Dear Lord of Hope

Read: Psalm 107

Dear Lord of Hope, thank you. From the depths of my being, thank you.  For the people in my life, thank you. For the opportunities you have given me, thank you.

For rescuing me from problems in the past, thank you. For being present in the challenges of the present, thank you.

Santa Rosa Island rocky shore

Hope in you isn’t naïve. It’s not a sad yearning for some dream world.

Hope in you is powerful because of the works you have done, the invitation you give to press on even when our faith stumbles and our courage falters.

We press on not in our strength, but because you have shown how faithful you are.

We cling to you now in this season where we don’t know how to plan and are caught in struggles that seem too deep to bear.

May we remember your ways, and may we press on to take hold of that for which you have taken hold of us.

Amen.

This year, Fuller employees have been invited to write prayers to share with the community, each taking a week or two. This is my week, and I’ll be posting the prayers I wrote for each day. 

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Dear Lord of Creation

Read: Psalm 33

Goose by the duck pond in Natomas

Dear Lord of Creation, you who made all and rule over all, you gather together the whole universe in infinite complexity, a wondrous dance that invites both our deeper study and continued delight.

In a world that often dulls our sense of wonder and stirs our anxieties, you offer something more to us, stirring our being and forming us into becoming all you have made us to be.

Help us to see your beauty today and this week. Guide us in helping others to see what you are doing. Help us to hear the songs you are singing and the poetry you are writing today and this week.

Guide us in helping others to hear your voice.  You have made all things. And you are with us. Amazing!  Amen.

This year, Fuller employees have been invited to write prayers to share with the community, each taking a week or two. This is my week, and I’ll be posting the prayers I wrote for each day. 

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Thinking about Easter at Home

My wife, Amy, is the worship leader at our small Wesleyan church, and so we’re figuring out along with many of you and so many others what Easter looks like when we’re not able to meet in person.  This is usually the key event of church life, and now… well, it still is. Just different.

We can’t depend on conventions, habits, even many traditions.   That’s the challenge, but also an opportunity.  I think about the first Easter, when Jesus walked out the tomb. There wasn’t a crowd.   Jesus walked out that tomb even still.   He met Mary in the garden. Then he visited with others, on the road, in their houses, all kinds of places.

Christianity doesn’t depend on a specific place, though such can be handy. It doesn’t depend on specific rites, though these can be wonderful experiences of God’s grace and guidance.  Christianity is true because Jesus walked out of the tomb, and invites us into a new life with God, together with all those all over the world, throughout time, who share this communion.

Rarely before has the church been so separated in even the smallest scales, yet we’re still in unity, celebrating that the Spirit who gives us life, is with us wherever we are at, whoever we are with, and that Easter is a celebration that God is the God of life, hope, and transformation.

I think about all this and wonder how we can best encourage and inspire others to see Jesus for who he is. That was the challenge, as you know, for the earliest witnesses.  They saw Jesus, but they didn’t see Jesus. He didn’t wait for them, he rose from the dead and went to them, invited them, chatted with them, blessed them.

We may not celebrate the resurrection in our church buildings this year, but we will be able to meet Jesus, to walk with him, to listen to him, to trust that the Spirit is doing a wonderful thing even as the world around us struggles with panic.

We are invited toget to know God better and better, so that in our callings we can teach, preach, share in words and in our actions the life the Christ gives to us, wherever we are at.

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Hope for the nations starts in local (online?) communities

One of my projects these days is helping in the development of online training for Bible Translators all over the world. I sent an email to a group of beta testers this morning, and one reply had this tagline: *We believe the Bible is for everyone, so we are working towards the day when everyone can access the Bible in the language and medium of their choice.”

As I ask in my preaching, how many is everyone? All the people. Sometimes we are slow to take advantage of technology because it is hard or difficult to learn.

But I am amazed how many people can be reached with the Gospel in our day and age.

How many who are stuck at home or feeling outcast or isolated can read a Bible, attend a service, or otherwise find themselves part of a shared community of hope this day.

