Borrowing my dads car

I’ve been borrowing my dad’s car over the last few days. Actually, it’s both my parents car – they are still together after all these years – but my dad drives this one and so he claims ownership of it.

I’m borrowing this car because it’s a long way to North Carolina and the new baby needs so much stuff. It has also made on the road feeding sessions much easier for everyone involved.

So I was thinking about this car the other day and thinking about how this is a metaphor or symbol for this life transition – I’m ‘driving my father’s car’ for the first time. It’s big and roomy – plenty of room to grow into – but also comfortable and well worn. I remember driving around with him as a child – he would predict when the lights were going to turn from red to green to my amazement and delight. Or how he could magically dim the dome lights of the vehicle. Fathers stand in epic proportions to their children and I was in awe.

So I’m thinking about borrowing my dad’s car…when I’m actually a father myself. And my child will only ever know my car as “dad’s car.”

Life Transitions

On November second – in the middle of Game 7 of the Cubs World Series victory – my wife and I welcomed our first child, Sophia Lenore, into the world. The miracle of birth and the joy of new life is itself overwhelming, but I think the Cubs victory added a bit of excitement. The coincidence of her birth and baseball have forever connected the two in my mind and memory.

And just as Sophia was born at the end of the baseball season, she was also born at the end of the liturgical year. She was born one day after All Saints day and shortly before the start of a new church year with Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany falling within her first weeks of life. Stronger than my associations with post-season baseball, her birth and these seasons of the church and now linked in my mind and memory. I’m using these liturgical seasons and some theological concepts to provide language that will frame some of the “epiphanies” I’ve had in the first few weeks of parenthood.

Daily Bread

Over the course of the last few weeks and months, one of my most consistent thoughts has been this: being a parent is hard. Really hard. The lack of sleep, the extra loads of laundry, the anxiety surrounding caring for a tiny human have all combined to make this season uniquely difficult. The difficulty of this season has added new meaning to the biblical hope conveyed in one line from the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Like few other times in my life, this season continually forces me to rely on God’s providence for strength and courage each day. Like God’s people had to gather manna in the wilderness each day, I too must gather strength and courage each day. It would have been nice to stockpile extra kindness, grace, and courage – not to mention sleep, freetime, and clean laundry! – but this season has given me a new awareness of my reliance on God and the insufficiency of my own strength and will.

Another way I have thought about this is using the text from the hymn: “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” I’ve felt a similar dependence on God and God’s people at other times during my life – new job, school, difficult seasons – but this transition has removed all notions of self-sufficiency or autonomy by underscoring how much I depend on God and the people of God.

Simul Justus et Peccator

Another theological principle that has taken on new meaning is the Luther conception of humanity as both sinner and saint. I’m learning to embrace all of my humanity and accept the surprises of this new awareness. I’ve surprised myself with my own saintly behavior: lovingly cleaning up dirty diapers, patiently rocking a crying child, wisely choosing things that lead toward flourishing and joy. I’ve also been surprised by my own sinfulness and vices: flashes of anger over spit-up, gluttonously rolling over for another few minutes of sleep instead of tending to my stirring child, jealousy toward others who seem to be having an easier time of it.

I wish I could say that this transition to fatherhood has made me more saintlike – I’m still hopeful that it will! – but right now this transition is helping me to accept more fully the heights and depths of my humanity. I’m becoming more comfortable wielding both my saintly power (“I can hold her while she cries, you sleep.”) and accepting my human limitations (“I’m having a tough moment, could you hold her for a while?”.)

The Communion of Saints

Lastly, my transition into fatherhood has blessed me with a fresh awareness and appreciation for the Communion of Saints. In this transition, I know I’ve joined the community of parents. But the Communion of Saints stretches far beyond the community of parents and includes all those that extend love and care for others. The Communion of Saints that has surrounded us includes the doctors and nurses who extended care; family and friends who came bearing gifts of clothes, blankets, and food; those who offered quiet words of encouragement or silent prayers; and others who in whatever way extended love and care in this season.

Inescapably as I hold my own child, I think about the people that held me when I was a infant and my mind wanders to those that taught me in and out of school, watched me, etc. I’m newly aware of people who have offered me love and encouragement, guidance and hope, books and stories that have guided me on my way. So through this transition, I see more clearly and with ever growing gratitude the Communion of Saints that has surrounded me since before my birth and continues to bless me with love.

