I can own my personal frustration and purported hopelessness as of late. I read my public writing – and especially my personal writing – and I can see how one might read my as hopeless. I want things to go differently, I want a different world and/or a different situation constantly.
But I am still here, and I am not running away from anything.
I read the same church statistics as everyone else. I read the same news as everyone else. I see the same chaos and decimation as everyone else.
And I want to do something! I want to fix the problems – or at least lessen the pain a bit. I want to use my voice, my privilege, and my position to improve the world. I want to improve my congregation and my denomination beyond its current brokenness.
And I feel hopeless like everyone else. I do things and it does not help. I say things and no one who need to hear will listen and internalize what I say. I find myself silent when I have thoughts on difficult topics and can feel that no one wants to hear my opinion for a host of reasons.
I feel that tug of knowing I need to do something and struggling to understand what that “thing” is. I know others feel this way; you have told me as much.
And in this moment of frustration, fear, anger, and ineffectiveness, you can start to see things fatalistically – that we cannot affect the course of history and everything is predetermined. And you may want to write off everything as doomed in this state of frustration, anger, and fear.
“Let it burn to the grown and dance in the ashes!”
But I find myself angry and tortured not because I have given up, but because I refuse to. We can do something to make this world better, even if just a tiny bit. We can do something to make our churches better, even if it does not return our past glory. We can, but we just have not figured out how, yet.
This continues to torture me – I still jump back and forth between “outrage” and “outrage hangover” on an hourly basis – but I refuse to become fatalist in my frustration and pain. It may kill me and my soul, but I will never not believe it can be better and I can do something, even if that “thing” seems indiscernable in the moment.
We live in a dark time, but not an insurmountable and irredeemable time. Let us stop diagnosing the world and the church as terminal and instead live in our fury and internal torture.
Because I refuse to accept that it cannot be better than it is now.
Something in my last post that is absolutely true is that I want to write about something not awful. The darkness in the world has been a reason why the previous iteration of this blog remained kind of active over the past three years, but only writing to respond to travesty is soul-killing for me. Cathartic, but soul-killing.
So I decided I’m going to write something happy.
Last night we had a delicious meal: butter-fried steak, roasted tomatoes, sauteed bell peppers, blanched and cooked green beans. It was heavenly.
All of the major ingredients came from the hands of someone whom loves us. The steak came from a couple of parishioners who are responsible for us not buying ground beef for the past three years. The beans and tomatoes came from the generous excess of another parishioner who loves being able to give away the excess from her garden. The bell peppers came from our pots, and I think it is important to love myself.
At Bible study last night there were four pints of grape tomatoes, a pound or two of green beans, and a dozen eggs to share because of the excess of the loving work of the gardeners – and Marv’s chickens – and God’s creation.
And it is freely and joyfully given. We have offered – many times – to pay for the eggs, and the offer is always declined. By the end of the summer anyone who wants to can tomatoes, beans, beets, or really any food has ample produce to do it.
There is something absolutely wonderful this level of generosity. I haven’t bought sweet corn since we moved to Cascade. From the moment I moved here I have felt loved and part of a family under God.
I’ve struggled with how to respond to the darkness of the world – and I still struggle with it as I also consider how to respond to potential reactions to my words – but I have been preaching an answer for basically my entire ministerial career:
Show love to those around you.
Yes, I can tell you to not be racist and disavow those who are and publicly condemn acts of hatred, but last night, eating from the generosity of others and receiving more generosity last night, I felt more love and more welcome.
If we can live our lives like that in our small circles, and do that will all people, we will reduce the darkness in our world.
I can’t fix the racism of our nation, I can’t heal the deep wounds that it has caused, but I can show love to all.
Show love to all.
Facebook is the source of 90% of my discouragement. 9% being impatient, 1% trying to figure out my digestive issues while remembering they aren’t even approaching debilitating and are probably 100% as minor as the doctor suggested, 90% reading Facebook.
I just opened up Facebook after briefly opening and then closing and I found these things to pray about:
- A retired police officer passing away.
- Celebrating young life.
- The American political situation.