Many will feel loss at not having a physical community to attend. But the Spirit is not limited to a place or a time. The Spirit invites us to join together, across space and across time, in a community of saints, inviting others into a way of hope.

Today is a day of possibility. Today is a day of exploration. If you are curious about church, or need a word of hope, try one of the many churches that are going online. If the thought of attending church has made you uncomfortable, or if you are simply curious what churches are like and what they talk about, feel free to join one of the many churches that are online this morning.

The media landscape has emphasized megachurches and publicity-frenzied media pastors. Today, the small churches, communities all over the world, are sharing their services.

Take some time. Have a look.

Here’s the service for my church, starting at 10am (pacific time). Amy Oden will be leading in some songs!

www.TheRiverChurch.net/live

Feel free to join us there, or find another church in your community or one that sounds interesting. Take advantage of this opportunity!

Oh, and here’s more on that online training project I’m working with: https://www.digitaltraininglibrary.org/

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I pray, preserve me from all dangers…

Trinity in unity, preserve me.
Unity in Trinity, have mercy on me.

I pray,
preserve me from all dangers
which overwhelm me
like the waves of the sea,
so that neither mortality
nor the vanity of the world
may sweep me away this year.

And I also ask,
send the high, mighty hosts of heaven,
that they not abandon me
to be destroyed by enemies,
but defend me now
with their strong shields
and that the heavenly army
advance before me:
cherubim and seraphim by the thousands,
and archangels Michael and Gabriel, likewise,
I ask, send these living thrones,
principalities and powers and angels,
so that I may be strong,
defended against the flood of strong enemies
in the next battle.

May Christ, whose terror scares away the foul throngs,
make with me a strong covenant.
God the unconquerable guardian,
defend me on every side by your power.

Free all my limbs,
with your safe shield protecting each,
so that the fallen demons cannot attack
against my sides or pierce me with their darts.

I pray, Lord Jesus Christ, be my sure armor.
Cover me, therefore, O God, with your strong breastplate.

Cover me all in all with my five senses,
so that, from my soles to the top of the head,
in no member, without within, may I be sick;
that, from my body, life be not cast out
by plague, fever, weakness, suffering,
Until, with the gift of old age from God,
departing from the flesh, be free from stain,
and be able to fly to the heights,
and, by the mercy of God, be borne in joy
to the heavenly cool retreats of his kingdom.

Lorica of Gildas, 9th Century

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Online Teaching Tool Kit part 2: The PC

After teaching online for a number of years, it became very clear to me that a significant weakness every quarter was the quality of my lecture and announcement videos. I had little to no video editing experience, and while I could record a video using my webcam, and could record a lecture using powerpoint, the overall result was subpar at best and frustrating at worst.

Without editing, the lectures and videos retained gaps and other issues. The problem wasn’t just one of learning the right tricks. Each time I tried to edit videos on my Fuller provided laptop, something went wrong and otherwise was too frustrating.

Given that these videos were not just for teaching but in many ways were the main ways students connected with me and my approach, I realized I needed to make some changes.

Over the course of a year I started looking into a desktop that could handle such tasks smoothly, and soon realized that my goals would be best served by starting from scratch, and building a PC specifically suited for video editing and online teaching.

I have a relative who works for a major processor company, and in addition have access to occasional resources which provided discounts or even free components.  I had about half of the needed parts, but was not able to get over that final hurdle.

Fortunately, the Teaching and Learning department at Fuller seminary offered an Instructional Improvement Mini-Grant, and it came along at a perfect time.  Through the grant I was able to get a processor (at a substantive discount), a motherboard, computer memory, and a video card.  I already had a case, a cooler, power supply, and multiple hard drives.

