Signed by God


Vincent van Gogh’s signature (source)

“Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.”

– From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

I first heard this quote from Walt Whitman’s work at a Leading Congregations in Mission (LCM) retreat this past weekend, and it immediately captured my attention. I just wanted to share it with everyone I know!

This! This is my God!

I love how this mentality changes every small daily task into an opportunity to encounter the Divine. It’s so painfully obvious that if I’m a child of God, then you must be one too, but it’s too easy to forget that in the daily tasks of life.

Jesus was constantly picking up God’s letters off the street, reading them, loving them, and acknowledging how miraculous they were. That’s the kind of world I want to live in: where everyone celebrates just how miraculous their cashier at Starbucks is or just how much they love their car mechanic.

And everyone is signed by God’s name! Signing a work of art is the last thing an artist does. He or she won’t sign until the work is just as they want it to be. I believe the Creator is like that too. No matter how rough that person looks that you’ve passed on the street a thousand times, God’s signature is there. God is proud of that work and longs for us to marvel at Divine creation.

As a recent college graduate, I myself am guilty of wishing God would more directly communicate with me so that I can be sure I’m doing the right thing or making the right decisions, but now I’m learning that I should just slow down and relish the notes that God is passing me every day through the people I encounter. To love and to cherish others – that will always be the right thing to do!

Sacred / Secular Creation

avoid-consumerism

All sorts of people are here at the shopping mall.

Well, not all sorts, really.  Mostly upper middle class Americans, white, under sixty.  I’ve been here for a couple of hours, sipping my Starbucks iced tea and watching these passersby.  I see fashionable handbags, plenty of teenagers, and pricey blue jeans.  It’s an exhilarating place to be.  There is something electrifying about the temptation of new shoes and food court cinnamon rolls.  I find myself restless and eager.

What do I not see?  There is no mention of the depletion of God’s sacred Creation which makes this material abundance possible.  Strip mines produce building materials.  Coal-fired power plants provide energy for air conditioning while emitting greenhouse gases.  Landfills overflow with our “old” cast off purchases.

All this abundance, though manipulated by human ingenuity, science and engineering, is principally a gift from God.   We depend upon the natural world for resources to fuel, fabricate, and build.  We rely on God for our human capacity to imagine and create.  In a way, even this bustling shopping mall is an extension of sacred creation.  How can this be considered sacred?  It’s seems to be a shrine to human consumption.

The term “sacred” implies something set apart, consecrated, as a place of spiritual reverence and respect.  We often translate this as “religious”.  By contrast, we use the term “secular” to indicate that which stands outside the bounds of the spiritual realm.  They are those things which seem exempt from the requirements of religious discipline.  This distinction conveniently masks our responsibility as disciples outside of Sunday morning’s sacred space.

Jesus is our living example of the sacred enmeshed in ordinary human experience.  God With Us demonstrated that those things people easily detach from that which is sacred – societal outcasts, tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes – have a place in His sacred presence.  The sacred is present in our everyday experience, shaping our behavior and offering hope.

Do we acknowledge God in the marketplace, what seems to be a most secular space?   How do our consumption habits honor God?  One key is waste.  It is true that consumerism drives the market which provides for jobs and prosperity.  But at what point does our “perceived obsolescence” mentality become out of balance and unduly deplete the environment?  When do we become content with our lifestyle and possessions – reducing and reusing, rather than discarding our still-functional furniture for the latest décor trends or trashing our home electronics for the newest technology?

Young adult generations are at the forefront of advocacy for environmental stewardship.  We recognize that we will be left to heal the consequences of our greed.  I have seen many sporting “Go Green” t-shirts, bumper stickers, and protest signs.  Yet a majority of the people strolling past my mall bench are young adults.

One of the greatest challenges for my generation will be to set aside our consumption-driven lifestyles for the sake of creation.  Are we willing to sacrifice measuring up to the social standards of material success and appearance for the sake of Creation?  Wearing the “Go Green” t-shirt is one thing.  Wearing last season’s out-of-style shirt is another.  What is the price my generation is willing to pay to free ourselves from the silent grip of unhealthy consumerism?  I have seen encouraging models in some of my young adult colleagues, our young leaders of this church.

Along with balanced buying habits, awareness of the environmental footprint of brands and products we purchase is important.  The Better World Handbook is an excellent tool for investigating these ratings.

Even the marketplace is enmeshed in sacred creation.  Our everyday choices in this “secular” realm are spiritual ones.   All of us must be mindful of God’s presence and provision, setting apart even the high-end shopping mall as sacred space.

 

Photo from: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/avoid-consumerism.jpg

 

 

Defending Faith

books

I teach a literary theory course for college English majors–things like Marxism, feminism, postcolonial criticism–and at some point each semester, one of my students is bound to say something like, “Why does theory hate religion so much!” It’s true that a lot of the theories we discuss point in one way or another to religion in general and Christianity in particular as something that has been used to marginalize or exploit certain groups. And so my students, many of whom are religious, often get defensive about the “attacks” on Christianity and some dismiss the critiques on religion outright as part of a “liberal bias” in academics.

Though as an academic I accept the premises of these theories’ criticism, to a certain extent I share my students’  desire to defend my faith against accusations of Christianity’s misdeeds. In fact, I believe strongly that Community of Christ’s mission, beliefs, and principles stand up very well against the criticisms offered by the theories I teach.

Where Marxism calls religion “the opiate of the masses” that tries to placate the poor and keep them in their place, I can point to our Mission Initiative to “abolish poverty and end suffering,” echoing Christ’s own endeavors to restore dignity to the poor and lift them out of the conditions of injustice.

Where feminism and queer theory implicate religion with the perpetuation of repressive patriarchy and homophobia, I turn to our focus on developing right relationships with and between all people, and our insistence on the worth of all persons and the belief that all are called to share in God’s loving and restoring work. And I see us enacting these principles in the hard work and tough decisions of recent national conferences as we try to better understand what it means to live out these ideals.

Where postcolonial criticism looks painfully on a history of Christianity imposed (often violently) around the world and used to denigrate indigenous cultures and beliefs, I see a world church dedicated to extending a loving invitation to Christ and striving to make the mission and ministry of the gospel speak through the diverse languages and cultures of the church.

Where environmental criticism sees human domination and exploitation of nature written into the Judeo-Christian heritage of Genesis, I remember our own heritage of stewardship, seeing all creation as sacred and deserving of our loving care as co-creators with God.

But as I tell my students, these theories aren’t criticizing what Christianity believes so much as what Christianity does; and like it or not, religion has an all-too-familiar history of not living up to its own principles. I might smugly comfort myself that my church believes and says all the right things, but that’s not really the point. The challenge here isn’t to my belief, it’s to the actions I undertake (or fail to undertake) as a result of that belief. So in those times and in those discussions where it’s easy to see Christianity “under attack,” I’ve learned to ask myself, not “How does my faith stack up to the criticism?” but “How do my actions stack up to my faith?”

Slowing Down

how-to-slow-downBy Ben Smith, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

I pulled over to the side of the road, as the shock began to set in, and called the ambulance. There wasn’t a whole lot of blood but the pain started after I had realised what I’d done. “If only I had slowed down,” I kept telling myself.

That day was the beginning of a forced three month slow down.

Although it was only the tips of three fingers, I had cut off more than I expected. That split second was all it took to change my life. 6 hours of micro surgery to reconnected nerves and blood supply, months of rehabilitation and still another surgery on the horizon. One second turned into an eternity.

ben hand photo

Ben’s hand

Since then, I’ve learned to appreciate the use of both hands a lot more. Tying shoe laces, doing the dishes (although I didn’t complain about not being able to do those…), getting keys out of my pocket and opening jars were all made so complicated. I realised that I needed help for a lot more things. I was even asking my wife to pre-cut my steak! I had become so used to having two hands that I hadn’t even started to appreciate what a blessing it was to have hands from birth.

One morning as I did up my shirt buttons, I had to sit on the edge of my bed because it was taking so long. In that process, I looked out the window and noticed a bird feeding its baby in the nest. Any other day I would have just buttoned my shirt and moved on with my day, not noticing God’s beauty right out my window. It wasn’t long before the “what if” questions turned into “how can” questions. “What if I had just slowed down?” changed into “How can I find ways to slow down?”. It was a simple change in grammar, with a dramatically different outcome in my spiritual life.

ben hand photo2

Ben’s furniture

Today, I am still only typing with two fingers on my left hand, having taught myself to use them quicker. I am back on THAT machine, albeit with a brief pause before each action to make sure things are in the right place, doing the things I love – creating furniture from recycled timber and steel.

May you learn to slow down. Not just for the danger of going too fast, but to notice the still, small voice right outside your window.

Check out more of Ben’s furniture at his online business: From the Roots

Photo from: bingeeatingtherapy.com

Sometimes We Struggle With … Parenting

by Erica Blevins Nye, Oakland Township, MI
From the Peace Colloquy 2013 session: “Singing Through Life in Community”

yaplenary13One year ago I worked for Intl. Headquarters as our Young Adult Ministries Specialist. On any given day, a year ago, you could find me at my desk busily connecting with Community of Christ young adults to lend ministry and support. You could find me at an airport, traveling to meet with young adult ministries around the globe and to hear their vision for the future of the church. And the staff meetings! I loved the meetings (if you can believe it,) because at our best we would discuss how we could influence the mission of this church I love.

Now, one year later, on any given day you can find me reciting my alphabet. Or frantically scrubbing crayon off my furniture. Or cutting peanut butter sandwiches in to little bite-sized squares. Or hurrying back and forth to a little potty chair.

In the past year I have transitioned from full-time minister to full-time mommy.

This journey has been a joy for me! But it has also brought its share of grief. While it is rewarding to spend my days caring for one of God’s precious children, it has required a good deal of “letting go.”

Letting go of career and ministry expectations.
Letting go of my personal plans, priorities, and timelines.
Letting go of some ego.
Letting go of part of my identity.

Erica and Allison Sept 2013This life shift isn’t an uncommon one, especially for young adult women, but it still hasn’t been easy for me. I have been learning to re-center my life off of my own hopes and onto those of someone else. It’s scary and it feels a little out-of-control. It is dangerous business investing so much of oneself into someone else. To love and invest so deeply in another lays a person open to receive authentic joy; but it also leaves one exposed to the potential of searing heartbreak. I have discovered that my own welfare is deeply, inextricably linked to the welfare of my little child. I now understand the power of this concept in a way I hadn’t before.

Though this new journey has been a challenge for me, I am learning and growing. I’m gaining fresh perspective on the nature of a God who is Creator and Caretaker. And I’m gaining insight into what it means to be a disciple in a faith community called to live in service to others.

492
O God, You Call, Create, and Lead

O God, you call, create, and lead. Your plan provides for every need.
Speak through us to this child, we pray,
and to all children every day.

U.S.A./England
8.8.8.8. (L.M.)
MARYTON

Words: Jane Parker Huber, 1926–2008
Music: Henry Percy Smith, 1825–1898
Words © 1980 Jane Parker Huber (admin. Westminster John Knox Press)

OneLicense: 74431
A Community of Christ Sings resource
http://www.CofChrist.org/hymnal
 
**Due to copyright restrictions we are unable to post the entire song lyrics. Please refer to the song number listed in your Community of Christ Sings hymnal.

 

Why I Follow Jesus…

Re-blogged from: Connect-Engage-Inspire

emma shoesWhen I moved to Washington, DC, it took me a while to get used to all the walking. I desperately missed the convenience of a car. I would joke about forgetting how to drive whenever I was back in my home state of Iowa.

It was frustrating when I had to make the short walk up Massachusetts Avenue, loaded with groceries. It was inconvenient to have to get up even earlier on a Sunday morning so I could walk 35 minutes to church when the car ride would have taken 10. Somehow, I felt like Washington was taking away all of my freedom.

But my bitterness slowly faded, and I grew to love those walks. I loved noticing the subtle changes in the color of the trees lining my way to church. I still laugh at the thought of the old man outside the Catholic church who told me he liked my boots and then proceeded to tell me what seemed like his life story.

I loved adventures into the city just for a day of exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved driving, but I’d begun to value the time spent observing and interacting with things around me rather than watching them zip past in my peripheral vision.

Those 35-minute walks to and from the church became especially valuable. Sometimes I’d even graciously turn down someone’s offer to drive me back so I could walk instead. That time alone each week was perfect for thinking and simply being with God.

The best way I can describe my walk with Jesus is that he is decidedly quiet. Frustrating, yes, but I know why. Naturally, his silence makes me consider what it is that needs to be said. What I need to say.

I’m fairly shy, but slowly I begin to open up, revealing deeper and deeper thoughts. Before long, I’m bubbling with questions, thoughts, and ideas. All the while, he stays quiet, allowing my mind to work through these things as I express them. Sometimes all I need is that listening ear and comforting presence.

He walks with me, but he also makes me stop and look around. Occasionally, I am overcome by the simple beauty of the moment I’m in, whether it’s watching the waves crash at the beach, having a conversation with a stranger, or listening to junior high campers praying for each other.
In these moments of awareness, I know he is there.

I choose to follow Jesus because he is always introducing me to experiences and people who challenge and add to my understanding of our world. I love that choosing to follow Jesus is not an event, but a process. My walk with Jesus never ends and might not always be easy, but that’s what makes it beautiful.

There’s always something to appreciate about the journey.

ALOHA

turtle

by Seth Bryant
Re-blogged from: Proclaim Peace

Last week Jenn and I went to Oahu, Hawaii, sans kids. It was an overdue 10-year anniversary trip and second honeymoon.

We had an amazing experience. As someone who loves to snorkel, Oahu was heaven. While Jenn sunbathed on the beach, I spent almost all my time in the water. The diversity of the fish, and their vibrant colors never ceased to amaze me.

While floating in the blue waters of a bay at North Shore, something large came into view. Snorkeling can be relaxing, exciting, and, at times, terrifying—like when a wave threatens to throw you into some rocks, or when a big unknown mass comes swimming your way. In the back of my mind, the Jaws music is always queued up for when something large materializes in the water (usually another snorkeler). As I made out the shape, my fear melted away as I realized that it was a massive sea turtle.

I expected the turtle to swim away, but it didn’t seem bothered by my presence. Instead, the turtle seemed like it was inviting me to follow. Precious seconds turned into minutes as the turtle slowly led me on a tour of the rocks and plants and fish, our bodies floating and moving together as waves rolled over us.

At one point, with the turtle floating directly below me, our bodies aligned, a large wave crashed over us. And I fought against it. The turtle seemed startled by my ungraceful movements. It looked me in the eyes, as if to say, “Don’t fight the waves.” In fact, as I processed this experience later while speaking with Jenn, I told her, “It was like the turtle was speaking to me. Like he had something to tell me.” Jenn asked, “Well, what did he tell you?” I paused, and then it was quite clear. “He told me, ‘Aloha. Be at peace.'”

Commonly used to say hello, or goodbye, Aloha means so much more: peace, mercy, compassion, love. Visiting the islands taught me that it’s a way of life, a way of being–not unlike the idea of shalom.

The turtle was both my guide and messenger in a holy place. I felt like I better understood the experience in Isaiah 6, even if just a little bit. After about 10 minutes, another snorkeler swam up, scaring away the turtle. So I swam back to Jenn, without words to adequately describe the experience or convey how it transformed me.