Palm Sunday: A Prayer

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“Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem” by He Qi

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Fifth Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Missional Wisdom from the Tree Firmly Planted: Day 30 of Lent

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

When I was 20 I went to Kenya to visit my sister and her family for about a month. It was my first international traveling experience, which I will never forget. Sights, sounds, and smells filled my senses and altered my imagination in profound ways. Acts of hospitality, the deep sense of community, and the ambivalence towards a utilitarian use of time all ensured that the white, middle-class suburban, college kid I was didn’t go home the same person.

One of the terms I kept on hearing while there was “mzungu.” Everyone I met repeated that term when I came into view. My immediate assumption was that it meant “white person.” I was correct in a sense; “white person” is its connotation.

However, what it really means is one who is always on the move, always wanting to see everything. There is a sense of constant swirling. It stems from the original Europeans entering Africa and “busily swirling around”. It is definitely a loaded word.

In many ways it still holds true today.

One thing I have learned over the past several years is the allegiance to the myth of productivity. We in the West, due primarily to the Industrial Revolution and technological boom of the past 100 years or so, are addicted to being busy in ever-increasing ways. Email, social media, and instant means of “checking in” have allowed us to take our offices with us in our pockets. People are literally working themselves to death in efforts to prove their productivity levels and the evidence of self-worth that comes along with them. It doesn’t take much to show this. Seeing the human as a machine has morphed from a metaphor into an identity.

Buying into the myth of constant productivity is a result of our seeking after growth and results. We think that if we are always busy, things will grow. Our businesses will grow, our intellects will expand, and our bottom lines will be blacker. Results will flourish based on how often and how long our noses are against the grindstone. “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil” quipped Carl Jung.

I wonder how much of our result-driven busyness comes out of our formulaic attempts at growth. If we implement this guru’s wisdom here, align this methodology there, add enough pressure, and we’ll succeed. A + B = C. When this doesn’t pan out, we often give up or think we are not busy enough with the correct solutions to the problem.

The same postures and practices are found within the Church, the very community in which fruitfulness and growth cannot be coerced.

Perhaps it is from our fervent evangelistic outreaches. Perhaps it is our pursuits of justice. Whether we’re a megachurch or a church that fits in a living room, in many ways, we tend to fall into the trap of thinking fruit is always in season and that growth is always available. Again, we tend to bail out when produce is not easily seen.

If you are like me and the communities of faith I’ve been a part of, we tend to love the “whatever he does prospers” section of the above Psalm. We tend to think that we are infused with the power of God and as we do the things Christians do, we will find ourselves and our efforts bearing fruit.

Yet the natural world knows nothing of this. Seasons of produce give way to seasons of stagnation. Fruitfulness comes in harvest, yet is only possible after plowing, seeding, and waiting. Like the tree firmly planted, fruitfulness only comes in its season.

This reality is essential for those partnering with God in his missional movement of renewal. Despite our best efforts, we can formulate growth. We cannot read books, attend conferences, and listen to podcasts from “the experts” and expect growth to occur. Like the tree firmly planted, we are called to do just that: be firmly planted.

Staying put, working among others, and being present within the contexts we have been placed is the core of what it means to engage in mission. The supermarket mentality of fruit always being in season begins to fade into a farmers’ market reality of seasons as we remain rooted where we are. Constant swirling around and busyness will not bring about produce; it is the long, aching, persevering staying-put-ness that will. As we do this, we will see seasons of fruit come along with the seasons of plowing, seeding, and waiting. Discerning the different seasons is key. It will give us roots to see beyond the seemingly lack of fruit for the season of plowing we are in.

Seeing fruit comes to those who remain firmly planted waiting for its season.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Humility, Place, and The Everyday: Lessons in Mission From John the Baptizer: Day 7 of Lent

Lenten Reflection and Fasting According to Joan Chittister: Day 8 of Lent

Jean Vanier’s “Seven Aspects of Love”: Day 11 of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Suffering and Lent: Words from Joan Chittister: Day 14 of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Loneliness: Day 20 of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

If Lent Had a Theme Song…

The Difficult Place of Those Who Are Weaker – Jean Vanier: Day 27 of Lent

The Difficult Place of Those Who Are Weaker – Jean Vanier: Day 27 of Lent

These are some wise, wise words from Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche Communities. As one who has worked with the less-abled for quite some time now, his insights into community have been invaluable. I strongly believe the following: those with disabilities have become a hidden population within our society and the Church has followed suit. In many ways, we have assumed influence comes from education and personal enlightenment. We have built communities where the voices, lives, and beauty of those who are seen as weak or are less-abled get relegated to our ministry life, but not our communal life. You are fine as the one we reach out to, but not as the ones we hold on to. Many factors go into this, but overall, in my experience, this has rung true. Vanier seems to agree.