For those with the technical curiosity, here’s the specific parts:

  • CPU:
    Intel Core i7-8700 3.2 GHz 6-Core Processor
  • CPU Cooler:
    Corsair H115i PRO 55.4 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
  • Motherboard:
    Asus ROG MAXIMUS X HERO (WI-FI AC) ATX LGA1151 Motherboard
  • Memory:
    Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3000 Memory
    (I have since doubled this, making for 32GB)
  • Storage:
    Western Digital Black NVMe 500 GB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive
    (I had or added a couple other lower quality M.2 drives and another 1TB SSD)
  • Video Card:
    Asus GeForce GTX 1060 6GB 6 GB Dual Video Card
  • Case:
    Fractal Design Define R5 Blackout Edition ATX Mid Tower Case
  • Power Supply:
    EVGA SuperNOVA G3 750 W 80+ Gold Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply
  • Operating System:
    Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit

It took an afternoon to put everything together, and I was wonderfully pleased right away.  I have an academic subscription to Adobe for using their design programs, and was able to get into more training, using a local library provide Lynda.com account (which sadly my library has since stopped providing).

The Adobe subscription also comes in really handy for my church work and other online tasks. Because the hardware works so well, I have a lot more creative curiosity about doing even more.

Everything simply worked and worked fast, saving me time and bother that was preventing such work in the past.  I was able to get to design work that week.

I use OBS for video recording and live streaming. Which is both free and fairly robust for all my goals, better than most of the much more costly programs I tried out on trials.

Over the last year, I’ve been able to edit all my previously done course videos and lectures, and have much sharper new production. I have gone from students complaining about the videos to noting their helpfulness.

Mostly, students are not directly aware of the editing process, they simply experience much more fluid and cohesive lectures and more polished videos, saving them time and frustration, helping all my effort in the class work to be as conducive to learning as possible.

Indeed, in all my online efforts, both in preparing videos and in live conversations, this computer has significantly added both quality and ease of use.

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online teaching toolkit part 1

It’s official. Fuller Seminary is joining may other institutions of higher learning in moving all courses to an online modality for the Spring. While we have long had many dedicated online courses, shifting classroom courses to online offers some new challenges. Because there is not enough time to maximize the online format, students and teachers may feel both constraint and irritation in this emergency transition.

Over the last few years of transitioning to mostly classroom to now fully online, I’ve gathered some helpful tools to make the process as smooth as possible.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the hardware accessories I’ve gathered that makes sure that my online presence is strong.

While software and online pedagogy are essential elements to master, these also take a lot of time to learn, time many people don’t have.  With the help of assorted grants from Fuller’s Teaching and Learning department, as well as other handy avenues (like Amazon Vine), and the occasional out of pocket purchase, I am really content with my set up.

First, I realized I needed a dedicated webcam and microphone.  A few years ago I got the Logitech C930e It has a really clear picture and otherwise has been very consistent. I’ve used built in webcams and cheaper ones, always with some frustrations, but this one has never disappointed.

I mainly use it with my desktop (which I’ll talk about more below) but it easily transitions to my laptop too.  For online teaching, having a clear, consistent video is essential, and the nicer quality ones do much better in adjusting for different light or other situations.

While that has a built in microphone, it’s not necessarily great for broad goals, and since I do a lot of video lectures, not just live discussions, I invested in a Blu Yeti Microphone.

While there are certainly higher quality microphones out there (as well as higher quality video cameras) the Logitech webcam and Blu Yeti are high quality while also being extremely user friendly.

I’m not a video or audio tech. I just need things to work and these two are plug and play USB tools.  They just take the place of the built in tools without additional fiddling.  They’re definitely good enough for my needs for both live videoconferencing and recording, allowing me to do both with very short prep.

While, these two really are the most important accessories, I’ve also learned more about the importance of good lighting and on-the-fly control of resources. For these tasks, I’ve really appreciated the Elgato line of products.

They’re not necessarily cheap, but if you’re doing online teaching and office-based video work, it is worth the investment. Again, my goal is combining the highest quality with the most simple setup and use.

For lighting I now have a Elgato Key Light Air, which isn’t anything near the cheapest option, but has the benefit of maximizing control without having to move around.  Combined with an Elgato Stream Deck I have the ability to control my full lighting color and intensity with just a button next to my keyboard.

Before I got the Key Light Air, I used a much more basic setup with a couple of cheap clamp lights. The bulbs should be more “daylight” in temperature and bright. Having both cuts down on shadows.

