Monday, April 25, 2022

Reflections

 I turned 56 yesterday. It was an amazing birthday, full of joyful community, worship, excellent conversation, and carrot cake. I couldn't ask for better. 

Still, birthdays always make me reflective. Today, even though it's been a back-to-the-routine workday, has been a much more reflective day with lots of memories. 

Seems like it's a good opportunity to trot out things like grief and heartbreak and longing and make sure I'm dealing straight up with them. Those three especially can twist your mind around in terrible ways if you're not living honestly with them. I firmly believe it's a good idea to take stock of one's heart in those departments at last a few times a year. 

Grief is cumulative, I think. We never really get over it. Every grief taps into every other, and our only hope is to learn to grieve well, to grieve in a healthy way. The losses, small and large, pile on top of one another and they need to be acknowledged. They certainly can't be controlled. Looking grief in the face, however, allows one to step into the present rather than being trapped in the past. 

Heartbreak and grief are related, but they're not the same. Heartbreak is about what could have been but was not. It's related to grief, and grief is certainly a part of it. I've always been enough of a dreamer to think things should be different, and that can trap me in a terrible corner. Dealing with heartbreak is about looking reality in the face and saying as much as things should have been different, they weren't. Take a deep breath and turn toward the way things are and the way things might be in the future. Let the past be broken, and release it. As a very wise friend once told me, "You have to let the past take its rightful place in the past."

Longing is potentially the most damaging of the three. Longing can steal the power of the present and the hope of the future. Longing is the lie that prevents anything good in the here and now. It's a fine line, because knowing your own heart can help you figure out where God is calling you. Psalm 37 says that those desires of your heart are, at least potentially, God-given. I know it's possible to long for things that are far from God, and I've fallen into that trap. But often at the core of even those longings, there is a God-given yearning for something good. 

Transitioning into my late 50's, I'm learning to sit with grief, to let it be a companion, if not a welcome one. This week a man I've known since childhood, a tender, brilliant, articulate man, was laid to rest in my hometown. I grieve for him and all those who feel his loss most deeply. And that grief taps into the grief I carry for so many others, for grandparents and parents and a sister-in-law and friends and mentors and many, many more. 

I hope I'm also learning to let heartbreak temper me rather than shatter me. It's easy to create a fantasy land in which all those old wounds go away and none of my heartbreaks ever happened. But that's not reality. I have received, and given, many deep wounds. It's important to hold them honestly before God and in my own mind. 

When I can do that, when I can live in repentance before God and receive his grace and mercy in the midst of those things, I find that my longings begin to be transformed. I find deep down in the core of my longings a thread of things I've always wanted but couldn't name. And I look around and discover that God has begun to meet those longings and satisfy them in the most amazing ways. The process of God meeting those longings, it turns out, is far more important than the desires themselves. 

So in practical terms, it's three weeks today since the doctors opened me up and installed a new right hip. I'm incredibly grateful for the family and friends that have nursed and nurtured me so well. I'm healing faster than I have any right to expect. Prayer has a lot to do with that. 

The day before I came home from the Cities after surgery, a horse came to live at my 40-acre farm. He and I have been adjusting to each other, and my heart just sings to have him living here. I'm so excited. All the preparation that's gone into revamping my barn and fixing my fences is now bearing good fruit. And just the last couple days, the grass has started greening up in the pasture and he's excited about that, as I am. 

As I write this, six deer are grazing over my septic drainfield and enjoying the new growth on the hill below my house. Their presence is such a gift, and I always take it as a reminder (a la Psalm 42, among others) of God's presence. I can breathe in this place, and God has so richly blessed me by bringing me here. It is a gift indeed, and maybe that's why it's called "the present." It's a good place to live. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Checking in

 You can feel spring trying to break through. Last night I went walking down in the pasture, squishing in several inches of melting snow. I started up my tractor and scooped a few tons of slush out of my driveway. It was melting all day yesterday in the powerful sunshine. The temperature never dropped below freezing last night, and today it's supposed to be in the upper 40's. Any day now the trees are going to start visibly budding and sap will start running. 

With a lot of help, I'm continuing to make progress on the barn and the pasture. Saturday, I think, is going to be a fencing party. It's amazing what my friends will get excited about. 

I'm continuing to get my ducks in a row (not literally, though I have been thinking about getting ducks sometime soon) for my hip surgery. I don't look forward to the process, but I'm so very excited about having a new hip. I had my other one replaced in 2014, and I remember the amazing feeling as it healed up and I was able to do things I hadn't done in a long time. Like standing up straight. 

In some metaphorical ways, it feels like spring as well. I just heard that the Philippines has opened its borders. That opens the way for a Bible translation project to move forward. I've been rooting for this project for a long time, and the restrictions on travel to & within the Philippines have made it impossible. Until now. As much as I would love to be going myself, that's not a possibility. So this time I'm cheering from the stands. 

And all along the way, God is faithful. He continues to provide community, and time in scripture, worship, and prayer with dear friends. He continues to provide for my needs and speak to me through his word. The warm sunshine, trickles of melting water, sloppy roads, and herds of deer milling around in my field in the evening are all signs of hope these days. I hope you are seeing similar signs of God's faithfulness in your own life. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Dreaming

 A few nights ago I had a dream. I try to pay attention to dreams, partly because they're a way for me to know what's going on deep down inside me that my psyche is trying to process. Also I believe that God uses dreams (sometimes) to communicate with us. So I try to pay attention.

In this dream, I hatched out a tyrannosaurus egg. It was about the size of a grapefruit, and the little monster that hatched out was awkwardly cute and voraciously hungry and determined to chew. He chewed on drywall and old shoes and bits of granite. He took everyday objects and chewed them up into unrecognizable bits of shrapnel. And he grew really, really fast. 

I realized in the dream that I never thought he would hatch alive. And in the dream I had taken on this crazy project knowing that it probably wouldn't work, but it seemed cool at the time. So now that I had a growing dinosaur to manage, I didn't know quite how to deal with it. For anyone who has seen Jurassic Park, you know that there are huge ethical issues (not to mention safety issues) with hatching dinosaurs. In the dream I figured I had to find a realistic way of euthanizing my tyrannosaurus. 

But not yet. 

Meanwhile, people who came to my place as house guests were fascinated and horrified. People who brought their pet dogs over found the dogs laser focused and depending on the dog, terrorized. My friends, visiting in my home, would show me chewed bits of drywall they'd found in my place. One asked, "You ever worry about losing fingers with that thing around?" The little tyrannosaur kept getting bigger. By the end of the dream he was almost the size of a black lab, and he pretty much had the run of my house. My life had shifted to make room for a predatory dinosaur. And I still didn't quite know what to do with him. 

Like all dreams, this one ended. I woke up. The dream didn't feel fearful or icky the way they sometimes do. I found myself wondering about it. I remembered (as you can tell) a ton of detail. Usually remembering the details of dreams with any kind of clarity is a sign to pay attention. 

So I've thought about that dream a lot. 

Things are not quite this simple, but here's the bottom line of my reflections. My whole life these days feels a little like hatching a tyrannosaurus. Most of this I've chosen, like I chose to hatch the little mongrel out in the dream. Some of my current circumstances started out from unpleasant things I didn't choose, like being asked to resign from my most recent church job and not being given a good reason why. That one stumped me for a long time, but I was confident God was working in the details. Turns out that was true. (It always is, because God is good like that.) 

In the aftermath of that unpleasant transition, I did make some choices. I chose to take a job in an industry that was entirely new to me, where the learning curve would be incredibly steep. I chose to live on the 40 acres I'd bought a few months previously. I chose to move out here almost a year ago at the end of March, moving into a camper rather than doing something sensible like renting a place with flushable toilets (or any toilets) and running water. Then I chose to buy a very well used trailer house. Serious fixer-upper. I chose to do most of the fixer-upper work myself (with the help of some incredible friends) rather than hiring someone else to do it. Leveling. Wiring. Plumbing. Wall repair. Floor repair. Toilet replacement. Fixer. Upper. 

In all of that, I have felt most days like I'm bottle-feeding a tyrannosaurus. So to speak. (Yes, I know that in all probability dinosaurs didn't nurse. It's a metaphor. Roll with it. And for the literal-minded and inordinately curious out there, the dream didn't in fact include bottle feeding.)

At the same time, these crazy circumstances have become a deep, deep joy to me. It's February, and I love my evenings in my cozy living room. I love waking up in this place to the sound of my coffee pot going off on the timer. 

I'm getting tremendously excited about spring. There are going to be some challenges coming down the pike, of course. I'm planning to have a hip replaced, and there's a ton of work I want to get done this spring. This combination will require wisdom and balance and restraint. But every inch of progress in this place and this new life has required all of that. There are hugely exciting prospects of animals coming to live here, a barn that has been transformed from dark, unpleasant bondage to beautiful, usable space. That barn is another whole dinosaur. There are plans for gatherings of friends and late night campfires and worship times and work parties and so much more. It's exciting. 

When it's twenty-five below and my pipes freeze up, though, I tend to ask myself why I hatched this crazy monster in the first place. But that's just a fleeting question. In spite of chewed bits of drywall and a growing OCD obsession with counting my fingers, I've grown to love the little mongrel. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Deep satisfactions

Lately I have been experiencing some long-awaited joys. 

Tuesday my first grandchild arrived, a little girl, who bears as her middle name the name of my mother. The very existence of this tiny human being marks the passing and legacy of the generations. She is a word of my own finitude and mortality, and in that I am set free and overjoyed. I have not yet met her, but there will be time for that. 

Last night a small group of us shared a worship service in my barn. In my deepest heart and in a few quiet conversations, this has been envisioned over and over for the past year. Last night it finally came to be. We sat in the cold barn around a propane heater. We talked of Herod the Great and his architecture, and how in the face of those grandiose projects Jesus chose to be born in a place much like this. He came, as Peterson has it in The Message, for everyone. Nothing could symbolize that better than that first night's lodgings. So we shared communion with a bold red wine and homemade whole wheat bread. 

Outside the barn, one of those lovely December snows was beginning. The flakes wafted downward past the longhorn steer skull above the door on the barn, through the rarely-lit yardlight's illuminated cone, settling on the ground and obscuring the tracks of whitetails and cottontails that crisscross my yard. 

Then we adjourned up the hill to my house (remember the $350 trailer house I've been working on with the help of many of these same friends?) and shared chili and cornbread and lefsa and mulled wine and the joy and conversation that comes with shared life and deep trust. 

I find myself living out a manifesto of simplicity and contentment here. I've mentioned Wendell Berry before and his articulate advocacy for this kind of a life. Here is a piece in which he recommends some concrete steps that lead one into this kind of living. Enjoy. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Turning the corner into winter

 It's almost December as I write this. I'm sitting in that trailer house I bought last spring. A few friends and I spent a ton of energy making it livable. So though it's twenty degrees outside, I'm sitting comfortably in my living room listening to the furnace run. My coffee pot is happily keeping me happy on the kitchen counter. Shoes and bookshelves and TV and car keys each have their places. This has become home, though (like most homes) there is still a great deal of work to be done. I am hesitant to say so out loud, but I think I'm ready to face the Minnesota winter in this place. 

I've been working lately in the barn. There's a solid prospect of a horse or two coming to live here in the spring, and it's been fun to turn from cleaning junk out of the barn. Now I'm focusing on building a couple box stalls and planning for water, fence repair, and the like. I'm very excited about all that. The pasture fence will need a little work, but a few days of labor will probably have the place ready for equine occupancy. Then there will be more complicated things that need to be accomplished next spring or summer, like getting a source of water in the barn itself. But that's manageable. And I am so enjoying the deep connection to my farming roots and those kinds of projects. I don't know what I was thinking a few years ago when I figured I could live in the Twin Cities. 

Also tremendously exciting is that in the next few weeks I am becoming a grandpa. That is a deep joy waiting to come to full flower, and I'm patient. 

