collegiate Ministry's new library - really more of a 'resource shelf', but 'library' sounds nice - I was browsing through a series of inexpensive, trendy-looking Christian classics, and I found a short book by John Wesley (oh, cool!). It was called "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection" (... huh?).
I never really got past the title. "Perfection"? No thanks. I'd met some Christians in college who believed once they had faith they never did sin again, but I'm not sure how well that was working out for them. And I knew the scriptures: "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10).
I'll pass on the 'perfection' talk, thanks.

Fast forward three years: I'm in seminary, and I'm a United Methodist (long story). Suddenly, not only am I reading a lot of John Wesley (you might call him the 'father of Methodism'), but I'm entering into an ordination process at the end of which I'm going to be asked, "Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?"

And they expect me to answer 'yes'.

So "Christian perfection" isn't any longer some weird, foreign teaching I can just set aside and move on with my day. Christian perfection is now central to the gospel tradition that I've identified with.

And you know what? Now that I've been forced to study it and actually learn what Wesley meant by 'perfection', I have a very different opinion on the matter than I once did.

Wesley's classic sermon "The Scripture Way of Salvation" provides a summary that's as simple and clear as they come:

'Go on to perfection.' But what is perfection? ... it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul... For as long as love takes up the whole heart, what room is there for sin therein? (I.9, III.14)

Here is my dry-erase doodle interpretation of Wesley's doctrine of perfection:

God's love fills your heart up, and there's just no room left in there for sin. That's the hope of Christian perfection.

But why would any realistic believer hope for something like that? I know me. You know you. Nobody's perfect - there's none righteous! We're not going to be free from sin in this lifetime. Where did Wesley even get an idea like that from?

Well, he got it from the Bible.
Jesus, in Matthew 5, calls his followers to "be perfect." Is this some impossible burden Jesus has placed on us, or is it a real option for a Christian?
And in 1 John (one of John Wesley's go-to books), we read: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin" (2:1). Maybe it is possible, at least for a time, to be free from sin's power, to be able to not sin.

That's something to hope for, at least.

This is what John Wesley meant and what United Methodists mean when we talk about 'perfection'. If it still sounds a little strange, a little different, I understand. And I understand if you're thinking 'that probably won't happen to me'.
But, who's to say God couldn't transform your life, won't fill your heart up to the brim with love through the Holy Spirit (see Rom 5:5)? Wesley never claimed to reach perfection himself, and he was routinely skeptical of of those who did claim it - but don't we say that for God all things are possible (Matt 19:26)?

So maybe, just maybe, if we open our hearts up to Spirit's work, you might, one day, just for a minute, feel like you're answering Jesus's call to be perfect as the Father is perfect, like your heart is so full of God's love there's no room for anything else.

Monday, August 18, 2014

a trip to the storage room

This weekend we spent some time helping clean out our family storage unit.

We had a lifetime of random objects - a dresser, a bed frame, a desk, clothes, old toys, VHS tapes, and so much more - efficiently crammed in the metal storage unit. We'd stacked and squeezed things in so well it was hard to tell how much there was... until we got it out, and you could barely get through the corridor of units for all of our stuff. Don't even bother trying to get into one of the units around us; those were totally blocked. A hallway filled with boxes on boxes of things we needed so badly that we'd pay rent every month to keep them, things we needed so badly we could go almost a decade without using them or even seeing them. (And of course our homes are full of things too.)
How did we get all of this stuff?

But it's not just us. The sterile, while halls of this climate controlled storage warehouse are so narrow it's hard to tell just how big the place is. The units are all numbered, though: I found number 327, so there are at least that many. In this place. There are other storage facilities around town. And other towns. And other states.
Just how much stuff do we have?

Sometimes it's fun to look through everything, maybe find some hidden treasures, definitely take a walk or two down memory lane. And sometimes it's just sad, remembering buying this or that, so important at the time, now in the pile for Goodwill. What a waste. If I could only do some things over - we could have ended up with a smaller storage unit.

