What I’ve Been Waiting For

I came across this, this morning:

“The Gate”
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

“The Gate” is by Marie Howe, the State Poet of New York. Her brother died of AIDS at 28. I had the good fortune of hearing her talk about this poem, and her life, on the radio program On Being with Krista Tippet.  I’m a fan of the program and its predecessor, Speaking of Faith. I used to listen to Speaking of Faith quite a lot on Sunday mornings, often while making pancakes before the kid(s) was/were up as Kirsten was on her way home from work. It was a ritual I enjoyed. The focus of the program has shifted over the years, and it’s not always explicitly Christian (as if a radio program could be) by any means, but I am, and “life in Christ is one whole cloth;” so that’s okay.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the first half of this program today, which was all I heard. You can find the whole thing here.

I often wonder what exactly I’ve been waiting for. I’ve written about this before, I’m sure. So many of us are constantly striving, yearning for what’s next. As kids we want to grow up. We look forward to graduating high school, and then college, to getting a job/career and maybe getting married. We look forward to buying a house perhaps. All of this is true to varying degrees depending on how much we’ve been captivated by so-called “traditional” notions of the “American dream.”

Some of us have other aspirations, perhaps more related to how much we’ve been captivated not by the American dream but by some version of the Christian one, by notions of what it looks like to live in God’s kingdom and work on his dream for the world. Some of us, including and especially myself, yearn maybe to live in community, to share resources and free up time, energy, and space to better know, serve, and love my neighbors. Some of us long to make a difference in the lives of others, however small. We yearn to see our energy and talents expended in meaningful ways, ways that matter. This is a good dream, I believe. It begs questions, though.

Can such yearning for a “Christian” dream be reduced to a core that is just as self-centered as the pursuit of the American one? Is it still rooted in a drive for “success,” by another name? What would such “success” look like, after all? Thanks be to God, I do live in an “intentional community” now/again. Does this mean I’ve “arrived?” The question remains: What have I been waiting for? Perhaps I need a wise brother or sister to stop me, to really get my attention, to hold up a sandwich and cause me to shift my gaze to those around me so that I really see them as I yearn to, and then say to me, “THIS is what you’ve been waiting for.”

You’ve been waiting for these people. You’ve been waiting for the rituals and rhythms of this life- nightly prayer and reflection when everyone’s home, shared work to do, daily journeys to undertake together, words of encouragement to give, loving presence to offer when life remains hard- as it is wont to do.

No one is likely to burst through a secret door with streamers and balloons, thereby exposing the truth behind the life I live, and tell me that it’s all been for some great, deep purpose, that all my efforts have not been in vain, that I’ve somehow finally done it, I’ve “won.” I can, of course, hope- and certainly do- that when my life on this earth (in this way) is finally through, I will be greeted with the words, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” When that day comes, that will not mark the end of all my efforts here, it will mark the beginning of being much better able to answer the question of what it’s all for. I have some sense now, though (of what it’s all for), thanks be to God. I catch glimpses of God’s kingdom come, of the love that holds all creation together and which is holding me together (broken as I feel) even now.

I see it in a meal waiting at home for the boys and Sara and I after a long day’s work, lovingly prepared by Kirsten, my best friend, my soulmate and partner and constant companion all these many years.

I see it in the force of will exerted to make convictions more than mere words or thought, but a lived reality, as precious space and time is carved out of our day to really be together with one another and root our lives and our life together in our common pursuit of Jesus- our common turning to find him pursuing us- as we observe those afore-mentioned rituals of nightly prayer and reflection together.

I see it in the many hands gathered to do the things that hands do- to buckle and unbuckle car seats, to wash dishes, to fold laundry and feed animals, to cook and clean, to grasp pens and write notes of encouragement, to fold in prayer and reach out to hug, to rest at one’s side as we rest, together, offering our very selves as much as we offer anything that our selves can do.

In all these things I see God’s kingdom come(ing), and I know what I’ve been waiting for, though it bears constant reminding, because it is in fact too good to be true, too beautiful to be believed, but no more beautiful of course than the gospel itself, than the love that again holds all things together, the Jesus that holds all of life together. May we continue to remind ourselves, to proclaim this truth with our very lives.

Words Can Actually Do the Heavy Lifting of Setting Free our Imaginations. Amen.

The following is a meditation on James 3:1-18, made by Brian Walsh over at Empire Remixed. For the full text, go here. Walsh is clearly a wordsmith, and we’re all, all the better for it.

We are a community of the word.

We are a community born,
and transformed by word.

Through words spoken and prayed,
recited and sung;
words carefully and lovingly crafted,
words that seek to bless and not curse,
that seek to set free and not bind,
words of love and prophecy,
of lament and wisdom,
words that confront and words that resonate …
through such words we have been born.
And through such words we are nourished.

It all begins with a word,
“Let there be.”
That word becomes flesh in Jesus,
and God gave us birth by that word.

James says that
the word of truth
has been conceived in us,
has given birth,
and we are children of that word.

