Epiphany: Wise Women Also Came

Today is Epiphany, or Día de los Reyes, the day we remember the magi’s visit to Jesus. I came across this poem yesterday by Jan Richardson, whose work I love (see her Ash Wednesday poem “Blessing the Dust” or her “Blessing for Waiting“, which I used during Advent).

Wise women also came.
The fire burned in their wombs long before they saw the flaming star in the sky.
They walked in shadows, trusting the path would open under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came, seeking no directions, no permission from any king.
They came by their own authority, their own desire, their own longing.
They came in quiet, spreading no rumours, sparking no fears to lead to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came, and they brought useful gifts:
water for labour’s washing, fire for warm illumination, a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came, at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labour,
crying out with her in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings into her ear.

Wise women also came, and they went, as wise women always do, home a different way.

The art piece above was also done by Jan Richardson, and you can order the print (and see more of her work) by clicking on it.

What is the Church’s task today?

Kaj Munk was a Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor, martyred during the German occupation of Denmark. He was killed by the Gestapo on this day in 1944. His words ring true for us today as they did seven decades ago:

What is, therefore, our task today?
Shall I answer: “Faith, hope, and love”?
That sounds beautiful.
But I would say—courage.
No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

Our task today is recklessness.
For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature,
we lack a holy rage.
The recklessness that comes
from the knowledge of God and humanity.
The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets …
and when the lie rages across the face of the earth—
a holy anger about things that are wrong in the world.

To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth,
and the destruction of God’s world.

To rage when little children must die of hunger,
when the tables of the rich are sagging with food.

To rage at the senseless killing of so many,
and against the madness of militaries.

To rage at the lie that calls
the threat of death and the strategy of destruction
“peace”.

To rage against complacency.

To restlessly seek that recklessness
that will challenge and seek to change human history
until it conforms with the norms
of the Kingdom of God.

And remember the signs of the Christian Church have always been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish …

But never the chameleon.

Hoping and Wishing

At the end of a long and full year, reflecting on what has been and looking forward to what will undoubtedly be another long and full year, these words from Eugene Peterson have been framing my thoughts:

It is essential to distinguish between hoping and wishing. They are not the same thing.

Wishing is something all of us do. It projects what we want or think we need into the future. Just because we wish for something good or holy we think it qualifies as hope. it does not. Wishing extends our egos into the future; hope desires what God is going to do—and we don’t yet know what that is.

Wishing grows out of our egos; hope grows out of our faith. Hope is oriented toward what God is doing; wishing is oriented toward what we are doing. Wishing has to do with what I want in things or people or God; hope has to do with what God wants in me and the world of things and people beyond me.

Wishing is our will projected into the future, and hope is God’s will coming out of the future. Picture it in your mind: wishing is a line that comes out of me, with an arrow pointing into the future. Hoping is a line that comes out of God from the future , with an arrow pointing toward me.

Hope means being surprised, because we don’t know what is best for us or how our lives are going to be completed. To cultivate hope is to suppress wishing—to refuse to fantasize about what we want but live in anticipation of what God is going to do next.

Hope affects the Christian life by making us expectant and alive. People with minimal hope live in drudgery and boredom because they think they know what’s going to happen next. They’ve made their assessment of God, the people around them, and themselves, and they know what’s coming.

People who hope never know what’s coming next. They expect it is going to be good, because God is good. Even when disasters occur, people of hope look for how God will use evil for good.

A person with hope is alive to God. Hope is powerful. It is stimulating. It keeps us on tiptoe, looking for the unexpected.

Out now: Junkyard Wisdom by Roy Goble

Roy Goble is someone I’ve known for ten years, since his daughter Rachel and I met in grad school and became friends. (She leads a tremendous organization called The Sold Project, which fights child exploitation in Thailand by providing education to kids.)

Anyway, Roy has a new book out called Junkyard Wisdom: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts. This is from the backcover:

Most of us live a life of unprecedented abundance. No matter what our income level, walls of security and distraction inevitably insulate us from the poor or anyone else who might threaten our comfortable life. Yet despite our trappings of wealth—or perhaps because of them—we continue to experience a spiritual hunger for something deeper and more meaningful.

In a surprising solution to that hunger, Jesus invites us to utilize our wealth and our talents to create Kingdom relationships, beginning right in our own communities. To tear down the walls, both literal and cultural, separating God’s children in our neighborhoods and across the globe. To experience a life of joy and fulfillment. In Junkyard Wisdom, Roy Goble shares what’s waiting for us on the other side of complacency: an abundant future we can only reach together.