A few quick facts from the Self Storage Association:

  • There are over 50,000 self storage facilities in the United States.
  • By comparison, there are over 3,000 in Canada and over 1,000 in Australia.
  • Close to 11 million US households rent a self storage unit.
  • There is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman, and child in the nation.
Of course there are times in life when you might really need a storage unit. Military personnel serving overseas, or a missionary; someone moving to go back to college; your house is having major renovations, and you have to clear out; you name it. 

But we sure do have a lot of stuff. So much that we have to build bigger barns to hold it all.
You know that story? It's one of Jesus':
Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ (Luke 12:16-21)

We know we store up some treasures for ourselves, but what about being rich towards God? How are we doing on that front?

Jesus prefaced the parable with another important word: "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (12:15). Sometimes, at the rate we go (read: acquire), you'd think life must consist in the abundance of the things we possess. Why else would we race to own more and better stuff? 
... Why do we? 
Maybe we need to be on our guard.

Of course, sometimes you might really need a storage unit.

But what about all of the stuff we put in it?

Saturday, August 02, 2014

the community of creation

one of Edward Hick's "Peaceable Kingdom" paintings

I love the lyrics of the old hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King." They reflect the picture in Psalm 148, which depicts the whole creation offering praise to its Creator:
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! (148:7-10) 

And on it goes. This is a different way than many of us are probably used to thinking about the animals and the natural world around us. The hymn echos these lines and gives us a chance to join in creation's song of praise.

But, the lyrics get a little weird when you start singing about "O brother sun," "O sister moon," "O sister water," and, of course, "dear mother earth." When a pastor is already afraid his congregation will blow off his emphasis on creation care as liberal, hippy gibberish, this doesn't help. (I noticed David Crowder left all of that out of his nice version of the tune.)

Of course, just because something seems weird doesn't mean it isn't true. Christians of all people should know that. ("Turn the other cheek"? "Seventy times seven"? "The Word became flesh"??)
So before we roll our eyes at St. Francis's song, we should ask if there's perhaps something to all this talk of sisters, brothers, and mothers.

I just started reading Richard Bauckham's book, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. For my money, Bauckham is one of the most brilliant and important biblical scholars in the world today. His close attention to the texts and his encyclopedic knowledge of the contexts consistently yield fresh and utterly compelling interpretations.
This particular book aims to highlight the many, frequently overlooked passages and themes in scripture addressing the wider, non-human creation and how we ought to relate to the rest of God's creatures. One of Bauckham's main arguments from the get-go is that "humans are fellow-creatures with other creatures" (ix). Yes, we have unique capabilities, and God's given humanity a special role in the world, but we are still fellow-creatures with the others, sharing this world in community with them.

This is a point, he suggests, that we might have noticed in the first chapters of Genesis, if we could just see beyond chapter 1's talk of human dominion (1:26-28).
For instance: we all know that God forms Adam "from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being" (2:7). Sometimes that very personal, physical picture is used to emphasize humanity's uniqueness among the things God made. But maybe we need to notice a few other things here:
  1. You may have heard about the connection in the Hebrew language between the man and the dirt he's formed from. The word for man is 'adam, while the word for ground or soil is 'adamah. There's a connection between the man and the dirt that you miss in translation. God made people out of peat. Or, "God made humans out of humus," as Loren Wilkinson put it. (And that's "humus," not "hummus.") According to Bauckham, "this earthiness of humans signifies a kinship with the Earth itself" (21).
  2. And not just a kinship with the earth, but with the animals too. A few verses after the Lord forms the man, he goes to work again: "out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air" (2:19 - and compare that to 1:24). The man and the animals are cut from the same cloth! They're cousins of some kind, you might say.
  3. Now, the Lord doesn't breathe the breath of life into the animals here in Genesis 2, but, if you look ahead to Genesis 7, notice how the cataclysmic destruction of the Flood is described: "All flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings [that reads like a summary of 1:20-27]; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died" (7:21-22). Verse 22 is simply a reiteration of verse 21, but it makes clear that every creature has received the breath of life from God. Which makes sense. How else would things be alive?
Right there are three connections that Genesis makes between human beings and the other creatures of the earth. Humanity is certainly distinct in several ways and even has "dominion" over the other creatures (whatever exactly that means), but there's a relatedness we can't miss. We're related to the soil; we're related to the animals - we all received the gift of life in our nostrils from the Lord.

