When I started officiating weddings I was shocked to learn that none of what we traditionally associate with weddings are necessary for people to get married.
1 Corinthians 13? Nuh uh.
I do's? You don't.
"I now pronounce you"? Nein.
All that you need to do to make it official is fill out the paperwork with a couple of witnesses. You could wrap it all up at a courthouse in the time it takes any of our bureaucracies to stumble along.
It reminds me of what we do with our church services. We think that they have to look a particular way because of what we have seen or experienced before. While this tradition is helpful in many ways, it can actually keep us from getting to the heart of what we could be doing.
Good Friday:: Leroy Barber, Donna Barber, Sunia Gibbs, Andru Morgan, Treneil Washington and Mark Charles
Hear this amazing reflection on Good Friday with Leroy and Donna Barber, Mark Charles, Sunia Gibbs, Andru Morgan and Treneil Washington.
If you've ever walked through the Home section in a Target then you'll probably recognize the collection wall decals and nick nacks that feature the "true enough" sayings. These are the quotes and sayings that have a sliver of truth in them, but require specific circumstances to be true.
On a number of occasions I've dreamt about hovering 4 feet by the power of my mind off the ground and it's yet to happen.
If how badly you want something is the key to unlocking life, I would have conquered eating an entire sheet cake by now.
There's still truth in both of these statements, so I'm not trying to invalidate the power of dreaming of realities that don't exist yet or the power of eliminating certain desires when I realize how weak the drive behind them is. The problem is that when we consume true enough, we usually end up deeply disappointed in the complexity of life. If we sit with deep wisdom we find truth that can negotiate this complexity.
I think the Jesus story and Easter Sunday is deep wisdom that's been packaged as true enough wisdom. We've been sold calligraphy on a wood pallet and a decal for our wall, when it's always been meant to expose the deepest truths of life, loss, fear and hope.
My hope is that we'll sit with deep truth this Easter Sunday in ways that illuminate the ways we individually and collectively have settled for the good news of true enough.
The hope was linked to the feeling that my prayers could be powerful and effective. Power and effect meant that I would have the ability to enact real positive change in the world. Cancer could be miraculously healed, relationships could be restored and pain could be avoided if I could unlock this whole "righteous" conundrum.
And that's where the dread came into the picture. There's a terrifying lack of specificity to being "righteous". What was I doing or not doing that could compromise this identification? Had I lied too often? Had I neglected to serve and help enough people? I was pretty sure I was a devout person that loved God, but the elevation to being righteous always felt just out of reach.
Honestly, I thought that if you had ever considered yourself righteous it would immediately disqualify you from being righteous. It was like being humble. The only way to be righteous was to be afraid you weren't.
The ultimate effect of this kind of relationship to prayer was that it all depended on me. If God was all powerful and was all good, than the only reason good things weren't happening was my lack of righteousness.
That's a real easy place to pray from, honestly. I was praying all the time because more prayer equaled more righteousness and this was the best path towards getting my prayers to be answered.
The content of my prayers is what was the problem. It was filled with fear and anxiety. My prayers cycled around trying to find the right combination of self-doubt to unlock the righteous achievement to get my prayers answered.
I think it's time to start declaring there are versions of prayer that shouldn't exist. Prayers to a petty and indifferent God shouldn't be prayed. Prayers that require anxiety to be answered can't possibly be prayed to a good God who created all things. This is such the antithesis to what we read about the character of Jesus who was demonstrating the nature of God in tangible ways.
I was recently reading an article about stand-up comedians who were processing jokes they told early in their career that they now regretted.
Jokes have been a powerful tool for perpetuating harmful thoughts and ideas about people in our world. A joke allows you to share offensive stereotypes without taking any accountability. The person who is offended is the one who needs to "lighten up" and "take a joke". The typical response is to laugh or shake your head disapprovingly with a smirk.
I find articles like these interesting because even though there aren't a lot of pure apologies (a lot of justifying and caveating instead) there is an awareness that we change over time. I actually think Christianity should be leading the charge in these kinds of conversations. We're a community with a specific word and theology for changing ideas and behavior.
Repentance is one of my favorite phrases. It literally means to turn around and go the other way. It's already assumed that there will be times when we gain new insights and awarenesses and our reaction is supposed to be change. The idea of "doubling down" on ignorance or bad information is foreign to the language of the Bible.
This Sunday my friend Cara Meredith is going to be sharing about a shift in her life that was led by a relationship and how honoring the personhood of others is key to Christianity. I encourage you to come hear Cara's journey of change with new information and the freedom that comes from repentance. May we be the kind of people that model growth and utilize repentance in that journey.
In the midst of this message series I decided to explore a new prayer practice (which is also the subject of our new Sunday morning class). I've been using a drawing workbook (found here) as the centering activity for my prayer time.
Praying through drawing and art isn't something that I would have assumed I would ever do. In our culture of excellence and specialization we rarely pursue activities we don't demonstrate skill in. Drawing only has value if you can utilize it for financial gain, and I have never demonstrated even the tiniest skill in drawing.
But what if the value is found in letting new activities bring to surface beliefs about God, self and the world around you that you couldn't have accessed otherwise? I have been finding such freedom in activities that aren't centered on productivity. It breaks the spell of viewing myself only as a commodity that needs to perform tasks to have value.
I'm the same person who turned my nose up at the adult coloring books trend as a colossal waste of time. That judgement was all rooted in a worldview that values the most direct line to productivity.
While drawing has proven to be a helpful tool for prayer for me, maybe your activity is physical activity, baking/cooking, reading, quiet meditation, or praying through a Psalm. Whatever activity you end up praying through isn't as significant as what the prayer time is doing in and through you. One of the goals of prayer is to connect God and the spiritual realities of the world around us. Because God and spirituality are all around us, we can enjoy the freedom of exploration because there isn't just one way to get there.
So, what is your new prayer practice in the next few weeks or months? New insights or breakthroughs rarely come through old patterns, so what could be waiting for you on the other side of the risk of learning a new path to talk to God?
Prayer is weird.
I've heard enough stories about voices, visions, physical sensations and trances to know that prayer creates some real oddities. Even though I like to think of myself as a person who can accept the testimony of others while reserving judgement, I rarely do a good job of it. I think I know why.
There was a time in my life where people sharing spiritual experiences was an exercise in asserting spiritual dominance.
Had a crazy vision of swans swimming in the ocean and delivering fish to babies? You were a present day Joseph! You might as well get outfitted for that technicolor dream coat.
The voice of God told you personally to go tell that stranger that you've seen them surrounded by an orange light? You're probably the next great prophet, in the lineage of Elijah and Elisha.
These stories were shared at times with me to highlight a spiritual superiority that they had. It caused me to doubt my own relationship with God and deeply desire some kind spirituality oddity to call my own. I was stuck in a cycle of doubting and desiring weird spiritual moments.
While I've let go of a desire for unexplained spiritual experiences in prayer, I haven't let go of my doubt. I still hold onto a resistance to hearing and believing in the oddness of spiritual experience, even when the person sharing it doesn't do so from a place of power over my experiences.
It's strange to have so much resistance in the way that prayer has worked in someone else's life. We project our doubt onto other people's experiences and can even cause them to doubt or hide their experiences. I wonder if experimenting in prayer can help us all be more generous in our acceptance of the oddness of faith, without prioritizing it over the experiences of others. Let each person share what they've heard, seen, not heard and not seen in a way that is excited for the diversity of our paths to Christ.