TABLE TALK

By Valerie E. Hess

We sang it loud! We sang it proud:

A mighty fortress is OUR God!

Death should hold no fear for us

(but it did. Oh, how it did!)

We knew who God was and how God worked:

Faith alone!

(But there was a point system.)

Grace alone!

(Plus our behavior

And remember,

God is always on authority’s side.)

Marching righteously

(oh, so self-righteously,

Works righteously–

Too heretical to say  out loud:

Anathema!

Anathema!)

Through the night of sin and evil,

We were saved.

We alone were saved.

Faith alone

(and good behavior)

Would win the day.

Faith alone, we alone!

Martin Luther was our homeboy.

I knew exactly who I was not.

Then my own Augustinian moment,

A profound shaking of all that I knew to be true.

A personal re-formation.

(What does this mean?)

Baptismal waters became bitter, bloody,

Splinters splintered.

Christ’s Body divided instead of his garments.

Martin Luther despised the Jews.

I really disliked Luther.

But reformations mellow,

swing

back

As pendulums do.

Luther asked anguished questions.

(So do I.)

My souvenir socks announce “Here I stand”

In Advent blue, in German.

In them, I stand here less secure

On ground that moves quite often,

Shaken by a restless Spirit that will not be tamed

Or domesticated

Or enmeshed in tribal warfare.

      “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.

      Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing.”

Grace, mercy, love

Resting in all I don’t know,

Embracing wider horizons of Truth:

Reformed and still reforming.

      “God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.”

Here I stand;

Soli Deo Gloria!

Well, this old house is on the market. Time for a change and one does not get change without change. It is a bittersweet time but it feels like the right next step. The potential move facing us if the house sells has caused me to begin purging files, drawers, and cupboards. Thirty years of articles related to teaching classes and writing books on the spiritual disciplines are being organized or recycled, not a bad project to do even if the need to pay to move it all out-of-state wasn’t a distinct possibility! Image result for free image of a house for sale sign

It has been interesting to see how inundated with information and resources I have been in the form of magazine articles, journals, newspaper articles, and notes from classes and retreats I have taught. Some of this accumulated long before the digital information explosion began. I still like the feel of paper and reading from paper vs. reading online so I have kept probably half of what I had collected but it is all in a more usable form, waiting for the next writing project or class to teach to begin.

One of the things I found was an article I wrote many years ago. I don’t remember when or for what occasion but I share it (again) here:

“How to Live a Radical Christian Witness in Five Easy Steps” by Valerie E. Hess

Do you want to be a more radical witness to the goodness of the Kingdom of God here and now? Are you interested in being more effective in living for Jesus but don’t know how to go about it? Well, I have five easy steps you can take to do that.

1. Live liturgically.

2. Live without fear.

3. Be a blessing to all you encounter.

4. Stay in close fellowship with other Christians.

5. Live in gratitude.

Let me fill this out a bit.

  1. Live liturgically. Instead of doing holidays on “mall time,” do them according to the Church Year calendar. The biggest example here is Christmas, which does NOT start when the stores begin putting Christmas merchandise out. Christmas in the Church begins December 25th and goes for 12 Days, meaning it doesn’t end in a big sale on December 26th. The simple subversive act of celebrating Advent for the four Sundays before December 25th and then truly celebrating Christmas from December 25th until January 6th gets many people’s attention. Another radical idea is Easter in the Church lasts for seven weeks and is preceded by forty days of fasting of some kind (a very foreign concept to many) and self-reflection that doesn’t necessarily “feel good.” Another truly radical idea is Sunday morning worship is not one option among many and is not dependent on how you feel about it. The question is not “what did I get out of church” but “what did God get out of my worship today”? It really isn’t about you, trust me, which can be a real shock to some people.
  2. Live without fear. Several times throughout Scripture, angels tell people not to be afraid. The prophets thunder it throughout the Old Testament. Moses tells running Israelites to not do it. Jesus assures frightened disciples after the Resurrection to be at peace. I have been increasingly suspicious in recent years that God means it: DO NOT BE AFRAID. This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and sky dive without a parachute but it does mean that since we know the End of the Story (see Revelation 21-211), we know Who wins. And if we are playing on the winning team, while there may be some significant plays lost here on earth, we can engage the game of life with confidence. Deeply confident, anxiety-free people who sleep well at night tend to get other people’s attention.
  3. Be a blessing to all you encounter. Simply do not return evil for evil, snarky comment for snarky comment. Do not participate in unholy anger, hatred, lack of interest, lack of compassion, or anything else that hurts another person. This does not mean that “tough love” situations aren’t called for at times, especially with the children in our care or addictive personalities in the family tree, but tough love is still a form of love. Do not stoop to the level that Satan and his minions play on. Play by the rules of Jesus. We know what Jesus would do in every situation and it would be the most loving thing. (We only need to ask the specifics and not the over-arching principle question in each situation we encounter.) If you have trouble discerning what that loving thing is, we turn to number 4.
  4. Stay in close fellowship with other Christians. The idea of an isolated Christian may make sense in a region where people are actively trying to stamp out Christianity and there really isn’t anyone else seeking to follow Jesus but it makes no sense, and isn’t even Biblical, in the region where most of us live. We need each other. Swallow your pride, join a faith community, and remember point number 3. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, despite what it looks like from the outside. Be the blessing to others that you want them to be to you on your worst day. Use their guidance to help you distinguish between when you are being loving and when you are being co-dependent and enabling (see number 3). A candelabra will withstand the wind much better than a single small candle.
  5. Live in gratitude. Seek to be thankful IN all circumstances while not necessarily FOR all circumstances. You will exude a lightness and joy that will get many people’s attention. You will also be helping to accomplish point number 3 above.