Our connection to our fellow-creatures is even implied by our very call to have dominion over them, Bauckham suggests. How is that? "Since Genesis 1 presents this authority as a kind of kingly rule, it is relevant to recall the only kind of human rule over other humans that the Old Testament approves" (32). This takes us to Deuteronomy 17:14-20, where the Lord describes the kind of kingship that will be permitted in Israel. These stipulations begin and end with one particular emphasis: "One of your own community you may set as king over you... [not] exalting himself above other members of the community" (17:15, 20). The vertical relationship of having authority over others must be founded on the horizontal relationship of being members of the same community. That's the sort of authority God approves. And so our dominion "is rightly practiced only when we recognise it to be dominion over fellow-creatures" (33). We are called to have dominion over the creatures of the earth precisely as fellow-creatures of the earth. We are all members of the community of creation together.

Maybe, just maybe, it's not so crazy to talk about "brother sun," "sister moon," or "sister water." Maybe there's a biblical truth there we forget, that all of God's creatures are members of one community of creation, all children of one Creator. 
Maybe, the next time we hear Jesus answer the man's question - "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29) - we need to think more about what that animal is doing in the story.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Yay Ascension Sunday!

This morning in our worship service, we heard a beautiful soprano solo rendition of "In the Garden." This song is a favorite for a lot of folks, because it captures a feeling of closeness to Jesus that we long for: he walks with me; he talks with me; he tells me I'm his own. Jesus is that friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus is always with us in our hearts. There's an intimacy there that Christians love to celebrate.

So it seems a little ironic to listen to "In the Garden" on Ascension Sunday - the song about Jesus' nearness on the day that Jesus left. He had been close enough to walk with you and talk with you ("In the Garden" is about Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane with Jesus in John 20), but then he left, ascended back to heaven, no where to be seen, gone.

Yay Ascension Sunday, right?

But Jesus seemed to think it was a good thing for him to go. In John 16, while warning the disciples that soon they won't see him anymore, Jesus said, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (16:7).

It's to your advantage that I go away, that I leave you and return to heaven.

How's that now?

Well, who is this "Advocate" (or "Helper") he's talking about?
It's the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus commissions the disciples to go and preach in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth - then he jets. Jesus ascends to the heavens, and he's gone. In Acts chapter 2, the day of Pentecost arrives, and the Holy Spirit descends from the heavens, alights on the apostles, and the Church is born.

Why is this to our advantage? Why couldn't Jesus just stay?
Jesus was so close to his companions that he could touch them, speak with them, eat with them, pray with them. "The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelled among us" (John 1:14). But the Spirit doesn't dwell among us; the Spirit dwells within us. God's people, the Church, are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), the place where God lives on earth today. (That's not to say God isn't out and about and at work beyond the Church. God wasn't imprisoned in the Jerusalem temple: that was just the one place God had committed to dwell, where you knew you could encounter the Lord.) The Spirit has committed to dwell within us - not just walking with us and talking with us, but closer, living inside of us!

And while Jesus could teach his followers (with varying degrees of success) about the life God intends for us, the Spirit doesn't try to tell us how to live, but transforms us from within. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: these the are the fruit the Spirit would cultivate in our lives (Gal 5:22-23). These things don't always come naturally, and just because you've heard Jesus say to turn the other cheek doesn't mean you've learned the art of peace (for instance), but the Spirit is at work within us, growing these fruit in the Spirit's territory, transforming us from within.

And even though Jesus did leave and return to the Father's right hand in heaven, even though Jesus is gone, the Spirit connects us to Christ still. Jesus left, but he is united with the Spirit and the Father, one God, and so the Spirit dwelling in us is the link connecting us to Jesus. It may sound backwards, but Jesus leaving made it possible for us to draw closer to him than ever, through the Holy Spirit living in us.

So... the Ascension isn't the day God leaves. It's the prelude to God's arrival, to dwell within us, nearer than any friend or brother. It means God can work in us in new and deeper ways, and we can be connected to Jesus even more intimately than before.

Yay Ascension Sunday!

Monday, April 28, 2014

the least of these: Jesus the Homeless

A few weeks back NPR covered the installation of a new statue of Jesus at an Episcopal Church in North Carolina.