The stream deck is highly customizable for all sorts of other purposes, so I can have it set up to easily call up any kind of resource I need with just the touch of a button, so I don’t have to fiddle around with folder or finding programs or such. Very smooth.  For video recording it also works seamlessly in controlling scenes and resources within OBS (a free, very highly regarded streaming and recording program).

While not at all essential for live teaching, for my video and streaming efforts I got an Elgato Green Screen.  My home office is also our guest room, and has a lot of other purposes, and isn’t nearly ever as clean as I’d want to present to the world, and a green screen offers a nice way to provide unique backgrounds.

And, again, the Elgato isn’t anywhere near the cheapest (a green sheet will do in a pinch), it’s absolutely easiest to work with.  It sets up and folds down in an instant, so I can pull it out when I need it and hide it away when I don’t. That makes all the difference for me actually using it regularly.

Good headphones aren’t as essential, but I’ve found having a set of bluetooth earbuds really helpful. They’re not as obtrusive as regular headphones in both wiring or appearance.  These can come relatively cheap or relatively expensive. I don’t think the more expensive ones are necessary, but do definitely offer better sound (and microphone) as well as better connection and battery life.

I also have two monitors, which I think is the minimum essential for online teaching/conferencing.  One to have the display and one to hold any side information or relevant documents/sites/etc. Or to cue up for sharing online.  My main monitor is 32″ (a nice Amazon Vine catch) and offers a lot of screen space for multiple windows.

That’s the accessories.  Now to talk about my actual PC. But this post is getting pretty long, so I’m going to make that a separate one entirely. And I’m thinking about a post about navigating online teaching. So, let’s call this part 1 of 3 of my short series on transitioning to and succeeding in online teaching.

 

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Oppressors among Us

We’ve all had to deal with “that” person.

You know, the times we need to get something done quickly and find out how what seemed straightforward is anything but. Sometimes there’s understandable reasons, life offers up a lot of complications in unexpected directions.  It’s frustrating, but it’s not usually infuriating.

It’s the times where we need to get things done, or see a path of opportunity in front of us, when “that” person steps in to make difficult what should have been easy.

It doesn’t take long to think of “that” person in your life.  We all have specific people come to mind, and even if we don’t know their name because they’re just a cog in an established system, we know they exist and they’re adding to our problems.

Sometimes they have good reasons, and we need to slow down or step back from our course of actions.

Often, however, they’re slowing or stopping us because it gets in the way of their goals, or their progress, or even more frustrating, their whims.  They get in the way just because they can. Their whim is more powerful than our need.

You can use all sorts of titles or names for these kind of people.  Sometime “boss,” or “clerk,” or “administrator,” or “teacher,” or “guy in the blue car driving 58mph next to the other guy driving 59mph on an otherwise very free-flowing 2 lane highway.”


We can, and often do, use other names, the kind that I probably shouldn’t write out here if I want to keep this blog open for google searching and save me from getting a concerned email from my mom.

My term for these kinds of people, the very focus of my project, is “oppressor.”

I know, I know, that word immediately raises all kinds of flags. Or, maybe more devastating for my project, causes people’s eyes to glaze over. “Oppressor” is often, after all, included in conversations that are filled with a whole lot of other poli-social analyses that sure seem to use a crazy amount of words without really saying anything immediately helpful.

The trouble, and this is definitely some trouble I’ve gotten myself into, is that it’s so easy to just assume a definition and then keep driving farther and farther without realizing that most everyone has been left behind.  Which is, I’ve realized in a moment of Amy-induced clarity, an act of oppressing itself.

Talking about oppressors can be an expression of being an oppressor?! Even my brain hurts at how easily knotted these discussions can get, and never leave me as simply an objective observer of “that” person  over there. Who can save us from this body of verbiage?!

I use the term “oppressor” even still in order to tap into a wide and longstanding discussion.  Not just an academic one, either. 

In Psalm 72, we read: “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.

 

The subject of oppression, oppressed and oppressors, is throughout the Bible.  It’s something we pay attention to because of our experiences, and something God pays attention to because of his experiences with us.  Not just pays attention to the oppressed, offering salvation, also paying attention to those who oppress, offering salvation sure, but also judgment.