I'm thinking a lot these days about the chaotic times in which we live. As I write, the new omicron variant of the corona virus has captured everyone's attention. We continue to live in the midst of this global pandemic with great fear and conflict. We continue to be polarized around everything from politics to medicine to sexuality to ... well, to everything, it seems like. 

I think often about Wendell Berry (if you don't know him, look him up) and some of his philosophy around land and spirituality. Boiled down, I think it applies like this. In times of chaos and division, the responsible thing to do is build three things. First, land. Make sure you have space. If at all possible, own it. That provides a firm economic footing. Maybe this means owning a home. Berry in one interview said that it's incredibly important to find a few square feet of scrub land, if nothing else, that you can manage. I agree. 

Second, skills. As much as possible, know how to take care of yourself. This means everything from basic first aid to cooking. Learn how to do the necessary things to make your life work. Can you plant a garden? Butcher a deer? Fix your plumbing? Change your oil? If not, learn how. 

Third and by far most important, community. Build a network of friends who can do life together. Any shortcomings under #1 and #2 are covered if you build a strong community. Eat together. Worship together. Talk about important things together. Care for each other's needs and work on projects together. We too often fail to realize that community needs to be intentionally built. This is so important. 

Obviously we could dive deep into each of these three, but not right now. Suffice it to say that when you experience fear in the daily headlines, these three are a solid place to invest the energy that grows out of that fear. 

I'm not advocating being a "prepper" or having stockpiles of weapons or non-perishable food. Too often that just feeds the fear and division. Instead I'm saying as much as possible, build a stable life. When you have made some progress in that direction, the headlines can fly over your head like birds, without making nests in your hair. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Redemption: What is it?

 At its worst, it's a Christianese word. It gets thrown around in theological circles and church services. More likely you'd hear its cousin, "Redeemer." As in, "Jesus is my Redeemer." That may be true and correct, but what does it mean? In common usage the statement "Jesus is my Redeemer" doesn't seem to mean anything different than "Jesus is my Savior." It's just a comforting way for me to think that I'm important enough that Jesus died on the cross for me. 

And that is good and true. But what does the word "redeem" actually mean?

Last fall I bought 40 acres of land. I remember the first time I saw this plot, about three years ago. I thought, "Why would anyone want that patch of scrub?" In late March I moved onto this piece of land, and I have slept nearly every night since here, mostly in a big-enough-for-me camper. I've come to love this land, though I recognize its shortcomings. It is covered with weeds, including some really nasty ones like thistles and cockleburs. The soil is so sandy it needs rain about every three days or things don't grow well. (This summer has been miserable that way.) The one building on the property is a decrepit metal barn that needs a lot of attention. When I moved in, there was no accessible source of water. There was a ton (literally) of garbage scattered between the barn and the tree rows. There was no functional electricity on the property. 

Lots of people had looked at the property and turned up their noses. The listing realtor is a dear friend of mine, and he told me. His authority as listing agent had also expired when I came to buy this land, because nobody wanted it. 

That's a lot of what the word "redeem" is about. If something is going to be redeemed, it begins without value. 

The only way we use the word "redeem" these days is in regard to coupons. I remember Mom clipping coupons when I was young. We didn't have a lot of money, and coupons stretched the grocery budget considerably. I was amazed that a piece of newsprint, cut (sometimes torn) out of the advertisements, somehow got us a dollar off that box of Cheerios. How was that possible? 

When you turn in a coupon, you "redeem" it. You and the grocer make an agreement that the piece of newsprint is valuable. It is not valuable in terms of cash. There is a long, complicated reason why most coupons include a line about "cash value 1/20th of one cent" in the fine print. It's not very interesting. But beyond that, there's no real value to that coupon. 

No value, that is, until you redeem it. You take what is of no value, and between you and the grocer you agree that it has value. 

In the Old Testament, there is a complicated system around something called a "kinsman redeemer." You see it in the story of Ruth, for example. The idea was that any property (a field, maybe, or a woman) that was unwanted could be redeemed by a close relative. In other words, if that piece of property was considered valueless, the kinsman-redeemer could give it value by claiming it as his own. So Boaz has to jump through some hoops when he wants to marry Ruth (read it, it's a great story) because there's a closer relative that has the right to redeem both Ruth and a certain field. But that relative doesn't want to take on the responsibility, so Boaz and Ruth get married. Ruth was a foreigner, dependent on a widow of no means, unwanted among the Israelites. Boaz redeemed her and declared her valuable. 

