A Theology of Vocation & Spiritual Formation | Rev. Bill Haley

We are so grateful to have Rev. Bill Haley share this post with us. Bill is an Anglican priest with the Falls Church and also founder and director of Coracle, a non-profit that fosters spiritual formation for Kingdom action. Our Fellows meet with Bill and his wife Tara on their farm, Corhaven, for a retreat together each fall. His thoughts on vocation and spiritual formation share a resonance with our own work here in Charlottesville and beyond.

This article was first posted by The Washington Institute and later on Coracle's website. 

The following is the edited transcription of a talk given to participants of the TWI Come and See Vocation Conference July 16-17 2013 in Washington, DC. 

Jesus came into the deep mess—the mess of the human experience.  Of course he came for us and for those that we seek to minister to. Isn’t Christ likeness exactly what we are trying to engender fundamentally? Incarnational mentality that is willing to take the mess, dive into the mess and be willing to take it on and right there be a redemptive presence to show what the character of God is.

Years ago, my friend Rich was packing up his car to leave UVA and go to law school.  A well-intentioned friend came up with him and pled with him through tears to abandon his law school plans in order to go into full time Christian ministry.  In this case it was Campus Crusade.  He said, “Rich, you are going to throw your life away.”

Rich listened, but was not persuaded.  He went off to law school and became a recognized lawyer seeking justice in international corruption cases, specifically related to international business and issues for governments.  This is what he does, he pursues justice in businesses that have participated in malpractice or governments that have been complicit with business that have been involved in malpractice.

This is fundamentally Rich’s vocation: to do justice. Two years ago, we had a month long series on the gospel of justice and I consider it one of my biggest successes ever at the Falls Church to have Rich stand up in the pulpit and give one of those sermons. It was the first and hopefully not last time a lawyer would take the pulpit, and nobody walked out. In D.C., that’s saying something.

I once went to see Rich in his office and he was talking about the various ways he tried to be a Christian in that place. Whether it was having a Bible on his desk or a little cross on the wall or some sort of Bible verse somewhere. He wanted something that if someone walked into his office they would say, “This is a person of Christian faith.” He talked about how he had done all that and he just didn’t find it compelling anymore. What else was there to do as it related to being a Christian presence in his office and I likened it to this: I said, “Rich, there are two ways of bringing light into your office. You can bring in a flashlight and have it in your pocket and pull it out and turn it on and shine it when you really want to show the light of Christ. That’s one way to bring the light of Christ into your office. And the other way is to be light.”

That is to say, let’s have Christ so alive in us that we radiate. And then the light of Christ floods the office because of his presence living within us. We lay down our strategies of witness because our presence becomes a form of witness. Isn’t this the New Testament promise?

As I was walking down to the elevator, a guy from his office who I had met once ran to catch up with me. He caught up right when I got to the elevator and he basically made my point. He said this, “You have no idea the difference that Rich makes in this place. He is like Christ himself is working here.” That’s pretty high praise. I don’t think anyone’s said that about me yet. I have a ways to go. He went on to talk about how Rich’s presence had been so helpful to him; about how much Rich had helped him professionally and also as a believer and how much he had seen Rich become, basically “a pastoral presence in our lawyer’s office” by virtue of who he was and by virtue of his character. He’s an excellent lawyer. He’s a partner, so he’s doing good law.

I once asked Rich, “How often do you enter your law office in the morning with this thought, “I am the priest here today”? His response floored me. He said, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe two times out of the week.” And what floored me about that is I was so encouraged that here was somebody who consciously would walk into the door of his building knowing that his job there was to take what God had given him, consecrate it, and offer it back up for the good of God and people—all in a law office. I quoted him later that week in a sermon and he said, “Oh yea, two out of five. That doesn’t sound very good.” And I said, “Rich, baseball, that’s batting .400. That’s pretty darn good.” My suspicion is that I don’t know how many people bat .400 or .200 or .01. I was so encouraged to meet somebody who actually consciously had in their mind that they were a priest in that setting.

Now that’s a good story, there are some bad stories. As a pastor, I have had many conversations with people where I hope that they will remember something that I said, you know, at least one thing would be helpful. I don’t know if people remember or not but what I do know is that on some occasions, the conversations that I have stay with me for years. I am the one who’s actually impacted. My work as one who helps in the spiritual formation of another becomes critical to my own spiritual formation. These conversations and the faces continue to rattle around in my soul and they help me form my own questions and these questions lead me on journeys that I walk away with some greater understanding of something. So one of those stories is with Jerry.

I was in Philadelphia, speaking at a men’s retreat, not even on these topics. I was talking to Jerry; he was mature on his faith. Any one of you would love to have him in your congregation, in part because he was a really good businessman. We love having business-like minds on our vestries or on our sessions. He owned and ran a car dealership and it sounded to me like a great business. It sounded like a great work environment that was pastoral and love-filled and marked with integrity and compassion. He said there was a lot of Christian witness and compassion both verbally and nonverbally. He said that the business had allowed him to give away a lot of money. Like I said, just the perfect person for your church council.

Then he shared with me, that he had a lurking suspicion that he had missed his calling. He wondered if he should go into full time Christian ministry. He went to seminary testing this out, and he finally said with an air of exasperation, “Bill, how do I know my vocation?” I had come to like him very much and was heartbroken that so much of his life’s work felt like a waste of his life and that all the reasons of why he thought it was “OK” were “second-best.” So after I kind of got over that response of compassion, I said to him, “Well, Jerry, how are you listening?”

So there are two things that I want to highlight from this story. One, Jerry was looking for a theology that made sense of his job. Secondly, he was looking for a spirituality that led to an interactive relationship with God, one that was based on conversation, listening, and not just intellectual understanding and obedience derived from the will. Two massive topics: one about theology, one about spirituality.

Here’s the encouragement. If I was back in Philadelphia now (four, five years later) and Jerry’s been paying attention to recent developments in the church, he and I might have a very different conversation. I might find him thriving with few questions about whether or not his work matters to God. That’s the encouragement.

This is because of the huge proliferation of resources and messages in very recent years coming out of the evangelical church on the fact that our work matters to God and that our work is God’s work. I want to pause on a question, “how some jobs don’t seem to matter as much as other jobs.” I believe that every job rightly understood matters to God as long as it is not against God’s purposes and it is somehow moving in the direction of human flourishing and God’s plan. It’s easy to say to a doctor, “Oh your hands are the hands of Christ!” Or to Rich, the lawyer, “Oh great your job is justice!” But what about the guys who I passed on my way here this morning who are setting up the cones getting ready to fix Route 66? What about their job? Do they matter? And I would say, yes, they do.

However, what is required is a comprehensive theology that understands not only the vision of human flourishing and why “good homes matter and good places for people to live matter as it relates to their individual human flourishing.” That’s why it matters to God. We have to understand the concept of human flourishing and we also have to answer this question, “Does the world go in a blaze of flame or is the refining fire in the New Testament refining? Is there continuity?” We have to decide where we fall. And if we decide on the lens of “it goes up in a ball of flame” then you might have a really good point. If we believe in continuity and if we believe in rewards, which Jesus does, then we have some room to work on why every job matters to God.

Now, the pastoral question is, “How many steps do you want to have take in between being able to demonstrate that this is the work of God in the world? How many steps are you willing to take before being able to connect your theology with your job?” Some people have higher tolerance of this than others. It’s not unfamiliar at all for someone to say, “You know what, there’s value in that and I’m very grateful for it, but I want to be able to have less cognitive distance in my own brain about what I’m doing in God’s kingdom.” And if they can’t figure out about their own job, then they start thinking about another job. That’s ok. It’s one of the ways that God does it. He speaks through our discontent.