Big news, right? A statue of Jesus. At a church.

But this is unlike most--maybe any--statues of Christ you'll ever see. The piece is called simply "Jesus the Homeless," and it depicts Jesus wrapped up in a blanket, sleeping on a bench. He's only identifiable by his nail-scared bare feet that the blanket couldn't cover. The statue, according to NPR's report, is "intended as a visual translation" of a line in Matthew 25, where Jesus describes the day of judgment, when 'the Son of Man' (a title Jesus uses for himself) will return and reign as king over the world. Jesus then explains for us why the king will call some "blessed by my Father" and invite them to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you for the foundation of the world":
'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'. (25:35-40)

As the passage goes on, the wicked are likewise puzzled, unsure when it was that they turned Jesus away, refusing to give him food or drink or clothing... only to find out that they turned Jesus away every time they ignored the needs of "the least of these." The homeless guy, sleeping on the bench, whom you can either help or ignore--that's Jesus.

The statue has received some strong reactions. According to NPR,
Some loved it; some didn't.

"One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by," says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. "She thought it was an actual homeless person."

That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

"Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out," Boraks added.

Some neighbors felt it was an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

I personally think it's a beautiful piece, and it communicates the force of the passage in Matthew more powerfully than anything I've seen before. Of course, there's also a striking irony in a church erecting a $22,000 bronze statue to teach that Jesus expected us to care for the poor, but I don't really care to get into that debate.

Instead, I just wanted to bring this "visual translation" to your attention, so maybe those of us trying to be disciples can encounter Jesus' call in a new way.

What do you think of "Jesus the Homeless"? Is it a good interpretation of Matthew 25? How would it go over at your church?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

why church?

Easter is only a few days away, and that means a lot of folks are dusting off their Sunday best for their annual or semi-annual trip to the church house. That's not a judgment: just a fact. These people may be dedicated to reading their Bibles, praying, giving, or sharing their faith - more dedicated than those of us who are at church every Sunday, even - but for whatever reason, they simply are not actively involved in the life of the local church.

There are as many reasons as people. There could be some pain, some guilt, some frustration behind it, perhaps from years past when they were a part of a congregation. It could be because they find church services boring, or they're busy with other commitments. Or maybe they just haven't seen any good reason to be a part of a church. I'll come for a special celebration of some momentous work of God, like Jesus' birth or his resurrection, but otherwise... why would I want to be there? Why church?

I'm a pastor, so obviously I have a vested interest in people thinking church is important. But I actually happen to believe it is important - vital, even. This is an enormous topic, but let me try to distill a few points here and offer 4 reasons why I believe church is vital to Christian faith.

1. Encountering grace. There are countless ways that you may get a taste of God's grace in your life. Some of come through company, through friends; some of them will only come in private, when you are alone with God, or alone with creation.
But there are a few ways that God has established as permanent channels of grace for our lives, regular "means of grace" (as we call them in the United Methodist Church) to which we have access. And many of these you will only tap into through the life of the church. Baptism and Holy Communion are the two most obvious examples: you are only baptized, you only receive the bread and the cup, Christ's body and blood, as a part of a community. Other believers are involved in all of that, and a minister, probably. The grace that we encounter through these acts, this is a grace you only find with the rest of the church.
[Worship itself, that encounter with God's grace, is meant to be a communal experience as well, where "each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation" (1 Cor 14:25).]

2. Encouragement, support, and challenge. Being a part of the church means being a part of a community that helps us through life. The folks around you in the pews are called by scripture to "encourage each other and build each other up" (1 Thess 5:11), to "share each other's burdens" (Gal 6:4), and to "motivate one another to acts of love and good works" (Heb 10:24). We aren't just there to sit next to each other - we're there to journey through life together and help one another along the way! If we don't get to know others in our congregations and invest in their lives, we're not being the church at all. As a member of a faithful church, you can look to your sisters and brothers in Christ for spiritual, emotional, even material support and help on your journey (and they can look to you!).

Of course, the reasons "why church?" aren't all centered on us, and the benefits we can receive through a connection with the church. Some of the reasons are simply truths that Jesus' people need to come to terms with.