And – embracing my Saintliness!- I think about the role I’ve played in the lives of other people. I’ve been a part of that Communion of Saints in the roles I’ve played in the life of others – as a camp counselor, Sunday School teacher, librarian – and hopefully in my daily living in this world. I think about the Communion of Saints as a great interconnected web that stretches through time and space that binds us together in our common humanity and in relation to our triune God.

Perhaps because I’m writing this reflection during this time between All Saints Day and Epiphany, I’ve combined these two theological movements in my imagination. I imagine my wife and I as Mary and Joseph standing in awe of this new life. And I imagine the Communion of Saints streaming not through “Gates of Pearl” as the hymn suggests, but streaming into the smallness of our home just as the Wise Men came to visit the baby Jesus. And like the Wise Men, the whole Communion of Saints comes bearing gifts to the newborn child: gifts not of gold, frankincse and myrrth but gifts of food, clothes, books, love, encouragement. And like Mary, I sit by “treasuring these things in my heart” newly aware of the rich blessings I’ve received and recommitted to serve the greater community. And to raise my daughter to know know that the richest part of life is found in serving others.

In all of this, I feel a tremendous and nearly overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am grateful for God’s promise of Daily Bread and grateful to receive “Strength for today and bring hope for tomorrow.” I am grateful that the fullness of my humanity – both sinner and saint – is accepted by God and the people of God. And I am grateful for the great and diverse Communion of Saints that stretches throughout time and space.

New Years Intentions- 2017

Adopting New Years Intentions – rather than New Year’s Resolutions – reflects a more generous and flexible approach to my personal development. I’m big into self improvement and goal setting and I think this will provide a good framework for that energy. I’m also hoping to reflect on these intentions every month to set new “goals” or tangible expressions of these intentions.

The headings below are my intentions for 2017 – the bullet points that follow are my January “mini-resolutions” that work toward that goal.

Be Healthy

For me, this is a near annual resolution. But for the last year I’ve lost a decent amount of weight and think that I’m on the right track doing a very normal and consistent diet and lifestyle. I would like to exercise more…but I really don’t see how that is possible during this season of my life. So I’m resolving to simply track my eating and my weight and starting a very simple and basic routine each day.

  • Track the food I eat and my weight using the MyFitnessPal app. Do this everyday.
  • Do at least 50 squats everyday. Do pushups and planks when Sophia is on the blanket.

Be Productive

A somewhat ambiguous intention – this boils down to a more structured approach to my time. I’m going to try, with Christy, to schedule out our weeks in advance -especially in terms of meal planning. I’m also interested in using my morning time to continue washing diapers and tending to other household chores. And listening to podcasts…but that’s not really a resolution per se!

  • Schedule my days and weeks. Create chore chart, meal plan, and schedule my work days.
  • Wake up early (before 7am) each day. Do something meaningful in this time.

Be Present

Lastly, I want to intentionally be present with my family – my wife and child – and be present to myself. The parenting thing is new and difficult…but I think being present is (1) one good intention and (2) something that seems surprisingly difficult to achieve in practice. I find myself often “escaping” into my own thoughts or plans – or into the time wasting parts of the internet. So I’m declaring an intention to be more present to life – especially to my child, my wife, and myself.

  • Read with Sophia everyday.
  • Be present with Christy each day. Show love.
  • Take time to journal and reflect.

Danse Russe

William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Traveling through

Leaving the warm light of the apartment, I drive through the cold and gray city – past the empty storefronts littered with trash. I stop near a huddled group smoking cigarettes and I wonder for the first time “Will my daughter smoke? Will her friends?” I keep driving.

I want to leave this part of the city, or perhaps whitewash the stained concrete and soften the harsh edges. I want to hug and forgive the broken, destitute people — but really I want them to go away – cease to exist – or at least keep far far away from my child. I tell myself “This is not the world I wanted for you, sweet child” and I start to cry because I know the pain and brokenness of the world exists not only “out there” but in me and even in the warmth of our apartment.

But this is the world we all live in, little one. This is the world – it’s going to hurt sometimes.

 

Sounds of Home

I know sounds that no one else knows.
The car turning into the driveway.
Who is coming up the front stairs by the sound of their steps.
The side door opening on a cold day over the sounds of NPR echoing off the kitchen’s linoleum floors.

There are also sounds that I don’t know:
the lamp clicking off from hallways,
the radio turned down low under the covers
boys whispering and laughing to themselves after bedtime.


I’m thinking about the unique sounds that are part of my childhood and that are uniquely locked away in my memory. I’m trying to connect these memories with the feelings they invoke – maybe comfort, maybe fear, maybe just nostalgia.