There’s been this resurgence of understanding that our work matters to God and that our work is God’s work. This recovery of an emphasis on vocation is not in isolation. I’d say there are at least four other sea changes that we’ve been living through in these last twenty, maybe thirty years. Some are more clear than others, some are on their way still. First is an emphasis on God’s heart for justice and concern for the poor. Second is dramatic leaps forward in ecumenical relations and appreciation for the ancient church. Third is a dramatic new, positive orientation towards the Christians responsibility for creation care. Finally is the emphasis, and even new language, on spiritual formation.

I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. It was a great place to grow up. I was there in the 1980’s and none of these four things were on the scene. In fact, some of them were viewed as distinct threats to the gospel. I think what is going on here is that God in his mercy is helping the Evangelical Protestant church in the US, which is a relatively new and small slice of church, to mature in our own theological vision. God is giving us the spiritual nutrition that we need in our tradition to help people get into their twenties and not ditch the Christian faith because we haven’t been able to give them something that matches the world that they’ve all of the sudden entered into.

It’s this last one that we want to talk about, this new emphasis on vocation. Tim Keller’s book, it’s called Every Good Endeavor. This represents the tipping point. Now where this conversation about vocation and our work mattering to God enters into the Church’s conversation in such a way that it is much more universally accepted as legitimate, precisely because of Tim Keller’s voice in our own generation. This is what he says, “Perhaps not since the days of the Protestant Reformation has there been so much attention paid to the relationship of Christian faith to work as there has been today.” That’s really strong language. That’s 500 years, and this is timely and needed.

You are probably familiar with the stunning statistic that was communicated to us in 2011. This was that 84% of Christians between the age of 18 and 29 had no idea how the Bible applies to their occupational field or their professional interests. There is still a sharp divide in our own tradition on what constitutes a higher calling. We see it pastorally, we see it on the internet.

Christianity Today is a fantastic publication doing phenomenal work on this stuff (This Is Our City Project under Andy Crouch’s leadership). So it’s always very ironic to see these wonderful articles about good Christians doing great work for the common good right next to the advertisement on the side bar, for the seminary, saying “Are you called?” And then it goes on to say here’s how to get your M.Div. at such and such seminary. What does that say? That if you aren’t interested in this particular seminary you aren’t called? That just sends a wrong message. There are all sorts of them like that.

Another one was, “Change your life. Change the world.” And then there was the advertisement for the seminary. I just feel this profound mixed message for the reader. What is the message coming from the seminary community? That if God has touched your life, then we want you at our school. And if you don’t belong at our school, we’re not so sure if God has touched your life.

It is really important to continue to try to keep on whacking at the trunk of a very large tree, that still implicitly says, “You’re somebody better if you are called to get a paycheck in a way that identifiably a result of Christian ministry.” How did we get here from Luther? Luther is ours. As he said, “Priests, bishops are supposed to employ God’s word in the sacraments. That is their work and office. And the shoemaker and smith and farmer and the like has it’s own opposing trade. Nonetheless, all are equally consecrated priests and bishops.” How did we get here? Well that’s a longer conversation but it’s one we are trying to address. So we can talk about that some other time. Here is another quote with two massive topics imbedded in it. This will be our launching place into our two topics.

This one is from Archbishop François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận who was a bishop in Vietnam in the 1970’s and 80’s. He was chosen as Archbishop in 1979 and three months later was whisked away by the Vietnamese police and was put into solitary confinement for nine years. Talk about verification of vocation. What he felt while he was in that little jail cell was a burning desire to care for his flock. That’s what a bishop does. So he wrote little words of spiritual encouragement on scraps of paper from a calendar and they got smuggled out and they were hand copied and sent throughout the Christian community in Saigon. This is one of those little notes that he had on the piece of paper:

Saints do not do anything extraordinary. They simply carry out their ordinary activities. The worker will become a saint in the workplace, the soldier will become a saint in the army, and the patient will become a saint in the hospital. The student will become a saint through studies, the priest will become a saint through his ministry as a priest, and a public servant will become a saint in the governmental office. Every step on the road to holiness is a step of sacrifice in the performance of one’s mission in life.

Now there are two topics in this one, once again, that revolve around theology and spirituality. First, inherent in this, is the assertion that the soldier’s work matters as much as the priest’s and the same with the student’s. There’s a theology in that, isn’t there? Secondly, our work is not a diversion from our sanctification. It is a means to it. So we need a theology and a spirituality of vocation.

I want to touch briefly on these things and highlight a few things that The Washington Institute has done in relation with the Falls Church Anglican. I think it might be helpful to see, at least, what one group is trying to do on a very practical level with very real people in the pews. One of the things that Steve Garber is fond of saying has become an assertion of our ministry. It is that “vocation is integral, not incidental to the missio dei.” We believe that our work in the world rightly understood and practiced is as important to God’s work in the world as pastoring, as missionary work, as evangelism, all these so-called full time Christian ministries.

The question is, why do we believe this? Why do we assert this so boldly? Because it preaches. This stuff really turns people on. But that’s not enough of a reason for a message is it? I come from a denomination that has preached many things that will turn people on. Just because it might be in vogue or popular does not necessarily mean it’s going to be life giving or helpful. So a really critical and important question is, does the Bible teach this? We don’t want to just be clever. We don’t want to just be timely or relevant. We want to be Biblical. That’s our heart. Two years ago, we did a four-month lecture series on whether or not the Bible teaches this. We talked about vocation through the lens of the four-chapter gospel: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. How does this speak to work? How does this speak to job? How does this speak to vocation? I’m not making those terms all the same. We found out, at least I did, that this is true.

At the beginning, we looked at vocation and work through the lens of creation. Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.” Just, simply mentioning that that verse happens before Genesis 3, you watch light bulbs come on in people in the pews. “You mean that work is pre-fall? You mean our labor is part of the way things were designed? I’ve never thought about it that way.”

I live in a more rural environment, it is really true that people will work to a period, full stop. People will work for their family life in the evening and friends on the weekend, and that’s it. That’s not exclusive to a rural environment; it’s just a little more pronounced perhaps. People aren’t as consumed by work there as they are here in this strange place.

You realize that Genesis 3 is not about the introduction of work, it’s about how work gets harder, and again we come back to that conversation about how work is work. After we were all finished and even when we were on the way you could really see this transition happening in people between from, “I have to go to work,” to “I get to go to work.”

Here is another quote, by Terence Fretheim about creation untamed.

Genesis does not present the creation as a human product, wrapped up in a big red bow and handed over to the creations to keep it exactly as it was originally created. It is not a one-time production. Indeed for the creation to stay just as God originally created it would constitute a failure of the divine design. From God’s perspective, the world needs work. Development and change are what God intends for and God enlists human beings and other creations to that end. From another angle, God did not exhaust the divine creativity in the first week of the world. God continued to create and uses creatures and their vocation that involves the becoming of creation.

Tim Keller gets into this.  Amy Sherman gets into this.  Ben Witherington gets into this. Tom Nelson gets into this.  There is a profound theology in this.  There is something we can rest on, explore and offer to our folks and we can root it in the Scripture. That’s really good news.

