A “Going Deeper” Special Series: “Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Well, friends, our walk through some of Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the life we live as Christians–as God’s beloved–is finished. If you’ve followed along I’d love to know. I hope, too, that it’s been worth your while: useful, challenging, hopeful…whatever. May God be with us as we’re with each other and the world. May we be at home in the love of God wherever we find ourselves.

If you want to share in the comments section any insights you’ve had, or let us know if this series was worth your while, feel free to do so. Maybe we’ll have others like it in the future.

peace,

rich

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“Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope In Hard Times”

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I’m home today, tomorrow too. Our daughter had a routine surgery, but it’s one that comes with a week (or more) of rest. It’s a quiet morning, and unusually, my mind is quiet too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s passage comes from a book compiled after Nouwen’s death. He was a prolific writer, and produced many things that were left unpublished before his unexpected passing; quite a few books were posthumously published, edited by those who had worked and lived with him for years. This is one of them. It’s an honest, raw, and hopeful sort of book, and the subtitle explains it well: How can we find hope in hard times?

As Nouwen builds his encouraging argument, we read this, below. It’s part of a discussion on how to move “from fatalism to hope.” A small passage, but:

Hope does not mean that we will avoid or be able to ignore suffering, of course. Indeed, hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For eve when they do not, we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God’s sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficult can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope. 

So often I hope in things and people, in promises that they make or services they offer. The trouble, though, is that this is a weak base for hope; it can cave in quickly, and whatever is built upon it can fall apart. This small passage from Nouwen reminds of hope’s basis, of trust and faith and how intertwined all these are. I’m returned to God. (If you want to buy this small book, do it from the Henri Nouwen society! http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0849945097)

What do you think of Nouwen’s words here?

Good Grief!

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Bob Trube2Good grief sounds like an oxymoron. Only a disturbed person relishes loss. Grieving, whether we face the loss of a person, a job we love, a situation in life or a diminishment of our own capacities, comes with a number of emotions, none of which are pleasant–sadness, depression, anger, confusion and more. Yet Rudy’s message on Sunday proposed that we can grieve well. Is this really possible?

Before we get to that question, I want to acknowledge that Rudy helped me see something more clearly than I had before. It was that because we were created originally to live eternally and not die, we often plan and live for permanence and not loss. We think of being best friends forever, of putting down lasting roots somewhere, of things always being the way they are. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

A good friend observed to me that the first half of life is about acquisition and achievement whereas the second half is about loss. Somewhere along the way, we confront the impermanence of life and that “the center doesn’t hold, things fall apart.” And the challenging question we face is whether the grief of loss is just the gateway to a despairing view of life. Perhaps this is why we try to assuage grief and rush the process because to face it honestly means facing the hardest questions about life.

As Rudy talked about, it all comes back to Jesus and our resurrection hope in him. If Jesus truly came back to life, there is indeed a basis for hoping against hope that there is something beyond the ultimate of all losses–the death of others and our own death. Trusting in his promise, we can face the hardest realities of loss and name them and then realize that Jesus and not loss or death has had the last word. There is a life and a restoration of creation in which we encounter the realization of all our hopes–not only of life everlasting, but of real relationship with those in the Lord we have lost and real work that bears lasting fruit in a creation that is renewed.

How does this help us grieve well? It enables us to have the courage to name our grief honestly with all the emotion that comes with it.  It enables us to allow the journey of grief to take its time with us rather than feeling we must manufacture “all better” feelings when that’s not true. And it enables us to lean into the comfort of God’s promise even when we don’t feel God’s presence.

Loss really doesn’t seem the way life is supposed to be which makes it so hard. The promise of the gospel doesn’t mean an escape from grief but rather that grief needn’t be suppressed nor end in despair–there is hope and light on the other side of the dark night that gives us courage to walk in the valley of the shadow of death and loss.

 

Something Better than Circles of Life or Transcendence

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My post for this week’s Going Deeper is actually a re-post of a blog I wrote before hearing Rich and Rudy’s sermon (I loved trying to figure out what the English was going to be from listening to the Spanish!). One standout idea to me was that death is not merely one point in “the circle of life” but the “last enemy” and that the “death of death” of which we see the first fruits in Jesus resurrection. It struck me that many of my reflections would be a re-hash of what I wrote for Easter and so I thought it simpler just to share that. So here it is:

Bob Trube2In the current movie, Transcendence, (which I have not seen) Johnny Depp’s character is mortally wounded by anti-Artificial Intelligence terrorists, and before he dies, his consciousness is downloaded into a computer by his wife. As is typical of such things, all sorts of mayhem results as his consciousness connects to the internet.

