hope

Travel as Pilgrimage #1: Costa Rica

Today I explore the first stop in a series I am calling “Travel as Pilgrimage.” Click here for an intro to the series.  My hope is that these experiences and stories will do two things: 1. Expand our worldviews to the extent that we realize God’s Kingdom is alive and advancing in people/regions of the world that we may not have otherwise considered, 2. Ignite our imagination and desire for travel as an act of personal and spiritual pilgrimage.

The first installment of this series takes us to the beautiful shores of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.  This was the first time Janny and I had ever done any extended time of travel in our marriage.  We had five weeks, two backpacks and zero reservations, so adventure was sure to ensue. Our goal was to relax, learn some Spanish and leave lots of time for me to write this book.

After traveling around for a week or so, we stumbled onto a little cottage on the beach in Mal Pais where we would stay for the rest of our time.  Surrounded by the crashing waves, 80 degree water, endless iguana’s, howler monkey’s and rain forest, it was a small slice of heaven on earth.  Little did we know that our greatest companion wouldn’t be the surrounding creatures and creation, but our Canadian neighbor named Mike (not real name).

We would see him leave his cottage every mid-morning to journey up and down the beach for most of the day.  He was about 50 years old, traveling alone and was very reserved.  We would say hello and smile, but didn’t interact to any extent until one evening when he walked to our place and asked for some salt.  In that moment, we began a friendship that would shape the rest of our time in Costa Rica.

Over coffee in the morning and a beer at night, we would play cribbage while overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  At first we would simply share stories from our day, but as the days passed we moved into conversations on politics, religion and family.  One evening I asked why he was down in Costa Rica by himself for 3+ months.  He first responded by saying that he needed to escape the dark, cold Canadian winter, but I could tell there was more to the story…and there was.

Mike was a really friendly guy, but he always had somber disposition about him.  After a few more games of late night cribbage, he looked at me as said, “My wife died three years ago.” I said I was sorry and we sat in silence looking out to sea.

The only voice was that of the wind, ocean waves and occasional monkey howl.

He continued, “After she died, all of my kids moved away to go to college and I stayed at home to continue my nearly 30 years working at the local newspaper printing press.  With the newspaper industry falling apart, I was forced to retire and I was left alone in a big house with way too much time on my hands.  I needed to get away, so here I am.”

I quickly realized that Mike was grieving and he needed a companion. Not someone to tell him all the answers, but someone to simply be present.  He was not only grieving the loss of his wife, he was grieving the departure of his kids…he felt extremely alone.

In the weeks that followed that conversation, our friendship deepened and Janny and I spent parts of every day with Mike.  We rode bikes through the jungle, we taught him to surf and we played A LOT of cribbage.

I’m not real sure how much Mike knew about Jesus or the reality of the God’s Kingdom, but I’m sure he experienced both as we laughed, cried and played as new found companions…I know I did.

Any stories/experiences of companionship coming out of an unexpected context?  Could those needing companionship be the ones closest to us (neighbors, acquaintances, barista’s in your local coffee shop)?

 

Entangled Theology Part 3: Most Painful and Joyous Experiences of My Life

Post 1: After sharing the story of one friend who experienced the radical hope of life in the birth of twins, I also shared the story of another who experienced the radical pain of loss in the death of twins.  I asked the question; “Where is God in the midst of tragic death and enlivening hope?”

Post 2: Examining the characteristics of God through the narrative of Scripture (Covenant, Prophets, Jesus), I argued that suffering is central to the Story of God.  If we deny the reality of suffering, we deny the Story itself…such is the Entangled Theology we live in today.

Today I conclude by sharing what it means to live in the tension of an Entangled Theology in the everyday of my own life.

My wife and I lost our first child (who for a number of reasons we named Haven) just over 15 months ago.  It was the most painful experience of both of our lives.  Just over four months ago, we welcomed our daughter Ruby into our family.  It has been the most joyous experience of our lives.  Some may conclude (and even say this to us!), that the pain of losing Haven is lessened by welcoming the life of Ruby.  That simply hasn’t been the case.  I dedicated my recent book to Haven:

“I dedicate this book to my first child, Haven.  I never had the opportunity to meet you, but you allowed me to experience love in a way more profound than I had ever otherwise known.  Your mother and I are proud of you and look forward to the day we meet you when all is restored. ”

As parents, we will always feel the pain of losing Haven.  As each day passes, the pain shows itself in different ways, but it doesn’t magically go away.  We don’t know why it happened or why it happened to us.  But it did and that is the Story we trust to be true.

With all that said, Ruby does represent hope and restoration in our lives. She is the work of a God that not only acted in history, but who continues to act in the lives of his people today.  It is in her eyes that we see the lives of both of our children and we are filled with gratitude.

My grandma is 93 years old and her body has been breaking down for a couple years, but especially in the past couple months.  She loves Jesus and is self admittedly ready to be with him.  Her days are often depressing as she knows death is around the corner.  We (especially Janny and Ruby) have been trying to visit her as often as possible as she lies in a foreign hospital bed.  Often, we will look into the room before she sees us and see her visible distress and depression.  As she slowly looks up and catches eyes with Ruby, her whole disposition changes.  It is sacred ground.  We see two of God’s children; one who is soon to leave the earth and the other a new arrival.  My grandma recently said to Ruby, “You just came from heaven, please tell me about it because I’ll be there soon.”

On the eve of impending death, new life (in the form of Ruby) brings a transcendent hope.

In the Story of God, death/pain stand side by side with life/hope.  This in an Entangled Theology.

Thoughts?  Anyone else experience this dynamic of an Entangled Theology?


Entangled Theology Part 2: Living w/the Pain of Death and Hope of Life

After Monday’s post, I am realized that my approach to “Part 2” was going to need to change form a bit.  I had numerous people contact me through personal email and social media with their story.  It blows my mind how many have endured the death of a child, yet our Christian culture speaks so little into its reality. We eagerly celebrate the life of a newborn, yet rarely acknowledge the lasting pain of loss in the life of one who didn’t make it.  This deserves a lot more attention, which I will not offer in this series of posts.  For now, if you are looking for a systematic/rational “answer” to the mystery of life/death as presented in Part 1, you might as well stop reading now.  In fact, I have tried to seek that answer over the past couple years and I have found it will continue to leave me wanting.  Further, I believe it strays from the heart of a relational God and the mystery of His ongoing Story.

With that said, I believe there are theological insights that can give us a glimpse into this mystery.  Further, I believe those glimpses are best presented from a variety of voices in conversation.  If you have experienced loss or if you have insight into this mystery, please join the conversation.  We need to hear from you.  Here is a slice (extremely condensed!) of my part of the theological conversation:

Suffering is central to the Story of God.  If we deny the reality of suffering, we deny the very story we have chosen to participate within. In this light, I will highlight three aspects/stages of the Story: Covenant, Prophets and Jesus.

Covenant

YHWH (the LORD) entered a covenant relationship with his people early in the Story.  Beginning with Noah (Gen. 9), building momentum with Abraham (Gen.12-17) and played out time and time again in Moses, YHWH committed to his people and they (although often failing) committed to him.  Each time YHWH’s people would enter exile and suffering, he would remember the covenant and deliver them.  Such a covenant relationship has been extended to all those that choose to be part of His Story today.  The God that remembered his people in the past, remembers his people today.

Prophets

In the midst of exile and suffering, God’s people knew how to weep.  They not only wept on behalf of the people’s tragic situation, they wept on behalf of God’s heartbreak for his people.  The Prophets wept over what could have been and the wept for the hope of the future to be made real now. Thought to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, Lamentations was set in the 500’s B.C. during a time of Babylonian exile and is made up of 5 poems describing the tragic situation of the Israelites and Jerusalem.  Yes, the book is lined with hope, but it is filled with tears.  In a culture that tells us (directly and indirectly) to “get over it” and move on, we can’t feel ashamed to sit in the pain of suffering and loss.  In fact, it is when we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain (grieve), that we lose touch with the heart of God.

Jesus: Where God’s solidarity with humanity is revealed

God could have physically overthrown all the powers of oppression, but instead he chose to take the path that would require mourning/sorrow/grief.  It was in Jesus’ weeping and death that God most connected with humanity; such is the sacred nature of pain/sorrow.  We become the most connected with our humanity and God’s standing in solidarity with us in the midst of the pain.

We know the hope is coming, but we can’t force it to come.  We know it was three days for Jesus, but it may be a lot more in our reality.

Some days the pain of losing our child is worse than others, but every day we feel the pain.

We are to be a people, who in both pain and hope, remember that the God that worked in history, is still at work today.

Entangled Theology

I recently listened to Rob Bell use the expression “Entangled Theology.” It can be articulated by arguing that great hope sits side by side with pain.  Such a theology has to live with both doubt and hope.  He went on to say that we often make gods out of certainty, but when destruction comes upon us we have to be able to live and reside within an “Entangled Theology.”

What has been your experience of pain/loss?  How have you dealt with the reality of God existing both in the loss and the hope?  Please join the conversation as it is one that our culture desperately needs to have.

Entangled Theology Part 1: Living w/the Pain of Death & Hope of Life

After years of disappointment, my friend and his wife finally got pregnant.  Not only did they get pregnant, they were pregnant with twins.  Their news came about the same time that Janny and I found out we were pregnant again after the loss of our first child.  We had both experienced the possible pain and disappointment of pregnancy and now we cautiously re-entered the terrifying waters.

He was in my Hebrew classes and every week when we’d first see each other, we would ask each other how our wives and children were doing (expecting the worst, while hoping for the best).  When we would hear, “things still look good,” we give each other a hug and jump back into our Hebrew study.

After asking the question one week, he looked down and said that his wife’s uterus wasn’t growing and the doctors were concerned that the babies wouldn’t make it to term.  My heart sunk and we both feared a replay of past loss.

A few months ago Janny and I got an email with a picture showing two healthy babies, a smiling mom and a relieved dad.  We were brought to tears.

I have another friend whose wife was pregnant with twins.  They were so fired up and excited about their growing family that they had even created a blog where they could share the progress.

At 19 weeks into the pregnancy, her water broke and they had no choice but to deliver their two boys.  They entered the world alive and both mom and dad were able to hold them in the palm of their hands for a couple hours.  There was no way to keep them alive, so after these short sacred moments together, they both past away.  We were brought to tears.

As I send and receive emails from both of these friends, I am struck by the contrast in their stories.  What do I say?  How do I respond?  Such incredibly different stories, yet they both love and serve the same God.

Janny and I have experienced both the pain of loss and the joy of new life.  When we share in these stories, both lead to tears.  But the tears represent two very different emotions and outcomes.

Where is God in this?  How do we move forward in the midst of such a tension?  We live with an “entangled theology…”

Note: I will post “Part 2” on Wednesday and “Part 3” on Friday.

Living a Life of Hope in World of Violence

In recent days, violent acts have seemed to pervade my reality.  I think of the Pakistani Governor who was killed and my friend who is currently living/serving among that population.  I think of the two people that were killed at the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank and our friends who cross through those checkpoints every day as they serve the youth of the region.  I think of the tragedy in Arizona.  Finally, I think of my neighborhood that has endured two murders and one stabbing in the past week.

These incidents have the potential to further breed a culture of fear and anxiety that puts us in a posture of defense and removes us from the redemptive vision God has for humanity.  Thankfully we have a hope. It is a hope rooted in the life of Jesus.  He did not run from violence, instead he embedded himself right in the middle of it.

Lord, may your Spirit lead us away from fear and into your Shalom (peace, wholeness, salvation).  A peace that not only physically slows violence, but a peace that pervades our being so we can be salt and light in the midst of such violence.

This makes me think of St. Patrick.  He was the first (I believe!) missionary to extend past the Roman Empire and step into one of the most fierce, violent and fear driven people groups on the planet.  He stepped forward in faith that the Jesus he chose to follow and share was one that called him to move into the places others weren’t willing to go.  Here is a portion of one of his timely prayers:

  • Be Christ this day my strong protector:
  • Against poison and burning
  • Against drowning and wounding,
  • through reward wide and plenty . . .

  • Christ beside me, Christ before me;
  • Christ behind me, Christ within me;
  • Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
  • Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
  • Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
  • Christ in heart of all who know me,
  • Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
  • Christ in eye of all who see me,
  • Christ in ear of all who hear me.
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