Creation and destruction: in life, they go hand-in-hand. I have spent a creative day while, unbeknownst to me, a big fire was burning in the mountains about 30 minutes from this old house. I am seeking to make something of value and beauty at the same time people are scrambling to grab possessions, animals, and loved ones and flee under mandatory evacuation orders. The “circle of life”  is a archetypal symbol but ultimately, we prefer the creative side of that idea and not the death and destruction side. Yet, we can’t have one without the other. Things must die to make room for new growth, in nature, in individual lives, in cultures and nations.

We are definitely in a more destructive cycle here in the USA. Violence has erupted in ways this week that have horrified the world and made many of us wonder where the creative voices are to address the issues that have boiled over into mayhem and death. What is dying and what is trying to be born, I ask myself. Hopefully, things like racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other deadly attitudes are breathing their last dying gasps while a new life of justice, peace and true liberty for all will spring from the ashes.

Time will tell.

Regardless of the outcome, we are definitely in a liminal space as a country. “A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.Richard Rohr” (http://inaliminalspace.com/about/what).

Our political process right now seems to show an attempt by many Americans to “flee [a] terrible cloud of unknowing.” They will do anything, vote for anyone, who promises to return the status quo, as defined by those individuals. A recipe for failure, for sure! Yet, one of American’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, reminds us that “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”

This is a test, one with history-making consequences for good or for ill. Which side will we seek to strength: a creative energy for the common good or a destructive “narcissistic individualism”? I pray the creative, life-giving energy will be ascendant in the days to come.

 

It has been quite a week: Britain has voted to leave the European Union. All branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church except for the Russians are meeting in an Ecumenical Council, the first in over a thousand years that some of these groups have talked to each other. Many major evangelical Christian leaders have come out in support of Donald Trump. There is a lot to process in all of that!

In some ways, none of this has immediately impacted our lives here at this old house and yet, at some level, the ground has shifted under our feet in significant ways. What will Britain’s exit mean for the global economy? Has Pope Francis and his reign of love and mercy motivated the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy around the world to try to connect more intentionally with each other and with laypeople? Are we watching the end of evangelicalism as a viable view of Christian living and theology? These are not things that will be answered quickly; maybe not even in our lifetimes.

The late Phyllis Tickle believed that about every 500 years, there was a major shake-up in the Church and the world. We are nearly 500 years past the Protestant Reformation and so, if she is correct (and there are some who take issue with her analysis), we may be living in the midst of an upheaval that will only be accurately assessed decades from now.

All of this uncertainty can leave us feeling vulnerable. As humans, we like security, safety and total control. Yet, world events have always served to, among other things, remind us that there is ultimately no safety and security here on earth. We are invited to rely on God in times of great uncertainty. Current events can remind us of the need to walk by faith, holding God’s hand in the dark, waiting for God to move rather than trying to take things into our own hand.

There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 that illustrates what can happen when we seek to play God in the world:  Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Saul goes out and defeats the Amalekites but he took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

God is not pleased and sends Samuel back to Saul. When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop!”

“What then is this bleating of sheep in my ear”: the witness against Saul’s taking things into his own hands. It is like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, all the while denying that he was getting a forbidden cookie. Samuel hears Saul’s “hand in the cookie jar” through the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle and says, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” [Saul] replied, “Speak.”

17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

And here comes Saul’s good, honestly believed to be right, rationalization. 20 Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

It makes perfect sense that he did this, right? 22 And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
    and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.”

What a powerful indictment for us all! Ouch! I so get it, Saul! I really do. It all made perfect sense at the time! Except that it was not what God commanded; it was taking things into my own hands and not trusting God’s instructions.

My take-away with Brexit and the Ecumenical Council meeting and Christ-followers compromising principles so they can stay in power, is that my job is to remain faithful, remembering God always bats last.

Summer solstice is almost here at this old house! It also means that the night of the St. John’s Fires is coming soon:

The evening of 23 June, Saint John’s Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist. Luke 1:36, 56–57 states that John was born about six months before Jesus; therefore, the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on 24 June, six months before Christmas Eve. This feast day is one of the very few saints’ days which commemorates the anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint being honored.

The Feast of Saint John closely coincides with the June solstice, also referred to as Midsummer in the Northern hemisphere. The Christian holy day (holiday) is fixed at 24 June; but in most countries festivities are mostly held the night before, on Saint John’s Eve. In pre-Christian times, especially in the Nordic lands, bon fires were lit to protect against evil spirits, and later, witches on their way to meetings with other powerful spirits, which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again.

adapted from Wikipedia

Today, in Germany, huge bon fires are still lit on the mountains on the evening of June 23rd. Groups of people gather to party and look at the fires spread all along the hillsides. My sister-in-law describes with delight the beauty and wonder of the night from many years of living there. 

Isn’t it sad that so many of the holidays that defined the year have been lost in history or so unhinged from their original intent as to be almost meaningless? St. John’s Day is not widely celebrated here which is a shame as summer in the North Hemisphere is a great time for a bon fire with friends.

Halloween, once an important part of the church calendar (All Hallow’s Eve was to All Saints’ Day–November 1st–what Christmas Eve is to Christmas Day), is now commercialized to the point of rivaling money spent at Christmas. And, instead of rejoicing in those who have died in the Lord and anticipating joining them in heaven, it predominantly glorifies evil and gore. 