What is interesting is that this is not just the stuff of movies but that there is serious thinking and the beginnings of research with the goal of doing just this, as evidenced in the Wikipedia article on Mind uploading. Apart from the ethical questions raised by such efforts, my question is, why would you want to do this when there is a much better alternative?

What am I talking about? Resurrection–the idea of coming to life again after one has died in a new type of physical body that has continuity in some way with the one we have in this life but is subject to neither aging, disease, or death. Frankly, there is a good deal I like about embodied existence that a purely mental or even spiritual existence can’t hold a candle to. There are the experiences of the senses, glorious visions, beautiful music, delectable smells, the pleasures of eating, touching and being touched. There are the delights of using one’s body to translate our ideas into a gourmet dish, a song, a spoken word, a beautiful garden, a work of art, or even just this sentence. Some might argue that there are digital equivalents to this, but I’m not buying it.

HE-IS-RISEN-NOWISEEMEDIA

This is why I celebrate Easter. Resurrection is not a speculation of futurists or a research goal for the near or distant future. When we say, “He is risen, He is risen indeed” in churches around the world, we celebrate the reality that the first man has already come back from the dead, not as a resuscitated corpse, but as a gloriously new, yet emphatically the same Jesus in the flesh. Beyond their wildest dreams, the first followers of Jesus empirically validated the reality that resurrection is possible. They saw, heard, even touched the risen Christ.

Not only that, but followers of Jesus believe that “resurrection” is already at work in us, dying though we are. The apostle Paul speaks of a “new creation” having begun in us, that we already have experienced a being raised from spiritual death to life. The resurrection of the body simply marks the completion of a process whose beginning was symbolized when I was lifted up out of the waters of baptism.

Death seems so final, and perhaps what motivates people who dream of accomplishing “transcendence” is to find a way to evade and transcend this final reality.  If you don’t believe in a hereafter, if all you believe is that when you die, you rot, then transcendence is the only game in town. I also wonder if for others, “transcendence” is the best shot at evading the hereafter, or so one hopes.

Death also seems not to be the way things were meant to be. The Bible speaks of it as the last enemy to be destroyed. No wonder we fight it so hard with all our medical technology! No wonder we sometimes try to deny its existence or thwart its impact upon our lives. The truth is, I love my life in this body. I loved my first cup of coffee today. I loved the spring freshness of the air as I worked to clean up my yard. I even love the twinges in muscles that tell me that I used them! Truth is, I don’t want to die. In fact, some training I’ve received tells me that one should be concerned and take action when a person speaks of wanting to die.

So I get the transcendence thing. But I’m not going there. Today I will be celebrating something I think is far better. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is empirical evidence that my bodily resurrection is possible, and that of my parents, and all those I love who have hoped in Christ. I am celebrating the hope that one day I will see them in all their physical glory, that I will be seen with a glory I’ve never had before, and above all, that I will see the glory of the risen Christ. Oh, what a day that will be!

Learning from 1 Corinthians

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In his sermon this week, Rich invited us to look back over 1 Corinthians and reflect on what we’ll take away from the book. He asked us what we would say if someone asked us what the book was about. What has struck me is that 1 Corinthians is a master class by the apostle Paul on how to apply the gospel to life. Here are some examples.

ImageUnity (chapters 1-4): Christians are one in Christ, and the one Holy Spirit dwells in them. Thus there is no excuse for cliques or celebrity leaders in the church. Those of us who think we know stuff need to be especially careful to keep the focus on Jesus and follow the Spirit’s lead. We are all members of one body, and that body has only one Head.

Unity and diversity (chapter 12): But unity doesn’t mean uniformity. The church, as the body of Christ, needs both unity and diversity to function. All gifts are necessary, and all people are important. This means that our value doesn’t come from how we compare with other people. It comes from the unique dignity and gifts that God has granted to each of us.

