Tag Archives: Fear

Psalm 56 Trusting God in the Midst of Trouble

Archaeological finds at Gath (Tell es-Safi) By Ori~ – Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8945813

Psalm 56

<To the leader: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. Of David. A Miktam, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.>
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me;
2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me. O Most High[1],
3 when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?
5 All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps. As they hoped to have my life,
7 so repay them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?
12 My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.

In God we trust was adopted in 1956 as the official motto of the United States and was placed on all government currency the following year. Yet, these official words of a community trusting in God have not prevented the people of the United States from being afraid. For the psalmist the statement, “In God I trust” is a statement which moves them from being afraid to a defiant stance of faithful endurance in the midst of suffering. The God of the psalmist is trustworthy and sees the strife of the righteous ones. Their tears have not been shed in vain, their suffering and strife are not meaningless because God has treasured them, and God will deliver them from their turmoil.

The superscription of the Psalm places it within the same time period as Psalm 52 but focuses on the brief narrative of David in Gath in 1 Samuel 21: 10-15. David has fled King Saul and goes to the King of Gath to attempt to find safety. The servants of the King of Gath wonder if they have a valuable hostage they can use, but David feigns madness, and the King of Gath sends him away. David finds himself unwelcome both in Israel and among the enemies of Israel. He is on the run and trying to survive. This time of uncertainty makes sense as a framework for this Psalm which focuses on trusting God in the midst of fear and the militaristic language of this poem could apply to David and his followers, but this psalm, like the rest of the psalms, can find meaning beyond the context of their superscription.

Like the previous psalm, there are several words that have caused troubles for translators and have produced multiple readings of individual verses, but the overall direction of the psalm is not in doubt. The complaint of the psalmist which is voiced in verse 1-2 and 5-6 revisits the common theme of this portion of the psalter, a righteous one oppressed by a group who cause them trouble. The militaristic language reflected in the complaint where the righteous one finds themselves trampled by warriors who oppose them. These ones opposing the righteous one is set against them. They are creating strife, watching their words and movements, seeking to injure their cause, and aligning their thoughts against them for evil. The righteous one finds themselves in a struggle against others in a time where they cannot rely upon other people.

This psalm pivots on the words ‘afraid’ and ‘trust.’ Both words appear three times in parallel with each other

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (3)
In God I trust; I am not afraid; (4)
in God I trust; I am not afraid. (11)

In this psalm, their trust in God is what moves them from fear to not being afraid. The trustworthiness of the LORD their God transforms their fear into fearlessness. The one sustaining them is God, the ones who oppose the righteous are mere mortals. As Paul would later echo, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31) The poet trusts that God is one who sees their situation and will deliver their soul from death. Their God not only knows about their sufferings but can measure the physical manifestations of that suffering. Their tossings are counted, their tears are bottled and recorded, and God will not continue to allow these offering of pain to go unanswered. The God of the people of Israel is one who has “observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.” (Exodus 3:7-8) This God who the psalmist trusts will not allow their suffering to go unanswered.

The psalm ends on a confident note: they trust in God, they will perform their vows obediently, they will offer up offerings of gratitude, and they will walk before God. The psalmist may not be delivered by the end of the psalm, but they stand in the confidence that God will act, and they will be able to enter a future with gratitude for how God has delivered them. Their opponents may remain, but their fear is gone. They stand in a defiant trust in their God who hears their cries and delivers them, so what can a mere mortal do to them.

[1] The Hebrew marom here is problematic and led to very different translations. The NIV translates “many are attacking me in their pride”. While the NRSV sees this as a designation of God, hence the translation “many fight against me O Most High. Both translations can make sense in the context of the psalm.

Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch

‘A house is a man’s castle’ and so like the castles of old we surround them with fortifications
Locks bar the gates to prevent the approach of the barbarian hordes that loot and pillage
Cameras act as sentinels watching every boundary where someone might approach
Alarms await as klaxons to summon those who come with badges and guns to defend us
And we sit alone, separated from the dangerous world in the cage we built to keep it outside
Signs declare that this is a neighborhood where the citizens are on a hair trigger alert
‘Good walls make good neighbors’ declared the neighbor in Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
But perhaps we, like Frost’s neighbor who declares this, are merely cutting ourselves off
From the world of people who would otherwise pass through on their journey
Visitors who we might invite inside, to break bread with and to listen to their stories
Instead we sit alone searching our screens for the connections we used to make at table
Entering the sanctuaries we made from the modern world, only to wonder if perhaps
The neighborhood watch, instead of creating a place where our children could play in safety,
Instead became a place where we watch one another from our separate cells longingly
If our homes which became castles were really only dungeons in disguise, our own Alcatraz
Where the locks and bars and cameras keep us in, and the rest of the world out
Like animals trapped in some bizarre zoo so that the neighborhood can watch
As we live out these lives that are no longer worth living surrounded by the suffocating safety
Of the world that our fear locked us inside, disconnected from our neighbors and the world
On the other side of the walls, ingesting the worry that comes to us every hour from our screens
Telling us that the world is a dangerous place and that we are safest locked inside our homes
Where ‘good walls make good neighbors’ who no longer cross the property line
But instead remain as the neighborhood watch, watching for signs of life that approach our walls
So that it might be escorted back to its own place, its own home, its own cage
Lest some lion or tiger or bear might escape from its place in the exhibition

In the Land of Trolls

Theodor Kittelsen, "The Sea Troll" (1887)

Theodor Kittelsen, “The Sea Troll” (1887)

In the Land of Trolls

We dreamed of a networked world full of bridges
Spanning the gaps between people and nations
Connectivity in a globalized world brought us closer
Enabling us to find new brothers and sisters and friends
That lived in lands we could have never visited before
The oceans and borders that separated ceased to matter
And we could share our images, our passions, our hearts desire
Sharing the parts of life we wanted others to see and admire
Never knowing that this land of connectivity built its bridges
In the land of trolls.
 
They sat there silent: watching, waiting, biding their time
Plotting how to ambush and overwhelm the unsuspecting
The beautiful avatars that ventured over their bridges provoked something
Within them: hatred and ugliness emerged from their gut
And many found themselves overcome by the bile and bellow
The bridges also allowed the trolls to find their own fellows
Together they could construct cathedrals of fear and congregations of hate
Defending the bridges they claimed as their own domain
Mainly working through intimidation and harassment
Yet occasionally in their obsession they use physical violence
But often the psychological scars of the encounter
Entered the blood and bone of the ambushed
In the land of trolls
 
So how do you deal with trolls, do you abandon the bridges?
Surrendering the dream of connectivity and the connections made
Are armies sent beneath the bridges in an attempt to root them out?
Do solitary heroes stand-alone against the onslaught of the hoard?
Or do we simply refuse to feed the trolls any longer?
Do we deny them the sustenance of our fear or the sight of our pain?
Others have attempted to act as missionaries attempting to convert
Yet, the trolls have often dined on the well-meaning priest of reconciliation
The trolls seem to like the safety and darkness of their unseen haunts
Yet, I wonder, if a troll unseen and unheard even exists at all
Or does it become one more vanquished spirit searching for a victim
Some mortal to haunt with its shadowy threats and terrifying words
Yet, perhaps if their voice has no power they might find themselves bypassed
Haunting an unused wasteland cursed to wander the wilderness
That has become the land of trolls

Psalm 27- Faith in an Age of Anxiety

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

Psalm 27
<Of David.>
 1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
 4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
 8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
 13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

The fear of the LORD is the antidote to the fear of the things that produce anxiety in the world around the Psalmist. One of the most common commands when there is a divine revelation through a dream, an angel or a prophecy is “Do not be afraid.” Often these words come in situations that would produce fear and yet the one who calls the Psalmist, the prophets and poets, the kings and the shepherds, the young women like Mary and old men like Zechariah becomes their light and salvation throughout their life and journey. As the apostle Paul can write to the church in Rome, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Or as Martin Luther could explain when talking about what it means to follow the first commandment of having no other Gods, “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.” The Psalmists faith in God becomes such a central part of their life that they can enter into the darkest valleys without being paralyzed by fear because their LORD is indeed guiding them through those places and times.

The fear of the LORD is not an immunization against bad things happening to the faithful one, the Psalms and even the theology of books like Deuteronomy are not some simple prosperity gospel where trust in the LORD guarantees a return on investment in wealth, happiness, children, flocks and fields. There is a sense in which that trust is rewarded and validated but the Psalmist and those throughout scripture who are lifted up as models of faith often live challenging lives. Job, for example, would continue to believe that he would be vindicated by the LORD even when his household and health were all destroyed and yet, defiantly, Job would trust that God would answer his plea. The martial imagery of enemies that attack in cannibalistic fashion or an army that encamps around the faithful one may be metaphors for the great struggles or, if the Psalm refers backwards into David’s experience, it may reflect the reality of being one who is hunted for. Faith doesn’t make life easy but it may make the incredible struggle that one goes through bearable because faith becomes the antidote to the overwhelming fear and anxiety that may be present otherwise in the Psalmist’s life.

Worship becomes a foundational piece of the faithful life. The desire of the Psalmist is to live their life in the house of the LORD. The temple or tabernacle becomes a place to seek God’s presence, God’s voice and guidance, to reaffirm one’s trust in their God and a place where prayers can go forth. It is a place where defiant shouts of joy and joyous songs and praises can be offered. It becomes a continual reminder that the Psalmist does not journey alone, but that the LORD their God and other faithful ones, perhaps many other faithful ones also join in these defiant shouts and songs. Faith is strengthened in the continual dwelling in the house of the LORD.

Their God to the faithful one becomes shelter, the one who conceals them under the cover of the tent and the one who sets them upon a rock. Shelter, while used only here in the Psalms, reflects a common idea of the LORD sheltering the people of Israel and is the word behind the Feast of Sukkoth (Festival of Booths) remembering how the LORD cared for the people during their Exodus journey. The LORD has been the rock and foundation before, as in Psalm 18, but now the LORD places the Psalmist upon a rock where they are safe and sheltered from their enemies. As Rolf Jacobson can point out the tent can be a reference to the tabernacle or temple but it also has the element of being God’s protective presence. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 269) Within the hospitality culture of the ancient world being concealed under the cover of the tent may also allude to the expectation of protection provided for the guest that has been welcomed into one’s home and there are numerous stories throughout the bible, probably the most famous being that of Lot and the two angels that he shields within his house in Genesis 19 (a text often misinterpreted). In the ancient world if someone comes to your house and you extend them hospitality then their lives are entrusted to your care.

Yet, even the faith that knows that the LORD is their light and salvation may have to convince itself to trust in the midst of the challenges of life. For me verses eight through fourteen may be this type of internal dialogue of faithfulness in the midst of challenge. There is the plea to be heard and the reminder spoken to oneself to seek the face of the Lord and a reaffirmation of this seeking followed by a plea not to hide or turn away, a plea not to cast one off or forsake. There is the continual struggle to remember the character of God and yet the falling back into the language of commitment, deeper commitment to the faithful one than even a parental bond may yield. This Psalm has been a Psalm of commitment and trust and the Psalmist calls upon God in the midst of their struggles to uphold that trust: not to give them up to their adversaries and to lead them on the level paths. The Psalm ends on that note of trust as the wait for the LORD and the belief that in the midst of their time of trial the LORD will somehow deliver them or give them the strength and courage to endure.

Freedom for Fear and Shame: Grace in our Lives-A Sermon from July 21,2013

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the most common command in the bible is “do not be afraid.” And yet fear is a very real force in all of our lives and it causes us to do some things we are often not proud of. Fear causes us to shut ourselves off from others and even from God, and shame does this as also. Fear and shame are a little different, fear is related to something external, it can be another person, something in our environment, something that might happen, but it is fixed on something outside of oneself. Shame is focused internally, it focuses on the fear that someone else will not accept us if they know something about us, that they won’t like or love or care about me anymore. That they won’t want to be near me, it is the fear of disconnection with other people. Both fear and shame have a profound impact on our lives, they begin to tell us “we aren’t good enough” or “who are you to believe that you can do this” and they can keep us trapped inside that which is known and safe. We may shut ourselves off from other things or other people.

There has been a lot of coverage in the news over the last couple of weeks of the George Zimmerman trial, and I’m not going to go back into the trial itself, nor am I going to try to guess what the jury should or should not have decided. But the incident between George Zimmerman and Travoyn Martin was an episode based out of fear. You see, it arose out of one man seeing another man walking through the neighborhood on a stormy night, reacting out of fear and confronting him and eventually killing him. George Zimmerman believed Trayvon was a threat and he reacted out of that. Now we can’t go back and change the past, we can’t wave a magic wand and make everything better, but can we imagine a better future.  This one of the things posted last week that I really liked was from Jermaine Paul, who is a singer, but he wrote, “How cool would it be to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon a ride home to get him out of the rain that night.” That’s a different world than what we live in, but it is a world worth imagining and a world worth fighting for. I think it is a world that Jesus envisioned and  we are going to hear more about as we go through the sermon today, but it is not the world I grew up in.