When I moved into this property, some fantastic friends pitched in and helped me along the way. We cleaned out the barn, dug up rotten posts, hauled a ton of garbage to the dump, replaced a decrepit overhead door on one end of the old metal barn. I invested in a well and a septic system. (You know thing are pretty valueless when an outhouse is a great improvement! The septic system seemed light years ahead.) Bit by bit, it became obvious that some people loved this place. The weeds got sprayed and cut down. We planted a garden. Recently I had the waterhole in the pasture re-dug and expanded, hoping that someday horses may use it. In the meantime, the deer and birds are grateful. 

What seemed valueless and unloved has become greatly loved. I've had people ask if I'm interested in selling, because suddenly the property looks valuable. It's being redeemed. 

And so we come to the heart of what the word means. At the heart, saying that Jesus is your Redeemer means that once you were without value. You were cast aside, rejected, unwanted. But Jesus declared you valuable. Just like this land, just like that Cheerios coupon, he "deemed" (an old English word meaning to decide, to evaluate) that you were infinitely valuable. You are so valuable that he spent himself, his own authority and his very life, to show how valuable you are. 

It's one of the best things about knowing Jesus personally and hanging out with others who know him in that way: You experience, day by day, the reality that you have been redeemed. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Updating on the fly

This is at best a random update. What I wrote here in April is largely still true: I am working the same job, and enjoying it immensely. Our Home Church is an amazing tiny group that has become more than family. We gather weekly, more or less. A few times now we've all gathered for a weekend at my farm, and those dear ones have done so much to transform this place, on the surface and in my heart. 

I have a trailer house now that I bought for a pittance and we are renovating it. I'm still working on things like propane and septic and such. I have a well dug, though the water is not drinking quality. It's good for pretty much everything else, and I'll add a reverse osmosis system once we get to that point. 

Ten hour work days followed by a couple hours of tearing up subfloor and reframing windows are the rule  these days. My daughter asked the other day if I'm getting any breaks. Answer? Yes. Fishing a little, a movie now and then, an amazing meal at times. Lots of friends. It's good. 

I'm still pondering deeply about the church and what God is up to in that arena. I'm working on a book manuscript that is part Bible study and part contextual commentary / critique about how the institutional church (including the ones I have led) miss the mark so badly. They serve a purpose, without a doubt, but the institutional church is far from what the Bible describes as church. 

I have a garden these days that is becoming more and more fruitful. I have friendships that also are tremendously fruitful. God is faithful and continues to speak, continues to work, continues to use us to touch the lives of others in profound ways. It's such a privilege, and frankly (speaking only for myself) at times a bit of a surprise. 

And maybe that is what it comes down to: In the midst of brokenness, betrayal, craziness, bitterness, sin and shame, God is not deterred. He is close to you, and he is doing stuff. That's something like what Jesus meant when he said, "The kingdom of God is near you." 

For now, it's enough. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Did you fall off the face of the earth??

 It's been a full year since I posted anything new on this blog. That wasn't something I planned. During the past year it's been hard to know what to say in so many areas, and maybe I've just kept my silence. Was it Lincoln that said it's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, rather than to open it and remove all doubt?

Things change. We've experienced wave after wave of Covid, racial and social unrest, and massive societal challenges. I haven't quite known what to say about those things. Just recently, with the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd almost a year ago, there are so many voices speaking into the chaos. I applaud them. It is necessary for people to speak into the face of the challenges we've faced as a society.

