What Happens When Death is Blessed?

As another season of Lent is upon us, it is the time of year when we confront the scariest aspect of our lives: that they’ll end. Sometime in the [hopefully distant] future, we’ll die.  And so today we remember that promise.

But as we do so, we remember that God creates out of dust. Martin Luther has been quoted as saying that “God created the world out of nothing, so as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us.” We can get into my question of whether God did create the world out of nothing later on, but I think a more appropriate interpretation for today may read something like this.

God created you out of dust. So as long as you are dust, God can make something out of you too.

In the spirit of God creating blessing out of dust — or when applied in broader strokes, life out of death — here is a poem of blessing that Megan showed me this morning. So with that, I’ll leave with this blessing.

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
By Jan Richardson

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So what happens when death is blessed?

It turns to life.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

Cheers,
Eric

Advertisements

Living the Questions: Why Are You Angry?

“The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.
So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 
The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry,
and why has your countenance fallen?'” – Genesis 4:4-6

Of all the questions to live, this one is probably the hardest for me. Anger lives in a very dark place. But if we look at the story of Cain and Abel, it’s a pattern we know a little too well.

Proceeding any of this is an offering. Cain makes an offering to God — something that he gave his life to. His brother’s offering was met by God’s approval and satisfaction, his was not. We come with offerings everyday. In a very real way, Cain and Abel were offering their livelihoods. Looking for their worth. In essence, Cain’s livelihood was met with rejection, while his brother’s to satisfaction.

After Cain’s rejection comes anger. But the anger is just what’s on the surface — as is so often the way. Anger is all the deep-seeded emotions that we have boiled to the surface, but it’s not what’s so deep down. Anger is a surface emotion.

Behind anger is often where jealousy is found. 

A lot of times jealousy can rear its ugly head and take us off course faster than we even realize. With Cain and Abel, the jealousy isn’t too far from the surface. Abel’s sacrifice was excepted. Cain’s was not. BAM! Jealousy. Where does jealousy creep into your life? A lot of times we don’t even become aware of it until it’s already taken hold. We don’t even notice it sneaking into our thoughts until its already firmly planted there.

The grass is always greener

One of the things we have to realize, but is so faulty with our thinking, is that no matter what we do, if we get that thing we’re jealous of, if we get our neighbor’s new Porsche, or the promotion or whatever, we’re still going to be jealous. It just moves on to something new. So behind anger is often jealousy — with Cain it certainly is the case.

Behind jealousy is pride.

Pride is one of the things I fall victim to a lot. With Cain, he had pride in his crop. I have pride in my ideas. I want my ideas to be found the best among all others. That’s where my pride comes in. And it can be awfully hard to have so much stake in such fluid objects as “ideas”. But there it is.

A lot of times we take pride in our work — and that’s okay, “I’m not saying don’t take pride in your work.” But when it becomes a barrier between you and other people, that’s when it’s a problem. For Cain, pride lead to jealousy, anger, and ultimately killing his brother. I’m going to go ahead and say that was not the “good” kind of pride.

Be proud of your hard work.

Be proud of projects that have taken you a long time.

Be proud of overcoming things that have been difficult for you.

BUT

Don’t let it become a barrier to you. Because when it becomes a barrier, you do things like killing your brother. Not good. But even at pride, we’re still not at the root of the problem. We’re not at the very core of what the issue is in Genesis 4, the question that God asks of Cain.

So we have anger ==> jealousy ==> pride. And now we have one more dimension to add on.

Behind pride is selfishness.

This is where Genesis ultimately leads us — back to selfishness. Cain’s parents (Adam and Eve) went against the command of God because they were selfish and put their own curiosity above living with God. God’s only rule was “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there.” That was the only rule.

But then, when someone tells you there’s only thing you can’t do — every bit of you longs to do that one thing. It doesn’t matter how little sense it makes at the time. When someone prohibits, our desire is to test that rule. To push it just a little bit further. Because we’re selfish. Because we look out for numero uno — ourselves.

This is how it’s always been. And until we can break out of this mold, or at least acknowledge there are people outside of ourselves — we will always be a culture steeped in anger. But when we move beyond our anger to name and acknowledge the jealousy, pride, and selfishness behind our anger, it can do a lot to really get us to acknowledge the things we have in common — our humanity.

A little acknowledgement was all Cain ever wanted anyways.

So what are the things that make you angry? What gets you really pissed off? And what experiences could you share about how God works in those times of anger?

Cheers,
Eric

3 Things I Learned From “Where the Wild Things Are”

“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children.
I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.
‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’
You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true.
If it’s true you tell them.”  – Maurice Sendak

I woke up this morning to Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition telling me that Maurice Sendak had passed away. Immediately I felt an unexpected, and perhaps unwarranted, bit of sadness. Where the Wild Things Are was, hands down, my favorite book growing up. I wanted it read every night. I learned to read with that book only because I had it memorized and could see what the different words looked like on a page.

As I’ve spent the morning thinking about it, I think I felt so sad because the person who created something so sacred and meaningful for me is gone. And that sucks. But, luckily for everyone who will ever live and read from now to eternity, the books survive even though the author does not.

So here are three of the many lessons I learned from Maurice Sendak, via Max and the Wild Things.

1) A good imagination is one of the most important things in the world.

