Devotions from the Big Easy: “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place”

Today is our peacemaking day at Gathering. We get to spend some time in the interaction center and do a bunch of different activities. It’ll be a bit more low key than our previous couple days, but I’m sure it’ll be just as great of an experience. Our song for today might be a bit of an unusual choice, but I think the message is so significant for us as we explore more of New Orleans, as well as exploring more about the Biblical story. Check out today’s song.


That refrain of “we found love in a hopeless place” is, I think, the ultimate Easter refrain. I think that if the gospel were re-made into a hip-hop musical (can we all just take a second to dwell on how awesome that would be?) this song should warrant strong consideration for what the two Marys sing as they run away from the empty tomb. We found love in a hopeless place is the ultimate proclamation of Easter morning.

It’s also a spotty proclamation of a place like New Orleans. For a period of time after Katrina, New Orleans, as almost any disaster area, was a relatively hopeless place. People were starving. Homes and lives were destroyed. But in the midst of this chaos and disaster, there are small glimpses of love in these disasters. We find stories of neighbors — strangers even — helping each other.

The proclamation of our time in New Orleans is the same as the entrance to the tomb.

We found love in a hopeless place.


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.


9.11.11 – A Reflection

I was a 15-year old kid sitting in Mrs. Giedt’s  science class. Our class heard that a plane had hit a skyscraper in Manhattan. I thought, “What kind of pilot doesn’t see a skyscraper right in front of him?”

I was innocent. I thought the pilot had just screwed up. So we turned the television on in the classroom. And about 30 seconds later, the second plane hit. And I was confused. I didn’t know what had happened or what this meant. Somebody in my class said we were at war, but this wasn’t what war was to me.

War was tanks and troops invading things. War wasn’t this. I remember the newscaster covering it talking about the terrorists responsible for this event and the girl sitting next to me at the lab table leaned over and asked me what a terrorist was. It’s crazy to look back and think about how our vocabulary has changed since then.

I definitely feel like it made me grow up faster. It, at least, shook me to a point where I had the thought that we’re not as safe as I had thought. Granted, growing up in Fargo, there wasn’t much for terrorists to attack, but that wasn’t even crossing my mind when the smoke was billowing out of both towers.

The most prevalent response in my high school was completely militant. We have an imperative to kill those who killed us. But I never bought into that. There had to be a different way to move forward that didn’t involve getting hostile with anyone who had a problem with America. I had an inclination things were a bit more complicated than that. And I still do. But I haven’t put my finger on it yet.

And maybe that’s the toughest part about the whole thing. It’s all so fluid. One of the things trauma theorists talk about is that when a traumatic event is actually happening, stimuli is coming in too fast for our brain to react. The part of our brain that acts as a timestamp on events is overrun. The events physically preclude comprehension. So then what happens is that when we try to move on, the events are still free to appear to us as if they’re a present reality.

So there is some aspect of us that can never feel completely safe. When that innocence gives way to the traumatic reality of the world as it is, there’s something that’s completely lost. And all we’re left to do is trying to help restore, not as a way of erasing the trauma of the events of 9/11, but as a way of moving forward so we can help positively contribute to a world that was broken right in front of our very eyes.

What’s your recollection of September 11th, 2001? Where were you? How are you feeling about it 10 years later?


The Middle Child of Holy Week

This is my favorite day in Holy Week. The sheer loss and disorientation of Friday pours over into the most unrestful of Sabbaths. I guess I should clarify that “favorite” isn’t necessarily the best word. But it’s the most familiar to me. It’s the one I recognize and identify with the most. Holy Saturday is the dreadful chasm between the trauma of death’s reality and not-yet-fulfilled expectation of hope. So we sit. Traumatized by yesterday and hopeless for tomorrow. In this profound disorientation, we aren’t really even aware that tomorrow will come. So we wait.

In the chaos and disorientation of yesterday, there are a few things we can know. We know that Jesus is dead. That he was crucified, died and was buried. He came to tell the world that it was upside-down. He came to start a revolution to correct it. He preached a message against the Empire that love was greater than power. Power decided to test it, and power killed him. And on this Saturday, Jesus is dead.

If Jesus is dead then what do we believe in? Everything we’ve said has been a lie and has been for nothing. All the talk of the kingdom where our sins are wiped away isn’t here. And the God who was supposed to bring us into the kingdom was killed in front of our very eyes. In the trauma of Friday, there is no one left to pity but us.

These are Paul’s sentiments in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes,

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised…. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”

But that’s a Sunday promise. The certainty of Sunday taunts those of us in the chaos of Saturday. On Saturday, we lean on nothing more than hope and belief. “Christ is Risen” is a certainty that is entirely foreign to those of us in perpetual Saturday.

Jesus told Peter to put away his sword when the guards came to arrest him. So all who follow love put away their swords. Those who follow power kept them out. And power won. In the continual Saturday, power always wins.

Unless Sunday comes. Unless what Jesus was saying comes true. Unless life is restored where death has taken it away. But that’s for Sunday.

If there ever is a Sunday.

This is why we live for the hope of Sunday. All we see is the death of the old while we await the creation of the new. Even though Saturday is all we’ve seen and known, we wait with awakened anticipation for Sunday. If Sunday ever comes.

Bringing Our Bodies With Us

So I have this recurring dream. It always takes place on the playground outside my elementary school, but with my college friends. In this dream, my mind is completely detached from my body and floating about 20 feet above me just kinda hanging out, observing my day. I go to classes, eat lunch, the usual.

But then about halfway through the dream I start realizing that I’m detached from my body and start to panic. So I hop on my bike and start riding home as fast as I can. The whole time I’m freaking out because what could it possibly mean if my mind is detached from my body? Why can’t I hear what I’m saying in conversations? More importantly, why am I floating above my life rather than actually living it? How can I reconnect with my body? And then my bike crashes.

Cue terrified wake up.

I’ve had this dream about 6 times. And every time I wake up I look at my hands where there are scars from when I fell off my bike when I’m younger… I don’t quite know what brings it on… but make no mistake about it, I almost need a paper bag to breathe into once I bolt awake.

Why do I dream about my lived experience being so disconnected from my physical body? How can I reconnect the two?

I feel like a lot of times society tries to get us to separate our body from our soul. We discuss the two separately, like they’re in a vacuum, independent of each other. But all it takes is one look at the scars that we bring with our bodies remind us of where we’ve been. To remind us of the bike ride, the accident, the surgery. We carry these scars to remind us that we’re finite people who carry the marks of our broken human experience. Marks that are different from person-to-person, but are there whether we see them or not. These are the marks of our humanity that we carry with us all the time.

We’re human because we’re marked.

This is what Thomas understood at the end of the Gospel of John. He wouldn’t believe that the resurrection was real until he saw the marks of Christ’s experience on the cross.

This is what the marked body looks like for Thomas. Holes in his palms and a gash in his side. The cross creates the wounds that Christ carries with him through the tomb and into new life. But even in new life, he still carries the marks of his human experience. Even though these wounds killed him on Earth, he’s restored into life with them.

Every time we think back to remember our baptism, we’re reminded that we are marked as well. We’re human because we’re marked.

We bring our bodies with us when we honor our experience as something that affects us long into the future. We bring our bodies with us because our bodies bear the marks of our human experience. Ultimately, we bring our bodies with us for the sake of honoring the Creator of all experiences.

And because, along the way, we get some pretty cool scars.


%d bloggers like this: