Watching, Waiting, Woes: Habakkuk 2

It might be hard to believe or receive, but one could make the case that prayer is the most effective gift given to humanity to bring about change. Some would rather attribute change to talent, charisma, and strong work ethic, but more often than not, it is the prayers of those in right standing with God, coupled with obedience to what is shared in the time of intimate conversation (prayer) that make lasting and loving change.

Yet the world is changing. Public opinion over all sorts of issues and sins are sliding. Loud voices are clamoring, some for true justice, some so steeped in darkness that they are completely blinded to right and wrong. Things also seemed to change without prayer.

Yet prayer serves to keep us aligned with the heart of God on what is right and what is wrong.

And here in Habakkuk chapter 2, Habakkuk volunteers his services to stand as a watchman. He volunteers to see injustice, pray and wait:

I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1

And summarized in the rest of Habakkuk 2, this is what the Lord says regarding what Habakkuk sees.

Woe 1: to the one who collects what does not belong to him (predatory loans, stealing, drug dealing, tax shelters, money laundering)

Woe 2: to the one who dishonestly gains wealth (slavery, exploitation, harsh labor)

Woe 3: to the one who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice (pillaging, hurting your neighbor)

Woe 4: to the one who drugs another for lust and sex (porn industry, sex trafficking, rape, sexual assault)

Woe 5: to the one who trusts in idols (nationalism, the proud and selfish)

All of the consequences coming to those who participate in injustice without repentance will contain destruction.

Lest He be accused, these consequences are no darker than the acts that precipitated them. In fact the consequences are lighter. God bringing low things that were built upon another’s suffering are meant to be brought down, and God Himself patiently waits for those to turn from their wickedness in order to potentially make restitution.

Restitution, a word that should become synonomous with Christianity. It perhaps is what is required of us in order to be genuinely repentant. It is what might be spoken to our heart and soul when we listen, after we ask for forgiveness. But is often neglected in order to maintain what has made us comfortable or so one might keep what they stole.

As Christians we need to move further in maturity, to not only be absolved of our guilt and sin and shame but move on to restoring that which was never ours to have.

And to be more than okay with any potential inconvenience.

To say it another way if I can quote Blink 182, after the watching, the waiting and the commiserating comes partnership with God in restoration.

A Safe Place for Anger: Habakkuk 1

How long, Lord, must I call for help

and you do not listen

or cry out to you about violence

and you do not save?

Why do you force me to look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Oppression and violence are right in front of me.

Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates,

This is why the law is ineffective

and justice never emerges.

For the wicked restrict the righteousl

therefore, justice comes out perverted.

Habukkuk 1:2-4

If we look long enough at the way the world systems operate among the powerful, wealthy, and oppressive, something within our hearts and minds is bent towards crying out for justice.

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And so long as our hearts don’t grow weary or indifferent or apathetic, we too are bound to ask questions like the ones above in Scripture.

In the times we live, we are overexposed to everything and while that has made us more aware or woke, I fear we at times become too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of injustice, propaganda and bias that is constantly being spewed.

I need not list all the evils we are watching the world endure and some of us experience. Part of the reason I won’t list them is many of these evils are talked about as good, and good things are considered evil.

But there is one question that sticks out when flipped back on me for how it reveals the cause for my anger:

“Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”

So much of the things I get angry and rage about are over my own wrongdoing, my own inability to be perfect as the Father is perfect. I look at my immature faith, my darkened desires, my atrophying empathy and find it comes as no surprise as to why I begin to get angry with usually myself over circumstance.

I pray I not be desensitized to the reality and damage of my sin, yet I pray I receive cleansing and rejuvenation to take up the cause of the oppressed and be reminded of Jesus’ encouragement to forgive and seek healing.

