NOT AN ACT OF GOD

NOT AN ACT OF GOD

NOT AN ACT OF GOD

The news from the Philippines is so bleak. The smell of bodies under rubble in Tacloban. People scavenging for food, living in the ruins of their homes with nowhere else to go. Looting.

Typhoon Haiyan may have killed thousands. It’s what your insurance company means by “Act of God” in the “things we don’t pay for” small print.

I would never call an event like this an “act of God.” Many scientists studying climate change say that storms like this are going to get more and more common, and they lay the blame for climate change in the destructive and wasteful ways we live. God doesn’t need to mix in in the misery and suffering of the world. The world, natural or human, manages just fine in this regard without any divine “aid” whatsoever.

Yet whenever we experience extreme loss or challenge, many of us are driven to wonder: “Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this?” Somehow in such moments we forget that the sun rises and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous both (Matthew 5:45). That’s clear in the pictures from Tacloban. No one living in that island city has gone unscathed.

Brian Stoffregen, commentating on Luke’s account of the cross at www.crossmarks.com, says that even while Jesus is dying, one of criminals dying beside him “has the faith to see and believe that Jesus can remember him…This dying king can remember him,” in this world and the next.

Sometimes, or maybe even most of the time, “why” is just the wrong question. We might just as well ask, “When…when will I suffer, Lord?” Suffering is a built in feature of existence. This is not the new creation, Christian theology teaches, only the old creation being re-birthed. Birthing hurts. Sometimes it even kills.

Maybe, in that dying man’s plea to Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” we get an answer that makes it possible to endure and even find wellness within the midst of trials. The art of suffering might just be to see the face of Christ suffering beside us and within us, and to trust that God will work good from that suffering. Just as God conquered death through the cross of Jesus Christ, so can new life arise out of every form of human suffering.

It’s not an easy answer.

It’s a really bad answer to shove down a suffering person’s throat.

But it is an answer that, once embedded in the heart of faith, sustains and gives hope when hope seems impossible.

May God grant hope to the people of the Philippines, and grace to the rest of to be the hands and feet of that hope.

Photo Credit: New York Post

Stand at the Crossroads

Stand at the Crossroads

Stand at the Crossroads

Did you know that before there was a “Halloween” there was Samhain (pronounced Sow-an)? Samhain was a time on the Pagan calendar when, it was believed, the dead could draw near to the living. Our dressing up in scary costumes has its origin in the Samhain practice of trying to “spook the spooks,” to scare away the ghosts that might be tempted to “cross over” and cause mischief or harm.

The institutional church co-opted this Pagan observance and replace it with its own, All Saints Day, a feast day to remember all the dear departed, but especially the saintly dear departed, a time to look back and give thanks for the ones who went before us.

In the Bible, Jeremiah tells us to “stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16) Today in the church on All Saints Day we might remember the roads built by the peoples of our past, paths of faith and practice that help us live more nearly with God; paths which led to the building of gorgeous sacred spaces in which to worship, and in Canada, at least, gave us tools for compassionate living such unemployment insurance, welfare, socialized medicine.

It’s likely, however, that our gratitude is also tinged by grumbling. The church(es) founded by the first saints, the Apostles, have had a hand in oppression and institutionalized abuse through much of their history. Our church buildings suck time, energy and money away from outreach and justice. Our social safety net has gotten expensive and cumbersome without serving the needs of those it was designed to protect.

“Ask for the ancient paths where the GOOD way lies,” said the prophet. We should be constantly wondering over which ancient paths are worth keeping and which need to be wiped off the map. Remembering the gifts of the people before us without turning a blind eye to the harm they may have caused allows us to also maintain a certain humility about our own practices of life and faith today.

Funny thing. “Crossroads” in the ancient world were also considered everyday “thin places” where the mystical and the mundane collided. Maybe Jeremiah knew that those were good places to listen humbly for the voices of the past calling us back to the good they had in mind for us, at the same time as hearing their pleas to avoid the mistakes they made.

Take some time today to stop and give thanks for the gifts from the past that have brought you to where you are today, to extend forgiveness when the past has been more of a burden than a gift, and to think ahead to the world you’d like to pass onto your own kids, grandkids, great-grandkids etc.

Stand at the crossroads and wonder, and let God show you the good way.

And for goodness’ sakes, eat a bunch of candy, dress up in something silly, and scare a Trick or Treater or two at your door! No one ever said the “good” way had to be the boring way.

EVEN TO THE END OF THE AGE?

EVEN TO THE END OF THE AGE?

“Hi you’ve reached ____________, I’m not here to take your call just now, but please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this sort of voicemail message in the early days of my return to faith. I was struggling painfully with a host of personal issues, and both my therapist and my recovery group had been generous with their contact numbers. And still, I would come to a particularly hard place and find myself utterly alone in it. I never seemed to be able to get anyone on the line when I most needed them.

I have a strong suspicion that were it not for that experience of feeling repeatedly abandoned by others, I might never have heard the message most likely to occupy God’s voicemail (were God to ever make use of such a thing): “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

It’s a lot harder to call God up and receive that beautiful message when we ignore the basic human need to be alone, at least sometimes. In solitary stillness, as we grow to know our pain, our glory and everything in between, we also become more able to experience God working through it all.

I would love to tell you that whenever I am alone, sad or afraid now, I instantly feel God with me. The truth is something more like this. I have begun…to be able…to consider the possibility that…whatever life’s various fails – whatever the mini-Armageddons I face – I am able to be especially present to God if I allow myself to experience the pain of the moment.

Somehow, being present to that pain is also the way I am able to hear pain’s ultimate answer, love in God Most High.

Thankfully, though, God doesn’t depend on me getting it right in order for love to keep working in my life. That’s the promise we get in Jesus, that whatever the catastrophic end in which we find ourselves, God is constantly there, working the new out of the ashes of the old.

We are not alone, even to the end of the age. Thanks be to God!

Hungry Days

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You that yearn for days of fullness
All around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.
(Sylvia Dunstan, 1990)

Would you count yourself among those who “yearn for days of fullness?”

You’re not alone. Lots of us are in tight times economically. Lots of us are having days where there are far more tasks than time. Lots of us are meeting impossible demands with limited resources.

Hungry days, in other words.

My hungry days of professional and personal disaster came just three years ago this week, when ministry, marriage and money all tanked, within a week or so of each other. Very quickly I found myself empty of hope, shell shocked by one bad turn after another.

With many others in similar times, I found myself saying : “If God is good how come I feel so bad?” or “If God were good, I would never have lost the job/lost my money/lost my marriage…”

But people in my life kept calling me back from despair. They kept putting food on my table (literally and figuratively), but more importantly, they kept me open to the food that was always there for me: grace eternal. Even though sometimes my prayers of thanks were delivered through gritted teeth, just the act of trying to be grateful changed the experience.

Notice, I didn’t say “made it all better.” But even my grudging thanksgivings helped me see what I otherwise would have missed. That there were good things alongside the bad. That God was constantly present working good out of the bad. It helped me get out of myself, let go of the “poor me” and remember the needs of others too.

This year, whether at table with a turkey and fixings, friends and family, or at the feast of God’s love, the Communion table, I hope you are able to accept the gracious invitation: “Taste and see that (even on our hungry days) ” God is good.”