The static of the false self…

“God goes after our accumulated junk with something equivalent to a compressor and starts digging through our defense mechanisms, revealing the secret corners that hide the unacceptable parts of ourselves.

We may think it is the end of our relationship with God. Actually, it is an invitation to a new depth of relationship with God. A lot of emptying and healing has to take place if we are to be resopnsive to the sublime communications of God. The full transmission of divine life cannot come through and be fully heard if the static of the false self is too loud.”

– Thomas Keating, from Invitation to Love

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Advent: What Do I Expect?

When the nights grow longer and the air gets cooler, I realize that Advent is once again sneaking up on me, surprising me with its demands and its invitation. Last week I looked out the window at the dark sky that settled around the tree branches by 4:45, and I felt the need to, well, prepare. I set up a table at the back of our living room full of wrapping paper and ribbons, and tucked a couple of devotional books, my Bible, and an afghan in the corner chair. I got out some of our Christmas decorations and made plans for when to see friends and family during our upcoming travels. We made lists of gifts for family members and decided when we’d get out the Christmas tree. I looked at some books to use for an Advent Sunday School series I am teaching and helped our three-year old do a crafty gift project. I felt like I was getting ready for something. I was anticipating things that were going to fill our days and I was making spaces for them, ahead of time. I was doing steps that I could do now in order to be ready for the main event soon to come. I felt very proud of my preparations – even baby steps toward being on top of the demands coming our way made me feel self-satisfied this November (which tells you how great I am at thinking ahead naturally, perhaps.) I am not usually one who is good at preparing ahead of time, of anticipating. But I recognize this rhythm that Advent brings; I remember past years of obligations and full schedules and lists to cross off, and I desire to stay ahead of these demands.

I also have a hunger to follow the invitation underneath these familiar to-do lists. I have a thirst to be able to drink deep from wells of wisdom, to reset the busy and mundane by the lights of the Advent wreath, to reorient our family rhythms around the nativity creche and the promise of the baby God-Man coming to earth. When night draws near through my windows and I am wrapped in my afghan, I long to pull apart the rush of the day and rest, to read and remember the story, to refocus and realign my heart. I recognize that I am tired, and I know that this season has something to say to me underneath the loudness of productivity. I am so often driven but not satiated, so often propelled forward but not rooted deep in my days. And I don’t want to live this way – not during Advent, not during the rest of the year.

Advent has all this weighty, theological meat to it – during Advent, we wait on Christ’s coming in expectant dependency, re-enacting our year-long, indeed life-long, posture of waiting for Christ’s final coming. Advent also has all this practical, real life busyness to it – if you’re in ministry, a teacher, a parent, a family member – heck, if you are a North American involved in any level of relationships or work or holiday prep, Advent is a crazy-full time. Advent comes right during the whirlwind when one season ends and another begins, of papers to grade, concerts to attend, worship to plan, plays to rehearse, leaves to bag, snow to blow, choirs to practice, pies to bake, family to visit, children to tend, friends to invite over, assignments to finish, sermons to write, etc. Of course Advent is already busy, I always think when I see the calendar get obscured by black ink; it’s a wonderful, festive, full time in the church and in our family’s life. It should be full, right? But what does it fill up with? What kind of preparations am I making, and for what big event am I really expectantly waiting?

Most people I know are torn between these demands and this invitation – the seasonal realities of Advent that put us in tension with real life busyness on the one hand, and the crack that opens up and invites us to wait, really wait, and make space for God to be the One doing all the Doing, on the other hand. Each year I feel this tension, as assuredly as the dark wraps around our home and the chill in the air settles in, I remember once again – life is not supposed to be about doing, or accomplishing the lists, or even serving in the name of God. Advent, like life, is really about the crazy, miraculous, displacing scandal of a God who came to us as a vulnerable baby, who broke from heaven to wrap earth’s skin on, whose life and death and resurrection ultimately points my life to its eternal big event and meaning.

