Glory for Berries

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burning-bush-done Last night, our newly renovated local community theater hosted a combined orchestra and wind ensemble and opened the performance free to the public.  This was an extraordinary cultural treat for our little town.  We wanted our boys to experience it–(plus selfishly desired a break from all the ballgames they are immersed in!)  They were enamored by the variety of instruments, inspired by the melodies of John Phillip Sousa and full of questions about the tiny girl playing the giant harp 3 times her size on stage left.

I love that feeling of being swept up in something beautiful.  Several pieces had an alluring quality embedded in the melody.  As a musician, I’m amazed at the infinite combination of chord structures that can create an emotional response of “hold on, something even better is about to happen.” But something occurred that kept jerking me out of this euphoria…

2 rows in front of me, a young man–probably college age–was playing Mortal Kombat on his Samsung Galaxy phone. There was no effort to be subtle with it…in fact, it was as if he hoped the entire audience might join him!  Held high, inches away from his face, the flickering glow of gunfire and explosions lit my view of the stage. And it went on and on. Even my boys were astounded. At least he had turned the volume off.

Held high, inches away from his face, the flickering glow of gunfire and explosions lit my view of the stage.

I wondered who he was?  Perhaps a son or boyfriend of someone in the orchestra?  Maybe a kid from a local college receiving some extra credit for attending? Regardless, in the midst of what I perceived as rudeness, I remembered a few lines from Elizabeth Barrett-Browning:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries,                        And daub their natural faces unaware.”

I sort of felt sad for him. Whether he didn’t want to be there or thought he was accomplishing 2 things at once, he was missing it.  He wasn’t present.  He was trading a holy moment for berries.

Yet as is His custom, the Lord turned my critical spirit back on me. How often do I do the same thing…multitasking my physical presence while my mind works out a dozen other projects? I think this is what Jesus meant when he said “with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you.”

Lord, help us realize the richness of your presence today in the midst of a doctor’s appointment, lunch with our family, our children’s homework, yard work, grocery shopping, a conversation with a neighbor, practicing an instrument and folding laundry.

May we never, ever be satisfied with blackberries.

7 Lessons from Lent

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I love the Christian Church and feel deeply at home there.  But if you had asked me 20 years ago about my experience of the liturgy and the Church calendar, I would have mainly confirmed THE BIG 2: Christmas and Easter.  I probably also would have added in Mother’s Day and the Patriotic American holidays, because that’s just what good conservative evangelicals do, right? Jesus certainly loved his mom–there is biblical evidence for that! Pentecost?  No, too much Holy Spirit, and people get all weird if we start invoking that.  Ordinary Time–gee that sounds exciting. Lent and Advent? Oh yeah, we had too much lent stuck in the advent on our dryer once and had to call a repairman.

Holy days and seasons of remembering God’s pursuit of and intervention with His creation have historically been a built-in-to-the-year part God’s people.  This is our privilege, not our obligation.

Over the years of ministry, my soul has been drawn deeper into the rhythm of the Christian calendar.  It makes increasing sense why, as an alternative community, the people of God draw strength from segueing off of the civic calendar.  In particular, the days leading up to the Incarnation (Advent) and to the Resurrection (Lent) have become a meaningful discipline in my life and family.  It seems everything–shopping, food, information, sex, books, gaming, entertainment, and more–has become so available for instantaneous gratification.  Spiritual formation as a disciple takes time.  And it’s messy.  Jesus didn’t microwave 12 guys into apostles.  And they weren’t done growing when he ascended either.

I really do think most believers want to grow in Christ, but I’m also convinced that if we could find sanctification on Amazon Prime we’d pay extra for overnight shipping and check that goal off of our list.

I wonder if we are losing the ability to long for something hopeful. There is beauty that arises in waiting. It’s in the waiting where Christ reveals to us the things He is asking us to surrender in our hearts.

This was no elaborate journaling exercise, but over the season of Lent, in a phone App, I kept track of my discoveries:

1. The things that irritate me about others are reflections of related issues He needs to carve out of my own heart.

2. If I didn’t invest in younger believers, my spiritual growth would be stagnant at best and moving backwards at worst.

3. I want so much more than I need.

4. I need extended solitude to be restored. I’m talking utter silence, without the possibility of my phone dinging or the temptation to check social media. The sound of the breeze or chirping of a bird is acceptable noise.  Anything other than that and I cannot hear Him.

5. I have a hard time savoring the wonder of a common moment–like doing homework with one of my children–without experiencing a sense of urgency over what I need to do next.  Why would I be irritated by a blessing?

6. Fasting teaches me about “enough.” This lesson spills over into multiple areas of life. This is not about strength building, but about Christ’s power mysteriously changing selfishness into contentment.

7. Relationships do not thrive amidst multi-tasking. Just like my marriage needs intentionally planned times for reconnection, I take the presence of Jesus for granted without deliberately orchestrating sabbath experiences to enjoy Him.

I would love to hear what you learned!

A Zimmerman Liturgy

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Father, at this moment in our history, remind us that we are Your sons and daughters, adopted by You through the blood of your Son.  Impress upon us that being your children makes us brothers and sisters, family, regardless of race.  Reveal to us the great joy that is Yours as You behold the prism of creativity in which You made us.

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior of the whole world, we praise You–who was without sin–but who became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.  You have restored our right standing with God.  Help us now to reconcile our selves to one another.  In your humanity, your Word reveals the touch of love and power which fell upon the Jew, the Gentile, the Greek, the European, the mixed-race Samaritan, the African…to all who encountered you at a multi-ethnic crossroads of the world.  May we remember that it is You who paid the price for us to be in your eternal family, your brothers and sisters, and that we have done nothing to earn this.

Holy Spirit, Guardian and Counselor of the Church, lead us to be a beacon of peace to the world in the coming days.  Regardless of what the world will pronounce, be the guardian of our hearts and our mouths.  Help us to be people who truly forgive, knowing this does not mean erasing the past but forging a new and a holy future in spite of the past.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving the sins of our ancestors.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving and correcting deliberate acts of in justice and inequality that have persisted.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving and correcting the insensitive and unintentional slights we inflict upon one another without even realizing we have done it.  Lead us in courage to pursue relationship with one another so that we might not fear what we do not understand about “the other” any longer.  Lead us into true, holy community with one another so that your Church might be an example to the world of what You desire eternally.

May we look to places like Rwanda where, in spite of holocaust, victims and murderers are forging a new, holy future together in Your Name.  May we release the individualistic, American pride we so often model that we can figure this out on our own without You.  May we remember that our ultimate allegiance is to You, and that You are the Head of our family.  May we remember that being American and being a Christ-follower are two entirely different things, and that neither privilege was granted without great cost.

Amen.