Living the Questions: What Have You Done?

The man said, “The woman you put here with me —
she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 
Then the Lord God said to the woman,
What is this you have done?” – Genesis 3:12-13

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That “oh sh*t” moment. Maybe you just shut your locked car door to see the keys taunting you from the ignition. Or you’ve gotten to the bus stop/subway station/carpool meet up spot to see nothing but tail lights pulling away. Or maybe you’ve gone for a drive, left your wallet at home when the red and blue lights come on behind you.

Or maybe it’s a bit deeper than that. A lie exposed. A terrible mistake uncovered. A damaged relationship pushed to the brink. Regret is a hard emotion to deal with. If you could just go back and do things over, maybe they would have ended in a different — better — way. It almost always leads to some sort of guilt or other form of remorse. It can get pretty bleak.

If you’re a religious person, particularly a Lutheran — as I am, this question of “what have you done?” is brought to our attention every week. We start off our services with confession (well, after announcements and maybe an opening hymn). But not long after everyone gets as comfy as they can in their pews, we’re standing and confessing all the crap we’ve done. The sins known and unknown, things done and left undone.

We start our time together feeling terrible about ourselves.

Then we hear words of forgiveness. But for a lot of people, the damage is already done. Once we’ve had time to meditate on all the bad stuff we’ve done and the good stuff we’ve neglected, some people are in a pretty dark place. We don’t even hear those words of gospel that we’re forgiven. We get so caught in a feedback loop of how terrible of people we are that there can be a point of no return. (This is one of my beefs with Lutheranism — it makes you feel like crap an awful lot of the time)

When I was doing my CPE, I dealt a lot with guilt and regret of the “if only I’d done this” variety. That’s a road to nowhere good. My supervisor lead me to a book called “Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality” by Matthew Fox (no, sadly this is not the same Matthew Fox that played Jack in LOST. But that would be awesome).

Fox’s whole point, and what I have been thinking about as I’ve reflected on the question that God asks the woman in Genesis 3, is that we forget that before any sin or wrongdoing happened — before anyone ever asked “what have you done?”we were created as a part of a good creation.

When we gather for worship, the first thing we do is answer the question “What have you done?”, but that’s the 3rd question God asks. We’re missing the first two, which can be incredibly fruitful.

What would it look like if we took time in worship to honor and celebrate our good-ness as created beings of God? Not to pat ourselves on the back or get haughty (we’re still Lutheran, for crying out loud). But what if we made room for ourselves to primarily be the good, created beings that God made us, THEN we moved to the part that we’re steeped in sin and cannot free ourselves?

To me, that just feels lighter. As a worshipper, I would feel much more secure to then explore the indicting question God asks of all of us — “what have you done?” — and then be able to hear those words of forgiveness.

My fear is that by beginning our gathering time as a community with confession, we’re leaving people in that “oh sh*t” moment of having locked their keys in their car. When we feel that pang of shock, we’re often not very open to seeing the blessings that are all around us.

And they’re everywhere.

Cheers,
Eric

Living the Questions: Who Told You [That You Were Naked]?

“Adam said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,
because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ God said,
‘Who told you that you were naked?'”
– Genesis 3:10-11

One of the things that’s so key to understanding this question, is that for the majority of human history, nakedness had nothing to do with shame. It’s a pretty common reading of this to think that Adam felt shame, which is why he hid. But actually, it has everything to do with vulnerability, not shame.

A few years back, when I was spending my summers working at Bible camp, our most intense nights of worship were always on Thursday nights. We had spent the week together, had gotten to know each other, and felt an incredibly strong bond. It was an incredibly authentic time. We had become immensely vulnerable with one another.

When was the last time you opened yourself up to let someone else in?

A lot of times we throw up our defenses in the face of vulnerability. What’s the old saying? It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt. Whenever we’re afraid of being found out, exposed for who we really are (whatever that means), we put up defenses and act differently from how we might otherwise naturally act. But here’s the thing…

IT’S A FAULTY SYSTEM

We were created unaware of our vulnerability — our nakedness. But there’s something in our brain chemistry — or perhaps the way we’re socialized — that gives us a sense of shame. Religious communities call it sin or brokenness, but it’s a feeling everyone experiences regardless of religious affiliation. The problem with our thinking is that we assume vulnerability is a weakness. When in fact vulnerability is one of the only ways that we can make real and authentic connections with people.

We can all tell when people are being inauthentic. We all have finely tuned B.S. meters, some more than others. As soon as we sense someone is not being genuine. It’s incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, to feel a genuine connection with someone when you don’t actually know the person you’re talking to — the real person. That’s what makes my experiences in intentional communities (like summer camp) so memorable. There aren’t many people who can be that exhausted, and still put up a front. So community is formed.

The bottom line is the world is all about genuine connections. If there’s one thing that moving to a brand new community has taught me, it’s that life isn’t a worth a whole lot without connections. Without connections, we miss out on being in relationship — both individual and communal.

The point is to let yourself be seen (and heard)

Be yourself. Be human. Nobody’s perfect 100% of the time. And if someone was, they’d be hated by everyone else. Be vulnerable.

Share your challenges.

Share your struggles.

Share the things that scare the hell out of you.

And then watch what happens.

You’ll be more relaxed. You’ll be more confident. You’ll be more… you.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam chose to hide his vulnerability. I’m saying, choose different from Adam.

Choose to be open. To show your true colors. To be more you. It’s the only thing worth doing.

Cheers,
Eric

Mary Oliver on the Power of Planting Seeds

The parable from church this morning talked about how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The smallest of all seeds, that grows into shrubbery large enough for birds to gather under for some shade.
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I read through a collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry earlier this year and remembered one, in particular, that stuck out to me. So I wanted to share that with you today.
“What I Have Learned So Far”
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
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All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with a sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.
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Be ignited, or be gone.
Great words. What do you think of when you think about the parable of the mustard seed? What part has always stuck out to you? Feel free to start/join the conversation in the comments section.
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Cheers,
Eric
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 P.S. For those interested in the “Living the Questions” series… Tomorrow I’ll be back with that, specifically the question of “Who Told You?” — in the context of Adam & Eve, the full question is “Who told you that you were naked?” Scandal! Haha. Be sure to swing back tomorrow for that.

Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.

BUT

In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.

Cheers,
Eric

Living the Questions: Introduction

A few weeks ago, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary said farewell to a highly esteemed group of graduates, including yours truly. It was the end of a journey and the beginning of another. A main event of the graduation weekend was the actual service itself. It was a combined baccalaureate/graduation service.

Our preacher was our former sem prof [and current Augsburg religion guru] Marty Stortz. As a part of her sermon, she included an invitation to live some of the deep questions of the faith. She outlined the first five questions that God asks in the Bible as questions that we should use for reflection and a kind of personal Bible study now that we’re out of seminary. So for the next week or so, I’ll be reflecting on the first 5 questions God asks in the Bible. Here they are.

Question #1 — Where Are You? (reflection on Friday, the 15th)

Question #2 — Who Told You? (reflection on Monday, the 18th)

Question #3 — What Have You Done? (reflection on Wednesday, the 20th)

Question #4 — Why Are You Angry? (reflection on Friday, the 22nd)

Question #5 — Where Is Your Brother? (reflection on Monday, the 25th)

I think there is a lot to be gained from exploring some of these questions, not only for us as Christians, but for us as people as well. They’re questions that reach to the foundation of who we are. So, at least for the next week, I’m going to live these questions and spend some time in reflection on here.

You’re welcome to join me in reflecting on these questions and sharing this journey with me. I look forward to our exploration.

Cheers,
Eric

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