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.

Mr. Rogers Cat Stevens and Bosco the Bear

“Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there”

Saw that Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers film yesterday. It was odd in good ways, nostalgic and started with forgiveness moving to generosity, then to kindness.

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I’m not a movie critic but the films pacing was patient. It was the first time in a long time or perhaps ever, when I thought throughout the movie, “that’s who I want to be.”

There was a particular scene where Mr. Rogers is on the phone with this guy Lloyd (who the movie is really about) and says, “This conversation is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”

And I was reminded of Jesus and how the practice of patience and presence is what perfects us. Letting patience have its perfect work in the midst of testing and trial leads us to love. Jesus found opportunity in the pain while putting up boundaries towards evil ideologies and that which would try to cast doubt on His identity.

A major problem, perhaps not new to humanity is: the world would have us tolerate attacks and lies about individual identity by allowing people to self-identify, while they stumble through trial and pain until they forget themselves rather than find the Creator. Mr. Rogers teaches us, collective identity (the neighborhood) always informs, even may heal individual identity.

The difficulty with identifying on our own or in reaction to our pain rather than to truth is the distortion of self and a further movement into the depths of brokenness, even darkness. That’s why any attempts to gender reassign or maintaining a loose sexual ethic does not breed liberty. People become less recognizable, self-doubt increases, as does anxiety, and it always effects more than the self.

This, I believe, is why Mr. Rogers places the focus on the feeling. He says the feeling is real and he refuses to demonize sadness or anger, even fear. while celebrating joy with the sober knowledge that the other core emotions desperately need expression in order to remain tender in solidarity with creation.

How those feelings/emotions are expressed is our opportunity to become generous with our time,  recognizing time is a currency that none of us can buy more of. We can’t work harder or become more efficient to procure more time than someone else. All we can do is be more mindful how we spend it, how we express emotion in relation to the other.

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.”

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Cat Stevens’ song “On the Road to Find Out,” is featured in the film and I loved Cat Stevens as a teenager. So much so that we had a stray runt of the litter cat that lived outside our house who I named Cat Stevens. He was 1 of 3 siblings but was the only one that would let us pet him and he had this tick where once you’d pet him, if you grabbed his tail as you pet him, he would immediately turn around and want to be pet again.

Cat Stevens, likely burnt by the music industry, perhaps burnt by the 60’s and 70’s and a bout with tuberculosis went on wild journey of self-discovery, landing in Islam. He is not American which seems important and might be the reason that his searching led him to obscurity rather than at a grasp for more popularity. That could likewise just be a socio-religious facet that also would separate Islam from Christian evangelicalism. Cat Stevens reminds me of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi in his lyrics that are usually spiritually searching, mixed with romantic hope, and familial reconciliation, all of which were within him, seemingly prior to his conversion.

Familial reconciliation with shimmers of romantic hope encompass the film as well, but spiritual searching is left on the outs, likely to keep it palatable for the masses. 

Trying to make a non-controversial film where kindness and forgiveness is celebrated while still being of substance and quality and touching on little to no religious themes seems almost impossible in the current climate, but I think it managed well enough.

Lastly, sticking with the cat theme, there is Daniel Tiger, the disheveled puppet turned kids cartoon that bore an essence or life of his own through Mr. Rogers hands. Habakkuk suggests the hands is where the power of God is, and I would suggest the things we hold and handle are the things we animate. It’s how we get babies and toddlers to eat vegetables, by fooling them into thinking they are swallowing an airplane as if they are Godzilla.

There is a scene where Mr. Rogers puts Daniel Tiger on his hand and talks to Lloyd in Fred’s apartment. It seems silly until you realize why. Sometimes facing your pain in the imaginary realm makes it feel safer to face in present. It might just give you the courage to face the real place or person that has hurt us. 

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I had/have a bear. I’ve written about him before, Bosco, married with a child, who I shared a bed with until high school. When I was 16 or so he lived in my closet because I needed to mature away from him, until I went to college and brought him with me there as well. My junior year he married and my senior year he had a child. I talked to Bosco, Bosco had a voice and he was the expression of my lost innocence. He was the stuffed animal given to me my first Christmas by my great aunt. He was given permission by my kindergarten teacher to be brought to class whenever I wanted after my parents were going through a divorce. He is who I talked to about my confusion and who I sought for rescue when I could not hear God answer my prayers.