Those who know my story know that I spent four years in the Corps of Cadets and another 4 ½ years in the Army and they taught me a lot of the same things. They taught me a lot of what we commonly think about as courage, but courage as they taught is was to be bigger, badder and stronger than whoever else might be a threat. So instead of someone else being a threat you then you can be a threat to them but over the last thirteen years I’ve had to learn about a much different type of courage. The word courage comes from the latin word for heart ‘cur’ and courage literally means to be able to tell the story of one’s heart. That’s vulnerability, that being able to open up to who you really are. To be honest in my time in the Army you didn’t open up who you are but you pushed it down inside and you built up your own little suit of armor around yourself so that you were impervious to anything anyone might say or do about you. But real courage is being willing to take off that armor and to be open and vulnerable knowing that you are able to show who you really are. Knowing that you can be hurt and wounded because your armor is down, that someone might not accept you or the things you create or do. It is the courage to be who you are because who you are is valuable.

We live in a culture that doesn’t understand the very well, we live in a culture where our biggest idol is not money or power, at least as I’m coming to believe our biggest idol is security. We are so desperate to feel safe and secure. A lot of these things come in different forms and we are afraid to have enough to retire, afraid that someone might break into our house, someone might strike as a terrorist in the heart of our city. Yet, I think we have become more and more willing to surrender pieces of who we are to feel safe. We begin to give away pieces of our identity in order to feel safe. Yet, I need to be honest with you: security is a cruel, cruel god. If security is your god, then faith becomes transformed into certainty. There is no longer any room to question or to doubt, and yet when faith is transformed into certainty you are a short, short step from extremism. Faith as the bible understands it is about relationship and a journey, and if you notice from the stories of the bible the disciples often don’t get it and yet they keep following behind Jesus and in the journey they learn and grow. Love becomes trumped by the law. We begin to lock things down, making it more about absolutes and less about getting to know and love others. The world becomes transformed into them and us and we build up walls between us and them. Some of the walls are physical and some of the walls are emotional and social. This was the image of the wall I grew up with:

Berlin Wall

This is the Berlin Wall, it was built before I was born and while I was in college I got to see it come down, it was the wall that everyone knew about as I was growing up. The Berlin Wall separated East from West Berlin, two groups of people who were not really separate ethnically, sometimes even a family was split apart by the wall, but they were divided by two political systems. The wall separated two groups of people and it kept one group in and one group out and it was built out of fear, for security and honestly I believe it also was built out of a sense of shame.

But we come to know a very different God in Jesus, you see for Jesus faith is learned by following and we are following the one for whom love is the law. If you remember Jesus’ two great commandments, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus goes even further in the Sermon on the Mount when he tells them “you shall love your enemies” or in John’s gospel when the disciples are gathered around the table and he says, “I give you a new commandment, that you are to love one another.”And love comes up again and again and again as what Jesus commands and that is much different than trying to get it all locked down into a particular way. And as we follow Jesus we realize the world is no longer broken down into them and us, but rather as Paul can say in Galatians:

28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3: 28)

All these things that in Paul’s life that had been the defining things became unimportant. Are you a Jew like or are you a Gentile, not a Jew, are you like us or are you not. Are you a slave or are you free, are you a man or are you a woman, rich or poor, college educated or not and we can put all those things in there, but ultimately in Christ all those things no longer matter. And Paul had to learn this in his own life. If you remember Paul’s story, he started out as a Pharisee and he understood that there were certain things that made him right with God and he was so convinced that these early followers of Jesus were wrong that he was out to wipe them out. He stood there looking on as they stoned Stephen and then he was on his way to Damascus to find any of Jesus early followers he could and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. Until Jesus met him on the way. Paul recounts this way of thinking in Philippians 3:

4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! 5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin– a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

Paul may have been righteous, and I don’t think Paul had any sense of guilt for the way he followed the law, but it was a righteousness without love. And Paul realizes that now everything has changed because of what is now important in his life. Paul continues:

7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ

You see Paul had to go through this transformation in his own life, from a world where he was separated from those who were not like him: I am a Jew and beyond that I am a Pharisee and a very zealous Pharisee, so zealous I persecuted these early Christians. I’m righteous, these other people are unrighteous, I’m a saint, they are a sinner, I am good they are bad.

And then we encounter Jesus, and have you ever noticed that Jesus is always getting in trouble for being with the wrong people at the wrong? Almost all his controversies are because he either is healing on Sabbath or he is touching and eating with the wrong people. He touches a leper, that should make him unclean- and yet instead it makes the leper clean. He is sitting at the house of a Pharisee and then a woman comes in and anoints him with perfume and washes his feet with her tears, and while the Pharisee is thinking, ‘if this Jesus was really a prophet he would know what kind of woman this is and not let her touch him’ but instead Jesus says to him ‘do you see this woman, when I came in you didn’t anoint me nor did you wash my feet, but she anointed me and has washed my feet with her tears and her sins which are many are forgiven.’ Or he hangs out with sinners and tax collectors, like Matthew. This is Carvaggio’s painting of the calling of Matthew:

The Calling of St. Matthew by Carvaggio (1599-1600)

The Calling of St. Matthew by Carvaggio (1599-1600)

Jesus is on the right pointing and Matthew is in the center of the table with a bewildered look on his face, with his fingers pointing to himself as if to say, ‘me, you are calling me.’ This is how Matthew records it in the 9th chapter:

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

 

I actually like that translation, even though they take a little freedom with the word there, for I think we often think of being at the table with Jesus being like this:

Picture1

Where everyone is holy and righteous and good, yet people in Jesus day saw it being more like this:

 

Lords supper modernWhere Jesus is there with the sinners, tax collectors, all the wrong people the people they didn’t want to hang out with. Sinners and tax collectors in Jesus day were no less likely than the people in the picture above. In my own experience I keep being stretched as I encounter Jesus among the least likely people I expected. Matthew continues the story

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor– sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

 

We come from a tradition, the Lutheran tradition, that gives us a great place to wrestle with this because the person we take our name from, Martin Luther, wrestled mightily with this. Luther started out as an Augustinian monk, the most rigorous of the religious orders of his day, and Luther strove to do everything the right way, to live according to all the rules to try to be right with God and Luther never felt he could achieve that. Staupitz who was Luther’s superior in the order as well as his confessor, after sitting through hours and hours of hearing Luther confess is reported to have said, ‘Luther you come in here confessing every little thing you have done, you can’t so much as fart without coming here fearing condemnation and yet I’ve never once heard you confess anything remotely interesting.’ Yet Luther was afraid that he couldn’t keep all the commandments and love God. He was convinced that God didn’t love him, at least before the reformation breakthrough where he realized that God loved him well before he ever began his journey that led him to monasticism. It transformed him so much that later in his life he could tell his friend and younger colleague, Philip Melancthon who was trying to get everything right and was afraid of making a mistake, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ evermore boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death and the world.”

Paul also had to come through this transformation from being viewing righteousness as being a part of the law to being transformed by the righteousness of God that comes through the love of Christ. As he writes in Romans 8:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Who can take that away from you? Nobody. You have been freed from the power of sin and death, now that doesn’t we don’t find ourselves struggling, but the victory has already been decided. Paul continues

3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.

 

So who gets to say who we are, who gets to have that word. Is it others who say that we should be afraid of those who are different from us, who ask us to build walls between ourselves and others. No. Is it our own selves telling us that we are not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough. No. It is the God who made us the baptized children of God, who marked us with the cross of Christ forever and sealed us by the Holy Spirit. That God who promises that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, nothing in our lives, nothing in heaven or on earth, no rulers or powers, nothing.Who are you, you are baptized children of God and no one, nothing can take that away from you, and you are loved. And it is in that love that we can imagine the way the world looks in light of that love, Jesus spends most of his ministry talking about the kingdom of God, talking about his vision of the way life should be. This was not a new thing, in the Old Testament this would have been talked about in terms of living in God’s shalom, God’s peace and vision for the world and harmony with God and the world around them. That is why the two great commandments are you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And as we begin to claim who we are in light of this love and identity those things like fear and shame which cause us to give away potions of who we are begin to lose their hold on us. Now this isn’t easy, I certainly don’t claim to be the one who has mastered this. There are times in my own life where fear kept me paralyzed or shame made me believe that I was unloveable. I can own that, and the reality is that I didn’t earn it. Martin Luther would say that “God’s love doesn’t find that which is pleasing to it; God’s love creates that which is pleasing to it.” We weren’t right with God on our own, God went out and made us right, God goes out seeking us because that is who God is. That gives us a great opportunity. You see, in the midst of Jesus ministry he never built any walls, but he sat at a lot of tables and tables bring us together. He sat at tables with those many in his day would have excluded. I had the opportunity to hear Bishop Mark Hanson, the Bishop of the ELCA a couple years ago and he related a story how when he was elected bishop a colleague who he trusted told him, ‘your calling is to take the walls that divide us and turn them into tables for conversation.’ I think that is what Jesus did, he took the walls that divided Matthew from the rest of the community, ‘he’s a sinner, he’s a tax collector’ and he brought him to the table where he was included as well as the other sinners and tax collectors. That’s what Paul did in going from the ministry that divided Jew and Gentiles to being the apostle to the Gentiles. And grace frees us from that shame, that fear that we need to create a different and better past, indeed grace is freedom from having to seek a better past. The reality is that who you are is accepted right now, God has made you and claimed you. So take down the walls and join those at the table. Amen.