This I believe, or at least hope happens in congruence with our expressions of anger. The emotion is not the sin, anger over circumstance or injustice is not the problem, even sharing your anger with someone is not a sin, it is what you’re anger brings you to do that can damage: the hurful words we can utter towards or about someone, the profanity we can utter to try to bolster our thickness in spite of our sheepish woundedness, the violence we can succumb to. We become deceived into thinking our only option is to become what we see: violent, perverted, despising, accusing, lustful.

Yet, what the Spirit makes available to us, in crying out to God is to then become impassioned with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. We become faithful, peaceably so, so when the nations themselves rage, we can be steafastly confident that the Lord hears us and will answer.

One last quick story: I was crying out to God (profanity included) while driving to work a few weeks ago and in the midst I heard the stilling voice of the Spirit speak: “I can handle your anger and am willing to be your shelter and refuge.” God is not afraid of our anger so long as God has us.

Last Call: On Grief and Time

              When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.

                But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.

                Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.

                Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart. 

                Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling.  Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.

                Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.

                Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.

                And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness. lastcall-1030x576

                Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg,  not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.

                And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?  

                When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.

What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.

The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us. a

Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.

Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.

Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue. 

This is Our Vapor

Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.

As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.

Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.

But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.

I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.

I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.

When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.

Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.

fire chile geyser andes landform water vapor geothermal energy geographical feature geological phenomenon volcanic landform

James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.

We were vapors worth sacrificing for.

We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.

And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.

We condensed because Jesus condescended.

We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.

I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.

It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.

That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,

Like a baptism,

Like this is a part of life.

Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wealthy Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy…”

I believe you can tell how rich and deep someone’s faith is by how generous they are with mercy. I believe this because according to God’s sense of justice, people deserve harsh consequences for their wrongs, yet God is slow to deal judgment. In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul lays out what God’s rich mercy has meant for us. Destined for death as subjects of God’s wrath, we obtain a wealth of mercy, so we would experience the glory of relationship with God the Father.

Mercy pays a debt.

Mercy endures your wrong and the pain it caused, and instead of delegating the punishment we deserve to us, it says, “I’m withholding what you deserve in this moment because I desire to keep what we had prior to your wrong.”

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I also believe for me and for many, mercy is harder to understand than grace. We associate grace as a gift for the helpless. With grace we are given something we have not earned. With mercy we exercise supreme self-control to not give someone what they have earned. A person has earned my anger even my extrication, yet I choose to process my pain, surrender it to Jesus, and offer consistent love in return.

While mercy is a gift, it is not a given or a guarantee, but Jesus compels us to store up a treasure of mercy guarded by thick skin while maintaining tenderness of heart. Mercy while giving the appearance of being trampled on is displayed by the one who has not been conquered or consumed by someone else’s hurt. It requires a resolve of strength and transparency that is soaked in a peace that can only come from the Word and breath of God.

Mercy is costly.

And often we don’t know the price tag the person who delegates it has paid. And sometimes we take for granted how much it is worth when we fail to see the value in the one offering it. Humanity does this in abundance with the common mercy that God maintains in patience with a fallen world.

Mercy absorbs rejection.

Yet mercy also abhors rejection because to reject mercy is to choose suffering. I am presented with an option in relation to God the Father and the other. I choose to receive a freely given mercy or I choose to stew in the suffering of my own sin. This second option is not viable, it is not reliable.

Mercy is my only hope.

I don’t know if you can say mercy is your only hope, but I am willing to bet it is whether you are aware or not. My only view of survival let alone thriving or revival is through mercy. I need a mercy that triumphs over judgment because my pronouncement over my actions is to abandon self. But God so rich in mercy…

Mercy is free for the one willing to receive it

The only way to be liberal with mercy is for either God or you or someone else to pay the cost.

Who will you let pay that cost?

Feargiveness

Sorry for cursing in my last entry. I’m not much of a verbal curser. I probably curse 10 times a year. I had a swear jar at work when I worked in construction where I put a quarter in every time I cursed or every time someone thought they heard me curse. There were six quarters in it over the course of close to two years, two of those quarters because I accidentally said curse words in Portuguese. I don’t curse because I love words too much. I don’t want to waste them. When I do curse, I am confident God will forgive me and hope I don’t take forgiveness for granted.