I wept on him, wrestled with him; he was the safe place for my anger and sadness. He was who I clutched when I was afraid. Perhaps, the Old Testament would label him an idol, but I did not worship him though I was desperate to keep him, and couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him. I created his family, which was large. He was the oldest which meant he could keep all the others safe. 

If you did a case study of my relationship to this bear and my attachment to it, you could from our interactions trace pain and problems and could  likely rewrite a story that would have been much more picturesque if you just removed every occasion that would have led me back to this safety object.

Powerless, that bear, yet sometimes has felt safer than God. That bear is where I last left him and there have been times I have left him and had to rely on others to get me back to him. After college he came with me to my grandmother’s and then probably through the 10 moves season and even traveled to Charleston. Now he is at my brother’s in Chester. He hasn’t seen his family but once in probably 7 years.

Powerful that God, yet there is no better place than with Him, God has never left and there have been times I tried to leave Him and had to rely on others to get me back to Him. I hope to find more beautiful days to come with Him.

Holy Family Fullness

I’m running on 3 hours of sleep, I’m writing at the end of my work week, I’m recognizing  I am weak. I’m remembering the Body is strong. I’m resting in the hope that my eternity is secure. I’m relying on a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and the intercession of Jesus to keep us faithful to the end.

I had a wonderful night worshiping Jesus yesterday  with the family of God. I was reminded of the following passage in Mark 10:28-31

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (I weep here)

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one (<—- you’re not alone) who has left home (“safe” places) or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children (family) or fields (possessions and provisions) for me and the gospel (Jesus and the good news of His kingdom) will fail to receive a hundred times as much (more than we can imagine) in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions (I don’t need to put that part in parentheses because it should stand out)—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

I emphasize, perhaps my greatest joy is worshiping, singing, dancing before the Lord along with His people, people on mission together. I experienced so much  joy seeing them worship.

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I’ve had this experience several times this week: my mom shared a testimony with me about feeling led to encourage and pray for her coworker at the library; I’ve heard news from both my communities here and in Charleston on Thursday night and I have been offered an opportunity to teach a class in January on theology. It was a great week for me in that realm.

Yet, I’m losing track of the days and time: when I had certain conversations, losing track of promises, of how to obey the leading of the Spirit. I find my desires to be tired and malaise as I try to wait and hear for the now.

I read verse 28, Peter saying “We have left everything to follow you!”

There have been seasons of my life I’ve read Peter’s words and have shared his

earnestness. However, what I have missed and still will likely miss in the future is Jesus’ actual response. Jesus doesn’t so much affirms Peter’s earnestness which is heartfelt and sincere, as much as Jesus simply states, “Peter this is the lot of everyone who follows.” You twelve are no different than any sincere follower of Jesus. You all will be called to leave something.

And I here the Spirit ask me, “what aren’t you leaving  behind? Have you chosen “safety” again? What are you going back to that’s empty”

I’ve definitely run back to some familiar things, some are not helpful, even sinful and others are stagnant. None of them are filling. I hope to find mercy in the familiar but mercy is something that is new every morning. It’s like mana; mercy and grace comes fresh for the moment for the thing God telling us to do. And it must be fresh.

And the only way to maintain fullness is to eat and drink a new every day. And this is where I wander and stumble.

I cling so hard to the past, expecting the past to change or trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, relying on my history with Jesus rather than fighting for friendship in the present.

If I pretend like all of my past does not exist or when I try to remove the past from me, I stifle the opportunity for God to come through on His promise to make all things work together for good.

And stifling that promise for newness and fullness of life feels like death when you’ve put all your faith and hope in it.

When we, like Peter have left all to follow, we’ve agreed to surrender control, and I find myself often trying to refinance the terms.

I return to construction. I run from the Church when she wounds me. I wound the Church in my running. I lose myself in job security as I find the insecurity within myself alive and well. I am confronted with my selfish motives and rather than persevere for something worthwhile, I merely persist in my waking non-working hours questioning most everything. And in writing this I fear I victimize my reader. I’ve grown weary from writing about painful things. It’s a contradiction because the Kingdom I profess is coming is one in which pain passes away.

Once I’ve chosen the Kingdom and the family of God, I’ve made a choice to dine forever with God. The choice of dining or dying has been made and that means there is no longer room for fellowship with darkness.

I now must dine in the light and having  the Spirit of Christ in me means dark things, behaviors, and spirits have to make an exit. Yet, tares mingle among the wheat.