The other thing I would say is about theology and I think this is probably true in almost everything. Clarity, like compelling clarity on anthropology and eschatology, fills in almost every gap. That is, until we have fundamental clarity on why we were made and what our being “made in the image of God” means, and until we have clarity on “where is it all going? What’s my role in this progression and where will I land?” Until we have clarity on these things, people will always trip and stumble on a million different issues, not least of which is sexuality and not secondarily of which is vocation as well. I would encourage us all just to continue to pound a drum on anthropology and eschatology and again we have to of landed on what we think happens after Jesus comes back. That really has bearing on our work now.

The series that we did was one of the things that we did at the Falls Church with The Washington Institute. Praying for parishioners week by week in their vocation; that has had probably the singular biggest impact on our church as it relates to people understanding that their work matters to God. People have walked into our church, heard that happen, and stayed and joined the church for that one little reason. We do have testimonies from time to time. Every Labor Day we’ll have someone get up who’s not wearing a collar and talk about how they do wear a collar, as it were, in their normal week. Some of our clergy are especially good at visiting people in their work place.

So there’s a theology of vocation. There’s also a spirituality. This comes back again to the story of Jerry. How do I know my vocation? How are you listening? Vocation comes form the root “calling” which assumes that there is a caller and it also assumes that we can hear. If we are not listening we are going to have a hard time hearing. So often, the response to the question of “what is my calling” is “what are your gifts?” That’s very different than “how are you listening for the caller? Tell me about your prayer life? Tell me about your experiences of solitude? How does God’s voice sound to you? When have you heard him? How are often are you in solitude like Jesus in order to create space simply to listen and to hear the One who calls?”

It’s not that uncommon that God calls us to do things sometimes that don’t necessarily employ all of our gifts or he may call us to lay down some of our gifts in season. He may also call us to use our gifts in ways that make no professional sense. This is because of vocation. Listening is a primary skill to knowing our vocation, but it is not easy. Our devices don’t make it any easier. Henri Nouwen says:

We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us, unable to understand in which direction he calls us. Thus, our lives have become absurd. In the word “absurd” we hear the Latin word, surdus, which means deaf. A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word ‘obedient’ comes from the Latin word audire, which means ‘listening.’ A spiritual discipline is necessary to move from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free interspace where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance. Jesus’ life is a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was all ear. That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obedient standing in the presence of God.

This is a lovely invitation. So we are trying to help people listen. Now there is a place for gifts and inventories and things. I’m not denigrating that at all. It’s important and I’m the beneficiary of a lot of that in my own life.

We had another Vocation is Mission lecture series. This time it was on hearing God. We had a retreat out at our place, Corhaven, in the country. We helped people understand how to practice time in silence and then we spent time in silence. It was wonderful to get very practical about the skills of listening. One of the things that I am very grateful to offer is spiritual direction. It’s a real shift to move from mentoring, discipleship, and pastoring to spiritual direction. They are very different and distinct and one is not the other. One of the main parts is specifically not talking. All we’re doing is listening and helping the other person to listen and trying not to get in the way. For somebody who’s paid to talk, it’s a discipline to stop talking and to provide that ministry as well. We are elevating the value of silence and solitude and enabling people to do both. There are two great resources on this topic: one is my sister, Ruth Haley Barton's book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and the other one is Hearing God, by Dallas Willard. These are things that I often recommend to people who are really beginning to go deep in their posture of listening.

I recently received a wonderful email from a guy who came down not long ago from New York City to Corhaven for a personal retreat. He is in business in Manhattan. He works for a toy company that employs several hundred people in Honduras making safe wooden toys, high-end stuff, out of sustainably harvested wood in a way that generates self-sustaining business practices. He saw that there were personal retreats and wanted to come down for a five day one and he saw that TWI was having a retreat right after that. He emailed me and said, “For whatever it’s worth, I’m one of the Gotham fellows from Redeemer Presbyterian Church and their Center for Faith and Work.” So I was like, “Great, yes come! Have a personal retreat, and then join the corporate retreat and then go back for your Gotham retreat.” He just emailed me and this is the effect of him doing a personal retreat, most of which was in silence and solitude, and then coming to one of our group retreats. Here’s what he says,

I have particularly blessed by God’s nearness following my personal retreat and the final Gotham retreat. The Gotham retreat was a very rich experience in the Lord’s presence and community, and both it and my time in Corhaven will always be a sweet remembrance of the Lord’s love and faithfulness.

Happens all the time. People come out with vocation questions and they encounter the love of God. He went on to say:

With regards to work, God has used these past few months to refocus my time on Tegu and I can say that I’ve never felt more confident or comfortable in my time here. I still have questions around long-term career direction, but God has given me a conviction about where he has me and the role I’m playing in my business and I’m very grateful for that.

So what is the goal of spiritual formation, specifically as it relates to listening? To what end? Self-actualization? Is that the goal? Is it so that people walk around a little bit lighter? Those things can happen, but it’s not the point. The point is this: it’s not so that someone can merely feel good about their job or that their life has meaning, it’s about something far deeper. It is about spiritual formation.

Robert Mulholland has got the best and most quoted definition of what spiritual formation is. That is, “The process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” We want to see people become those in whom Christ freely lives and through whom he freely works, wherever they are and whatever their job happens to be. We’re hoping that people can say with utter integrity and experience, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Or people say: it is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me. You get somebody who becomes better and better probably at their job and they become a powerful presence for Christ.

Remember we started with the story of Rich? That is what we are talking about. He is a really good lawyer who is a potent presence of Christ. In other words, what does the aroma of Christ smell like off a person? Christ living through us will always be more powerful than anything we do for him on our own strength. In that sense, life becomes a school of spiritual formation. Everything is an opportunity to be formed in the image of Christ.

The trick then is to be able to see our work place as that place too. As opposed to our work place being a distraction from God’s purposes in my life, how about my work place as being a tool. We are talking about “aha!” moments. What I’ve been continuing to find is that vocation becomes either the back door or the front porch to deeper things. It allows God to really start messing with people in different parts of their life in such a way that it comes back around and gives them more clarity and confidence and competence in what he has called them to do.

So people come to me and us often with, “I need to hear God about my vocation.” Often God says, “Now that I’ve gotten your attention, let me talk to you about what’s really holding you back.” When well understood, this topic leads us to better theology, it leads us to a deeper spirituality, and in short it leads us to God. I’ve always read this insight from Oscar Romero thinking it applied to my work, but it actually also applies to this work as it relates to the church growing up into the full measure of the stature of Christ and the church maturing in it’s own theology in this conversation about vocation. Oscar Romero says,

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that can be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings us to perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives concludes everything. And this is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds that are already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that, because this enables us to do something and to do it very well. We are workers, not master builders. We are ministers, not Messiahs.

So can we walk out of this thinking, “You know what, I can’t do it all, but there’s some that I can take some big steps in.” I’m not going to see it all realized even in my own church and seminary, but you know what, that’s actually not my business. My business is to be very faithful with what I’m being called to do in this arena and what God is laying on my heart.

 

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God's Hands - Reflections by Fellow Rachel Alderfer '17

As a Horizons Fellow, before we graduate, we are required to write our own personal faith statement. I wrote about my place as one of the Lord’s hands.