 

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Creativity, Spirituality and Shame

creativity

As I embark on the thought experiment I call the creativity project which will not be in any way systematic, but a set of explorations from various perspectives around topics of creativity, spirituality, and imagination I am going to start in what many will initially think is an unusual place: shame. Brené Brown’s work on shame has been one of the most revealing perspectives in what limits or destroys our capacity for creativity. Shame as Brené defines it is:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. (Brown, 2007, p. 4)(emphasis author’s)

Shame is that emotion that tells us that we are unworthy, unloved or unloveable, it can allow an action or another’s perspective to define who we are in our own eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that this incredibly powerful fear can dampen if not kill creativity for an individual or an organization and that it can also by extension powerfully effect spirituality.  In Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me she makes this insightful comment which is well worth the two paragraphs it spans:

I did see important patterns and themes in terms of how women experienced their faith and spirituality. For example, the women who talked about feeling shame used the words church and religion more. The women who talked about resilience used the terms faith, spirituality and beliefs more. At first I wondered if there was a connection between “organized religion” and shame. I didn’t find one. At least half of the women who used the terms faith, spirituality, and beliefs attended church and were members of an organized religion.

What did become clear to me is this: It is the relationship that women have with God, their higher power or their spiritual world that often serves as the source of resilience. The essence of resilience, in a spiritual sense, is about relationship, spirit and faith. For many women, spiritual connection is essential to shame reliance. In fact, over half of the women, who, as children, experienced deep shame around religion developed shame resilience by forging new spiritual paths. They may have changed churches or their beliefs, but spirituality and faith remain an important part of their lives. Another pattern that emerged is the belief that faith is about nurturing our best selves and shame moves us away from that purpose. The sources of shame seem much more connected to earthly, man-made and interpreted rules and regulations and social-community expectations around religion (Do you go to church regularly? Are you loyal to your family religion? Are you raising your kids a certain way? Are you breaking rules that might shame the family or the community? Do you know your place as a woman?). (Brown, 2007, p. 259f)

Brené’s later two works, The Gift of Imperfection (Brown, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Brown, 2012) (which I blogged about in the posts Daring Greatly, Cultures of Scarcity, and Shame on You) she moves to the concept of vulnerability as the characteristic that people who feel loveable (and are able to move beyond their shame) share. This vulnerability allows people to be courageous, compassionate and connected with others. In contrast fear, disengagement and yearning for more courage may come out of an environment’s or an individual’s shame. For example when shame is a management style “engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.” (Brown, 2012, p. 14)

As we think about the type of community’s that will nurture creativity and spirituality for the coming generations we need to pay close attention to the ways shame, fear, manipulation and coercion are used. Do we have communities where people are valued for their conformity or for their individuality? Do we have communities where people feel they need to fit in (shame is the fear of being disconnected)? Can we be a place where not only failure but forgiveness is an option? Do churches begin to reflect the culture of scarcity we experience in the world around us or can we dare greatly and trust greatly in the abundance that is found in our own faith?

The reality is that many if not all communities and individuals have a long way to go in nurturing a climate of acceptance, connection, resilience and support, faith and spirituality. It is a journey that we must undertake if we are really going to be about helping people in their relationship with God and with one another. The likelihood is that on the journey there will be many failures, many times where we will need to be forgiven for returning to shame for motivation, and hopefully on the way we may all grow both more courageous and more vulnerable and more resilient to the shame which dampens our creativity and spirituality.

I’ve included another of Brené Brown’s talks and I love the comment she makes that “Faith-vulnerability=extremism, that faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty…spirituality is inherently vulnerable.”

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