“Don’t be an oppressor” is a really good rule if you want to stay on the right side of God.

I can’t hear or see you right now, but I’ll guess that I’m getting an Amen from that last sentence, or at least a nod in agreement, because again, we all know “that” person or “those” people who seem to always get in the way, causing difficulty, crushing imagination and prospects, and otherwise making life more difficult.

The trouble is, and I admitted it already myself, is it’s not always about “that” person or “those” people who fill out the parts of oppressors in society, standing against the way of truth, justice, and the… right way life should be experienced by all.

The trouble is that every time I got to honing the definition of oppressor, it kept including me in the list. Not because of a certain category I’m in, though there may be elements of that, but because of what I am.

Hi, I’m Patrick. I’m a human being.

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard highlights the fact that we’re all trying to be kings of our little kingdoms. As he puts it, “Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will. Whatever we genuinely have say over is in our kingdom.”It’s definitely true that some people have larger (and even literal) kingdoms than others.  But no matter our status in life, we all have wills and areas within range of our wills that we try to protect.

But, of course, we have reasons why our oppressing is acceptable. Or do we?

We definitely all have reasons why we tend to indulge in oppressing. And like the notion of kingdoms, some people have much larger zones of oppressing than others.

It’s not a binary, either one is or one isn’t, it’s a reality of human life, more specifically what we in Christian theology call human sin.

That’s why it’s an issue in the Bible, because humanity has a tendency to make things harder than they need to be for others, for God, for ourselves, all while justifying our actions based on some kind of rationalized criteria.

My wrestling with the very term “oppressor” for the book has never really stopped. I’m continuing to see how it takes shape in this world, in the usual ways we might identify, and also in my contexts, and even (more vulnerably) in my own actions.

Here’s the quick definition I came up with:

An oppressor is someone who has freedom to make choices and uses their freedom to negate others.

That’s a loose definition, and one that needs a lot more discussion to really sort out, since there’s reasons why we might negate others that are good (stopping oppressing, for instance) or ways in which seemingly “freeing” behavior is really more negating or diminishing their personhood (getting someone hooked on drugs, for instance).

More frustratingly, and pervasive, is how oppressing gets hidden beneath what seems to be socially acceptable patterns.  Here’s where bureaucracy or “processes” can become the dwelling place of oppressors.

I think here of someone like Pilate in the New Testament. He wasn’t necessarily the villain, taking a direct stand against Jesus. He even seemed to like Jesus, or at least didn’t really care to punish him.

But he pursued a course of actions that was justified by application of the law and the process. He washed his hands of it, thinking that he wasn’t responsible.

Of course he was. As anyone knows, direct oppressing isn’t nearly as common as the rationalized excuse “I’m just following orders” or “I’m just following the process.”

In this, the oppressing is excused by making oneself and others assume that this is how things have to be, this is how things are done. It’s just business. It’s just the cards life has dealt us. It’s a way of asserting power, actually oppressing, while removing a sense of guilt and responsibility.

This happens everyone, but most frustratingly in the places that otherwise seem to speak of freeing or benefits for others, in government yeah, but also in churches, and (as I know so well) academia, where power structures develop that actively undermine the stated goals, pursue oppressing through asserted power and control, and then offer “solutions” to the very problems they have been perpetuating.

Oppressors love to come across as benefactors.  Meanwhile, they’re not actually committed to freedom but are locked in the patterns of an oppressing system, finding their identity, value, even future in their success within this system.

Meanwhile, Jesus–who is God–did not see his authority something to be taken advantage of but sacrificed himself for the sake of others.

And that leads to what is even a more driving definition for me as I keep thinking about who is an oppressor.

Jesus invited everyone to peace, and took on the burden of this peace himself, bearing the weight and lifting the weight from others so they can experience peace.

Oppressors seek peace for themselves, and make others around them bear the weight of keeping such peace. They have privilege and maintain this privilege by causing others to bear the penalties of their decisions and actions.

