Five Hopes I Wish for You and Me

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I learned about mercy and hope this morning while watching my daughter prep for oral surgery.

I had not known, until the technician informed me, that the Pope had declared this next year, since December 8, a special jubilee of mercy. I’m not Catholic; I didn’t know what a special jubilee was, no did I know the pope could call one. But he has, and he has opened up the special bricked up door in St. Peter’s to symbolize it.

I saw that door when we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember it. I didn’t realize it’s significance.

All I could say to her was, “I dearly hope he’s right.”

The Friday Five linkup at Mrs. Disciple is on Hope. Five things we hope. This morning, I can’t think of anything I hope for more than exactly this.

I hope and pray mercy on you. On me. On all of us.

I pray more than anything we learn to extend it beyond what we believe is possible in 2016.

“I am convinced that the whole Church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”

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Is there anything more important, in this world of fear and confusion, than to hope for these words? So here are my five hopes for all of us in the Year of Jubilee (An unfulfilled celebration in the Old Testament that I find particularly beautiful and hopeful.) They are all hopes of mercy.

I hope for us the wisdom to listen and learn from those who are different.

Let’s learn the particular mercy of hearing others. We can give no greater gift, I’m convinced, than to see and hear another person. Would it be a beautiful mercy to go out of our way to hear those we may not normally listen to this year? Wouldn’t it mirror Jesus’ willingness to hear the people around him, really hear them, not assume he knew all about them? (Even though he did.)

I hope for us the patience to give second chances.

It’s the popular thing to give up on people as soon as they disappoint us. It’s easy to delete a friend. Easy to move on to the next honeymoon relationship, until the next crack appears. But what if we chose not to? Does it sound hopeful to think we could do the hard work of inviting the cracks, repairing them together, offering second, third, and fourth chances? We might need a few, too.

I hope for us the freedom of feeling forgiven.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
    nor remain angry forever.
 He does not punish us for all our sins;
    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
 He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.  Psalm 103

Completely, absolutely, unwaveringly forgiven. By God. And by ourselves. Nothing offers more hope than to know you are forgiven. Nothing prepares us more for the next hope.

IMG_4468I hope for us the release of forgiving others.

Who needs your forgiveness? Offer it in this year of mercy. Be liberal in your offering of forgiveness. You are the one who will feel the free release of hope fill your lungs.

I hope for us the joy of offering mercy to anyone, anywhere.

The one who does not deserve it. The one who cannot hope for it. The one who doesn’t look like you. The one who looks disturbingly too much like you. The one who speaks another language. The one who lives and sleeps next to you. Everywhere. Without consideration of who is keeping score.

This — this is peace on earth. This is the only hope we have. This is the hope of Christmas.

Do It Again

A week ago was Easter. Today is Easter. Every day is Easter, from my point of view (and the point of view of some pretty reliable historic sources). True story. Because if what the Christian church says happened on Easter really happened, then every day after that is a repeat celebration. An encore. One more chance to stare up into the heavens in what really should be daily freaked-out surprise and say, “I can’t believe you did that for me!” 
If Jesus truly–physically, spiritually, historically, existentially, and any other ‘ly’–was dead and then wasn’t anymore forever,  then today is still Easter. And that needs to mean something. Quite honestly, if such a thing happened, and you don’t think it merits more than one day’s notice in 365, you’re not taking this whole life and death thing we’re all in very seriously. 
At one point in my life, I did look at that cross in freaked-out surprise and say, “I can’t believe you did that for me.” I cried, right there in front of late night TV. No one had ever told me about Jesus, but somehow I knew. It happened when I was watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. Not a conventional conversion, I admit, but a fact. It took a few years of being around better people than I to realize exactly what that belief meant. I’m still working on it.
One thing a conviction that Easter is a daily celebration means is that we face those days with anticipation, not fear. My personal ministry revolves around helping people be freed from fear. Easter is the ultimate release from fear. Without Easter, I’d have nothing to say about fighting fears. I might try, and I might unleash all kinds of pop psychology to make you feel better temporarily, but really, without Easter, I’ve got nothing.
On Easter, it seems appropriate to point out that fear comes from somewhere. It was never innate to human nature. Humans started this gripping emotion called fear by running away from God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because they knew they had messed up, they knew He knew it, and they didn’t know what He was going to do about it. 
It’s the same basic principle that caused me to hide in my closet when I was eight and I skipped out on dishwashing duty to go out and play even though I knew that my name was clearly on that chore chart and my mom would find me. No one who knows in her soul that she has deliberately opted to go against the established order of rightness feels good about that choice for long. We may go through all kinds of emotional gymnastics to pretend and believe we do, but eventually that delusional behavior bites us from behind. How long we choose to run from it depends on how stubborn we are. 
We don’t like accountability for our actions. We don’t like the notion that any behavior could actually be wrong. (It’s just different.) And we certainly have lost all enchantment with the word ‘sin.’ It’s quaint but irrelevant. 
Except no matter how far or fast we try to run away, we have soul-deep-knowledge of a variety that won’t be suppressed that there is wrong; that in fact, there is wrong in us, and it scares us. We hide, because our Parent might notice our name on that chart at any minute and realize we aren’t doing our job.
Then hiding hits the blinding light of Easter, and it has to make a choice. Run farther into that dark closet, or stare at that cross in the morning sunlight and surrender to the inconceivable surprise that it happened because I couldn’t stop hiding. And now I don’t have to. 
Personally, I’ve come to realize that hiding in the closet because I’m afraid of the consequences of my own behavior comes with a few problems:
One, the anxiety about what my parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it? Or a lifetime. (God’s reply–“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.23)
Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be–a parent and child teaching and growing. (Which is what God wants, too. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8.15-16)
Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don’t want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet. (Which is not what God wants. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27.1)
Four, it’s really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.