The following extended quote is from his book Becoming Human, one of the books I am currently reading during Lent. If you are at all interested in community and belonging, this is a must read.

Those who are weak have great difficulty finding their place in society. The image of the ideal human as powerful and capable disenfranchises the old, the sick, the less-abled. For me, society must, by definition, be inclusive of the needs and gifts of all its members; how can we lay claim to making an open and friendly society where human rights are respected and fostered when, by the values we teach and foster, we systematically exclude segments of our population?

I also believe that those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us. When we do include them, they add richly to our lives and add immensely to our world.

Our society is geared to growth, development, progress. Life, for most of us, is a race to be won. Families are about evolution: at a certain stage, children are encouraged to leave home, get married, have children of their own, move on in their lives. But people with disabilities have no such future. Once they have reached a certain level of development, they are no longer expected or encouraged to progress. There is no ‘promotion’ for the disabled and what forward movement there is seems frequently to be either erratic or cruelly sped up: many move quite quickly from childhood to adulthood without passing through a period of adolescence; others age quickly. Our society is not set up to cope very well with people who are weaker or slower. More important, we are not skilled at listening to the wisdom of those whose life patterns are outside of the social norm.

There is a lack of synchronicity between our society and people with disabilities. A society that honours only the powerful, the clever, and the winners necessarily belittles the weak. It is as if to say: to be human is to be powerful.

Those who see the heart only as a place of weakness will be fearful of their own hearts. For them, the heart is a place of pain and anguish, of chaos and of transitory emotions. So they reject those who live essentially by their hearts, who cannot develop the same intellectual and rational capacities of others. People with intellectual abilities are excluded; it was never intended that they be included as equal partners with the powerful, you and me…We human beings have a great facility for living illusions, for protecting our self-image with power, for justifying it all by thinking we are the favoured ones of God.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Humility, Place, and The Everyday: Lessons in Mission From John the Baptizer: Day 7 of Lent

Lenten Reflection and Fasting According to Joan Chittister: Day 8 of Lent

Jean Vanier’s “Seven Aspects of Love”: Day 11 of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Suffering and Lent: Words from Joan Chittister: Day 14 of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Loneliness: Day 20 of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

If Lent Had a Theme Song…

Jesus’ Wilderness Temptations and Place: Day 25 of Lent

With the onset of Lent, Jesus’ time in the wilderness (Luke 4) becomes the plumb-line for the rest of our Lenten journey. Not only does it begin Lent, but it sets the overall tone for its duration. Jesus’ fasting and subsequent temptations by the satan are paradigmatic in their example and nature. Much has been said concerning this time and Jesus’ responses to the satan. Much has been said regarding the recapitulation of Adam’s temptation and Israel’s wilderness stories.

However, there isn’t much said about how place comes into play.

So, today when I read this quote in Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (one of the books I’m reading during Lent), it struck a chord. It is from Frederick Bruner’s The Christbook: Matthew 1-12:

Notice that the devil leads Jesus higher and higher: first from the wilderness and its rocks to the top of the temple and now, explicitly, to ‘a very high mountain.’ The Holy Spirit led Jesus down – into the easily misunderstood baptism of John, and then down still further into the wilderness of temptation. The Holy Spirit’s way is not so much up into the fascinatingly great as it is down into the ordinarily mundane and into the way of the cross and of suffering.

I find this eye-opening due its exposure of the constant downward mobility found within God’s story. From the opening statements of Genesis through to the Gospel accounts of Jesus and then culminating in Revelation 21-22, we find that the movement of God within the plot of Scripture is predominantly downward in direction. God descends into the garden and asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”. Jesus takes on flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. The city of God comes through the clouds and settles on the earth. All of these moves demonstrate the connection between God’s realm (heaven) and humanity’s (earth) and how the Divine stoops down to invade our time and place.

Again and again we find this downward movement in pivotal plot moments giving us an overarching picture of the manner in which God presents his love towards us.

We find this true here in Jesus’ temptation account as we see place pulling back the curtain a bit. As a result, both posture and practice are informed and molded in incarnational, self-emptying ways. The road to intertwining heaven and earth will not be through a spectacular power play from above. No, it will be long route of embodying love from the bottom upwards within the commonplace of the everyday.

What do you think?

Have you noticed the subtleties of place within the context of God’s story? If so, how?

 

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Humility, Place, and The Everyday: Lessons in Mission From John the Baptizer: Day 7 of Lent

Lenten Reflection and Fasting According to Joan Chittister: Day 8 of Lent

Jean Vanier’s “Seven Aspects of Love”: Day 11 of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Suffering and Lent: Words from Joan Chittister: Day 14 of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Loneliness: Day 20 of Lent