authenticity

My Dad, Grief and Groans of New Creation

10485921_10203840097473557_4389962877608429835_nI’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room as a write this. Having just endured open-heart surgery, I have never seen or experienced him in this current state. Last night, as my sisters and I stood with him in the ICU singing, praying and telling him stories of his grandchildren, the only form of communication he could muster was a pained groan. He could hear us and was mentally strong, but to those with whom he loves most in the world, he could only offer a groan. Albeit, even a groan was a heroic effort on his part.  

Anyone that knows my pop, knows a man who is physically strong and extremely healthy. When he got out of surgery, one of my best buddies joked, “He’ll be hunting elk by morning. I’ll bet he’d bag one and carry it six miles in a blinding snow storm too.” 

As I watched him struggle for each breathe and squirm in pain from the torment his body had just endured, I thought to myself, “Surely, this is not the way creation was intended to function.” My dad, the one who is always the strong (yet compassionate) rock for his family, friends and coworkers is reduced to a groan? Really? If ever I thought there was something wrong with the world in its current iteration, it is this moment.  

And then I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said some 2000 years ago. After Jesus had come to bring about a whole new reality (kingdom) as was embodied in his life, death and resurrection, Paul describes this reality as New Creation (II Corinthians 5). While the rightly ordered Creation was undone in Eden (and the following cast of characters in the Genesis story), it was re-ordered in Jesus. Jesus is the first born of this New Creation (rightly ordered world) and we not only anticipate what is to come, but begin to catch glimpses of it in the here and now (see note at bottom of post). 

Back to the Apostle Paul. He described this anticipation as a “groan” (II Cor 5). Not only are individuals “groaning” to be healed and restored, but the whole of creation is “groaning” to be rightly ordered back to its original design. 

Indeed, creation is not fully functioning in the way it was originally created to function. We don’t have to look far for this reality to be made real. 

Broken families.

War.  

Natural disasters. 

Economic inequality.

Individual and systemic racism. 

…my dad lying on an operation table. 

But, the story isn’t over. In fact, it is just beginning. 

And in the meantime, we groan. We groan for families to be reconciled. We groan for wars to end around conference tables rather than battlefields. We groan for the earth and its systems to be restored. We groan for all children to have an equal opportunity for employment. We groan for the day when diversity is seen as an asset rather than a liability.  

For us, we listen to my dad groan and imagine a day where his grandchildren cover him like a blanket. We groan for his physical strength to once again match his emotional, mental and spiritual strength. We groan for the making of many more memories that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming as we join God in healing a broken world. 

In our groaning, no niceties or clichés will do. Groaning is painful. It is deep. It is real. It is not about creating false assurances. It is about pouring out our guts in the hope of what is to come. It is about looking for signposts of a new reality. A reality where tears are wiped away and hope is found. 

Until then, we groan and trust that the New Creation brought about in Jesus will be the New Creation we begin to see, taste and experience today. 

——

NOTE: A better interpretation of “New Creation” in the New Testament is “Renewed Creation.” In the same way that Jesus body was not destroyed and resurrected as some other worldly creature, Creation will not be destroyed and replaced with something different. What we see now is what heaven/New Creation will look like. But in this reality, all the busted and broken realties will be renewed to their original form. 

Gay Marriage, World Vision and a Unified Church?

1375245_10152323713434676_205055056_nIt has been a tough go for the Church in the United States over the past couple months. The name calling, division and posturing reached a deafening volume last week in the wake of the World Vision controversy around employing those in gay marriage. 

Noise. 

Massive amounts of energy poured into proving our “rightness” and your “wrongness.”

Relationships severed. Most without ever having created the space to share a meal and simply listen to one another.

Social media. Interviews. Articles. Press releases.  

Noise. 

There have been so many chiming in on this thing that I saw no need to jump in and, well, to be honest, I’ve just been sad. Sad at the failed state of discourse within the Church. Sad at the demonization. Sad that hungry kids across the world were losing their access to basic needs to live as a result of our inability to live, love and lead…together. 

I’m not against heathy dialog, disagreement or even conflict (if dealt with transformatively rather than violently…and violence takes many more forms than bloodshed). I’m actually quite for it and have given my life to training the Church for the work of conflict transformation. 

The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom. 

Anti-Jesus. 

Anti-Missio Dei.

How we live as the Church is a direct reflection of who we follow. 

But then something happened.

Our little faith community, which gathers for worship around our table and in our living room, has been walking with leaders from churches all over our city. Last night, we invited them to come worship with us.

What did that look like?

It looked like sharing a long meal around one table where we told stories of pain and stories of hope. We laughed, we held each others children and we washed dishes…together. 

It looked like spending time in silence reflecting on our own brokenness and seeking forgiveness.

It looked like reading the Scriptures and encountering a Jesus who when tempted with power and prestige, chose humility and self-sacrifice. 

It looked like praying in one voice for the good of our neighborhoods and city. 

And how did it end?  

By going around the room and blessing each other to live more fully into our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. To go forth and extend a message of reconciliation, first in ourselves, and then to a world in need of wrong things being made right. 