Christmas is a great example. What was meant to be a time of great rejoicing in God-with-us has become a nightmare of obligatory commercialism and excess. Too many of us spend the fall dreading it and the winter trying to recover from it. Real celebration and joy are missing from so much of our  daily lives. We are the poorer for this loss of joy-filled celebrations that once happened nearly every month and defined time in a healthy rhythm of work and play. Think about any holiday left in our culture and, for the most part, it is generally not restorative for too many people. Memorial Day is about shopping instead of reflecting on the price of our freedom, Thanksgiving is about Black Friday sales and not about thanking God for all of our blessings, Labor Day is about more shopping instead of being thankful for good and honest work, and so the list goes on.

What can we do? Several things. This week begin to evaluate your approach to Christmas. Seek to end obligatory gatherings and gift-exchanges. When we aren’t caught up in the emotions of the Hallmark movies and commercials, it is easier to shift the emphasis into practices that are more life-giving. Learn to embrace Advent so that when Christmas comes, you are looking forward to celebrating it for 12 Days rather than being ready for it to end.

Find something to celebrate each month. The festivals listed for each month at these web sites were a regular part of people’s lives centuries ago and aren’t in danger of being ruined through commercialization today: http://www.lordsandladies.org/middle-ages-holidays.htm or http://www.medieval-life.net/festivals.htm. While we are not living in the Middle Ages, the lists given here can be a springboard for finding ways to stop and bring an intentional moment of joy into a day or for you to craft your own celebration of a season or event.

Find ways to celebrate that involve little money and a minimum of complicated fuss. Creating food and decorations at home will usually be more satisfying than a big shopping trip. There are hundreds of books and web sites that can give you ideas. Your children will find it more refreshing to have a creative outlet and a less-stressed parent.

And plan a bon fire or a to light lot of candles at dinner on June 23rd. Invite some friends over. Remember, Christmas is only six months away; let’s start now to make that an anticipated event and not the dreaded “only 180 more shopping days” one.

We are doing a book giveaway here at this old house. Answer the questions below here in the comment form before 8 AM MST Wednesday, June 15th, and you will automatically be entered into the drawing for your choice for one of the below:

Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines” https://www.amazon.com/Habits-Childs-Heart-Disciplines-Experiencing/dp/1576834271/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465677104&sr=8-1&keywords=habits+of+a+child%27s+heart,

Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings” https://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Disciplines-Devotional-Year-Readings/dp/0830835032/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465677143&sr=8-1&keywords=spiritual+disciplines+devotional, or

The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation” https://www.amazon.com/Life-Body-Well-Being-Spiritual-Formation/dp/0830835717/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465677208&sr=1-1&keywords=the+life+of+the+body.

Entry questions:

  1. How often do you read this blog?
  2. How did you first discover this blog?
  3. What do you like best about the blog?
  4. What do you like least about the blog?
  5. Have you ever shared this blog with anyone?

Thanks for entering and good luck!

 

It is a beautiful day here at this old house! The iris are at their peak all around town. I did my reading and studying outside, relishing the blue sky and warm air. One can almost imagine how Eden looked and smelled on a day like this and it is easy to be full of gratitude.

I have been working my way through Teresa Jordan’s collection of blog posts, now in a book entitled “The Year of Living Virtuously: Weekends Off: A Meditation on the Search for Meaning in an Ordinary Life.” I want to quote a paragraph from her reflection on envy:

When misfortune strikes us, the tendency is to say, “Why me?” When good fortune strikes others, the tendency is to say, “Why them?” Envy brings out the worst in us. As is true for its cousin, jealousy, its color is green, the shade, I have always imagined, of bronchial phlegm. It is the “hidden emotion,” the one we least want to cop to. It hides behind the flatterer’s tongue and lashes out in the backhanded compliment. It eats us up: classical literature and mythology portray it as hissing snakes, burning coals, and a poison that invades the body. “Of the seven sins, only envy is no fun at all,” notes Joseph Epstein, who addressed the issue for the New York Public Library and Oxford University Press. Lust, greed, sloth and gluttony have their delights, pride can feel good, and anger at least scratches an itch. Only envy offers no reward. It doesn’t even have to focus on a rival to ruin our day.

Can I get an Amen?

Gratitude IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things, is the only sure remedy against envy’s corrosive work in our souls. There will always be people who have more than we do and people who have less. Dorothy Sayers, also quoted in the chapter, wrote that “Envy is the great leveler: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down.” That is why the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those desert dwellers of the 4th century, were so strong in their admonishment to attend to your own life and sins first before casting aspersions on someone else’s. Any time we are caught up in comparisons, we are in danger of ending up envious.

Teresa Jordan does point out that some kinds of envy can have a motivating or clarifying aspect to it. If we want what someone else has and then use that desire to motivate ourselves to work towards it, be it a material possession or a life-style attribute, that can be a good thing. However, when we desire something we don’t have, it can also discourage us, leading to depression and sadness. Basically, the safest approach is to live each moment in gratitude, thanking God for the beauty and life we find ourselves in.

One of my new “mantras” that works in all kinds of situations, including ones where I am in danger of being envious is the hymn I learned in childhood, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” written by Henrietta L. von Hayn, 1724-1782:

1. I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same,
Even calls me by my name.

2. Day by day, at home, away,
Jesus is my Staff and Stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, He bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow.

3. Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest.

With Jesus as my Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23), I have what I need and isn’t that enough?

 

 

 

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