This is one I still think about on at least a weekly basis. The importance of imagination cannot be overlooked. All of these events — the island, the wild things, the rumpus — took place within Max’s imagination. That kind of imagination can move mountains. Imagination is the source of all invention and innovation. I’m typing this on my Macbook, which wouldn’t exist, if not for an incredible imagination. Imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans — or wild things — whose experiences we have never shared. Imagination is essential for our survival.

2) Even the brave and courageous need love too.

I remember thinking how awesome it was when Max looked the Wild Things straight in their eyes and didn’t blink once. That’s the kind of guy I wanted to be. One who didn’t need anyone, but could stare monsters in the face and not blink. But then, when I was reading this to a pre-schooler while I was in college, a different part stuck out to me. “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” Even though I fell into the trap of thinking I could be an island, there’s still something missing if you are a king, but have no one with whom you can give and receive love.

3) At the bridge between childhood and adulthood, the best thing you can say is, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

My mom used to always let me say this part when we were reading this through as a kid. When I heard the page leading up to it I would stand up on my bed in anxious anticipation. (Keep in mind this was when I was around 4. This wasn’t last year or anything.) And when those words “‘And now’, cried Max” came out, I would throw both hands in the air and look at the ceiling and yell “Let the wild rumpus start!” Believe me, it was awesome.

When I was standing with my brother getting ready to walk down the aisle at my wedding last summer, we looked at each other and I said, “Well, let the wild rumpus start,” and headed down the aisle. I think it’s one of the best attitudes you can have. Yeah, things will always be a little crazy and won’t be 100% controllable. Some things will go well and some things won’t. But jumping in with both feet is the only way to go.

So, even though it’s with a bit of sadness that I write this today, the news that Maurice Sendak has died is eclipsed by better news than we could ever want: Maurice Sendak lived.

Cheers,
Eric

When Bad Tornadoes Happen to Good Christians

A good way to start this might be to say that tornadoes have terrified me for a long time. I was at a sleepover in middle school when everyone else was getting ready to watch the movie “Twister”. My heart started to race. I knew that if I watched that movie, I would have terrible nightmares. I fought hard for a 50th time through “3 Ninjas”, but no such luck. I didn’t even want to watch a movie about tornadoes because I always feared being caught up in one.

Tornadoes don’t scare me in the same way they did when I was younger. But, as we’ve seen these last few days, they’re still happening and they’re still destroying. The recent storms in through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky have put huge numbers of people in the midst of the storm.

One way to respond to this, is to blame the people who have just been savaged by these storms and claim that it was some sort of divinely-guided weather judgment. John Piper takes this route. Yesterday, he wrote:

If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command…. God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

I have a number of problems with this. But I think this viewpoint is a symptom of a much larger problem. When we view God as a being who controls every tiny action that happens in the world, then this is where we end up. God sent these tornadoes down because these specific people were so sinful that they needed to be taught a lesson. So God killed 39 people and destroyed countless towns, homes, and lives.

This is one of the most damaging and destructive views I have ever heard.

Weather happens. Anyone who has taken 8th grade Earth science knows that. The weather doesn’t change because Jews or Muslims exist in the world. (Lest we forget that the title of God’s people was bestowed on Jews in the first place.)

This is the type of Christianity that actively detracts from our 21st century world. There is no need for me to tell you why we shouldn’t embrace a 4th century worldview. The world isn’t flat. The Earth is not the center of the universe. And God doesn’t make the weather.

To suggest this is not only embarrassing to religious people around the world, but it’s pointing a finger at the tens of thousands of people who have just had their lives destroyed and then saying that they deserved it. It’s tragic, hurtful, and actively detracts from the kingdom of God.

God pulls life out of death. But She doesn’t kill someone to do so.

Cheers,
Eric

(Yeah. I did the passive-aggressive refer-to-God-as-a-she thing. I’m still a little offended by Piper’s comments from 2 weeks ago. Lord, have mercy.)

How Christopher Hitchens Deepened My Faith

Renown Atheist author and thinker Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. A lot of people put in their two cents. Secularists and non-Christians are, expectantly, quite reverent and morose. Some of my seminary friends have said some very poignant comments as they paid their respects. And then we go to Twitter where some supposed Christians are just jerks. If you go to Twitter and search his name, a lot of things will come back very respectful. And then it seems whenever someone is disrespectful, you can click on their profile where they adamantly quote the Bible and claim to be a “Christ-follower”.

There was this one by a guy named James MacDonald.

Famous atheist Christopher Hitchens who mocked when Jerry Falwell died had an eye opening experience yesterday- he died #notlaughingnow

He later defended his tweet calling Hitchens’ death “righteous vindication by God”.

These kinds of asinine comments are made when someone has never dared to go outside of their comfort zone and have their views challenged. It’s likely that people who think like this have never read a single thing that Hitchens ever wrote. And I don’t mean to pick on this guy in particular. But there were countless tweets like this, this was just the first one I found.

Hitchens put God under the microscope. The religion of certainty, extremism and arrogance that has seeped into mainstream society was called out. Hitchens defiantly refused to believe in such a God.

Hitchens helped me gain defiance against that view of God too. I first read God is Not Great during my sophomore year at Concordia when I was trying to figure out what the heck it meant to believe or not to believe. I knew the faith of the Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world was hollow and empty to me.

Reading Hitchens presented to me a road toward faith that’s paved in doubt. Even though we did not come to the same conclusions, I’m thankful for Christopher Hitchens because in the sea of purpose-driven-whatever, he critiqued common assumptions about God and religion and really propelled me to wrestle with a lot of things I hold central to what I believe.

Cheers,
Eric

%d bloggers like this: