Ethics and Jazz

My kids live by their own code of ethics.
If a wrong has been done, every member of the family must be made aware.
Wronged
Upset
If a sister gets a new toy, all other sisters immediately claim playing rights. Unless it is their toy, in which case it belongs to them alone.
Sharing is hard
It belongs to me
All are mine
If one sister is playing with the baby, all other sisters must immediately leave whatever they were doing and try to take over the baby’s attention.
My baby
I want her
Ethics.
It is one of those seminary words, one of those university words, one of those first-day-in-the-workplace words.
Rather than the list of rules by which we live, it is actually a description of reality.
Perhaps it is better portrayed as a description of what we observe or know about the fabric of reality. It is a link between what we believe and how we live. A link between our mind and our heart.
Learning about ethics is often viewed as unnecessary, as irrelevant to our daily lives. Yet if we don’t understand the ethics of our faith, how can we know how to act in any given situation?
I, for one, am not able to memorize enough rules to cover any condition in which I might find myself. None of us want to live that way, constantly searching our minds for a rule to obey.
I would much rather live like a great jazz pianist.
Dave Brubeck quartet
Diana Krall
A jazz pianist, a really good one, knows his art intimately. It is a part of his spirit.
When he plays with a band, he knows what exists in the music. He knows the nature of the musical form, he knows the structure of the harmonics well enough to think quickly and compose something that fits in with the reality of the music.
It is so seamless it appears as though he had spent weeks composing it ahead of time.
This is how I want to live.
I want to know God and how He has created the nature of this life and this world well enough to know how to respond no matter what is happening around me. I want to be able to react so seamlessly that it appears I had spent weeks thinking through my reaction ahead of time.
I want, I suppose, to have the mind of Christ.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual…But we have the mind of Christ. ~ I Corinthians 2.11-16
May we know our own ethics and how they describe God’s reality so well as to be able to improvise our lives beautifully.
As beautifully as jazz.

Art credits: Dave Brubeck photograph by user:don’tworry; Diana Krall photograph by Rob Garland

 

This Waiting Made Sacred

We all go through times of waiting.
Waiting
Hoping
Perhaps all of our lives are spent waiting.
Patient
My waiting usually looks impatient and discontent.
My waiting usually is spent trying to arrive.
If all of our lives are supposed to be made sacred, how can this waiting become sacred? How can this waiting become beautiful?
If all of our lives are meant for God’s glory, how can we lean into this waiting instead of resisting and pulling back?
Lean in
Expectancy
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian, writes about waiting as an active kind of waiting.
He speaks of those at the beginning of the Gospels (Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna) as waiting with a sense of promise. A promise that allows them to wait. Nouwen says that the secret of waiting is the faith that something has already begun.
Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. ~ Waiting for God
It is a waiting that knows the waited-for thing has already begun.
Like planting a seed and waiting for it to emerge. Like seeing the plus sign on the pregnancy test and waiting to hold the baby in your arms.
It is a knowing that there are beautiful things happening in the darkness. It is a knowing that even though you cannot see, it is growing.
Growing
Becoming
It is a giving up of control because none of us quite know what we are waiting for when God is involved.
Rather than waiting for a job or a baby or a spouse, we are waiting for whatever God chooses to give. We hold our expectations and dreams lightly, with cupped open hands, knowing that whatever comes is ultimately the best thing of all.
It is a giving up of control but it is a gift of surprise and adventure, of something even better than what you had imagined.
Eyes wide open
It is a waiting with eyes open and breath held in expectation. Expectation of beauty and excitement.
Sacred waiting
This is a waiting I can lean in to. A beautiful, sacred waiting that glorifies God.

Art credit: Final photograph of crab apple blossoms by Kirk Sewell

God Revealing Himself

God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.
We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.
We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.
Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.
If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.
If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

Christ in…Politics?!

America
One of the ideas in which I believe strongly, one of the basic premises, in fact, behind the writing of this blog, is that there can be no division between sacred and secular. There can be no segmenting out pieces of life, saying that this is for faith and that is not.
For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. ~ Colossians 1.16-17
If all of life is under the authority of Christ, then the opposite supposition is also true, that there is nothing that is outside of Christ. The point seems inarguable, yet it seems easier to say that all is in Christ than it is to begin to name specific arenas that therefore matter to Him.
If singing hymns in church is in Christ, then scrubbing filthy toilets is also in Him.
If working in the food pantry is in Christ, then creating a PowerPoint presentation for work is also in Him.
If learning about Old Testament Prophets is in Christ, then politics is also in Him.
It seems unreasonable, yet the conclusion is inescapable. If in Christ all things hold together, then there can be nothing that falls outside of His realm of influence.
US Government
If politics, too, must fall within the confines of our faith, then we should spend time considering the best way that our land should be governed. Especially when we live in a land that gives us a voice. Especially when we live in a year that is an election year.
And so I have been pondering and wondering. None of my wonderings have produced anything that I could change, yet I still believe that the process of considering our country’s politics in light of the way God created life to work is valuable.
Politics
There is much in the Bible about teaching and training, about people being gifted to do specific tasks, about being and doing what you were created to be and do.
All of which makes me wonder if the idea of citizen governance is as good an idea as our founders believed. I understand, I think, that part of the reason behind term limits and bringing in ordinary citizens to do the job for a time is to prevent anyone from taking and keeping too much power.
It is easy to become drunk on the trappings of power.
Or so I’ve heard.
Yet would we want our children to learn under someone who just comes in and teaches for a few years and then is replaced by another community member? Would anyone trust a citizen surgeon?
Then why do we trust a job like governing our country to amateurs?
What if we treated politics like we treat other careers? What if we had a governing body that developed training and schooling requirements? What if people who have the talent for governance could attend a study program and go through an apprenticeship? What if that same governing body helped the governors of our land decide when it was time to retire, like the governing body that decides when it is time for us to give up our driver’s license?
I know that there are probably hundreds of issues that would make this improbable. I understand that none of this is likely to happen.
Yet isn’t it better to think through something as important as how our country is governed rather than just falling in line with how it has always been done?
Loving our country
If part of loving God means loving Him with all of your mind, then shouldn’t we use our mind to consider how all things would be best under His authority?
Even if it never comes to pass?
I believe so.

Photography credits: U.S. Capitol by purplepic; Flag on building by Robert Linder; Flag backlit by Robert Linder

Making Progress

I just get so frustrated.
Frustration
Failing
We often speak of deeper things via email so that we can linger long over ideas, drawing them more fully into ourselves before we respond.
I feel that after so many years of following Jesus that I should have made more progress, that I should be more like Him, think more like Him, speak more like Him. Yet I still struggle every moment to obey, to control my temper, to love others.
Struggle
Me too, Dad. Me too.
My heart feels heavy when I look at any given week and how much I have failed my husband, my daughters, my God.
I want so desperately to be like Jesus, to have love be my first response in any situation, to be grateful for everything that comes my way.
Yet day after day I lose my temper, I choose my own desires over the needs of those around me,
I forget to walk with God.
Forget
Guilt
Have I made any progress at all? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
Yet God tells us that creating a new heart is not up to us. We are not capable of changing our heart of stone for a heart of flesh, but God promises that He will do this for us, that He will change us to look more like Jesus, to be who He created us to be.
Will I believe Him?
Will I trust what He says more than what my physical eyes can see? Will I trust the Word even when contrary evidence seems to mount up higher?
…. it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace. And though his conflict may be as severe in the last day of his life as in the first moment of conversion, yet he does advance in grace — and all his imperfections and his conflicts within cannot prove that he has not made progress. ~ Charles Spurgeon
As in so much of this walk with God, will I choose to trust His promises or my own imperfect judgement?
Conflict
Heart of stone
May we all push aside the guilt that we pour down on our own heads and say with the 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence,
When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
Believe
Trust
May we all trust God that much and give ourselves no further uneasiness about it.

Mary’s Soul

There is a stillness and a hush.
Stillness
There are words that shred her heart.
It is after the man of light, speaking words of miracle.
It is after the shepherds of dirt, speaking visions of angel army chorales.
It is after the star of God, shining spotlight on her baby.
It is after the scholars of heavens, laying rich treasures down.
Nativity
There is the temple and the sacrifice and the consecration of a baby.
There is a man who raises hands and speaks words of praise to God.
There are words that shred her heart.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
There is a stillness and a hush.
And ever after, she lives and follows Him, trusting that God will keep His promises. She is faithful in her trust.
Three Crosses
And she stands at the foot of a cross, watching her innocent child as He is brutally tortured and murdered. As He is pierced with a sword.
And her own soul is pierced as well.
It cannot have made any sense at all.
The murder of innocents never does. Death itself never does.
There is a cross.
Cross
There is ugliness and pain and sorrow and grief.
There is beauty and rescue and hope and the promise of life for all time.
There is faithfulness and trust in a God Who keeps His promises. Always.
In the stillness and the hush,
Hush
In the joy of angels singing
Joy
as well as in the piercing of your own soul,

Pieta

Trust in our God whose Word never fails.
I pray for a joyful New Year for all of you, worshiping the God who makes all things beautiful in His time.
Beautiful Christmas
art credits: snow photo by Kirk Sewell; The Nativity by Correggio; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Annunciation to the Shepherds by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem; Pieta by Michaelangelo; Advent wreath photos by Elizabeth Giger

Carol of Joy

Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonelyladenforlorn
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
To you,
A Saviour is born!

Merry Christmas!

(If you are viewing this in an email or reader, click here to view the video of this song)

Be Still and Wait

Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

Small is Sacred

These feel like frightening times. The world at large keeps crashing into my small frame of reference.
Burning
Crashing
It doesn’t feel as though I can do anything against the hatred, fear, and violence that keeps cropping up all around us.
Violence
Part of my helpless feeling comes from my own world currently being very small.
My world
Full of littles
My days revolve around nursing babies, napping toddlers, and newly-become elementary students.
What I have to give, what I have to offer to stem this dark tide is small.
Our season in life leaves little room for discretionary income and time.
Hard season
I wonder if anything I do makes much difference.
In this season of Advent, this season of preparing ourselves for the biggest Gift of all, the gifts that I bring to our God, to our world, seem insignificant, tiny.
Leaving my own book to read one more story aloud? Trifling.
Baking cookies to give to our neighbors? Inconsequential.
Giving up a meal out to purchase toys for a toy drive? Insufficient.
Yet as I read still another version of the Christmas Story to my girls I am reminded that an act does not have to be big to be sacred.
Small
Small acts of kindness to those I know, small smiles and gentle words in passing to those who seem different from us, small gifts to strangers are all as sacred and beautiful as the act of preaching to thousands.
Light
You don’t have to have endless resources to be able to change the world.  You don’t have to accomplish something enormous to let a glimpse of light in to the darkness.
After all, what is Advent but the remembrance that it was the smallest, most fragile gift of all that was sacred enough to change our world forever.
Smallest Gift

Breath

All of creation waits with inhaled breath.
Wait
Coming
Advent
We wait as in the space before the upraised baton falls in the darkened symphony hall.
We wait as in the space before stepping over the threshold of home.
We wait as in the space before the first glimmer of dawn sparks into the darkest part of the night.
We wait with inhaled breath for the breath of God to arrive.
Breath
For the breath of God to arrive and breathe in the air of this world and breathe out the grace of heaven.
As we bundle ourselves against the cold and breathe out frost into the air, so we can’t help but breathe in a breath of hope even as we bundle our hearts against disappointment.
But God is a God of hope, so we can breathe easy and unbundle our hearts to the warmth of His love.
Hope
Grace
He did, after all, come once before and draw our air into His lungs and in so doing, foreshadowed the way He will come once again and exhale perfection into the very breath of the fabric of our world.
And so, as we wait with inhaled breath, we breathe out love and grace to those we see around us so that they, too, can breathe in a breath of hope
and wait for the breath of God to arrive in our world once more.
Here