I've had my own challenges these past months. Almost a year ago as I was in prayer one spring morning, I heard God say, "Get ready to get out of the boat." Beyond the allusion to Peter stepping out on the water to meet Jesus in Matthew's gospel I wasn't sure what that meant. It was such a clear word, and I pondered it for weeks and months. In spite of all the unrest in the world, my own life seemed pretty solid at that time. I had a large social network and a position in which I was able to preach and teach in what seemed like a thriving church setting. In my teaching, I was able to develop themes I'd taught in the past and lead people more deeply into God's Word and the life of following Jesus through the power of his Spirit. It was good work, and it was bearing good fruit.

Because so much in my life seemed so good and stable, I wanted to invest more deeply in the local community where I lived, so I bought 40 acres of land a few miles away. It included an old farmstead with an aging metal barn, a little pasture, and some cropland. I explained to my friends that it was a way to double down in this specific part of the world. I wasn't going anywhere. I expected that the land would provide a place to reconnect to the land and my roots. Last November I bought a small tractor, and I started spending some of my spare time playing with projects out on "the farm." Far in the back of my mind, I toyed with someday putting a home on the property, though it was far from livable. 

Over a period of a few months, God's word to me about stepping out of the boat began to be fulfilled. My position in the church (and with it my living situation, since I was living on church property as a site manager and security presence) became unstable. Over my objections God spoke clearly through my circumstances that it was time to move on. During the winter I resigned my position and made arrangements to move to my land. At the end of March I purchased a good-sized camper. I felt like something between a pioneer and a refugee.

I'm sitting in that camper as I write this. Most of my belongings are packed away in the barn a few feet away. Little by little, investment by investment, I'm figuring out how to make my life here. With a lot of help, the barn is being transformed into usable space. What looked like a sea of weeds when I first saw this property has been mowed and might someday become a garden, an orchard, a pasture, a front yard. The buckthorn and burdock is giving way to miraculous amounts of green grass and beauty. I'm working on things like a well and electricity and a septic system. My views these days are of the sunrises and the sunsets, of the deer and pheasants that inhabit my few trees and lowland pasture. 

Work and church have both changed. I'm very much enjoying my job these days, which is in a light manufacturing company that supplies taxidermists with fish replicas. I've learned a ton about so many things, from fish to leadership to shipping to economics to my own strengths and weaknesses. And while it is odd not to be employed by the church, to be honest it's a joy not to draw my salary from people's donations. It has been a crazy adjustment to have discretion over my evenings and weekends, and to be paid overtime wages when I work more than 40 hours in a week. 

At the same time I'm rediscovering what church means. A few of us meet together weekly to share food and worship and scripture and prayer. "Home church" as we've taken to calling it might last anywhere from a couple hours to most of a day. Each of us who participates brings something of value into the gatherings, and it is such a joy to be together. I have better relationships surrounding me than I have ever known. 

There are deep wells of meaning in this life, along with challenges that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. In the coming days I'd like to write about redemption: how God takes things of no value and gives them great worth. I'd like to write about this land, and how in the specific details of loving it, it is coming back to life, and so am I. I'd like to write about where I see God moving these days in his church and what that means. By God's grace, I will do so. Like so much in my life it will no doubt be sporadic, so I apologize in advance. But any of you who are still in touch with this blog have endured seasons when it's disappeared altogether, so I trust you'll be patient. 

I'll close this one up with thanks to Stephen who reached out via email a while back to check in, and who told me in no uncertain terms that I should be writing my blog again. The Spirit used that nudge. Thanks!

Friday, April 17, 2020

When panic gives way to drudgery

You're tired of the pandemic. Your habitual ways of dulling pain–Netflix binges, a second glass (bottle?) of wine, constant snacking–have stopped feeling like an escape and are starting to feel like a problem. It no longer feels urgent to check the news multiple times a day, though some of us still do it. I see (and feel) it happening like you do.

I heard an interview recently with a man who had been at the center of the SARS epidemic in China a few years ago. When asked what that lockdown experience was like, he said it was six weeks of intense fear followed by months of drudgery. He expressed a concern that we are moving these days from panic into drudgery.

What do we do now?

Most of life is lived in the face of drudgery. The adrenaline-laced moments are few and far between. We live most days putting one foot in front of the other.