So there you have it: five easy steps and you are in the category of “a radical witness for Christ.”

Disclaimer: These five easy steps are not to be undertaken without first consulting your entire self and making sure you are sold out as completely as you can be for the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. These steps may not win you friends and may cause you to lose some of the friends and even family members you currently have good relationships with. You may need to be prepared to take different employment or move to a different neighborhood, city, or country. Economic changes may also occur. (My lawyer made me put all this in.)

Image result for free photo of earth from spaceRise up! Join earth’s liturgy–

Cosmos’ nascent verse and voice–

Heavens, waters, creatures make

Diverse harmonies: Rejoice!

 

Praise the God whose counterpoint,

Weaves creation’s diverse tunes

Into one eternal hymn,

Bursting fear and yawning gloom.

 

When we gather this new day

As Christ’s body here on earth,

We join with the universe

Which sings now in endless mirth.

 

May we keep this Song alive

That stars sang in dawning years.

May our lives add consonance

To the music of the spheres.

Valerie E. Hess copyright 2017

“Everybody wants to be transformed but nobody wants to change,” quipped Frederica Matthewes-Green several years ago. Another way to say this is “I want change without change.” As the leaves are beginning to shift colors here at this old house, it is interesting to reflect on what the word “change” really means. The online etymological dictionary gives us this:

change (v.)
early 13c., “to substitute one for another; to make (something) other than what it was” (transitive); from late 13c. as “to become different” (intransitive), from Old French changier “to change, alter; exchange, switch,” from Late Latin cambiare “to barter, exchange,” from Latin cambire “to exchange, barter,” of Celtic origin, from PIE root *kemb- “to bend, crook” (with a sense evolution perhaps from “to turn” to “to change,” to “to barter”); cognate with Old Irish camm “crooked, curved;” Middle Irish cimb “tribute,” cimbid “prisoner;” see cant (n.2). Meaning “to take off clothes and put on other ones” is from late 15c. Related: Changed; changing. To change (one’s) mind is from 1610s.

I find the idea of changing clothes the most useful when thinking about “change means changing.” For example, it is very uncomfortable to put my pajamas on over my clothes from the day. I must take off one to put on the other. That is not a value statement about either the pajamas or the clothes of the day. It simply means that we cannot wear both functionally or comfortably.

And so it is in life. We must leave one house, one job, one church or school to go to another one. We cannot be in two places at once. We cannot have it all. We cannot change without movement away from one thing and toward another.

There is excitement in this idea and grief as well. We can and must “make (something) other than what it was.” The beauty of living in a place with distinct seasons is that we see Nature do this on a regular basis. We transition out of summer and into fall which leads into winter which cycles back to spring which eventually becomes summer again. We can learn a lot from Nature. I am sure there are leaves that do not want to fall off their branches. I am sure the trees do not like the idea of standing naked against the winter sky. Yet, without the rhythms of growth and dormancy, trees and other plants would grow continuously to the point of being out-of-control in height and density. The goal is to embrace each season as it comes and learn the gifts of each of those seasons.Image result for free photo of a tree in four seasons

As we continue to stand in the liminal space I referred to last time, we take comfort in the cycles of Nature. Autumn has begun; the change of seasons is upon us. And that is not a bad thing.

We have been busy “re-tooling” here at this old house.  Shifts in lifestyle and work are now complete and we are in a threshold space: rejoicing in all that was and waiting expectantly for what comes next.

The fancy term for all of this is “liminal space,” that place that, if it were wide enough, you would completely stand inside a doorway. You have left one room but have not completely entered the next. Many of you know what I am talking about as you have been there or are currently there. It is exciting and terrifying, full of grief and yet full of anticipation. 

The trick in all of this is to keep living in the present, here and now, not missing the gift of “today.” It can be easy to panic, to worry about “what we will eat and what we will wear,” questioning Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about birds of the air and lillies of the field being fully provided for by a gracious Heavenly Father. For me, I find that it puts my whole “faith and trust in God” front and center: do I really believe it? Is God’s definition of “full provision” the same as mine?

This is a season of “being” and not “doing.” While there are requirements for body and soul in each day and new creative outlets to explore, it is also a time to let go of being defined by roles and titles. In fact, at this point in my life, everything that I have been doing for work for the last 30 plus years has ended. There are few externals that I can share when someone asks me, “And what do you do?” The lesson of this liminal space time is to be OK with saying “nothing” in response to that question.

Well, not exactly nothing. I am learning to be a child of God and to find my identity and sufficiency in that but that might be too complicated for some casual social settings. I think I will just say, “I am enjoying the harvest,” knowing the spring’s new planting will at some point become evident.

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