With that said, let me tell you about the hell of a night I had.

Chaplaincy can be utterly terrifying. After working a normal 8-hour day of visiting patients and family, I responded to two calls that occupied my time from 6:45pm-midnight.dvinfernohomerclassicpoets_m

The first call, a patient was dying, 20-25 family members gathered in the ICU.  I prayed with the patient and most of the family before they removed his breathing tube, then after he passed away I prayed for the family. The two minutes I walked away from the room was when he died. I walked up moments after feeling goose bumps from the changed air of one less person present. Death is still surreal to me.

There was a part of me that wanted to be in the room when it happened, but someone dying also feels kind of like an intimate moment. Afterwards I stood around, got ice waters for family, tried to remain available and then 45 minutes later, I left.

I got a call from the switch board operators to visit another patient who was not dying but wanted to see a chaplain at the other hospital (the one I sleep at). I drove back, stopped at Taco Bell (where else? I had a coupon I had to use). And arrived on the patient’s floor at 10 pm.

And I walked into darkness. You’d think being in a situation where there is death is dark, but what’s darker than bodily death is walking into a room that smells of cigarette smoke body odor from someone who is somewhere between alcohol withdrawals and dehydration. main-qimg-d00c0f2057a768e32f242967ccfed9a8-c.jpg

He also took an hour and a half to tell me his life story in third person, which consisted of getting saved, going to prison, solitary confinement, being a bouncer for a strip club, getting married five times, having 7 sons from different wives, persistent substance abuse, witnessing a church bus driver molest a 9 year-old girl, paying for his son to have a failed threesome on his birthday, 18 consecutive seizures, renouncing Jesus and probably something else I missed. (He gave me permission to share his story, but part of me wishes I never heard it)

We prayed, he worshipped Jesus for 6 minutes or so while I sat and thought about how nice it would be to go to sleep in a world where shit like this didn’t exist (also I literally just wanted to go to sleep). Instead of sleeping I wrote about it at 1 am trying to find God in it.

Instead, or perhaps in showing Himself to me I have this Scripture from Psalm 130:3-4 making rounds in my head:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I’ll be honest, after hearing the guys story I kind of felt like this guy doesn’t deserve salvation. I then reflected on my own life and realized I also don’t deserve salvation.

But one terrifying attribute of God is the depth and length of forgiveness Jesus Christ offers us. Most of us aren’t even fully aware of the depths of our sin. For some us, the surface sins are enough to overwhelm us.

Forgiveness terrifies me because if God is real and is as holy and good as He says He is, the psalmist of #130 is right, if God kept a tally of how much mine and your actions suck, we wouldn’t be able to stand. If I kept a tally of how much the actions of some people I would like to call friends suck, I would cut them off completely.

Instead of fearing the implications of forgiveness, we are tempted become users. I let myself be so used by some people. But, so does God in ever greater quantity and in darker depths of quality. God ascribes purpose to the blood of his Son. That costly blood cleanses our guilt, our conscience only for us to likely use again, to accidentally attempt to re-crucify.

Okay maybe you don’t, but I do. And yet I have tried to make it my job to minister forgiveness to people in the midst of their filthy, shit-stained, sulfur-scented dump heap of a life as they drain oxygen from this fallen world.

Yet in that darkness, in that pit Jesus promises to reach in and love us with a light that is simultaneously as bright as the day and as subtle as the flicker of a single firefly in a field at night.

During the minutes in which this patient of mine uttered the words, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you for your presence again,” on repeat; I sat there tired, numb, wondering what I am also most afraid of.

Atypical and the Typical

I’m watching this Netflix show Atypical. It’s on its 2nd season and it’s about a teenage boy with autism trying to figure out love and life while navigating his parents failing marriage. Every episode is sad but good. I imagine there are a dozen of shows like it but my friend Victor who is clinical therapist, college professor and an awesome person got me hooked on it.