Here are four tactics you can use to navigate the mind-numbing drudgery of these days:

1. Don't forget there's a monster under your bed. The pandemic is still a real thing, in spite of the fact that we all collectively want to move on. The challenges are still real. Your fears for your loved ones may not feel as urgent, but they're still hiding deep in your gut. Remind yourself that you're still in this struggle, and how you deal with it is important.

2. Clean the kitchen. Pick one chore, or a short list, to accomplish today. Don't plan to redecorate your entire house, but pick a few manageable things to finish. When you finish the dishes, mentally pat yourself on the back and take a minute to appreciate the cleanliness. It won't last, but seeing that you've accomplished something is its own reward.

3. Put the ice cream back in the freezer. You don't have to give up all your painkilling behaviors, but remember: When you numb pain, you also numb joy. Limit how much you indulge. A day a week, consider "fasting" from your favorite painkiller. It will hurt, but you might also find that you can feel joy and excitement in a new way as well.

4. Learn to play the ukulele. Choose one small skill and learn it. Decide that when this pandemic fades to memory, you are going to be better, faster, stronger, in one concrete way. Then, a little bit at a time, pursue that strength. If you are slightly familiar with another language, decide you're going to get a little more fluent. If you've always wanted to know the Bible better, read a chapter a day.

Finally, and this is important, give yourself a break. Be gracious when the frustration and panic rise to the surface again. Be gentle with yourself when you need it. Talk to a friend, watch a clip of your favorite comedian, go for a walk. Life is still very good. We're just settling in for the long haul, and it's still challenging.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday

I have been struggling this week with the fact that it is Holy Week, and this morning more sharply than ever that it is Good Friday.

My deepest experience of these markers, these holy days, is corporate. I am used, as the psalmist says, to being in the grand procession into the house of God.

Make no mistake: the great heresy of American Christianity is its individualism. We make salvation all about me and my solo standing before God. Jesus died for me, we say, and we rejoice in that. Rightly so. Posters and memes proclaim that if you were the only person ever to have existed, Jesus would still have died for you. There is a sort of theological truth in that.

But biblically speaking, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and that's a big group. And in our collective need, in our communal brokenness, in our shared sinful state, Jesus redeems not just a gaggle of individuals but a community. A church.

Our redemption is corporate. I have returned many times in the last few months to the word "redeem." The only non-theological use we have for that these days is for coupons. Does anyone clip coupons anymore? Cut out that piece of paper and turn it in at the grocery counter, and voila! 75 cents off on your Cheerios. Have you ever read the fine print on a coupon? Usually there's a statement somewhere in that four-point font that says something like "cash value 1/20th of one cent." Let's be realistic: most of us don't get excited to pick up a penny off the ground. And this coupon is worth one-twentieth of that. In other words, this is just a worthless scrap of paper. But when I turn it in, the grocery clerk and I agree that it has value. I get a discount on my cereal.

That's what redeeming means. It means to give value to something that was formerly valueless.

So when Jesus redeems us at the cross, it means that he takes what was valueless and declares it to be valuable. Us. Jesus' death confers new value on you and me.

I've been embarrassed lately watching our corporate antics in the headlines. Donald Trump flip-flops in his daily press briefings. Bernie Sanders pulls out of the Democratic primary race (why did that take so long??) and immediately his followers get militant about how much they don't like Joe Biden. News agencies unabashedly use the current pandemic as a foil to sway public opinion toward one political pole or other. Otherwise intelligent people keep insisting that if their political party was in power, life would be so much better. Hordes of hoarders are collecting, of all things, toilet paper. We are a sad bunch, all told.

Jesus' death redeems us. It takes what was of little or no value and confers on us great value. We are precious because the death of Jesus says we are precious.

Good Friday is at the very least a call to raise our sights. It is a call to begin to live as though we are precious to the Lord of the universe. It is a call to fix our eyes on him, to let his love, joy, peace, and patience move us to that which is excellent and praiseworthy. It is a call to go beyond our self-focused individualism and learn to live as a church, loving one another and reaching across the divides of social distancing to pay attention to the least, lost, and lonely. Only this kind of corporate love, this kind of community, helps us to live in the consequences of what Jesus has done for us.