“… it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I have been, some hint as to who I am becoming or failing to become that I delve into what used to be.” Frederick Buechner
There’s alot about New Year’s to love. Besides the gatherings and good food (I have a special fondness for this artery clogging Dutch treat called oliebollen), I love the unmarked calendar, the eager anticipation from 365 open days of “who knows what they might hold.” And I value the opportunity to both recollect the past year, doing an inventory of sorts, and to anticipate the new year.
Remembering is a really important practice for the spiritual life. Our sense of who we are is really a collection of memories. Press the erase button and we don’t know who we are anymore. Life and a healthy identity is unimaginable without a vivid memory.
One of the practices in our house is to stretch a scroll of paper across our dining room table and over the course of a day draw out the events of the past year. It’s an exercise in remembering, a record of the good and hard parts that have shaped who we are as individuals and a family.
Today, why not find a quiet place and space to simply look back on this past year. Piece together a chronology of important events from 2014: how did those events form you? Take note of who were the significant people who shaped your life this year – why were they so significant? Ask yourself where and how you have become more (or less) like Christ.
And while you’re at it, take time to look forward to the new year (a rear-view mirror glance is important but you can’t drive without looking ahead). And I don’t mean resolutions – I think that whole tradition needs a good burial. Instead, I’m thinking anticipation, which alongside of remembering is an equally vital faith practice.
In the biblical mind, the future grace of God is always breaking into the present. That’s why Jesus repeatedly urged people to keep watch. God is at work, in our world and in your life, up to something very good.
As you take time to think about the coming year, can I urge you to resolve less about what you need to do and rest more in what God has promised to do. A promise, of course, has everything to do with the new year because it concerns the future. Think of its Latin origins, meaning pro – forth, and mittere – to send. God’s promises are like packages of grace sent from the future; they are declarations which announce the coming of a reality that does not yet exist today.
This New Year’s, I’m wondering how can I cooperate with this grace that is coming at me all the time and around me everywhere.
Reflect on God’s promises and try to imagine how they might take shape in your life in the coming year. How would your life and our world be different if God’s promises took shape in the present moment? Ask yourself, where would you like to see a specific promise of God come alive in a new way this year? When you answer those questions, you’ve got a solid, grace-framed agenda for the coming year.
As you enter and anticipate this new year, watch for the breaking in of God’s good reality in your life and our world.
But before you do all that, take 3 minutes to check out the following spot-on video – it sets the right context for thinking about the coming year.
And happy new year to you!
Advent is a season for broken hearts. In stark contrast to the holly and jolly of the cultural calendar, the church year reminds us that a few toys or presents are crappy substitutes for the bigger ache in our lives.
The Advent season is a time of hard longing for something more, something better than we now see. In Advent we take stock of our broken world, recognizing all that is bent, bruised, broken and unfulfilled. I’d rather look the other way because that is painful and leaves you with an ache for something bright to break all this shadow and decay.
But if I ever miss that mood of Advent, today is the day it smacks me straight in the face. Five years ago my nephew, returning home from writing a university exam, too tired to stay awake, was killed in a car accident.
I hate so much about this. I hate it that this glorious young life was snuffed out (David was such a beautiful soul). I hate it that he didn’t have the money for a coffee or think to take a nap. I hate the hideous power of death, how its strength lingers still. I hate the loss of so much promise, so much good never realized. I hate how grief has wrenched and contorted his family’s lives.
I struggle to find sense in this, and by extension, to all that is wrong with this world. Sometimes my heart can hardly stand it. Why God? Where is the purpose, the sense in this?
I feel this uncorked anger, something livid rising up in me every year this day. This is not the way things are supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children on a frozen December day. Parents of black teens shouldn’t have to coach them on how not to get killed when they walk the streets. Our society (and our own hearts) shouldn’t still be so unfathomably racist. Our justice systems shouldn’t protect the privileged and neglect the marginalized.
Advent is a time to hope but I don’t want to hope – hope feels too cheap in the face of all that’s wrong, like someone offering you a drug to medicate the sting. Instead of hope, I want to be angry, to rage, to swear and hit something hard, to do some damage, to make somebody pay!
And anger feels good for a while, but leaves me empty, sort of like getting hopped up on all sorts of Christmas candy out of the Advent calendar. But after the sugar high comes the crash. And after the anger, the real anger over my nephew’s death and then all my other moral outrage over all the endless crap in this world, I’m left empty, needing something more so badly.