IMG-0286I like it because it feels raw which isn’t the most helpful thing for me because life itself is as raw as can be right now. I’m around people who are dying, getting terrible news, and asking me questions about why they are suffering and why the world is the way it is. I twiddle my thumbs, listen, pray, basically do anything to avoid giving an answer that they likely wouldn’t remember 15 minutes after I leave the room.

But I do find that people do want me, more specifically a person, to hear them while they are in the hospital. They want a person who will petition God for them in calm sincerity.

Wouldn’t any of us want that? Don’t we though? I wanted that this morning in church because I hurt, and God sent a young man to pray for me, gently, calmly, letting me know he heard me. It made things better.

Made things better than what? I’ve been here only a month, how bad could it be? It’s not bad.

I’ve found this place to be familiar and difficult to adjust to. It’s hard to have the energy to connect when I spend most of my weekdays literally sitting and talking to people at their most vulnerable. I need to join a sports league. I need routine. I also need to relearn myself.

That is why they train you to be a chaplain. After spending two weeks talking to people and hearing their fears and desire for reconciliation and questions for God, you, unless you’re very numb or rather, I who is very not, find that I have a responsibility in the time I am not at work to be very careful to make sure I am well.atypical

I have found that: You become more self-aware and your feelings are heightened. You find that “alone-ness” is more palpable when your house is empty and quiet and lacks touch. You find when your sick even if its only for a day  that you are anxious about what you would do if it was more. You find that rejection from the opposite sex feels the same in a new place as it does in an old place.  But you also find out what you like. You find out you like being in the ocean on a body board for a little bit as often as possible. You find that you actually like movie theatres a lot. You find that any communication from friends is worth gold to you. You find reading and writing are so intricately apart of you that if feels like you’re dying if you’re not doing it.

So that was a long paragraph.

But I only have one more thing to write. Things aren’t bad at all actually. Things just are and sometimes we get bad news or news we didn’t want. We might find out time is running out on us, but God holds us in the time we have.

And while I hope I have a lot more of time, and I hope it still holds hope and love and family, I am called to remain faithful to Christ in today. This call to faithfulness I am finding is both typical and atypical.

 

 

Checking Carry On’s And Carrying Who You’re Checking On

I’ve got this working theory that if you carry people with you, instead of focusing on the burdens they ask you to carry, what we bear feels lighter. We are able to carry that which we love better than the weight itself.

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We bear people while throwing off weights and sins that entangle us. Additionally, when we trample that wrong under us we begin walking freer. There is this resolve in the Christian, let’s call it perhaps what it is, the Spirit of God, that is intolerant of our wrongs. Hear me though, God wants to forgive these wrongs, but God does not want us to live with them, to dwell in them or embrace them as a part of ourselves.

If God was our airplane,  He more than happily wants us to enjoy the ride and take us to our destination, but there are certain things he doesn’t want on the plane because they aren’t good for you or anybody else. This doesn’t seem unreasonable, it seems like something a responsible Father would set in place.

Yet in another sense it can’t be helped. An encounter with unconditional love initiates incomparable change. The movement of God through Jesus Christ inaugurated a Kingdom that holds its subjects accountable, holds the children of God in His hands. God is one who carries and searches our hearts and minds not because He is creepy. Rather He is intimately interested in our well-being, far more than any principality, government or person.

God checks on, carries us, and keeps us and that reality becomes all too apparent when we choose to abide in Him. As we continue our movement toward God, we become captive to the tactics that transform us.

But lest I sound foolish and suggest this all happens without difficulty, let me just remind us of the difficulty of travel and sojourning when we pack our bags and go, let me remind us of the difficulty when others or ourselves refuse to let go of weight and stay entangled. This happens too frequently and we are left to choose what to check on and what to carry.

That decision we submit to Christ so He might give us the grace to keep going.