I’m still being sifted, as a child in my faith. And in it I am reminded how little if anything I contribute to this process. But one thing is certain I must habitually continually say yes to the process.

Family, to stay full at this table, we must dine daily even in the presence of enemies, as the psalm says. In the glory of the presence of God, a holy fullness will drive out the emptiness of darkness, hopelessness, and uncertainty. Faith is certain for the hopeful. May we stay full.

The Tender Year

I have now lived in Charleston, SC for a full year. I have approximately 3 weeks left of my residency. Several weeks ago, I was praying on the beach about my future, my next step in the next season. And it was such an uncertain time of prayer.

This time last year I knew what I was heading into and for how long, with a clear path ahead. It was the culmination of 7 months of waiting.

But this time, this year, I think back on 3 weeks ago and remember not having a clear direction and resolving to pray this, “No matter what happens I ask to be tenderhearted.” And there is a strong part of me that loves that I prayed that prayer.

I love that prayer because it is my desire. I love that prayer because when I gently love and reflect on all the wonderful friends and family and enemies God has put in my life, I find it is in everyone’s best interest that I would be tenderhearted rather than hardhearted.

In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist prays this part of a prayer over his son:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Tender Mercy

What beautiful phrase, the NIV, NASB, and ESV only translate this phrase into English 1 time in all of Scripture. NKJV has multiple instances of tender mercies in the Psalms and only additionally translated “tender mercies” in the epistle to the Colossians. Why does it matter?

I believe it matters because tender mercy is the gentlest of all mercy offered. It is the kind of tangible mercy offered in the darkness, in death, when we are in desperate need of sunshine, guidance and a path of peace.

Tender mercy is the mercy needed when suffering violence. Tender mercy is the mercy for lost-ness. Tender mercy is the tangible mercy needed when there is no other answer or explanation.

And yes, while I am desperate in my need for mercy for my actions against God and humankind, sometimes we are in need of the most tender mercy for our doubts in our darkness.

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I need tenderness of heart so as  not to become guilty of accusing God of having a wicked character when I have suffered or am utterly confounded by my circumstance.

We need tenderness of heart to mourn more victims of violence in the face of inaction. And while those are left asking why or will this be fixed, without any answer, or worse met with indifference, we remain in need of the tenderest of mercies.

This mercy is only available through the Spirit of God. Humankind cannot manufacture this kind of mercy.

But we can posture, we can kneel. I can move ever so slightly towards the light until I am warmed, softened, embraced, then set free to love and to give what I’ve been given.

Yet, I can only give what I have, and if I have not felt this tender mercy for myself, how can I give it?

I must have it again. I must know it, be immersed, even baptized anew in this maternal, vulnerable mercy.

It’s been a tender year for me. I don’t know how it’s been so far for you. I don’t know if you’ve felt like you’ve been connecting the dots from one disappointment to the next. I don’t know who you’ve lost or how many times you’ve lost them and to what degree of permanence. I don’t know to what extent you have been grieved or have suffered by the routine of mass shootings in America. Through it all, stay tenderhearted.

Let your heart feel hope for the future, for your obedience to the Lord, to follow Christ’s lead, perhaps hopeful for finding romance, perhaps hopeful for one day reconciliation to someone who has moved on the Heaven, hopeful for an end to meaningless bloodshed, hopeful for peace on a path guided by the sunlight in the tender mercy of God.

Thanksgrieving and Believing

The eventual end of grief is an eternal promise we look forward to. In the meantime, Jesus assured us that happiness is available to those who grieve because of a present promise for comfort.  For any comfort to come, there must be a hope. Sometimes that hope is cloudy.

Sometimes grief which would love to linger is lightly carried away by the wind of the Spirit. Sometimes, God places you in circumstances that no emotion you could feel is adequate.

This week I received two phone calls virtually simultaneously to respond to, circumstances completely opposite and unfamiliar to me. One was to the West Wing of the hospital to the Labor and Delivery unit, the other call to the East Wing, the Emergency Department. Both instances had to do with babies, one joyous, one tragic.

I responded to the situation I felt I was needed least first. A family was adopting a healthy baby girl from a woman who delivered the baby, and the birth mother requested I pray a blessing over the baby and the adopting parents. So, I prayed, had no parental advice to really offer and affirmed the sense of joy in the room, despite being unaware of any dynamics as to how this situation came about. I was happy to be a part of it, but lingering in my mind, was the other call I knew I would be responding to immediately following that moment:

A one-month year old without a pulse that would not make it.