This past weekend, I unexpectedly ended up in the emergency room with piercing abdominal pain. By the time I left my house to head to the hospital it was 11:00pm and raining. While the timing never seems good to be going to the ER, I was supposed to be heading to the beach the following morning with 5 friends and, at this point, no packing had taken place. The situation was far from ideal. The only thing that kept me going was my totally loving, gracious housemate, Becca. Not only was she the one to convince me that I should head to the ER but she was also there to sit with me for 7 hours, awake and lively, while entirely sleepless. She was the hand rubbing my back in the waiting room, and holding my hand through the examinations.

Recognizing the other “hands” that the Lord has placed in my own life—those that have helped me along the way—inspires and encourages me to serve Him similarly. I pray to be used as the Lord’s hand, however that may look in my day-to-day moments.

My faith statement is as follows:

To be a hand

That gives rest to the foot

That cups the ear

That heals the heart

That dries the eyes

That claps loudly with the other.

That loves the whole body.

To be a hand in the hand of God.

I thank the Lord for giving me precious examples. Thank you, Becca, for being a hand in the hand of God. 

Meandering Musings on Place | Reflections by Fellow Nathanael Kim '17

“Where is my place?” is an all-encompassing question that surrounds nearly every facet of our lives. For the UVa student, it includes more specific questions such as “Where am I supposed to be after graduating?” or “Where and with whom should I live beyond first year” or “Which major should I study?” These questions can easily be more debilitating than helpful because they chain people to worldly expectations of life and subsequently a fear of failing to meet such expectations. In the midst of this spiritual and existential confusion, I have found Theological Horizons to be a refreshing respite and place for considering these complex questions. Whether through monthly meetings as a Horizons Fellow or conversations with my stupendous mentor Evan Hansen, God has presented me reminders of His faithful truth to dispel the fears that accompany thoughts regarding place.

For one, everyone’s ultimate place is simply with God. In one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, God invites His people near to Him, saying, “Incline your ear and come to me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast sure love for David” (Isaiah 55:3). No matter what circumstance or context we face, we are meant to convene and commune with our Heavenly Father. Though we have done everything possible and more that is worthy of separation, He meets us where we are and vindicates us through the death and resurrection of the Christ. Thus, every morning, God invites us to receive His new mercies, to trust in His faithful promises, and to wield His strength to face the day. God is with us, we belong to Him, and He is in everything we do and everywhere we are.

Two, I find that an enormous part of place doesn’t pertain to location but rather to people. The University context presents an amazing opportunity to relate to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, my place is with the Lord and with the people who know me well. In the past four years, no one has known me better than the very people I live with at the Benji, a house filled with eight guys in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. We all connected as wide-eyed, naïve first years in the same small group, and from there took the risk of living together in the same house. Needless to say, it has been the best decision of my life yet. What I’ll remember most about these brothers above the countless laughs, prayer, and good times is that during my third year when I was deep in the valley, these guys lifted me from the pit and showed me the love of Christ like no one ever could. As such, I implore any student to seek out friends who become family. The Lord intended for us to share life together and as such, our place is with people who are known by the same God.

With these two maxims in mind, I don’t want to fully disregard the questions of place that were mentioned in the beginning of these thoughts. Personally, the question “Where am I supposed to be after graduation” especially rings true as I am still in a state of uncertainty for the immediate future. Even so, I do not face that ambiguity with fear but rather I am encouraged to draw nearer to God and to my community to discern my next steps. For no matter where I am, my place is with the Lord and with the people He has placed near and dear in my life.

 

 

The Oxymoron of Proximate Justice - Christen Borgman Yates

Reposted from Cardus.ca online journal.

Oxymorons always unsettle me. They compel me to mull them over in my mind, again and again, attempting to unpack layers juxtaposing two contradictory terms.

Proximate justice is an uncomfortable oxymoron at first. Isn't justice, by its very nature, meant to be full and absolute, right or wrong? Doesn't the integrity of the term demand our full commitment, our faith in the possibility of real justice?

I had the opportunity to hear Jim Wallis speak once at a luncheon in Boston. He was on his book tour for The Great Awakening. One thing I appreciate about Wallis is that he is extremely consistent and persistent. He's talked about wedding personal faith with social justice now for over thirty years. And so when he says there is a revival of justice happening across the country, I'm inclined to take the man at his word. According to Wallis, revivals of justice occur when "Billy Graham meets Martin Luther King," and toward this end, Wallis has inspired folks to join grassroots movements that push political structures from below while praying for open doors from above.

As I considered proximate justice during the lunch though, I wondered whether it would be a compelling selling-point for signing people on to a movement. Movements have an all-or-nothing feel to them, and it's likely the burden our abolitionist, social gospel, or civil rights predecessors felt at times: that they were the ones who had to bring the Kingdom of God here, and now.

Wallis's conclusion with "prayer as key" made me think that he and Garber might still have a point of connection. We do need an understanding of proximate justice to keep us from utter despair and cynicism, especially when the daily grind of working to bring about the kingdom wears us out. At the same time, we could use it as a corrective from taking ourselves or our cause too seriously.

In Political Holiness: A Spirituality of Liberation, Pedro Casaldaliga and Jose Maria Vigil warn us of the idol of justice. They write:

Social justice (however important it may be, and it is) can also be an idol, and we have to purify ourselves from it in order to declare clearly that God alone suffices, and in this way give justice too the fullness of its meaning.

Perhaps proximate justice is ultimately an acknowledgement of humility and faith: faith that this work of bringing about the Kingdom is not entirely on our shoulders after all, that there is a rhythm of work, and then rest, signaled by prayer, contemplation, and weekly Sabbaths.

To be sure, we don't strive for proximate justice. Who wants to strive for an incomplete or imperfect kingdom? By its very definition, shalom means all things as they should be, in right relationship. But we do need an understanding of proximate justice to help us wait until then, even as we strive daily toward shalom in all corners of creation.

My students engaged in community development work, know all too well these dual tendencies: toward the idolatry of our justice work or the cynicism that paralyzes. Studying the complexities of injustice, travelling to the developing world to visit people, learning about the production of goods, and returning here for urban engagement, Christian students are especially exposed to the "bad news," to glaring examples of injustice. They are also mindful of the ways we play a part in all this, like no other generation before us. They are simultaneously driven to right an injustice (fair trade coffee only on campus now!) and stalled by the fear that nothing will ever change. This then is the predicament: Why do anything if it will be tainted by some injustice—if the landfill will increase, if CO2 will be emitted, if a child will be subject to sweatshop labor or sexual trafficking, HIV/AIDS?

We can't work to see these issues approximately solved. We want justice in that child's life completely, not approximately. What motivation based on compromise would sign us up for a justice revival or even compel us to go to work day in and day out? But, as Garber suggests, that mindset is not sustainable, and can be sinful when we shoulder it alone. We must remember that we will not see complete justice this side of heaven. We strive to climb to the mountain summit, not just below it; but we rest often because without resting, there's no way we could keep going. It's just too hard.

Our students start their year reading a selection of Paul Marshall's book, Heaven is Not My Home, because it provides an important foundation for our work in the community that encourages us away from the tendencies toward idolatry and despair. He writes:

Our works, here and now, are not all transitory. The good that we have done will not simply disappear and be forgotten. This world is not a passing and futile phase; it will be taken up in God's new world. Our good buildings, our great inventions, our acts of healing, our best writings, our creative art, our finest clothes, our greatest treasures will not simply pass away. If they represent the greatest works of God's image-bearers, they will adorn the world to come.

Our works for justice, the God-honouring parts, are not all in vain and will not all disappear. This is truly good and life-giving news, news we must remind ourselves of day in and day out within our various vocations.