Who indeed will save us from all this? Can we even speak of hope to such people as this? To such people like me who is tempted every day to let go the way of peace for all and just try to grab whatever privilege I can for myself?

I speak of this hope because I need it. I wrote about this hope because I realized that the Bible, indeed the message of God to this world, is that the oppressed need hope and the oppressors likewise need hope, because both experiences are that of death not life.

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The Spirit’s work of diversity

Read Isaiah 61; Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:27

While I was in seminary and a little while after, I was working as a young adults pastor, with added responsibilities in teaching Christian education classes. I also helped with special events, like organizing a walk-through, multimedia stations of the cross.

I loved working with the people and helping them discover their own callings in Christ, growing in my own walk with God and understanding of my gifts and passions as the same time.  Yet, there was a lot of dysfunction in the higher leadership.

The church had started as a very dynamic youth and single oriented congregation, becoming older and more family oriented.  Along the way, it had lost its founding pastor and his replacement had a lot of passion for God, but did not have theological education and had a lot of other personal issues.

A new group of people surrounded him, talking about his role as a visionary leader, the one who gave vision to the church and who was anointed by God to shape the church.

He took this to heart and began to make changes that alienated a great many long-involved participants, dismissing concerns and making sweeping changes to the ministry structure.  He burned out after a while, and other staff pastors stepped up in leadership, but the change was set.

A highly participatory church had morphed into a staff-driven structure and passive congregation. I had vague ideas about what was happening, but couldn’t find the right words or the right path.

I was on my way to burning out in the midst of the politics and dysfunction, so stepped away from ministry to pray, to study, to consider what God was doing in my life and my calling.

A couple years later I realized it really was an issue of pneumatology, which is the theological term for thinking about the Holy Spirit.

All the while at that church, there was a lot of discussion about the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts and encourages participation, but the pathways for involvement were increasingly narrowed.

There was a passion for God, but a lack of recognition of how God works through the Holy Spirit and how to provide space for this work while maintaining a consistent unity and commitment to the mission of God in the community.

That last statement can sum up a great deal of church history.  Almost all of our theology and church organization comes out of arguments, controversies, concerns that arise when a group of people get together to express their own sense of Christ’s revelation to us and call for us.

People, you may have noticed, have some very different ideas about what we should do when we gather together, how we should act in society, what we should believe about who Jesus is and what he’s up to.

It’s often much easier to set firm boundaries and rigid rules, to organize a community according to a set pattern and have clearly defined roles in this community.  Unity through conformity.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t work through conformity, the Spirit works through diversity:  different parts, different roles, different gifts, different passions, different critiques.

Unity in diversity is the model of the Spirit, but for this diversity to become music rather than a cacophony, a dance rather than a crowd, it’s important to understand the ways the Spirit moves in this world, for this world, in us, for us, through us.

That was the revelation that helped me find a way back to a love for the church.  It was the topic of my first book and a continuing topic of focus for me in both study and ministry.

How does the Spirit work? How do we bring together a group of people who have very different responses to this work and find a way of joining together in the mission of God in our contexts?  Who will save us indeed from the body of death that is expressed in alienation and division?

That is the topic of this week, considering the work of the Holy Spirit, a very practical topic while also being one that encourages deep reflection.  How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your life? What are your gifts? How would you describe your calling?

Think also about your blindspots, areas where you are weak or areas where you are so strong it is easy to bulldoze others.  Do you have people in your life who have very different gifts and callings?  How is the work of the Spirit expressed in your life and in your community? Is there a thriving diversity or more of a constrictive conformity?

What is the theology of the Spirit that is being expressed? If you had to reverse engineer your community’s pneumatology, what would you get?

The Spirit we read about in Scripture is the same Spirit working among us now, the Spirit who was with Jesus in his ministry is the Spirit working in the people who make up the Church.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Thus, we are “to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” a peace that celebrates the diversity of God’s work, a unity formed by God, which we have been invited into.

Let us consider this unity as we ponder the many facets of the work of the Spirit.