Bodies (chapters 5, 15): God cares about our bodies. What we do with them is important. We’re whole people, not souls riding around in disposable shells. Our spiritual lives have physical expressions, and our physical lives have spiritual expressions. We belong to God, body and soul, and God plans to make us truly whole in the resurrection.

Sex (chapters 5-7): Sex is good: it’s meant to be a joyful part of marriage, experienced with mutual sensitivity. Not all sexual expressions are good, though. Our sexuality, like every other part of our lives, must be submitted to Christ. Marriage is good. Singleness is good. Whatever our marital status, we need to be following Jesus.

Separation (chapter 5): Some Christian groups think the church is called to be separate from the world so that it won’t be tainted by the world’s immorality. But Paul is more practical: there’s no way to completely avoid contact with immoral people as long as we’re in the world. What concerns Paul is that we keep our own house in order. That is, we can’t afford to overlook unrepentant immorality in the church. We may have to have some hard conversations and do some hard things to get a fellow believer to wake up–and we may have to do some waking up ourselves–but if we care about one another, we need to take this responsibility seriously.

Freedom (chapters 8-11): Freedom is wonderful, and as Christians we’re free to do a lot of things. However, most of all we’re free to love. This may mean freely choosing not to exercise some of our freedoms out of love for someone else. This isn’t a license to start criticizing the behavior of others; it’s an opportunity to put the wellbeing of other people ahead of our own enjoyment.

Love (chapter 13): Anything we do has to be guided by love. Paul isn’t talking about romantic bliss; he’s talking about the hard work of getting along with people we may not even like very much. We don’t get to pick who our relatives are, even in the church family.

Hope (chapter 15): Whenever we’re tempted to get annoyed with one another, we need to remember the big picture. Our differences will shrink in light of the glorious future God has planned for us. Because of the resurrection, we know that our work for the Lord is not in vain.

What have you learned from 1 Corinthians?

Faith, Hope, and Love

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“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Brenda Colijn photo smallIn Christian tradition, faith, hope, and love have been called the three “theological virtues.”  This doesn’t mean that they’re virtues for people who do theology, although it’s certainly a good idea for theologians to have them!  They’re called theological virtues to distinguish them from the “cardinal virtues” that Christianity inherited from Greek philosophy—namely, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  These four virtues were called cardinal because people thought they were the most important qualities in a virtuous life.

Christians believed that anyone, whether Christian or not, could practice the cardinal virtues.  In fact, they saw those virtues in some of their pagan neighbors.  The theological virtues, though, could only be practiced by Christians, because they depended on God’s saving grace, in the person of the Holy Spirit, developing those qualities in the life of the person who was following Jesus.  Jesus himself was the example of what these virtues should look like.

Faith, hope, and love form a sequence.  It starts with faith—not just believing that certain things are true, but believing in Jesus, trusting him enough to give him our loyalty and obedience.  Because we trust Jesus, we have hope that the resurrection life Jesus has will someday be ours, as well.  We don’t have to be afraid of what might happen to us, because Jesus has shown us that God’s promises can be trusted.  This hope gives us confidence and sets us free to love without having to constantly guard and protect ourselves.  So faith in Jesus leads to hope which sets us free to love.

Our society doesn’t think about virtue very much, but it certainly talks a lot about love.  If we want to have the kind of love Jesus modeled for us, though, we need both faith and hope.  As Pastor Rich pointed out in his sermon, love doesn’t mean having warm fuzzy feelings toward someone.  Love is an action.  Love is putting other people first and acting in their best interest instead of our own.  That looks a lot like Jesus but not very much like us—unless we let the Holy Spirit make us more like Jesus.  As John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. . . .[L]et us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:14, 18).

This understanding of love has been helpful to me as I have been caring for my mother the past few years.  She has dementia and lives in an assisted living facility near us.  I do a lot of things for her and oversee her care.  I don’t always enjoy spending time with her, depending on how she’s doing that day.  At times I’ve wondered if I should feel guilty about that.  But then I remind myself that love is an action.  By God’s grace, I’ve been showing love to my mother in the ways she needs.  Without the faith I have in Jesus and the hope he gives me, I don’t think I’d be able to love my mother well.  I trust Jesus to be there for me and with me, and I hope for a day when all that’s wrong with the world will be put right.

What do you think about the idea that love is an action?  Do faith and hope contribute to love in your life?