Recently, one of our students came to the realization of the injustice within the urban public schools where she served. She couldn't believe that art and music had been cut from many of the younger grades. Her middle-class upbringing had been richly blessed by the arts and fostered in her a love for the theatre. Her strongest desire was to change the system right away! But, understanding more the complexities that go into these injustices, she knew change wouldn't happen quickly. With her desire for systemic change still in mind, she set about establishing a theatre program within one of our community partners to teach theatre to young girls. Knowing that so many thousands of children in Lynn could benefit from arts-enrichment like this, she's making peace with her corner of creation: the essential work of teaching drama to thirteen girls.

She's making peace with proximate justice.

Reflections on Loving our Neighbors - Fellow Amanda O'Mara '17

This is a reflection by Fellow, Amanda O'Mara from listening to guest speaker, Cary Umhau of Spacious. Listen to her talk here.

Listening to Cary Umhau’s stories was an interesting experience. In her opening, she said that for a long time, she thought that loving neighbors and those who were different from her was good for other people to do, but not for her. That stuck with me the most as I listened to her tell stories about people she met on the streets of DC, because in a way, I felt exactly like that. I’m a quiet person and definitely couldn’t imagine myself in her place, meeting random people who were led to her by the Spirit, sharing their stories and struggles, and sometimes even asking for transformational prayers.

And now that I think about it, I don’t actually think I’m supposed to imagine myself exactly in her shoes. As much as her stories are cool and moving and admirable, they are only one example of what it looks like to be available and loving to those around you. The way I’ve come to see it is that stories like hers are the ones that make the front page; but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should be competing for that front page, or defining all acts of “loving neighbors” by those headlines. This, then, gives us the freedom to work within our bounds to love others in our own unique way.

In my case, I kept thinking that these things were good for Cary and people like her, but not for me. And after thinking about it more, I don’t think this is an excuse to keep others away, but rather an acknowledgement of my limits. If I stretched myself to do exactly what Cary does, it might be great for a few days, but after that, I’d burn out. It’s the idea that in order to love others, we need to take care of ourselves too, we need to put ourselves in a position that allows us to love others better.

And while I don’t want or need to replicate how Cary approaches loving neighbors, I think a practical starting point is preparing my heart for it each day. Cary mentioned that each day, she asks like a child asking their father, “Abba, what are we going to do today?” What the Spirit leads me to do with that will, and should, look different from what another person does, but is equally as valuable. The goal is, to paraphrase from Cary, to turn a face into a name and a name into a story, to turn the uninvited to the invited, and ultimately, to make someone feel mattered and heard. We don’t have to fit a certain mold to do this, we just have to be willing to see how the Spirit can work within our own limits – which I think actually glorifies God all the more, because He can make great things come from the unlikeliest people and the unlikeliest circumstances.


Amanda has been a Horizons Fellow with us this year. To learn more about the Fellows program, click here

Palm Sunday: after the parade

palm-sunday-vector-illustration.jpg

"Sunday" by Hannah Faith Notess

After the parade, the tired donkey
wanders back to her stall.
Among the bruised feathery branches,
a dog licks at a half-eaten snack
wrapped in a leaf, and the palms,
whose boughs are done being cut down,
begin again to whisper
their fragile green music.
Mud crusts and dries
on abandoned, trampled cloaks,
and the women carry some of them
down to the water for washing.  He seemed
like a nice man, they tell each other. 
He came from the country.
Across the city, the man
who had a strong face, a kind face,
is telling a story with his hands,
and in the lamplight
the wise and foolish virgins
cast shadows on the wall.
Tomorrow his hands will wither
a fig tree and overturn tables.
The temple veil will start
to stretch and fray.  But on this street,
as night falls over the city, and the women
shoulder their dripping burdens
up the hill, the mutter of voices
at the well is only gossip,
and the wail rising in the air
is only a child's cry, hungry and thin.
 
Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem by James Tissot

Lent 5: on the ledge of light

When he saw Martha weeping, Jesus began to weep.  Then Jesus, greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."...And they took away the stone....Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  The dead man came out, his hand and his feet bound with strips of cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Unbind him and let him go."  (from John 11)

I have climbed out of a narrow darkness
on to a ledge of light.
I am of God; I was not made for night.
Here there is room to lift my arms and sing.
Oh, God is vast!  With Him all space can come 
to hold or corner or cubiculum....
 
I see Him now: a thousand acres.
God is a thousand acres to me now
of high sweet-smelling April and the flow
of windy light across a wide plateau.
Ah, but when love grows unitive I know
joy will upsoar,  my heart sing, far more free,
having come home to God's infinity.
--Jessica Powers 

If C.S. Lewis met Stephen Colbert | Terry Lindvall

by Chris Suarez for the Daily Progress -    Mar 25, 2017

 

In an interview more than eight years ago, late-night TV show host Stephen Colbert shocked and delighted the faithful in his audience by rebuking a guest’s arguments against Catholic doctrine and declaring in a censored statement that he is a Sunday school teacher.

“I teach Sunday school,” said Colbert, who then used a term that would make Oedipus blush to describe his guest that evening.

Although it may have been somewhat shocking for some to hear a Christian apologist using vulgar language in such a proud defense of the faith, Virginia Wesleyan College professor and author Terry Lindvall says vulgar wit has been commonplace in religious satire for centuries.

Lindvall, author of “God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert,” spoke at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on Saturday evening as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

During the talk, Lindvall shared his thoughts about religious satire today, particularly how Colbert has continued a tradition that author and theologian C.S. Lewis trumpeted through the course of his career in the early 20th century.

“Both of them have rebranded and revived Christianity for a different generation,” Lindvall said.

The lecture was hosted by Theological Horizons, an academia-focused Christian nonprofit, in partnership with the book festival.

“When I started teaching church history, I realized there’s a lot of funny stuff in here. You think of the Church as this dour, solemn place where everyone is so serious, but that was never the case,” Lindvall said in an interview after the event.

Peter Hartwig, director of operations for Theological Horizons, said, “Terry has a special angle and a very unique research interest in the way he’s trying to tie together humor and religious thought, and that’s a special thing in and of itself.”

Hartwig said his organization has partnered with the book festival in the past, but he said Saturday’s event was a departure from more rigidly theological lectures and presentations of previous years.

“It’s easy in American life to relegate the religious to the religious. The notion that people’s religious convictions are so central to their lives that it would appear in something as a-religious as humor is important to keep in mind,” he said about why Lindvall was invited to speak Saturday.

In his lecture, Lindvall shared his insights about Lewis and Colbert, presenting passages from Lewis’ novels and his life, as well as moments from Colbert’s programs where he has revealed his devotion to his Catholic faith in either a satirical or forthright manner.

After seeing Colbert, who hosts “The Late Show” on CBS, with a cross on his forehead on Ash Wednesday several years ago, Lindvall said he was interested in learning more about Colbert’s religious convictions.  Since then, Lindvall said he’s made references to Colbert, as well as Lewis, in other books he’s written. With Colbert’s name in the title of his new book, Lindvall joked that he hopes he’ll receive the coveted “Colbert bump” that will bring him more recognition.

Comparing a few of Lewis’ novels to the blowhard conservative character that Colbert played on his former show on Comedy Central, Lindvall said he likes that both men sharply have satirized and attacked a “high apostate hierarchy” in the church and faith community.  “They’re both people of faith that like to laugh,” Lindvall said. “They can see the incongruity of their life and faith.”       