Let us be people who point to a fullness of life, speaking into the lives of others as we celebrated God’s work in them, shaping and learning, making space and adding creativity, dancing with others to the music of God’s eternal symphony.

Each week in my class on the Holy Spirit, I add a more pastoral reflection to the usual theological content. This was the one for the current week 7.

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Fruit and Feelings

Read: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Jeremiah 20:7-18; Acts 16:11-34; Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in college, I experienced a roller coaster in my relationship with God.  I went to a Christian school in the Chicago area because I felt God leading me there. And God had plans for me while there but they didn’t seem to fit into the expected college experience.

It was a place of training and training often involves breaking.  Which came. Harshly.

Before that there was an awakening.  Moments and days in which I felt my heart and mind and whole being opening up in a new vision of God’s work, a deep awareness of God’s presence, an assurance of God’s being.

There were moments of theophany, of discovering a deep truth behind the apparent truths, a perception of complete coherence. I didn’t have words for these experiences even as I knew they were real.

I felt my very being stretch and expand, feeling at times both loosely connected to this world and utterly embedded, a part of God’s creation.

Then a turn.

Everything crumbled, the light went from on to off, the presence of God departed.  At least that’s how it felt. A turn to loneliness deepened by even the absence of God’s encouragement and hope. I felt destitute. Empty.  Prayers extending into shadows and emptiness.  Feeling lost in my faith, my being, my hope.

Carried on by that earlier divine presence. There’s something there. I knew it. But could not see it or feel it.  All was dark.

I refused to let go, even in the pain and frustration.  I read more, sought answers, asked for counsel.  Reading helped but only to show that my experience was not unique. It was a common experience through Scripture, throughout the stories of women and men in history.

They were close to God and then they encountered a wide ditch of God’s absence. No way forward. No way back.

I knew the facts about God, the story about God’s work in Scripture and history, the doctrines of faith.  But where was the life?  I missed it but knew there was something there.  I pressed on, not giving up, not running away.

A path was there but it was surrounded by dangers and thorns and troubles.  Encouragement came in fleeting glimpses, the fifth door on the left slightly ajar. Just enough sense of joy to become bread crumbs of discovery, a persistent discouragement at every other turn to prevent me from walking down distracting roads.

God kept me on the path, but did so by a dynamic interaction that led me through ups and downs, through college, into seminary, at churches, in the mountains, back for more study and then teaching.

The ups and downs were not required by God, but were my experiences of being buffeted in too many directions, competing narratives and goals pulling me left and right, out and in, up and down, rather than steady in my faith and patient in the journey.

My heart variously strangely warm and strangely cold, a roller coaster turning into a refined palate, increasingly able to attune myself in God’s grace, centering in Christ, navigating in the whispers and moves of the Spirit.

Such dynamic experiences tend to resist intellectual analysis, resulting in those groans and utterances of tongues or music, trying to express that which is indeterminate at first, then indescribable.

Trying to find the words leads deeper down the path. I discovered and was given words not so that I can manage God but so that I can come alongside, able to be a voice of comfort, hope, counsel, a heart transformed by the Spirit better able to participate with the Spirit in my context.

The presence of God is indeed more than a validation for us. The Spirit calls us and is shaping the whole of our being to be renewed in light of God’s life and mission.

Becoming attuned to this mission reaches into the deepest parts of ourselves, places we are most vulnerable and broken, places we may also be the most strong and full of meaning. Our spirit in the presence of God’s Spirit.

What are your desires on this day? What is your mood? What are your passions and hopes and fears?  Lay these out, call them by name, seek wisdom about what is oriented in God and what needs redirection towards God. Let the Spirit comfort, let the Spirit transform.  It is not easy, often difficult, though sometimes it is wonderful.

The promise of this journey is peace and stillness, even in troubles, hope in times of mystery, rest in times of comfort.  When our desires and emotions match the mission of God in the moment we begin to dance, no longer tossed and torn by the storms. We become effective in the moment, in the place, in the purpose.  At the end of all things, still standing (Eph. 6:13).

Each week in my class on the Holy Spirit, I add a more pastoral reflection to the usual theological content. This was the one for the current week 4.

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