- Ditto, again and again.
- Problems with our natural world.
- The beauty and joy of summer and enjoying our natural world.
Then the song changed on my playlist and I stopped scrolling. Each bullet point was a specific post, posted by another person, which a specific thing I should be praying about.
How do I pray for everything? If I spent time listing everything that I hear – not even seeking out but just hear – on a daily basis in prayer, I would have little time for anything else.
And I don’t know the answer to my question. There are prayers that are all-encompassing of much of that, but then why do we pray for anything specific? And I don’t pray to Vending-Machine Jesus or Magic Genie God, so listing my every concern and joy seems…odd.
I find myself wanting to come up with some profound thing to pray, some profound solution to this struggle within me, but I can’t. All I have is this humble offering:
God, give me words and voice for the pains of this world, heart and joy for the things of this creation that bring us joy, and peace to know that I am doing what I can do, in my broken state, to bring more light to this world. I mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate, and I ask you for peace in this world, but also peace in knowing that this world is temporary and you provide us with a new world without tears, pain, or mourning.
Please give your servants strength, please give your servants voice, please give your servants joy, and please give your servants peace.
In the name of our exemplar, our teacher, our savior, and our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
I love Ash Wednesday. It’s not something I realized that I loved until I started planning the worship service for tonight, but it is something that I love.
All throughout seminary there was this hesitation to admit that we were incapable – on our own – to contribute anything to God’s mission, that we brought nothing to the table that wasn’t given to us by God and directed by the Holy Spirit, and that we are hopelessly broken without God and Christ’s salvific* act on the cross. In the ordination process, too, there is a weird push-back if you place any emphasis on your unworthiness of the call of professional ministry.
I find this weird because I am a Presbyterian, and a strong Reform Presbyterian at that, and I went to a Presbyterian seminary and currently in the process of being ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA). I’m not quite a TULIP but Total Depravity has always been one of my theological pillars. I have always known that I’m pretty screwed up, and that I can’t stop sinning, and I never see anyone else living without sin. Total Depravity just seems like the logical theological position, given my reading of scripture and anecdotal observation of the world.
I think the push-back is because no one – myself included – really describes the absolutely joyous truth behind Total Depravity. We get to caught up on the sinful part of the Total Depravity – and the correct discomfort that comes from it – that we forget that the whole point of that is the relationship with Christ that our brokenness necessitates. The theology of Total Depravity is really a theology of hope that despite our brokenness, despite the sins that we commit every hour, we are saved and in a loving and caring relationship with our God, a God whom came to Earth and suffered our condition to save us.
364** days a year we try to ignore and/or downplay depravity and focus on forgiveness. 1 day a year we focus on our penance. Never do the penance focus and forgiveness focus meet. Forgiveness is light and bright, penance dark and heavy and oppressive.
I guess it just always melted together for me because I find comfort in melancholy and darkness. It never made sense that it wouldn’t just feel comfortable to know you’re a sinner because I always knew the punchline of salvation. It just made sense to me, and I couldn’t rationalize why there would be so much push-back when it came down to talking about it.
364 we ignore it, 1 day a year it’s all that we see. We mark ourselves (or at least some do; I don’t, but that’s another story), we sit in ashes, and we confess. And because we have a single-focus, we forget the hope that it is.
“Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” – Joel 2:13 CEB
This is a day to return to God – prostrate, but knowing that you are saved – and return to the calls and talents that God has placed in your life.
This blog is my major spiritual discipline, and you can see how much I have neglected that part of my life, citing being too busy and too tired and you name it. I know that I’m saved, but I know that my soul needs healing, my spiritual life needs discipline, and I know that need to return to it. My desk is a mess, my sermon for…5 hours from now isn’t finalized, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, but I’m returning to a discipline of spiritual life.
Reflect on the darkness of your soul and of your sin, but know that the disciplines and penance are to show us hope and strengthen our relationship with God, not to create more darkness in our lives. Focus not specifically on the sins of your soul, but on the necessity of the love that you are freely given.
Return to God, the God of love.
*Totally a word.
**365 this year.