   Listen to the audio of Terry Lindvall’s talk.

 

Lent 4: Tell me it's coming soon

"Prodigal Daughter" by Charles Mackesy

"Prodigal Daughter" by Charles Mackesy

"Inclement Sonnet" by Susanna Childress

Tell me snow is falling on the willows now, fat, full, unhurried,

for our bald neighbor-boy sleeps, his dark body beneath

a blanket knit brilliantly blue, his body wilted with

neuroblastoma.  Here on the couch, Emmy holds his head

 

while I wonder at what's sent from above, what we'd believe

drifts down during these months of ice, so far north we need

Easter to end winter for us--not Eostre, Teutonic myth,

vernal equinox; not eggs, red-iris bunnies beribboned

sweets.  Tell me what comes next: tires spinning, marrow

aspirating, gladiolus whispering when, when, Wednesday

ashing our brows and, for each, some coruscating stretch, most

 

Fridays not so good after all.  Last week he told his mum, I get a new

body if I go to heaven.  Tell me it's coming soon, Pascha* Sunday,

that, as they lift, our arms will ache, will awaken, with all we've lost.  

"Mother with Dead Child" by Kathe Kollwitz

"Mother with Dead Child" by Kathe Kollwitz

You free us
from the dread of death,
and make this life a door.  
You grant our very flesh
a fallow season,
then gather all
at the last horn's blast.
You sow the earth
with these our bodies,
shaped by Your own hand.  
You bring
the harvest in,
transforming death into
abundant life,
all defect into beauty.

--Macrina the Younger (adapted by Scott Cairns)

Lent 3: When nothing seems to be happening

Roots by Pamela Casper  

Roots by Pamela Casper

 

Because we expect Lent to be a time of transformation, we look impatiently for signs of improvement. We want to believe we are getting somewhere. We make demands of God & of ourselves.  But all the while, the seed of grace is planted deep within us, quietly nurtured by time & devotedness.  We will see the fruit of God's work in our lives.  In time.

"The Dreaming Tree" by Christian Schloe  

"The Dreaming Tree" by Christian Schloe

 

The Doubter’s Prayer
by Anne Bronte (1820-1849)

While faith is with me, I am blest;
It turns my darkest night to day;
But, while I clasp it to my breast,
I often feel it slide away...

What shall I do if all my love
My hopes, my toil, are cast away?
And if there by no God above
To hear and bless me when I pray?

Oh, help me, God! For thou alone
Canst my distracted soul relieve,
Forsake it not; it is thine own,
Though weak, yet longing to believe.

Lent 2: Dizzying and dazzling

"Transfiguration" by Alekasndr Ivanov

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white...The disciples fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid.  And when they looked up, the saw no one except Jesus himself alone. Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration by Fra Angelico

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.
--Malcolm Guite

Have you ever experienced God and been awestruck? Terrified? Transformed? Today many Christians recall the dazzling, dizzying trip Jesus takes with a trio of his disciples.  Peter, James and John glimpse Christ in his glory and then head back down the mountain with him, back to their ordinary lives, and, too soon, to the horror of the Cross.

When Glory
A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday

That when glory comes
we will open our eyes
to see it.

That when glory shows up
we will let ourselves
be overcome
not by fear
but by the love
it bears.

That when glory shines
we will bring it
back with us
all the way
all the way
all the way down.
--Jan Richardson

Transfiguration by Lewis Bowman

Lent 1: Wake up & choose mercy

On their long trek through the desert, Moses invited the children of Israel to choose life.  

Along our Lenten journey, God offers us the gift of mercy---ours to receive if only we will wake up, open our hearts, and confess, asking God to cast out what cannot remain in the same room with that life-giving mercy.  

So lift your eyes. Where might you discover God's grace in disguise?

"Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the death of your Son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord." {Common Worship, Church of England}

If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it? Maybe it's because grace is not gentle or made-to-order.  It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.  {Kathleen Norris}

Lenten Resources

Here are some of my favorite resources for Lent.  Share your own in the comment area!

ONLINE

Sacred Space Scripture and Daily Prayer to read online

You can get the print version of Sacred Space book for Lent on amazon. It's only 1.75!

Pray as you go daily Scripture and music podcast. Download the app, too.

Wonderful collection of poetry for Lent and Easter

Common Pray for Ordinary Radicals online -- you can get the hard copy of the book, too

Painted Prayer Book -- Jan Richardson is a painter and writer with some wonderful reflections, images poems...

BOOKS

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter my favorite Lent and Easter book ever

Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days by Trevor Hudson

Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent by Richard Rohr

Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings by Henri Nouwen

LENT: Return with your Whole Heart

ASH WEDNESDAY: THE INVITATION TO RETURN

You and I drift away from our true home.  We forget that we are God's beloved.  We forget that we are not God.  We succumb to the temptations of money, sex and power.  We ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters. We focus only on ourselves.

During Lent -- the forty days before Easter -- God calls us home. God invites us to remember who we are.  To let God be God in our lives.  To respond to our suffering neighbor.  To begin again with God.

Only when the fierce love of God, fully revealed in the Crucified One, pierces our hearts, do we truly return to the God who longs for us.      {adapted from Trevor Hudson}

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

---Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Rejoice in the Trials | Reflections by Fellow Christina Fondren '17

Each season of life brings new joys, new trials, new hardships, new experiences – new ways in which the Lord reveals Himself to us. I’m currently going through a season of much confusion and trial, and I feel the genuineness of my faith being tested. This trial is particularly hard because it involves me having to trust the Lord with how He is leading the heart of someone I love very much, and at the moment that’s away from me. I’m having to faithfully relinquish control of the situation and fully trust the Lord is with this person. In the midst of such storms and deep pain, it’s hard to trust that God is truly sovereign over our lives. We feel lost, alone, alienated. We feel stripped of our security and comfort. We feel naked. We feel distant from the power of the Holy Spirit. In these storms and trials, we feel abandoned and hurt by our Creator. We begin to question. We grasp for control – something to hold on to.

We often forget to take time to reflect on the almighty power of our Lord and Savior. We need to remind ourselves that God created us perfectly in His image. Our truest and purest desires always reflect the Lord’s desires for us because He placed these desires on our heart when we were created. These are inextricably connected and cannot be separated. Amidst the storm, when we aren’t sure if the Lord is listening to our pleas and prayers, we can trust that He longs for our heart’s deepest desires to be fulfilled because He himself placed them there. Deeper than any of our worldly desires is our yearning to be in perfect communion with our Father – to continually be purified and strengthened to more closely imitate the life and heart of Jesus Christ. So when we doubt that the Lord is listening to us or at work in our lives, we should find rest because our God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He is leading us to Himself. Whatever trial we are enduring, we must have faith it is part of His greater plan even when we cannot yet see its purpose.

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know … your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to me” (Psalm 139:13-15).

How amazing! The Lord knows us better than we can ever know ourselves. He saw us before we were even created and He beautifully fashioned us together. He knows our heart’s truest desires because HE created them! He knit us together perfectly in our mother’s womb – not one mistake was made in our creation. Every fear, doubt, and anxiety concerning our present and future state can be cast away because we belong to a God who directs every step of our life. Because of this, we can find rest and joy. His plans for us are far greater than we can ever imagine. Not only are these plans greater than anything we could devise for ourselves, but also are divinely ordained by our God, who is leading us to eternal life with Him.

