Saturday, March 30, 2013

Between darkness and light

Last night, our church family gathered around a fire and recounted the story of Christ's crucifixion. We entered the darkness of that night as we prayed, sang and reflected on our own acts of betrayal.  We considered how we are called to enter into the suffering of those around us, and how we are called to be part of the new community that formed among those who dared to follow Jesus to the cross.  As we heard Jesus' last words and of the giving up of his spirit, the Christ candle was extinguished and black cloth was draped around the cross.  The sun had set, and the fire struggled to stay lit.  Darkness was everywhere.

Tomorrow, followers of Jesus will come together to celebrate the miracle of his resurrection.  The One we watched suffer and endure execution will be brought back to life!  We will feast together, sing songs of praise, and hear the joyful re-telling of the empty tomb encounter.  We will be filled with wonder, amazement and anticipation of all that this life-giving God has and will do.  When morning comes, light and life will consume us.

So, what about today?  What will come of this Holy Saturday, the day between darkness and light?

In all honesty, this day is probably like most of our days.  It is a day between despair and joy, between defeat and victory, between darkness and light.  It is how we spend most of our days; we are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  It is a day like many in which our longing, restlessness, anxiety and impatience can overshadow any anticipation that God may actually do a new thing.

If this is so, then maybe we ought to pay closer attention to this Holy Saturday.  Maybe we should be more attentive and more vigilant in our waiting.

Instead of trying to find ways to fill the days between, we could be looking and listening for signs that light is indeed about to break through the darkness.  We could be more willing to sit in quiet and stillness.  We could become more open to the kind of expectancy that we hear in the words of the psalmist ...

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope; 
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

I pray that you and I will be open to being shaped by this day, and the many other days we spend living between darkness and light.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Refusing to settle

Despite evidence that change is needed, I've often wondered why groups or organizations continue status quo, ineffective, better-than-nothing-but-not-quite-who-we-said-we-wanted-to-be practices. I think I've finally figured out why.  It should have been obvious from what I have experienced in my own life.  I know first hand that change is tough, that giving things up I've grown accustomed to can be painful no matter how much I know I need to move on.  I guess I just assumed that instead of groups of people having to struggle harder to change, they would have access to greater power to move in new directions.  That is not necessarily true.

What I'm really talking about here is the challenge of being intentional.  I'm talking about the challenge of critiquing potentially empty, tired, ineffective, even harmful ways of being church together.  I'm talking about the challenge of consistently asking questions about why, how, when and with what resources we should express the gospel in a way that is true to the life and message of Jesus.  I'm talking about the challenge of constantly trying to creatively form and shape a faith community around its shared vision and mission.

It's just a not-so-small matter that can effect everything we do, from the structures we create to the message we proclaim.  The place and way we worship, how we structure ourselves, spend our resources, talk about God, involve our children, etc., etc.  All of these things matter, and all of them require time and thought.  Maybe that's why being intentional can be such demanding, exhausting work.

I've begun to realize just how deeply ingrained our way of doing church is.  Church as a place to go, a service to attend, a business to run, a club to join or church as a predominantly consumer-driven/feel-good/don't rock the boat mentality can be pretty stubborn mindsets to unhinge.  Breaking free can be a long, tiring and sometimes painful journey.  Just when you think things are starting to move in new directions, you confront another way that we are stuck.

The struggle to be intentional about breaking free from old, ineffective patterns effects all of us at times.  Whether you are the pastor of a 200 year-old church, a church planter or a professional trying to change the culture in your work place, you feel it.  At times it is overwhelming  and the task of moving in a new direction can seem impossible.  It's then that we have a decision to make.  We can choose to give up and to give in to the comfortable and complacent, or we can do what needs to be done to re-energize and engage ourselves for the journey forward.  This may mean stepping away for a bit, seeking out a friend or colleague, resting, or re-evaluating.  It may mean spending time with someone who reminds us of why this work is so desperately needed.

Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will have the courage to keep believing that what we are doing is making a difference.  I pray that we will refuse to settle, but that we will also find ways to dream and work that enable us to see when we need to step away for a bit and catch our breath.

I'd love to hear what you can add to the conversation...

In your most challenging times, what practices have helped you re-connect with why you choose the difficult path of being intentional?