The Importance of Feeling Insignificant

The first day I moved to Manchester (almost two months ago now!) I walked quite a bit around the city centre. I was halfway trying to just stay awake, halfway powered by the adrenaline of having just moved to a new continent. I wanted to take in as much as I could. Plus it was a nice day without rain and I knew I had to take advantage of that.

crowdI was struck that day, as I have often been since, of my own insignificance. I passed hundreds, probably thousands, of people. Buses full of people. Cars struggling through the city traffic. People on the street hurrying to their next destination. All of these people could care less about me. I’m nothing important, especially to them. As the taller buildings in the centre loomed overhead I realised in a new way how insignificant I truly am. Continue reading

Last American Thanksgiving

My last American Thanksgiving was a normal Thanksgiving. There wasn’t any kind of grand revelation or overflow of emotion. It was a typical holiday well spent.

Last American ThanksgivingThese normal rhythms of familial celebrations will soon be disrupted, though. Next year, living in a new country with a new child surrounded by all sorts of new people, we will most definitely feel the loss of normality. I have fond memories of driving to our grandparents’ house as a child, seeing aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying each other (as well as annoying each other). Our child won’t have those kind of memories, and there’s a type of loss in that. And especially the longer we stay in England, which is indefinite for now, something like Thanksgiving will be more foreign to our British child. Continue reading

Spiritual Selfies: Evangelism

Spiritual SelfiesThis is the third post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.

Evangelism is supposed to be about loving someone different than you. A Christian ought to be so overjoyed at being a child of God, now possessing hope that will not disappoint, and receiving the gift of understanding God’s words that we want others who aren’t in the same situation as us yet to experience the kind of love we have. What evangelism can often be about is a Christian making himself feel better because some of his shame is staved off during the time he blabbered on about how he doesn’t approve of gay marriage. That can come across as not loving (because it is). When evangelism becomes a way to soothe ourselves we’ve created a spiritual selfie. Our working definition for “spiritual selfie” is taking something that was created to be other/Other focused and turning it inward for our own purposes. Continue reading

Spiritual Selfies: The Bible

Spiritual SelfiesThis is the second post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.

If you grew up in the western world, you are more inclined to think the world is about you as an individual, probably more so than any other culture on Earth thus far. Our rabid individualism knows no bounds and our disease hungers to increase its territory. When someone living in this milieu becomes a Christian and now submits to how the Bible teaches us to live, we should expect some problems with confronting our formerly self-obsessed selves. This is hard, though, because it’s like describing water to a fish. It’s all around us and has become invisible. Continue reading

Spiritual Selfies: Community

Spiritual SelfiesThis is the first post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.

The selfie. Ubiquitous on social media, subject of many a diatribe, and a common practice of others. Previously referred to as a “self-portrait” by art history for hundreds of years, we’ve decided two syllables are better than three. But more than just shortening the word, the selfie is allowed to be low-brow. After all, “self-portrait” sounds a bit intimidating and time consuming.

For the selfie, one turns an outward camera inward. And most cameras (some people call them “phones” but let’s just call it what they are) undo the problematic flipping-the-camera-around-thing by including a front facing camera, assuring the artist of the best possible shot. Continue reading

My Tattoo

For years, I liked the idea of getting a tattoo, but not knowing exactly what I would want on my body for the rest of my life, it stayed in the idea phase for a while. I found it fascinating to put something on you so important that you’d want it there forever. But my idea phase ended when I landed on something specific in my mind. Then about a year ago, I met a friend who was a tattoo artist and now owns his own shop. I talked to him about this idea, and eventually it was go time. I made a consultation appointment. I wanted the artists Georges Rouault and Jeremy Lewis to collaborate, using my arm as the canvas. Continue reading

Birthday.

birthdayToday is my birthday. A birthday is a significant marker in time and its significance is not lost on me. I get a little reflective when this day rolls around, ranging from excitement to sadness, from joy to shame. I suppose that’s typical for most people. My main thought of late has been, “I’ve had 33 years, and this is how far I’ve come? This is what I’ve done with my life?” Surely I should be farther along. But I’m not. And I think I’m OK with that. I’ve tried to be obedient to the days and years my Father has given me. Mostly. Well, maybe mostly. And I believe that I’ve been following where He’s told me to go. But some places He’s brought me haven’t been very enjoyable or productive. There’s nothing to show but the scars and marks of trudging through a deep valley. And even then, often I’m the only one who sees those. Continue reading

Philemon: Common Unity

Philemon: Common Unity

Paul’s letter to Philemon is the story of vulnerability, sacrifice and mercy played out in community. I was able to preach through this book and decided to look at it from three different perspectives, the perspectives of the characters in this story: Onesimus, Philemon and Paul.

It’s almost like the parable of the prodigal son in real life. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. The situation was such that Onesimus wanted to run away from his master, and stole from him as we went. Onesimus eventually ran into Paul in a different city and Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter. This letter says that Philemon ought to free and forgive Onesimus. Paul is concerned with these two reconciling and rightly living out God’s community on earth.

In the story of Onesimus we learn about vulnerability (download):

 

In the story of Philemon we learn about sacrifice (download):

 

In the story of Paul we learn about mercy (download):

Frustration: An Overview

Frustration might will continue, but the series on frustration is over. Below is a map of the posts. Dealing with frustration rightly really is an ongoing journey (hopefully one we are growing in) and that’s why I mapped it out like a narrative. You can click on any part to jump directly to that particular post. And here’s a large version.

In each stage there are prompts in blue. The first area deals with knowing this world is not how it should be, something is not right. The second section deals with us as we ask ourselves the question God asked Adam, “Where are you?” The goal of this self-awareness isn’t an end in itself, it’s supposed to go somewhere. That’s the Highest Low: where we realize our need for God, not only for our situation that got us here to begin with, but for ourselves. That leads to repentance, which is submitting to an active God. Our repentance is called to be active (remember, “talk is cheap“), and we ask Him to change us as we rely on an active God. This repentance leads us to a holy longing, probably worlds apart from our original frustration. It echoes Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, “not my will, but Yours.”

We will probably not see our worlds completely changed as we wish. For those who cling to their own wants with an iron grip, that leads to grumbling. For those who hope in spite of the darkness, that leads to groaning, and our sound joins with creation and Christ on the cross, hoping in the day where all things will be made new.

Image Map

Frustration: Holy Longing

frustrationThis is the sixth post in a series on frustration. View them all here.

This is where we end—holy longing. We started in selfishness with fashionable fists and childish foot stomping. We know that it’s not wise to just say “don’t be frustrated” because sometimes frustration is good. Jesus was frustrated. But even in our selfish forms of frustration merely saying “don’t do that” isn’t very helpful. What is going on beneath the stomping of our feet? A “don’t do that” also assumes we have the power ourselves to actually stop. We don’t. Continue reading