Amidst the hardest of trials, we must trust that this trial has been divinely planned since before our creation. There is not a day or moment in our lives that goes unplanned: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). The Lord not only is sovereign over every big event that will happen in our lives, but He also delights in every detail of our lives; He knows every windy road and beaten path we will take and every trial and obstacle we will face along the way. As Christians, we can trust that our Father in Heaven has divinely ordained our path, however messy and painful it appears. 

We are incomplete, flawed sinners in this world, but one day we will be made perfect saints. God won’t rest until His work in us is complete. “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Our life is a continual journey and a progression towards entering the Kingdom of Heaven to spend eternity with our Savior. The trials and tribulations of this world are temporary, and in that we can rejoice.

These times of suffering are also opportunities for us to share in the suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ. On this earth, Jesus endured the utmost suffering – dying on the cross – for each and every one of our sins, so that one day we can have eternal life. Amidst these trials and suffering, our lives begin to take the shape of the life of Jesus. “But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Peter 4:13). What an honor that the Lord has divinely chosen us to endure these trials, so that we may grow closer to entering sainthood and becoming more Jesus-like.

When we encounter such trials, the genuineness of our faith is truly tested. “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-8). The Lord declares that these trials are put in our lives by the Lord to strengthen and purify our faith, preparing us for eternity with Him. However, during these dark and painful trials, we are not alone. We can rejoice because not only are we being prepared for eternity with God, but because in this very moment we have the Lord of the Universe on our side. Even if we have nothing, we have everything because we have the Lord.

“There is an appointed time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

So when trials and hardships come, we can weep, but we also have hope, because we have a Lord who loves us and knows us deeper than we can ever imagine. In this we can rejoice and experience a joy inexpressible that can only come from the Holy Spirit living within us. We can have hope because every trial and hardship we face is the Lord – our all-knowing and loving Father – refining us to become more Christ-like. We can rejoice because we know that this world is fleeting and the trials here are only temporary. Our citizenship is in heaven and one day we will return home. Through these trials and the testing of our faith, we are being prepared for our eternal home – heaven – where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Revelation 21:4). We can rejoice in the fact that one day, we will dwell with God in eternity. 


Learn more about our Fellows Programs, year-long vocational discernment opportunities for undergraduates at UVa.

The new Perkins House | Reflections by Isabella Hall '19

Last September, I met UVa alumnus Garrett Trent through a mutual friend and over the course of our very first conversation arose the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We talked at some length about what it means to be a neighbor, to love ones neighbor, what this looks like in each of our lives. As students, our lives orbit around the University and for many, this means never leaving the familiarity of Grounds and missing out on the opportunity to be a part the city of Charlottesville. Many students feel disconnected from the larger community which surrounds the University and in this disconnect, there is an opportunity for reconciliation. Garrett shared about his experience of moving to the 10th and Page area and living with intentionality in a neighborhood that is multi-ethnic, economically varied, and complex in many ways. Garrett offered up the idea of creating an opportunity for undergraduates at UVa to live with the same sort of intentionality and learn what it means to be a good neighbor.

Garrett also shared that he was a member of All Souls and mentioned that the All Souls community was deeply concerned with justice, mercy, and racial reconciliation. A couple of days later, I attended All Souls for the first time. I remember feeling deeply moved as the congregation kneeled and prayed in solidarity with the men and women of Charlotte, NC in the midst of violence and protest. I saw a church passionately seeking shalom.

 Over the next few weeks, with the counsel of Christy Yates, Brendan Jamieson of All Souls, and several other individuals, the vision of this project continued to be developed with prayer and careful consideration. The name of the Perkins House was selected in honor of John M. Perkins, a civil-rights activist, minister, and theologian. John Perkins excelled at developing communities and founded the Christian Community Development Association, as well as the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. Inspired by the work of John Perkins, the newly named Perkins House has increasingly become devoted to the tenets of faithful presence within the neighborhood through building relationships with residents and practicing Sabbath. When the vision was shared with students, there was an encouraging amount of interest, not only as prospective residents, but as partners in prayer and supporters of the vision of the Perkins House. Since that time, the Perkins House has become a reality and next fall will mark the inaugural cohort of Perkins House ladies.

Throughout the past few months, as all of this has unfolded, I have become increasingly humbled by all that the Lord has provided in this process and the realization that the Venable neighborhood has so much to teach all of us who are becoming a part of this community. On behalf of all the Perkins Ladies, we are unbelievably excited and deeply grateful.


For more information about the Perkins House, please email Garrett Trent or Christy Yates.

Race and Christianity: Where do we go from here? | Reflections by Fellow, Cameron Fleming '17

It wasn’t until I started school at UVA that I realized what friendship and Christian community should look like. I started going to a fellowship in which I was one of two Black first years that joined, and although two people of color seems like a sad statistic, it was thrilling to me. I was used to being the only Black girl in the room, now I wasn’t alone.

The community I found first year with Christians and non-Christians was such a sweet gift. In addition to having a friend who looked like me and wanted to follow Jesus, I also made friends who helped me realize the diversity in Blackness. We were all so different, but also there was a deep understanding in my friendships with them that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else. It was a breath a fresh air to have close friends who didn’t ask me a million questions about my hair while simultaneously avoiding drawing attention to my Blackness as if it was a bomb in the room that would go off. I didn’t have the same kind of warm and fuzzies from my Christian fellowship, but it gave me warm and fuzzies all the same: my Christian friends loved me well, asked good questions, and pointed me Jesus. The time I spent with them was pure joy.

But then the summer of 2014 happened. When I came back to school it was if nothing had changed, but over the summer my sense of security about who I was, my role in the world, and the value of my Blackness had evaporated. Of course I had always known the world was less safe for me than it was for my White peers. But the relative safety of my neighborhood, homogeneity of my education, and support and devotion of my parents had shielded me from that reality. The Civil Rights Movement was something they had grown up with; my future was secure. But the death of Michael Brown and the national hysteria that ensued shattered any illusion I had of my safety. I had conversations with other Christians who assumed the guilt of Black men that died at the hands of police, rather than consider the possibility that their skin tone had played a role in their unjust deaths. I was shocked. I was in mission with people who I knew loved me, loved the Lord, and desired to bring His Kingdom to Earth, but they didn’t seem to see the same value in Michael Brown’s life that I saw. They wondered why “Black lives matter” needed to be said at all.

I was so angry, hurt, and confused that it was paralyzing. All I could do was sit in that anger. I knew that something constructive could and needed to be done, but I had no idea what. I knew the Lord could use my passion, but I didn’t know how. I could talk until I was blue in the face, but I couldn’t force people involved my ministry to consider or care about racial issues.  I was spending all my time with people who saw themselves as God’s hands and feet in Charlottesville, going into broken places to bring hope and healing. We were in mission together, but it was clear that racial reconciliation was not something they were interested in. (I realize now that maybe they did not intend to be apathetic, they were just uncomfortable. Even so, I had little sympathy. As a Black girl who lived in a culture that valued Whiteness above all else, I had lived my whole life uncomfortable.) Their apathy was confounding to me, and it seemed like the hits just kept coming. After Ferguson there was Baltimore. After Baltimore there was Flint. After Flint there was Martese Johnson, one of our peers at UVA. This one hit particularly close to home, literally. I realized the disillusionment of my safety had been hypothetical, far away from the bubble of my college town. But this was no longer the case.