It’s Easter. Still. Running was never part of the nature God intended for us. He proved it by walking straight into the consequences of our behavior, facing the terrors there, and blasting them to bits with one shove of a stone away from a tomb and a sunrise beyond our craziest dreams. Today, instead of turning around and going about your day like it’s a normal day, look up. Stare into the sky. Say in freaked-out surprise, “I can’t believe you did that for me.” Yell it if you want to. Then close your eyes, and let the Easter light do its freeing work.

Running Wild with Hope

So perhaps laughing uncontrollably through a video on ebola may not be appropriate. But appropriate is not always my strong suit.
Let’s be clear—ebola is not a humorous topic. Certainly not one to take lightly, no matter if precious Americans are safe on our soil. Thousands of West Africans are not, and that isn’t forgettable or funny.
But the video I happened upon, and shared with my daughter who appreciates British humor, poked fun at the media’s response to ebola, not the disease itself, and put me in tears. Sometimes, we laugh at things that seem horrible. But I wonder if maybe the reason isn’t so much lack of taste as a desire to laugh at the horrible itself. To pretend we have some control over it and some ability to minimize it if we make fun of it.
Yet, as we move into the Christmas season, I wonder if there isn’t even more to it for Christians. Shouldn’t we be the ones who are perpetually laughing?
Christians should be the first ones laughing. Not at other people, mind you, but laughing. Because we know. We know the truth of Christmas—that God personally interfered in our messy world and gave us the forgiveness, love, and tools to set it right. We know that no matter the ugly, there was a baby whose star of presence was the most beautiful thing to ever hit planet earth.
In fact, I find that the people who get angry the easiest, who get offended at the least bit of humor, are the ones who may, after all, be capable of atrocities against others. It’s the anger that gets offended easily, the dislike of thoughts other than our own, the distrust of laughter we can’t understand that causes a lot of the pain of this world. People who can’t laugh are often quite willing to abuse those who can.
If you don’t know this craziness ends? If you don’t know pain is temporary, and the hurt we do to one another defeatable? OK, I can see how nothing would be funny. Nothing at all. But we know. We know, because of Christmas, the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket.
So why do we act like it is? Why do so many Christians freak out over threats large and small? Why do we say we believe God is in control and act as if we believe it’s all up to us? Yes, there are horrors beyond our imagination happening right now. Yes, I pray for victims of murderous persecutions and deadly diseases, and I help where I see avenues to help. But I do not duck my head and scream that the sky is falling. Mere men do not hold up the sky.
Some call this naïve. I prefer to call it belief. Belief that, because of Christmas, God wins. Faith that, despite suffering, He has the final say. Trust that yes, things may get rough. Very rough. They may not go the way Christians would like them to go. Nevertheless, His purposes, not mine, finish the story. Victoriously.
We should laugh. We must hope. In one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs, he sings,
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world

And shakes us forward and shakes us free

To run wild with the hope

To run wild with the hope

The hope that this thirst will not last long

That it will soon drown in the song

Not sung in vain.”