What do I expect this Advent, truly? Do I expect a lot of events and schedules to keep on top of? Do I expect myself to meet the expectations of others? Do I expect to get by, or even just look good while getting by? If I am honest, I want more this season, I hunger for something else during this dark and invitational time. I expect a crack from the other world to make a jagged fissure into places of cold stone in my life. I expect the miraculous and the scandal of Jesus to surprise me and be made known to me again. I expect the waiting and dependency of heaven to escape, wrap itself around me and pull me into its truth this season, just like a warm blanket. I expect a lot, truth be told. To be honest, a part of my heart is worried to expect, to hope, to be ready for more, because a part of me is scared that I won’t find a deep miracle this season. What if tip-toe toward the manger only to find more of the same? What if I ask for more, wait expectantly, endure the silence, and only find endless schedules or expectations or disappointments that fill the void? What if nothing fills up my low places, what if pain still haunts the manger scene, what if the darkness seems to be taking over?

I want to be brave enough to expect a lot this Advent. I want to journey toward the light, reset our families rhythms so that like a table ready to wrap gifts, our minds and rooms are waiting and ready for God to show up. I want to try to ready myself, so that if a miracle wrapped in the everyday comes to visit, I will be prepared. And I want to notice if God comes to me in the form of a drooling, hungry baby in the midst of over-booked accommodations and stinky animals in my space. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It was always meant to seem like an in-breaking miracle disrupting the everyday, I suspect. I pray it always is.

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Thankful for CCDA Today

Tonight the annual CCDA Conference at this year’s location in Indianapolis. I almost was able to attend/teach there this year, but couldn’t work out the details. While talking with friends about this event, I was reminded of how great this gathering is for connecting and being rejuvenated with folks that are “like you,” if you’re a practitioner, a pastor in the city, an activist, a dreamer, a thinker, or a person who just wants to see the church live out its whole mandate in terms of building community and being the hands and feet of Christ.

If you are somehow able to go a this last minute, they accept on-site registration and have day pass options as well; or just learn more about CCDA at www.ccda.org. (And there is a brief history of this organization in this post, if you’re interested.)

My good friend, colleague and master workshop-leader Rev.Dr. Felicia LaBoy and I co-led two seminars last year at CCDA’s conference here in Chicago. The first one was packed out and was recorded; it was titled, “Being Mary in a Martha Kind of World.” It was all about how to abide and do ministry, even urban/pastoral/life-consuming kinds of ministry, out of God’s strength and not our own. We had a great time preparing this material and being there together – I am remembering the gift that it was to teach that with her and to recall the wisdom that God was showing us during that process as well. We also led a second workshop on-site at Uptown Baptist Church on Wilson about for-profit and non-profit ways to connect CCD ministries, with a much smaller crowd (which wasn’t taped.)

And, here are some of my favorite quotes from last year’s CCDA Conference that I am feeling especially thankful for today:

“In West Africa they ask a question – ‘What called you forth?’ In other wods, why were you brought to this earth? You see, they believe that everyone is ‘called forth’ for a particular reason, that everyone has a unique purpose and is meant to fulfill the specific call that God has placed on his/her life. What called YOU forth?” -Brenda Salter-McNeil

“We must remember where we came from, rejoice in the present, and re-imagine the future. Life has a way of knocking you around if you are just ready to be king at a young age and don’t remember what came before you… John Perkins founded this movement on suffering, on being faithful and choosing forgiveness laying in a hospital bed when no one else was looking. And John Perkins founded this movement on Scripture, on a love for the Word…” – Brenda Salter-McNeil

“We have to learn how to speak the language of the people we are trying to get money/resources from; we can’t expect them to understand what we are talking about otherwise. If we don’t, we might be missing out on people that God has put in places of privilege and influence that want to give us favor, that want to give us grants, that want to give us their computers and their resources. There are Christians who love the Lord who I believe God is preparing to serve our churches and our ministries; we need to make it easier on them to help us.” – Felicia Howell LaBoy

“Your people will build up the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” – Isaiah 58:12

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