For 3 hours I offered prayer and presence and became witness to parent’s and grandparent’s grief. I offered some of my own grief but mostly I observed, stood silent, waiting on God.

Together, we’re all waiting, not always in grief, but we are all waiting.

Waiting for Life

In 2 Samuel 12:15-16, there is a Scripture that is concerning: “After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.”

The child doesn’t make it. After 7 days, the child dies. David mourns for 7 days then stops once the child dies because David is aware that the child will not return to him. God’s grace was enough to spare David’s life but was not extended to David’s child. It seems utterly cruel, doesn’t it?

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In Scripture, the prophet Nathan affirms that the child’s death is the result of David scorning the word of God. This theologically seems like a bad look. It would be much easier to explain the circumstances using the Devil as the scapegoat doling out punishment for David’s sin, but Scripture does not give us this luxury.

Instead, we get a God that seems willing to employ extraneous means to keep his people tender-hearted. And this, I feel, is a viable tactic of God. God will use grief and the worst of circumstances, perhaps circumstances God authors, to return humanity to the love of God.

I will by no means try to explain the why nor use this or any tragedy to try to convince us that these are demonstrations of love. Rather, they are circumstances that give us pause, cause us to reevaluate, to seek what’s preeminent, namely seek God, the Author.

There, at the end of our grief, is resurrection life and belief.

Darkness Falls: Layers in Mental Illness

Most of you probably don’t see in the dark. Some do and to varying degrees.

The next 4-5 posts seek to share candidly about 3 generations of mood disorders and how to find hope, cope or get help. I’m not seeking a comparison about how deep the dark can go. These will be an honest look at my experience, a sub-reality of a diagnosis that I don’t often revisit or own, perhaps to my detriment. Maybe it will provide me or you with help.

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I should also be honest about how and why I am writing. An hour prior to me writing this, I had a meltdown lasting about an hour on the phone with my mom. These have been far too frequent over the last 5 1/2 years but were less frequent for a period of 8 months prior to my move.

I could describe in detail the circumstances that I believe are potential sources of my moods, but I have gradually accepted more and more that my disorderly moods are not always the result of circumstance. Perhaps correlated, likely not caused and I can usually know this by comparison. People who endure much worse react much better when they are sober-minded.

In other words, some people cope better.

I’m likely not one of those people.

Short History

                My maternal grandfather was a postman, who worked a second job because money was tight while married to my grandmother, together raising two kids. He died when my mother was 17 of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Before marrying my grandmother, he received shock treatment for manic-depressive disorder. He received the treatment because he was found wandering New York City unaware of who he was in a depressed stupor. Later in life, it manifested on the manic side in access spending. He told his family not to tell my grandmother under any circumstance when they met of his mental illness for fear that she would not marry him.

I harbor a similar fear. I was prescribed medication one time from one diagnosis after one meeting with a psychiatrist and several meetings with a psychologist for a major depressive episode I had in 2013 during an exceptionally shitty season after a break-up. If I told you this was my only struggle with depression, all you would have to do is look at my various journals from the 5 years prior to 2013 to doubt that it was a one-time deal.

The two snapshots above have a slight tinge of a fear of/potential for heartbreak. And while my heart was broken, the greater concern for me was how I coped. Plenty of people suffer heartbreak, this I must remind myself. I am not the only one to suffer this, even though I feel I level-up by enduring in this arena with more frequency than I desire.

My problem is not the circumstance of heartbreak as much as the moment or series of moments that affect the chemistry within my body particularly my mind.

I understand heartbreak.

I don’t understand what usually follows.

The spiral, the way the world gets colored, the greyness of moving on, the process of not being able to decide what to buy at the grocery store and having to leave the grocery store so people won’t see you cry, going to the gym and enduring a similar cycle, coming home from work to immediately nap, eat fast food for comfort and so you have one less decision to make, getting angry at God for why you’re wired the way you are rather than enjoying the presence of the Holy Spirit, the increased difficulty of seemingly everything, going to pro wrestling training begrudgingly because you paid to do it and owe it to your past self even though all joy is sucked out of it in the present.

The loss of self, the wandering around in New York City wishing you knew who you were or never wanting to go back to NYC for the fear of running into one person in a city of 8 million.

That was my life during my major depressive episode in 2013, it was not because of a break-up, it may have been correlated, but the disordered mood was nothing new, just a deeper layer.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness or would like more information regarding support or getting help click here (National Alliance for Mental Illness)