Saturday, September 26, 2015


Tis the season where we leave the windows open, causing me to linger each morning a minute or two longer while I enjoy the contrast of the cool air and warm sheets. Sweat pants with flip flops are the standard loungewear, and a cup of hot tea is my one mandatory accessory. Add a good book and this season is even better than vacation.

During my reading this week I hit the oracles in Isaiah with a resounding crash. The news of the world and the words of Isaiah were too similar to ignore, and the awareness of evil at work to defile creation tempted my heart to despair. Consider Isaiah 21:3-4:
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish; pangs have seized me, like the pangs of a woman in labor; I am bowed down so that I cannot hear; I am dismayed so that I cannot see. My heart staggers; horror has appalled me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling.
Isaiah brings words of destruction and hope to the people of Israel because he longs for God to be glorified in his people. Yet even Isaiah staggers under the weight of judgment, despite the promise of salvation for a remnant.

I feel the approach of despair as a slow, cold tightening in my chest. My heart flutters like a hummingbird, unable to come to rest for fear of being strangled. Despite the promise of a new creation without sin and suffering, this creation remains in bondage to corruption. Yet in light of so much evil, that there is any goodness or kindness in the world seems to me to be the greatest proof of God's existence.

As I pull out the blankets and favorite sweat shirts in anticipation of the months ahead, I'm pondering the art of hope in a fallen world. I understand the willful blindness, the pursuit of happiness in trivial distractions, the turning away from suffering. When the choice is to face this evil armed only with the promise of sufficient grace and future victory, it is no wonder I am tempted to ignore so much suffering. But facing this evil, mirrored in a thousand sins of my own heart, I find that faith pushes back on the coldness with an inextinguishable warmth. There is joy in the moment, whatever the moment holds. Like the moments of laughter I shared with Quinn at Emmett's funeral or the sweetness of restoration after reconciliation with a friend - I have always found the grace to press forward in the face of evil.

Some seasons though are for lingering under the covers and saying prayers of thanksgiving to God for holding back the darkness. If I am convicted of anything right now, it is of how much mercy he shows me in daily restraining the full power of evil at work in the world and in my own heart. I am humbled by my own failure to recognize the full extent of grace, and sometimes I wonder if my courage is borne more of faith in God's power or from ignorance of the evil lying in wait. Probably both, but today I'm thankful for a truth that surpasses my understanding and a grace that continues to show up despite the looming despair.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

new eyes

My subconscious has been ruminating on a couple recent discussions, one about life changing things we'd read and another about feelings of impotence in the face of the refugee crisis. And I came back to one of the final chapters in Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran because it was both a chapter that changed my life and exactly what I needed to be reminded of when facing my own impotence in light of such overwhelming need. 

The memoir is about an illegal book group in Tehran in the early 1980s where young women met to discuss western literature, evil, and the new Islamic regime. In a book about literature and evil, one wouldn't usually think of Jane Austen's novels as the climax of the discussion. But I love what Nafisi says:
Austen's theme is cruelty not under extraordinary circumstances but ordinary ones, committed by people like us. Surely that's more frightening...
...Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me... Evil in Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to "see" others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us (Eliza Bennet) as well as the worst (Humbert). We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question...
As I sat in a community group tonight for the first time in a couple years, I thought about this passage and the joy of seeing and being seen by others. It was after all what Christ did for the woman at the well and the rich young ruler and the woman who needed healing but hoped to sneak away unseen after touching him. He saw the disciples fishing and Zacchaeus in the tree and Saul on the road to Damascus and... and... and... he sees me and each and every one of my students and those refugees and every last man and woman swearing allegiance to Isis.

I have been in a particularly fierce battle to mortify the desires of my sinful nature. Sin has flared up so violently in my heart I can hardly sleep at night. I've fled back to John Owen's advice to begin mortification by really understanding the evil and guilt and danger of my sin and then to hold it up to the gospel and realize what it cost Christ. To be seen and loved, despite my sin and silliness and stupidity, should open my eyes to the work God can do in those around me. It should stir me to hope and boldness in life and in prayer for those both near and far. And maybe, just maybe, I'll start to see others with eyes made new by grace.

Monday, September 7, 2015


I love other people's babies. One of my dearest friends was fortunate enough to have twins recently, which is really perfect because whenever you visit, there are always enough babies to share. Currently they are at the stage where it is easy to make them laugh, which is of course irresistible. We hardly even talk to each other any more. I just visit and we play with babies and then I go home. As I was playing with one of them tonight, he grabbed fistfuls of my hair, and, delighted with his own brilliance, set himself to squealing right in my face as he kept a death grip on my head. There aren't many times in your life where it's cool when someone squeals in your face, I suppose, but it was awesome. 

If there were a trophy for worst mom of the year, I'd definitely be in the running for it. This week was a perfect storm of emotional overload that left me washed up Saturday morning with a full to do list and a desperate need to hide under my bed for a day.

But against my better judgment I got out of bed and finished my reading of Jonah over a cup of tea. Had I anticipated my day becoming an object lesson in the sins of Jonah's heart, I would've hopped the first boat to Tarshish and spent the weekend giving a whale indigestion. At least I can say the day ended with Quinn and I having a good discussion of sin and repentance as well as quite a bit of laughter, but the in between hours were brutal. 

So Sunday morning I hesitated before starting the book of Hosea thinking that should the Lord decide to make my life into another object lesson that day, it would be better to pick a different book of the Bible. But I forged ahead because I had recently read this passage from Buechner's Hungering Dark:
If the meaning of life is just a string of theological words, then who cares about it one way or another and what difference does it make and why bother to say the words at all, even if in some sense they are true? But if it is a reality, then words cannot contain it, you can only know it when you experience it, and if life in general has meaning, then every part of life also has meaning and you can experience it perfectly well by watching feathers fall to the ground or seeing the teacher walk away in silence...
If I were an unusually brave man, I would do something like this from the pulpit. First of all, I would stop speaking, and then I would perform some action of the kind that the prophets of Israel used to perform, because... they also got tired of words from time to time and resorted to more direct means of pointing to the reality, for them, of God's judgment  or of God's love.
And what a picture Hosea is of sin and redemption and unfailing love. I have loved the book since I first read it almost two decades ago. Cries of mercy and love and longing break through the passages of condemnation and judgment as if God can't help himself. And this life, this experience even of my own sinful nature, has meaning because God himself lifts me out of it. And some day, when his work in me is complete, I will hold onto my savior with new hands and squeal with delight just like my little friend this evening. Because on that day, even the ugly parts of my story will be known as beautiful because they will find their meaning in his story.