I was privileged to get a preview of it beforehand and here’s my endorsement:

What does it mean to love God and to love my neighbor in the twenty-first century? Junkyard Wisdom steers clear of easy answers and empty platitudes, inviting us instead into a fuller, truer Jesus-following life by wrestling with the very real challenges of our world and our lives—and the tremendous opportunities for hope-filled, life-changing relationships that are right in front of us. I’m so grateful to Roy Goble for this much needed reminder.

There were a good few moments as I was reading the book when I felt like I’d been punched in the gut—in a good way. Sometimes we need those burrs to stir us from our complacency and comfort. If you have ever wondered how to navigated the tension of wealth and poverty, and what it looks like to steward resources well, this book is for you.

I also got to interview him (electronically!). Here are some of the questions and answers:

Q. What would you say to someone who said, “Wealth is God’s blessing in your life, and you should enjoy it?”

A. I’d say they got it half right. Anything God gives us as a blessing is to be used for God’s glory. Doesn’t matter if it is a great singing voice, the ability to throw a football, or a knack with computer code. So yes, at times, wealth can be enjoyed, just as any gift from God is enjoyed. But to think of it as something that is merely our own is to turn it into something ugly and selfcentered. We have to see the wealth as God’s, not ours, so we can utilize it in a way that honors God.

Q. What would you say to someone who said, “Wealth gets in the way of following Jesus?”

A. Again, they are half right. Wealth most certainly can get in the way of following Jesus if we misuse it, misunderstand its importance, or begin to think it is ours. But wealth can also draw us closer to God is we utilize it in accordance with His will, and if we understand it is God’s wealth, not our own.

Q. How did your upbringing shape how you understand wealth and following Jesus?

A. For the first 12-years of my life I lived in a classic American middle-class suburb. Rode my bike to school, played with the neighborhood kids, and had the whole “Leave it to Beaver” simplicity going on. On Saturdays and most summers, however, my Dad took me to the junkyard to work. It was greasy, dirty, and filled with a motley group of characters. And on Sundays we went to a dynamic church, all dressed in our finest. It was, to say the least, a broad range of experiences for a kid. Then when I was 12 we bought a cattle ranch and I moved there, which was quite different from the suburban home.

All of this brought me in contact with a wide range of people, from different backgrounds, different faith traditions, different languages and different values. It broke down those walls we talked about earlier and gave me a unique ability to feel comfortable in a wide range of places. I’ve often said that I want to feel equally comfortable at a black tie event as I do sleeping on the floor in a village hut. Truth is, I feel equally uncomfortable in those places!

Q. Why is the book called “Junkyard Wisdom”?

Because with all due respect to Robert Fulgham, all I ever really needed to know I learned in a junkyard! No, that’s not really true of course, but I learned so much working in the junkyard it seemed a good title for the book. The junkyard introduced me to what we might call the seedier side of society as it also propelled me into wealth and experiences I could’ve never imagined! So the book, in many ways, reflects the shaping of my understanding of the world, wealth, and faith, as it all stemmed from the junkyard. The wisdom part? Well, hopefully there is some of that in the book, but I’ll let the reader decide.

Thanks to Roy for the interview and the book. Junkyard Wisdom is out this week; go check it out.

Eugene Peterson on the Trinity

A few weeks ago, I got to attend an event honoring Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation of the Bible and many other books that have shaped who I’ve become. One of the questions he was asked was about the Trinity, and I loved his answer.

He told a story about how when he was a young seminary student, he and his friends used to go square dancing. Now, he wasn’t a particularly good or confident dancer, so he’d usually start on the sidelines. He’d watch folks as they danced, seeing partners swap, join hands, circle up. But as the dance got faster and faster—as it does—the individuals became almost indistinguishable, a blur of movement and motion. And, he said, at some point a hand would reach out and he’d get yanked in—all of a sudden part of the dancing. He was dancing not because he was particularly good at it, but because he was with those who knew how to dance.

Life with God is like that, he said. God is love and God loves us. Father, Son, and Spirit have existed eternally in a community of love, created the universe at the beginning of time out of that love, and invite us to live our lives in that love.

It was a welcome and needed reminder that love and relationality are what define us.

We were created for love and to love.

When we love, we align ourselves with the grain of the universe.

(Coincidentally, Richard Rohr’s new book is about just this; it’s called The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, and it comes out in October!)