That’s the wild laughter we need to have. The abandon that comes from certainty that we will not always thirst. The joy we need to embrace, not in the absence of fear and horror but in its midst. That is the only place it serves its purpose. Joyous, abandoned, holy laughter only makes sense when it’s in the face of a force that thinks it has won but most definitely has not.
That Christmas baby was born in the midst of some pretty awful circumstances. Circumstances a lot like ours. Slavery, persecution, discrimination, hunger, hatred, and disease. His star shone brighter because it was in that world, because light always shines brighter in darkness. He cried many times in this world, but he also laughed. A lot. I am sure he did it with his whole heart and soul, with abandoned, head back, hiccuping joy. Because he saw the horrors of this world better than we ever have–and he knew the end.

The song is not sung in vain. Run wild with the hope this Christmas. Stifle the sour faces and dire predictions. Stop the endless blaming for this world’s ills. This world has a promise born in a stable. See what kind of peace on earth your wild, laughing hope can bring.  

On The Hunger Games and Easter Sunday

Easter, and high school students, and Katniss Everdeen. I promise you—they do

intersect and make sense. 


Sunrises. We like sunrises. Who doesn’t?
A couple times this year, most recently this afternoon, I have had the chance to speak to a room full of high school students about bringing God into their culture. I talked about a few ways they could do that, but the final idea I gave them was simple—bring hope.

Is “hope” really a cross-cultural concept when we’re talking about the Millennial generation? You bet it is.

Witness the biggest genre of YA literature for the past several years—dystopia. A story playing out amid the ruin of a world that no longer resembles the one we know. The dictionary definitions of dystopia include:

  • “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

  • “ A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

  • “An imagined place where people are unhappy and usually afraid.”

Well that sounds like quite the pleasant little backdrop.

Witness two of the blockbusters of this genre—Hunger Games. Divergent.

Now darkness is hardly new to YA literature, and I would be the first to argue that some darkness is necessary to challenge and empower the reader. But there is a not-so-subtle difference in what has been going on in recent years. Harry Potter was dark. Lord of the Rings has its share of dark. But those series ended with people going on to assume lives in which darkness did not reign and evil did not win. Those books ended with—hope. As Samwise says, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” Those authors believed and conveyed this.

The new ones don’t. Heroes are antiheroes. Conflict is “not great” versus “really bad.” You’re not sure you even want to root for anyone in the end. No one wins. Heroes even die in the final pages. The books reflect the attitude of a culture that has shifted. In the words of another LOTR character, “Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

They just look like hope.
This is the call, I believe, to writers who want to matter and to make their faith matter. 

Bring back hope.

Thus, I told those kids. And I’ve told my daughter, who wants to write this kind of literature. Whatever you do, whatever you write, whatever you are called to do in this life—do it with hope. Draw hope. Photograph hope. Cook hope. Put out fires, police streets, wait tables, perform surgery, counsel families—with hope.

Not happy-clappy ridiculous hope that ignores real life. That’s not hope—that’s wishful thinking. We already have a little too much of that in faith-based writing.

But real hope? If you intersect the culture with hope, you are bringing in an explosive device they are not quite prepared for. Bring it anyway. Bring it especially.

On this day after Easter, those of us who celebrated yesterday have the greatest, no, the only, source of this explosive hope. If you have a relationship with God—a living, vibrant, relationship, not just a go-to-church obey-the-rules one—you have a source of hope your culture needs.

You have it because God calls you, me, and all humans, precious souls whom he ransomed from pointless lives. Because God proved it with the power that kills death itself. Because he promises he made us for more. Because Easter proves there is an ultimate great hope, that evil can be defeated, and that we get to participate in the greatest story ever. It’s not our story. But we’re in it. Are we in it to create hope?

I kind of like that I get to be a Samwise in this world. A proclaimer of darkness-killing light in a world where it does indeed “shine out all the clearer.” Sam’s pretty cool. Sam is a hope spreader. It was needed in Mordor—it’s needed in your backyard.