Sundays Are For Dancing

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 presetThere has to be a day for dancing. Everyone needs a day for letting go and letting down, for getting up to get down.

A few months ago I wrote about traditions, how they can be hard to form and to keep, how they interfere with convenience and normalcy, and how they’re absolutely essential. I mostly meant traditions around holidays, but I’ve been seeing the need for traditions around other things lately.

I need a tradition around sabbath, for one.

After I returned from my first trip to Israel (I’m sorry I can’t stop talking/writing about it), I had a renewed respect for the beauty and necessity of the sabbath. Our family very easily falls into the variable routines of errands, projects, and binge-watching Netflix throughout the weekend without taking the care to cultivate a sense of indispensability toward true and meaningful rest, the kind of rest that’s so much more than time not beholden to the job that pays the bills. What I saw in Israel was that rest takes work. I saw the table set with care and precision, guests welcomed with hospitality and joy, and liturgy kept with faithfulness, and I recognized the considerable intentionality behind every nuance.

They were resting on purpose.

Karen and I began trying to reclaim our sabbath. We picked a day (Sundays seemed to work best for us) and developed some ideas. We would not work on any projects around the house or run any errands on Sundays, and at the end of the day our whole family would share a special kind of meal, keeping the kids up a little later and making the time count. None of these ideas became hard and fast rules, and that may be why we enjoyed our new routine for two glorious weeks before it dissolved away.

But God kept whispering, and my resolve has returned.

I was on a plane the other day, and there wasn’t a plug for any of my electronics, all of which were down to their last 5 percent. I was belted in for a few hours with no distractions except SkyMall. I had to sit still, something which Leonard Bernstein would tell me is not a bad idea now and then:

Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillness every human being is great.

In all that stillness I got to thinking about what I would want a perfect Sabbath to look like. Instead of starting with particulars I started with the feelings, the themes, the values that I hoped would characterize the day: Laughter. Fun. Peace. Holy space. Play. Listening. Noticing. Wondering. Decreased speed. Increased attention. These were a few of my words.

Then I started adding the things: Breakfasts of omelettes, coffee or tea, and a little something sweet. Reading. Adventures and explorations. Long bouts of daydreaming. Writing. Music and quiet. Lunch in the sunshine. Naps. Games. Prayer. Picking out produce. Meal-making. Wine. Dinner by candlelight. Campfires. Ignored bedtimes. And, of course, dance parties; our kids love dance parties. These things became a menu of sorts, a choose-your-own-rest of all those things I wish I’d done every time I click off the TV at the end of an evening. These are things that feed my soul and feed a sense of connectedness with the people who are my tribe.

With these themes and things in mind we’ve begun endeavoring to reinvigorate the sabbath around here. God knows we need it.

Another?

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThere’s been another?

Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot at eight times as he ran from a white police officer. Several of those bullets found their mark.

Another black man gunned down by a white man. Another. Should these injustices begin to blur under the anonymity of “another” when for friends of mine each one comes as a punch in the gut, another reason to look over his shoulder, another night when she will watch the door in fear he may not return from his routine run?

Not just another, not just a number or a statistic. A man, a person with a family and people who loved him.

The officer has been charged with murder, and people are hoping for justice. But justice is so much bigger than this one instance, and in that larger sense justice seems so far away, so long in coming, so often absent from these stories, that I can’t help but watch and wait, breathing steadily in and out for fear that if I were to hold my breath I’d never draw another.

Yesterday morning I was reading Job, a difficult book rife with uneasy questions and no easy answers. Job wasn’t holding his breath either.

Why doesn’t the Almighty bring the wicked to judgment?
Why must the godly wait for him in vain?
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the wounded cry for help,
yet God ignores their moaning.
Job 24:1,12

Job is describing the world as he sees it, the world as we see it today: broken, battered, sideways, astray from the true north for which our hearts hope and our souls are so attuned when we’re able to hear the whispers of the Spirit. Job is stating the obvious: This is not what the world is meant to be. God has never said otherwise, but Job’s lament is answered in Isaiah.

My mercy and justice are coming soon.
My salvation is on the way.
My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Isaiah 51:5

Beside these words I simply wrote Come quickly!

And then also thought But not too quickly.

Because in my case, I am glad that justice waited. I am glad that God’s powerful arm was raised for me in mercy rather than against me in justice when it sent Jesus Christ to the cross, raised him from the grave, and saved me. I am glad that mercy whispered at my door before justice came knocking, demanding its due.

Mercy and justice? Mercy then justice.

The mystery of mercy came first and remade the demands of justice completely, making my justice fall on the one who gave me mercy. Mercy is the bigger miracle.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:13

In Isaiah mercy and justice were on their way; salvation was close at hand. Today, they have come.

Behold, now is the favorable time.
Behold, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2

They have come in the person of Jesus Christ, and they have come in us. We are the recipients of mercy, justice, and salvation, and we are the proliferators of the same.

And so I find my prayers over this situation—this one particularly and collectively—changing. My longing for justice is met with a prayer for mercy since I am seeing that one cannot come without the other. We cannot expect a systemic problem of injustice to cease simply due to better monitoring and more consistent prosecution. Even if statistics drop, hearts will remain unchanged.

We need hearts to turn one to the other. We need compassion to replace contempt. We need forgiveness to bloom in the place of fear. We need justice, and we will have it with mercy.