3. The Body of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ... Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12:12, 14-16, 27)

Paul is really concerned here with the variety of spiritual gifts in the 'body', and the important role that each member of the 'body' plays. But his central image, of the body, has other implications as well. You, Christian, no matter how self-sufficient you might feel, you are a spiritual body part. You can't change that; nothing you say will make you any less a part of the body. The moral of the story? We're not supposed to do this on our own - if we try to, we may not really be doing it at all! You wouldn't say an eyeball or a pinky toe, off on its own, was really living life. Existing? Sure. Living life? Nah. That's what a body does. It takes more parts than that. If you don't join together with the other parts of the body, you're severely hampering your own Christian life, not to mention handicapping everyone else's (they're left without a nose, or a kidney!).

4. "You" is plural. The word "you" can be singular or plural, depending on how you use it. "Will you marry me?" "You lost, Denver Broncos." That's English. In ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, it's different: there is a singular "you" and a plural "you," and you can tell them apart just by looking at them - like the difference between "you" and "y'all."
And you may be surprised how many of the "you"s in the New Testament are plural. Take 1 Corinthians 3:16 for instance: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" I'm God's temple? Cool! That means I should eat right, exercise, maybe avoid tattoos (temple graffiti?). Oh, but wait: this is plural. You all, y'all, the Christian community, are the temple of God, where the Spirit dwells. Like so many other "you"s, it's plural. Why is that? Because Christianity is a plural faith. It's all about y'all, we, us. Jesus didn't call individual disciples to follow him, each on their own: he called twelve disciples to form a Church. One more time: we're not supposed to do this on our own! That's why church.

But let's get real.
This is a blog post and a whole bunch of words. If this all sounds good to you, you probably felt that way before you started reading. If you want to see folks who've never shown an interest in participating in the life of the church begin to invest their time and hearts in your congregation, recommending a blog post to them is not your best option (just trust me on that). If you want to see people drawn into the life of your church, do what you can to make that congregation the kind of community it's supposed to be; do what you can to offer people the opportunities for growth and service that they need; do what you can to make your church look like the bride of Christ that she is. Make your church, and the experience of participating in your church, a compelling case for itself.
Then trust God with the rest.

And you might want to get started on that, because this weekend you'll have an opportunity to show a lot of new people what the church can be, if they'll give it a chance.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

honor thy father and mother

"Honor your father and mother..." - Exodus 20:12 / Deuteronomy 5:16

We recently finished a study on the Ten Commandments at Grace, where every week we looked at one commandment closely, clarifying its meaning, exploring the ways other passages expanded on, qualified, or illustrated it, and asking what it means for our lives today. I had a great time researching and preparing all of that material, and I had an equally great and equally illuminating time discussing all of this with the group each week. Since time for blogging has been hard to come by lately, I thought it may be good to share a bit from one of those studies here.

Honoring your father and your mother is the 5th commandment.

A lot of people find it helpful to break the Ten Commandments into two sections: 1-4, which focus on our relationship with and responsibilities towards the Lord, and 5-10, which emphasize our relationship with and responsibilities toward our neighbors. Those aren't hard and fast divisions. After all, all ten of these commandments are a response to God's delivering Israel from Egypt and making covenant with them. And even in the first four commandments you can see a concern for neighbors (for instance, notice the insistence in Ex 20:10 / Deut 5:14 that 'resting on the Sabbath' cannot mean 'resting at someone else's expense': your neighbors -  servants, children, livestock, whatever - need rest too). But dividing the commandments between #4 and #5 can still be a helpful move.

And if you do, then the 5th commandment becomes the first commandment focused on our neighbors. Honoring your parents becomes a starting point for directing our lives towards others.

Why would that be? Why start talking about our obligations towards our neighbors with our parents?

This reminds me of a passage from C. S. Lewis's classic The Screwtape Letters, a fictional correspondence between two demons, a senior Tempter named Screwtape, and his inexperienced nephew Wormwood, discussing the man Wormwood's trying to tempt. In letter 6, Screwtape advises Wormwood:
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity it growing between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train.