In a Church that is enduring so much division, these experiences of unity can seem radical and prophetic. While they may be prophetic, I don’t think they are all that radical. No, this is actually how the body of Christ is designed to function. It is not a new thing, it is simply a return to our identity. 

All that to say, I’m not feeling as sad. 

At least for today, I’m reminded that we are part of one much bigger Story that doesn’t end with us and our broken tendencies toward in-fighting. It is a Story of reconciliation that was set forth in Jesus and won’t end until all is restored.  

Thank God.  

The Church may be going through a rough patch, maybe even an identity crisis, but I still believe it is intended to be God’s primary instrument of peace in the world. The road to reconciliation isn’t easy, and at times it feels far too slow, but as we all submit to the self-sacrificing ways of Jesus, I’m more certain than ever it is the road we are stumbling down. 

The time in my living room may have only been a mustard seed of hope, but we all know about mustard seeds.

Here’s to a new season submitted to Jesus and joining, TOGETHER, in the world God is making.

—--

Here’s a list of other bloggers contributing posts related to healing the divides this month:

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.

3 Steps to Becoming the Most (un)Successful Person in the World

monastery2I spent yesterday morning at a local monastery seeking to create some space to not only clear my mind and heart, but to listen to the voice of the Creator. As life produces more and more “noise,” these times are hard to come by, but remarkably significant. I can’t imagine a better, yet more challenging way to begin a new week. 

Much of my time was spent reflecting on something a mentor of mine recently said, “God’s will is not success, but peace.” 

What does this mean? And if it means what I think it might, the implications seem pretty high.

What is “Success?”

In our culture, success has been defined primarily by how well we produce X that leads to wealth, power or reputation. Our identity is rooted far more in what we do (and how well we do it) than it is in who we are. And, to be honest, most of us don’t even know who we are. For me, it often feels like a daily struggle. 

How Do We Define God’s Will As Peace?

It is the restoration of all things back to Himself. It is wrong things being made right. It is a humanity that is reconciled to God and to one another. It is knowing that our identity is not informed by what we produce, but by who we are as sons and daughters of the Father.

What would my life look like if I spent my best energy towards peace rather than the building of “success?”

When I pursue culturally constructed versions of success, my image bearing neighbors (near and far) become means to my end rather than ends in and of themselves. Not only do I fail to acknowledge their humanity, I lose my own. If success is anything other than about the love of other, then it will be destructive. 

I don’t have to look far for examples of this. No, I simply have to look inward. This definition of success has infected my DNA as much as the next guy/girl. It is a daily reality that requires daily repentance and realignment. 

To trust that God’s will is peace changes everything about how I live, love and lead. Rather than seeking to climb every ladder to stand over people, I begin to choose to pick up my cross and lift other people up. I become more concerned about living into who I am as a son of the Father than who I am perceived to be by those I seek to impress. I am free to love God and others selflessly, because self no longer takes center stage.

I become fully human again.

I have so much to learn and so many areas to grow.

I finished the day by walking the way of the cross. It was profound. In fact, it reminded me that walking the way of the cross isn’t a once a month spiritual disciple, but an everyday choice to follow the one who suffered so we might find life.

  

Welcoming Rosie with a Community Blessing

When a new child is born into our community, we have a tradition of taking time to pray blessings over the new life as a way to acknowledge their sacred role not only in the life of our family, but in the life of the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  This is not a new tradition we came up with, but one that stretches back to early parts of our faith tradition.  It is a time to acknowledge that as members of the family of God, Janny and I don’t raise little Rosie on our own, but alongside a community of people who are commited to follow Jesus together.  Having been part of a community like this for a few years, we have found it to be one of the most important gifts we can give to our children.  

Yesterday, among neighbors, family and community mates, we were able to have a time of blessing over our newest little gal, Rosie.  With tears filling most of our eyes, prayers of blessing over Rosie were showered out from all corners of the room.  It was indeed, a thin place; a place where heaven and earth are only thinly separated.  Here is the blessing Janny and I prayed over our newest addition:

Today we celebrate Jesus being resurrected as the 1st of new creation. Gods dream for humanity begin to unfold in the gift of new life.

Rosie, you bring new life not only to your parents and sister, but to this whole community. You are a reflection and reminder of the innocence, purity and reliance humanity is to have on Jesus. 

We bless you with not only with family, but with community. We commit to daily offer you the gift of a community of people that are committed to following Jesus together. 

We bless your eyes that you may always look not through the lens of ethnicity, nationality or title, but through the lens of a shared humanity who shares the image of God. When others aren’t viewed in this way, we bless you with the courage to stand up for those experiencing oppression and reassign them their dignity. 

We bless you with the courage to teach us as we commit to be your students. We except and anticipate the ways you will teach us how to better live, love and lead in a way that honors God and neighbor. 

Lastly, we bless you with a committment to stand with you, cry with you and celebrate with you (even through the terrifying years of adolescence). 

It is with much joy and sacredness that we anticipate your future, little Rosie Lillian Huckins.

Amen 

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