And so be doers of that word,
live out of that word.

Like the Word who has given us birth,
bear the fruit of the word,
enflesh the word in all that you do.

Speak in a way that is faithful to that word,
and reflects that word.

A word of liberty that sets the captives free,
a healing word that binds up wounds,
a word of blessing and not curse,
a word of life, not death.

James is concerned about how we talk.
He knows that discourse shapes life.

He knows that how you talk about the world,
how you talk about your neighbour,
how you talk about your enemy,
how you talk about those who are different from you,
even how you talk about yourself to yourself,
forms, shapes and legitimates how you live,
for good or ill.

It is said that talk is cheap.
I’m not so sure.
In fact, I think that cheap talk can be very expensive.

Cheap talk will mouth platitudes that will cost you dearly
when you need a real word of truth and comfort.

Cheap talk will revert to a syrupy sentimentality
that cannot sustain you in the midst of real pain and crisis.

Cheap talk will make quick and easy promises
that will evaporate when the going gets tough.

Cheap talk can be very expensive in the long run.

But true speech already knows the cost.
True speech invariably is born in pain.
Such speech knows that truth is never cheap, but always very expensive.
A true word of liberty only emerges out of oppressive captivity.
Words that can heal are always crafted in the face of deep wounding.
Words can bless only when they are wrestled from the grip of curse.
Words bring life only when they have faced death with tear-filled eyes.

It is true that you can talk a lot and do very little.
I’ve seen the tee-shirt: “Less talk, more action.”

And it is true that some of the best things are said
without words at all.
There is more than one way to speak.

And yet, words matter.
Maybe we don’t need “less talk” and “more action”
so much as we need “better talk” that engenders “better action.”
Maybe we need to find richer ways of talking,
deeper ways to speak,
a speech with a deeper wisdom,
a language that gets to the heart of things,
a discourse that breaks some of the rules,
in order to set us free.

That is why we are so grateful to our wordsmiths in this community.

Those who craft our prayers,
choose the words that we will sing,
utter sacramental words over bread and wine,
and have a pastoral word (often surrounded by the silence of listening)
at the right time in the right place.

And so it is that we do not shrug off broken words and broken relationships.
When we pray words of blessing over those who are departing,
those who are about to be ordained to ministry,
those entering into the covenant of marriage,
those reaffirming their faith,
or receiving the waters of baptism,
when we make promises to each other,
when we bear witness to promises of covenant,
we know that these words have power and weight
and we dare to hold each other to our words.

Words that are life-giving are no one’s property.
Such words emerge out of community and are for community.

And so it is that we find ourselves drawn to those who have such words.

Many of you know some of the wordsmiths
who have helped to shape my vocabulary:
Bruce Cockburn
Wendell Berry
Ani Di Franco
Bruce Springsteen

And you also have your own list of wordsmiths.

We are drawn to wordsmiths who give us words
when we don’t have our own.

We are drawn to wordsmiths who employ language to
open up vistas that we have not seen.

We are drawn to wordsmiths who somehow engage the world
with such clarity,
open-eyed honesty,
and hope,
we can see “beyond the range of normal sight,”
we can “rest in the grace of the world,”
we won’t be sold out on any cheap “optimism tonight,”
and we’ll have the imagination “to carry the fire and light the spark”
as we “stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart.”

That’s right.
When employed by the likes of
Cockburn, Berry, Di Franco and Springsteen
words can actually do the heavy lifting of setting free our imaginations.

Lord, let it be so.

Throw Caution to the Wind (Love, Just Because)

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” (MSG)

Boy, do I try. Help me, Lord, to love extravagantly, without caution. If doing so is the only thing I ever get good at it in life, what a life it will have been.


“Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” This is how the Message renders I Peter 5:7, which we may know better in the NIV: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Both are powerful messages of God’s care, but as is often the case, I like the way it reads in the Message. I suppose if I were to cast all my anxiety on God, I could live carefree and maybe even I would, but this is not usually how I live. Usually I am the careful one, the one who is literally full of care- for others, to be sure, but all too often simply for myself. What would it be like to live carefree? I can scarcely imagine it.

To be told to live carefree, because he is most careful with me, is to be challenged to radically reorient my entire way of being. It is to be reminded of who and whose I am. In Jesus all things hold together, not Robert. His care is necessary and most effective. To be told that he is careful with me is a tender word of love, one which stills my racing heart and creates the space in which I can lay down my burdens. Lord, let it be so.


Jesus Wears a Tattered Old Brown Suit

I saw Jesus today, strolling among the shops and consumption palaces of suburbia. He was older, maybe in his early 60’s. He wore a tattered old brown suit with a matching, equally tattered hat. He walked slowly, with a cane. He had shoes on, but no socks, and one pant lag was raised to reveal some kind of bandage running up his leg. I stared at him, and when he turned to look at me we exchanged weak smiles, as if neither of us could bear not his shame and embarrassment, but mine. Father, forgive me, for I know not what I do.