The people we don't know, out on "the remote circumference," are the 'starving children in Africa'. Real people, with real struggles, but folks we'll probably never know and never have to learn to love as our neighbors. (We don't even know enough to say what country they're from! It's just "Africa.") It's easy to care about them, but often that care is imaginary - it doesn't have the marks or the effects of the hard-earned care you have for a sibling, a friend, or a spouse. It's little more than a warm feeling, hardly the love-in-action that our immediate neighbors demand from us. The tempters, then, want us to spend all of our 'care' on those people out on the remote circumference, rather than on the people we actually live alongside.

Why would the commandments concerning our neighbors start with our families?
Because if we want to learn to love people, we have to start with the folks we live with every day. That's where we'll learn real benevolence: with the people we know the best, warts and all, but whom we still have to love, day in, day out. Before you can get to ‘thou shalt not steal’ or ‘thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor’ or any of the others, you have to learn to love your family. When you learn how to do that (or at least how to try), the Holy Spirit's cultivated some real benevolence in your soul, and you’re ready to move past the 5th commandment and love some other folks.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

How could a church ever support evolution?

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which gathers every four years, is the only body authorized to make 'official' statements on behalf of the UMC. Every four years General Conference will amend and ratify the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, and so, all the rest of the time, the latest edition of the Discipline is the best, and just about the only, place you can look for the church's official position on this or that topic.

And according to the Book of Discipline, "We find that science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology."

I know that for a lot of Christians, this kind of statement is scandalous and disconcerting. How could a church ever support evolution?

That line, which is all you get on the topic from the UMC's website, is lifted from the middle of a paragraph in the Discipline that addresses 'science and technology', and there are several other points this paragraph makes that you need to know to really understand the church's position.
  1. "We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God's natural world." To my ear, that simply means, 'scientific investigation is good and can tell us truths about the world'.
  2. "We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific." The first half of this sentence seems to just reiterate what was said before. The second half makes a new and important point, though: science gets to determine what is 'scientific' and what isn't.
  3. "We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues." This is important. The church rejects outright any attempts to have 'science' make theological statements, theology that's built on the 'unassailable foundation' of scientific authority (for instance, 'science proves there is no God'). On the other hand, theology doesn't get to determine good science either. In important ways, these two disciplines are talking about different issues and must not confuse those issues.
So, my summary: scientific work is good and useful, and it's the best judge of what's science and what's not; also, theology and science shouldn't try to dictate to each other. The church wants to affirm the value of scientific work and leave that work to the experts.

After all of that is said, then comes the claim about evolution, that "science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology." 
Given what's already been said, this makes pretty good sense. Science is good and useful, so we want to learn from it. Science gets to decide if something, say, biological evolution, is good science or not, so let them hammer that out. Claims like this aren't theological claims--they may have theological implications or demand theological narrations, but simply saying 'humans evolved from other life forms over time' does not make any direct statements about God. And so, the church doesn't necessarily have any issue with scientific claims about biological evolution.

The conflict arises, of course, when you start talking about what the Bible says. Some Christians see the Bible as flatly refuting the normal claims scientists make about evolution. Some Christians don't have any problem affirming the truth of the scriptures and affirming the scientific claims. Clearly the UMC's official position falls into the latter category.
That's a much longer conversation than I have time to get into here (though I have written about it many times before). I, personally, don't see any conflict between what the Bible says and what you can read in your average biology textbook today. Why? Let me just say two things for now: 
1) making room for evolution when you interpret the Bible doesn't necessarily mean you're just surrendering to modern opinions, giving up 1800 years of faithful Christian teaching because of some 19th century crackpot named Darwin--on the contrary, the conviction that Genesis 1-2 should not be read literally goes back in the Church over 1500 years before Darwin;
2) I honestly believe that a literal reading of Genesis 1-2 forces a foreign meaning on the passage and keeps the Bible from speaking for itself. That's just not what Genesis is trying to tell us. So I think that way of reading, instead of deferring to the scriptures, actually ends up making the text defer to our expectations.

