I wrote a new original song, because praying for and preaching good news is hard these days. In the wake of Orlando and Baghdad and Istanbul and Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas and Nice and so many other sites of death and destruction, it is hard to proclaim healing and resurrection.
When the words to this song started coming to me, they came in a very different formulation. It started something like, “I know you don’t promise us freedom from suffering.” A little pedantic, some nicely resolved theology about why bad things happen.
But that wasn’t the song my heart was singing. My heart was broken for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who continue to be excluded and persecuted, especially in the church; for victims of gun violence everywhere who are sacrificed daily to the god of American “freedom”; for everyone in the path of indiscriminate, dehumanizing terror; for my black friends who are not ready for healing and are not even sure God cares about them, because it sure seems like nobody else does.
I can talk theodicy (theology of suffering) with the best of them. I have no problem explaining evil by talking about free will and human brokenness and God’s non-coercive love. But you know, sometimes that just doesn’t do it. Sometimes I have to ask why, to say actually, we need a little more.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation I have had many times, about work and writing and time and vocation. I found myself, as I have too many times before, complaining that I don’t seem to have time to write.
I expressed my incomprehension at my dad’s ability to pastor a large church, tend to his family, and still churn out a book a year. Maybe I just need more sleep than he does, I laughed. (I do.)
A colleague who was listening quipped back. “Does he spend as much time at the gym as you do?”
I paused, trying to do the math, but I knew the answer was “no” right away. I paused because that wasn’t the point at all.
That one little question sent me down the rabbit hole of a bigger question:
What have I been doing instead of writing,* this thing I intermittently claim to want to give my life to?
This is a continuation of an earlier post reflecting on learnings from a 152-mile, 3-day supported bike ride I did this past week. You can read lessons 1-3 here.
Riding near, but not up, Pilot Mountain.
4. Use the Right Gear.
When I was a kid, I hated going into low gear on my bike. In fact, I refused to do it. Even when I got to a hill, I would keep my bike in high gear, stand up, and push down with every bit of body weight and with every bit of energy and force I could muster for each and every turn of the pedal. What happened, of course, was that I got to the top of the hill completely exhausted, or I didn’t make it to the top at all and had to get off the bike and walk the rest of the way.
Yesterday, I completed a 152-mile, 3-day supported bike ride from Gastonia, NC to Lake Junaluska—C2LJ, or Cycle to Lake Junaluska.
I made it!!!
I wasn’t entirely sure I would make it, but I did, and what’s more, I loved it. And I learned a lot along the way. So here are some potentially cheesy but hopefully practical lessons I took from my bike.
1. Take Up Your Space.
The other day, I read an article that claimed women spend an average of 17 years of their lives trying to lose weight. That’s compared to 10.3 years working.
I had two immediate reactions:
- Well that’s depressing.
- That estimate seems like it’s on the low end.
(Before I go any further, a quick aside: if your response to this post is to tell me I look fine and don’t need to lose weight, that’s very sweet of you, but please don’t. You will have missed the point.)
It has begun to seem strange to me that when I want to lose weight, what I am really wanting is for some literal, physical amount of me to disappear. I can even point to the parts I wish would go away. When I want to lose weight, I want there to be less of my body–less of me.
In the last month or so, I have taken to reading poetry daily (Mary Oliver, Nayyirah Waheed, and Yrsa Daley-Ward are my current poetic companions). I have also returned to writing poetry. I wrote a lot of poetry in my childhood and teen years–bad poetry, mind you, but I think the process was good for me. I write now for myself and for God, though I’ve decided to share bits of it here every now and then.
This poem emerged from a sermon I preached last night. At our Wednesday night Roots Revival worship service, we are in the midst of a Lenten series on Jesus’ Seven Last Words. A lot of how I’ve approached preaching this series has involved asking where we hear those words echoed in our world today. This is part of where I went with Jesus’ 5th word, “I thirst.”
This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 6, 2016 at Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Today, we continue our Lenten sermon series, “What’s in Your Spiritual Toolbox?” Over the past few weeks, we’ve been pulling out tools—some familiar, some not so much—and asking how we might use these resources and practices in our spiritual journey. Today, we look at two very important tools: our sacraments, baptism and communion.
As an imperfect toolbox metaphor, I chose a paintbrush. Here’s how I’m thinking: the paint is God’s grace, and the brush is the sacrament. Of course, since we have 2 sacraments, there are 2 different kinds of paint jobs. Baptism is something we do just once, so it’s like a whole fresh coat of paint—it offers us new life through God’s grace in an all-encompassing way. But most of us know no paintjob stays pristine forever—it chips and peels, gets scuffed or scraped or scribbled on with crayons. So communion, which we are to take frequently, is like those touch-up paint jobs you need to keep it looking fresh.
Of course, sacraments go much deeper than the surface in how they make us new and touch us up by God’s grace. Let’s start that conversation by hearing our Scripture readings for today.