I’m also thinking that, likewise, my parents know sounds unique to there experience of that time and place. And that while I listened intently for warnings or indications, they experienced something else and – in cases – the opposite. My listening to the sound of footsteps on the stairs was perhaps matched with their listening for the sound of the lamp to click off or the radio to be silenced.

I’m thinking about these listenings with a melachony sadness – that these sounds will never be experienced again – the place has changed and the actors have changed. I’m also thinking about them wondering what it will be like to hear them from the other side of things.

Perhaps when I head home my parents will wait for the light to click off in the new “guest room” when I’m up with a crying baby of my own.

Bringing People to Jesus

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:1-5

Bumper stickers rarely contain profound truth, but I saw one recently that helped me see this text in a new light. The bumper sticker was in the shape of a dog’s paw with the simple question “Who rescued who?” written in the center; the context being that the driver of the vehicle had adopted a dog from a shelter.

I struggled with the idea of using this metaphor because it compares the paralyzed man to a rescued dog.

But isn’t this exactly how conventional readings of this story treat the paralyzed man – as an individual in need of pity and that might be somehow subhuman? “Good thing for him he had such good and decent friends!” – we think to ourselves before thinking about all the ways we can use our strength and power and connections to bring those in need to a place of help.

Thinking about how can we use our friendships and connections to help those in need. Figuring out how bring those in need of healing to the healer. Following the Samaritan’s lead and loading the dying onto your camel and tending to his wounds – even at great personal cost – this is part of loving our neighbors.

But I want to explore this story in a new way by asking a simple question of this familiar text – isn’t the paralyzed man somehow responsible for bringing his friends to Jesus?

Does loving our friends and neighbors – and perhaps even our enemies!? – bring us closer to Jesus? In a better positions to see the wonder and grace of Jesus? More in touch with our humanity and our own need for healing.

We are not called to merely love our neighbors – we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, I think, means seeing our shared humanity with all of those we encounter – and seeing this humanity in all of its complexity and nuance.

The five men – the paralyzed man and his friends – came to Jesus together. In the midst of shared needs and strengths, they came to Jesus seeking healing and receiving both healing and forgiveness.

The Communion liturgy invites us to “come to Jesus not because you are strong, but because you are weak” and it is in our weakness and humbleness of our humanity that we encounter the Lord who offers healing and new life.

It is by serving others that we come to experience Christ and the people we serve lead us in this process.

The Gift of Abundant Life

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—

they do no wrong
but follow his ways.

You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.

Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

This week’s devotions have borrowed the language from the Deuteronomy text that offers abundant life to the people as a choice. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” And this is true; living the abundant life God offers is a choice that takes mercy, wisdom, honesty, grace, and love.

But the abundant life that God offers is also a gift, a source of happiness, an unexpected blessing. Think of the prodigal son returning home; he did not choice the abundant life but instead choose his own destruction. Yet the loving father welcomes him, rejoices with him, and offers life again. Our choices in life matter – but abundant life is a gift from a loving God that is offered to us freely. Receive this good news in the very core of your being.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us to accept this gift of abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Wisdom to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:27-32

What does it mean to be a committed fan? Not a fair-weather fan but a tried-and-true fan? As you form your picture, let me offer three observations about the nature of fandom. Being a fan is sometimes difficult, an act of imagination and hope, and a matter of the heart – formed by habits, history, and community.

I hope this image of a fan can reveal some truths about God’s call for us in our commitments to spouse, neighbor, family, and church. These commitments are sometime difficult and, as Jesus’ graphic example reminds us, may cost us something. These commitments spring from hope and seek the best for others. Lastly, honoring these commitments goes beyond outside observation but instead requires a heart formed through practice over time and directed by the wisdom of God.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Give us wisdom so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Mercy to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:21-26

As a native Midwesterner, I know summer means orange traffic barrels and signs for road construction. And the same scenario plays out every summer: traffic slows to a crawl for a lane closure marked well in advance. Then, without fail, a car zooms past the line of stopped traffic to cut in at the very end. I feel my blood boil as I begin to plot ways to stop this driver and his deviant behavior.

Yet despite the injustice of this moment, I know in my heart that my rage did not change my travel time nor did my rage offer any help to the other drivers on the road. Anger and rage are the natural responses to many of the situations we face in the world – the call of Jesus is to work with these feelings and seek the way of reconciliation.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Teach us how to be merciful so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.