I’m faced with a choice. Decide this world is completely screwed up with no good purpose and stick with some really good feeling self-righteous anger (and then probably act out in all the ways I rage about) … or let go, let Jesus take my anger, the sadness, let him change me. And then trust, trust that maybe there is something better, trust that this homesickness I feel for a world that works right actually corresponds to something real.
Hope is not a drug to keep you blissed out in the middle of misery; its actually the most awake, alive, alert posture you can hold. You’re awake to the deepest parts of your heart that is sick for a real place where all shall be well; you’re doing the harder thing of staying alert to the deepest echoes of reality that whisper some rumour of glory.
So though the evidence isn’t always convincing, though my heart isn’t always sure, today I choose to live with my homesickness for a world that works, and hope.
That’s no happy face there – it’s the current yellow badge, or Judenstern, of Iraq. The N’, or ن in Arabic, is the symbol used by the Islamic State (ISIS) to identify who is a Nazarene – a Christian. It has been drawn on doorways and painted on house-fronts in captured Iraqi cities, allowing ISIS militia to sort through identities and loyalties.
A number of months ago I met and listened to the Bishop of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. He spoke compellingly of the persecution of the church he loved in Iraq. Recently he wrote that the end may be near for Christians in Iraq. Please pray for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.
This, or any, persecution is important for us in the West to pay close attention to, for a number of reasons. First, the persecution of Christians across the world is probably one of the biggest human rights issues that largely happens without protest. A Nov. 27, 2013 National Post article outlined how there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the 1,900 years that came before. And in 2010, the Toronto Star called Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world. On a large scale aimed at a specifically designated population, basic human rights are trampled but so little protest is raised. My stubborn agnostic friend, Richard Handler, writes a chastening piece here for all Christians, wondering why aren’t we raising our voices in solidarity.
Secondly, for the most part, Western Christians aren’t persecuted, and in order to maintain our identity as people of the cross it is good for us to keep in touch with persecution. Persecution sharpens your identity as a Christian. That’s how Jesus shapes his beatitude on persecution – it’s about Jesus and our identification with him. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me.” Persecution is all about how closely we identify with Jesus.
Both reasons send me to my knees – the first in solidarity with brothers and sisters who are suffering horribly for the sake of Jesus. The second for myself, scared I don’t have a faith that’s even worth persecuting.
The great urbanist Jane Jacobs observed that the presence of children in the city is a sign of urban health. She was echoing the prophetic words of Zechariah who pictured God’s salvation in the earthy terms of a safe city: “The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” (Zech. 8:5).
That’s one of the reasons we’re raising our family in the city, encouraging other families to take the same adventure. I love the thought that simply the presence of my kids on the sidewalks and streets of the city is a witness, a little icon of God’s renewing work.
Which makes this photo a favourite.
Ours is an age of anxiety; we idolize security, seeking to live ruling out risk or failure. Exhibit # 1,043: helicopter parents hovering protectively over their children’s bubble-wrapped lives.
Doesn’t that seem a bad way to live? Jesus seemed to think so. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ parable of the talents, the master says to the cautious, one-talent servant “It’s a crime to live cautiously like that.” In the end, the Master did away with this servant: “get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb.”
Why? Because risk seems to be an important part of God’s economy of love; because you can’t love without risking; because love is the power that cannot co-exist with anxious fear – it drives it out. In God’s Kingdom, there’s a shocking freedom to risk because there’s nothing that can put you beyond the reach of God’s scandalously beautiful grace. I’m so easily seduced into thinking this is a dangerous world. There’s a weight of evidence that leads to question there is a good God at the helm. But Jesus keeps telling me the Father is good and keeps calling me to follow, to risk, just like God.
Because God is love, God risks. Didn’t God take an awful risk when he created us in the liberty of love, free to love and follow him or free to flip him off and reject him? Crazy risk; crazy love; crazy, beautiful God.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asks a question I need to pose every day to myself: “If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?”
Think about that … and then watch the Flight of the Frenchies below. You won’t catch me walking a slack-line over a mountain gorge but the Frenchies remind me of the freedom that comes from living with a powerful awareness that I am held in the hands of a very good God.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/31240369″>I Believe I Can Fly (Flight of the Frenchies) – Trailer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/chamonix”>sebastien montaz-rosset</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>