I am praying for the bigger miracle.

Easter: Throwing Ourselves Into the Sea

Easter 2015-18I’ve never much identified with Peter, the disciple, I mean.

Where he’s impulsive, I tend to be calculated. Where he’s the first to ask a question or submit his opinion; I’m often the last. I’ve always imagined him as a burly, working-class kind of guy, and I rather doubt I’ve ever been described as anything close to that.

Peter and I, we’ve been more like acquaintances. Politely distant. Someone about whom I’d say, He’s a good guy. I like him, without ever putting much conviction behind the sentiment.

That all changed a few months ago.

I was on a trip to Israel, my first. I’ve written before about what I saw and what I felt while I was there. The trip was full in every way imaginable, a full itinerary full of new experiences, hard stories, heartbreak, and hope.

On the very last day we all went to Galilee. For the first time in days we weren’t on a fact-finding mission or a cross-cultural collision, we were just tourists in one of the most beautiful and historical places in the world. I found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted and glad for the opportunity to set everything aside for a few moments and simply take in the scenery.

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In the afternoon we were given about an hour on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We arrived just in time to see a rainbow, and we all ran around snapping pictures to prove we were there.

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Finally, I sat down on one of the big rocks that littered the shoreline. I’d brought my Bible, but I didn’t have a plan. I half-heartedly turned to the concordance in the back and looked for any mention of the word “Galilee.” Soon, I was reading through John chapter 21.

Easter has come and gone. Jesus is risen, but he hasn’t gone anywhere just yet. He’s appeared to a number of people, including the disciples. But we find Peter, the fisherman, in a boat with a few others. They’ve returned to their normal lives without much success. In fact, they’ve been fishing all night, but as the sun rises they’ve yet to catch anything.

Then a man starts shouting at them from the shoreline. The man is Jesus, but they don’t realize it at first. He tells them to try again, tossing their nets off the other side of the boat. Suddenly, the net has so many fish in it that they can’t drag it back to the surface. That’s when Peter realizes that the man is Jesus. That’s when we reach John 21:7.

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he… threw himself into the sea.

And suddenly I was crying, and I didn’t know why. (Tears are not necessarily an unusual occurrence for me, and certainly not on that trip, but over time I’ve learned that if I’m crying and I don’t immediately know why, God is usually working in some way I haven’t yet noticed.) I asked God why, and I began to realize that I was experiencing a deep envy of Peter, a holy envy if there is such a thing. I wanted to be that desperate to get to Jesus. Forget the boat. Forget the catch. Forget the distance. Forget my dignity.

Just get to Jesus.

I looked up at the Sea of Galilee laid out in front of me, the gentle waves lapping against the shore, and I watched the whole scene play out in my imagination.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI saw Peter’s leap and splash into the water. I saw him swimming ashore. I saw him standing there, his clothes dripping. I really saw Peter for the first time, and I wanted to know him a little better.

Then, to be honest, I forgot. By the time I boarded the plane for home the tidal wave of all of my other experiences and things that needed thinking-about crashed over me. A month passed by, and then another.

A deadline brought it all back. Our creative team needed to pitch an Easter idea. My partners, Jenny Potter and Andrew Schuurmann, set a meeting where we’d pool all our Easter thoughts together and see if anything floated to the surface. The night before the meeting I was frantically looking through my journal for some fragment of something that might constitute a viable idea and happened upon the entry from that day on the Sea of Galilee. Something stirred in me.

When I took it to Jenny and Andrew we weren’t even sure it was about Easter, but the more we talked about it the more excited we became. When the day came that we had to pitch our Easter ideas we brought three to the table. We told our boss (the incomparable Paul Johnson) that we had a favorite, but we weren’t going to tell him which one. The Peter story was the last one we shared, and as I started to talk about it tears were streaming down my face. Before I even finished he said, “I really hope this one’s your favorite because it’s the one we have to do.”

That green light gave us the chance to begin to dig into who Peter really was, to study him and find his story. In doing so we discovered that Peter’s story is our story; it’s my story.

When we first meet him in Luke 5 he’s a fisherman who can’t catch any fish.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve failed, felt overlooked or foolish.

Throughout his three years of following Jesus he is behind the curve just as much as he is ahead of it.
Though I’d like to pretend that I spend most of my life in a steady uphill climb to holiness, the reality is a lot more hit and miss.

In his darkest moment, consumed by insecurity and very real fear, he shouts that he’s never known Jesus.
I know that there are times, more than I’d like to remember, when my actions have shouted the same.

But despite all of his ups and downs, his passion and love for Jesus cannot be denied.
Yes. By the grace of God, yes.

Peter and I are no longer acquaintances; we are very real friends. And through him I have new eyes for Easter. I have new eyes for God’s sacrifice, his grace, and his power. I have a new desperation to get to Jesus. I have new hope that despite my darkest moments Jesus will welcome me as I stand undignified and dripping on the shore.

That day on the Sea of Galilee I wrote this in my journal:

Jesus, you didn’t just call out, “Good morning! It’s me!”

You waited. You let them discover you.

You let each of us do that, don’t you? And then we throw ourselves into the sea of your grace and your forgiveness and your faithfulness and your love.

And you welcome us. Because of what you did on the cross, you welcome us.

My hope… my prayer… is that this Easter many more will make that discovery, that many more may throw themselves into the sea.

You can view the whole service at willowcreek.tv