There are other possible sources of conflict, besides how we read the Bible. A common one is when particular scientists and writers fail to recognize the limits of scientific inquiry and go on to make ridiculous claims about what science proves (or disproves, more likely) when it comes to religion. The UMC's not supporting that sort of thing. Remember, 'science' can't make theological statements. When someone tries to make science talk theology, they're confused about what their subject matter can and can't do. They're playing ventriloquist, putting their words in science's mouth--sometimes more skillfully, sometimes less--but they need to find a new act and ditch the dummy.

And people can still argue about evolution, as far as the church is concerned, only let the arguments be biological, geological, whatever, arguments. If biological evolution (or anything else) is bad science, terrific: let the experts work that out.

I know that this topic has been on a lot of people's minds here lately, with the heavily publicized debate earlier this week, so I wanted to just take a chance to share and explain the United Methodist position. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions and disagreements, though. That's what the comment section is for--let's have a conversation! 
And above all, in this area as in any other, let's try to be faithful: to our calling to holy and compassionate living, and the gospel of Jesus that we've received, in which we stand, and by which we're being saved.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

reflections on Joshua (1 of 2)

I didn't see this coming - who would? - and I didn't even really notice at first, but apparently the book of Joshua and Green Lantern: Rebirth are meant to be read together.

I got the Green Lantern volume for Christmas, just a fun, quick read that I thought I could share with some folks. I certainly wasn't expecting this superhero story from a decade ago to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Really, who would?
So I started reading that recently.

About the same time, I started reading the book of Joshua, because it had been a couple of years.
And I did not go in with high expectations. I mean, I would have granted that this one might be an instrument of the Spirit - it's scripture, after all - but I also went in remembering that Joshua is a very violent and, at times, very boring book (if you don't believe me, check out chapters 13-21).

What I didn't remember about Joshua was that refrain you hear again and again: "be strong and courageous"; "do not be afraid" (Josh 1:6-7, 9, 18; 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6).

Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be afraid.
For some reason, this was absolutely imperative for Joshua and the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. The Lord needed them to be strong and courageous, to trust him in the face of their enemies, or they weren't going to receive the land.

Now, not long before I started Joshua, I was writing a sermon on Hebrews 2:10-18, and one verse in particular grabbed my attention. It was 2:15: the Son of God had shared in our flesh and blood so that he could "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death." Held in slavery by the fear of death. That sounded so true, so poignant. But, try as I might, I just couldn't use it in the sermon the way I wanted to. I couldn't find the words to describe the life of 'slavery to fear'. I didn't really know that kind of fear, I thought, and so I couldn't find a compelling and appropriate way to talk about it.

But then the book of Joshua opened my eyes.
"Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (1:9). When I read those words I realized that I did know what it meant to be a slave to fear. The reality was: I was terrified. I was terrified failing, of letting people down, of upsetting someone. I was terrified of falling short of my calling. 

Meanwhile, Green Lantern: Rebirth is a story about the power of fear. It's about how fear can infiltrate your life, make you do things you don't want to do, break your willpower, and take control. Fear, in the story, just happens to be a big, yellow, ancient space-monster. "Please, don't be afraid," pleads one of the heroes, "You can't be afraid..." Or the yellow space-monster will get you.

As sci-fi and fantasy can sometimes do, Green Lantern, beneath the colorful garb and the epic story-telling, had put its finger on the truth of things. The vibrant, imaginative exterior de-familiarizes everything and helps you recognize a simple truth that you may have been numb to otherwise, something you wouldn't have noticed without all those colors and lights: fear - especially when you don't recognize it - will destroy your will and seize power over your life. It will enslave you.

And that's what it was doing to me. I hadn't realized it before, didn't recognize it, but it was wrapping it's tendrils around my life. Fear was suffocating me. I was afraid to trust the Spirit to lead me, to go where I needed to go, say what I needed to say, to minister to people. I was wrapped up in a straightjacket of expectations, mistakes, and guilt, and I couldn't move.

And then it was like God was talking to Nance instead of Joshua. (That's a good feeling - don't imagine that happens to a preacher more often than it happens to anyone else.) 
Be courageous; don't be afraid. That's what I needed to hear. And I could breathe again. Green Lantern and Joshua, of all things, brought me face to face with this poison in my life and with the truth that overcomes great fear: "the Lord your God is with you" (1:9).
And my chains were gone.