When we discussed it, my friends again jumped to the conclusion of his guilt, rather than acknowledging the perception that all Black men are a threat. Therefore, even a license holding, of age, Black young man cannot enter a bar or have a conversation with authorities with the same confidence or safety his White peers can. Again, their hypocrisy was bewildering to me.  Did Jesus not command us to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)? To seek justice (Isaiah 1:17)? To bear each other’s burdens? (Galatians 6:2)? Couldn’t they see that any of the Black kids they ministered to could easily be the next hashtag? For me, our mission to share Christ with others was not separate from racial reconciliation; it was inextricably bound to it.

By not caring about these issues, what was communicated was that my White Christian friends didn’t care about me. I didn’t hear God telling me a solution, so I stifled my anger, my hurt feelings, and my confusion at the apathy that surround me. I spent all of my second and third years of college grappling with my anger at Christian apathy in the face of racial issues. Which, now that I reflect on it, was exactly the wrong response. I let myself be silenced. I let Christians not care about the death of their Black brothers and sisters. In retrospect, I am in awe of God’s grace towards me. How silly of me to think that I am the Holy Spirit, with the ability to convict people of the peril their Black brothers and sisters live in. My friend once told me that my heart for these issues was important and didn’t go unrecognized by her, but also, if I was able to solve all the world’s problems I wouldn’t need Jesus. Sharing my experiences and perspective could help people understand, but I cannot force them to care. I cannot break their hearts for the things that break mine, nor can I change them in the ways I deem necessary. Only God can do that.

Since then I’ve learned that Jesus loves and desires justice more than I ever will, and I regret that I lived the majority of college amiss at what I should do. In the Horizons Fellows Program, I met men and women who not only affirmed my passion and rejected the passivity of their White peers, but also believed that the Lord had given me an ability to do something about it. Karen and Christy gave us a space to contemplate God’s heart for the world and what we should do in response. Along the way I have learned that God is not intimidated by my anger and doubt. He feels the same anger towards sin and injustice, that’s why Jesus went to the cross. He doesn’t love me any less for asking big questions or grappling with the concepts of justice and race in the Church. Instead, my questions have helped me better understand His heart for me, for justice, for the world.

At our last meeting of 2016, we discussed how as followers of Christ we all have a shared mission. Garrett Trent and Nathan Walton, the pastor of Vineyard Church, joined us to talk about how they have seen God’s heart for racial reconciliation in their own lives and friendship. Nathan told us that community comes from mission, not the other way around. In other words, something has to be important to everyone before they can be bonded to each other. I’d experienced this first hand: I had tried to make people care about the very particular mission of racial reconciliation that concerned me, and I was alone. The American Church has very real and deep wounds surrounding race and justice, but in order to begin to heal them, we must first recognize them. Ta-Nehisi Coates says it this way: we must be “conscious citizens of this terrible and beautiful world.” That consciousness begins with a reflection of the ways in which we have privilege, and the ways in which we are impoverished.

I am privileged in that I come from a family in which attending college is the expectation, not the exception. I am privileged in that my parents make sacrifices to give my brothers and I everything we need and most things we want. I am privileged because by God’s grace, I know that ultimately my hope is in heaven and not in anything of this world.

I am impoverished because my life experiences hinder my empathy towards Black girls raised in different circumstances than mine. I am impoverished because I am Black woman operating in educational and economic systems that weren’t created for women or people of color to succeed. I am impoverished because my blessed assurance does little to assure my safety and security in my daily life.

Christ is our greatest example of how to enter into suffering but also how overcome it. He sacrificed the perfect intimacy he had with the Trinity because he trusted that it would glorify the Father. He entered into our human suffering and went to the cross we deserved. Emulating Christ’s example, we must also have the courage to surrender our privilege to glorify our Father and the faith to wield it to benefit others.

In the wake of a divisive election season and administration that threatens the human rights of the most impoverished among us, it is more important now than ever (was it ever unimportant?!) for Christians to be witnesses of Truth, goodness, and hope to the world. The question is how, and the answer is this: talk to each other. Why? Because Christ got uncomfortable. Christ was willing to be misunderstood. Christ engaged with people who were different from him with love, mercy, and forgiveness. He calls me to do the same, and it is not audacious to expect my brothers and sisters in Christ to join me.

I am beginning to see their willingness. I am seeing hearts soften, including mine. The Lord is redeeming my community in ways I never thought possible. My temptation is to point out that there is much work to be done, but as fate would have it, redemption occurs on His timeline, not mine. But I do know that “colorblindness” is not the solution. After all, God wasn’t colorblind when he knit me together as a Black girl. The solution, if I can even call it that, is to witness. To contemplate our privilege and our poverty. To ask questions. To listen. To humbly share our perspective, our hopes, our fears and ask others to do the same, because you can’t love your neighbor if you don’t know them. 


Cameron is a Horizons Fellow, a year-long vocational discipleship program we run for a select group of 4th years. 

 

Do you struggle to trust God? | Susan Yates

I do.

I suspect that at this very moment each of us has at least one big concern on our heart that we are praying about or trying to fix, while at the same time trying to trust God with our issue. It might be a concern over a child, a health crisis, a difficult marital situation, financial stress, job dissatisfaction or a decision that has to be made for elderly parents.

As I contemplate my “issue” I’ve realized how easy it is to let it become bigger in my head than my God. I get frustrated. I worry, and I lose perspective.

Some time ago I began to worry about one of my children. The more I thought about this child the more anxious I became. Scary “what if…” phrases began to plague me. I tried to read my Bible and to pray but it did not help. Finally in desperation I cried out to the God, “Help Me Lord.”

Two simple words came into my head- words that were from God, words that would change everything.

“Remember Me.”

I realized that I had let my concern for this child grow and grow. It had become so big in my head that the problem itself became my focus. And I had forgotten who God was. I had forgotten how very much He loved my child. I had forgotten that He knew my child much better than I did. I had forgotten that He was working in ways that I could not see. He was in this issue. He was totally involved and His love was perfect. He was so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. It wasn’t that these concepts were new to me. It was more that I wasn’t living day in and day out in the assurance and knowledge of how BIG he is.

This insight has led me on a quest to discover in fresh ways how very Big our God is. It’s a life long journey that will not end this side of heaven but it’s exciting.

Along the way I’ve learned a few things: 

Your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him.

It’s not all up to us! At this very moment Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father praying for your child (and you!) What a relief. (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34) 

God gives us the exact kids we need, not merely so that we can raise them, but that they might be His tools in our lives to grow us up into the women He has created us to be.  It’s helpful to ask, “what are you teaching me through this child O Lord?”  

Natural growth involves becoming independent. However, spiritual growth involves becoming more dependent. God loves it when I fall on my face and cry out to Him in great need. He will always answer – in His time and in His ways. He does what is best not necessarily what is fast, and He’s working while we are waiting.

God is so much bigger than I realize and He longs to reveal Himself to you and to me. Will you join me on a journey to discover more of Him? As we begin to see more and more of Him we will find that our issues begin to diminish. They don’t completely go away. We are fallen people in a fallen world. However, we can begin to see our concerns from a healthy perspective.

In my new book, Risky Faith, Becoming Brave Enough to Trust the God who is Bigger than your World, I sharemore insights from my journey.


Susan Yates has written 13 books and speaks both nationally and internationally on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and women’s issues. Her books include And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children; And Then I Had Teenagers: Encouragement for Parents of Teens and Preteens; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With her husband John).

This blog was previously posted on Ever Thine Home and Susan Alexander Yates. Listen to her talk with us at our Women's Tea here